Once Bitten, Twice Shy

Photo courtesy of Jared Shaffer

This article was first published July 26, 2021, at sportingclassicsdaily.com.

There are seven venomous snakes in my home state of Oklahoma; the copperhead, the cottonmouth, and five different species of rattlesnake. A successful strike from any one of the seven, and you’re in for a long weekend – if you’re close to the truck, that is. If you happen to be in the deep woods when a strike hits home, you probably ought to go ahead and make peace with your Maker.

Thankfully, each of these snakes is easy to identify and avoid. A leaf-littered forest floor may camouflage the copperhead but given the option, he’s going to be slithering away from, not toward you. The cottonmouth is more likely to stand his ground if you get too close, but thanks to his massive girth and yawning jaws, there’s no missing the fact that he’s dangerous. And the rattlesnake, maybe more so than any of Mother Nature’s children, announces his presence clearly and triggers a primal instinct to retreat.

That’s why, for my money, the worst bite in the woods belongs not to the copperhead or the cottonmouth or the rattlesnake, but to the rifle scope. Because when the scope bites, it’s only a matter of seconds until the blood and the tears start to flow.

I’ll never forget the first time I was bitten. I was hunting a cedar-ringed wheat field that morning, sitting next to my dad and staring due east into a rising sun when a young buck’s silhouette stepped into sight. Because it kept blacking out, I had trouble finding the deer in my scope but as soon as I did, I tugged on the trigger. Little did I know that the .243 coiled against my shoulder was ready to strike. My dad was in the middle of congratulating me and voicing his surprise that I’d actually hit the buck when I threw my rifle at him, threw my hands at my bleeding forehead, and threw a fit any three year old would be proud of.

I remember the last time I was bitten, too. Just a few years ago, I shot a buck that needed another year, a seemingly unforgivable sin in this day and age. And to make matters worse, I got scope bit when I did it. I was hunting with a new rifle that afternoon, looking into a setting sun this time, when I squeezed off a shot at a buck that was about to disappear into thick cover. I must have just grazed him because at the shot he spun around and stared at me. I really bore down the second time and got thumped every bit as hard as he did when the rifle recoiled. 

Nothing humbles a man quicker than a scope bite. It makes no difference how big the buck in the crosshairs is or how accurate the rifle shot happens to be. When the scope bites, the shooter is instantly overcome with the urge to suck his thumb and cry for his momma. No amount of adrenaline can staunch the flow of blood from a scope bitten forehead. 

So be careful in the woods this fall. Watch where you step. And by all means, keep an eye out for scope bite.

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