The Big Miss

The time we have all been waiting for is finally here. All of our early scouting is complete. Rub lines, scrapes and bedding areas have been identified and a hunt plan is in place. Tree stands are up and blinds are popped. Our rifles are cleaned and oiled, ready for the 2017 deer firearm season debut. A few of us put some rounds on paper to check our zero, many of us have not. We figured it this way; the rifle has been in the cabinet, protected since last year. It hasn’t been dropped or knocked about and we know we are a darned good shot, right? Why bother? Let me relate a story to you about a hunter in bear camp this year and the biggest bear he never shot.

My sport, let’s call him Ted, let me know early on during our discussions about the upcoming bear hunt exactly what he was looking for. Ted had been on bear hunts in Maine before but never had an opportunity at a nice mature bear. He wasn’t interested in any bear, he wanted that bear. While I could not promise Ted a giant boar, I could assure him I had several bear on camera at various bait sites that would meet his expectations. I picked out a primary and back up hunt site tailored to Ted’s wants. His primary site had a bruiser with a big belly and paws the size of a catcher’s mitt coming in regularly. I had that bear patterned.

When my hunters arrive at camp, everyone has the opportunity to check their zero and make sure their rifle is ready for the hunt. With sports travelling here to northern Maine from as far away as southern Maryland and central Pennsylvania, I impress upon them the importance of this practice. Mostly they accept – Ted was one of them.

His Remington 760 chambered in .30-06, nicknamed ‘The Pennsylvania Trombone’ back in my old stomping grounds, came out of the case in fine condition. His first two shots using the riflescope were high and right. His next two using the iron sights were dead on. We discussed the range of his expected shot and Ted decided to use the irons during the hunt as the rifle was zeroed at 100 yards for deer.

My guess is he decided to not re-zero the scope for the relatively short distance of the shot and limited duration of the bear hunt when he would be deer hunting in Pennsylvania not long after – he’d have to zero again at 100 yards when he returned. Plus, he decided to use the iron sights.

On the second afternoon of Ted’s hunt, he said a small prayer while on stand, asking for an opportunity at the bear of his dreams. When he raised his head and opened his eyes, the large bruin was standing at the bait, towering over the bucket. Ted never heard it come in. He glassed the big bear and waited for the shot. The bear came down on all fours, turned and gave Ted the perfect broadside shot.

The Pennsylvania Trombone barked and the bruin shot off like its rear end was on fire and his fur was catching. Ted took a deep breath and eagerly waited for me to retrieve him from the stand. We searched for that bear for nearly three hours that night. There was no blood, fur or even a distinguishable trail – just the estimated direction of travel. We searched the next two days with the same result, nothing. I took Ted aside and broke the news as gently as I could, you missed bud.

The moral of this story is an obvious one. It is also one that we all know better than to repeat, yet every year, someone we know does. By checking and adjusting your rifle’s zero and inspecting the mounting hardware on your riflescope before the start of every camp, you’ll ensure all of the hard work you put in preseason pays off when it counts. When the opportunity of a lifetime presents itself in your crosshairs, make sure you go home with your quarry – not with the big miss.

John is a Registered Maine Guide, an NRA Certified Instructor and the owner of Tucker Ridge Outdoors in Webster Plantation, Maine. He also works as a freelance outdoors writer and is the author of “Life on the Ridge” for the Outdoors section. He can be reached at or on Facebook @tuckerridgeoutdoors

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