Another of the most overlooked points is sighting in your olí smokepole. The weapon should be sighted in at an appropriate distance for the area to be hunted, as well as the game being pursued. Zeroing for a longer distance than needed makes the midrange trajectory too high for precise shot placement at a more normal range. Unless going to the field in the next day or so, the weapon should be cleaned after each range session. I am assuming most of us are using a rifle since we are at LongRangeHunting.com, but the same principle applies with a muzzle loader or a slug gun. We should dry the cleaned or fouled barrel with a couple of shots of the ammo to be used, Then test to KNOW that the weapon will shoot dead center the first time at the distance we had previously sighted in for. We then need to repeat this several times in a row. In recent years, sights have improved considerably, allowing our weapons to stay zeroed longer than they did in the past.
Now that we know our weapon is zeroed, we can then verify by fire what the drop and wind drift will be, not just relying on a computer table which may or may not be correct. Shooting positions, grip on the stock, and several other factors can cause the weapon to strike in a slightly different spot than when we had fired it from the bench at the range. The time the bullet spends in the barrel can also affect the impact point. The farther they can shoot at the targets before going hunting, the more easily they can see what effects different shooting positions, light, and the wind play in real game shooting.
Where to hit the animal in question is also of great importance, as the vital zone needs to be defined to the new hunter. Life size targets are very good for this. They normally have a small line drawn around the vital zone, but being hard to see from the firing position. I used several photos of deer with my daughters and my wife as we prepared for their first hunt. This seemed to help to remind them of correct aiming points under various angles that a shot may present itself. We always waited and hoped for the broadside shot, but with the right loads angling shots can be taken. As long as your bullets penetrate in a straight line, as the sight picture would indicate, you can calculate where to aim to get to the vitals. Much testing with water soaked newspaper and raw beef bones is done to test our hunting loads during the load development period to ensure this type of performance. Today we have great factory ammo also, but the testing of the rifle is still the same.
Study photos of the game animals being hunted. Study their tracks. Learn to read the tracks by going into the great outdoors anytime you have the opportunity, and observe how the elements change the way tracks look. Tom Brownís books on field craft are excellent for this.
When firing in the field, the new hunter may feel they canít keep their sights centered on the target, even at a moderate distance. Several good books about trigger control and sight picture have been written and will give you a good place to start.
We owe it to the game to be proficient with our chosen weapons. This includes shooting positions, use of the sling and bipod, as well as any improvised rest we can come up with. Once, while hunting elk in Colorado with my 14 year old daughter, we spotted a group of elk up the ridge from our position, using a small finger for cover to shield us from the many sets of wary eyes, we came to a small pile of rocks which proved to be about 285 yards from the elk. I used my daypack as a pad on top of the rock pile and helped her get into position to shoot. Her rifle had a bipod, but the rock pile did not lend itself for the bipodís use. We verified the distance, talked about the correct point in the ballistic plex reticule, just to be sure she knew the correct point to hold for that distance. With the daypack under the forearm and leaning onto the rocks she had a very steady sight picture that she said look solid to her. She has taken several deer at similar distances. Just as she was about to fire the frozen rock pile fell apart. She still had the safety on, and was able to keep her rifle pointed in a safe direction. The elk looked our way, and we had to freeze for a few minutes until they went back to feeding before be could gather up our gear and move to a different spot to make the shot. Sometimes a branch on a tree, a fallen log, or other natural object can be pressed into service as a rest to steady our rifle.
Having been to many rifle ranges, shooting schools, and competed in tactical matches, I had an idea about setting up a field course, to tune my girlís skills. A field course is a good way to teach the hunter, with the new hunter walking in the lead and a senior person following, ready to assist if anything happens which might be unsafe, and adding some coaching. Let them demonstrate to you how they will spot, then stalk the game, assume a stable shooting position and then if it can be arranged, allow them to fire at life size targets of the animal they are intending to hunt. After each stage, take time to discuss both their strong points as well as the ones that could use some improvement.
In the field, we must have a combination of manual dexterity, control over muscle and nerve, an understanding of the mechanics of shooting, and a positive attitude, which when put together equals the total effort needed to make a shot. Having rehearsed this will strengthen in their own minds what they can do.
Study your ballistic tables. Know how much drop and wind drift there will be for your particular rifle and load. Young hunters should avoid shooting at moving game until their shooting skills are honed, and even then should be avoided if possible. If possible, at the range or field course, construct a moving target frame with a life size animal target for the new hunter to test themselves on. A cable and roller is an inexpensive way of building a moving target, set up in a gully allowing gravity to do the work of moving the target. Adding weight or increasing the down angle the cable is set at will cause the target to move faster. Let the shooting be a fun, low stress time of learning.
Next, work with your binoculars to be able to focus them quickly and without thinking. If a rangefinder is to be used it also should be trained with to aid in having a good amount of skill in its use. Looking across a canyon and getting a distance and inclination reading is pretty reliability with one of the better laser rangefinders, whereas looking across the prairie in Wyoming at antelope, one can let the beam hit the hill before and give a short reading. Being up higher on a hillside and ranging down to the target is better, as long as you take the time to check your inclination reading and compensate for gravity distance for that angle. You must still use the total distance for wind correction.
Once the game is down, the congratulations are done, and the camera is full of pictures, they also need to be able to care for the game animals or fowl they have harvested. There are many good books on proper field care of game, such as the Stoneydale Press Field Care Handbook for the Hunter and Fisherman. Much can be learned from watching or helping others clean and dress game animals, seeing how people from different areas of the country handle this chore.