This is the first of many marksmanship tips that I will post on this forum. I hope that they will be helpful for most, if not all of you.
This post is going to focus on something that at first, may seem obvious, but may cause even the most experienced hunter to miss a shot.
Tip #1: Know Your Rifle
We've all seen the movies with boot camp recruits racing to field strip their rifles blindfolded, then attempt to re-assemble them, also while blindfolded.
Those guys know their rifles.
While I am not advocating that each of you should practice field stripping your rifles to the point that you can do so blindfolded, (in fact, doing so repeatedly may degrade the accuracy of some rifles) it certainly illustrates the point.
There are a number of things that you, as a hunter, or avid shooter should know about your rifle (in no particular order):
- How to properly 'safe' the rifle
- Preferred ammunition, either handloaded or factory
- Scope adjustment procedure
- Zero distance (and at what temperature it was zeroed)
- Reloading procedure
Lets start with the first of those bullet points, as it truly is the most important-
How to properly 'safe' your rifle.
Most rifles have some form of safety mechanism, designed to ensure the rifle will not go off when the trigger is depressed. Only a fool would stake his life on such a mechanical safety; after all, Humans designed and built it, therefore it is imperfect.
So, what then do I mean?
I mean well and truly safe- to the point where a four year old could pick it up, and it wouldn't go 'bang'.
Couple of steps to follow for this, but doing so could save a life.
First- remove the magazine. If no magazine, or an internal magazine, then remove all ammunition.
Second- Open the bolt. On most semi-auto's, there is a mechanism which will allow you to lock the bolt in the rearward position; do so. On bolt rifles, remove the bolt altogether, and place it in a safe place.
Third- Engage the 'safety'. (mostly for semi-auto's, as most bolt-action safeties will not function with the bolt removed)
Fourth- Insert a chamber flag into the chamber of the rifle.
pic of chamber flag:
As some of you are no doubt aware, every rifle is different- even two that are exactly the same, may prefer ammunition from different manufacturers or even different bullet weights. To find the appropriate ammunition for YOUR rifle, I suggest purchasing a box of ammo from each manufacturer that you can find, in each bullet style that you can find, then spend a day at the range, testing each one. To begin this test, start with a clean, cold bore. Fire a 5 round group at a target at least 200yds away (300 is better, but you may begin to see the effects of wind drift). Clean the bore, wait for it to cool, then fire another group at a different target, at the same range. Continue to do this through each box of ammunition. When you are done, you will be able to compare the average groups from each box, and easily determine which ammunition your rifle prefers, thus telling you what you should stock up on. Hand loaders have many more options available to them, but the theory remains the same.
Scope Adjustment Procedure
AKA: How do I get my Point Of Aim to coincide with my Point Of Impact?
It's actually quite simple, but there is some math involved. (booo! no math!)
Lets say you've got your rifle set up on the bench, and your target is placed at 400 yards away. Once you've got your bags or rest set up for the shots, you fire a 3 round group, and wonder of wonders, they all hit the target, but are 16" low of center. Now, how do we know A: which way to turn that knob, and B: how many clicks to turn it?
'Bubba' Might spend a full day at the range, trying to get his rifle 'zeroed', and go through 100's of rounds in the process. By using a little bit of math, you can do it in less than a half hour, and still have rounds left from your first box.
"How do you accomplish such a feat?!"
A little-known procedure called "Inches-Minutes-Clicks", that's how.
First, determine how many inches the center of your group is from the center of your target. We've already determined this to be 16 inches.
Now, convert that inch measurement into Minutes. Raise your hand if you know what a Minute Of Angle (MOA) is. (Okay smarypants, put your hand down, you look foolish, raising your hand in front of a computer). 1 degree, starting at your muzzle, and going out to a target at 100 yards, would cover 60". Not exactly useful for adjusting our scopes, right? So we break it down into 60'ths, called minutes. Put simply, a Minute Of Angle is 1/60th of one degree. At 100 yards, this measurement covers *about* 1 inch. At 200 yards, it covers 2 inches, and so on and so forth. You might just say that one could define a Minute of Angle = One inch PER one hundred yards.
