The first thing the outfitter asked after meeting me was what kind of rifle I’d brought and how far could I shoot. “A .30/06,” I said. “I’ve killed some deer at 300 with it, so I’d feel comfortable to 350 yards or so on an elk.”
My answer seemed reasonable to me. But I recognized the change in the outfitter’s tone the instant he responded. It was the same disappointed, authoritative voice I take with my toddler when he doesn’t pick up his toys before bath time.
“It’ll be tough for you to get an elk out here, then,” he said. “Pretty much all of them we kill are at least 500 yards away.”
Long shots were the conversation theme of the week. This was a post-rut combo hunt for elk and mule deer, and so we spent a lot of our time glassing distant meadows, waiting for something to step out. As we waited, the guides regaled me with tales of bulls killed at 600 and 700 yards. I wondered how every successful client they had was so practiced at long-range shooting when I didn’t even know where the nearest 500-yard range was back home. But those stories had another theme: lots of bullets in the air.
On the third morning of the hunt, I was sitting by myself and glassing a meadow when a stud of a mule deer buck stood from his bed. With no easy way to move closer, I ranged him at 480 yards. I dialed the scope up to 16X, picked the appropriate ballistic reticle for the distance, and began to settle in for the shot.
Western Kentucky, where I grew up and still live, is critter-rich farm country with a mix of wide open cropfields and thick cover. I’ve been hunting here since I was 7 years old. My career has also allowed me to travel and hunt all over this country (and a few others) for a myriad of species.
I’ve filled a lot of tags in that time. I’ve also watched other outdoor writers, hunting television personalities, industry representatives, guides, and countless friends and family members shoot in the field. All told, I’ve seen hundreds of shots at big game with arrows and bullets, most from very good hunters. So I say this with conviction: Rifle shots beyond 250 yards and bow shots beyond 30 yards usually turn into fiascoes. Plenty of them end with filled tags, but few of them do it with one clean shot.