Pre-hunt sighting for success - part 2

John Denman encourages a refresh at your local SSAA range

As shooters emerge from the major part of the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s a feeling of how much we have missed out on. It’s a sensation of having been in a form of hibernation, that can only be assuaged by recoil and the scent of burnt propellant. As SSAA branches begin to open the ranges once more, life as we know it and prefer it will be back again.

But that’s not all. Hunting is returning to the agenda and with the money that hunters bring with them, regional centres will gain an additional boost and gunshop owners can press on with running their businesses. Hunters are not born to be confined. They seek the further horizon, the warmth of a crackling fire at the end of the day and that special feeling you enjoy by being part of the adventure.

In Australian Hunter Edition 72, I wrote about the need to prepare well for the hunt. This time I have no doubt planning has been underway almost since the beginning of lockdown. The colder months are the hunter’s favourite time, in particular those of us after some fresh venison. We’ve had this time of enforced idleness to check the camping gear and the hunting car, and if you’re like me you’ve tinkered with a rifle or two. Even if it’s only to look down the bore and check for spiders.

But as things open up it’s undoubtedly a good time to visit your local SSAA range to check that the hunting rifle is still pointing where you need it to. Just because it was fine last time you hunted doesn’t mean it still is. Sighting-in means that the rifle will not only hit what you aim at, it signifies that it will do so with specific ammunition.

It’s all too easy to allow ammunition to become a little out of order. Make sure that there are no mix-ups in the secure area where your ammo is stored. Most shooters will have experimented over time with what results they can manage from different loads. This includes factory ammo as well as any handloads you may have assembled. I still see blokes coming to the range with an assorted bag of rounds in all sorts of containers, when there are so many good ammo boxes available. Your cartridges should be kept in a decent box designed for the purpose and clearly labelled with bullet weight, powder charge and primer.

Never combine different breeds of brass either and if you have various brands of factory ammo, don’t allow them to be jumbled. There are plenty of fine plastic ammo storage boxes, all designed for specific cartridges, and most under $10. Use these rather than old cardboard factory boxes that can lead to problems in the field.

I like to have my rifles dead-on at 200m for a cartridge like the .243, .270, .308 types. This usually means it’s around 1½" high at 100m. Of course this is my preference, because I try never to shoot any game past 200m. Even so, if you sight your hunting rifle like this you still should check the drop out to 300m. Bear in mind that the further you shoot at game, the greater the chance of not achieving a clean kill. If you adhere to the moral responsibility to follow up a wounded animal, you don’t want it to have a 300m start on you.

If you are sighting in your hunting rifle at the range, it’s good to know how it will group at a given distance. For this I’d suggest you fire no more than three rounds and make it from a cold barrel. The reason for this is that firstly you should always know where the initial shot from a cold barrel will hit. Secondly, hunting rifles tend to have slender barrels, which means they heat up faster, often resulting in a loss of accuracy. Thirdly, if you need more than three shots to kill an animal, you’re either a terrible shot or you have trouble with the rifle or scope.

Scope mounts can work loose, the screws holding the stock to the action can lose tension too. These things need to be checked if the rifle has been stored for a while. Timber stocks have been known to warp as well, so checking the tension on all these screws is of utmost importance.

Most hunting rifles have what is known as a free-floated barrel. This means that the action is bedded into the stock, but the barrel forward of the receiver is not in contact with the fore-end of the stock. Once again a timber stock may warp slightly, sometimes just enough to lightly touch the barrel.

Check this by finding a sheet of paper and running it under the barrel from the tip of the fore-end to the receiver. If the paper is stopped at any point it means the barrel is touching the stock. The only remedy for this is to mark the spot and remove the barrel and action from the stock. Sometimes a little time with sandpaper will fix it, but in other cases you will need to remove more wood from that spot.

Enforced idleness for a hunter, while irksome, can be a useful time to sort your ammo, check supplies and make sure everything is ready to go. To the handloading hunter, this is also a time of great activity. Loads are assembled, and as time is not such an issue, it’s almost certain that you will perhaps take a bit more care to make sure every case is prepared and loaded accordingly. You will also check that those carefully loaded rounds will feed from the magazine reliably.

Depending on where you hunt, the opening of our ranges may not coincide with your destination. If on private land a call to the landowner checking that he’s okay with your visit is essential, regardless of COVID-19 problems. Calling ahead is just good manners. Victorian hunters who hunt public land should make sure these places are open and that your game licence is current.

Although we are told that the word ‘lockdown’ is not entirely accurate, our frustrations at being unable to pursue our sport have been irksome, to say the least. We know that it’s been an essential part of dealing with this virus. While the pandemic is not completely over, we are at least allowed to go out and enjoy our lifestyle. Operating as we do in small groups, or even alone, it’s highly unlikely we will endanger ourselves or anyone else. We still need to be careful though.

I am President of the SSAA Northern Rivers Branch, and in line with SSAA NSW policy our Committee decided to re-open our range just outside Casino. Social distancing is taken very seriously and we followed the correct steps to re-open. Only those who occupy a bench are permitted in the shooting area and kept well apart. Others who attend must wait outside the shooting area until a bench is made available.

The stint each shooter can occupy a bench is limited. When the opportunity comes to sign in and pay fees only one person at a time is allowed. Hand sanitiser is constantly provided. Visit ssaa.org.au and get in touch with your local range for up-to-date information.

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