11 Gun and Shooting Tips

Shooting the Breeze

With big clearcuts, long powerline right-of-ways, wide agricultural fields and many hunters hunting from elevated stands, long shots at whitetails are common. Hunters need to understand trajectory and wind drift to score at long range. Wind can significantly drift a bullet. A 20 mph crosswind will move a 140-grain bullet at 2,800 fps 1 1/3 inches at 100 yards, 5 1/2 inches at 200 and over a foot at 300 yards. Many reloading manuals provide precise wind drift charts. However, we seldom have a way to precisely measure wind velocity between our stand and the buck on the back edge of a clear-cut. However, we should review the charts and roughly estimate the wind to make an educated "Kentucky windage" guess. Heavier bullets at higher velocities are affected less by the wind. This makes a fair case for certain magnum cartridges for long-range shooting. However, all bullets drift in the wind, even the magnums, and the smart shooter should take it into account.

Handgun Hunting

Today, handgun hunting for big game, and for white-tailed deer in particular, is a true sport. Some while back it was more of a stunt. Most traditional handgun cartridges simply were not powerful enough to reliably take a deer except at very short range. The .44 magnum changed that, and now with the .41 magnum, .454 Casull and other powerful handgun cartridges, shots out to 100 yards are not unreasonable. Stretching handgun hunting ranges even farther are the handguns that use bottle-necked rifle cartridges. When chambered for the .243, 6mm, 7-30 Waters, 7mm-08, .30-30, .35 and others, handguns don't give up very much to rifles chambered for the same rounds. However, these highly specialized handguns are usually single-shot, long-barreled and scope-sighted to take advantage of the additional power. Because they have no buttstock, handguns are more difficult to shoot accurately under field conditions than rifles. Considerable practice in field-shooting positions is required to make a prospective handgun hunter proficient.

Don't Choke Up

Federal waterfowl regulations require the use of non-toxic shot. For most of us that means the soft-iron shot commonly called steel. Steel shot is different from lead. First, because steel pellets are lighter than lead, go at least one shot size larger than you used with lead. Also, since steel is harder than lead, the pellets don't deform and it shoots a tighter pattern. This means opening up the choke at least one degree. If you used "full" with lead, use "modified" with steel. In fact, some of the larger steel pellets, often used for goose shooting (sizes BBB and larger), often shoot better through an "improved cylinder" choke. Pattern your gun to be sure.

Alternatives to steel include bismuth and the new tungsten pellets. Both are ballistically better than steel, though rather expensive. Bismuth most closely resembles lead, while tungsten pellets are so hard that they require special wads. However, both perform better with less choke than old-time lead shot.

Muzzle (Loader) Blasts

Black-powder hunting with muzzleloaders is a real blast and is rapidly growing in popularity. Primitive weapons hunting also allows many hunters more time afield due to special seasons, special areas and other extra hunting opportunities. The prospective primitive-weapons hunter can choose between traditional side-hammer guns that look like they came right off the frontier or opt for the ultra-modern in-line muzzleloaders, complete with scopes, that look much like a modern bolt-action rifle. The side-hammer guns are more traditional and romantic but the in-lines are more efficient and a bit more reliable. Either way, all muzzleloaders must be cleaned thoroughly after use because both black powder and its modern substitute, Pyrodex, are corrosive. Using progressive burning smokeless powder in a muzzleloader is very dangerous. Never use anything but true black powder or Pyrodex in a muzzleloader. Also check local primitive weapons regulations for special season dates, minimum calibers allowed for deer hunting, plus projectile and sight restrictions. Some areas prohibit certain types of bullets and telescopic sights on primitive weapons hunts or special areas.
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