Jensen Afield

Paul Jensen, a biologist with the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, points to the place where the author’s bullet entered the chest of a buck. Knowing when to take the shot and where to place the shot are two very critical aspects of a successful deer hunt.

It is, for some people, the night before Christmas. It is, for some families, a true family reunion. And for anyone who savors a tender venison roast, it is a great time to pack the freezer.

The Vermont buck season opens Nov. 10, and tens of thousands of Vermonters will head into the woods with high hopes.

There are many things that go into a successful buck season — so many variables to the hunt. You must be in the right place at the right time. You must make certain that the wind is in your favor. You must be absolutely certain that what you are about to shoot is, in fact, a deer and not a horrible mistake. And you must bring patience if you want to find success.

A little luck doesn’t hurt, either.

That said, let us talk about that one big decision: The buck is out there. When do you squeeze the trigger?

We have all heard of situations where the hunter either waited too long to take the shot or hurried the shot. I can say, from experience, that I have been guilty of acting in both cases.

If you are undecided about the shot because the distance is a bit far and there is brush or cover between you and the buck, you have an obligation to pass up the shot. You owe that to an animal that is as majestic as a whitetail. Every year, deer are wounded and suffer or die later because of an errant shot. So, waiting in this case is not only justified, it is required of any ethical hunter.

Then there are the times when a hunter waits for that “perfect” shot. That can be something that ends in regret. There is no perfect shot unless that buck is 30 yards out in open woods. In many situations, a buck will give you a broadside shot. Personally, I always prefer to shoot at a buck that has stopped in its tracks and is not moving. With little effort, you can almost always make that buck stop.

As you hold the rifle to your shoulder and have the deer in your scope, let out a loud grunt, deep in your throat. It sounds something like “grouurrrrp.” (If you need to know what the sound of a grunt is, just go online and punch that in.) You are trying to imitate a buck grunt and that will stop any buck — that is, unless he is on the track of a doe in estrous. When you let out that sound, the buck will stop and turn its head to you. Now is the time to squeeze off that shot.

Because I often hunt in very thick cover, I must be ready to take shots in small, open areas. If a buck gives me a good, killing shot, I take it; if it does not, I pass it up. There is always the possibility that I might see that same buck later on.

If a buck gives you a good shot, especially if that deer is broadside, then take it. Almost every year I hear of people who killed their buck at 150 yards or further. Even in a scope at 9 power, a buck at that distance looks very small. If you can pull off a shot like that and kill that deer, great for you. But, I doubt if most hunters can do that.

Say that buck is in good range, say 50 yards away or so, and you have a good steady hold on him. Where do you aim? I always center my crosshairs just behind the shoulder in the middle of the buck’s chest, with the always-fatal double-lung shot in mind. A little high, you should still get lung; a little low, you can get lung or a heart shot.

You made the shot and you believe it was a good one — now what? This is the critical point, when you should look to how the buck reacted to the shot. Did it hunch up as the bullet struck the deer? That is almost always a very good sign. But no two deer will react the same, even with a lethal shot.

Most of the time, unless you make a kill at close range, the buck will run off for some distance, even with a fatal wound. One important thing to take stock of here is to watch the buck as it flees and then mark, in your mind, where it was that you last saw that deer. Pick out a rock, a downed tree, a huge hemlock — any one thing that will serve as a reference point as you search for that dead buck.

Take a few deep breaths and don’t hurry. Your shot was good and clean. That buck is just ahead, dead in the leaves. You worked for this deer. You earned this deer. Enjoy the morning. Give thanks for what you have been given.

You have managed to take what the late, great Fred Bear once proclaimed was the most difficult animal to hunt and kill in North America.

Contact Dennis Jensen at

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.