Spend enough time shooting and you will witness and possibly make some great shots. You will also see some bad ones. We tend to forget the bad ones, but the great ones are made known around the campfire. What makes a great shot? Distance or difficulty usually play a role, but the best ones have a whole story to go with them. I’ve probably witnessed a dozen or so significant shots on the field, but when asked about them, there are five fewer than I usually end up recounting. Pardon any embellishment; Over time, the truth can become a little hard to separate from the legend.
1. The burrowing pigeon
I’m sure some great shots have been made with shotguns, but they can’t compare to a single bullet fired with absolute accuracy at a target that’s in the air. My cousin and I would sneak into a disused barn on a neighbor’s farm to lie in wait for groundhogs. One summer, we discovered a flock of pigeons roosting there. We tried sneaking in to get a shot but could never get in without spooking the birds.
One day, as he was approaching the barn, my cousin said, “If pigeons fly, I’ll shoot one out of the sky.” I told him it was full of pigeon droppings. But when the birds got about 40 yards from the barn, my cousin shouldered his pump-action .22 and sent a dove tumbling to the ground.
But there is more to this story. Looking through the long grass to retrieve the bird, we found a trail of blood leading to a hole in the ground. We spent the next hour getting water from the creek and pouring it down the hole trying to get that pigeon out. He poked his head out once, but we never saw him again. To this day, we are not sure if the bird drowned or if a pig ate it.
2. Grouse bet
Sometimes the company you’re in and the gauntlet that’s thrown down sets the stage for a great shot. My former company commander and I were on a muzzleloader deer hunt at the end of the snow season. We were taking turns pushing through small thickets, and while I was waiting for him to work his way through some thick pines, a skunk flew out and landed in a tree. When my hunting partner came out, he asked me if I had seen anything. Pointing to the chicken, I said, “That’s it. I started to shoot him, but I didn’t want to just pluck a bird for the pot.”
He said if I shot him with my muzzle there would be nothing left to eat. I told him I would have shot his head off. Laughing, my captain told me that if I could shoot that chicken in the head, he would pluck the bird and cook it for dinner. I couldn’t resist. I raised my hood scoop, took a hungry looking photo, and when the smoke cleared, the headless pit was on the ground. That night, a Vietnam Special Forces veteran plucked and cooked a bird. I ate well.
3. Buffalo Backup Shot
When shooting dangerous game, shot placement must be perfect, but it can hardly be more perfect than this. At the age of 17, my son went on his third safari, this time for buffalo. The swirling winds had betrayed us, but after many stalks we finally managed to get within 100 yards of a bull. With PH’s instructions, my son took the shot and pierced the buffalo at the top of the heart. Now, there’s nothing spectacular about hitting a cantaloupe-sized target at 100 yards. It was the second shot that was impressive.
While my son was practicing on the range the other day, PH told him that the buffalo would most likely turn and run after being hit. “When that happens, aim for the root of the tail and hit it again.” And so it happened. With the first killing blow, the wheeled buffalo fired, and as it stormed away, my son hit it again with his Mossberg .375 Ruger, and the buffalo went down. We found the second bullet hole right through the base of the bull’s tail. Making that shot is like hitting a moving tennis ball 100 yards. Capstick couldn’t come up with a better shot.
4. Coyote Half Mile
Extremely long takes are the basis of many great shooting stories, and this is one of the longest and most difficult I’ve seen. Neal Emery, who at the time was the media relations manager for Hornady, and I were coyote hunting in Wyoming. We had just called nine coyotes in a group and taken four of them. Then Neal noticed two more watching us from almost 900 yards away.
Neal had an AR10 custom chambered in 6mm Creedmoor and used a crude set of shooting sticks as a rest. The wind was blowing and Neal asked me to find him. His first shot was a few inches high and about a foot left. I quickly dialed the fix and Neal pulled the trigger again. Even with the Creedmoor zip, the bullet took more than a second to get there, but it got there, hitting the coyote in the center. Five coyotes from a group isn’t bad, especially when one is taken in half a mile. It was an incredible fielding display.
5. Quick draw copper head
Sometimes it’s not the distance that makes a shot special, it’s the risk. My cousin – the same one who shot the dove from the air – and I used to spend a lot of time hunting snakes at our river camp (back in the day West Virginia’s snake censuses were much more liberal). We would tape their skin to boards for display or make hat bands. One day, we hand chased a massive copperhead under a very large rock. So we cut some poles and went to work.
Finally, the rock was overturned and the massive snake coiled itself only about a foot from my feet. Almost instantly, it hit. My cousin always carried his Ruger Single Six on our snake hunting adventures, and the moment the snake started to lay on my leg, he quickly drew the Ruger and shot the slithering giant in the center of the head. This copperhead was almost 6 feet. It was the biggest we’ve ever killed, the biggest I’ve ever seen, and that was the best field goal I’ve ever seen.