Fewer than 20 percent of the region’s deer hunters filled their tags on opening day.
Another untold percentage of sportsmen did the unmentionable.
They shot, and missed.
You don’t hear much about missed shots in the West. It’s not the manly thing to do, much less admit.
Women hunters don’t go out of their way to talk about it, either.
Admitting that you missed a deer with a shot from a modern rifle is about as unwestern as ordering a well-done steak.
Missing is unthinkable, embarrassing, and, in many cases, completely natural.
Recent research at the University of Wisconsin studied the heart rates of volunteer hunters who went afield wearing portable monitors. The pulse rates of hunters ages 26-61 were recorded on 56 different hunting trips for deer, waterfowl and upland birds.
Results indicated that the bigger the game, the greater the impact on a hunter’s system.
With no game in sight, the average heart rate of the hunters in the field was 78 beats per minute. When deer were sighted, the average heart rate increased to about 100 beats a minute.
At the moment the average hunter fired the lethal shot, the heart rate had soared to nearly 122 beats a minute.
For perspective, do 10 minutes of moderate aerobics and then pick up a rifle and try to hold a bead on a milk jug at 100 yards.
Ducks and geese were less stirring to the hunters’ hearts. Waterfowlers charted an average increase of only 28 beats per minute by the time they fired their shotguns, compared with 44 for deer hunters.
We can only imagine what an elk hunter experiences when a seven-point bull steps out from behind a bush.
But even this physiological research fails to explain some sure shots that miss their mark.
Last week, on the annual father-son antelope hunt near my hometown in Montana, I used binoculars to spot a band of pronghorns high up a draw more than a mile from the nearest road.
Dad drove out of sight of the antelope and dropped me off so I could begin the long cross-country hike to a coulee paralleling the one in which the antelope were resting.
I sneaked over the ridge downwind of the pronghorns and began belly-crawling through the prickly pear cactus patches for several hundred yards in cover barely adequate for hiding a half-grown jackrabbit.
I was able to sneak within 200 yards of the antelope to a small patch of brush, where I inched the rifle into a rock-solid prone shooting position.
The antelope were unalarmed, so I took time to relax. I sized up the quartering wind, picked the pronghorn presenting the best target, steadied the crosshairs just behind the shoulder, exhaled half of a long, deep breath and squeeeezed the trigger.
All nine of the antelope blitzed 50 yards to the ridge. They milled around, looking for the source of the shot. Still unable to spot me, they trotted away.
All of them.
I had missed. Flat-out missed.
Too stunned to fire another shot, I watched the pronghorns’ white rumps bounce into the distance before starting the long hike back to the pickup, where my father had watched the bumbled stalk.
“Better shoot that gun at a can and see if the scope’s off,” he said.
I did. The rifle was dead on.
Dad didn’t say much. He was still feeling the humiliation from last year.
He had taken a stand, as he had many times before, in the corner of a stubble field where antelope invariably passed when disturbed by other hunters on opening day.
But the wind was unusually cold, even for October. His eyes watered and his cheeks went numb before hunting activity a few miles away finally spooked a pronghorn his way.
From a sitting position, Dad touched off a shot from his trusty .270 and missed. He cranked another round in the chamber and dropped the antelope with the next shot, but the damage to his ego was done.
He stewed for days over the miss.
“I can’t remember missing a shot like that,” he said.
These things happen when you’re 84 years old, I told him.
This year, Dad was back in top form, putting a year’s worth of fine dining in the freezer with one perfectly placed shot.
On the drive home, he looked in the box of antelope ammo he’s been working on for 15 years.
“Four shells left,” he said.
“That’ll get me to the year 2000.”
, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Rich Landers The Spokesman-Review