Imagine this situation: It’s a beautiful fall evening. You have your trusty rifle in hand and a buck tag burning a hole in your pocket. It’s been all day, but you haven’t found any game yet. Frustrated, you tromp into the meadow below. All of a sudden, you catch a flurry of brown and white out of the corner of your eye. You reposition to get a better look. Is it a buck? Is it a doe? Buck. All right! You lift your gun — but wait. Is it a legal buck? Do you even have a clear shot? Are you positive there’s not another hunter in the area?
Hurry up! He’s getting farther away with each passing second. Shoot… or don’t shoot?
Before you decide, you’ll need more information:
- Have you positively identified that this is a deer?
- Do you have an ethical shot? Is this deer, which you spooked and is running away from you, presenting an ethical shot? The Texas heart shot is not one you want to try. The responsible hunter waits for a clean shot, preferably broadside or quartering-away, where the animal’s vitals are well exposed.
- Are you completely sure there isn’t another hunter or person in the line of fire or beyond? When in “the zone,” it’s hard to completely survey your surroundings to be sure of a safe shot.
Often, in the middle of the excitement, hunters enter “the zone.” In that tunnel-vision situation, you may misidentify an animal, make a dangerous shot, or be too close to other hunters or buildings. Target fixation can make those questions hard to answer.
It’s natural for hunters to get into “the zone,” but that can make you forget hunting safety rules.
Set up a safe hunting situation with the following steps:
- Set up in an area you are familiar with. Familiar hunting grounds are a best-case scenario. Being familiar with the land will help in the decision-making process of whether to shoot or pass. However, it’s not always possible. Regardless of where you are hunting, following these next tips can ensure your safety and the safety of others.
- Scan your surroundings constantly. Be aware of your surroundings at all times. Are there any buildings in the distance? Are other hunters in the area? What potential dangers are nearby?
- Know your limits and the types of shots you can take. Broadside and quartering-away angles are desirable. Slightly quartering-away is a judgment call. Straightaway or head-on? Forget it; that’s not a good shot to take. Part of being a responsible hunter is respecting the game you are after and only taking responsible shots that will result in a quick and sure kill.
- Establish your effective range. Knowing your effective range is will help you make a decision in the field as to whether you should shoot or pass. If you don’t know your effective range, refer to your ammunition box or the manufacturer’s website for more information.
- Take a deep breath — or two, or three. In the case where you have decided to shoot, take a deep breath. Not only will this help you slow your heart rate and settle in for a clean shot, it will help you enjoy the moment! Taking a breath will also help relieve that target fixation and will allow you to collect your thoughts and make a sound decision.
- After your shot, pause and gather your thoughts. Take a moment: Is your safety on? Is your muzzle still pointed in a safe direction? Is your finger out of the trigger guard? Make sure you are obeying the rules of firearm safety, especially when you go to visit your trophy.
All in all, the adrenaline, the rush of excitement and the thrill of the hunt can distract you from important steps. Don’t let target fixation override your sense of safety. Be proactive in setting your boundaries, and think safety first. It’s as simple as that.
Time for practical application! Take a look at the picture below. Now that you have a full vision of the scene, is this a shoot or don’t shoot situation? Comment your answer and reason why!
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