Finding Your Range

Finding Your Range

More and more hunters are attempting to shoot animals at greater distances. However, it’s not something new; hunters have been attempting to extend their effective range since, well, hunters started hunting. That’s how we ended up with the compound bow and the 300 Winchester Magnum. The question is, is this custom ethical or even a good idea.

Up front, let me say that I do not care how you hunt, as long as you do it legally. In fact, if a man is struggling to feed his family, I’m not even going to get bent out of shape if he takes a few critters to keep their bellies full. Hunting is a very personal thing and something that I believe is driven my genetics. I do however hope you enjoy the hunting you do.

Having the skill to twist your way into a long-range shot is good. But, so is having the skill to sneak or walk your way to an easy shot.

I enjoy shooting at great distances. It’s a test of skill and ballistic application. And, it’s just damned fun. I also enjoy hunting. And, while I like to be prepared to take any shot that’s necessary to complete or end the hunt, I much prefer if that shot is close. This is partly because the closer the shot, the easier it is to make, and partly because the closer I get to the animal, the more exhilarating the experience. My advice to all hunters would be to close the distance with their feet as opposed to ballistics. I believe those who do, will find greater fulfillment from the experience.

My son – at 15 years old – and his PH closed the distance on this kudu to 460 yards. He had a brief opportunity to make the shot, dialed-in the distance, and dropped him without a rest or bipod. That’s a combination of rifleman and sniper-like skills. Hunters can use – and may need – both.

However, I also believe no one has any business telling you or anyone else how to hunt. Of course, from an ethical standpoint I think it reasonable that we expect hunters to, not take shots they cannot make. What’s unreasonable is setting arbitrary limits on that distance. I recently read where some dude wants to make it illegal to shoot at an animal with a rifle at any distance greater than 300 yards. For bowhunters he wants the limit placed at 50 yards.

The distance you close with you feet will likely be more memorable than the distance you close with ballistics.

Not only would this be an unenforceable law, it is blatantly arrogant for someone else to impose their hunting ethics on anyone else. In addition, it sort of assumes shooting a deer at 50 yards with a bow or at 300 yards with a rifle is within the boundaries of reasonableness, and within the skill set of the common woodsman. It’s not. The number of hunters who can make vital zone hits on big game animals at those distances – 9 out of 10 times – is probably close to 1 out of 10.

The position against hunters taking long distance shots – whatever you think long distance is – mostly comes from those who do not have the knowledge/skill to do it. (It takes a bullet from a 6.5 Creedmoor 1.5 seconds to travel 1000 yards.) As with human nature, it’s common to oppose that which you do not understand or cannot accomplish. Here’s the thing, a large percentage of hunters are not capable of delivering kill shots off-hand with a rifle at 100 yards, or with a bow at 35 yards, 90% of the time. But, when a hunter tells you he wounded a buck while taking a shot like that, most will simply say, “Shit happens. We all make bad shots sometimes.”

Neal Emery is a fantastic rifle shot, capable of shooting with precision at distances in the field that were before unthinkable.

I’ve shared the field with hunters – like Neal Emery with Hornady or former Marine sniper Caylen Wojcik – who can shoot better at 700 yards from a bipod than most can at 100 yards off-hand, and maybe even from a bench rest. I got no business telling them what their limits are, or how they should hunt. I’ll happily share with them that I feel they might find more enjoyment by/and while getting closer, but it’s their pleasure that’s being sought, so – within the boundaries of law – they should do it as they see fit.

If you think shooting at an animal at 700 yards is always unethical, you’ve never seen someone like Caylen Wojcik shoot.

More importantly, I’d offer that being a real rifleman is about getting first round hits without the aid of tripods, bipods, twisty turrets, and calculators. A man who goes afield, armed with a sporter-weight rifle, and can get good hits without the aid of anything but his weapon, sight, and shooting sling, may not be a sniper or precision marksman, but he’s damn sure a rifleman. The funny thing is, this skill is no longer really practiced or celebrated. The gun games focus on fast shooting at close distance, or slow supported shooting at, way the hell out there. And, gun writers and everyone else seem consumed with shooting little groups from the bench or bipod.

If you want to learn to be a precision – sniper-like – hunter, I encourage it. You may at some point seriously need that skill. However, if you become a rifleman first, the learning will be easier.

The real rifleman is a dying breed because the requisite skill cannot be purchased over the counter with various tools of the trade. It’s a skill that must be gained on your feet, knees, and butt, by spending countless hours on the range, and by suffering through a lot of failures in the field. When you can stand on your hind legs, mount your rifle, and hit an eight-inch steel plate at 100 yards, in less than two seconds, you have arrived. Few will ever get there.

Here’s some advice from an aging hillbilly who happens to have pulled a lot of triggers in a lot of different places. If you honestly think there’s a 90% chance you can make the kill shot, then take it, regardless of the distance, and ignore anyone who tells you you’re unethical. If you want to squeeze the most from your hunt, reduce that distance as much as possible before you shoot. (If business revolves around paperwork, hunting revolves around footwork.) I’d also offer that – at least for rifle hunters – develop your rifleman skills first, and your sniping skills second. It’ll make learning the latter easier. And, true riflemen are a dying breed; someday we just might need all we can muster.

I had several opportunities to take this oryx at extreme distance, and felt confident in my ability to do so. Ultimately, I shot him at about 50 yards. Because of that hunting experience, it was a much more thrilling endeavor.

I often say, it’s all about the shot. That does not mean the shot has to be long, difficult, or even brag worthy. What it means is that the shot must be good. As a hunter it’s your job, to find your range, and work yourself into a situation, where you can, make the good shot.

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