Make the first shot you take count.

When my cousin Lloyd and I started hunting deer with shotgun slugs, everybody had the same equipment: smooth bore shotguns and rifled “punkin ball” slugs.

Even the most accomplished hunters weren’t really sure what to expect when a one-ounce ball of lead, as aerodynamic as a bowling ball, went flying out the barrel. Lots of hunters were delighted when they hit a five-gallon bucket at 40 yards.

Now, with a wide variety of new and improved deer slugs, rifled slug barrels, and shotguns equipped with scopes and red dot sights, the effective range of some slug guns is pushing 125 to 150 yards when the hunter has ideal conditions, a solid rest and a clear line of sight. Even at that, the majority of Illinois deer harvested with firearms are tagged at 50 yards or less. 

Most of the time, putting a deer in the freezer or over the fireplace has little to do with how far your gun will shoot. It has far more to do with your ability to get set calmly and quickly, and taking a shot you are confident you can make. The best shot any hunter is going to get is the first one. Make it count.

A hunter who can consistently hit a seven-inch paper plate, shooting off hand at 50 paces, will be prepared for nearly all of the Illinois hunting scenarios he or she is likely to encounter. That’s harder than it sounds. With iron sights, at 50 yards a paper plate looks like an aspirin tablet. Shooters good enough to hit it every time will be better shots than 80 percent of the people in their hunting party.

Even “out West,” the majority of deer, antelope and elk are taken inside 125 yards — most hunters sight in 200 yards or more. For more than 20 years, one Montana outfitter has had a 12-inch-square target 300 yards from his firing station. He offers every hunter $50 if he or she can hit it on the first shot — off hand or from a rest. No one has ever collected.

No matter how far your gun will shoot, your best bet is to become skilled at realistic shooting distances. Hunting situations come with a racing heart and targets that might move. The longer the shot, the more it will be affected by wind.

That green twig 75 yards downrange that you can’t see throws a clod in the churn every time. The best long-range shooting tip I’ve ever heard is “get closer.” 

When a proud hunter steps off the distance from his shell casing to the deer, it’s seldom as far as it looked when he pulled the trigger. I never step one off.  If I miss, I don’t care how far it was. If I’m lucky to hit something 50 yards away, it might as well be 100.

In fact, I guarantee that it will be 100 by the time I get back to the cabin.

Contact George Little at ccmglobal@aol.com.