As the SSAA membership number continues to soar, more and more people are discovering the shooting sports and looking to get into hunting. What follows is an overview of what you must consider if you are one of that number. Consensus on the appropriate rifle for the intended game or purpose varies and I’m not going to try and change anyone’s perspective or opinion on the subject, rather convey what I’ve experienced in a lifetime of shooting for a better outcome and those starting out.
The right firearm
Your chosen firearm should feel balanced, pleasant to handle both in recoil and weight and shoulder comfortably, in time feeling like an extension of your arm. While a big game rifle for instance, such as a 416 Rigby or 500 NE is the appropriate medicine for an Asiatic water buffalo or Cape buffalo, if such a weighty firearm interferes or is too heavy to handle smoothly, it could prove dangerous and costly in more ways than one. Choosing a lesser calibre rifle such as a 9.3x62mm or 375 H&H with gentler recoil and appropriate bullet would be the more sensible approach.
Action and barrel
For high velocity, flat-shooting calibre rifles, bedding the action and floating the barrel will further assist in improving accuracy. Some rifles by makers such as Weatherby, Remington, Sako, Schultz & Larsen and others come with the action bedded and barrel floated, which is a plus.
Oddly enough, you can have four different makes of .30-06 Springfield rifles and for the exercise they all shoot factory 150gr bullets. After sighting-in each will satisfactorily print on paper but may also prefer a particular brand of bullet to achieve a tighter grouping. Hence when trialling a rifle for the first time or if not satisfied with the accuracy, try a few different brands of bullets then stick to the one or ones that provide the best result.
Even though they’re all the same calibre and projectile weight, miniscule discrepancies in chambers from one maker to another and varying bullet components and design can make a difference.
Bases and rings
Rings, as with bases, come in numerous configurations, alloy or steel, normally flat black or gloss or silver, size and height from low to high and extra high depending on the dimension of the scope objective lens. Bases or mount type range from dovetail, swivel, Picatinny rail or weaver-type and more to quick detachable.
A rear windage adjustment base provides an advantage where no further actual scope tweaking is available. Usually the lower the scope sits the better. While there are many makes and types on the market, to avoid possible disappointment later it pays to use a quality brand of bases and rings such as Leupold, Talley, Warne, Sako, Tikka and the like, particularly where heavy recoil is a factor and the value of your scope is considerable.
A scope, apart from the reticle type, clarity and related characteristic, should be chosen for the particular rifle calibre, intended range or distance use and game hunted. A rimfire .22LR rifle, for instance, seldom requires more than a fixed 4-power scope but larger variable scopes are used particularly where the eyesight is not what it used to be and you want the subject to appear larger. For long-distance shooting at 200m and beyond, scopes starting at 3-9 power and above are appropriate, bearing in mind the greater the power beyond 3-9 the steadier the rifle needs to be held.
In the case of heavy calibre game rifles such as a .458 Win Mag or .470 NE on buffalo at close to medium range, at a standing or moving target, a lower powered scope of 1.5-5 with good eye relief would be recommended. While a better quality scope may cost a few extra dollars it’s worth it in the long term.
Mounting and sighting-in
A scope should initially be mounted loosely before tightening securely to ensure proper eye relief distance and there are no black shadows or sections when shouldering the firearm and peering through the scope. Also adjust the end eyepiece as everyone’s eyesight varies. It’s important to equally tighten the base and ring screws but not over tighten. Arranging the mounting, fitting and bore-sighting through a gunshop or dealer at a small cost can make the whole process a lot easier as they’ll have the components and tools for the job.
A target at 20-25m to sight-in a rifle may seem very close but if your scope is out, at 100m you can miss the mark altogether. Focus on placing the bullets to print on or close to the vertical line of the cross-hair on the target then adjust up or down. Once satisfied with the bullet grouping, move the target out 50-75m, adjust as required and repeat the process to the desired distance.
If travelling on long journeys by car, particularly over rough terrain or by air, it’s a good idea to check your rifle is shooting true before venturing out. A hard knock can offset a scope and different atmospheric conditions and latitudes such as in the tropics or cold mountainous regions can also affect accuracy. Many a proud know-it-all rifle owner has come unstuck by not taking suitable precautions or failing to listen to a guide’s advice.
A quality rubber recoil pad, factory-fitted, simple slip-ons or professionally fitted all help in lessening recoil. Cross-bolts to strengthen the timber stock and a heavier stock to better handle the recoil for some of the sharper and harder kicking medium bore calibres can also make a difference.
These days, rifles are built to manage most factory-made ammunition with the projectile seated back sufficiently to handle the actions of the various rifle brands that may vary to some degree in action configuration and magazine length.
Reloading can provide for further refinement and consistent accuracy provided you have the knowledge and are familiar with the process. When brass cases are first fired they’re chamber sized to that particular rifle requiring from then to be shoulder or full-length sized. Learning from an experienced shooter and manuals on the subject greatly assist.
I’ve seen on a number of occasions precision shooters at the range plinking the bullseyes with monotonous regularity, yet when it came to their first field outing on deer or other similar game they missed the easiest of shots ‑ and not just once.
Excitement, hesitation, overconfidence, pulling the trigger or rushing the shot, overthinking a shot, not taking the right shooting position or stance by using available rests such as a tree or log, overawed by the size of the trophy animal, taking too long to take the shot are some of the emotions and considerations faced.
Time and experience are great teachers. Mistakes and disappointments should be lessons learnt and remembered for next time. Calmness, although difficult to control especially when confronted with a trophy animal, a steady head and taking a couple of deep breaths before squeezing the trigger will yield results.
Practice, practice, practice
The adage ‘practice makes perfect’ couldn’t be more true. Some of the best writers and hunters have documented the lengths they went to achieve proficient shooting skills.
Before a safari or significant hunt they’d practise regularly under controlled and field conditions, shooting still and moving targets from different stances and positions using various types of man-made and natural rests, shooting downhill and uphill, from behind assorted types of cover and in different weather conditions. With effort and application a hunter’s skills can be enhanced accordingly.
Whether targeting small, medium or large game, understanding the anatomy of the animal being hunted and its vitals for a humane kill is ethical and essential. A wounded animal like an Asiatic water buffalo pumped with adrenalin from a badly placed shot can have disastrous consequences.
WDM ‘Karamojo’ Bell in Africa in the early 1900s successfully used a .275 Rigby M98 on pachyderm, which was arguably and in many a big game hunter’s opinion an under-powered calibre for the task. However, because of his understanding and physical study of the animal’s anatomy, in particular the skull, he was able to achieve and repeat one-shot kills.
Under optimal conditions where the game is unaware of your presence and you have the advantage of distance and cover, you can prepare for a steady, calculated shot.
Alternatively, when you only have a small window of opportunity where part of a deer is visible through tangled growth or a tight stand of trees, hold steady until parts of the vitals are presented, back yourself and take the shot, knowing from your days practising at the range the task is achievable.