This final page will focus on the most important aspect of a hunting rifle’s accuracy — that is field accuracy.
(This lake is well known to me. It’s one of many — perhaps thousands — “no name” lakes in Ontario. This is wildlife country — just about any north-eastern North American species is found here. How far across the end of this lake? If a legal bull moose appeared on the far side, could I make the shot? I’ve never ranged it, but an educated guess would tell me it’s around 300 yards.)
How much accuracy is needed in actual hunting, is 1/2 MOA essential or even MOA? The answer, of course, depends on several conditions, such as: How far away is the animal and how big? How large is its vital area? What is its presentation — broadside, quartering away or toward, facing or a back-end view only? Is a full, unobstructed view presentable in a broadside stance the only shot you’d take? What are the physical field conditions? Is it semi-open where a second or third shot could take place, or rugged terrain with thick bush? The answers to those questions in large part determine how much accuracy is required to make a clean hit in a vital area. Not only that, but the cartridge and bullet used is an essential part of the equitation as well. Placing the bullet precisely is futile if it doesn’t have what it takes on impact to finish the job. So accurate field shooting MIGHT require MOA, or better, if a vital area is to be cleanly targeted! But cleanly placing a .22-caliber LR 40gr “solid” just above and exactly halfway between the eyes of an elephant is hardly what is needed from 15 yards! The point of accuracy is moot if not enough “gun” is used!
Last evening I watched for the third time the same YouTube video of a British Columbia black bear hunt — on Vancouver Island, I believe. Some of the bears there are huge, and plenty of ’em. A couple of male hunters worked in concert to bag a trophy quality bruin. I gathered from appearances that they both were “sixty-ish”. They were well prepared with all the right equipment, binos, scopes, camo, truck, wench, range finders, etc. But most importantly, they both had rifles and loads for “whatever” conditions they might encounter, including long-range shots. As it turned out, one of those men cleanly killed a very good black bear with a single premium bullet that looked like a .338-caliber. It was a single shot through the heart at 520 yards ranged. But they had a serious challenge in using a wench on the back of their truck to retrieve that dead bruin from the ravine it dove into. T’was a very thick tangle of hardwood brush and thick trees! I could at least empathise! But the real point is: the accuracy of that load had to be at least 1/2 MOA to pull off that shot through the heart at over 500 yards! Unless, of course, it was a pure accident. But every indication was that they knew exactly what they were doing from being fully prepared for such a possible scenario.
Do we always know the physical conditions of our big game hunts? Even though we may have hired a qualified and experienced outfitter, he, or his guides, may not be able to get us closer than 300 yards to that trophy on the last hour and day of the hunt… could you make the shot? Could I? Important question, that. Could the rifle and load? A question that is equally important!
Consider these facts: a consistent MOA load from a bench-rest position may be twice to three times that under field conditions where there’s a gusty wind and less than an ideal rest for both the rifle and shooter! Under such terms, an MOA load and rifle may be no better than a 6-inch spread in the field at 300 — or even worse! Depending on the size of the animal and its vitals, rarely should such a shot be taken unless there is lots of time for locating a solid rest position and without spooking the animal. Again, such a scenario is rarely a given. On a mature bull moose size animal with a vital area of approximately 18-inches, I’d take the shot to 500 yards given the following conditions: 1) a broadside stance of the animal; 2) little to no wind; 3) a rock-solid rest for rifle and all body parts involved; 4) a known load at distance: it’s external ballistics to impact. If we make that a WT deer or black bear under the same terms, I see no problem with taking the shot by a careful and practised hunter. But lacking any of the above terms, I’d not take the shot and would discourage any other hunter from the same.
As we all should know by now, misses are made on big game animals at 25 yards as well as 500! But what of those that are not clean misses but should have been for the sake of the animals that have ended up as cripples, or meat for coyotes, wolves, bears, hyenas, leopards and lions! If we hunt long enough and in enough places for a variety of game animals, it’s bound to happen to anyone with more than a few years under their belt. But it should serve, nonetheless, as a wake-up call! We should NEVER merely dismiss such an occurrence as “NOT MY FAULT” or just “ONE OF THOSE THINGS” that happens to hunters! We need to reflect on what happened and why, while being honest about it even if that hurts. Rarely do we learn life’s important lessons “unless it hurts” to some extent. I’ve made a few misses over the years, some not my fault, honestly, but some were! Being too impatient in squeezing the trigger has been the number one cause of personal grief for myself. Then, on the other hand, the timing of the shot can be critical if the window of opportunity is fast closing! That happened to me last year in placing a perfect shot through the heart of my black bear. It could be stated as a principle: Waiting for and understanding the right moment essential to the successful completion of cleanly taking a big game animal isn’t wasted time. That also isn’t a waste of the rifle’s accuracy under whatever the physical conditions might be.
Every hunter needs to know his/her limitations, not only as to distance but state of mind as well. At a certain stage of life and experiences, a 400 to 500 yard shot on a big game animal may seem “normal”. At an earlier stage with less experience, or a later stage when eyesight is not as sharp and legs begin to feel weaker under a long walk or tough climb; and arms begin to tremble in trying to hold steady a rifle that seemed in days past a “lightweight” — the resounding message is: GET CLOSER!
In bygone days I’ve taken pokes at groundhogs beyond 300 yards with rifles and loads suited to the chore. Rests were often quickly improvised if in a new area or moving to a new field. Sometimes it took a few shots to get the range. We didn’t have rangefinders back then, and often a partner would call the shots. But those were woodchucks, not deer, bear or moose! Some misses have greater value than others — however you want to define that.
Over the past few years I’ve learned something of value about myself: There is some short-term memory loss that happens to everyone as they age, but the power to analyse and sort through data and problems is still there. One lesson from that is the KISS principle: Keep it simple, stupid! Don’t let life become so cluttered with unimportant stuff that you can no longer deal with what really matters!
About gunny stuff: Experienced hunters and shooters with years, places and variety of game under their belts have little “need” for cartridges like the .338 Lapua Magnum. That’s not to say they’re not interested or curious, just that they “have no need”. They have by age 65 to 70 sorted these matters out! By then, they know what they like, need and why. Even though it may be painful to some, bit by bit all the others are sold, traded or gotten rid of one way or another. I’m eighty, plus six months. I’ve gone through all that and really have no regrets. Soon, I’ll be writing my thoughts on five rifles (cartridges really) that I believe should be in every serious hunter’s locker. Or their equivalents. NO duplication… but some slight overlapping.Yes… ONLY five! Not three, or two or twenty-seven, but five for world-wide hunting, or Canadian hunting, or New Zealand hunting, or USA hunting!
And this isn’t one of ’em!
That’s it… tune in!