If a huge 8-point like this appears and only gives you a small clear spaces of inches to shoot through, is your rifle up to the task? If it's very cold, will it fire? Are the screws tight, the scope working properly. Now is the time to check things out, not the last minute.

The icy December dawn, 2011, crawled infinitesimally into existence, the inky gloom ever so slowly resolving itself into barely discernible tree trunks, a slight lightening in the sky. The frigid air soaked into the hunter’s bones, the warmth of walking rapidly disappearing into a general, all enveloping chill.

It was the second week of buck season and the trail cameras had revealed a most impressive buck visiting the apple trees at dawn, digging in the snow to reach the fruit a recent wind had knocked down.

The light increased a trifle and the field edge resolved into a murky focus. Our hunter wondered if the buck would show. The wind was from the West, but gusty. If it shifted to the South as it often did this time of day, he would be busted before the deer ever came into sight. He shivered and settled deeper into his coat.

Without warning a dark, indistinct shape appeared, suddenly filling a space that moments before had been empty. He raised the rifle and looked through the scope. A good quality scope, like his Leupold, gathers light and the dark blob swam into focus; it was a deer and not only that, it was the exact deer he was waiting for and less than 30 yards away!

Trying to ignore his pounding heart, he slipped the safety off, aimed carefully and squeezed the trigger.

“Click” went the rifle.

Oh, no, no, no, a misfire!

Miraculously, the buck didn’t run, but looked up for the source of the sound. Jim worked the bolt as quietly as possible, chambered another round and squeezed the trigger a second time only to hear the rifle misfire once more.

The deer snorted, turned, his antlers flashing and ran never to return. Jim was devastated, a trophy missed, the season ending fruitlessly.

Of course we know what happened, that the dirty bolt of the rifle was ice cold, years of gun oil and powder residue building up into a stiff sludge that prevented the firing pin hitting the primer hard enough to ignite.

This is a common occurrence and happens to hunters statewide when the temperatures plummet to single digits. To prevent this from happening to you, clean that bolt. Tear it apart, clean it thoroughly and use a very light coating of lube or even none at all. Your rifle must fire even if it is below zero. If you don’t wish to break down the bolt, buy a good degreaser and soak your bolt in it, agitating it occasionally and blowing it out with compressed air, then dry firing it. Doing this several times should eliminate the problem.

With deer season only days away, NOW is the time to give your rifle a thorough check. Haul your rifle out of the cabinet and carefully inspect it. Check the pistol grip for cracks, double check the sling and make sure it is strong and in good condition. Use Windex or lens cleaner with a soft cloth or special lens paper to keep your scopes optics crystal clear.

Next, check the screws holding the action to the stock. They must be tight for your gun to shoot accurately. Be sure to use a screwdriver of the proper size to avoid damage to the screw heads.

Make absolutely sure your scope bases are tight, next the screws holding the rings to the bases and lastly the screws holding the scope rings together. All must be tight or bad things happen. Your crosshairs must not shift under recoil or it is impossible to zero it in accurately and have the scope maintain its zero as you carry it in the car and field.

If all the above mentioned screws are tight, you’re shooting well and still can’t sight in the rifle, the scope itself may be damaged or have the infamous shifting crosshair, moving under the rifles recoil. If so, it’s time for a quality, brand new scope such as Bushnell, Leupold, Redfield or Nikon. Vortex scopes impress me especially.

If you feel your scope is fine and your groups are disappointing, switch bullet weights or ammo manufacturer. Most rifles will shoot factory ammunition fairly well, about 2-inch groups and a few lucky hunters find ammo that shoots 1-inch or better. Today’s rifle barrels are excellent quality and with the right ammo will shoot accurately. Brand new Savage, Marlin and Remington rifles come in many calibers and sell for $300 to $350 — a very reasonable price. Spending more money doesn’t necessarily guarantee greater accuracy, especially if you work up your own hand loads. However, if you can afford a higher quality rifle, go for it!

Below is a checklist you may wish to look over for the first day. I, myself, am lost without a list, forgetting something every time. If in the woods alone, tell someone exactly where you are hunting so they can find you in an emergency. Good luck and bag a big one!

List of basics:

Rifle Scope Covers 2 Pair Gloves Hand Warmers

Knife Drag Rope Zip Lock Bag Hat

Binoculars Kleenex/Tissue Ammo Clip

Snacks/Candy Lunch Shooting Sticks Water

Pills Radios/Cell Phone Map/GPS Stool

Clippers Rain Gear Latex Gloves Pen/Pencil

Licenses Coat/Vest/Etc Bag Tie/String Matches

Scent Away Compass Deer Calls Deer Attractant