Have you ever had had that "oh shit moment" after pulling the trigger to shoot a deer?
I have. Here's a four-step process to help you avoid getting in the same situation.
Once, for a hunting trip to Scotland, I managed to set myself up for failure. Before I'd even arrived.
Because of time pressure and lousy prioritization, I ended up bringing a new rifle. A load I hadn't familiarised myself with. And a scope with questionable mechanics.
I had to re-zero in the camp, and I had trouble getting a decent and centred group.
I was unsure if it was me, the load or the rifle.
On the hill, the uncertainty nagged me. And as we approached a group of red deer hinds, I felt uncomfortable about the situation.
As I pulled the trigger, the hind's reaction told me everything I needed to know.
Bad shot. In the guts.
Luckily, the echo from the hills behind the deer made them run towards us. I got an opportunity to take a shot at close range and kill the poor animal.
As we retrieved the deer, I realized that the wind had been stronger than expected, where they first stood.
It wasn't a consolation. It was another potential root cause for the mistake.
I didn't know if it was me, the scope, the load or the wind. Or a combination.
What I did know was that I never wanted to screw up like that again.
As hunters, we have a responsibility to the animal we hunt. And we're playing a role in a bigger picture (conservation). It's also plain and simply a shame not to make the most of a hunting trip.
None of the potential root causes of my mistake were complex.
All of it was textbook stuff, and I wasn't a novice hunter.
How could I set myself up for failure that way?
In short, I'd let the excitement of new gear for a trip get the better of me.
And I'd prioritized "fancy" over "tried and trusted".
I was missing some kind of process "emergency brake".
I didn't have a checklist or a tollgate, which would have forced me to stop, review, and find a better solution.
That experience has stayed with me. I've contemplated it many times. And when I read "Secrets of Mental Marksmanship" By Linda Mill and Keith Cunningham, I realized I'd found the (simple but effective) solution.
Long story short, the authors talk about tools for developing your self-consciousness. As a basis to improving your performance as a shooter.
Three of their tips are especially relevant to my hind incident.
- Hunting trips must be preceded by phases of experimentation and practice.
- Competency and familiarity should be developed via a gradual and structured training program.
- Experimentation and training phases must be adhered to and not mixed.
In short, don't bring gear you haven't tested and familiarized yourself with. And one day on the range for zeroing off a bench does not count.
Based on Miller and Cunningham, I've defined four stages to prevent a mistake like the one I made in Scotland.
Try out a new piece of gear without chasing results. Does it work? How does it work best for you? Have ample time to test different loads or brands of ammunition. And make everything is in working order.
Start gradual practice when you have settled on a setup. For a rifle, shoot it off the bench to get a feel for it. Then proceed to field-based positions. And finally, run some scenarios where you incorporate transitions and a bit of speed. To put pressure on the system. The objective is "unconscious competence". To get you to operate your gear without having to think about it. So you can focus on hunting.
With practice over and your trip or the season approaching, it's time to start planning. Think about potential gear issues that could put a stop to your hunt. And what you need to do to deal with them. That includes spare equipment. Knowing where to source more ammunition. Tools for field repair. Etc. A key success factor for the planning phase is checklists. Making them forces you to think. And using them can be the difference between failure and success.
It's time to enjoy the fruits of your labor. It's also its own bucket of processes and procedures, but that's something we can talk about another time.
I remember this process as EPiPHany.
Not because of the religious reference. But because of the revelation I got from Miller and Cunningham's advice.
If I'd had an EPiPHany leading up to that trip to Scotland, I would have known I was on thin ice when rushing my gear choices.
I could have:
- Tried to find factory ammunition
- Brought a simple but tested scope
- Asked to use the guide's rifle
The critical point is not the specifics of what I could have done.
The important thing is that I would have had a frame of reference that forced me to do things the right way.
When I talk to local gun shops and shooting ranges, it seems last-minute gear rushes are common.
But you don't have to make the same mistakes as I did. As a simple step, you can consider purchasing new gear after the season.
So you have ample time to practice. I know it's not as exciting as before the season, but "slow and deliberate" will set you up for success.
You can also take it further, which I will recommend. And use a specific process like EPiPHany. Go through a structured and planned build-up to the hunting season.
Either way, I hope you got some food for thought.
That will help make you a more efficient hunter.