Left or Right?
I could hardly believe it. Finally!
I had been hunting morning and evening, at every opportunity, since our Texas white-tailed deer season opened almost six weeks ago. Four days of the season remained, and I finally get to see a buck… not only a buck, but the buck of my dreams. He came in my extreme right. I shoot right-handed. Try as I might I could not turn or shift far enough to the right to take a shot with my dad’s .30-30. Totally frustrated, I watched the 8-point walk into the brush. He was gone!
I was certain my inability to shoot from my left side had cost me the one chance I would have at a whitetail buck that season. For a fourteen-year old who then as now, albeit considerably older, lived and breathed hunting, that missed opportunity was devastating.
An hour after the buck disappeared, I climbed from my perch high in the old oak and walked home. I told my mother my tale of woe while exchanging Dad’s Model 94 for my single-shot .22 rimfire, which had belonged to my maternal grandfather. Before walking out the door I grabbed a box of Long ammo and headed to our pond where the dam served as a backstop when sighting-in rifles.
There, I proceeded to teach myself to shoot from the left side. Yes, I was/am right eye dominant, unless my right eye is closed! Closing my right eye, I taught myself how to shoot accurately from the “opposite” side. Initially mounting the rifle to my left shoulder seemed awkward and “not quite right.” But the more I did it and shot, the more comfortable I felt doing so.
After twenty rounds, shooting left-hand no longer felt quite that strange. Hitting the target precisely where I was holding the sights boosted my confidence. Two days later I again borrowed my Dad’s .30-30 Win lever action rifle, complete with a side-mounted Weaver K-4 scope and headed to the woods. Wish I could tell you I came home with a deer, shot left-handed. But that did not happen.
Well… not until two years later.
Sitting in a cedar tree on a board nailed to a limb, a nice 7-point buck came in from behind me. Once again there was no way to turn far enough to the right to shoot right-hand. And I could not see the deer when I tried to look around the tree in hopes of shooting him right-handed. So I simply switched to left-hand and dropped the buck in his tracks.
Since then I have shot nearly as many animals from my left side as my right side. Being able to shoot from either side has paid off handsomely many times. Shooting either right or left-handed is one of the reasons why I dearly love hunting with Ruger Number 1’s. They can be quickly mounted to the left or right shoulder. Number 1’s too, have a tang safety which is accessible with either thumb. It is also easily reloaded left or right-hand.
One of the more notable times where being able to shoot from the left side made a huge difference was on my leopard hunt in Namibia with Japsie Blaauw’s Dzombo Safaris (www.dzombosafaris.com), which I had booked at the DSC annual Convention (www.biggame.org).
To back up a bit…three years prior to my leopard hunt, I had cataract surgery on both eyes. The results were nothing short of phenomenal. From being almost blind, I went to 20:10 vision, and in the process no longer needed to wear glasses for anything but reading. Prior to the leopard trip, I spent time on the FTW Ranch (www.ftwsaam.com) sighting in and shooting my Ruger M77 FTW/SAAM Hunter in chambered in .300 Win Mag, topped with a Trijicon Accupoint scope and shooting Hornady’s 200-grain ELD-X, Precision Hunter ammo. After several shooting sessions not only from the bench, but also as I expected to do from a leopard blind, I was ready.
I was packed and ready. At 2 a.m., I headed to the airport to be there by four, two hours before my flight left. All was set right? Well, not quite…. I noticed not being able to see as acutely with my right eye as usual. By the time I reached my gate, it was as if I was looking through a frosted window pane with my right eye. There I met Josh, one of my grandsons who was to accompany me on the trip. I did not say anything to him. For a few moments, I thought about calling off the trip. After all, how well could a one-eyed hunter do in a leopard blind, worse, how would a one-eyed hunter do if “challenged” by a wounded leopard.
Then I thought about it more. I had waited nearly a lifetime for real chance at a leopard. And after all I shot equally well left-handed or right-handed. I boarded on the plane.
By the time I cleared customs in Windhoek, I was essentially blind in my right eye. I resigned myself to the fact that I would likely never be able to again see with my right eye.
The leopard hunt was a grueling one. Many long evenings, nights and early morning. We headed to the blind at 3 p.m., hunted till dark, but then stayed in the blind overnight so as to not disturb the area and to be in position at first light next day. This meant virtually no movement and no sleeping because of possibly snoring. Daily, at 10:30 a.m., we left the blind, headed to camp, took a shower, ate and slept for an hour before heading back to the blind again that afternoon at 3 p.m.
Friends who hunted with Japsie had often shot leopards on the second or third day. Not me, my hunt dragged on and on. One day remained. Mid-morning near the Etosha Park, the landowner, Japsie, and I were sitting in what was usually a bow hunting blind with relatively narrow, vertical slits for windows. The landowner sat to my left. I was set up to shoot left-handed to his right. Japsie had just motioned the hunt was over and to start gathering gear. As he did the landowner saw movement out the extreme right side of the narrow slit, I peered through. “Leopard!” said he in stage whisper. Immediately I swung my rifle pointing out of the window to the extreme right, saw a monstrous leopard in my scope, flipped the Ruger’s safety to fire, and with the crosshairs on the leopard’s vitals pulled the trigger. All happened in less than three seconds.
At the shot the leopard disappeared into tall grass. I felt assured my shot had been on target.
Had I been set up to shoot right-handed as I normally would have, I would never have gotten a shot at the leopard. I simply could not have swung the rifle far enough to the right to get a shot. Set up to shoot left had I could, and did!
A half hour later we picked up the leopard’s trail, after a cautious, terribly intense thirty or so steps we found my leopard, dead. The 200-grain Hornady ELD-X bullet had taken out the top half of cat’s heart. Thankfully, I had the ability to shoot left-handed!
My right eye? Upon returning to home Texas, I called Dr. Tim Doucett who had performed my eye surgery. The following day I was in his office, describing what had happened with my right eye. He smiled and said, “We’ll have you seeing again before hour’s end. Essentially you’ve have scar tissue causing your problem a bit of precise laser work will take care of it.”
Indeed, a short time later I was back home, once again seeing 20:10 with both left and right eye. I was once again ready to shoot either right or left-handed!
Regardless of what is going on in the world, there are always small things, of beauty and splendor, for us to enjoy, admire and appreciate!
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