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November 14, 2008

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Petzal: Timing is Everything

This past Sunday, I watched the Jets’ 47-3 disembowelment of the Rams, and one play stuck in my mind. Bret Favre (who is a hunter, by the way) rolled out to the right and, ignoring the four 315-pound life forms who wanted his blood, waited for what seemed an incredible length of time before he zinged the ball right between a St. Louis defensive back’s hands and into the hands of his own receiver.

A less experienced quarterback would have panicked and thrown an interception, or eaten the ball, or tried to run and got nailed, but Favre, who has done this a lot, knew how much time he had down to the hundredth of a second.

So it is with big game hunting. There are situations when you have to shoot right now and situations when you can take can take your sweet time. Beginners never seem to get it right. They will panic, throw the rifle to their shoulder, and fill the air with lead. Or they will fuss and fidget and aim, and aim, and aim, and in the meanwhile, the critter will get bored and leave.

A veteran hunter will know from years of watching animals and studying their body language, just how much time he has. Usually it’s more than you would think, and it increases with the distance between you and the victim-to-be. Whitetails, for example, have a distinct facial expression when things are not to their liking. It looks like a frown. Years ago, sitting in a rhododendron patch on a West Virginia hillside, I was approached by a doe and a fawn. The doe was perhaps 10 feet away, and there were enough of my scent molecules in the air to cause her concern. The expression on her face was that of a Detroit automobile industry executive pondering his/her future. Then she got the full load of essence de Petzal and ran like hell.

They study us, too. In 1981, I was hunting sable in Zambia, and the instant the big antelope saw me and the PH they would go thundering off in a cloud of dust and sable s**t. After I killed one, we practically had to kick them out of the way to get to other animals. Most herbivores can tell what our intentions are, so try to adopt a non-threatening demeanor when in the woods, and take your time aiming. But not too much time.


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As a final lesson for the nimrods who need to learn it all over again, every season...When it comes to timing, move when the deer moves...That used to be the old adage about when to be prowling the woods as opposed to remaining on stand...and it holds good for that too! But when the deer moves, raise your gun at the same speed he is moving....this is the only time when he is not much aware of motion, since he is moving as well! Just make sure you stop moving before he does!


Interesting observation about herd behavior after a kill. It's as if they know the "lion" accomplished what he came for and will now leave the rest be - even if you have to kick through them to get to the kill.

WA Mtnhunter

As posted previously, there is a short window of time to make a shot. I have what I refer to as the Four Second Rule. In the area where I hunt the most, there is sage, choke cherry, and oak brush. I figure there is about a long four second count to identify the elk as a legal shooter, decide whether to shoot or not, get into a steady shooting position, and make the shot.

Much longer and you will get busted or the elk will move out of a clear shooting lane. I have blown countless opportunities by hesitating longer than 4 seconds.


I learned early on in my hunting career about making eye contact with a game animal. Where I do my hunting in the southeast most shots at whitetail deer are at handshaking distance. Even with a little more air between the prospective freezer meat and myself, eye contact proves to be the deal breaker.
Most humans seem to have a sixth sense about being watched, especially by someone who might have an "interest" in them. I'm convinced that animals, especially those on a predator's menu list, are adept at "feeling" a presence before they smell or see it. In my job I get to see lots of critters in non combat situations. As long as I am nonchalant things are cool. If I start sizing them up, they look for comfort in distance!

Jim in Mo

You stole my thunder. I've had occasions while hunting that I feel a presence and slowly moving my eyes to the side there's a deer staring at me. Its not till we make eye contact does the deer bolt. The rest is to vulgar to print.

Dr. Ralph

You guys must have creepy eyes... those deer stare me down when I'm in the stand and if I don't move or breath or blink eventually they look away and I can raise my gun. Of course I wear a turkey facemask that is kind of like a veil and doesn't even have eye holes. Those damn turkeys taught me how to be a lot better deer hunter.


