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The Ultimate Shooting Challenges - Long Shots and Movers, Part Two - Shooting Running Deer
The Ultimate Shooting Challenges - Long Shots and Movers
Part Two - Shooting Running Deer

By Ian McMurchy

Your buddies have spotted a huge buck running into an aspen bluff. You know that the bluff is not very large and that it has a marshy slough in the middle. The slough is dry now but it is surrounded with cat-tails and willow clumps. There is a natural drainage running from the slough, only three or four feet lower than the rest of the terrain. The little creek is mostly weeds and a few cat-tails, winding a mile or so over to another marsh. You also know that the drainage is a natural escape route. The wind is running right down the drainage into the bluff - and deer prefer to run into the wind.

You are hunting with three buddies. The plan immediately unfolds that two guys will flank the bluff while two slowly push through it. Everyone knows that the hunter covering the drainage has the optimum spot and you would like to have that opportunity. Your buddies insist that you take the drainage, suggesting a particular knoll that will offer a good vantage point. They give you and the other poster ten minutes to get into position.

Arriving at the top of the knoll you can see that the little creek-bed will not hide the buck. If he runs this way you will have a clear shot. You are excited - this could be a great set-up! You frantically go over your shooting options - deciding that if he comes out you will wait until he is well clear of the bluff and also clear of where you know the other poster is situated. That means waiting until he is about one hundred yards from the bluff.

Your mind also flashes over your shooting position options. Since the distance will be well over one hundred yards when he is clear you are hesitant to shoot offhand. You pull out your trusty Underwood shooting sticks and sit down behind them. You position your rifle in the sticks and try to swing it along the edge of the creek. Not bad. You crank your four to twelve power scope down to four power and take a few deep breaths. You seem to know that something is going to happen.

Suddenly there is a shout from the bluff and you see movement as a deer bounds through the white and gray aspens. Your senses are so intense that the buck appears almost in slow motion as he charges from the trees and heads along the far side of the creek.

At first you are mesmerized by the huge rack! You force yourself to focus on his running form. You have him in the scope and that old gut-wrenching fear starts to overcome the initial excitement of seeing that beautiful six by six. How much lead - don't forget to follow-through - don't jerk the trigger! He is running very fast, tail down and mouth open. He bounds past your safe shooting mark. You are IT! No one can help you now! This is a defining moment - you either kill him or for a long time you will carry the frustration, disappointment, self-pity and memories of this monster that got away.

He is almost at right angles as you swing the rifle past his nose. Suddenly the scope-picture disappears as the rifle recoils. You have given him a little more than a body length for lead. In a mili-second you are treated to the incredible spectacle of the huge buck flipping completely over and crashing down on his back. He is still. Your bullet had snapped his neck - his antlers snagging in the ground caused him to summersault forward. You crank another round into the chamber and watch for a few seconds as your mind replays the incredible experience.

The Basics of Shooting Running Deer

Let's get down to the basics of shooting at running deer. There are some basic errors that we must avoid. First, regardless of whether the target is stationary or moving we cannot expect to hit if we jerk the trigger. Second, we must follow-through smoothly, keeping the rifle moving with the deer. Third, we must find a method to obtain some practice - this is very difficult but how else can we learn how to hit moving targets with a rifle?

Jerk the trigger and the bullet usually goes high. Ask hunting guides and they will tell you that most shots that miss deer go over the buck. Rifle shooters have another challenge - do not stop the movement of your rifle as you fire the shot. Following-through is as essential for hitting a buck as it is for game-bird or clay-bird shooters. The difference is that the deer hunter is trying to shoot one bullet through the chest of a running buck as opposed to hitting a moving mallard or clay-pigeon with a teaspoon full of shot.

Technicalities Involved in Shooting Running Bucks
Let's briefly look at the technicalities involved. We must consider several variables as we decide where to release the shot. The speed and direction of the buck are obviously essential. Deer have several gaits, ranging from walking to all-out galloping, accompanied by leaping and dodging. Another consideration is whether he is running at right angles, oblique or straight-away.

The speed of our bullet is important, since fast bullets cover the distance significantly quicker than slow bullets, so less leading is required. For those who enjoy math, the formula for determining the required lead is TIME OF FLIGHT X TARGET SPEED = LEAD. Time of flight is measured in hundredths or thousands of a second and it is the time that your bullet takes to travel to the buck. Target Speed is the running speed of the buck and it is measured in feet per second (from miles per hour). A running speed of 20 mph converts to 29 fps and 30 mph equals about 44 fps.

Just what is required to obtain realistic lead information? We do not have time to do any math in the field so we should develop charts for our particular cartridge and memorize the lead info for running speeds and distances. Although this requires the dreaded MATH, it does work.

"DEER LENGTHS" Work in the Field
Although I have shot a large number of running deer, I find that this is the toughest shooting that I must do when hunting. To make this task a little easier I use deer lengths or portions of a deer for my lead hold-offs. I find that this works better than trying to figure inches or feet when the chips are down. Here are some charts that I use for my favorite hunting caliber, the .308 Winchester.

I have included the four hundred yard figures to show how much lead would be required - too much for most shooters.

The biggest problem in learning how to hit moving targets is finding a moving target system to practice on.
Deer Running 20 MPH
165 grain bullet @ 2600fps
DistanceLead
InchesfeetDeer Lengths
10044"3.5'1
20088"7.3'2
300137"11.5'3
400190"16'4

Deer Running 30 MPH
165 grain bullet @ 2600fps
DistanceLead
InchesfeetDeer Lengths
10064"5.3'1.5
200132"11.3'3.0
300205"17'4.5
400284"23.5'6+

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