I suppose it goes without saying that it’s a very good idea to have your rifle, shotgun or muzzleloader zeroed in properly. You may have to shoot through a narrow opening or have a wide-open shot, but if the firearm isn’t hitting where you’re aiming you can’t expect to score.
However, as the old saying goes, the exception proves the rule and I just have to tell you this story. A friend of my grandfather was noted for his lack of any and all hunting skills. He loved deer camp though, perhaps more for the camaraderie, great food and ample amounts of spirits than the hunting itself. But he was lucky at seeing bucks, though he never seemed able to hit one. His hard luck stories regaled us during many meals, for he didn’t seem ashamed to relate missing shots so easy they would have made me blush.
JOE, not his real name, would rise with the rest of us, eat breakfast and wander out of camp into the woods. He never had a plan, just walked wherever the spirit led him, but somehow he always seemed to see horns. One year we returned for lunch the first day of shotgun (season) and Joe was sitting on the camp steps, a beautiful, wide 8-point buck at his feet and a gorgeous red fox beside him. We couldn’t believe it, he hit something.
Joe, beaming with triumph, told us the story. He’d stopped to catch his breath when a fox came running full speed across an opening in front of him some 50 yards away. Joe pulled up, saw the fox in his scope and fired. The fox dropped in his tracks.
We all looked at each other grinning widely, wondering who was the most surprised, Joe or the fox?
However, before Joe got over his surprise at hitting something the big buck came running full speed right down the exact trail the fox had. Joe racked in a fresh slug, the buck heard, then saw him, turned at right angles and increased his speed. Joe caught a glimpse of brown in the scope and pulled the trigger. The buck collapsed, hit in the neck. I guess it just wasn’t that buck’s day.
Joe’s unprecedented success was a cause for celebration and his joy was something to behold. He’d left his shotgun outside in excitement and I picked it up to make sure it was unloaded before entering camp. I heard a tiny clink and closer examination showed the big screws holding the scope to the bases on the shotgun receiver were so loose the scope rattled. There was no way the shotgun was zeroed in or could hold any type of group, but somehow Joe made two truly miraculous shots. Couldn’t happen again in a thousand years.
SINCE we can’t rely on miracles we better stick with the basics. Ammo is hard to get and expensive, so we need to sight in with as few shots as possible. Here’s how to do it.
Before firing check the screws on the bottom of the rifle; there’s usually three holding the rifle’s action to the stock. They must be tight. Then check every screw on the scope rings. Next, holding the scope close to your ear, shake it. A loose reticle may rattle enough to be heard.
After checking to make certain everything is tight with the scope in good condition and clear optics, you’re ready to fire. If you’re not a great shot, be honest with yourself, shoot at 50 yards. Otherwise, the standard is 100 yards. You must have a sturdy rest with sandbags, lead sled or other support for the rifle. If you’re not using a lead sled it’s important to have some type of support underneath the rear of the stock. Slipping it forward or backward controls the up and down of the rifle on the target.
A shooter must squeeze the trigger. You shouldn’t know exactly when the rifle will fire or you’ll move one way or another anticipating the noise and recoil. A steady pressure backward when the crosshairs are unmoving is the gold standard. If you need to check yourself, have a friend load your rifle so you don’t know if a shell is in the chamber or not. Be safe doing this. If the chamber is empty when you fire any jerk, flinch or twitch will show up clearly.
Fire two shots, they should be close together. Now for the ammo-saving secret. But instructions must be followed exactly or the system will not work.
NOW, say your two shots are four inches low and six inches right. This means the crosshairs are on the center of the target, but the barrel is pointing where the bullets hit. Make sense, you need to understand that.
Now, if the shooter can hold the rifle rock steady for some time his buddy can adjust the scope. Place the crosshairs on the bullseye holding the rifle firmly in place. Your helper turns the elevation dial up while the shooter watches the crosshairs move toward the bullet strikes. When the crosshair is level with the bullet hole he says, “stop.” while continuing to hold the rifle in place. You cannot allow it to move. Next the crosshair is turned to the left until the crosshair covers the bullet hole.
What you have done is turn the crosshairs to the point the rifle is pointing. If done correctly your zero is perfect and you’ve saved a lot of ammo and occasionally a ton of frustration.
An ounce of prevention saves a pound of cure so prepare now. Good luck and good hunting, dear readers.