I’m either proud or ashamed—I can’t decide which—that the first shot fired on my new MeatEater series is a clean miss. The sense of pride comes from the fact that I was willing (with some coaxing from my crew) to show myself making a royal screw-up on a network that reaches millions of households. The sense of shame comes from the fact that I blew a perfectly doable opportunity on the biggest Sitka blacktail that I’ve ever had in my crosshairs.
We’d been hunting for several days in the pouring rain in Southeast Alaska. One afternoon the wind really picked up, to where it was gusting to forty knots. Hunting seemed particularly futile on this day, but the MeatEater cameraman, Mo, and I decided to climb up on top of a mesa-shaped mountain about a mile from camp to have a look around. The mountaintop was subalpine and mostly exposed rock. Some of the rock was formed into rounded, car-sized hills. Other portions were bowl shaped and full of water, almost like fishponds in a landscaped yard. The places that weren’t rock were covered in grass, berry bushes, lichens, moss, and small stands of stunted hemlock and cedar that had been battered by lifetimes of wind and snow. The area offered plenty of places to hide a deer, so we stayed to the downwind edge of the mesa and began working slowly and carefully along.
We all know the feeling of being surprised by something completely unexpected, but sometimes I get more surprised by things that I anticipate. And that’s exactly what happened as I looked at a brushy slope in the lee of a mountain top. I was thinking about how that slope would be a good place for a buck to bed down, as he’d be sheltered from the wind and able to see everything that was going on beneath him. I all but picked out the best place for a buck to lay when I was shocked—sort of—to see actually see a buck jump from almost that exact place and then take off on a full-balls run toward the crest of the mountain. He was maybe 250 yards out, with about 300 hundred yards to go before he vanished.
If I really was clairvoyant and had truly known that that buck was there, I would have already gotten set up so that I could have made my shot the moment he exposed himself. But instead I was just standing there, more or less like an idiot, when he stood up. So I hustled down from the little hillock that I was on and tried to get set up on a rain slickened slope that defied my best efforts to get a solid rest. Once I stopped myself from sliding, I used a range finder to fix the deer at a distance of 326 yards. But before I could shoot he turned at a bad angle. I tried to follow him in my scope, but I made the mistake of brushing the scope’s lens against a wet blueberry bush. That made it so I couldn’t see anything. Frantically, I tried to wipe the lens with the cuff of my soaked rain jacket, eventually getting it dry enough to see through. When I found the buck again, standing broadside, he looked like he’d traveled about a hundred yards from where I ranged him at 326. So I adjusted my point of aim for an estimated range of 425, which is about as far as I like to shoot. Normally I don’t pull the trigger until I know absolutely for certain that what I’m aiming at is going to die, but here I made an exception to that rule and fired one off.
It hit a rock just beyond the buck.
The crew and I have reviewed that footage time and again, at various speeds and levels of zoom, and it’s clear that my shot was an inch or two high. A case of human error, pure and simple. At first, whenever I looked at the footage, I found myself begging for mercy. “We can’t show that! I look like a jackass.”
But the guys saw things differently. “Are we going to show how rugged the mountains were?” They asked.
“Of course,” I said. “That stuffs cool; it’s part of the experience.”
“We gonna show all the rain?”
“Totally,” I said. “That’s what happened out there.”
“Well,” they said, “your miss happened out there, too. It was part of the experience.”
After awhile I submitted to their arguments. They were right. Misses happen to anyone who hunts long enough. Just like rain happens to anyone who hunts long enough. It’s part of the story, no matter how embarrassing, so you might as well serve it up. And while I don’t want to give too much of episode #1 away, I’m glad to say that the second shot fired on MeatEater is a perfect double-lunger.