It’s close to that time of year, and in some places it is already: hunting season. I wish all you hunters luck in harvesting healthy, wild protein. Some will not be so lucky: they will get a shot and cleanly miss the quarry, or worse, let the animal escape crippled to die in agony. Sometimes when that happens, it’s not just the fault of the shooter’s marksmanship.
It’s critical to sight in before the hunt, and no matter how sure we are that the rifle is already sighted in, we want to have verified that it still shoots where we want it to.
What could have changed since we last sighted it in? Well…
- Something could have bumped the scope or otherwise disturbed the relationship of sights to bore orientation.
- A rifle with a traditional stock may have experienced wood warp due to moisture or humidity. Wood that’s touching the barrel now, and wasn’t when you sighted it in last season, can alter point of aim/point of impact coordinates.
- You may have lent it to someone who changed the sight adjustment and didn’t tell you when they returned your rifle.
- If you’re hunting in high elevations this year after last season in sea-level valleys, that could make a subtle difference. When I went on my first African safari, my friend and mentor Ray Chapman warned me to verify the sights once I got there, because these things change in different hemispheres. That sounded kind of arcane to me, but I took Ray’s advice. I had sighted in very carefully before I left New Hampshire, but when I got to South Africa I verified there, and was damn glad I did. Of the three rifles and two revolvers my daughter and I took on the trip, all but one revolver needed the sights tweaked to hit point of aim on the different continent in the different hemisphere.
Do your initial sighting in from the most solid possible rest. I started with sandbags, and graduated to installing a Caldwell Stable Table on the hundred yard bay on my own range. The more solid the sighting in platform, the less that’s left to chance and human error.
But, once you’ve done that, spend the money, time, and ammo for some practice shooting from typical field positions. Offhand – standing on your hind legs – is the least stable shooting position but the one you may most often have to use, particularly when hunting in thick timber where windows of opportunity are brief.
Do some of that practice with the clothing you’ll wear on the hunt. If you sight in at the Trail Glades Range in Miami and then fly to Alaska for your winter hunt, you may get a nasty surprise: thick cold weather clothing pushes the rifle butt and your sights further forward from your shoulder and your eye, and the eye relief on your scope that was optimal while wearing a tee shirt won’t be the same when heavy mackinaw and wool shirt are between rifle butt and shoulder pocket.
Good luck if you’re going afield, and if you have more sighting-in and hunting prep tips, don’t be shy about putting them in the comments section here.