How Accurate Do You Have to Be?
By Dr. Ken Nordberg
Big game hunting is one of your most cherished pastimes. You’ve become an expert shot at the shooting range, one-inch accuracy at 100 yards your constant goal. Why? Because you’ve learned to greatly respect the animals you hunt. The big ones are challenging to hunt, smart, extra wary and extra cautious. It’s difficult to get close enough to them to make one-shot, humane kills. You do your best to avoid merely wounding them, make them difficult to recover, make them suffer unnecessarily or become dangerous because of poor shooting on your part. Out west and in mountainous areas you spot them great distances away and use intervening terrain to keep hidden until you’ve crawled undetected into accurate shooting range. In forest regions you stand hunt at sites frequented by big whitetails or black bears, waiting patiently for unsuspecting quarries (slowly moving or standing) to approach within easy shooting range.
Suddenly it’s time to take aim. At that moment, however, adrenalin and blood sugar begin surging through your blood vessels to all parts of your body. While aiming at paper targets, you were never excited but now you are. That unsuspecting ram down there or that bull, buck or bear is big, the kind you’ve been dreaming of meeting for a long time. But now you’ve lost the calm and control that made you an admired shot at the rifle range. Your arms and legs are quivering. You have no sandbag-covered rest in front of you to help steady your aim like on the bench rest at the rifle range. You realize your ability to shoot accurately is now seriously threatened. What should you do?
When I finally peeked over the crest of a shale-covered ridge at five bull caribou in the Selwyn Mountains of the Yukon Territory of Canada after inching forward on my stomach, I was plenty excited. Also physically exhausted from running upward across shale to avoid slipping downward. The largest of the bulls, lying on a patch of snow, was about 600–700 yards away but we couldn’t move nearer because three cow caribou were standing at the crest of the mountain about 200 yards above, watching my guide and I.
“Are you accurate enough to hit that bull from here?” my guide whispered.
“Maybe,” I answered, cranking my scope up to 7-power.
With my left hand supporting the forearm of my rifle (chambered for .270), the crosshairs of my scope wavered all over the bull. This was no good. I then grabbed my cowboy hat and slipped it under the forearm of my rifle, using it as a rest without my left hand touching it. I then took in a deep breath, let half of it out and was gratified to discover my aim, 36 inches high, was now rock solid. At the shot, the lung-shot bull rolled over in the snow.
During 70 years of whitetail hunting, especially since 1970, I have taken many deer, most standing or moving slowly within 50 yards. Nearly every time, I used some kind of a rest to steady my aim. My most common rest is the side of the trunk of a tree, pressing the forearm of my rifle firmly against it with my left hand while taking aim. I use a rest almost automatically while hunting whitetails because my much-preferred target on a deer is the spine in its neck, a hit that always drops deer in their tracks. I do this because (other than a brain shot which is ghastly) this is the most humane shot I know. The spine in the
neck is little more than two inches from top to bottom in size, less than half the vertical dimension of a whitetail’s heart. Hitting this small target consistently requires great field accuracy, rarely achievable when shooting off-hand without a rest and a scope. I recommend heart/lung shots to most hunters. Though less likely to drop a deer in its tracks, most fall to the ground within 10-15 seconds, making it the second best humane shot I know.
Humane shots are my first reason for stand hunting exclusively for whitetails. My second reason is, stand hunting, properly done, provides more opportunities to use a rest to take standing or slowly moving deer within 50 yards than any other hunting method.
Next month: stand hunting tactics that yield easy, humane shots at whitetails.
Dr. Nordberg is a prolific writer, having written more than 700 articles for outdoor magazines since 1980, 10 bestselling books about whitetails & improved hunting methods & 3 about how to hunt trophy-class black bears – books that changed to way whitetails & black bears are hunted in North America forever. All are based on his unique, hunting-related field studies, still ongoing, of wild deer and black bears since 1970. For complete information go to www.drnordbergondeerhunting.com.