A few years ago, I bought a Savage 10FP LE1 .308 with the AccuTrigger (above). This is a law enforcement edition heavy barrelled rifle with adjustable trigger. Savage is well known for their exceptional out of the box accuracy, not to mention the value pricing -- I bought this rifle new for under $600. I used this as the base to build a medium weight tactical style, multi-purpose rifle that I could shoot from a bench at the range or use to take deer and hogs at sub-500 yards with confidence.
So, I sold the cheap factory stock on eBay and replaced it with an aluminum pillar bedded Choat Ultimate Varminter. The stock turned out to be more substantial than I wanted, but it was still a good product for the money (I'll be replacing soon with a Bell & Carlson Duramaxx to reduce weight without sacrificing accuracy). Next I added a Harris bipod, a nice shoulder strap, and good glass in the way of a Swift SRP Mildot 6-18x44 scope. All in, I was able to build a very nice rifle for ~$1000. After a bit of sharp-shooting at the local range, I knew I was ready for some action in the field.
On to the story...so for those who have read here before, you know I'm an avid outdoorsman and a bit of an aspiring cook. I grew up eating venison. Mostly ground, or sausage, or perhaps cube steak. Back then, hunting was about shooting a trophy buck and meat was a secondary priority. Now days, the thought of a roasted rack of venison or grilled tenderloin (back straps) cooked medium rare - awe, man! I'll take the doe over a buck any day!!
So during a recent visit down south to my hometown in GA over the Thanksgiving holiday, I decided to take along the Savage. I don't get to hunt much living here in suburbia so I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity. After all, I shot the eyes out of a lot of paper but I was really eager to have some meat in the freezer. When we arrived, dad and I prepared to hunt on the first available afternoon. We set up an old table and chairs in the back of the property, created a natural blind using good ol' Georgia pine, got settled in, and waited.
Deer sign was everywhere thanks to the remains of the summer veggie garden -- peas littered the ground. And like clock-work, right at dusk, two deer walked up. My dad spotted them first. I put my cross hair on a nice doe that was now standing almost exactly 100 yards out according to my range estimation. She was facing us at about a 60 degree angle with her right shoulder toward us. I aimed for the point of her right shoulder so the bullet would hit the vital area as it passed through. I asked Dad, "You want me to take her?" and with confirmation, I squeezed the trigger.
Now keep in mind, I've killed dozens of deer. I know what a good shot looks like and how deer react to being shot. The deer went out of my field of view so, when I looked up, I was expecting to see a white belly facing me lying on the ground or at least a mortally wounded deer on its way there. But much to my surprise, the doe was running straight for the fence and then appeared to clear it effortlessly. The deer made no sign of being hit whatsoever. I looked over and asked Dad what happened. He said she had just turned and run toward the fence and cleared it. I didn't know what to think. So I sat my gun down slowly, waited a minute, and then walked to the spot where the deer was last standing. I could see her tracks and skid marks where she turned and ran. I walked in concentric circles looking for blood. There had to be blood...HAD to be. I kept repeating to myself, "I know I got a clean shot on her." So I looked for the blood...then we both looked.
Nothing. Not a speck of blood anywhere. Now I said it was dusk but I have excellent vision and we could see just fine. So I began to follow the deep tracks leading toward the fence. Still, not even a hint of blood anywhere. Nothing on the ground, on the fence...no hair...nothing. I retraced my steps. I was dumbfounded. I just knew if I had hit that deer with a .308, there would have to be blood. We kept looking until it was too late to see and finally gave it up.
We deduced that I simply must have missed, but I couldn't understand how. I couldn't accept it. It was all I talked about for the rest of that night and probably a good part of the next day. I was driving everyone crazy. It was just plain embarrassing. Not two weeks before I was dusting clay pigeons at 250 yards with ease and now...I couldn't hit a deer with a 22-24" tall body standing 100 yards away?? I decided the scope must have gotten bumped on the 12 hour trip down or I had been fooled by parallax error or something. I was second guessing everything and overthinking the scenarios that would have caused the miss. The wind was blowing about 5 MPH, but that was only enough to cause about an inch of drift. Maybe I jerked the trigger?
The next two evenings we hunted and every time we saw deer. I decided one of the does was probably the deer I'd shot at since they seemed to come around the same time. If given the opportunity, I probably wouldn't have tried to take a second shot for fear of a repeat performance and with the holidays, I didn't have time to go out to a range to test my rife. As it turned out, neither of us would get a clean look at another deer the rest of the week, so it was a delima I never had to deal with. I left home without my rack of venison or tenderloin, which was really the only disappointing part of the whole trip.
About half way through our trip back to Virginia, I get a call from Dad. "So I was in the back looking for more deer sign and I happened to look over the fence and I saw something. Looks like you didn't miss that deer after all." As it would turn out, that doe was laying only about 15 yards across the fence with a hole in the point of her right shoulder (exactly where I was aiming). The sudden rush of vindication for what I thought was an incomprehensible miss was immediately cancelled out by the thought of having killed a deer needlessly and wasting all that perfectly good meat. I still feel terrible about it.
I did learn a very valuable lesson in all of this. While it sounds completely counter intuitive, it is entirely possible for a deer to be shot with a high powered rifle in the vital zone and not leave a blood trail. This is especially true if the deer happens to be standing on the same level as the shooter, since blood pools in the lower part of the body. A good rule of thumb is to always assume you've hit your target unless you saw and can verify a miss. Track the deer as far as you possibly can -- even when there appears to be no sign of blood. Especially with deer, a blood trail may not materialize until the last 10-20 yards. If it gets dark, go back the next morning and look again.