Are Your Rifle and Equipment Ready for the Hunt?
If you have been around the hunting game for very long, you have probably heard many horror stories about how equipment has failed at the worst possible time. Some lazy hunters simply invite problems due to not going over their equipment checklist prior to the hunt, while others have everything in tiptop shape—only to have bad luck on their hunt.
It is certainly a prerequisite to do everything possible to ensure your hunting success prior to departure. You owe that much not only to yourself, but also to the critters you are going after. Checking your rifle and scope before going on that big hunt should not be taken lightly. It can literally mean the difference between success and failure.
Every hunter should have a pre-hunt checklist to ensure that he/she is on top of his/her game, especially at the start of a new season.
Here’s my pre-hunt checklist:
1. READY THE RIFLE
Your first check of the rifle will be the action guard screws. These screws need to be tight to retain the rifle’s zero and prevent stringing shots. Refer to the rifle’s manufacturer to determine if the screws need to be torqued to any specific number, or if a particular screw needs only to be snug. If you are not sure of the suggested tightness of the guard screws, consult a gunsmith.
If you have not cleaned your gun since the previous hunting season, get it done before leaving. Rifles that have had their bores neglected due to not cleaning them could give up some accuracy. After cleaning the bore of copper and powder fouling, make sure there is no oily residue left in the barrel.
To make sure your barrel is going to give its best accuracy, fire a couple of fouling shots before sighting-in. This clears out any leftover oil and seasons the bore for the remaining shots. Unless you fire more than 20 rounds sighting-in the rifle or hunt in wet or humid conditions, do not clean the bore again until after the hunt.
2. INSPECT THE SCOPE MOUNTS
Even if the scope has been professionally mounted and bore-sighted and has been fine for many years, you still need to check the scope ring and base mounts for tightness. I have seen more animals missed and/or wounded due to loose or even broken mount screws than by any other scope-related problem. As with the action guard screws, tighten only to the amount recommended by the mount manufacturer.
If you discover any problems regarding the scope mounts or the rifle’s action screws, take it to a reliable/competent gunsmith for repairs or adjustments. Unless serious repairs are needed, you should be back up and shooting in a timely manner. However, if you wait to take your rifle in for repair the day before the season opens, it will be too late.
3. CHECK THE SCOPE’S ZERO
After you’ve made sure the rifle and scope are field ready, it’s time to check zero on the scope. While this sounds routine, I have had hunters tell me over and over how their rifle has always been zeroed, and there is no need to check it. These same remarks have also been uttered by hunters who have just missed an easy shot.
One comment I’ve often heard in the field is, “The guy at the sporting goods store bore-sighted the rifle when I bought it. Isn’t that good enough?”
Perhaps hunters are just too busy at work these days or don’t really understand how to properly zero a scope. Either way, this attitude is a recipe for a failed hunt.
Another remark I hear at the firing range is, “I’m sighting in my rifle with this cheap ammo first, but I will use this expensive ammo while hunting.”
The last fellow that made that comment was also looking for trouble. Be sure to use the exact same brand, bullet type and bullet weight for sighting-in that you plan to use on the hunt. Different ammo will not always shoot to the same impact point.
Once you have found ammunition that meets your accuracy requirement off the shooting bench, get off that shooting bench and practice shooting the same way you shoot in the field. Whether you shoot off-hand, with shooting sticks or with a bipod, you must simulate actual field shooting conditions in order to be successful on the hunt. Simulating actual hunting scenarios will also serve to make you aware of the ranges at which you are proficient enough to place a shot in the vitals of the game animal.
In one of my favorite movies, the star states to a subordinate, “A man’s /got/ to know his limitations.” This is also true for hunters. If you can successfully keep all your shots on a pie-plate-sized target at several hundred yards, then good for you. However, if you can’t, either spend more time at the range or limit the distance of your shots for a humane, one-shot kill.
4. SIGHT-IN TARGETS
While there is nothing wrong with bull’s-eye targets for practice or sight-in, realistic-looking animal targets (like the Caldwell Natural series) are really worth using for practice. Just like handgun shooters look for an “X” ring to aim at on a target, rifle shooters tend to shoot at multi-colored bull’s-eye targets. Life-size game targets don’t have an X or 10 rings either and make field shooting practice much different.
5. ADDED INSURANCE
In addition to their rifle and scope, hunters today tend to carry a multitude of extras on every hunt. For instance, many hunters would not think of going on any big-game hunt without a laser rangefinder. Even GPS units are simple enough now for older shooters to use and are a good item to have along when hunting in unfamiliar territory. Make sure its batteries are fresh or replaced.
The last thing hunters ever think about on a hunt is safety gear. Safety gear includes the obvious first-aid kit or medical supplies, as well as the kind of items you’ll need if/when the weather goes bad. Extra clothing, rain gear and articles that provide protection from the elements are a necessity if you get caught away from your camp or shelter.
During the 2012 SHOT Show, I was shown three new products that are now included in my backpack whenever I hunt. These all pertain to either starting or maintaining a fire. Whether or not you are lost in the mountains, a warming fire can feel good on a cold day (where allowed). And it goes without saying that if you are stuck in the mountains for the night, a fire can be a real lifesaver.
These new additions are UCO Stormproof Matches, which are windproof and waterproof; a FireSteel 2.0 fire starter, which will start a fire in any weather; and a Utility Flame Ultimate Fire Solution, which not only provides a welcome heat source but can also boil water and make coffee. All of these items weigh only a few ounces and take up very little space.
Sometimes, unforeseen things can—and do—go wrong in the field. More than one hunter has had a critter in the sights of a gun that wouldn’t fire or a scope filled with fog. Doing our best to ensure that mishaps don’t happen is good insurance. While it is impossible to predict equipment failures, taking time to make sure all your hunting gear is ready to go must be on every hunter’s pre-hunt checklist.