By John Simeone
You should develop as much skill as you can with your rifle before you go hunting, but what do you need and how good do you have to be?
Well the quick answer to that question is, you need to be as good as you can get. But that wouldn’t be any fun in a discussion, while nothing is really learned. Marksmanship comes in many levels and once again we will look at the White-tailed deer first to see just how good we need to be, and what we need to get the job done.
Depending on your location the distance at which you intend to engage your deer is a serious factor. Do you intend to hunt in thick cover or sit in a stand and shoot across a field? You need to have equipment that covers the range you expect to hunt and then zero for the average range that most deer are taken in the area.
That can be a tall order sometimes so we will look at some interesting places and equipment and see what happens.
It would seem most of my personal deer encounters are at relatively close range. Well into 3 figures if it matters on deer, my longest shot was 300 yards, while the closest was only 3 gun barrel lengths away. Any 308 or 30-06 class cartridge will cover this area from say a 260 Remington to a 7mm Remington Magnum. Of course you don’t need a magnum anything for Deer, but I must admit I like my 325 WSM. It comes down to choice, but how you use your firearm in your area can make you or break you.
The close in gun hunter needs to take on the techniques of a bow hunter, and then realize he has a little extra. Trouble is if you have the wrong gun for up close you may as well be attempting a 600 yards shot with a 30-30 Winchester. Of course the same goes for the Western hunter attempting to hunt with an Eastern Rifle such as a 30-30.
Aunt Sandy wants to shoot a deer in Louisiana. With a collection of anything she could imagine the H&R Handy Rifle in 44 magnum is her choice. The expected range of the shot is 50 yards, shooting from a ground blind in heavy cover. A 30-06 is just fine and so is the 325 WSM, but the practical rifle is the 44 magnum. Why, because it is the right tool for the job. The rifle is legal for both primitive weapons season and the modern gun season in this state. The situation is not going to change, the range and terrain are the same all year. So for her situation the 44 is perfect. Now how good is the gun with Aunt Sandy behind it?
With Hornady and Winchester factory 225 and 240 grain bullets, Sandy gets 1 ¼ inch, 5 shot groups at 50 yards. The 3 shot groups are even better, while remembering she is using a single shot rifle, and deer don’t hang around to let you reload a break action rifle very much. That’s more than just good enough.
Now I hunt mainly from a climbing tree stand in the same kind of area with every kind of weapon that is legal for the season. When bow hunting I pray for the 20-25 yard shot that I never get, and as soon as gun season opens the deer walk right under my stand. Yea, I zero the 325 WSM at 50 yards too. My 45-70 gets the same zero as well as the 30-06’s because practically says to do this. So you need to be good at 50 yards in my neck of the woods. Therefore all of our rifles, slug guns, and even the crossbow will in fact shoot a 1 ¼ inch group at 50 yards. Of course the crossbow needs to be used at -30 yards due to the loud bow twang.
What about longer range. Well to tell you the truth if you are good at 50 yards with a 308 you will be very close at 100 yards. My home state of Arkansas is just about right for the 100 yard standard zero as the ranges and terrain are a bit more open.
Shooting deer in Texas down a “Sendero” or any where you have a something like a high line or a “Bean Field” you may want to employ a long range rig. The classic Weatherby zero of 3 inches high at 100 yards would be the perfect zero if Jon Ballard intended to hunt Mule deer in New Mexico with his 257 Weatherby Magnum. That zero puts you dead on at 300 yards, making a 400 yard shot a reasonable possibility if you have the shooting skill. Of course when Jon comes down here for a whitetail hunt it’s down to a 50 yard zero with the same rifle.
With the new “Best of the West” rifles, it is now possible to take deer sized game at ultra long range, out to 1000 yards. This is a sport reserved for someone who is willing to spend the time with perfect practice and the money on perfect equipment. After some serious instruction with your equipment then you can take an ethical long shot.
Now here is something to ponder. What about incidental game? Something you are not expecting but it happens. You will find on your first African plains game hunt that your PH is packing a 375 H&H magnum because he knows there might be something out there other than Impala. It’s OK if you pack your 270, no problem, but a chance encounter with a big cat may require a little more gun. That goes for a black tailed deer hunt on Kodiak Island too, where the deer hunter would do well packing a 338 Magnum.
In Louisiana on some public land we have extremely large wild hogs. They are completely wild and have been there about 200 years. Now the law says you can take all the wild hogs you want, with the weapon that is in season for something else. Aunt Sandy and I were squirrel hunting, it was bow season for deer but the law here says no center fire rifles, slugs or buckshot until gun season. I wanted to use my shotgun and just squirrel hunt but the rooting in the area told me to uncase the little Marlin 25, 22 magnum.
Now this is still a fine squirrel gun with its Bushnell 4X12 scope with a choice of Winchester solid or hollow point ammo. Last year when I limited on deer, I just went hog hunting with the 22 magnum, legal for small game and hogs. But is it enough gun? Yes and no. There are two clean kill shots that can be made and that is between the eyes and at the base of the ear. If you can’t do this don’t play with the hogs with a 22.
Well just this morning it happened. The squirrels gave us the slip again, but on the way out we ran into 8 big wild hogs at close range. The real big one, about 300 pounds instantly disappeared, leaving one 50 pound sow frozen just starting at me. I wanted to hand the rifle to Sandy and let her shoot it, but the movement would have been detected.
The tiny dot steadied on the hogs head and the shot was right between the eyes. All that practice at card splitting and off hand shooting paid off that time with a good mess of sausage instead of squirrels. So it pays to have the right tool at the right time…Pass it on.