This is my current column in Western Sportsman - nice to see a magazine publish long range numbers - will be interesting to see if it creates any letters to the editor. There was minor editing, probably for space considerations but I am happy with the way it reads.
LONG RANGE HUNTING AS WE DO IT
“There are two just below that highest ridge to the south, one is feeding and one is bedded below the big clump of sage.”
“Got them, how far out are they?”
“Bedded one is 696 and the feeder is 705. I am getting some mirage out there so will give you wind in a minute.”
I studied the two mule deer, moving the focus inward a bit to accentuate the slight mirage that was running left to right. I watched as the wind died, the waves started to have a boiling appearance. Just in front of the bedded deer some tall yellow grass stems stood motionless. I could feel a slight breeze on my face and noted that the grass at our location was moving right to left. I did not bother checking with my electronic wind meter. Experience told me that we had about three miles per hour going almost full value (ninety degrees to the path of the bullet).
I would have to allow for a bit of drift as the bullet traveled at our end of its flight. “Give me a minute and one half of right wind. Go with twenty one and one quarter for elevation.” Glen repeated, “One and one half right wind – twenty one and one quarter up” after he dialed the turrets.
“Let’s take the bedded one first, you can only see the top half but we can do it. Tell me when you are ready.” I said as I refocused the Nikon ED FieldScope on the far-off mule deer. “Shooter Ready.” Said Glen, I could hear some intensity in his voice as he settled into his final aim. I checked that the mirage was still boiling – then said, “SEND IT”. Seconds later the silence of the valley was disrupted by the report of Glen’s .308 Winchester.
The 175 grain hollow point boat-tail bullet arched upward over twelve feet and drifted ten inches to the left. Six hundred and ninety six yards from the end of Glen’s barrel the bullet slammed into the throat of the bedded deer and continued through the chest before it exited into the ground. He never even twitched – the lights went out very quickly.
At the shot the other mulie spun around and looked at its sibling for a few seconds. Then it turned to leave, giving us a full broadside perspective. “Same hold, take him when you are ready!” I yelled as I focused on the deer. BOOM - then a nice pause and a far-off smack. The deer reacted by flinching a few quick steps forward. As it tried to maintain its feet I said, “Hit him again, he is still up.” My partner immediately fired a second shot which hit the deer hard. Instantly he was down and tumbling into a small depression. He rolled once and lay still.
“Good shooting Glen, that went perfectly!” I said as my friend cranked open his rifle and took an unfired round out of the magazine. This story is absolutely true. It took place on November 1st, 2005 in the Saskatchewan CWD herd reduction area north of Swift Current. Three lethal hits fired at 700 yards in less than two minutes – that is fine shooting. Not many guys can do that unless they learn some basics and get the right gear.
Let’s start with the basics. My landowner friend had never shot long prior to taking my friend Wayne and I out to kill some CWD samples on his land. After seeing how we could kill deer with deadly precision out to six or seven hundred yards he got interested in the challenge. I spent several hours teaching him marksmanship basics. Breathing, trigger control, natural point of aim, follow-through, wind and mirage and how to get real comfortable with turret-equipped scopes for instance. He shot well initially. After a lot of practice he began shooting our rifles VERY well.
The came the moment when he asked, “What does it take to get setup to shoot with you guys?” My response was, “Your talkin’ to the right guy!” A call to Darcy Bowyer, owner of Bowyer’s Outdoor Sports in Maple Creek confirmed that he had some Winchester Model 70 Stealths at a sell-out price. Glen bought a Stealth in .308 Winchester and Darcy sent it out promptly. Then we located a new Nikon 2.5-10 Tactical scope and a set of Badger Ordnance rings. He also got a heavy-duty Farrel one-piece sloped base for the Winchester. Two more pieces of equipment completed the package – a Harris bipod and an Eagle stock-pack, both available from Darcy.
Before we started shooting the new rifle Glen sent it out for re-bedding and a trigger job. We also tracked down a great deal on a used Leica 1200 rangefinder. Fact is a person cannot shoot long range without a good laser rangefinder – simple as that.
Glen also purchased some good quality cleaning gear and a hard gun-case. This was all taking place just before the CWD hunt was to begin. When the rifle was ready we met at Glen’s to break-in the barrel and hopefully see what the new rig would do in the field.
My buddy and I set up a cleaning station in Glen’s shop and started the shoot-n-clean procedure of barrel break-in. We simply walked out the door, fired a bullet into the ground and scampered back into the warm shop to the cleaning station. After removing the carbon and copper we dried the barrel and stepped outside for another blast into the snow and dirt. Back into shop for the cleaning ritual and out for another shot. When the barrel indicated that break-in had occurred we went to a one-hundred yard target and zeroed the rifle with Black Hills Match ammo.
By the time the break-in and zeroing was completed we had about two hours of hunting time left. We jumped into a pickup and headed to the Saskatchewan River breaks. I had given Glen a laminated Ballisticard with the 175 grain Black Hills Match ammo bullet drops. We used this card as our guideline for longer shots since we had not had time to shoot past one hundred yards. Ballisticards are the handiest drop-charts available and I trust the Black Hills cards completely.
Before long we spotted several deer that were moving out of cover to begin their afternoon feeding. Glen crawled over to the edge of the coulee and setup the new Stealth. Meanwhile I checked the wind with my Brunton wind meter and lasered the deer at five hundred and eighty five yards.
We went through our firing procedure with Glen - only this time he was not a spectator. I gave him his elevation and windage as he lay in the snow. Wayne was back-up and he checked that Glen worked the turrets correctly. I assigned a particular doe and both guys settled their crosshairs on her. Then I told Glen to let me know when he was ready. After a few minutes Glen said he was ready. Our partner Wayne indicated he was also on the doe so I told Glen to send-it. At the shot the doe dropped like a stone.
After a high-five from his back-up Glen was in awe. He looked across the coulee and said, “Unreal, that is unreal! I could really get into this! That is just unreal!”. In fact the shot was the culmination of a lot of preparation and practice. Glen had been shooting our rifles well so the transition to his own was an easy one.
We don’t just shoot long shots. We do not pass on close shots to take long ones. Matter of fact the closer the better, but that is not happening much in the CWD area we hunt. The mulies are not “shoulder-checking” anymore. The locals call them “Nascar Deer” for good reason. We put our ability to shoot long to good use in the cull area. Of the fourteen deer shot during the two days at least nine were over four hundred and fifty yards. We did not wound any deer shot at.
Why am I writing about our long range hunting? I simply want readers to understand that long range hunting is a facet of the sport that can be very enjoyable. It is not simple. It is relatively expensive. It is not for everybody. But it is doable if you work at obtaining the skills, equipment and confidence.
I believe that most decent rifles have the potential to maintain lethal accuracy out to five hundred yards. I also believe that most hunters are capable of about one half of that potential. Long range hunting is learning to use the full potential of your rifle. Our rifles have much longer accuracy potentials than most factory rifles so we practice a lot to obtain the skills required. Long range hunting is not just hunting, it is a passion. Placing your first bullet with lethal accuracy is what it is all about – simple as that!
This column might encourage some hunters to enter our game. My advice is to take your time, do it right. Buy good equipment and plan to invest a lot of time practicing. Check out the website www.longrangehunting.com
and climb on board!