Our high tech society has evolved in many ways, and hunters have had their share of advancements. High protein food plots for maximum horn production, sophisticated camouflage, alluring scent products, and last but not least, great leaps in rifles, cartridges and scopes for the long range hunter.
Protein sources, scents and camouflage are no-brainers; they contain no ethical or responsibility clauses in their use. Rifles and the apparent license in their use should come with a disclaimer or better yet, a booklet on long range ballistics.
As a custom gunsmith and long range shooting instructor I hear stories from scores of hunters shooting at big game animals at EXTREME ranges under horrific conditions and scoring one shot kills. There are numerous companies promoting extreme range hunting and intrepid hunters are eager to join the fraternity and receive their merit badge. While there are a few extremely capable individuals promoting such shooting/hunting ethics, we must keep in mind the ability and knowledge of the hunters we are enticing.
Having run a long range shooting school for a number of years, we see a pretty good cross section of hunters come and go, many with years of shooting and hunting experience but lacking in the understanding of applied ballistics and hazardous environmental conditions that they face when going afield. It’s a fun and exciting thing to “ring steel” at 600-1000 on a windless day at 70 degrees from prone or bench rest conditions and another thing to do so at 20 degrees in 12 inches of snow with a 3-5 mph breeze blowing left to right and shooting over your pack.
Over the years we’ve had some great shots attend our schools: military snipers, police marksmen, competitive shooters and some damn good country boys who grew up with a rifle in their hands. Our range facilities allow us to shoot under real world conditions. Shooters tackle switching winds as well as angular conditions complimented by irregular and broken ground. These are tough conditions to shoot in and make consistent hits at 500-600-700 yards, not to mention doing so at 875-900 and 1000 yards.
Many folks have not a clue as to what the bullet is doing at 875 yards v/s 900 yards. At 900 yards a mere 2 mph change in the wind between you and the target can change bullet impact 10 inches. How many of these genetic links to Carlos Hathcock understand the effects of barometric pressure, temperature, elevation and humidity on their bullet’s flight? I can assure you not many! Is it ethical then to be shooting beyond our knowledge base? Does the cost of the hunt, or the last day of the hunt give you license to shoot beyond your capabilities? If you muttered a feeble “yes” to the above questions, you’d better sharpen your pencil and take good notes.
In an attempt to educate those hunters who walk the razors edge, let’s go hunting and explore the pitfalls in an average mule deer hunt at long range.
Our test hunter is shooting a 300 Winchester Magnum with a 180 grain Nosler Accu-bond at 3000 fps. chronographed at 70 degrees. He is using 72.5 grains of R/L #22 with a Remington 9 1/2M primer. He zeros the rifle at 200 yards and using Sierra’s Infinity 5.1 ballistics program plots the trajectory of his rifle to 1000 yards for his Colorado hunt. Confident that he has done everything right, he double checks the numbers: B/P 29.0, altitude 4500', temperature 20 degrees, humidity 20%. Yep, she looks good as he tapes the data sheet to the rifle’s stock. He’ll be hunting the wind swept prairies of eastern Colorado.