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Propellant Profiles
Rifle Magazine
November - December 1999
Volume 31, Number 6
ISSN: 0162-3583
Number 186
On the cover...
The Ruger No. 150th Aniversary Commemorative Rifle
Rifle Magazine
Rifle Magazine Wolfe Publishing Company
Rifle Magazine Featured Articles
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Rifle Magazine
Features
This is a treatise on one-shot hunting, an all-American field ethic that, alas, seems to be fading. Scarcity and expense - not to mention slowness in reloading - forced famous riflemen like Dan’l Boone to be cautious and precise, thus they were effective "one-shot" hunters. These days, with ammunition the least expensive part of any hunt, the new philosophy seems to be "keep shooting until they stop quivering." In camps from Alabama to Africa I hear, only half jokingly, phrases like "I didn’t come all this way to shoot just once. Ha ha."

Well, if you’ll grant me a moment on the soap box, I’d like to propose that the goal of every modern big game hunter should be one-shot kills. Certainly when you invest $6,000 in guiding fees and travel expenses, it is sensible to make sure your game is absolutely dead, but the old adage remains true - make the first shot count. Then add the finishing touches.

This is good advice for three reasons. First, taking the time to make the first shot perfect contributes mightily to - surprise - perfect shooting. That’s how you protect your investment and get the game. Rush the first shot and the second won’t be easier.

Second, if you try to make a perfect first shot but miss, you stand a better chance of understanding what went wrong. A calm shooter should be able to call his shots. He’ll know if he missed due to flinching, shooting high or low, or because he hit a branch. Then he will be in a much better position to make a solid second shot.

Third, placing a quick, killing shot is humane. It shows respect.

Unfortunately, deciding to make the first shot count isn’t the same as doing it. This requires more than just commitment, though that is an essential and logical start. Thereafter comes tuning of equipment, experimenting with technique, practicing and finally restraint.

The Big Tune-Up Tuning is a welcomed chore for most gun nuts. This is where we get to fiddle with our rifles, ammunition and sights. If you’re a regular reader of this magazine, you probably already have tuned each and every one of your rifles for peak performance, but on the outside chance you haven’t (or if you just like checking us writers to see if we get everything right), let’s review some standard manipulations.

The first step to accuracy these days is a good barrel cleaning. This has often been recommended in the past, but few hunters pulled it off. Only with the advent of over-the-counter copper removing cleaners such as Barnes CR-10, Hoppe’s BenchRest 9 Copper Solvent and Shooter’s Choice Copper Remover have most hunters discovered just how plugged up some of their bores really were. Dozens of shooters who thought their tubes were whistle clean have gasped at the blue (oxidized copper) fouling these new cleaners have flushed out. Paste cleaners like J-B Compound from Brownells and the Outers electrochemical Foul Out cleaning rod also remove stubborn bullet jacket scrapings to reveal a bore’s real accuracy potential, often to the amazement of long-time owners.

So, before you rebed your rifle or run crying to a gunsmith, really clean that barrel. Warning: do this carefully so you don’t physically damage the bore. This means you should employ a Shooter’s Choice Bore Guide and clean from the breech of a bolt-action rifle. If you must clean from the muzzle, use an Outers Brass Muzzle Guard. Both these devices and others like them are designed to center the cleaning rod and prevent it from rubbing the rifling. Use a one-piece rod to prevent sharp-edged joints from ramming rifling too. A nylon-coated, steel Dewey Rod or a stainless steel rod are recommended.

Bore brushes should have smooth looped tips rather than jagged cut tips and should be nylon or bronze, not stainless steel which can damage some barrel steel. Copper solvents will eat away at bronze brushes, and the residue will stain patches blue, giving the impression the bore is still coated with jacket fouling. If you use bronze brushes to scrape away old, hard fouling, switch to nylon brushes toward the end of the cleaning to get an accurate picture of your progress. A couple of dousings with copper remover followed by 10 swipes with a nylon brush should flush out bronze brush residue. Push this out with three or four cotton patches wrapped around a nylon brush. They’ll likely still show blue, so perform one more cycle with solvent, nylon brush and cotton patches. These last ones should come clean.

