When it comes to deer hunting, there may be nothing worse than punching paper — sighting in a rifle to make sure when opportunity meets preparation that nothing goes wrong.
Truth be told, there is a lot more pressure in sighting in a rifle than there is shooting in the field. It is more of a mental game than the reaction shooting that typically takes place when a shooter buck or a doe walk into a clearing. Because of that, shooting at paper targets can be a pain in the arm or possibly above the eye if all doesn’t go well.
For that reason, it is understandable that some hunters hire out the job of sighting in their rifle, but those who do should fire at least a couple of rounds through their gun before hunting. The reason is something called parallax.
“The cheaper the scope the more parallax it has,” said David Davis, deer hunting guide and long-distance shooter from Brownwood. “Even an expensive scope without an adjustment has it, but like a Leupold is generally parallax free out to 150 yards.”
Parallax is one of those things hard to describe but easy to see. Davis said the best way to understand it is to set a rifle on a solid rest with the crosshairs on a target down range. Then, without touching the rifle or scope, move your head up and down and from side to side and notice how it appears that the scope is no longer on the target even though the rifle has not been moved.
Although not normally a problem for deer hunters shooting at short distances, it can become an issue if the shooter does not have his head at the same spot as whoever sighted in the rifle.
Or, as Davis noted, if the shooter’s head doesn’t return to the same spot shot after shot, the rifle could shoot differently. He said this is normally more of an issue for sensitive long-range rifles than it is for off-the-shelf guns.
“If you sight your gun in and hand it to me, I am going to kill a deer at 150 yards,” he noted.
There are some tricks to sighting in rifles efficiently and cost effectively. It starts in the store and the adage to buy all the scope you can afford.
“If you spend more on the scope than on the gun, then you are way ahead,” Davis said.
The next thing to remember is that if a rifle is bore sighted it really isn’t sighted in. Despite the fact some of the more laser equipment is better than what was around 30 years ago, a bore-sighted rifle is only guaranteed to shoot downrange.
Davis’ recommendation for new rifles at this point is to go to a range and start at 25 yards, dialing in the left and right and up and down settings. Then move to 100 yards and slowly dial in the rifle tighter.
“The kiss of death is getting the barrel hot. You want to wait three to five minutes between shots and give it time to cool down. Make it mad and it is not going to work for you,” he said.
Here is where the big debate begins, and truthfully there may be no right answer. Some hunters zero their rifle at 100 yards, knowing it will shoot low at 200. Others, like Davis, sight in at 200 knowing it will be high at 100.
In Texas, white-tailed deer hunting distance is seldom an issue so the 100 range works. On the other hand, sighted in at 200 offers a little insurance just in case a target pops up at a longer distance than the typical blind to feeder, or if when tracking a wounded deer a long shot presents itself.
“Just remember that with a 200-yard zero, that with most cartridges you are a half-foot to a foot or two-foot drop feet between 300 and 500 yards. The drop triples itself between 300 and 400, and doubles between 400 and 500,” Davis said.
Another tip for better shooting is to keep your head down after taking the shot. Like playing golf, a lot of things can go wrong by rising up to see where the shot has gone. Davis said he wants all of his hunters to continually look through the scope so they will know if and where the bullet hit.
Rifles should be sighted in with the ammo that is going to be used in the field. Sometimes a hunter is going to have to shop around to find the brand and load that works best in their gun.
Davis said if hunters find a box of ammo that shoots particularly well through their gun, they should go back to the store they bought it from and buy additional boxes with the same lot number. The lot number is found on the box and is used by the manufacturer for its records on the heritage of a run of ammo. Trying to match the lot number going to other stores is nearly impossible.
And then comes the question of what to do if on the road and realizing you left your bullets at home or used your last one. Replacing a box of ammo with the same brand, weight and bullet type is optimal, but not always possible.
In this case, at least match the grain weight and bullet type to approximate what you were shooting. Davis said by matching as much as possible the rifle should still be in the ballpark as far as being sighted in, if not necessarily perfect.
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