Beekeeper is right. Some years back I was busted by a deer while I was sitting in a ground blind. He was behind me, not ten yards away, and he stomped, snorted, kicked the leaves, and in short did everything to get me to identify myself short of showing me his badge. I wasn't carrying a mirror, so I couldn't do an Annie Oakley behind the back shot. I didn't know what to do. When I finally (slowly) turned my head and looked him in the eye (nuts!) he turned inside out and was gone before I could get the sights on him. The blaze orange didn't scare him; my face did. Maybe Dr. Ralph's turkey mask is something I need to wear, blaze orange and all.

Clay Cooper

I like the way my Grandson Alex age did it when he bagged a Buck and a Doe about 3-5 minutes apart. His timing I find very unique when he said, I just let them run into the cross hairs! Buck at 250 and the Doe at 150.
I created a “MONSTER”, He is dragging me out again tomorrow!!

Clay Cooper

The biggest mistake I know of when it comes to hunting Mule Deer is, the hunter immediately goes full auto when he spots that Buck! Hold the shot, get into position quietly and try to judge where he will be crossing over the top of the ridge line. He will stop if not pushed he will stop just going over the top to give you a perfect broadside shot.

Jim in Mo

Another ugly, untimely incident happened when I was hunting with a rifle with loose action screws and I didn't know it. I took a shot at 150yds at a heavy bodied buck. I didn't think I hit him but went to look for blood. No blood but tracked him into a swampy wooded area along a river. While in there I noticed a big tree with a huge rub. While I was admiring the rub I looked a few inches to the left and 15yds beyond the tree was this big buck staring at me. We made eye contact and he was off into the thick woods never to be seen. Dooough!


The amount of time you have to shoot largely depends upon you location in relation to the prey (above and unnoticed is good) or the distance between you and the animal (500 yards buys more time than 20). Farve has a nephew who is looking good on the football field. South Panola (Batesville, MS highschool football) is trying for the 87th straight win tonight. This is the current national record, they lost their last game in 2002, they have graduates who never lost a game. Look them up on the internet, you will be amazed.

Dr. Ralph

Forgot this was a football blog WHAT ABOUT THOSE TITANS?!?! 9-0 Don't let Albert Haynesworth, Jevon Kearse or Kyle Vanden Bosch make eye contact...

Jim in Mo

Pooh, Pooh to you and Dave

Jim in Mo

Can you spell C-H-O-K-E !!

Clay Cooper

Next weekend I’m going to Fort Chaffee Arkansas on a permit hunt. Those deer spend more time looking up into the trees than on the ground. This time I’m using my Dog House Blind! Last season, the Army Post was closed the entire season due to Reserve Units deploying to the “Sand Box”, so this season should be some monster racks and a bunch of deer!! Fort Chaffee is one of the best places I know of for deer habitat.

Jim in Mo

I have two of those blinds, but mine must be smaller they're call 'outhouse' blinds I think. Work good. Keep telling my son keep the windows closed that the suns coming thru. If I'm sitting all day in 30 degree rainy weather (like now) I have small heater. Don't know where Ft. Chaffee is, the furthest south below my friends in Springdale is Fayetevill. I might have been to Ft. Smith.


That last paragraph reminds me of a time when I was out deer hunting and ran into a coyote. I didn't want to shoot the thing at first because I wasn't sure if there were any deer in the area, so I continued my search and the entire time the yote just stood there and watched me. After I had walked the area and determined no deer were to be found, I raised my rifle to take the coyote and it took off like a bat out of hell.

It knew what the danger signs were, apparently, and understood when it was time to leave.


As many of you probably already know when a mulie is leaving you another option to waiting for him to stop like Clay said is to whistle loudly. Often they will slow down or stop to glance back at you. Just be ready to pull the trigger. I'm betting the Titans are soon to be 10-0-0, South Panola is headed for another state championship. Football and hunting always mix when you are from Mississippi.


