If you’re a dedicated marksman that fires thousands of rounds downrange each year, then you already possess the knowledge and skills that place you well beyond the scope (pun intended) of today’s column. If, however, you consider yourself an average hunter and shooter, then this column is for you.
We the great unwashed hordes of average riflemen and women represent the vast majority of today’s hunting community. “If that’s so,” you may be asking yourself right now, “then what traits do we have in common?” In general, we all possess a basic understanding of the game we pursue and have a decent familiarity with the ground that we hunt. We also have a decent familiarity with our firearms and can generally make accurate shots at fairly close ranges under typical hunting conditions.
What we lack, however, is the ability to judge distances beyond two hundred yards with any degree of accuracy and the skill to make consistent precise hits on game at those extended ranges. Sadly, hundreds of precious game animals suffer the consequences for these inabilities every year.
Here’s the good news: though accidents and misjudgments do and will happen in the field each season, there’s a lot that we can do to nudge our abilities from novice to accomplished riflemen by learning and practicing basic principles of marksmanship. To begin, I would like to discuss how to properly sight-in your rifles and long-distance handguns to match your particular style of hunting.
Let’s begin by dispelling a couple of common misconceptions. We’ll start with a really popular myth: “The gun dealer bore-sighted my ‘new’ rifle at the store, so it’s all set to take hunting right out of the box.” How about this one, “If I fire my rifle over the hood of my pickup and can nail most of the beer cans that I set out at 25 yards, then my sights will be ‘dead on’ at 200.” Or even, “The ballistic chart on the back of my ammo carton says, that if I zero my gun at 100 yards, then the bullet will be drop exactly 48”at 500 yards.” Any of those tidbits of conventional wisdom sound familiar?
If you prepare your firearms for the actual sighting-in procedure and select the best ammo for the species and terrain you hunt, you can actually improve your marksmanship.
Tighten things down
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Begin by gathering all the appropriately-sized screwdrivers, hex head or Torx wrenches that your gun and scope mounts require. Set everything out on a clean, well-lighted work surface. Many folks use shooting bags or gun rests to secure their firearms for this process. Once secured, check the tension on all of the gun’s action screws. If any are loose, tighten them to factory torque specs. Next, look carefully at the barreled action to check if it is properly seated within the stock. If the barrel is free-floated (as most factory rifles are these days), then run a thin sheet of paper down the barrel to make sure that it is not contacting the barrel channel anywhere along its length. If it is, either correct the problem yourself — if you’re qualified — or bring the firearm to your local gunsmith for adjustment.
Check the tension on the scope base and ring screws. Tighten if necessary. Lots of folks like to place a drop of blue Loctite on the base mounts to help insure that they don’t jar loose.
The ring screws should be tightened firmly, but screwing too tight can pinch or bend the soft aluminum scope tube. Afterwards, I like to place a dot of fingernail polish at the junction of the scope and the edge of one of the rings. Any inadvertent movement of the scope will crack the dried nail polish and signal that your scope may be ‘out of zero.’
Bullet choices and selection
Match the bullet to the game. Select the bullet style, weight, and construction best suited to the species you pursue. As an example, when I lived In Wyoming, I hunted antelope, mule deer, and elk along the breaks of the Sweetwater River and canyons of the Wind River Range. Shooting distances where usually long and obviously the sizes and relative toughness of the three species varied considerably.
After referring to bullet manufacturers’ recommendations, speaking with veteran hunters in the area, gun store clerks, and quite a bit of experimentation, I settled on the 225 grain Hornady Interlock bullet for my Model 70 .338 Win. Magnum. The sleek bullet carried its velocity well at distance and its construction gave it adequate expansion and weight retention to cleanly take a truck load of animals. For the chunky northern Idaho whitetail that I hunt now, I chamber rapidly expanding 150 grain bullets in my T/C Venture.
Once you’ve settled on the bullet weight and construction best suited to your individual needs, it’s time to head to the range with at least three different factory loadings to see which one your rifle prefers.