Monday, October 26, 2009

Rifle Sight-In Crucial to Hunt Success

My brother called and asked me to meet him at our small family ranch to fill the feeders and help sight in his new rifle. He wanted me to bring my portable shooting bench and bags from which we could sight in his firearm. We have found through the years that the easiest way to properly sight in a new rifle is to have a rock solid platform to shoot from so that you can sight the rifle in to hit where it should and be sure of shot placement. After sighting in his gun I fired mine knowing that old reliable would hit right where it was supposed to. Boy was I surprised when the bullet struck 7 inches high and about 3 inches to the left. I dialed my pet .243 in to hit one inch high at 100 yards, fired three shots and was satisfied with my results. This episode teaches another important lesson. Always sight your rifle in before every season even if you are sure it is still on target, as it may not be. How many times has someone gone on an expensive hunting trip and skipped checking a rifles sight in only to miss that one time shot? As we spent the afternoon working the feeders and shooting we discussed the effect age was having on our vision and shooting ability. I decided to include an article I wrote a couple of seasons back about how to be a better shot. These things will work no matter your age or shooting experience.

Shooting ability often goes hand in hand with hunting ability and is mostly the attitude and effort you put into your sport. We decided that the proper equipment had the most to do with shooting other than the effort or practice you put into the sport. Remember money can buy proper equipment but it can not buy ability, attitude and effort. We have all seen the guy that shows up with the latest and greatest Super Ultra Mag with high dollar glass and can’t hit the back of the deer camp. I have also seen the old guy that shows up with a simple rifle and modest glass. The stock is worn smooth and the blue is worn in places as he has carried this rifle on many hunts and uses it regularly. Which would you pick to be the better shot? Remember the old saying beware the man with one gun. He probably knows how to use it.Here is a proven list of things I have observed in my many years of guiding and hunting with others. These are the things you learn with time and will make the difference in being a great shot or mediocre in your sport. Some of these tips are for your equipment others are for you to do yourself. I just wish someone had told me these 45 years ago.
Scope, Mounts and Rings: Buy the best you can afford as this is your aiming system. A cheaper scope may work fine unless it is just as the sun is coming up or going down. Thick dark forest or bright afternoons the glass will make a difference. If you are shooting long range on a hot day, a super cold day or in the rain glass quality will show at the worst times. Mounts should be screwed on the gun tightly and the screws should be set with Loctite. Many are shocked to learn I have used epoxy to attach my mounts and the screws to the gun. Rings should fit the scope well and use Allen or torque head screws not slot head or Phillips screws. Sight your rifle in properly and shoot it yourself if someone else sights it in for you. Bore sighted is not sighted in; it is only to get on paper. I will not knowingly hunt with someone that has had a rifle bore sighted and has not shot it in themselves. While guiding I have made clients use my rifle or go to the range when they tell me they had their rifle bore sighted and have not fired it themselves.

Caliber: Shoot a caliber with enough knock down for the game you are hunting. DO NOT shoot some magnum you can not control or you are afraid of the recoil. Have some one load the rifle for you at the range behind your back and hand it to you for each shot. If you jerk all over the bench when you pull the trigger on an empty chamber you have a recoil problem. I do not like recoil and shoot a .243 most of the time. If I need a magnum I will shoot it but not all the time. You can also reduce recoil with special pads and muzzle brakes. Recoil is a major cause of misses.

Trigger: You can not be a consistent good shot if you have to pull a heavy trigger or one that is full of creep. If you do not have a good trigger on your rifle take it to a gunsmith and have it adjusted or an after market trigger installed and set at a good safe crisp trigger break. It will do wonders for your accuracy with that rifle. Do not adjust it yourself unless qualified to do so, it is not worth the risk.
Ammo: Buy ammo from the same manufacturer with the same bullet weight and same lot number if possible. I have had a client show up with 4 kinds of ammo and 4 different bullet weights in the gun case telling me it shoots the same with all of them. He said he shot an inch group with the gun the weekend before he showed up to hunt. We went to the range. I loaded 4 cartridges in the gun and handed it to him to shoot. The group was about a 9 inch group. We picked all the 120 grain same brand bullets he had and re-sighted the gun. It shot about a 1.5 inch group. We then went hunting.

Rest: Good hunters use a rest if at all possible. I carry a telescoping bipod as a walking stick and have made many a shot off of it. Use a tree, rock or your knees. There is almost always something you can use to help support your rifle. Shoot off hand only as a last resort. I saw a tripod by Stoney Point the other day that I want to test if I can find someone that has one. If you have used it let me know what you think.

Since the time I wrote this article I bought a tripod and take it on every hunting trip. I recommend you get a tripod, bipod or shooting sticks to carry and use them on every shot.

Range Estimation: I have never seen anyone that was good at this. A lot of the places I hunt I know the ranges because I have been there many times. If I am some place new I use a rangefinder. Get one and use it, they work.

Bullet Drop: Here is the question, do not cheat. How much will your favorite caliber with your favorite bullet and rifle barrel length drop at 475 yards? Write down your guess then go to your favorite ammo manufacturer’s website and look up the ballistics. Memorize the chart or make a small chart to tape to your rifle stock. It will amaze you to learn that most of those 500 yard shots your hear about could not be made without a tremendous amount of holdover. Most of those long shots were estimated range, another good reason for a laser range finder.

Rifle Mount: Practice mounting your rifle by keeping your head still and bringing the rifle to your face. Do not lower your face to the rifle. Keep both eyes open so that you can go directly to the target in the scope. Remember speed is not fast, smooth is fast.

Aim Small, Miss Small: Mel Gibson made this line famous in the movie Patriot. I have heard it all my life from my Grandfather and father. Later I was reminded of it when learning to shoot a traditional bow, then again in the “Shoot Where You Look Program” used by the military and NSCA program. This is one of the most important tips in this article so pay attention. Pick a small spot, hair, off color, crease, muscle or an imaginary dot on your game. Once you look at the antlers and make a decision to shoot focus only on the spot you want to put the bullet. If you focus on the whole animal you will miss or cripple. If you miss one hair you are focused on and hit a couple of hairs away so what. This technique works. I have seen people shoot aspirin out of the air with BB guns that have the sights removed by using this technique. I can shoot vanilla wafers out of the air with no sights using this method. Focus only on the spot you want that bullet to go and that is where it will go if you have your equipment up to standard and follow the tips in this article.

Take a deep breath and squeeze the trigger, Wild Ed

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Anonymous said...

Very good post with a lot of info.

James A. Zachary Jr. said...

Ed, your blog entries are better than the articles in most hunting magazines.


Wild Ed said...

Thanks guys, you make me feel like what I do here is worthwhile.