Barrels with tight sections or rough spots can build up extremely hard layers of jacket fouling. Attack these with a tight brush and lots of abrasive J-B Compound. J-B quickly wears away fouling without harming bores. If you’d rather let electricity work for you, plug in the Outers Foul Out overnight. This rod in conjunction with its chemical agent electrostatically "sucks" bullet jacket material off barrel walls and onto the Foul Out rod. On really bad bores you might need two or even three sessions.

Now, if a truly clean barrel doesn’t turn old Scattershot into a tack-driver, look to the usual suspects - loose scope mounts, defective scope, loose stock bedding screws, etc. Sometimes merely swapping scopes makes all the difference. Other times a tighter twist on the front bedding screw is enough to turn the tide. On most bolt actions, tighten the front lug screw first, then just snug down the rear tang screw and any trigger guard screws. Over tightening rear screws can twist and bend actions against ill-fitting stocks, confounding cartridge seating and bullet-to-bore alignment. I once had a Savage 112 .22-250 varmint rig that began shooting erratically. When I started screwing (pun intended) with it, I discovered the stock had a high point beneath the action so that it flexed if I over tightened the rear tang screw. The short-term solution was to loosen the screw. The long-term solution was to sand away the high spot.

With all sights secure and the action/barrel lug solidly wedded, the next likely suspect contributing to the corruption of rifle accuracy is barrel bedding. Some rifles group best with a barrel pressure point near the end of the stock. Some shoot best with barrels floating free. Some like their barrels tightly bedded along the full length of the stock. Wood stocks, of course, are notorious for shifting bedding pressure, but many cheaper synthetic stocks flex and bend surprisingly far under mere finger pressure or the afternoon sun. Try a few and see.

So how should you bed your rifle? My theory holds that when the barrel floats like a butterfly it will sting like a bee. Any contact between barrel and stock throws inconsistency into the rifle depending on how much pressure is exerted on the stock. Rest it lightly in your hand and there is but slight pressure on the barrel. Push the forend down on a log and there is more pressure. That can change point of impact. So I float my barrels.

If floating doesn’t work, one still has the option of building an epoxy pressure point near the tip of the forend. This is sometimes necessary to settle down thin barrels. If that doesn’t work you can lay in enough epoxy to bed the entire barreled action. Just don’t forget to apply plenty of release agent to all metal parts or they’ll be married to that stock until you cut them apart.

If you’ve never fooled with bed-ding, do yourself a favor and buy a Brownells GLASBED¨ kit. For $13 you get all the ingredients you need plus complete directions. A few hours in the shop and you’re done.

Now, if cleaning, scope switching and bedding/floating don’t make your rifle a winner, you’re a candidate for the gunsmith. If he has a bore scope, ask him to use it. Check for excessive wear/erosion at the throat, pitting or rust along the rifling and damage at the crown of the muzzle. Touching up the crown is a simple, inexpensive job that might solve the accuracy problem quickly. If the throat is gone you might be able to rechamber and set the barrel back, but you might be better off mounting a new barrel. New Shilen and Douglas barrels retail for about $133 to $153.

If your gunsmith okays your barrel, have him lap the bolt’s locking lugs and square the bolt face to the bore. This aligns the cartridge/bullet to the center of the bore to improve accuracy. Bullets that start into the bore off center can be scraped and deformed as they slam into the rifling. When they hit the wind they don’t fly too straight.

Another problem with some barrels is a poorly cut chamber. It might be rough; it might be slightly canted. Sometimes a touch up with a good reamer can fix this.

Finally, get a good trigger job. Adjust the pull to about 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 pounds and smooth the contact points.

Developing technique and practicing shooting well in the field requires both effective shooting style plus the instinct or schooling to know which one to use in a hurry. As everyone knows, shooting off a bench uncovers your rifle’s accuracy but divulges little about yours. Benches in the deer woods are rare. Trees, rocks, posts, hills and your own butt, however, are not. These are what you must learn to use to become a great field shot.

