Now a deer on the jump is hard to hit. The points to be observed are: To be as alert at all times as though you were hunting grouse without a dog; to get your gun in position the instant that you see the game; to pick out, as quick as lightning, a clear space through which to fire; but, above all things, not to shoot until you are absolutely certain that it is game you are shooting at; and then to dwell on the aim just long enough to see your bead clearly and to hold for a vital spot. Beyond that, do not hesitate the fraction of a second. To give a novice an idea, I would say that three or four seconds is a fair average interval between raising the rifle and firing, when a deer has been jumped in the forest. It is not so much the hands, but the eyes and brain, that must be quick, very quick.
When a deer is running in the open, follow it with the rifle about as you would a bird with a shotgun, only don't "lead," that is, consciously. At a hundred yards, a high-velocity bullet will reach him in the time that it takes him to go, say, four feet. If your rifle is swinging with him, you don't have to hold ahead. And most shots at running deer are at a shorter distance than that. Try to catch him as he strikes the ground at the end of a jump. Anyway, beware of firing too high. Most of the time he is "hugging the ground" pretty close.
In thick timber, don't try to swing with him— you can't see him well enough. Pick out an opening that he will cross, and fire the instant his head crosses above your front sight (this is a general idea —"lead," in this case, depends on distance). Then you will, at least, not send your bullet whack into an intervening tree.
Although one may often get a chance for a standing shot, yet I think it is best to spend most of one's target ammunition (at home) in snap-shooting. By snap-shooting with the rifle I do not mean merely glancing along a barrel and disregarding the sights. You must see your bead, and, in case of open sights, you must see that the bead is well down in the notch; but it is snap-shooting to press the trigger instantly when it first touches, or rather when it swings close to, the object that you want to hit, instead of waiting to swing back and steady down, as one would do when aiming deliberately. To snap-shoot at the right instant, without pulling off to one side, is a fine art.
The main trouble, in such cases, is to select the right spot to shoot at, and then to find it over the sights. With a deer, for example, the color is so neutral and the outlines are so indistinct, even in good light, that 3 man's eyes can seldom distinguish the exact spot that he wants to hit- He judges where it must be, from the general bulk of the animal and the position in which it is presented.
Standing shots, even at a considerable distance, call for no comment, as they are comparatively easy, in good light, for anyone who has been well trained on the rifle range at home— provided he does not get "buck ague".
For a broadside shot, the best point to aim at is immediately behind the shoulder and only one-third of the way up from breast to withers—that is, where the heart lies. When the body is presented in any other position, shoot, as a rule, at such a point that the bullet, in ranging forward, will pass through or close to the heart. When an animal stands looking at me as a deer often will when it comes in on a runway and one bleats or whistles at it, my favorite shot is the neck. A bullet passing through any animal's neck, near the center, is almost sure to strike a paralyzing, knock-out blow, because it can scarcely miss a vital part.
Aim low when shooting downhill, because then you see more of the upper side of the animal than you ordinarily would. A shot high up is seldom fatal, unless you hit the spine. In making long shots downhill, do not forget that the only distance to be allowed for is that from the mark to a point directly under you and level with the mark.
Aim dead-on when shooting uphill, unless the range is greater than your rifle is sighted for on a level. The extra allowance for "lift" is so trifling at ordinary ranges that you had better disregard it than overdo the matter.
Don't rely on "raining lead." The man who does his "darndest" with the first shot is the one who gets most venison in the long run. But reload instantly, and be ready, if necessary, to follow up without hesitation. Shoot until the animal is down, or while it remains in view.
If a deer is not hit, it goes off with its "flag" (white underside of tail) in the air. If hit, it may or may not clap its tail down. When struck in the rear half of the body (unless through the spine, which is a knock-out) it will likely kick out its hind legs, and there is some long trailing ahead of you.
Even when shot through the heart, a deer may run a hundred yards or more; but when it drops it is dead. If you are sure that it was a heart shot, follow up at once, but if you are not, then wait a good while. A wounded deer, when it finds it is not followed, is likely to lie down; then it gets stiff and weak from loss of blood. Give it time for this before you go after it. Don't follow directly on its tracks, for it will watch backward as long as it can hold its head up, and will run again, if possible, the instant it finds itself followed. Go in half-circles, to one side, then in to the trail, out again, and so on, until you have headed it on the leeward side.
History mercifully does not record how many thousand big and bewhiskered armed men, at their first sight of big game, have stood or sat with mouth wide open, gazing at the thing, oblivious to everything else on earth, including the loaded gun in the hand. If a deer only could wink one eye!
Buck ague is different. With it, the victim knows it is a deer before him, and knows but too well that he has a gun. But he also has as bad a case of "shakes" as a toper after a long spree. This affliction may overcome a rifleman in any kind of hunting, but it is most likely to seize upon the novice when he is sitting on a stand and hears the dogs baying toward him. It is hard on a fellow's nerves to sit there, praying with all his soul that the bear may not run some other way, and yet half doubtful of his own ability to head it off if it does come his way. The chances are that it will by no means run over him, but that it will come crashing through the brush at some point on one side, toward which he will have to run with all his might and main before firing. Now if he does let that bear go through, after all the hard work of dogs and drivers, his shirt-tail will be amputated that night by his comrades and hung from a high pole in the midst of the camp—a flag of distress indeed! Who wouldn't get buck ague in the face of such alternative?
It is hard on a fellow's nerves, I say, to hear those dogs coming toward him, and to know from the racket that a bear is certainly ahead of them, but not to know where or when the' brute may emerge, nor what infernal trees or thickets and downwood may be in the way. Can you hit him ? That is the question. The honor of the camp is on your shoulders. Ah, me! it is easy to follow the pack on horseback—to chase after something that is running away. But to sit here clenching your teeth while at any moment a hard-pressed and angry bear may burst out of the thicket and find you in his way—noth-ing but you between him and near-by freedom— gentlemen, it tests nerve!
Buck ague is not the effect of fear. In fact, fear has nothing to do with it. It is a tremor and a galloping of the heart that comes from over-anxiety lest you should fail to score. Precisely the same seizure may come upon you on the target range. That is the only place that I ever experienced it. There is no telling when it may strike. I have known seasoned sportsmen to be victimized by it. Yet, when the critical moment does come, it often turns out that the man who has been shaking like a leaf from pent-up anxiety suddenly grows cold and steady as a rock. Especially is this apt to be the case when a fighting beast comes suddenly in view. Instantly the man's primeval instincts are aroused; his fighting blood comes to the surface; the spirit of some warrior ancestor (dead, maybe, these thousand years) possesses and sways your mild-eyed modern man, and he who trembled but a moment ago now leaps into the combat with a wild joy playing on his heart strings.