I'm glad that Billinsd brought up the subject of off hand shooting. I was planning to add to his post, but decided to start a new one rather than risk hi-jacking it.
Over the last three years my wife and I have had more than 3 shots at big game that were nearly mandatory off-hand shots. A couple of them at quality animals. The results were a mixed bag and a little humbling, to say the least.
Two years ago I jumped a dink (meat-in-the-freezer) buck up in a small patch of aspens. He stopped at 100 yards and gave me a split second for a shot. I had enough time to take a knee, but not enough to get into a supported position. I made a snap shot and dropped the buck in its tracks. Was I lucky? Probably a little bit.
Last year during the general deer season, I took my wife hunting. I was out of the running because of my special draw tag. I'll skip the details on how we found the buck and got up on it, but eventually we ended up on a sagebrush hillside that was curved in a way that you could not see much more than about 100 yards in any direction. We knew the buck was there somewhere, but it surprised us when it stood up in front of us at about 80 yards. For some reason (buck fever) my wife just froze up and kept asking me over and over if she should shoot it. I said he!/ yeah, shoot it! But it ran out of sight before she could draw on it. We walked towards where it had went, and there it was again at 100 yards, broadside. My wife tried to take a kneeling position, but the brush was too high so she had to take the shot off hand. I took one look at her barrel shaking and thought 'it'll be a miracle if she hits it'. Sure enough, she missed. That was the last time we saw this buck. Did I mention that the buck was easily over 30" wide. Seriously. Needless to say that even now, a year later, she is still sick about missing it. I heard that a big buck was taken in the same area a week later and I am pretty sure that it was the same buck.
We've been over the situation over and over again and determined that there were a few things that we could do differently next time. One was to use the sling in a semi-supported position and the others were to practice, practice, and practice. I also acquired a set of Stoney point tripod sticks.
Fast forward to this season... We put about 150 rounds in on offhand practice (me more that the wife) plus some off-season coyote and prairie dog hunting, including a great 100 yard, quick reflex, off hand hit on a coyote and a few other less spectacular coyote misses. In retrospect I should have taken more close to midrange off hand shots at prairie dogs, but its hard to do with all the great long-shots that are available.
Anyway, on opening morning this year we end up on the same hillside about a mile away from where we were last year. Mostly because during the bow season we spotted a nice buck in the area but could not get up on it. Although this buck was nice, it paled in comparison to the previous years missed buck. Somehow this time I manage to see the deer before it see's me. It was about 100 yards away with it's head down. I wasn't completely sure that it was the buck (or a buck at all), but figured it was from the body size. I took the safety off and tried to get into a supported position while I waited for it to raise its head. Once again the brush was too tall. Before I could get the sticks set up, he raised his head and started to walk off.
So here we are again... a nice buck and an off hand shot! As I raised the 338 Lapua Mag. and took aim, I couldn't believe how shaky I was. It paused and turned broadside, looking like it was going to bolt at any moment. I aimed at the front shoulder, started the trigger squeeze, and just as the trigger broke I saw the crosshairs slide over its back!! I couldn't believe that we (me this time) just missed another nice buck on the same hillside. I hurried and chambered another round as the buck disappeared into a small, shallow, gully. I couldn't help noticing at that moment how the unbraked, light-factory-barreled, 338 LM felt like shooting a 223 pea shooter with game in the crosshairs.
When he came out the other side of the gully he was at about 150 yards running perpendicular to me, downhill. I told myself 'this is it, last chance' and put the crosshairs on his front shoulder and started the trigger squeeze, remembering not to jerk the trigger, but forgetting to use the sling on both shots. This time as the trigger broke it felt good, perfect actually. The buck stumbled and wobbled once, but otherwise didn't break stride. He disappeared into a stand of pine trees before I could get another shot in. As we walked to where he was standing at the second shot my wife says 'there he goes', drew her 30-06, and took a quick reflex shot as it ran below us into another stand of pine trees. She called the shot as a miss.
Now the fun began. After walking out the area near where we last saw it and not finding it dead, we went back and started trying to track it. We couldn’t find blood, but kept finding a lot of those plants with the small red colored leaves. The search for a blood trail was not going very well with the thick brush and undergrowth. The ground was too dry and hard to find more than a few tracks, and despite 2 1/2 hours of crawling around on the ground we were unable to successfully track the buck. I was seriously beginning to doubt myself and the shot. If we both hadn't seen it stumble on the second shot, we may have given up on the search. I started to think that maybe I had gut shot it, or hit it bad in some other way, but could still see the sight picture in my head with the crosshairs on the shoulder as the trigger broke. I finally decided to make the assumption that it was hurt bad and we went back to where we had last tracked it. Despite the fact that it was side hilling when we lost its tracks, we cut straight down hill, following the path of least resistance. We had covered more than 200 yards when my wife climbed up on a boulder, looked down hill, and said there it is! What a relief!
It was hit right at the crease of the shoulder with the exit wound on the offside shoulder. There was very little blood on its hide. The exit hole was about ¾” in diameter. It's offside shoulder was not broken. Upon further inspection, the artery at the top of the heart was blown in half and both lungs were liquefied. Internally the deer was full of blood. There was a small piece of the 225 gr. Accubond’s jacket lodged in the exit hole. There was also massive tissue damage and a large area of blood shot meat around the wound channel, even on the onside part of the wound (see the picture of the onside wound channel).
Overall, it was a great hunt and I am very happy with this buck, especially for a general season hunt. He is only 23 inches wide but is tall and fairly heavy up top. If you count the eye guards (about 2"), he's a 5x6. He has a unique triple fork on both of his front forks. You almost have to see them up close to really appreciate how symmetrical and unique they are.
Here are the pictures:
It looks better with my official dead critter model:
Here's a shot of the onside wound channel. It was like this all the way to the neck: