I can think of at least three ways a conservative approach to shooting can cost you game—because I’ve done each of them. More than once.
Consider the following and don’t do as I did. Instead, do as I’d do over.
1. Too Slow To Shoot
The ultra-conservative perfectionist often misses his or her chance. While waiting for a deer to turn perfectly broadside with the near front leg held forward to expose the heart and then freeze like a statue, you could miss Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s and Valentine’s Day. Getting a mature buck in the clear within slam-dunk range is challenge enough. Getting him to stand still is tougher yet. With an arrow, you probably need the broadside angle with the deer standing still, but with an accurate rifle and controlled expansion bullet, quartering angles and even Texas heart shots are viable. Study game anatomy from all angles, know your rifle’s accuracy, your field accuracy and your bullet’s penetration potential. Be prepared to quickly take advantage of reasonable shooting opportunities at effective angles. Don’t aim and aim and aim, either. Once the crosshair is over the vital zone, perfectly or not, squeeze off the shot. With a whitetail, you’re shooting at vitals the size of a basketball.
2. Too Slow To Shoot Again
This can be a fatal mistake, and it’s the one I make most often. I value one-shot kills and minimal meat destruction, so once I’ve parked my bullet in an animal’s vitals, I tend to watch and let Mother Nature take her course. A lung/heart shot animal usually stands, walks or runs for 3-10 seconds before losing consciousness due to rapidly dropping blood pressure. But not always. Sometimes bullets don’t perform as they should and tissue destruction is minimal. Sometimes our shots don’t land exactly where we think they did. And sometimes thick brush and dry conditions make tracking nearly impossible. The smart move is to strive for the perfect first shot, but follow it up with another. Consider going for the heart/lung with your initial shot, then trying for a high shoulder or neck shot to break the spine on the follow-up shot. Better safe than sorry.
3. Too Slow To Follow Up
Relying on tracking skills and giving an animal time to “stiffen up” can also cost you. A friend recently hit a deer with what he thought was a chest shot that also broke one front leg. In reality, he merely broke the front leg. He didn’t shoot again as the buck walked through mixed timber and brush, fearing he didn’t have a perfect shot (see No. 1). While he awaited that perfect follow-up shot, the deer disappeared into an unseen ditch and escaped. Instead of hustling over for a finishing shot, he backed off to let the deer bed, stiffen up and die. By the time he got after it, darkness ended the day. That night a warm-front moved in and melted what had been a light tracking snow. It required hours of beating the brush the next day to find and finish that buck.
Yes, precision shooting and one-shot kills are worth attempting, but for perfect success, be prepared to act decisively, shoot a second time if possible and then follow up quickly.