How to practice for your shoulder crusher without crushing your shoulder!
How can our children learn to accurately shoot large caliber rifles? In the not too distant past, many of us had the luxury of putting hundreds, perhaps thousands, of rounds through one or more rifles in casual shooting during a typical year. Our experiences with this kind of shooting gave us an almost instinctive feel for where the sights should be centered and how far out we could reasonably expect to get a hit. Far fewer of today’s hunters have the money and access to undeveloped land needed for this practice. Indeed, most young folks in today’s world rarely get much time at the range, let alone a lot of informal shooting.
We’ll look at some ideas for an oblique approach to taming the recoil* of your big game rifle by using a varmint caliber for much of your practice. This will help develop the fundamentals of posture, sight picture, trigger squeeze, etc. with less motivation to develop flinchitis from using your big gun for all of your practice. In brief, it is practicable to find factory loads where the trajectory of a small cartridge like the .223 Remington, .243 Winchester, and 6.5 Grendel matches the trajectory of a larger cartridge like the .325 Winchester Short Magnum, .338 Winchester Magnum, or .375 H&H Magnum to ranges beyond 500 yards. Reloading your own paired calibers gives much more flexibility in feasible choices. Also, by matching the scope, stock, action, etc., you can learn most of what you need to employ Kentucky Windage and Tennessee Elevation to accurately shoot the larger rifle to 200 -300 yards beyond the maximum point blank range.
The sight picture for the 6.5 Grendel is the same as the 375 Magnum with the indicated loads. Deer and Coyote images courtesy of US Fish and Wildlife Service.
My father and uncle, and my grandfather were excellent shots. Their skills were developed through many years of casual plinking and real hunting. They each developed a philosophy about how to best stay at their peak as pressures of work and raising family took time away from shooting. “One rifle, one load” was the mantra my uncle Jerry often used when my dad and he debated about the best way to polish shooting skills for big game hunting. My father and I were on the side of using light loads in our deer rifles for practice and heavy loads for hunting.
My dad used a .375 H&H Magnum with hopes of an African safari one day and considered 300 yards a long shot. This meant that he did not need to use much holdover to hit the vital zone. He did, however, practice at shooting running game with lots of jackrabbit hunting with reduced loads.
My uncle, on the other hand, used a .264 Winchester Magnum on a sporterized Enfield action for his deer and elk hunting. He was able to harvest elk at ranges out to about 600 yards. The comparatively light recoil of the .264 allowed him the opportunity to use that 140 grain bullet for effectively all of his shooting without developing bad habits. His practice of taping ballistics charts to his stock way back in the late ’50s and early ’60s placed him among the first to routinely do this for sport shooting. As a result of his attention to detail and using a single load, he could really understand the performance of that load out to ranges beyond those which most of us could consider reasonable.
Fast forwarding from the debates between my father and uncle by close to fifty years, we see changes in ammunition and bullets that might allow a convergence of my dad’s and uncle’s philosophies. The emergence of high ballistic coefficient bullets in the .223, 6mm, 25, and the 6.5 calibers means that factory loads for many cartridges in these calibers are capable of matching the trajectories of large caliber rifles while keeping recoil energies below 10-12 ft-lb. The light recoil, quieter report, and reduced cost of these smaller cartridges allows us to shoot more often while using the same sight pictures we would for the larger cartridges.