Top 9 Ways to Miss a Shot While Hunting

I missed my first chance at this whitetail doe.
 (Image: © Russ Chastain)

I missed my first chance at this whitetail doe. (Image: © Russ Chastain)

If you’ve never missed a shot at a deer or other game, you probably don’t have much hunting experience. Most of us learn the hard way about things like this, but if you read and heed this article, your chances of doing it right are much improved.

1) Don’t Zero or Sight-In Your Gun or Bow

If you can’t trust your hunting equipment to hit what you’re aiming at, then it’s not much use — and it’s likely you will miss your shot.

Spend time shooting your chosen hunting tool, whether it’s a firearm, a crossbow, or a bow. Make sure you practice with the ammo or arrows that you will hunt with, at different distances and in different positions. Shoot with and without a rest (if applicable) and see what you can do… and make sure you can hit what you’re aiming at.

2) Forget to Aim Precisely

Aiming at big game requires you to place your bullet or arrow well. There is a “sweet spot”, which can vary depending on the angle of the animal, distance between you and it, and whether you’re hunting with gun or bow.

If you simply aim at the entire animal without picking a spot, you run the risk of hitting it poorly, which can be far worse than a miss, because it can mean a lost and wasted animal.

And one of the best parts about picking a spot is that it also reminds you to aim…

3) Don’t Even Aim

This sounds like a no-brainer, and it kinda is… because deer fever has been known to turn off the brain of many a hunter.

I clearly recall a rainy January morning in 1988 when a deer came along and I missed it cleanly three times before I heard my brain screaming at my body, “Aim, idiot!” I aimed, hit the deer, and took him home.

Aiming is important.

4) Shoot Too Quickly

Although time is often of the essence when hunting, you must never rush your shot. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t shoot quickly; it simply means you should never shoot unless you are ready to make an accurate shot.

When your brain starts screaming at you to hurry up and shoot, take heed — but do it with care. And remember that there are two parts to accurate fast shooting, which my late father summed up with his credo: “Take your time, but hurry up.”

It means you can’t afford to dawdle, but you should slow yourself down just a smidge so you will remember aiming, trigger control, breath control, etc. This usually doesn’t take more than a second or two, and can mean all the difference between a successful hunt and going home empty-handed.

5) Fail to Shoot

It goes without saying that if you don’t shoot, you won’t hit the critter… but that doesn’t stop us from freezing up sometimes. And it’s happened to me… back in 1986 I got my first-ever chance at a legal buck deer, and all I could do was stare agog while it gazed placidly up at me, snickered, and departed.

This helped teach me humility — and to actually shoot if I wanted a deer.

6) Forget to Load Your Gun

It’s a mind-bender when you go to unload your rifle at the end of a hunt, only to find that there’s nothing in the chamber! It would be even worse if a deer had posed in front of you and you merely clicked at it. So yeah… load it.

7) Jerk the Trigger

Once upon a time, I hunted with a Winchester Model 70 rifle, which failed to fire when it should have. Aside from learning that the rifle sucked, I discovered I was jerking the trigger instead of squeezing it, when I watched the crosshairs abruptly jump when I tried to take the shot.

I didn’t get to take that deer home with me, but I carry that lesson along on every hunting trip, and do my best to squeeze the trigger while hunting just the same as when I’m at the range.

8) Forget to Brace Your Shot

If there is any way you can use a tree, stick, sling, tree stand, bipod, or anything else to rest on to steady your aim, do it. It’s possible to make accurate offhand shots, but more often than not the only way to make good long-distance shots on game is to have a solid rest… and even short-range shots can be much improved by propping up or using a sling to help steady your aim..

9) Fall Victim to Buck Fever

There’s not much aside from experience that will help with this. Buck fever is what causes people to forget to even raise their rifle or bow, much less shoot at the deer.

To build immunity to buck fever, you must spend time hunting and watching deer. Each experience will add to your resistance… but don’t ever believe you’re completely immune to it. Just as soon as you do, you’ll sit jelly-kneed and drooling as the biggest buck in the woods strikes a pose in front of you — right before he disappears forever.

What did I Forget?

Have you discovered a great way to miss that isn’t described above? Please comment below to let us know about it.

Editor & Contributing Writer Russ Chastain is a lifelong hunter and shooter who has spent his life learning about hunting, shooting, guns, ammunition, gunsmithing, reloading, and bullet casting. He started… [Learn More]


I want more stuff like this!

Sign up for the All Outdoor weekly email and never miss our most popular stories.