The old-fashioned practice of "drawing coarse" for a long shot is guesswork. A novice is almost sure to overdo it. An experienced hunter may do very well that way, so long as he uses rifle and ammunition that he is thoroughly familiar with; but let him change to something different and he must learn all over again. That is one reason why many expert hunters are old-fogyish about arms and ammunition. On the other hand, there is no guesswork in the system of determining a "practical point-blank" and then aiming straight at the spot you want to hit. It "gets the meat" with certainty—always provided, my brother, that you hold true and draw trigger without jerk or quiver.
It is not nearly so much the "make" of rifle as the load it takes that determines the gun's shooting qualities. So, choose first a cartridge, then a gun to handle it. For example, the Springfield cartridge is a good one for big game at all ranges; but you can use it in rifles of several different makes, and most of them will do the same work with it. The old .44-40 is still a good cartridge for brush-shooting at deer, but a mighty poor one beyond ioo yards, no matter what kind of a rifle it is shot out of. And so we might go on through the whole maze of ammunition lists. But how to choose a cartridge? Well, here are two rules that will help a good deal:
(1) No cartridge is accurate beyond a very moderate distance unless the bullet is at least 3 calibers long for .25 caliber bullets, 2>Y2 calibers long for .30 to .35 caliber bullets, 2 calibers long for .40 to .45 caliber bullets, calibers long for .50 caliber bullets.
(2) No bullet is accurate at high speed unless it either is long and heavy or has fine lines forward, as one would say of a boat.
This is not an essay on hunting, but in trying to give an idea of how marksmanship in the woods differs from marksmanship on the range, it may help a beginner to understand just what is meant if I first state certain maxims of the still-hunter's craft:
(1) Hunt one kind of animal at a time, and think of it.
(2) Know its strong points and its weak ones.
(3) Know where to hunt and where not to.
(4) Choose favorable ground.
(5) Consider the animal's daily habits.
(6) Know just what to look for.
(7) Maneuver according to a definite plan.
(8) Work against the wind, or across it.
(9) Move noiselessly and reconnoiter carefully.
(10) Try to see the game before it sees you.
(11) Keep cool.
(12) Never fire at anything until you are absolutely certain it is not a human being.
(13) Never fire a shot that is not the best you can possibly do.
(14) After firing, reload instantly.
(15) If you wound an animal, don't follow immediately upon its track, unless you are sure it is shot through the heart.
(16) Be patient over ill-luck, and keep on trying.
Serve your apprenticeship under a guide. He can teach you more in a week than you could learn by yourself in a year. There are, however, two books that every beginner ought to study before he goes to the woods: Van Dyke's Still Hunter and Brunner's Tracks and Tracking, both of them far and away ahead of anything else on their respective subjects. Don't try to memorize, but read and re-read until the lessons have soaked in. They will make it much easier for you to understand your guide's movements and directions (but don't quote your book-learning to him, or to anybody else).
After you have learned something of woodcraft by actual experience in company, make a practice of going alone and putting it to the proof. In still-hunting, two men working together make four times as much noise as one would by himself. They more than double the risk of alarming the game by their scent, as they seldom will be right together. And each relies too much on the other. "Tom may jump one to me" is a thought that has spoiled many a hunt (and hunter). You don't want any Tom to think about: you want to think deer, if that is what you are after.
Wild animals in the woods do not look at all like the same species do in captivity or in picture-books. Only at rare intervals does one see a buck in the open posed like Land-seer's "Stag at Bay," and when he does, the picture is altogether different. The buck's coloration blends with his surroundings. You never see him in stark relief unless he be on a ridge, outlined against the sky, or somewhere with a broad sheet of water for a background. Nor does he carry his head erect, unless suspicious, startled, challenging, or browsing on branches that hang above him.
A deer is always hard to see unless he be out in the open, or in the water, or on the jump. Generally its body is half hidden, or more than half, by underbrush or intervening trees. So what you want to look for is not an animal as a whole, but for spots of leaden gray (the "blue" coat of autumn and winter) of no particular shape. The spot may seem fairly vaporous, like fog. Of course if the animal moves, you will see it, but probably not until it is sneaking stealthily but swiftly away. Then there are trees in the way, and brush; your footing may not be secure; the light may be shining in your eyes; and, with it all, you must shoot quickly, or lose the opportunity. Under such circumstances it is absurdly easy to miss a full-grown deer at twenty paces. So try to see the game before it sees you. Quite likely you won't; but if you have maneuvered against the wind so that the animal has not caught your scent, it may stay quietly hidden, trusting in the cover of the shrubs, or it may hesitate long enough for you to raise your gun before it moves.
A deer does not gallop unless a dog is after it. When fleeing from a man it commonly goes at an indescribably easy and graceful lope, varied at every few bounds by a high, long leap. It does not seem to be exerting itself, yet it goes pretty fast. Having got out of the immediate neighborhood, it subsides into a trot or amble, and then stops, looks backward, and scents the air, to find if it is pursued.