With September upon us, hunters are starting to prepare for the upcoming season. Normally, I’ll do some scouting in September and October in anticipation of the November deer firearms opener. But, this year the schedule is moved up, with two youth hunts in October with my 12-year-old son, William, and a special hunt at Camp Ripley that my dad, Ray, is participating in.
So, with that in mind, we went to the range to get guns sighted in and give William some more practice. Both his hunts and my dad’s hunt are shotgun hunts, so we took my 12-gauge and my son Andy’s 20-gauge, which is what William will use.
A most amazing thing happened. Andy took three shots with his gun at 50 yards, and hit the bullseye all three times. In fact, all three shots were touching each other. A marksman in the making? I hope so. That was quick and easy. After that, he put the gun down.
Meanwhile, I got my shotgun zeroed in as well. I needed to adjust the scope a bit, but I got it shooting even with the bullseye and about an inch and a half high. Based on my results from last year, it should be right on at 100 yards, which means I won’t have to adjust my aim on a deer between zero and 100 yards. I had my dad fire two shots after that. He was low on one and hit the bullseye on the other. I sent the gun home with him and instructed him to practice aiming.
If you want to make sure your gun is accurate when you take it into the woods this fall, here are a few tips:
1. Do not assume it will fire the same as last year. Always take it to the range in September or October to do some test firing. Even if you have left your rifle or shotgun alone, the scope can be a little off. I have asked experts why that is and have gotten different answers. The bottom line, though, is that the aim point, especially on a scope, can change over time. It’s happened to me. So, get out there and test it.
2. If you’re firing the gun for the first time, be sure to try several different brands of ammo. It makes a difference both for rifles and shotguns with rifled barrels. In my 12-gauge Remington 11-87 semiautomatic, I use Federal Barnes Expander in the 3/4-ounce slug weight in a 2 3/4-inch shell. I have had excellent results with this load and doubt if I’ll ever change. I get very good groups and it seems to shoot very flat — an inch and a half high at 50 yards and dead on at 100. That’s about as good as you can get with a shotgun.
3. Don’t necessarily adjust the sight or scope to hit the bullseye at a given distance. For example, on my 7mm rifle that I use for deer hunting in Montana, I sight it in to shoot about 3 inches high at 100 yards, rather than right on the bullseye. Then, it will be right on at about 250 and about 2 or 3 inches low at 300. That means I can aim right on the deer’s heart and lung area all the way out to 300 yards without having to compensate my aiming point because of distance. This concept is called point-blank range and it is something routinely practiced by western hunters, who regularly get shots of 300 yards or more. It allows you to react quicker and not have to think so much about where to aim when the shot is a little longer. It seems weird to have your bullets hit so high at 100, but 3 inches high will still kill a deer.
4. Clean your barrel at the start of the season, then realize that your first shot with a clean barrel is usually going to be several inches lower than subsequent shots. So, when you’re trying to sight in a gun freshly cleaned, ignore where the first shot hits. My father-in-law, Bob Guditis, explained this concept to me a couple years ago and calls this first shot a fouling shot. He said that the reason the shot is always low is that a clean barrel causes less friction, which means the bullet exits the barrel faster, which means the barrel doesn’t jump as high from the recoil as it does once it’s dirtier. Therefore, the bullet travels at a lower trajectory. Even if that doesn’t make sense, just remember to always take a fouling shot. And, just as importantly, if you decide to clean the gun after you’re done at the range, make sure to take a fouling shot before you go hunting, otherwise your first shot will be low, which could cost you a deer.
5. Once you have sighted in your gun with one brand and weight of ammo, DO NOT hunt with something else. Some people assume all ammo shoots the same. It does not. In fact, I have seen a difference of 10 to 12 inches from one brand to another. That’s enough to miss a deer.
If you take these steps, your gun should fire accurately in the field. Thus, if you miss a deer, it will be due to what my dad refers to as pilot error.