This may be a bit off point ... but the eye contact thing is right on. Right on with sharks anyhow. I was lucky to get a scuba trip to Cairns Australia ... diving off shore reefs in the Coral Sea. 100 ft visability ... I wanted shark pictures. The reef sharks would follow like dogs ... about 2ft above and behind you. But soon as you looked at them zooomo they're gone. So, to get pictures I mounted the 15mm lens on the Nikonos and swam til I 'felt' the presense then wheeled and shot. I got several great photos and more than a few of tail fin or empty ocean. So timing may not be everything but it can't hurt.

Rick in N. Ga.

Eye contact my ass; here in the southern Appalachians all my shots are of the "snap" variety at moving animals. From the ground. Farthest shot in 25+ years? 62 paces and I walk them all off after the fact. The wind thing is right on as it is most everywhere. We always at the very least use a cross-wind or you see squat.


On deer facial expressions: I was bowhunting yesterday evening, and set a Feather Flex decoy up on the edge of a corn field, with my stand about 20 yards behind and downwind of it. I put the small antlers on the decoy, hoping a bigger buck would show up to chase it off. With about 20 minutes of shooting light left, a very small spike buck showed up. When he first saw the decoy he approached it, but at about 20 yards he stopped. He never acted alarmed, never pawed the ground, but acted intimidated by the decoy. The little forkhorn antlers on the decoy were bigger than the spike bucks, and after about 3 minutes, he tucked his tail and trotted off, giving the decoy plenty of space. He never acted alarmed, never flagged his tail, never snorted or pawed - he just looked completely intimidated. It was interesting to watch.

SD Bob

Pronghorns must have some lineage to the Sable Dave was hunting. Spook them and you'll see how fast a four legged critter can really run! Use one for bullet test media and you can shake hooves with the survivors. I shot 4 antelope this past October and every time I had the remaining herd just stand there off to the side looking antelopey while I skinned and quartered their deceased friends. It's as if the rifle going off concusses them out of their natural fear?

Dr. Ralph

I've been thinking a lot about deer facial expressions myself lately. It seems when my HUGE buck came in to the puddle an hour before sunrise he was acting like a fool... jumping straight up and down and then dropping on his belly and throwing up leaves with his nose. More than anything else it reminded me of Blondie my puppy when she is being very playfull. I almost had an epiphany about the meaning of life and how much fun this buck was having and thought I can't kill anything so intelligent and so much like my dog. Almost... see you next Saturday Hugebuck.

Scott in Southern Illinois

Great thread. I have experienced the "non threatening demeanor" syndrome on deer. I had been hunting over a beanfield on some nuisance tags for a couple days when a strange sequence of events occurred. My typical method had been to arrive at the field early and wait for the deer to come into the field. However, that one particular day, I had been requisitioned by my wife to "honey-do" and was unable to get there on time. I arrived at the owners home, parked my truck and proceeded to just walk to the field in regular clothes. No camo, no "scent blockers"...nothing but my rifle. When I got to the edge of the field there were several does feeding on the beans and instead of making a sudden move or immediately crouching down, I just walked casually to my spot. I then proceeded to take five of them, thereby emptying my magazine. It seemed strange at the time that those events could happen. But now I realize the way I acted and the way I was dressed, I posed no perceived threat to them. I had a great time processing those does and telling that story. Good luck next week guys.

Jim in Mo

Scott that reminds me of an incident last year when I was hunting by permission on a piece of land. It was close to dark so I decided to change locations hoping my luck would change. I'm walking a trail and coming towards me about 50 yards out and across a fence in the neighbors pasture was a small buck six points at best. I wasn't going to shoot at him and get the neighbor mad (hunting grounds to precious) so I kept my gun down and continued walking. He passed by without a care in the world. Question: Did he need glasses? Was he smart enough to know he was on private property? Was my demeanor nonthreatining, or was he just plain stupid?

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