Sweat the Small Stuff: Whitetail Hunting Primer-Part 3

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Sweat the Small Stuff: A Whitetail Hunting Primer Series

This article was originally written without this 3rd installment. I got to thinking about it and thought perhaps another short installment on rifles, optics and sighting in might be helpful as well. I happen to be a certified gun nut. I admit to it and enjoy my interest in rifles to no end. Does a serious and successful deer hunter need to be a gun nut? Well, of course not! But I do think that perhaps some tips from a serious gun person could be a bit helpful, especially for those starting out.

Trying to convince someone that this or that cartridge is the best one for them to use is about as ridiculous as trying to tell the driver of a VW Beetle that your four door F250 four wheel drive is a better choice for them to drive. There are lots of chamberings that will work very well for deer hunting, lots! Finding one that you like and enjoy shooting is perhaps the only tricky thing.

Some hunters are steadfastly against any type of felt recoil and feel the only logical calibers and cartridges are those that are light recoiling. Other hunters have less of an aversion to recoil and are willing to accept that it is and always will be there with the cartridge they have chosen. Who's right? I suppose both are as long as they are not adament about forcing their beliefs on others who might not share them.

Just because a cartridge is lighter recoiling, it does not, in my firm opinion, make it a better choice for hunting for someone. I have read many times about the fact that a shooter will shoot a lighter recoiling round better than a higher recoiling one. To that belief, I simply say hogwash. I have proven to myself more than once that the round that shoots the best many times simply lies where the shooter, rifle and sights cooperate.

I do not believe that for hunting purposes it makes a great deal of difference exactly how much recoil your chosen rifle has, as long as you have proven to yourself that you can shoot it accurately and have also shown that a single round fired from a cold barrel is going right where you want it.

I also believe that perhaps many serious hunters leave out this very important step when sighting in their chosen arms. It is most certainly nice to see a 1" (or less) grouping from a rifle and figure it to be hunt ready. But unless you also allow your chosen rifle to fully cool, fully reload it and then simply shoot one single round to see where it prints, you have still not fully "sighted in" your rifle, in my opinion.

A lot has been said in the last several years about MOA and rifles that will, or won't shoot MOA. Minute of angle refers to a grouping from a rifle that prints at 100 yards at just slightly over 1 inch center to center. If you'd like to simply equate MOA to a one inch group at 100 yards, then you'll be like everyone else as it's that close to the magic 1 inch mark anyway.

Does a rifle need to shoot MOA to make it a viable deer hunting rifle? Now that's probably a hotly contested question nowadays. Seems all makers try to mention MOA (or 1") accuracy in their ads trying to promote their particular rifle's accuracy potential. Some even guarantee their rifles will shoot MOA with proper loads. Well, here's my take on it all.

Unless you are a very skilled marksman who fully expects to shoot your game at very long ranges, then pure MOA accuracy is not nearly as necessary as many seem to feel it is. So, what is long range and what is acceptable accuracy then? For most hunters I've encountered in my time in the woods and deer camps, when you talk much of anything over 100-150 yards, that becomes a long range shot. Laugh if you like, I don't mind.

I do understand that hunting out west is a bit different than hunting in the eastern U.S. and longer range shots can and will be encountered there. But the facts seem to bear out, year after year, that most big game is shot at ranges closer to 100 yards than 200 yards, east and west. So, what does your rifle need to be able to do to be a good rifle for your type of hunting?

Well, it needs to put a shot, from a cold barrel into a 6 inch circle at whatever you consider your personal range limit. I don't care if your rifle shoots 3 shots into 2 inches at 300 yards. If your rifle cannot put that first round into a 6 inch circle, then you shouldn't be shooting at that distance. This means that a rifleman needs to have a good handle on not only the inherent accuracy of his chosen rifle, but also on the ballistics and trajectory his rifle and load possess.

I'd rather see a hunter shooting his 1.5 MOA rifle, knowing exactly where it will strike reference point of aim, than a hunter shooting a .5 MOA rifle and guessing at how much drop his round will see enroute to the target. This is a very important aspect of hunting and shooting and one I feel is way more important to any hunter than a rifle that shoots teeny weeny groups when his actual target is deer-sized game.

There's nothing wrong with an ultra-accurate rifle, especially if it instills confidence to the hunter behind the trigger. But a hunter shooting a rifle he is familiar with and with which he spent the $200, he would have on a new stock and aftermarket trigger trying to improve the rifle's 1.5 MOA accuracy on ammo instead and then shot it all, is doing himself a huge favor in my humble opinion. A very accurate rifle is a wonderful thing, but not as important as an accurate shooter in my humble opinion.

It should go without saying that any rifle used for hunting should have quality components bolted on to it to assist the shooter. Buying a $1,000 rifle and putting a $79 scope in $11 rings and bases is not my idea of an ideal plan. A quality rifle is important no doubt, but you'll never shoot what you cannot see and you'll never be sure what you're going to hit, if your mounts are not doing their job correctly.

Buy a quality scope and use quality bases and rings to secure it correctly to your chosen rifle. There are some very good quality bases and rings available at around $50 total and there are some quality scopes to be found and also which will give you years of trouble free service for as low as $250. Do not overbuy your rifle to the point where a quality optic cannot be afforded to complete the package. If you can plan on spending as much on a quality optic as on your quality rifle, you've done well!

