Field Sports Album

The Opinion Page

Okay, so I'm opinionated.
There, I said it and proclaim it to be true.  Those who know me are nodding their heads in agreement.  So what!  On this page I intend to share opinions with anyone dumb enough to read them.  You don't need to agree with my opinions, and you have every right to be wrong.  Hopefully something you read here will be food for thought.

Mountain Rifles.
Now, what the hell is this all about?  As far as I'm concerned, any rifle you carry up a mountain is a Mountain Rifle.  I think it might have been Jack O'Connor who got this crazy thing started when he calculated that if your rifle weighed one pound extra, and you carried that rifle up a 5,000 foot mountain, and you took 20,000 steps to do it, then you have just lifted an excess 20,000 pounds 5,000 feet high.  I'm sure I don't have the quotation or even the numbers correct, but you get the idea that Jack felt weight of your rifle was important.  I would have enjoyed explaining to Jack that I weigh 200 pounds, and my favorite field ready rifle weighs a portly 10 pounds, so if I take those same 20,000 steps and climb 5,000 feet, then I've just lifted 4,200,000 pounds.   It makes his measly 20,000 pounds seem insignificant, and that's my whole point, it is insignificant at less than 1/2 of 1% extra weight.

Now think about this.  All things being equal, heavy rifles shoot better than light rifles.  If you don't think so then I suggest you visit a benchrest shooting event and count the number of 6 pound rifles on the firing line.  You might also consider taking a remedial high school physics class since you obviously slept through it the first time.  Heavy wall barrels shoot better.  Stocks that fit the shooter make you shoot better.  Heavy rifles abuse the shooter with less felt recoil.   Heavy rifles get back on target faster for second shots due to less barrel lift.  Heavy barrels change point of impact less on second and subsequent shots.

So, let's say you go hunting.  How about a nice Sheep hunt.  Guided Sheep hunts are expensive and strenuous, really strenous, and you might well be tempted by a new lightweight rifle.  But you've skipped lunch at McDonalds for years and made the wife buy the low priced spread so you could save enough money for your hunt.  You've worked out three times a week at some geeky fitness gym to get in shape.  You have read Sheep Hunting for Dummies so many times you know the ISBN number by heart.   You've spent more money than the cost of your first three cars combined to pay your outfitters exorbitant fee.  You hunt for 9 days and finally, on the last day of your hunt, you and your guide find the Sheep of your dreams and he is a mere 300 yards away.   All you have to do is shoot him, so what rifle do you want to be clutching to your heaving chest?  The svelt 6 pound beauty that was easy to carry, or the 10 pounder that fits you like you were born with it?

So, if weight is important to you, I recommend you sweat it off your fat ass instead of grinding it off your rifle!  But hey, it's your hunt so do what you want.

Scoped Rifle Sight Adjustment
"How high should I adjust my scope at 100 yards?"  That's a question that often gets asked by new hunters.  It seems that everyone you ask has a different, uh, point of aim.  We all know that a bullet trajectory starts dropping as soon as it leaves the barrel.  Gravity is relentless, as we older folks know all too well.  So, how high should your bullet impact be at 100 yards?  Should it be 1" above point of aim?  Or 2"?  More?

Many hunters will try to match their adjustment to the particular species they plan to hunt, and also the type of terrain they expect in the field.  For example, a Whitetail hunter shooting from a tree stand may not expect a shot greater than 100 yards because visibility from the stand is limited.  That hunter might well sight-in dead-on at 100 yards.  On the other hand, a Mule Deer hunter in the western states may well expect to take shots at 300 yards or more, up to the limit of their skill.   This western hunter is going to need some help with the bullet trajectory and had best sight-in somewhat above point of aim at 100 yards.

I am not a fan of adjusting your scope for each type of hunting venture.  If you only have one rifle and have to make due, then you might be forced to do just that.   A better option would be more than one gun, each suited to a task.  Well, any excuse to buy more guns is good enough for me, but if you hunt woodlands and prairie, you can honestly tell your spouse that you need another rifle.

Okay, back to the point.  I am primarily a western states big game hunter.  I hunt Elk, Deer, Pronghorn, and Pigs.  My favorite rifle for all of those species is a custom Mauser M98 in .338 Winchester Magnum.  I have chosen that caliber because it is heavy enough for any big game species that I may hunt now, or in the future, in North America.  It is not "too much gun" for Pronghorn which is the smallest of the big game species.  In most situations I am comfortable shooting at up to 300 yards.  Maybe a little more, but I avoid longer shots whenever possible.  Even so, I know where my bullet strikes at up to 400 yards because I have studied the ballistics tables.  Now that I have defined the rifle I use, and how I use it, this is how I sight-in.

Let me just state the value - I adjust for 3.5" above point of aim at 100 yards.   At that adjustment, my ballistic table looks like this:

100 yards =  +3.5"
200 yards =  +3.6"
275 yards =  Zero
300 yards =  -2.0"
400 yards = -15.0"

I won't go into the load data that was used to arrive at those ballistic figures because that is not the purpose of this writing.  But note that the load was verified with a chronograph, and the ballistic data published in the manuals was verified by actually shooting paper targets at up to 300 yards.  Published ballistics charts are generally reliable, but published bullet velocites are usually not even close, so actually chronographing your loads is highly recommended.

Using the smallest member of the big game group, the Pronghorn antelope has a vital organ kill area of approximately 8", with a brisket to top of back dimension of approximately 14".  Using the vital organ area we can see that a bullet impact that is 4" high, or 4" low, will still be a clean kill.  Now look back at my ballistic table and you will note that at all ranges up to over 300 yards, bullet impact is within the vital organ kill area.  In actual use this means that at ranges up to 300 yards I always use a dead on hold.  This is critical.  The urge to hold high on long shots can be overwhelming.  DON'T DO IT.  I have pounded that into my own mind over and over because the urge is still there after all these years.   Let the ballistics work for you instead of trying to guess what they might be for each shot.  Another way to look at it is this - if an animal is so far away that you need to hold high, it's too far for an ethical clean kill and you should not shoot.

At a 3.5" impact above point of aim, you can expect a lot of high shots at ranges of less than 200 yards.  But that's okay.  High shots will take out the top of lungs.  Also, what is above the lungs?  The spine!  It's pretty difficult to take out the spine without also taking out some lung tissue, and either way it results in a quick kill.  Lung shots result in fewer lost animals than shots in the heart area, and any shot that disrupts the spinal area will plant the animal quickly.  My own experiences have resulted in a lot of spine damaging shots.  When I've done my part with a proper hold, those have always been one shot kills.

This is the system that works for me on my kind of hunts.  It clearly is not right for everyone.  A favorite Pig hunting guide advises his clients to sight-in 1" high at 100 yards.  I guess that works for him, but it would be a disaster for me to try and change my strategy.  So I refuse to engage him in the debate.   Regardless of the strategy you choose, I believe it is critical to have a strategy in place, know your rifle, know your ballistics (I have that chart attached to my rifle scope), choose an ammunition load and stick with it.  Practice your shooting often, and practice practical shooting situations as well.  Practice situations mentally.   Practice until it becomes instictive.  Then when the money shot on a game animal presents itself your instincts will get the job done.