Hunters learn as they go. We also forget at the same time. It’s never a bad idea to refresh the memory about the things that matter.
By Richard Mann
The things a hunter will learn over the course of a lifetime are innumerable. Some of the most important lessons we learn the hard way, like keeping our nose into the wind. (After you’ve busted a couple of big bucks from their bed because a breeze on your neck gave you away, that lesson will finally stick.)
Fortunately, we can also learn from hunters who’ve made all of the mistakes. The old hands sitting around the fire at hunting camp always seem to have tales worth sharing.
So we can help make sure our brief excursions in the timber are not fraught with errors, it’s never a bad idea to refresh our memories when it comes to guns and hunting. Our brains are much like computers in that they have limited memory and hard-drive space, and when full, require one file to be deleted before another can be added. If your hard drive isn’t already full, make sure you file away these 30 tips.
1. You have to shoot a lot to save money by handloading. It takes about 1,000 rounds to make up for the initial investment in equipment.
2. Pelletized blackpowder substitutes are easy to use, but don’t provide velocities as consistent as granulated powders do.
3. The rules of firearm safety can be as short as one and as long as 10, but this basic tenet trumps all the others: Never point a gun at anything you don’t want to shoot. Follow this rule and ingrain it in your kids.
4. A cartridge with a magnum designation doesn’t mean it will kill faster or better than a non-magnum cartridge, but it will kick harder than its counterpart.
5. Forget the notion that you should be surprised when your rifle goes off. Shooting a firearm is an exercise in precision. With a good trigger and proper practice, you should know the exact moment your gun will fire.
6. Never take as gospel the word of a politician or the trajectory charts printed in ammunition catalogs. Determine your load’s point of impact at various distances before hunting with it.
7. The hunting bullet you choose is more important than the cartridge that fires it. Hunters should pick a bullet based on impact velocity. Most standard-velocity cartridges will perform adequately for hunting if the proper bullets are used. However, bullet selection becomes critical when the impact velocity is high, such as with magnum cartridges fired at close range, or low velocity because of shooting at extended ranges.
8. There’s no substitute for hunting and shooting experience and skills. Buying expensive guns and gear or a lot of equipment will not make up for any shortcomings in either area.
9. Scopes with long-range reticles, used in conjunction with a good rangefinder, take much of the guesswork out of shooting at distant game. However, don’t use a long-range scope without first verifying that it matches the trajectory of a particular load.
10. It’s hard to improve on the accuracy of modern factory cartridges, and the same can be said for their performance. However, some old rounds like the 6.5x55 Swedish Mauser are traditionally loaded light and can be improved by handloading.
11. A bullet begins to drop the moment it exits the barrel. If you fire a bullet perfectly level with the ground and drop another bullet from the same height at the same time, they will hit the ground at the same instant.
12. Ballistic coefficient, or BC, is a numerical value assigned to a bullet to represent how efficiently it moves through the air. Start two bullets at the same velocity, and the one with the higher BC will drop less over a given distance.
13. Riflescope reticles are either placed in the rear or front focal plane. Those in the front focal plane do not change in size as magnification is adjusted. Reticles in the rear focal plane do. Both reticle types are fine for hunting; which one you choose is a matter of personal preference.
14. The accuracy that matters most is the first shot fired at game. Shooting small groups at the range is great, but being able to hit your intended target in the right spot on the first shot is what puts meat in the freezer.
15. Recoil is essentially how hard a gun kicks. Various formulas exist for recoil and can be somewhat complicated. In most cases, all else being equal, the cartridge with the highest Kinetic Energy (KE) will kick the hardest. This, however, does not mean that cartridge will kill an animal any better or faster.
16. Dry-firing is one of the best forms of shooting practice available. It’s cheap, can be done anywhere (first check to make sure the gun’s unloaded, of course), and it works. Contrary to popular belief, dry-firing will not harm most quality firearms. Some inline muzzleloaders and rimfires are not meant to be dry-fired. If in doubt, use a snap cap.
17. Triggers have a tremendous influence on offhand shooting. You might be able to manage a heavy trigger at the bench, but not when shooting an unsupported rifle. A good trigger is not necessarily one with a light pull weight, but one that breaks clean and consistently.
18. Learn the anatomy of the animals you are hunting and where to place your shot from any angle. It’s not just about hitting the animal; it’s about hitting them in the heart / lung area.
19. Often confused with a bullet’s ability to penetrate, Sectional Density (SD) expresses the density of a bullet. A correlation between SD and penetration depth is only reliable when terminal bullet performance, impact velocity and weight are identical. SD = Bullet Weight (in pounds)/Bullet Diameter2 (in inches).
20. Deer are not getting harder to kill, nor are they wearing body armor. However, using good premium bullets is not a bad idea if you can afford them. Even bullets considered tough like the Barnes Triple Shock and Swift A-Frame and Scirocco will fully expand on deer-sized animals if impact velocities are kept above 2,000 fps. These premium or bonded bullets are a good idea if you are shooting lightweight bullets or small calibers.
21. The speed a bullet travels is usually represented in feet per second. All things being equal, the higher the velocity, the less a bullet will drop over a given distance.
22. You can measure your scope’s exit pupil by dividing the diameter of its objective lens by magnification. For example, a scope with 4x magnification and a 40mm objective lens will have an exit pupil of 10. The human eye pupil can only dilate to about 6mm, so while an exit pupil greater than 6 might be less restrictive on eye placement, it will not provide any meaningful increase in brightness.
23. Most factory rifles shoot pretty well, so if you are having trouble zeroing your rifle, check the scope and mounts first. Don’t forget excessive parallax in a scope. It can alter the point of impact as much as 2 inches at 100 yards.
24. Impact velocity is the key to terminal bullet performance. A 180-grain Nosler Partition bullet fired from a .308 Winchester will impact at 100 yards with a velocity of about 2,551 fps. This is virtually identical to the performance of the same bullet fired from a .300 Winchester Magnum impacting at 200 yards.
25. A riflescope should never be used as a binocular. A scope is a sight, not a device for determining whether the movement you saw was made by a man or a deer. Even the most expensive riflescopes fall short of the optical quality of most binoculars.
26. Kinetic Energy (KE) is a figure used to rate the power of different bullet weights launched at different velocities. Some mistakenly consider it a measure of killing power, but it has much more correlation to recoil than anything else. KE = Velocity2 (fps) x bullet weight (in grains) / 450,400.
27. Just because a bullet is bonded doesn’t mean it will penetrate well. Some bonded bullets expand with a wide frontal diameter, limiting penetration.
28. In addition to shooting a rifle from the bench, hunters should practice from field positions: prone, sitting, kneeling and standing.
29. If you’re about 30 years old and you think you’re having trouble remembering things now, just wait until you reach 40 or 50. It only gets worse. Write sticky notes and put them on your guns to remind you of safety, and never delete those safety memories from your hard drive.
30. We hunt to have fun. Always measure the success of the hunt by smiles, sunsets and the number of friends with whom you share the experience.
Reprinted from the November 2007 issue of Buckmasters GunHunter Magazine. Subscribe today to have GunHunter delivered to your home.