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Missing Deer: by Bill McLeod

08/09/2021 7:12 AM | Bob McMillan (Administrator)

My friend and neighbour, Uncle Gary, who was a seriously competent and experienced operator of equipment in rugged terrain, gave me some excellent advice one day. I fortunately don’t recall the circumstances but I remember the advice. He said the bloke who has never got stuck in his Landrover has never taken it very far. It may have been when he was showing me how to get a tour bus out when it was up to its belly in the Te Paki stream. He started by advising the company to send another bus to collect the driver and passengers so they didn’t learn how he did this. It would be failing him if I revealed his method but it sure worked.

I think a variation of the same advice could be given to hunters. The bloke who has never missed a deer has not shot at very many.

The first deer I missed was the first one I ever fired at. Two hinds in the car park where the vehicles stopped near the summit of Mount Tarawera. Couldn’t believe my eyes. Opened fire on them with the 303 with no result. The next one up the Te Kopua stream on the Galatea faces wasn’t so lucky. The next one I recall missing was a stag at Half Mile Bush on the Army Training Ground at Waiouru. I’d got a stag and was carrying it out when another one ran out in front of me in the tussock. No result at the shot. I convinced myself that I couldn’t have missed and the bullets I was using must have been deficient. The clear evidence that they weren’t was on my back but that logic escaped me. I changed bullets. I think that the criticism of some bullets by inexpert experts at the time coloured my thinking. 

It wasn’t only deer that I missed. Can recall how devastating it was when the first chamois I fired at just gapped it into the monkey scrub. Persil (surname, White) and I had put in a big effort leaving the Lake Brunner carpark before dawn to make the climb onto Mount French. A lot of effort to see the chamois run away. Made up for it a bit later. We got back down the mountain and went to the Taramakau pub in the late afternoon. The publican said we shouldn’t leave our rifles in the car, we should stack them in the corner of the pool room. Several more hunters arrived and did the same. Someone said there was a shag in the river visible out of the pub window. The publican said shoot it. Lindsay picked up his 308, we opened the ranch slider, he took the shot. He missed it. We went back to drinking our beer.

But there were more deer to be missed. Hunting in the Raukumara with Keith. Climbed up a thickly vegetated ridge trying to close the gap to where a stag was roaring. Suddenly a couple of hinds clattered down the ridge within metres of me. Then a stag appeared just a bit further up the ridge. Made the shot. He crashed down the ridge past me. Quickly went to look and found him looking back at me still on his feet. Made another shot, he collapsed. There was only one bullet hole in him.

Then there was the time Smithy and I were up the Rough River in the Paparoas. He found a deer very close in the spotlight. Then grabbed me by the elbow and shouted shoot the ……. thing while shaking shit out of my arm. I missed.

There were times at work. We were working out of Tolaga Bay on goats. One morning I had some easy opportunities and missed clean. Because the shots were not difficult I decided to check the zero. No sign of a bullet hole at my mark in a tree. Again, no sign of a mark. Then looked further up the tree and found the impact. Took a full turn of the adjustment to get a zero. Found out later that one of the ratbag hunters decided to disadvantage me so wound a turn onto my scope. On another occasion I’d returned from a stint of operating bulldozers in West Australia. Keith gave me a job in the King Country working with my old cobbers, Kit and Greg. We were hunting goats on fairly open pasture. After two days of trying I hadn’t hit a thing, so bad that Kit remarked that’s not like you. But it was true, I couldn’t hit anything. If this continued I wasn’t much use as a hunter. What can you do about it? Got my 22 , some targets and a heap of bullets. Seriously knuckled down and concentrated on all the elements of marksmanship I’d learned as a kid. Stable shooting position, proper placement of my rifle to my hands, shoulder and cheek, steady breathing till the time for the shot, clean sight alignment and then the correct trigger squeeze. Practised till I had my confidence back.  At the start of the next day I focussed really hard on getting the correct trigger squeeze and by the afternoon was back on form. It is disconcerting to doubt the skills you have relied on for so long.

I’ve developed a few theories about this missing problem. We can all miss. We are human, not machines, and can make mistakes. I think the most common problem is getting the trigger release wrong. We all do it. A significant amount of practice can help to minimise the mistakes but they will still occur. The other comment I would make is that anyone can miss, but if you miss twice because your rifle is not properly zeroed, then you are a mug. If you miss any shot, even though it was a poor attempt, then the next shot should be at a target to verify your zero. 

Uncle Gary had to pull my Rover out of several bog holes, I don’t recall having to unstick him from any.

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