I need to start by mentioning that I am a good shot. Not crazy, world-class, ringing the metal in a crosswind at a 1,000 yards shooting, but out to about 300 yards with either a scope or open sights I am pretty good, better than most people I’ve hunted with. Of the couple of dozen deer I’ve been blessed to harvest, all were killed with one shot, about half of them dropped in place, and only two made it more than 25 yards after being hit. I’ve missed only one deer that I shot at (he busted me just as I was squeezing the trigger).
On the other hand, I have hunted with or near people who love guns and love hunting, but are absolutely terrible shots when it counts. One of them has a stand in an excellent location to which deer come in quite close (within bow range), and from where he routinely gut-shoots them (bad) or misses them completely (better). When he does hit a deer he is as likely to lose it as to find it. Another person I know has more than once squeezed off 3 or 4 shots in a few seconds at a deer standing broadside 30 yards away, and hurt only his self-respect. Am I more physically gifted than these men? Do I have better hand-eye coordination, strength, flexibility? That’s not it. Do I have better shooting mechanics? Possibly, but let’s face it, from 100 yards or less you don’t need to be Carlos Hathcock to hit a deer. These guys are o.k. at hitting range targets. I believe the difference comes down to mental preparation.
Let’s take hunting from a stand as an example. Sitting dead-still in a deer stand for hours at a time should be anything but passive. Rather, it should be an intensely active endeavor. I am constantly picturing the different ways a deer can approach, how it might act, and what I will do in each scenario, including how and when I will move to bring my rifle to bear, and what my aim point will be depending on every possible orientation of the deer. I think about how this might change if there are multiple deer, and the need to make sure my target is clear of other animals. I practice breathing, to be ready for that jolt of adrenaline when a big deer first appears, sometimes seemingly like magic. I remind myself not to violate certain rules I’ve set to minimize likelihood of wounding an animal, such as never shooting at running deer, or when I cannot see the aim point (as when the deer is behind brush). I would rather lose a deer than not take it cleanly. Unless you need to feed a starving family, we are obliged as hunters to know and stay within personal limits. In a nutshell, if and when a deer shows up, I already know what I’m going to do, and can often have a kill shot off within 4 seconds or less of seeing the deer. I am angered when I hear some version of “I was dozing/playing a game on my phone when I looked up and saw a running deer, so I grabbed my rifle and blasted away and I hit it somewhere because I found hair and a few drops of blood but it ran and I lost the trail, oh well.”
Here is the point with respect to concealed carry. I do not think the vast majority of people should be carrying handguns. I trust myself more than almost anyone I know with a firearm, and I’m not sure how I would react in a panic shooting situation for which I have not prepared. What happens if I am sitting in a theater absorbed in a movie and suddenly a person opens up with a semi-automatic weapon? It’s dark, people are screaming and running, the concussion from multiple gunshots is ringing in my ears, I’m half-blinded by muzzle flashes, and the surge of unexpected adrenaline has my heart pounding and my hands shaky. While I can nail a target with a handgun at the range just fine, I have neither practiced this scenario nor done any of the mental preparation I normally do to engage a live target, especially in such difficult conditions. Would I be able to take down the aggressor without hitting any of the panicked patrons? If you haven’t practiced regularly shooting in these types of situations (poorly lit, noisy, chaotic), your odds probably are not good.
When it comes to concealed carry, I worry there are many permit holders like the “nice guys but bad hunters” I know who may be sitting with a handgun in their waistband next to me somewhere. If so, I pray that they never feel compelled to pull it out. Because that would probably double my chances of getting shot. I am not opposed to concealed carry laws in general, and in fact am considering whether to get a permit for myself. But we should all recognize it is a privilege that comes with a great responsibility for a lot of extra training that is morally, but not legally, required. Anyone who thinks that they are qualified to pack heat in a crowd because they plunked down a few bucks for a permit class and can hit a few stationary targets at the range is delusional – and dangerous.