In the pre-dawn light I could clearly see three fallow does silhouetted against the morning sky. They were feeding on a grassy knoll less than 50 yards above me and, with little wind to betray my presence, I was content to sit and wait for daylight to come. I had left the tent only half an hour earlier, skirting past waking cattle with the crunch of frost beneath my boots.
From a squat behind a wild rosebush I listened to birds announce the coming of the day from within the trees higher on the ridgeline. Fifteen minutes later, at a range of 70 yards, I anchored a fat, mature doe with a single shot from the .222 and the meat safe was filled. Hunting offers little chance for error and the confidence that comes from carrying a well-zeroed firearm does justice to the game we pursue and our values as true hunters. Although correct sighting in procedures are basic, many shooters choose or are forced to skip the fundamentals when preparing for a day's hunting. Hopefully this article will encourage you to take the time and effort that ensures that at day's end you have done your job responsibly.
'Oils ain't oils' as the old saying goes and all mounts are not created equally. The major difference is the method by which mounts attach to the firearm. On rimfires simple 'claw' mounts are fine, as recoil is light. For many years 'see-through' mounts that enabled the shooter to use either iron or telescopic sights were popular on such long arms.
However, on centrefires, particularly in larger calibres where substantial recoil is an issue, sturdy mount selection is critical. For some years, my father had a set of Pachmayr mounts on his .30-06. The entire mount and scope could be swung off the rifle to provide access to the iron sights for scrub work. I never could get that smoke pole to hold true. I think possibly as a result of impractical mount design.
As well as choosing the right mount, you also need to ensure that mounts are the correct height for easy viewing. Close your eyes and throw the rifle to your shoulder, cheek tucked firmly against the cheekpiece. When you open your eyes, is a clear sight offered through the scope or do you have to move your head? If you have to make adjustments, a mount, which places the scope higher or lower on the receiver, could be the answer.
Ensure that all screws are tightened properly when mounting scopes. This sounds obvious but how often have you checked your scope's bedding in the last couple of years? As you tighten with a screwdriver, give gentle taps on the top of the handle to assist in bedding the screw properly. The addition of Loctite, or similar compounds, will also ensure that screws do not loosen through the abuse of day-to-day hunting.
Regular checking of mount security is important. It is seldom an issue yet I have experienced cases of mounts loosening. Some older style mounts used slotted screw heads rather than Allen key adjustments. These earlier styles were often more prone to loosening.
When heading out to sight in, take the correct tools for the job. Allen keys and screwdrivers of the correct size will ensure hassle-free adjustments and avoid damaging screw heads with ill-fitting tools.
One of the most frustrating tests from the bench is getting those first shots onto the paper. This is greatly assisted by first adjusting the scope with a collimator. These units align barrels and crosshairs with minimal fuss.
If a collimator is unavailable, then bore sight your rifle. Remove the bolt and, with the rifle positioned securely in a vice, between a couple of bricks or some other ingenious station, focus through the barrel onto a target. It may be something as simple as a colored oil drum or fence post. Then adjust the scope reticle onto the aiming point. Check to fine-tune and then begin sighting in with live rounds.
Use a large, and I mean large, target face. A small cardboard box f just doesn't cut the mustard. Give yourself a suitable area against which to plot your initial shots. When sighting in a new firearm I always choose a target measuring at least 5 feet square. Believe me, on occasions in the field even these have been a tad small.
Pack a roll of stickers to cover bullet holes so that you don't confuse yourself with several groups. A heavy black marker pen is invaluable for drawing well-defined aiming points. Aside from choosing a suitable target, consider your backdrop and field of safety.
Always be meticulous when considering a bush location to sight in a firearm. A suitable backdrop should be a sizeable hill with little or no cover to hide stock. Ensure you suggest the paddock where you intend to sight in to the landholder, as he may have workmen in the area. Never fire in the direction, even if it is over the hill, of homesteads or yards.
Give yourself plenty of time for sighting in. Correct procedures take time and cannot be hurried. If you are serious about your responsibilities as a firearm owner, do the job properly. Develop a routine for breathing and confident shot placement. If the wind picks up wait several minutes for conditions to improve and don't hurry the procedure.
Never leave sighting in as a last minute job before heading bush. Sighting in any firearm takes time and care. Allow at least an hour to get the job done, with provisions for breaks and cleaning. Remember that elements such as bad weather, unforseen problems with the firearm and/or ammunition and simply finding a suitable site all require time and effort.
Sighting a firearm off-hand or on a rickety rest makes about as much sense as standing neck deep in cold water. Today there are numerous solid commercial bench rests to choose from or your can easily make your own. Using a rest ensures you support both the fore-end as well as the butt. I hunt with bipods and use them during any session to sight in my bush rifle.
Give consideration to my earlier comments regarding allowing time. If there is no rush then you can ensure that each shot is given the correct amount of attention.
When sighting in I always pack a couple of soft drinks or thermos and some snacks. Take a breather between groups, consider the patterns that emerge from your groups and focus on the job at hand. A pair of binoculars or spotting scope is a great aid to ensure you know where each shot is hitting before firing another round.
Whenever possible, work with a mate during a session. Having someone to call the shots relieves the pressure of checking targets and moving from your rest to check what is going on.
Sight in over modest distances. I am amazed at the number of hunters I have met who begin sighting in at ridiculously long ranges. Generally, most shooters should plot initial shots at 50 yards then extend out to 100. Fifty yards doesn't sound like a long distance but if you have troubles drop back to 25 yards.
There is plenty of time for long distance heroics. To correctly calibrate the firearm and your brain, start off short and work your way out. This provides the chance to build confidence and time to reacquaint you to variations in trigger pull.
It is a well-known fact that different fodder suits different firearms. Whether you have a rimfire or bigger boomer, try a few different brands of factory loads. If you're a handloader then work up a few loads based on published data and give them a go. Often you can squeak a tighter group with a little load adjustment.
Ensure you begin each range session with a clean rifle. I know some of us prefer to 'dirty' the barrel before taking note of where shots fall but initially your firearm should be in immaculate, field-ready condition. Take the time to give it the 'once over' before settling down behind the butt.
Chatting to fellow shooters at the range or hunting club meetings is also an excellent way to develop loads or choose factory rounds that may suit your favourite powder burner. Research a little by reading loading manuals or relevant articles in magazines relating to your chosen calibre and firearm.
Many shooters are happy to sight in with two- or three-shot groups. Frankly, I find them a waste of time. Until you get a good handle on how your rifle is behaving, fire five-shot groups initially and go from there. It's a simple matter of statistics; more shots give a greater range of error and will provide a truer indication of the 'average' point of impact.
Before heading into the bush or the competition range, go through all these steps again. Check that mounts are secure; confirm with a collimator or by bore sighting that the reticles have not moved off centre.
Ensure that you have the loads that best feed your firearm and have a final session to instil the confidence that whether in the bush or on the range you have the rifle for the job.
These days I do a hell of a lot of fly-fishing and choosing a fly I have confidence in makes me fish harder. Hunting is no different - whether with a firearm or bow. Sight your gear in well, not half-heartedly, and you'll hunt all the better for it. Our success and responsibility to the game we stalk demands no less.