The Ultimate Shooting Challenges - Long Shots and Movers, Part One - Long Range Hunting

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    The Ultimate Shooting Challenges - Long Shots and Movers
    Part One - Long Range Hunting

    By Ian McMurchy

    Far off across the open prairie a whitetail doe sneaks out of the end of a coulee. She tip-toes towards a small dugout for a drink before heading to nearby fields to forage. Moments after she appears a huge buck swaggers on her trail - nose to the ground, tail up he strides deliberately across the pasture.

    The rut is starting to kick-in and this doe is a magnet for the huge six by six. The doe stops by some shrubs and nibbles for a few moments. She looks back at the buck and then continues walking towards another patch of rosebush.

    You are sitting with your back against an abandoned oil storage tank, hidden by shadows and assorted rusted pipes and flanges. The tank is located on the only hill in the pasture. This is an ideal spot to watch for deer and you know that there are some fine bucks in the area. You have waited patiently for this scenario to unfold, and suddenly the plan gets interesting. Putting your binocs down, you reach for your laser rangefinder and find the magnificent buck in the aiming circle. You press the button three times, and each time the same numbers snap into your viewfinder - 657 yards.

    The buck walks over to some brush and attacks a sapling, rasping his rack up and down and twisting his head to shred the bark and branches. He seems pre-occupied with this display as you remove a small laminated card from your shirt pocket and check the "come-up" for 600 yards. Fifteen and three-quarters minutes. You quickly spin the elevation dial one complete revolution which gives ten minutes up, then move the dial to line up the number five and go three clicks past. You have been watching the wind closely and have decided that it is averaging about ten to twelve miles per hour from left to right. The wind appears to be moving at right angles to your line of sight to the big buck. You decide to adjust for a ten mile per hour full value wind so you crank the windage dial clockwise to the number five. Five minutes of left wind will be about right.

    You have already found a small piece of board to place the rubber feet of the extended Harris bipod on. You further steady the rifle by resting the rear the butt on your fanny pack. You can take your hands off the rifle and it sits there, aimed perfectly at the big buck. As you pick up the laser rangefinder the buck walks toward the patch of brush that is now concealing the doe. He stops and urinates, then attacks another small clump of saplings. The numbers read 606 yards this time so you quickly put the laser down and get behind the rifle scope.

    He is quartered towards you, moving his head violently up and down and taking short steps forward to push at the saplings. You wait patiently until he stops for a breather, standing almost broadside. Concentrating on your breathing, cupping your palm slightly, finger-tip on the trigger you suddenly lose him in the scope as the rifle rocks against your shoulder. The 165 grain bullet arcs upward almost eight feet and swings two and one half feet left as it speeds toward the buck's chest. As gravity and the winds take their toll the bullet drops in a downward arc curving slightly to the right. The bullet hits the buck just back of his shoulders. Bullet and rib fragments shred his lungs and sever an artery on the top of his heart. He lurches forward, running blindly - not knowing that he is dead on his feet. In moments he is down.

    This scenario is NOT impossible, given the superb rifles, scopes and ammo available today. Rifles such as the Winchester Model 70 Stealth or Coyote, Remington M-700 VS, Savage Tactical or Weatherby Accumark are capable of lethal sized groups at five to six hundred yards - out of the box! There is only one major limiting factor - the ability of the hunter.

    Basic Requirements
    How does a hunter learn to hit deer at long ranges? There are three basic requirements:
    Knowledge - you must acquire a thorough knowledge of marksmanship basics, external ballistics, and factors that effect the flight of your bullet.
    Skill - you must develop the necessary skills such as marksmanship, wind and mirage reading and even proper rifle maintenance. Equipment - you must obtain good equipment and burn a lot of ammunition, this
    requires a significant investment in dollars and time.

    Confidence is the Key
    These basics result in the final requirement - confidence. Confidence is the difference between planning and knowing where your shot will go versus simply holding over and hoping it will be true. Confidence is the key to long range shooting. Confidence can only be gained by shooting - and hitting.

    Long-Range Shooting Tips I have been involved in long range shooting and hunting for many years and can offer the following suggestions. Let's keep things simple by outlining in point form.
    • 250 to 300 yards is the maximum that most hunters can hit with confidence - this can be doubled.
    • Without very specialized equipment and vast experience, shots beyond 500 to 600 yards are not recommended.
    • The best way to learn to shoot at long range is enrolling in a shooting class or school.
    • If you cannot go to school, learn as much about long range shooting from knowledgeable target shooters, books and videos - including the great web-site www.longrangehunting.com.
    • Obtain the best quality riflescope that you can afford. The best long-range scopes use 30 mm tubes, have large, easy to operate turrets and they are incredibly reliable. They offer the ability to repeat scope settings with ease. Such scopes must be attached to the rifle with the strongest, most rugged mounts available.
    • Ensure that your rifle and ammo are basically accurate. Accuracy should be at least one inch at one hundred yards, preferably better. Ensure that your trigger pull is crisp and light, the barreled action is properly bedded into the stock and that all screws and bolts are tight or torqued to recommended values. Ammunition must be uniform and provide consistent groups - stay with one load and learn to shoot it well.
    • Accept that math and data gathering are going to become a significant component of your shooting.
    • Start close and work your way out to long range in one hundred yard increments. Practice in varying weather (wind) conditions and keep notes on your elevation and wind settings.
    • Large steel gongs are the optimum target for long range practice. Hanging steel plates painted white show bullet splats at very long range and they make a resounding sound when hit. Shoot at the gong until your group is nicely centered and you have your zero. Simply spray-paint the plate to remove the splats and start over.
    • Obtain the training CD from www.shooterready.com for a comprehensive wind,
    Mil-dot and long range shooting tutorial.
    • Create a "Come-Up Chart" so that you can dial in the exact elevation setting, no guess-work. This chart can also include windage corrections and moving target holds.