Traditional shooting stances include, in order of relative stability, prone, sitting, kneeling and standing. While hunting, that hierarchy changes. More often than not the slope of the earth or its covering of vegetation render prone shooting impractical. Discovering this when a mule deer pauses at the crest of a mountain ridge at 250 yards is too late. So go forth, oh nimrod, before your hunt and plop yourself and rifle down to see just how seldom prone shooting works. In most instances grass no higher than a few inches will block your view, not to mention your bullet’s line of flight. Even seemingly "flat" fields ripple with subtle dips and ridges sufficient to screw up a prone shot.


Prone will bite you on an uphill slope too. You might get a clear line of fire, but your rifle will be canted at such an extreme angle that you’ll end up wearing your scope on your eyebrow. Trust me, I know. Really, about the only prone shooting you can depend on afield is from the edge of a hill, bluff or cliff. With the barrel hanging over nothing but air and the scope canted at a nice angle down and away from your primitive brow, it’s a great shot.

That leaves sitting as the next most likely candidate for "steadiest field position," and in most instances it is. With a proper muscle-to-muscle anchor between the insides (not tops) of your knees and your triceps just behind your elbows, you create a surprisingly stable platform. Keep your feet flat to the ground if you can or dig them into soft ground for extra purchase. Whenever possible lean your back against any solid object to ease strain on stomach muscles and provide added stability. In emergencies I’ll lean back to back with a buddy. Trees, rocks, cut banks and even small shrubs are usually handier and often more cooperative because they don’t breathe, talk or turn to watch you shoot. A hasty sling will add that last touch of stability.

The only drawback to the sitting position is that tall grass and brush often block it. The steadiest sitting position combines a back rest with shooting sticks or bipods. While I love the benchlike stability of a Harris or B-Square bipod, I’m not crazy about the extra weight and bulk, so I limit these to coyote calling and varmint shooting. The Snipe Pod - a folding, shock-corded, aluminum tent pole bipod - clips off and on to a special sling clip mounted on the forend stud and weighs just 4 ounces. You can carry the folded legs in a belt pouch and attach them when you’re ready to shoot. These aren’t as fast as Harris pods, but they don’t unbalance the rifle. When I have to walk, stalk and hunt long distances, I prefer the latest folding aluminum Steady Stix II from Stoney Point. Like the Snipe Pod it’s comprised of shock-corded aluminum tent poles that you carry on your belt, but you don’t clip it to the rifle. Simply extend the legs, spread them like old-fashioned cross-sticks, drop your rifle between them and shoot. Again, not as fast as a mounted bipod, but light and handy.

Even though I’ve knelt to shoot a number of deer and at least one elk and one moose, I don’t like the position. I sway side to side too much and there’s no forend support. Still, it gets you higher than does sitting, and it’s better than standing, especially if there’s any wind. You can kneel with shooting sticks too.

Last fall I was shooting a BOSS Browning A-Bolt during an antelope hunt on Dick Mankin’s ranch near Gillette, Wyoming. Wayne van Zwoll and I hunched and crawled to within about 250 yards of six bucks before they saw us. Selecting the largest was the tough part. They were peas in a pod, but one was heavier. A sitting shot would have required crawling too far over the ridge, so I knelt and propped up my Steady Stix. The pronghorns lined out, quartering away. "Second one from the lead," Wayne reported. "Now third. He’s gonna stop." I managed to hold the crosshair within perhaps a 5-inch circle behind the buck’s shoulder until the recoil from the departing Winchester Ballistic Silvertip threw off my sight picture. It looked good. "You got him. He’s dead. He just doesn’t know it yet." The buck ran 100 yards or so and died. The 115-grain, .25-06 bullet had landed in that little dark pocket just behind the shoulder, maybe an inch too low. We paced the shot to almost 300 yards, a bit more than we’d judged. Without those shooting sticks and years of practice I doubt I could have made the shot.

