*WARNING* this sport is addicting, time consuming, and expensive. It will occupy your mind in the wee hours of the night. After your first 500 yard kill your “friends” will shun you, and call you a liar. If you have an addictive personality please proceed with caution!
Well, you have been warned, but don’t let the disclaimer shy you away from the rewarding challenge of hunting big game on the next forty. You can do it on a budget, and most of us started that way. What it takes is a determination to become the best possible shot with the equipment you have.
I was lucky growing up. I lived in the country, had a large family, and supervision was minimal. That, my friends, was the perfect recipe for sneaking the guns and ammo out of the house. I could practice my marksmanship on all sorts of odd targets. My best friend and neighbor had a large pasture full of gophers. We expended quite an arsenal to try and minimize their existence, and with a summer of dodging bullets, by necessity, the shots started to get long. This may have been my first introduction to long range hunting.
So where do we begin? let’s assume you are a capable marksman, own a high power rifle capable of killing the game you seek at extended distance. I will also assume you have quality ammo that is consistent and up to the task. You have a scope on the rifle of at least 9 power with a resettable turret, or a holdover type reticle. We are talking budget and beginners here, fellas, so if this is factory equipment that’s just fine. What we need to do is test the rifle, optics, and shooter. You need to find at what range you can put a bullet in the animal’s vitals. Ideally, your rifle will be capable of holding 1moa accuracy with you shooting it from a supported field position.
Practice the fundamentals of shooting from the bench: trigger squeeze, sight picture, and breathing. Take those techniques learned, and apply it to your field shooting practice. Some of the best practice is setting up various sized reactive targets from the wife’s garden at various distances. Now we all need a way to judge the distance to our target, the easiest way is to purchase a quality range finder, this will set you back a few bucks. The other option is a range finding reticle or mil-dot. This will take some practice to get proficient, but works well if the ranges are not too long. Mil-dots are also great for using as holdovers.
So, you’re aiming at your wife’s prize winning cantaloupe, that you determined was 386 yards away. You know from range practice that your gun can hold a 4 inch group at that distance, well within minute of melon. So what are you going to do to insure a first round hit on that fruit when you sighted the rifle in at 100 yards? This is where ballistics data comes into play.
JBM Small Arms Ballistics has a free ballistics program that will allow you to enter your data to print off a drop and wind chart. So with this data at the ready, you see that it will take 5 minutes of elevation to connect with you target. If you have an elevation turret set at zero, it is quite easy to dial in the elevation, steady the rifle on the bipod and fire.
Continued practice of this nature will help you to become proficient at dialing and doping wind. I practiced extensively this way when I became serious about my marksmanship, and it pays. Bare fields and pastures make good practice settings, so you or a friend can spot errant shots. As you get better at placing your shoots, increase your target distance. You will soon learn under what conditions you can reliably place a killing shot on your quarry’s vitals.
If you’re limited to a standard cross wire scope with a poor turret set-up, you may need to upgrade or limit your effective distance. My first venture into long range deer hunting had me in just this circumstance. Some years ago, I had a factory Remington 700 in 300 Winchester Magnum. It wore a Simmons Atec riflescope. I had written up a range card with my drop in inches from my 200 yard zero. I secured the card to my stock with some clear tape; this was my reference for any shots out to 500 yards.
On the last day of the Wisconsin deer season, a nice 8 point strolled into an alfalfa field. Most of the hunters had given up for the season so I felt quite secure that time was on my side. The deer continued to move through the field, and at its closest, I got a reading of 423 yards on the rangefinder. I checked my drop chart, and determined with 22 inches of drop I would hold about 12 inches over the buck’s back line. I pre-loaded the bipod and steadied the rifle, took my hold and squeezed the trigger. As I recovered from the recoil I could see the buck running on 3 wheels, and then tumbling to a stop. My practice had paid off and I was quite happy to put some venison in the freezer.
Getting started in long range hunting doesn’t have to break the bank. Following this advice will get you started. As time and budgets allow, upgrades can be made in equipment. With practice comes proficiency, so the one area to keep spending in is practice ammunition.
If your wife keeps putting musk melon in front of you for breakfast this summer...ya ain’t shootin’ nuff!
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