I think the annual
SHOT Show is probably the second largest sporting goods and accessory show in the world.
Every year I make plans to go, but it is always held so far from my home state of Alaska
that I seldom attend. I doubt I miss all that much, as every fall what has to be the
largest show, a combined migrating SHOT Show and a Cabela's super store, arrives at
my camp when all the new hunting clients arrive.
the current, cutting-edge equipment gets unpacked from overstuffed, green Cabela's
bags and piano-sized aluminum gun cases. Along with all the gee-whiz clothing,
rangefinders and gear are the newest, most fashionable, super-magnum rifles topped with
gargantuan European scopes that are guaranteed to shoot period-sized groups. It is all
quite interesting, but I, like any guide, am much happier when a well-used, blue-worn
rifle wearing a sensible 4x scope appears from the case. At least that way I know the
shooter has real hunting and shooting experience.
year one of my hunters hauled out a Mel Forbes super lightweight, custom rifle. Holding
the rifle in his right hand he made a little .5-inch circle with the thumb and forefinger
on his left hand. "My rifle shoots groups this size at 100 yards" he claimed. I
hear from reliable sources that Mel makes accurate rifles so was initially impressed. Then he said, not varying the
size of the group at all, "and it shoots groups this size at 200 yards"
(unlikely, I thought) "and 300 yards" (improbable) "and 400"
(impossible) "and at 500 yards" (BS). He had unintentionally informed me of one
thing, though; he had never fired groups over 100 yards with any rifle including this one.
From my shooting bench he did manage to keep three shots inside a 6-inch bull. I made sure
he was under 100 yards when he shot his trophy.
find it incongruous that typical hunters using primitive arms - like black-powder
rifles, handguns and archery equipment - usually have a definite, self-imposed limit
on how far they can shoot at a game animal. Twenty-five to 40 yards is typical for bow
hunters, 70 to 100 for iron-sighted handgun hunters and 150 for black-powder enthusiasts.
Most of these hunters have determined their personal limits through practice and know
exactly how far they can reliably place all their shots in the kill zone. Yet if you ask
most rifle hunters how far they can shoot, you commonly hear tales of 400, 500 and at
times even much longer shots.
the years I have witnessed dozens of these self-proclaimed expert, long-distance marksmen
who struggle to hold three shots within a 5- or 6-inch circle at 100 yards from a
benchrest. On most big game that would mean a 300-yard shot from a bench would be a
stretch and after a brisk stalk, using a hasty field position, a quick shot at half that
distance can be marginal for all but the most experienced marksmen.
attribute this overly enthusiastic optimism to two things: hunting articles that brag
about long-distance shots and advertising. I understand that rifle and scope manufacturers
desire something new to sell, but the current trend of using powerful varmint hunting
equipment to shoot at big game across formidable distances all too often borders on the
unethical. Equipment is being peddled as a substitute for stalking skills and marksmanship
as a substitute for hunting prowess.
entire long-range shooting phenomena is sort of a slippery slope, and writers, custom and
factory gun builders and scope manufacturers are all willing accomplices. We all love
shooting and are fascinated by precision tools that enable us to hit small targets at
great distances. Killing live animals, though, is not the same as punching holes in paper
targets, and varmint shooters are basically culling rather than hunting. There are
distinct philosophical differences.
I was a boy growing up in north-central Missouri, groundhogs were the largest game I
hunted. Because an iron-sighted, single-shot .22 is not a long-range sniping rifle, they
had to be actively stalked and hunted. I vividly remember skulking along brushy fence rows
and slithering up drainage ditches in order to get within sure range of old, wary hogs.
Later, as a college youth, I used a .222 Remington and heavy barreled Sako .243
Winchester and enjoyed sniping at them at long distances. I eventually came to the
conclusion that I received as much, if not more, satisfaction by again picking up a .22
and stalking them.
varmint shooters seem to think that the skills they acquire shooting rodents translates
directly to big game hunting. It is true that their experiences at judging distance,
windage and trajectory, plus the skill and ability to shoot accurately is an asset, but
they must realize that their high-velocity, ultra frangible bullets result in either a
clean miss or a quick, humane death on their tiny quarry.
Such is not the case with big game. Big game
has a defined, relatively small kill zone; and unless an appropriate bullet is correctly
placed, they will run off, possibly escape and likely die a horrible death.