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Ray Sasser: The five basic mistakes hunters make

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Ray Sasser, Outdoor Writer

Tens of thousands of shots have been fired at whitetails since daylight Nov. 4. Some of them missed. I've been deer hunting more than 40 years, and I've missed my fair share of shots.

I've pretty much got the misses narrowed down to five basic mistakes. No. 1 is using too much firepower. Most Texas whitetails weigh less than 200 pounds. It doesn't take a magnum rifle to bring one down. I went through the magnum mystique myself, first with a .300 Winchester Magnum, then with a 7mm Remington Magnum.

Either rifle humanely dispatched deer. They were not so humane on the deer hunter. They kicked like the proverbial mule, making me psychologically dread what was about to happen when the gun went off.

As a result, I didn't shoot so well and at least one big buck got away unscathed, probably because I flinched anticipating the recoil. A lighter caliber solved that problem and proved just as effective at humanely dispatching the animals.

Mistake 2 is lacking confidence in your rifle. The only way to gain confidence is by shooting at a paper target.

Almost every Texas deer hunter uses a rifle with a telescopic sight (scope). Because of the equipment involved and also human error, many scopes are improperly mounted. Bouncing around in a truck on rough ranch roads, or any similar trauma, can cause a misalignment between the scope and rifle barrel.

Periodically during the season, shoot at a target, just to be sure the rifle is shooting straight. It's a confidence builder.

Mistake 3 is shooting too far. A 400-yard shot is four times as difficult as a 100-yard shot. Add a crosswind to a long shot, and the degree of difficulty is beyond the average hunter's shooting ability.

In theory, most hunters know how much their bullet drops at 400 yards. In practical application, they've never shot that far. Never shoot at a live animal at a distance farther than you've shot at a target.

Mistake 4 is a disease called buck fever. It means being too excited when it's time to make the shot. Buck fever symptoms are shivering and making poor decisions, like jerking the trigger rather than squeezing the trigger.

A temporary cure for buck fever is to look away from the animal and take deep breaths until you are steady. Then look up, find your target in the scope and squeeze the trigger until you are surprised by the shot.

Being excited is a natural response. If you're not excited, you should probably take up golf or tennis, but don't take the shot unless you can control the excitement.

I believe mistake No. 5 -- shooting with a poor rifle rest -- is the reason for most missed shots, or even worse, poorly placed shots.

It's very hard to shoot accurately offhand. Offhand means standing, and few deer hunters practice shooting from a standing position. If you hunt from the ground, equip your rifle with a height-adjustable bipod.

Sit with your back against a tree or a bush. The most solid rest is a three-point rest. Using a bipod or a short tripod, your shoulder is one point, the bipod is the second point and your right elbow (assuming a right-handed shooter) on your knee completes the triangle.

Most Texas deer hunters hunt from a blind. A deer blind should be constructed and/or set up with a solid rest in mind. Rest the rifle itself on the blind's window ledge with the butt snugly against your shoulder. That provides two sides of the accuracy triangle.

The biggest mistake is what I call the floating elbow. Elbow support creates the third leg of a three-point rest. 

With a three-point rest, an accurate rifle and time to calm your nerves, it's hard to miss a deer standing broadside at less than 200 yards.

One of the first things you should do upon climbing into any deer blind is determine how to get the best possible rest. It can be as easy as turning a chair sideways and resting your elbow on the chairback. A solid rifle rest will usually cure buck fever.

CALENDAR

SATURDAY, DEC. 2 -- Dallas Fly Fishers fly tying session 10 a.m.-noon at Orvis Dallas, 8300 Preston Road. For details, call 214-265-1600.

SATURDAY, DEC. 2 -- Second split of North Zone duck season begins.

SATURDAY, DEC. 2 -- Panhandle pheasant season begins.

SATURDAY, DEC. 9 -- Dallas Fly Fishers fly tying session 10 a.m.-noon at Orvis Dallas, 8300 Preston Road. For details, call 214-265-1600.

SATURDAY, DEC. 9 -- Second split of South Zone duck season begins.

SATURDAY, DEC. 16 -- Dallas Fly Fishers fly tying session 10 a.m.-noon at Orvis Dallas, 8300 Preston Road. For details, call 214-265-1600.

SATURDAY, DEC. 16 -- Sandhill crane season begins in Zone C.

MONDAY, DEC. 18 -- Second split of dove season begins in North and Central Zones.

MONDAY, DEC.18 -- Woodcock season begins statewide.

SATURDAY, DEC. 23 -- Dallas Fly Fishers fly tying session 10 a.m.-noon at Orvis Dallas, 8300 Preston Road. For details, call 214-265-1600.

SATURDAY, DEC. 30 -- Dallas Fly Fishers fly tying session 10 a.m.-noon at Orvis Dallas, 8300 Preston Road. For details, call 214-265-1600.

FEATURED PHOTO: Dennis Moser hunts for deer at the Whitetail Pro Series hunting tournament at the Gopher Plantation in Millwood, Ga., Oct. 9, 2010. Armed with shotguns that employ blanks, memory cards and digital scopes, tournament participants stalk deer but not to kill them. (Lori Moffett/The New York Times)