It's August, a time of year when any hunter with a big game licence should be thinking of rifles and accurate shooting.
Hitting your intended target with a rifle depends on two equally critical elements: shooter skill, and the quality and dependability of your setup.
Many shooters expect to perform in the field with little or sometimes zero practice. This folly never ceases to appall me, and inevitably leads to lost and wounded animals, or excessive meat destruction.
Would you enter a swim meet without first training? How would you fair in a golf tournament without first honing your skills at the driving range and on the putting green?
Yet each autumn, hunters all across our land take to the woods in search of moose or caribou with a rifle that hasn't fired a bullet in a year or more. Don't you think you and your shooting iron could use a little warming up before you're faced with that tricky shot across a long bog in the fading light of an October evening?
Sorry to sound so riled up, but this issue strikes at a very tender nerve in my soul. I've seen far too many moose left to rot in the woods from misplaced bullets. That is a shame; indeed, a totally senseless waste.
I have a moose licence for fall 2012. It says right on it that I'm permitted to transport my rifle to a safe location for target practice. My week is from Aug. 10-17.
If you have a licence for the coming season, please, at the very least, take advantage of this time to get in some shooting practice and ensure that your gun is hitting the mark. Check on your documentation from Wildlife Division for the dates you are permitted to shoot, as I believe they are not all the same.
It's better to be shooting on a regular basis all year long, but if you only have this week to get it done, I'm going to walk through a few basics. No matter how good a crack shot you are, there's no way of hitting the target with a rifle that isn't tuned. By tuned I mean shooting consistently and accurately.
Let's address consistency first.
You have to rest your rifle on some sort of solid support and fire at least three shots at the same bull's-eye from about 100 yards. There are commercial supports of various designs available, but a bag of sand is probably better than anything. Even a chunk of wood with a jacket atop will suffice, or a bag of kitty litter for that matter.
You can shoot sitting at a table or lying prone on the ground. Fire the three rounds, being very careful not to jerk the gun as you pull the trigger. Unload and leave the action open so you can safely check the target.
If the bullet holes are all over the place, you have a problem. You might have to make a trip to the local gunsmith. There's a whole bunch of causes for scattered shots, too many and too technical to get into here.
If the three shots fit within a three-inch circle, you are good to go. If you are inside an inch, that's outstanding for a plain ordinary hunting rifle. We call that sub minute of arc shooting. That's because a change of angle equal to a minute of arc, or 1/60 of a degree, moves the point of impact one inch at 100 yards. Now you might see why a precise trigger pull is so important.
Next, take a measurement on the target to see how far the centre of your three-shot group is from the bull. You can then adjust your scope or iron sights to get right on the mark; actually, not right on the mark, but about 2 1/2 inches high. That way, the rifle will hit dead on at about 200 yards and approximately three inches low at your maximum range of about 300. With this variance of less than six inches, you can aim right at your target and not worry about shooting high or low.
Precisely, this depends on the calibre you are shooting, so to be exact you will have to consult ballistic tables. But 2 1/2 inches is about right for most of the guns we typically use, like .270, 30-06, .308 and .300 magnum.
One click on most scopes is a 1/4 minute of arc and will move the bullet hole 1/4 of an inch at 100 yards. Or, putting it another way, four clicks equals an inch. Adjust appropriately for both windage (left-right) and elevation (up-down). Now fire three more shots and have another look. You should be right on target, but if not, readjust and shoot again.
Once satisfied at 100 yards, you should shoot at longer ranges. However, if you only have a 100-yard range, you can skip the next step and put your trust in the ballistic tables for the ammo you are shooting. I prefer to verify things for myself if at all possible. So shoot a group at 200 yards and ponder the holes. They should be pretty close to the bull, or maybe just a tad high.
Next take a shot or two at 300 yards and ensure that you aren't too low; three to four inches is acceptable.
Now your rifle is tuned and, as a bonus, you've got in a bit of practice. But you won't have a bench out on the bog, and it's not always possible to shoot lying down.
Practising from field positions is the most critical and often overlooked element in practical marksmanship. Try some shots prone without the rest. You will likely see how much difference the sandbag makes. If you shoot just as precisely without a rest you have the stuff of snipers. Then move on to kneeling and finally standing or off-hand.
In each position, you should note your limitation. That is how far you can shoot and still keep the bullets inside a beef bucket cover - I mean the small one that's about eight inches in diameter. I call it "minute of beef bucket" accuracy. I figure it's the minimum standard for hitting the vitals on a moose. For me, off hand, it's about 150 yards. I'll only go to 300 yards on a moose if I can lay prone or find a makeshift rest.
As Harry Callahan once said, "A good man always knows his limitations."
Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard's Bay, fishes and wanders the outdoors at every opportunity. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.