Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Long Shot

By Rob Watson

If you are a sensitive person and are upset by reports of harm to animals, You will not want to continue reading this account of a hunting trip.

One of my favorite movies, Field of Dreams, has a line that goes something like this: "When all the cosmic tumblers fall into place, anything is possible." This essay describes just such an event.

I have always had an attraction to nice things. I also have an aversion to spending the money to acquire nice things. So, several years back I came across a very nice Browning semiautomatic rifle. Apparently the previous owner could not hit the side of a barn with it. I got it at a good price and convinced myself I knew enough about firearms to make it shoot well.

As you may know, Different types of ammunition shot to different points of impact in any one rifle. I took my new toy and several different loads to the range to see what load it might "like". The best I could do was to get all the hits inside a 5" (13cm) circle at 100 yards (91m)... not good.

A few days later, I was reading a rather old reloading manual. In the caliber of my BAR, it had a very fast load for a rather small bullet. This load was very different from the others I had tried so I made up a dozen or so. Then Off to the range. (Just so you know, the odds of finding a quality load in one effort are incredibly high against. In some rifles, one never finds an exceptional Load.)

After sighting in the load I fired a test group. It came in near an inch (2.5cm). Inspired to make a serious effort at shooting the smallest group possible, I hunkered down with sandbags, controlled breathing, slow trigger pull, and most of the other things required to make accurate shots. The result was under 1/2 inch (about 1 cm). A continued serious effort showed this to be repeatable. A beautiful rifle with extreme accuracy and my little ole pea pickin' heart went "pitter, pat, pitter pat".

About the same time I came across a unique range finding telescopic sight. Most range finders focus on a crude estimate of the distance from you to an average size deer. Bullet drop and windage are left for the shooter to guestimate. This new scope took windage and bullet drop into account when giving point of aim for the range of the shot.

The next cosmic tumbler to fall into place was a stable shooting platform that one can easily carry into the field. I encountered a salesman with an interesting device: foldable shooting sticks. They were thin aluminum tubes held together with the thinest bungy cords. Slip joints allowed the tubes to be pulled apart and folded. Releasing the tubes and shaking them caused them to snap back together in useable condition. If you are a camper with relatively new tentage, you know exactly what I mean.

Hunting Pronghorns in Wyoming presents some interesting challenges. When the population of the animals gets above a certain level, one could get an out-of-state permit for a relatively inexpensive $25. Permit in hand, finding the game is exceedingly easy. The wide open treeless terrain allows seeing the pronghorns for miles. Getting within half a mile is the real problem, because they can see you at two miles way better than you can see them. My observations cause me to expect them to start looking for an escape route when I get about 600 yards away.

My gunsmith and I received permission to hunt from a sheep rancher. "You can go down that road over there. I own both sides for about 10 miles.". The place we decided to hunt was a fenced triangle, about 2 miles (3km) on a side. Gunsmith started at one point of the long side of the triangle and I drove to the other. The plan was to walk toward the center of the area from these spots. Pronghorn will see a hunter and walk away from him if they are not cornered. (If you shoot a pronghorn that has been running, the meat will taste awful.) Presumably if they walk away from one of us, they will walk toward the other.

I had slowly strolled a good distance when I saw two animals on a hilltop a fair distance away. I also saw Gunsmith on another hilltop even further away and off to my right. I judged the shot to be very long, if I tried to make it. The air was still but a large cloud bank was rolling toward us from a few miles away. It would only be a few minutes before all hunting would be done for the day.

I set all my stuff down and sat down. With the range finder in my scope, I determined the Pronghorn to be 600 yards away. For the most part I do not favor long shots. There are to many variables and the chance to injure the animal without killing it. My rationale for hunting was considering how an animal might otherwise die... hit by car, starvation, disease, predators, a lingering death from a poorly placed bullet... or a quick death from a correctly placed shot.

I had an accurate rifle, a very good scope, a steady rest and very little time to work for something better. To myself I say "I can hit a prairie dog at 200 yards, a pronghorn at 600 should be easier." I decided to try.

I settled into my sitting position, found the animal in the scope, took careful aim, did the breathing thing and fired. After about 2 seconds the distinctive sound of a solid hit came back to me. The target took a few steps and stopped. Afraid that I had not made a killing shot, I repeated the process. Again the distinctive sound of a solid hit came back. And, this time, the pronghorn dropped to the ground.

Pronghorns are beautiful animals. For a few minutes after a kill I am rather sad, then thinking of my rationale, I move on to the really messy part of hunting. On close examination, I found the two bullet holes. Both were in the heart-lung area, 5 inches apart. Two shots, 600 yards (540m) hitting 5 inches (12 cm) apart. Not bad for a small town boy.

The real story here is to watch Gunsmith tell it. He stands with his feet spread apart and closes his hands and brings them to his eyes to simulate binoculars. Then he swings his body broadly from left to right, simulating looking at two widely separated points in the distance. As he swings repeatedly back and forth he says, with feeling, "He can't make that shot! He can't make that shot! Bang! Whap! He made that shot! Bang! Whap! Well, I'll be a ... He made that shot twice!!"

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