The trouble with “greatest shots” is that we assume they’ll be extremely difficult, such as hitting the brain of a pronghorn running 60 mph when it passes through a six-inch-wide gap in a fence at 537 yards. Or dropping a bullet into the heart of a gray squirrel sitting on a fencepost gnawing an acorn 1,273.431 meters away at a 35-degree downhill angle in a 13.7 mph, quarter-value wind on Tuesday at 8:13 a.m. at 3,297 feet elevation, 49 degrees F.
With a .22 Short rimfire.
Those are not “greatest shots.” Those are “stupidest attempts,” and I’ve had a few. Like the Wyoming pronghorn in a 30-mph wind at 500-plus yards. I’d resisted shots at 300 yards and 370 yards and 453 yards because I felt they were way too irresponsible, not to mention impossible, so when that buck stopped broadside at 526 yards, give or take, I thought it would be educational to see just where the dust kicked up if I held three goats into the wind and a goat and a half high.
The dust kicked up from the buck’s hide, just front of center, and he went down in a heap, never to stop and look back from 526 yards again.
You’d have thought that was all the lesson a 34-year-old, self-proclaimed responsible hunter required. You’d have thought wrong. Fifteen years later he’s in the same area, egging his buddy into trying an equally ill-advised shot, this time with a muzzleloader.
“You hear stories of buffalo hunters dropping bulls at 600 yards. I wonder where your bullet would kick up dust if you held high on that young buck over on that hillside?”
“Well, let’s just see,” says Gordon as he wets his front post, sits behind his sticks, elevates as if aiming for the moon, and touches off. We wait.
“I didn’t see it land anywhere . . .” I started to say just before the buck collapsed.
So, stupid is as stupid inspires, but dumb luck does not make for a great shot. That comes from training, experience, and a peculiar sense of confidence that is the exact opposite of buck fever. Call it buck calm. It came over me when I shot my biggest whitetail. He’s hanging right over there, looking at me with those contented, glassy eyes, still wearing the 176-inch rack that got him here.
I wasn’t convinced I wanted to shoot that deer. I’d had several chances as he courted a doe 400 yards in front of me, then 350 yards, then 300 yards. I studied his rack, trying my best to add up 180 inches. He had the tines, the mass— everything but the spread. But if he continued working closer, I might see it as a sign from heaven and drop the hammer. Instead, he chased the doe back the other way into a thicket. Oh well, I’d just walk over and see what happened. What happened was the doe ran one way and he ran the other, almost straight away, fading right.
I carried my deadly Ultra Light Arms M20 in .284 Winchester throwing 140-grain Nosler Partitions like heat-seeking missiles. That rig just didn’t miss. As the buck pounded the prairie, my heart merely thumped along, no more concerned than if I were contemplating plucking an apple. Through the 2-7x Nikon he grew smaller by the second. If I was going to shoot . . .
At about 200 yards I thought what the heck, held just off his right side and touched her off. Down he went.
I started shaking only after I laid hands on him. I wouldn’t want to even try to make that shot again.
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