No matter what outdoor sport we humans are involved in, there are always things that can go wrong that either put a complete halt to the activity, or at least change our plans in some way.
When we’re driving a vehicle, the fan belt can break (remember when they used to slip off?).
When we’re out on a lake fishing, the motor can quit (we really should have run some cleaner through that carburetor!).
When we’re playing tennis (who plays tennis?), a string on our racquet can break and ruin our serve.
When we’re bungee jumping, (well, let’s not go there – that can really ruin our day!).
But when we’re hunting – what can go wrong when we’re hunting that can spoil the day?
If our binoculars fog up we can simply wipe them off.
If we break a bootlace we can just re-tie it.
Oh sure, if our tent leaks during the night and keeps us awake, we’ll be tired – but that never really stopped anyone from continuing the hunt.
And if a hunter should slip on a mountain hunt and break an ankle . . .
OK – I guess if we really think about it, there are lots of things that can go wrong to mess up a hunt.
Let me tell you about an equipment malfunction that could have, and almost did cause one of my hunts to go sour.
I like to blame it on cousin Bob.
I was hunting on a friend’s property that bordered a large swamp. It wasn’t the first time I’d been there, so I knew the lay of the land fairly well.
Knowing that, I also knew where the deer liked to travel when they were moving through the relative open woods of the property toward the safety of the much thicker swamp.
I chose a spot overlooking a long depression full of heavy undergrowth, similar to what much of the swamp was like; it made a natural funnel through which the deer liked to move following a few days of hunting pressure.
I was standing on an old pine stump from which a White Birch tree had grown.
I don’t know what it was about those big old pine stumps that had been harvested many years before, but for some reason they seemed to provide a perfect spot for White Birch to sprout.
This particular Birch tree consisted of two trunks that were a foot or so apart at the bottom, then spread apart as they went skyward, forming a graceful ‘V’.
Standing on the old stump, I was elevated about two feet off the ground, leaning against one of the trunks with my Ruger M77 chambered in .308 in my hands.
I had bought this rifle new in 1978 on the advice of my cousin, Bob, who was a considerable “gun nut” and a die-hard fan of Bill Ruger.
He had actually written his Master’s thesis for his engineering degree on the design and manufacturing principles of the Sturm, Ruger & Co. of Southport, Connecticut.
Oh yeah, he was a real fan of Ruger – both the man and his firearms.
He was also an avid handloader.
He loved to spend hours working up the “perfect load” for the different calibers and guns that he owned.
When I told him I was going to buy this rifle, he gave me a gift of two boxes of his own favorite .308 loads to get me started. Thanks, Bob!
I had four of his bullets in my rifle that day as I stood on that old pine stump overlooking the thick stuff through which I hoped deer would be traveling.
I hadn’t been there long – maybe a half an hour – when I saw movement that could only be deer.
Patches of brown ghosting through the heavy understory.
A glimpse here, another glimpse there, then I could make out two does sneaking along with their necks held low as they quietly headed for the darkness and shelter of the deepest part of the cedar swamp.
Then they were gone.
Only two or three minutes later another movement caught my eye. It was another deer following the same path as the does.
Was it a buck?
I could see the outline of the deer as it moved through, but I couldn’t make out whether it had antlers or not.
Then it stopped and raised its head, reaching above the low growing brush to a branch higher up.
Like someone who stretches and lazily scratches their head, this deer was rubbing its head on a branch – probably leaving scent from its pre-orbital gland behind.
And it had bone on top – it was a buck!
I already had the rifle up, so I flicked off the safety – not a loud noise by any means, but loud enough for those sensitive ears to hear.
The deer looked in my direction.
All I could see was the head and white throat patch .
The distance was about 30 yards.
I settled the duplex crosshairs of the Redfield 2-7X on that white patch and pressed the trigger.
Oh – there’s one of those things that can go wrong when we’re hunting.
My military training came back to remind me that when this happens, you should not immediately open the action.
It could be a “hangfire”. A primer that did not ignite with a sudden flash, but rather is smoldering.
This condition can cause a delayed ignition of the powder that, if the action is open, can have dramatic and tragic results for the shooter whose face is only a few inches away.
It’s unusual, but it can happen.
I counted to ten – slowly.
I wanted this buck, but not enough to risk having a cartridge blowing up in my face.
I never took my eyes off the buck as I slowly raised the bolt and eased it back, stopping just before the ejector would flip the bullet out and away from the rifle.
I slowly reached up and took the round out and glanced down at the primer, keeping the rifle still aimed in the direction of the deer.
Sure enough – the primer had a good dent in it, but the round hadn’t gone off.
It was a misfire. Thanks, Bob!
I let the bullet fall to the ground, giving it just the slightest toss with my fingers, and eased another round into the chamber.
Looking back toward the deer, I shouldn’t have been surprised to see that it was gone!
I scanned the brush through the scope – no deer – no movement – nothing!
Lowering the rifle slightly, I looked with my bare eyes.
Ah, there he was, trying to sneak away through the thicket – probably having seen and heard enough to know that this wasn’t the place he wanted to hang around.
I picked out an opening through which he would pass and put the crosshairs there.
When I saw brown enter the sight picture I pressed the trigger again.
Once again, the deer disappeared from my view, but he didn’t run off.
He was lying on the small trail that he had been following through the middle of the brush.
The bullet had taken him through both shoulders, instantly putting him down.
There are a lot of things that can go wrong when you’re hunting.
Having one of Cousin Bob’s pet loads fail to fire wasn’t one that I would have expected.
But, I guess that’s one of the things that make hunting so much fun, eh?
You just never know what’s going to happen!