|November - December 1999
Volume 31, Number
The Ruger No. 150th Aniversary Commemorative Rifle
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 Danl 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
didnt come all this way to shoot just once. Ha ha."
Well, if youll grant me a moment on the
soap box, Id 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. Thats how you protect your investment and get the game. Rush the
first shot and the second wont 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. Hell 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 isnt 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
youre 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 havent
(or if you just like checking us writers to see if we get everything right), lets
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, Hoppes BenchRest 9 Copper Solvent and Shooters 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 bores 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 dont
physically damage the bore. This means you should employ a Shooters 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. Theyll 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
youd 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 doesnt 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 doesnt 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 doesnt work you can lay in
enough epoxy to bed the entire barreled action. Just dont forget to apply plenty of
release agent to all metal parts or theyll be married to that stock until you cut
If youve 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 youre done.
Now, if cleaning, scope switching and
bedding/floating dont make your rifle a winner, youre 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 bolts 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 dont 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
rifles 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
bullets 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 youll 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, its 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 Ill lean back to back with a buddy. Trees,
rocks, cut banks and even small shrubs are usually handier and often more cooperative
because they dont 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, Im 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
youre ready to shoot. These arent as fast as Harris pods, but they dont
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 its
comprised of shock-corded aluminum tent poles that you carry on your belt, but you
dont 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 Ive knelt to shoot a number
of deer and at least one elk and one moose, I dont like the position. I sway side to
side too much and theres no forend support. Still, it gets you higher than does
sitting, and its better than standing, especially if theres 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 Mankins 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. Hes gonna stop." I
managed to hold the crosshair within perhaps a 5-inch circle behind the bucks
shoulder until the recoil from the departing Winchester Ballistic Silvertip threw off my
sight picture. It looked good. "You got him. Hes dead. He just doesnt
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 wed 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 thats not such a bad thing.
Crippling is the problem. When that muzzle is wobbling, its 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 deers 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
Regardless your skills or lack thereof, if you
cant restrain yourself you wont 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 dont feel 100
percent confident you can hit him in the boiler, dont fire. If a bull is half
covered by brush and you worry that your bullet might deflect, dont fire. If you
hope an elk is 250 yards away but fear he might be 350, dont 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 hunters 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 doesnt 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 youre 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 youre using. Tape this data to your
stock if you must. Add in wind drift from the charts too. This isnt a science, given
the erratic nature of airflow across landscapes, but it gives you some idea of whats
likely to happen out there.
After my fair share of shooting over and under
game at misjudged ranges, Ive 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 Im hunting. If thats
deer-sized, I adjust for a peak trajectory no more than 4 inches above point of aim. With
most modern, bottlenecked centerfire cartridges thats 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 dont 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 Im
confident its less than 200 yards away I sometimes cheat and hold slightly lower,
but that isnt 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 critters 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 its a long
drive to Wyoming.