A new deer season is approaching faster than a 7mm Magnum bullet flying down the back sendero. Well, it seems that way. But, turn around twice while trying to climb into the nearest tower blind or tree stand, and the opening day of the 2012/13 general rifle season will be here.
And, on the subject of "general rifles," many beginners will be toting new rifles into the field. Thats great; most over-the-counter rifles in the popular deer calibers are excellent performers.
Im referring primarily to bolt rifles, the overwhelming choice among Texas buckslayers.
The typical center-fire bolt-action rifle from a reputable manufacturer probably can shoot tighter than the average shooter can hold it. But, as fine as todays deer rifles are, the savvy hunter can upgrade performance with three simple steps:
TUNE THE TRIGGER - Proper trigger pull is a major element of accurate shooting. Conversely, regardless of the inherent qualities of the barrel and action, a lousy trigger conspires to be buck-misser.
The let-off should be crisp and clean, with no creep or slack. Its been said that the pull on a good trigger breaks like the snapping of a glass rod---and thats as good a description as you ever need to know. A spongy trigger is dreadful and, regardless of pull, you never will do your best work with one.
Many current bolt rifles offer externally adjustable triggers. A properly sized screwdriver can take up the slack and set the pull. You dont want too heavy; you dont want too light (a hand-held digital scale is needed to test the pull).
A pull of about three-and-a-half to four pounds is a good compromise for a deer rifle in average hands.
A pre-set trigger of six to eight pounds (often done by the factory to discourage "accidental" discharge) is too heavy for the serious and conscientious hunter. You really have to work to make the thing fire---and anxious and prolonged effort can lead to a bad flinch.
Conversely, a two-pound trigger is too light; this is not a target rifle and you dont want a premature discharge in excited hands.
Even with an adjustable trigger, if youre not comfortable with whats going on, take the rifle to a qualified gunsmith. A "trigger job" is an inexpensive fix that can make a big difference in shooting ability.
ADD A RECOIL PAD - The felt "kick" from a center-fire rifle definitely can undermine accuracy. Some calibers, of course, are worse than others but most of the popular deer cartridges will give you a bit of a pop. Any center-fire caliber with "Magnum" affixed to it is a potential eye-crosser.
Felt recoil is most pronounced when sighting-in from a bench rest at a rifle range; you are aiming at a routine piece of paper and snugged into the stock, with nowhere to go, and you are keenly aware that your shoulder is about to get punched. The fact that the guy seated next to you is shooting a grass-withering, ground-shaking African boomer only adds to the "flinch-itis."
All things being equal, a heavy rifle is more pleasant to shoot than a light one. The added mass of an eight- or 9-pound rig helps absorb the kick. And the deer hunter spends most of the time sitting and waiting. Chances are, the rifle is either propped in the corner of a box blind or braced against the seat and rim of a tripod. Or maybe its secure in a padded holder while "high racking" on ranch roads.
Weight simply is not an issue (as it might be for the hunter on foot in the high country). Id say the heavier the better with any caliber that makes a loud "Bang!" Also worth note, the heavy rifle is easier to hold steady.
But, regardless of rifle weight, a good and relatively inexpensive way to tame kick is to add one of the recoil-displacing butt pads (the Pachmayr Decelerator is a fine example). Some can be slipped on, others are custom-fitted by a gunsmith. They look good, unobtrusive, and are claimed to reduce 20 to 30 percent of the felt recoil.
How this space-age material can do this, I cant say, but the proper pad will make a noticeable difference, more of a push than a sharp pop.
As a final observation, take comfort in the truth that recoil is utterly meaningless during the excitement of shooting at real game. I say this with complete confidence, all the way up to a .416 Remington Magnum detonated into the chest of a Cape buffalo at 29 paces. I was staggered (by the 10-pound gun not the bull) but never felt a thing.
USE PREMIUM BULLETS - Excellent high-quality cartridges are available over-the-counter, and the
"good stuff" can tighten 100-yard bench groups by an inch or more.
Premium cartridges with custom bullets are significantly more expense than bulk factory loads, but the extra money is well-spent. This especially is true if you balance the cost (say, $40 or $50 per 20-round box) against the sum of a season.
And you can hedge the expense by using bulk loads for rough "on paper" sighting-in or casual practice; once the rifle is about where your want it, switch to the premium loads for fine-tuning.
A few minor adjustments might be necessary, but you should have a nice tight group within a handful of premium cartridges. Most deer hunters prefer a three-shot group about one to two inches at 100 yards; this allows "hold on" capability to about 250 yards with most popular calibers.
If youre really serious about this, invest in at least two different premium choices. The rifle might favor one cartridge/bullet combo over another. Maybe---maybe not. Worst case, youve got extra cartridges for future use. Better too many than not enough.
These three simple steps can make a difference on opening day. Oh, yes---heres one more:
UPGRADE YOUR OPTICS - A fine new rifle is a joy to own but dont cut corners with cheap glass. Most rifle scopes look more-or-less the same, but they most assuredly are not.
You get what you pay for in the real world of jarring recoil and accidental bumps. Not to mention humid heat, bitter cold, and nagging drizzle. Also worth note, many chances at deer occur under conditions of poor visibility, such as early and late in the day or back in the shadows of cover.
The quality scope gathers light, enlarges image, and sifts through the confusion. And, unless you back the truck over the rig or drop it from a tower stand, it will provide years of reliable service.
Remember this: A rifle, regardless of pedigree, shoots only as well as the optics you aim it through. An "el cheapo" scope is a waste of money; do it right, or at least as right as you can reasonably afford, the first time.