Getting ready for the coming varmint or shooting season is almost as much fun as the actual shooting.
It allows us to focus on stuff that is worthy of an outdoorsman's attention and give second-place rating to such mundane efforts as making a living, chores around the house, and how you're going to pay for the kid's braces. Regardless of your motivation, getting your gear ready for the coming season is the way to begin a successful shooting program.
I like to begin the process by giving my rifle a good cleaning and general inspection. Granted, I also did this at the end of last season, but it just does not hurt to go over things twice. It's during these preseason inspections that we usually have the time to make certain that the bore is completely clean of powder residue and copper particles. A stiff wire brush, your favorite bore solvent, and some elbow grease are about all you'll need if you finished off last season with a proper cleaning.
In addition to making sure that the bore is clean, it is important to make sure that the boltface and extractor are equally spotless. A touch of lubricating oil on the bolt surface and spring are also indicated.
Turning your attention to the riflestock, it's important to make sure that all of the stock screws are secure. Also, check your sling swivels to make sure they are securely fastened and free of rust and dirt. If your oil-finished stock has picked up a few minor dings and dents, these can often be taken out with a wet washcloth and a clothes iron. Don't forget to rub a little linseed oil into that stock to keep the wood from drying out too much.
One of the most important preseason checks is to pay close attention to your scope and its mounts. When was the last time you cleaned the scope's lenses? Are the ring and base screws tight?
Once you've determined that your rifle is clean and in good shape, it's really important to do some range work. Personally, I like to determine a particular ammunition brand and bullet weight for each of my rifle calibers. Then I buy a sufficient quantity of that ammo so that I will have enough to use in practice with plenty left over for the upcoming season. For example, my old Remington 700 BDL in .30-06 happens to shoot very well with Hornady's 150-grain Light Magnum ammunition. I know this because I have done a good deal of preseason practice with various brands and bullet weights.
Here's a little shortcut that will save you ammunition during your sighting-in session. Begin by sighting-in your rifle to shoot dead on at 25 yards. You will find that most of the common rifle cartridges for varmint and predator hunting will then print 11/2 to 2 inches high at 100 yards. And they will be dead on again at 200 to 300 yards. With most modern cartridges, you can simply hold dead on the game out to about 300 yards. Your bullet will hit slightly high or slightly low of the aiming point, but it will be close enough that the animal will never know the difference. Again, some preseason practice will tell you just where your favorite caliber is hitting.
An interesting twist on all of this preseason practice is the fact that gun writers are often invited on hunts with guns that we've never fired before. That is, we are told that our rifle will be waiting for us when we arrive at the hunting location. And it will already be sighted-in for you. Yeah, right!
I've managed to avoid some of the problems that have plagued other writers by simply refusing to hunt with a rifle that I have not personally examined and fired. I check the new rifle out in much the same way that I use for my regular preseason hunting preparation.
Case in point. Last November, a few weeks before this issue of Shooting Times went to press, I was invited to join Thompson/Center at the Game Trails hunting resort in northwestern Kentucky. When I arrived, I found that we would be shooting the new long-action Icon bolt guns. Mine was in .30-06 and was topped off with a splendid 3-9X Zeiss scope.
The long-action T/C Icon has a few changes from the original version. It has an integral box magazine with a traditional hinged floorplate. A round knob on the end of the bolt handle is standard, as opposed to the butter-knife bolt on the short-action Icon. Otherwise, the rifle has the innovative stock and barrel designs that have made the Icon so accurate and such an instantaneous success.
Still, getting ready to hunt with the fine Icon rifle, I checked it out thoroughly at the range. Making sure that all ring and base screws were properly tight, I next checked the scope for adequate eye relief. You just don't know true joy until you've gotten your eye too close to a scope and then touched off a .30-06 round. After you've put a bandage on your eyebrow, you'll probably never forget to check for proper eye relief again.
All things checking out on my Icon, I stuffed it full of Hornady 150-grain softpoints and checked the gun's zero. It printed 1 inch high at 100 yards and about 2 inches left. That doesn't mean that the person who claimed to have sighted-in the rifle didn't know what he was doing. What it means is that two different people can hold a rifle differently enough that such things can occur. That's why you sight-in the gun yourself just to be sure.
Gregg Ritz and his staff at Game Trails have made a commitment to producing a herd of quality whitetail deer. They manage the herd so that the buck-to-doe ratio stays pretty close. And they manage the property so that food plots and wooded habitat give the deer the maintenance and comfort they need.
I shot my 8-point buck on the second morning of the hunt. I had already looked at about 10 whitetail bucks and about 15 does. My shot was made at about 200 yards, using a shooting stick for a rest. Because I had done my pre-hunt check on this particular rifle, I knew that it would print a three-shot cloverleaf at 100 yards. That knowledge gave me the confidence I needed to take my time and place my shot on this Kentucky buck.
And that is really the most important factor about your preseason rifle checkup. Whether you are shooting a tried-and-true rifle or a brand-new one--as I was with the new long-action Icon--you know that your rifle is up to the task. Having your equipment in good shape gives you the confidence to take your time and place your shot, knowing that the bullet is going to find its mark.