    Your buddies have spotted a huge buck running into an aspen bluff. You know that the bluff is not very large and that it has a marshy slough in the middle. The slough is dry now but it is surrounded with cat-tails and willow clumps. There is a natural drainage running from the slough, only three or four feet lower than the rest of the terrain. The little creek is mostly weeds and a few cat-tails, winding a mile or so over to another marsh. You also know that the drainage is a natural escape route. The wind is running right down the drainage into the bluff - and deer prefer to run into the wind.

    You are hunting with three buddies. The plan immediately unfolds that two guys will flank the bluff while two slowly push through it. Everyone knows that the hunter covering the drainage has the optimum spot and you would like to have that opportunity. Your buddies insist that you take the drainage, suggesting a particular knoll that will offer a good vantage point. They give you and the other poster ten minutes to get into position.

    Arriving at the top of the knoll you can see that the little creek-bed will not hide the buck. If he runs this way you will have a clear shot. You are excited - this could be a great set-up! You frantically go over your shooting options - deciding that if he comes out you will wait until he is well clear of the bluff and also clear of where you know the other poster is situated. That means waiting until he is about one hundred yards from the bluff.

    Your mind also flashes over your shooting position options. Since the distance will be well over one hundred yards when he is clear you are hesitant to shoot offhand. You pull out your trusty Underwood shooting sticks and sit down behind them. You position your rifle in the sticks and try to swing it along the edge of the creek. Not bad. You crank your four to twelve power scope down to four power and take a few deep breaths. You seem to know that something is going to happen.

    Suddenly there is a shout from the bluff and you see movement as a deer bounds through the white and gray aspens. Your senses are so intense that the buck appears almost in slow motion as he charges from the trees and heads along the far side of the creek.

    At first you are mesmerized by the huge rack! You force yourself to focus on his running form. You have him in the scope and that old gut-wrenching fear starts to overcome the initial excitement of seeing that beautiful six by six. How much lead - don't forget to follow-through - don't jerk the trigger! He is running very fast, tail down and mouth open. He bounds past your safe shooting mark. You are IT! No one can help you now! This is a defining moment - you either kill him or for a long time you will carry the frustration, disappointment, self-pity and memories of this monster that got away.

    He is almost at right angles as you swing the rifle past his nose. Suddenly the scope-picture disappears as the rifle recoils. You have given him a little more than a body length for lead. In a mili-second you are treated to the incredible spectacle of the huge buck flipping completely over and crashing down on his back. He is still. Your bullet had snapped his neck - his antlers snagging in the ground caused him to summersault forward. You crank another round into the chamber and watch for a few seconds as your mind replays the incredible experience.

    The Basics of Shooting Running Deer

    Let's get down to the basics of shooting at running deer. There are some basic errors that we must avoid. First, regardless of whether the target is stationary or moving we cannot expect to hit if we jerk the trigger. Second, we must follow-through smoothly, keeping the rifle moving with the deer. Third, we must find a method to obtain some practice - this is very difficult but how else can we learn how to hit moving targets with a rifle?

    Jerk the trigger and the bullet usually goes high. Ask hunting guides and they will tell you that most shots that miss deer go over the buck. Rifle shooters have another challenge - do not stop the movement of your rifle as you fire the shot. Following-through is as essential for hitting a buck as it is for game-bird or clay-bird shooters. The difference is that the deer hunter is trying to shoot one bullet through the chest of a running buck as opposed to hitting a moving mallard or clay-pigeon with a teaspoon full of shot.

    Technicalities Involved in Shooting Running Bucks
    Let's briefly look at the technicalities involved. We must consider several variables as we decide where to release the shot. The speed and direction of the buck are obviously essential. Deer have several gaits, ranging from walking to all-out galloping, accompanied by leaping and dodging. Another consideration is whether he is running at right angles, oblique or straight-away.

    The speed of our bullet is important, since fast bullets cover the distance significantly quicker than slow bullets, so less leading is required. For those who enjoy math, the formula for determining the required lead is TIME OF FLIGHT X TARGET SPEED = LEAD. Time of flight is measured in hundredths or thousands of a second and it is the time that your bullet takes to travel to the buck. Target Speed is the running speed of the buck and it is measured in feet per second (from miles per hour). A running speed of 20 mph converts to 29 fps and 30 mph equals about 44 fps.

    Just what is required to obtain realistic lead information? We do not have time to do any math in the field so we should develop charts for our particular cartridge and memorize the lead info for running speeds and distances. Although this requires the dreaded MATH, it does work.

    "DEER LENGTHS" Work in the Field
    Although I have shot a large number of running deer, I find that this is the toughest shooting that I must do when hunting. To make this task a little easier I use deer lengths or portions of a deer for my lead hold-offs. I find that this works better than trying to figure inches or feet when the chips are down. Here are some charts that I use for my favorite hunting caliber, the .308 Winchester.

    I have included the four hundred yard figures to show how much lead would be required - too much for most shooters.

    The biggest problem in learning how to hit moving targets is finding a moving target system to practice on. Deer Running 20 MPH
    165 grain bullet @ 2600fps

    DistanceLead
    InchesfeetDeer Lengths
    10044"3.5'1
    20088"7.3'2
    300137"11.5'3
    400190"16'4
    Deer Running 30 MPH
    165 grain bullet @ 2600fps

    DistanceLead
    InchesfeetDeer Lengths
    10064"5.3'1.5
    200132"11.3'3.0
    300205"17'4.5
    400284"23.5'6+

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