This forum has provided me with so much information on a relatively new passion for me that I feel compelled to share my recent experience on the "one that got away" and the lessons I learned from it in hopes that my experience might help another hunter not repeat the same mistakes I made that cost me a very, very nice Mulie buck!
I've primarily hunted whitetails from a stand and subscribe to the "only take a shot if it's the right shot" theory. Thus every buck I've taken I've felled with one broadside lung shot. Perhaps this lead to a bit of overconfidence in my shooting skills or simply a dose of buck fever caused the heartache I'm about to describe.
My father-in-law and I were hunting in north central Nebraska on the look out for a "wall hanger" mule deer. We had both already gotten nice whitetails on his property in southern Nebraska and were hunting a 10,000 acre tract that a friend of his owns that is essentially not hunted. After a couple of days of riding the canyons and seeing some decent bucks I spotted a very nice buck with a herd of does. We stopped the pickup and I got out. The deer was 80 yards away (or so) and standing broadside staring right at me.
I shouldered my rifle, steadied (so I thought) and took an offhand shot (note: we had gone to Cabelas before our trip and I contemplated getting a shooting stick/rest but passed...lesson number 1: better to have more gear than you think you need) . The deer flinched but it was clearly from my bullet passing over him not from my bullet hitting him. He began to trot away and I reloaded and shot again...this time making sure to hold down. This time he flinched because he had been hit....took on a noticeable limp...went ten yards under a cedar and laid down. By this point my father-in-law was braced across the top of the pick up with his 270 and had the deer in his scope.
The deer still had his head up and I thought he was simply bleeding out. My father-in-law relaxed and I walked up to within 30 yards of the deer (lesson number 2: don't approach until it is clear the deer is completely down). I was tempted to put a finishing shot in, or have my father-in-law do it from his braced position but I thought that I had the deer through the shoulder so we both passed. I shouldered my rifle to look at the deer through my scope and he hops up and heads into cover and up over the hill on three legs. I realized that I hadn't hit through the shoulder but through the hock. (lesson number 3: never assume).
I pursued the buck up and over the hill (turns out even a 3 legged deer is faster than I am...haha) and spent the next four hours (until dark) combing the area for any sign of the deer. I caught one last glimpse of my 3 legged buck trotting after his does but couldn't find him in the cedars nor could I find a blood trail.
I went home that night sick over not only losing my deer but also with the knowledge that I had wounded an animal and wasn't able to recover it. Several hours of searching the next morning yielded no result.
Next year when I head back after my first mule deer I will:
1. Bring a rest of some sort, shooting sticks or the like and only shoot from a braced position, never offhand.
2. If I ever wound a deer and have any question as to whether it is down BEFORE I approach I will put a finishing shot in (if it's head is still up).
3. Never, ever, assume again that I'm as good a shot in the field as I am at the range.
Looking back on things, it seems so simple, but my self discipline deserted me in the heat of the moment. In any event, hopefully this post will help prevent someone from making the same mistakes that I did. Thanks again to all who write on these forums.....how many days till the season opens again????