Scopes can be as controversial as chamberings, when it comes to opinions. There is no way I'm going to suggest a specific scope will be the best for anyone reading this. There are a lot of good choices out there and my only bit of advice will be to buy as high a quality scope as you possibly can and also to not burden yourself with an uneccesarily large scope that has way more magnification than you actually need. It's a fact that by figuring a lower power optic that will get the job done just fine over a higher powered one, that you'll also be able to get a better quality scope for the same price.

Put all the pieces of the puzzle together; the rifle, the mounts and the scope. Do it with a plan and a purpose, not simply choosing something a Buddy says you should have or stuff that's on closeout at the local sporting goods store. Be diligent about choosing quality components. Read all the reviews that you can about the items you're thinking of choosing. Then, throw out the best and worst reviews and see what the bulk of others that spent their hard earned $$ on have to say.

In my opinion, it likely easier today to put together a winning combination of gun & optics than at any other time in the sport hunting era. Quality counts, money buys quality. It's your money so choose wisely and spend accordingly. See, simple as that!

Several of the author's rifle and scope combos are pictured below.

An ultralight Remington model 700 Titanium in .270 Win is pictured here with a
Zeiss Conquest 3-9x40 atop. The rifle is only 5.5 pounds unscoped and the added
weight of the excellent Zeiss scope makes a fine combination here and keeps the
overall weight still well under 7 pounds.

Winchester model 70 in 30/06 topped with a Zeiss Conquest 2.5-8x32 scope.
Sub MOA is here with 180gr loads and it would be very difficult to convince
the author that there's a more versatile set-up for deer hunting than this fine combo.

Match the scope to the rifle. A Marlin 1895/45-70 wears a Leupold 1-4x20
scope with heavy duplex reticle. The small scope stays in line with the slim
lever's lines and the author saw no reason to have more than 4X available on
a 45-70. This scope is a fine value at the $200 break.

Ruger model 77 Hawkeye .358 in S/S and laminate stock wears a scope just as weatherproof.
A Bushnell Elite 3200 in 2-7x32 with patented RainGuard coating on all outside lens
surfaces helps prevents fogging and water from collecting on the lens surface.


Retired2hunt's picture

  Great article Mr. Turner. 


Great article Mr. Turner.  I practice at the range and from varying positions every couple of weeks.  I would go more often if I could.  Shoot, Shoot, and more Shooting!  It is practice that is going to make you able to put that cold barrel shot into a 6 inch circle at 200+ yards.  When I shoot I take turns with my hunting partner so when the time comes for me I am again shooting out of a cold barrel.  It is also important to shoot from different positions so to mimmic the conditions you will be using within the woods.  I also like your advice on the recoil, the size of caliber, and the actual optic-to-rifle equality.  Bottom line is you need to find a rifle or rifles that you are happy with shooting and pair them with quality optics that are equal to the rifle and then practice your shooting until you can shoot accurate out of that cold barrel when the time comes during a hunt.


swisheroutdoors's picture

Exactly what I was searching for

I just happened to respond on a weapon review and shared the fact that I'm not a very good shooter.  This article had my attention from the second paragraph on.  Immediately, I recalled my own experiences with other successful hunters that were trying to convince me that I need to go with a lighter recoiling weapon BECUASE! blah blah blah.  Its been ongoing and has lately been getting to me that I need to change and get another weapon, ammo and scope.  I'm trying to be a better shooter.  I have never sighted in my gun then let it cool fully and fire one round.  Such a simple task to fully sight in your weapon.  Great Tip.  Then the authors setups really appealed to me.  I really liked the Marlin 45/70 with the smaller scope.  It now makes total sense to me and will be considering something similar for my 30/30.   I won’t be so quick to agree my fellow hunters have all the right choices now either.  I’m free to make my choices based on research and not just because my buddy said this is the best setup.  The author provides simple concepts for putting together a winning combination.  I thank you.

MiguelS's picture

What more can i say? Good job

What more can i say? Good job Mr. Turner.

ndemiter's picture

i really enjoyed the article,

i really enjoyed the article, and you are correct that when suggesting new equipment to beginners there's lots of calibers that work and the important thing IS finding one that the person enjoys shooting and wont make them develop a habit of flinching.

and SHOOT, SHOOT, SHOOT! that's the only way to get familiar with your rifle. from the experience that i've had, it seems like i never even started to understand my new rifles until i put 100-150 shots through them. this is partly why i am not a gun collector, i have a rifle for every main purpopse and i shoot them and reload them to gain a deep understanding of their performance in all conditions.

i've owned my weatherby 30-06 for 8 years. i've gone through 3 scopes (weaver, bushnell and leupold) until finally settling on a quality leupold piece of glass which gives me more confidence in the equipment that it will not break internally as i have had bushnell products do in the past. another good piece of advice is to put quality steel rings and bases on the rifle as well. i've had poor luck over time with aluminum bases specifically.

I'm such a gun nut I looked

I'm such a gun nut I looked over that great selection first. You're article was pretty well right on.

hunter25's picture

This article makes an

This article makes an excellent point when bringing up the cold barrel accuracy question. I have seen many guys sight in and then clean and oil their rifle only to be surprised when that first shot from the lubed barrel strays a couple of inches from where they expected it to go and they more often than not don't know why. I never clean the bore of my rifle again until after the season ends unless the weather demands it and then I will put a fouling shot through and a dry patch just to make sure. Using this method I have never had a problem with that first shot going anywhere other than where I expected it to. At least on paper where I rarely get buck fever.LOL

By the way that is a very nice collection of fine hunting rifles and optics.

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