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HUNTING 2021: Sighting-in weapons for a new season

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Rheney and rifles

Dr. John Rheney poses with “my Old Faithful Ruger 30-06.” The others are various deer rifles he has used over the years.

As hunters we owe our target animals the courtesy of a humane kill. The most effective way to accomplish that is not to take shoots that exceed our abilities. Enjoy the game and allow them to get as close as possible and make sure we have practiced enough to become competent with our weapons.

This last category includes making sure our rifles, shotguns and bows shoot where we are aiming. Go ahead, admit it. You think you are a crack shot. I used to hunt with a guy who thought if he could see the animal, he could drop it. Sadly, I watched him wound several animals taking really difficult moving shots on a long-distance hunt. We don’t hunt together any more.

I used to hunt with a group that liked to neck shoot deer to preserve the meat in the thorax area. I was sitting in a stand one evening and saw a very skinny doe exit the woods on the far side of the field. As she walked in my direction, I saw her stagger a couple of times. When she had closed the distance to about 50 yards, it became evident that her lower jaw had been completely blown off from a high-powered rifle round. She couldn’t eat and probably couldn’t drink. She was starving to death. I killed her out of compassion. So what if you can hit a deer 99 times out of a hundred in a small neck area. Should you? What about the one shot you screw up?

I sight-in my rifle every year, even though I haven’t shot a deer in years. I love being in the woods. I love watching the animals. One day I hope to see that record book buck and I need to be confident that I have shot enough and my rifle is accurate so that when that time comes, I’ll be ready.

Ammunition is very expensive right now. The last thing we want to do is blaze away two boxes of $50-a-box ammo trying to chase the bullet strikes all around a target at 100 yards.

Let’s talk about sighting-in a scoped rifle as if the scope has just been mounted and the screws locked down with Loctite. Obviously we have no idea at this point where the bullet is going other than out of the front of the gun.

If the rifle is a bolt rifle, we simply remove the bolt, put the rifle in a good firm rest and place a target with an easily identifiable center out at about 25 yards. If you have fairly good vision, center the bore of the rifle on the center of the target by looking down the barrel. Make sure the rifle doesn’t move and now adjust the scope until it is centered on the target as well. Look at it several times and once you are pretty sure they line up, it’s now time to shoot. Put the bolt back in and shoot.

If you can’t hit the target at 25 yards, take up another sport. Shoot two or three times and adjust the scope from the center of the group of three to the bullseye. Remember you want to have the bullet strike an inch or two below the bull at 25 yards.

Depending on the height of your scope mounts, the line of sight of the bore is not parallel to the line of sight of the scope. They are tilted toward one another, which will make the bullet cross the line of sight of the scope and at some point be above it before the bullet starts to drop at some point downrange and cross the line of sight in the scope once again. This usually occurs at about 150 yards for a high-powered rifle that is dead on at 100 yards. That’s why a lot of us sight-in the rifle about 2 inches high at 100 yards so that it will be at zero at 200 yards.

Now that we have it shooting at 25 yards, we can set up a target at 100 yards. We have used maybe four or five bullets at this point. This is when a good secure rest is absolutely necessary. Fire three shots. Make them good ones. No flinching. Even dry fire the gun with no bullets a couple of times to get used to the trigger and see what the scope does when you fire the weapon. The rifle barrel should have cooled by this time.

Place the rifle back in the rest and put the cross hairs of the scope at the center target just like you did when you shot. It helps if you have someone with you. While you hold the rifle perfectly still, have a friend turn the top and then side adjustments until the scope cross hairs move from the center of the target to the center of the group you shot. You will have to move the adjustments in reverse. In other words, up is down and left is right. Now you have moved your scope to the actual impact point of your rifle. Simple? It is if you held the rifle still while moving the scope. You now have a rifle that is sighted in pretty well that you can now fine tune having only fired three expensive bullets.

People just assume all shotguns will strike a target in the middle with the main pattern of the buckshot charge. Nothing is further from the truth. With a new shotgun or barrel, you need to “pattern” your gun. Put up a large piece of newspaper or cardboard and back off about 30 yards and shoot. You may be unpleasantly surprised. Unless you have a slug barrel or have installed fiber optic sights, you can’t do anything about your pattern except know where it is and compensate on the fly.

Be selective on your shots. Have empathy for your game. Do everything you can to recover a wounded animal. Have a great season.

Dr. John Rheney has been writing his outdoors column for The Times and Democrat since 1984.


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