• Failing in the moment of truth
    By Dennis Jensen
    STAFF WRITER | October 13,2013
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    Photo By Dennis Jensen

    Paul Jensen of Chestertown, N.Y., points to the place where the author shot a 7-point buck at Camp Swampy, in Waddington, N.Y. The buck was shot through both lungs, a quick, humane, killing shot.
    You scouted your favorite neck of the woods well in advance of the buck season. You practiced before opening day, setting up any number of situations that might arise — taking a shot in the standing position, seated and from your tree stand.

    Your shots were right on target.

    You set out on opening day with only the stars as company. You found your tree stand or your favorite place along a good deer run, situated yourself with the wind in your face and settled in.

    About an hour later, you see sudden, brown movement. It’s a deer. It’s a buck, with legal antlers.

    This is the moment of truth.

    The buck is moving with purpose and, as his head goes behind a thick tree, you raise the rifle and, just as the deer’s body emerges from the other side, you center on the middle of his chest and jerk the trigger.

    The buck takes one big bound toward a thicket and is gone, offering no chance for a second shot.

    You have a pretty good idea that it was a clean miss, but still you go over to where the buck stood and you search for blood or hair. Nothing.

    All of that planning; all of that pre-season scouting. What the heck?

    There’s any number of things that could have caused what should have been a successful morning in the woods.

    Buck fever, for one. It’s something that happens to any number of deer hunters, but mostly to those who are trying to tag a buck for the first time. You might have taken a risky shot — too far for your abilities — or your bullet might have been deflected by a big tree limb or a sapling.

    What most likely happened was that you did not take the time to get off a clean, killing shot.

    Have I ever failed when that “moment of truth” came to pass? You bet I have.

    Looking back, it is clear that the shots that I’ve missed came about because I rushed the shot, that is, I centered the crosshairs of my scope on the chest of the buck and without pausing, for only a moment of so, I hurried the shot.

    While there may have been situations where other factors caused me to miss, my sense is that hurrying the shot has cost me to miss several bucks, over the years.

    The best way to avoid missing a buck is to try your best to stay calm, when a buck first appears. I know. That sounds a lot easier than it is. Oftentimes, a deer hunter will push the woods for hours or sit on stand for days without seeing one legal buck.

    Then, all of a sudden, often when it is least expected, a deer appears. So the patient hunter, whether he or she is still-hunting or sitting on stand, faces the task of (1) identifying the deer as a legal buck; (2) waiting for the right shot at the right time; and (3) aiming carefully and taking a good, lethal shot.

    During those long hours, while seated against a big pine tree, seated in a tree stand or still-hunting, I try to rehearse, in my head, what to do if and when a good buck appears.

    If I am moving, ever-so-slowly through the woods, I try to pause with my left shoulder against a good tree. That practice helps to both break up my silhouette and to steady me, should I get a shot off.

    One final note: If you do happen to miss after taking a shot at a buck, go over in your mind what transpired and vow not to let it happen again. Make corrections. Then, and this is very important, put it out of your head.

    Don’t let failure guide the future. Tell yourself that, while it is human to make a mistake, it is critical that, the next time, things will be different.

    So, the next time that buck comes sauntering by, be ready — for the moment of truth.

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