The stand was set against a stout oak a few hundred yards up a brushy ridge. It was a good spot where several trails converged and a rocky outcropping created a funnel. The best visibility was straight ahead to the rocks, but it was a spot where deer could come from anywhere.
It was about 8:30 when I heard faint crunching in the leaves somewhere over my left shoulder. I’m left-handed, so that’s my worst possible angle. Slowly I swiveled my neck, then my body, and in a few seconds I picked up slight movement in thick oaks about 60 yards behind me–several does feeding on acorns–and then I caught a flash of antler as a buck started to move up the ridge to my left.
He wasn’t a monster, but he had the points and gave the impression of maturity. Carefully I stood in the stand, glad for the safety harness, and turned to the left.
The low cover was dense enough that I got away with the movement, but now the buck was in really thick stuff, showing just the occasional flash of antler and patch of brown hair. I leaned against the tree and followed the faint movement. When I had a patch of shoulder I fired the sweet little 7×57, waited a few minutes, then cleared the rifle and climbed down. On the ground it was thick enough that, even in 75 yards, I lost my bearings–but the buck was there, waiting for me.
Long range is very much the rage these days, but it seems to me that the majority of rifle shots at big game are what I think of as “medium range.” To me this means something between 100 and 250 yards.
(RELATED: Boddington On Long-Range Shooting)
And then there’s close range, inside 100 yards. Even when carrying a flat-shooting gun, I’ve had close shots at a wide variety of “open country” game: pronghorns at less than 75 yards; wild sheep and goats at less than 50 yards; elk within 25 yards; and a lot of mule deer well under 100 yards. Then there are the animals that are often taken at very close range: moose, whitetails, bears and wild boar–not to mention Africa’s big stuff and forest game.
Whether the shot is at 10 yards or 99, close-range shooting is a bit different. On animals with reasonable vision you are in immediate danger of being detected, so your own movement in raising the rifle is a critical factor. And your options in getting steady are limited.
Whatever you do must be done with as much stealth as possible, but you can’t mess around. At close range the clock is ticking. At any second the animal might look up and notice you, and it’s all over with even the slightest sound or swirl of unfavorable wind.
Visibility may be a key factor, because it’s often thick cover that allowed you to be so close in the first place. Let’s address that first, because before you can shoot the animal you have to see it and recognize it for what it is.
My first experience with close-cover hunting was in western Montana’s jackpine jungles in the early 1970s. I wasn’t very good at it. When I was stationed in Virginia in 1974 and had my first experience hunting eastern whitetails I was just horrible. I had great eyesight and could pick out animals at amazing distances, but I couldn’t visualize pieces of animals at close range in thick cover.
Perhaps my most humbling experience was on my second safari to then-Rhodesia in May when the leaves were full. I simply couldn’t see what my professional hunter was seeing.
I remember one day we stalked a sable bull, a black animal motionless in midday shade at the base of a big tree. My PH saw him clearly at 100 yards, but I had no idea what he was looking at. So we crawled, closer and closer. I doubt we were 15 yards away when he crashed away–and that was the first time I saw him.
To this day, hunters who grew up under close-cover conditions are much better at this stuff than I am. But slowly, over the last 30 years I’ve spent a lot of time in varied close-cover situations, and I’m a whole better at it than when I was a kid.