Now that we know what one Minute of Angle is at 400 yards, we need to determine how far our sights are off, in MOA. Lets look back to that inch measurement- 16". How many MOA are in 16", at 400 yards?
Easy - math! 16 (inches) / 4 (hundreds of yards) = 4 MOA.
Now we know our sights are off by 4 MOA, and we need our bullets to impact UP from where they are. Time to come back to our scope, and convert MOA into clicks.
When you look at the turret adjusting knobs on your scope, the top turret will be for elevation, and the side turret will be for windage. On most scopes, there is a dust cover hiding the actual adjustment knob. Go ahead and pull that off, but don't touch anything yet. Look at the turret- it should tell you some vital information; it will tell you how many clicks per minute you will have to make... Unfortunately, this, too, will require some math... For some reason, scope manufacturers always put this information in its least useable format, inches. The top of your turret will have written on it something like "1 click = 1/4" @ 100yds", or perhaps "1 click = 1/8" @ 100yds". (I've even seen a scope that said "1 click = 1/16" @ 100yds", but those scopes are rare, and extremely expensive) Lets look back at that whole minute of angle discussion, above. What is our scope telling us, when it says that one 'click' equals a quarter-inch at 100yds? Well, it is telling us that in order to move one full inch at 100yds, (1 MOA) we would need to dial in FOUR clicks. Four Clicks per MOA is what the scope really means when it says "1 click = 1/4" @ 100yds"...
Now that we know how many clicks per MOA our scope moves, we can dial in the correction, right? WRONG! There's one final bit of information that your scope is telling you. There should be the word "UP" and an arrow, pointing either clock-wise or counter-clock-wise. This tells you that moving the turret CLOCKWISE (if so indicated) would move your Point Of Impact UP. Useful information, no?
Now we can dial in our correction- Lets look at what we KNOW:
A: Our bullets need to move 16" up to hit dead center of our target.
B: We know that 16" at 400 yards is = 4 MOA
C: We know that our turret moves in 1/4 MOA clicks.
D: We know that to raise our POI, we need to move the turret Clockwise.
E: 4MOA x 4 Clicks/MOA = 16 clicks, Clockwise.
Dial in your correction, and fire for effect! Inches-Minutes-Clicks; a mathematical formula designed to ensure proper sight adjustment, every time!
Rifle Zero Range
Once you have selected the ammunition that your rifle likes, you need to determine what range you need to 'zero' the rifle at. This will be determined by the areas you intend to hunt, and the (realistic) distances you are able to make a clean shot at, in field conditions. Just because you can ring 8" steel from a bench at 500yds, doesn't mean you can do so in the field- Know YOUR limitations, and factor that in to your zero distance. Once you've got the rifle zeroed, WRITE IT DOWN. Write down what range (in yards) it is zeroed for, what the temperature was when zeroed, and what lot # the ammunition was, if not using hand-loads. (Zeros WILL change lot-to-lot, so if you zero with Hornady .308 165gr SP, lot # 52AHE, that is the lot # you should take into the field with you)
No, I'm not talking about how to reload each individual cartridge. I'm talking about how to get your next round, or next magazine full of rounds, into the rifle. Each rifle is different, but if you are taking it into the field for hunting, you should KNOW how to do it, with gloves on, heart racing, in the dark; after all, if you are hunting in the wilderness, fire your last round (taking a record-breaking moose in the process), and then from 150yds away comes Mr. Bear, you don't want to be fumbling with your rounds or magazine.
How to get proficient at what may be a life saving skill-
Start, by removing all ammunition from the rifle. If you don't have a magazine (tube fed, or similar) use snap-caps for this exercise.
Now, figure out where your 'extra' magazines, or 'extra' ammunition is going to be- is it in your front right pocket, in a pouch on your hip, or what. Determine which hand is going to have to hold the rifle, to enable you to efficiently get at your spare ammo supply. Once you've got that spare ammo in hand, walk through the steps required to insert it into the rifle. Practice this. Get good at it. Slow, deliberate motions will build into muscle memory. Once you think you are good, turn off the lights. Practice it again, and again. Once you are good at doing it with the lights off, put gloves on. Again, practice.
Once you know the above, you can safely say that you know your rifle.