The standing shot is desperation in action and should be taken only when absolutely necessary and only when game is within about 100 yards or less and only after considerable practice - regular practice. Missing a deer at 100 yards from a standing position is easy to do, and that’s not such a bad thing. Crippling is the problem. When that muzzle is wobbling, it’s just too easy to put a bullet in a gut or lower leg. Practice your standing shots at life-size deer targets under simulated hunting conditions (walk before the shot, shoot within three seconds, shoot through woods, etc.) and make an honest appraisal of your abilities. Extrapolate your maximum shooting distance from your practice and resist the urge to extend it.


Years ago I realized that from a standing position I shot running game better than stationary game. Credit the gyroscopic effect. When my torso is sweeping side to side, it is easier for me to maintain vertical hold. Horizontal control is mostly a product of timing. When the crosshairs swing past a running deer’s brisket, I break the trigger. This shot, too, requires much practice. I got most of my practice on jackrabbits and coyotes in my younger days, which was lucky because my first two deer were both running flat out when I rolled them. There have been a few since, but I try to limit them. Usually I make my one-shot kills on standing game by securing a steady rest, carefully estimating range, holding steady and making a concerted effort to put that first bullet where it will end things.

Regardless your skills or lack thereof, if you can’t restrain yourself you won’t make many one-shot kills. Any rush to judgment is usually a missed shot. Better to spend an extra 30 minutes creeping into perfect position than to risk a poor shot. If the buck is running and you don’t feel 100 percent confident you can hit him in the boiler, don’t fire. If a bull is half covered by brush and you worry that your bullet might deflect, don’t fire. If you hope an elk is 250 yards away but fear he might be 350, don’t shoot.

The best shots are usually also the best hunters. Use your knowledge and woodsmanship to wait out your game, stalk closer, call it into a better position. An old whitetail hunter’s trick is to whistle loudly to stop a buck. It worked 100 years ago and still does in most cases. Years ago western hunters knew to hold fire on a running muley because it would invariably stop for one last look back. That doesn’t happen often these days with truly big, old bucks, but it does with 90 percent of the ones hunters bag. You can stop elk with a bugle, entice them to step forward with a cow chirp, lure pronghorn with a snort call or let them walk out of sight and simply sneak closer later. A coyote that is coming hard to a predator call will slam on the brakes if you bark at it.

If you’re hopeless at judging range, learn to use your dual-thickness crosshairs as a rangefinder, get a mil-dot reticle and learn how to use it or buy a Bushnell or Simmons rangefinder and use that. At the very least memorize the trajectory of the ammunition you’re using. Tape this data to your stock if you must. Add in wind drift from the charts too. This isn’t a science, given the erratic nature of airflow across landscapes, but it gives you some idea of what’s likely to happen out there.

After my fair share of shooting over and under game at misjudged ranges, I’ve settled on a simple system that works under even the most nerve-wracking conditions and requires no gadgets, charts or memorization. I sight my rifle for maximum point-blank range according to the game I’m hunting. If that’s deer-sized, I adjust for a peak trajectory no more than 4 inches above point of aim. With most modern, bottlenecked centerfire cartridges that’s between 150 and 170 yards. Thereafter the bullet drops until it falls 4 inches below line of sight, which is usually between 300 and 350 yards. I look up the specific trajectory on my RCBS.Load ballistic computer program, then double check it on targets in the field.

With a point-blank range of 300 to 350 yards, I don’t have to worry whether the quarry is 50 yards, 280 yards, 263 yards or 300 yards away. I simply aim for its vertical center chest and drop the hammer. (If I’m confident it’s less than 200 yards away I sometimes cheat and hold slightly lower, but that isn’t essential.) Ninety-nine times out of 100 this will do the job. If the bullet misses, I hold with just a sliver of daylight showing over the critter’s back for the second shot, which should fall into the boiler room out to 400 yards. If that shot, too, lands low, I figure the deer won that round. I should have been a better hunter and stalked closer. Granted, careful, practiced shooters with long-range super magnums can extend this scenario to 500 yards, but most riflemen will perform reliably with my formula or one close to it.

Like accurate rifles, one-shot hunters are made, not born, so you have no excuses. Develop your rifle, then yourself and become a one-shot wonder. After the game has been fatally struck by your first shot, you can add all the insurance shots you want. Nonresident licenses are expensive, and it’s a long drive to Wyoming.

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