By Gary LewisWith a month before the season to get ready, here is a look at rifle prep and what to take along for hunting blacktails, mule deer and western whitetails.
I get 10 years out of a box of ammo,” he said. “I bought a box of 20 rounds on sale back in twenty-ought-nine and I haven’t shot more than two bullets a season since – one to sight it in and one if I see a deer.”
Heard that one?
That’s a guy who is a) afraid of his rifle or b) a cheapskate - Either way, he hasn’t practiced for the last decade and it is likely that, presented a shot at 200 yards or more, he couldn’t tell you where the bullet will hit.
“I don’t use that expensive stuff. I go down and buy a box of whatever is on sale. That’s how my daddy did it and that’s good enough for me.”
That’s a guy who hasn’t taken the time to learn about bullet construction and doesn’t know that some bullets will perform better in some guns and worse in others.
“I just bought this new rifle. They laser bore-sighted it for me at the shop, so I’m good to go.”
That guy is the one you meet at the range after the season. He wants to figure out why the big buck got away from him. Don’t be that guy.
A spotting scope is a necessary piece to bring along on a high-country mule deer hunt.
Never before have good rifles and rifle scopes been so affordable. Today’s hunter can buy premium, off-the-shelf ammunition that is capable of accuracy worthy of the best shooter. But, manufacturing advancements are no substitute for that pre-hunt ritual we call sighting-in.
Part of the problem is that bore-sighting isn’t good enough. A hunter can buy a new rifle and have it bore-sighted at the gun counter. What happens is that a technician uses his eye or a laser to align the barrel with the scope. That gets it close, but close could still be three inches or three feet off at 100 yards. That’s not close enough when a buck steps into a clearing 200 yards away.
Gary Lewis at the COSSA Range, sighting-in a Montana Rifle with a Leupold scope and Nosler AccuBonds. Sight-in with the ammunition you will use on the hunt. Don’t bring bargain-basement bullets to the range when you plan to use premium projectiles in the field. Use the cheap stuff in practice if you want, but to establish accuracy, use the hunting bullet to sight-in.
Part of our pre-season ritual is taking a trip to the range. We have a good place to shoot where I live, in Central Oregon. It’s called the COSSA Park and we have the capability to shoot to 600 yards in one bay and out to 1,000 yards with supervision. We sight-in at 100 yards and then shoot at steel plates at 200, 300, 400 yards and beyond with someone watching through the spotting scope.
Out in open country, a hunter might stalk a buck or be presented with a shot out to 300 yards or beyond. This hunter is likely to carry a rangefinder. It makes sense to tape the load data or holdovers on the stock of your gun for shots out to 500 yards.
For western hunting, consider sighting-in to put the bullet two or three inches high at 100 yards. Set a target at 25 yards and fire three rounds. Adjust the scope for windage and elevation to center the group around the bulls-eye. This may take several adjustments. Next, set a target at 100 yards and fire three rounds. Bring the bullets into the bulls-eye by making adjustments in windage and elevation.
Consider sighting three inches high at 100 yards. With a 50 yard shot, the bullet will strike about 1.5 inches above the crosshair. At 300 yards, the bullet will strike about three inches low. Hold a bit low at distances less than 200 yards. If a buck’s vitals are about six inches in diameter, any well-aimed shot is going to put the deer down. If a 400-yard shot must be taken, hold a bit more than 14 inches high of the heart/lung area, just above the line of the buck’s back and that will arc the bullet into the vitals. Learn the mechanics of bullet performance and understand the way the rifle and hunting load performs at different distances.
A grasp of fundamentals is important. Practice hones the skills in the brain and muscles.
Shooting is athletics. Prepare for that last second shot when the game is on the line.Gear 4 Deer
Trips to the range or out to the desert and an early season coyote hunt or two are my favorite ways to get ready for deer season. That takes care of the fundamentals of accuracy. The other thing we need to do is get our gear ready for the hunt. This is the time of year to put equipment in totes and look at what is necessary, what can be left behind and what needs to be replaced. For optics, a high desert hunter is best served with a binocular (on a chest harness), a spotting scope, a rifle scope and a rangefinder. Optics, rifle and ammo aside, I group the gear into three different types: a day pack, a truck kit and camping equipment.
I have two day packs. One for short jaunts and one for backcountry when heavy optics will be employed or when there might be a need to overnight beneath the stars. The contents? A Whistles for Life safety whistle, a Brunton compass, latex gloves, a Cliff Bar, hand warmers, a small first aid kit, a lighter, matches, fire-starting material, ear plugs, a lens cloth, a water bottle, an Aquamira water filter straw, surveyor’s flagging, a small LED light, a map, Tenacious Tape, a Camovat Cravat (to use as a bandana or a sling or a filter), a Garmin GPS unit, a Nightstick Tac light, a COAST headlamp and extra batteries.
Note I have two navigating devices, two fire-starting devices and three lights.
Thus equipped and minus lunch, the ALPS day pack weighs 5.5 pounds. With a sleeping bag and pad or a spotting scope and tripod, I employ the larger pack. The day pack goes everywhere and I never take it off except to use it as a pillow.
This buck was spotted across a canyon and ranged at 252 yards. The author used a Partition bullet and an old Model 70 Winchester that used to belong to John Nosler.
In September, the truck is stocked with a come-along (for pulling people out of ditches and trees out of roads) and a tow strap (I’ve used it way too much), a fire extinguisher and a shovel (I get stuck a lot). And backcountry roads being what they are, it’s a good idea to check the spare tire and jack.
It’s a good idea to carry extra water and an MRE, which stands for Meal-Ready-to-Eat and it’s a bad day if I have to eat it. In a small cooler, I keep MTLPs (meals which take longer to prepare, but taste better).
In the truck there’s a first aid kit, gloves, a sleeping bag and game bags. Because I often find myself in poison oak country, I pack a bottle of Tecnu Extreme to wash up with.
No matter what else is on the calendar, my Oregon deer hunt is the main event. Getting ready starts at the range where I’ll burn a lot of ammo.
To contact Gary Lewis, visit www.GaryLewisOutdoors.com