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SEPTEMBER column--Sighting-In #14102273 09/05/19
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VARIATIONS ON SIGHTING-IN

From what can be gleaned from the Campfire, most members sight-in their hunting rifles by putting up a paper target100 yards from a benchrest, then shooting the rifle and adjusting the scope until the rifle puts groups where they want them to go. However, there are plenty of variations, and over the decades I've seen quite a few, due to visiting a lot of ranges and hunting camps.

Among the most frustrating showed up one morning at a friend's 100-yard range, where I have permission to shoot anytime. (Well, unless he's just gotten a new bird puppy and wants to be sure it's properly accustomed to the sound of gunfire.) However, a few years ago another of his friends told a few of his buddies at work that they could use the range too.

This resulted in people my friend had never seen before showing up to shoot. On one of those occasions I needed to do some shooting for an article, and arrived at the range to find a guy around 40 and his teenage son sighting-in three rifles for the upcoming big game season. After introducing ourselves, I told them to go ahead and finish up. There was plenty of evidence they'd already been shooting a while, so I figured it wouldn't take long. Boy, was I wrong....

It turned out the father's method of sighting-in was to fire one shot, take a look through his spotting scope at where it landed, then adjust the riflescope and fire another shot. He kept doing this, switching rifles now and then as the barrels got hot. Eventually I realized the point was to have one bullet land on the 1/4-inch dots in the center of the bullseyes of the targets they'd taped to a cardboard box.

Now, they were using "affordable" factory ammo and scopes, and while both can be capable of good accuracy, scopes retailing for under $100 aren't known for super-consistent clicks. Plus, from the looks of things, they didn't shoot much either, so hitting the magic dot often required more than a box of ammo.

Eventually they got done, picked up their rifles and a PILE of empty ammo boxes and brass, and left. I went to put up a couple of targets for my shooting, discovering they'd placed their cardboard box right in front of one of the steel fenceposts on my friend's boundary fence. The post was shot in two, along with a couple strands of wire.

I have also seen many interesting ways of resting a rifle on a bench. Several have involved the shooter placing the barrel of his rifle on the front rest. On one of these occasions the front rest was a loose stack of scrap 2x4's, though the pair of shooters did have enough sense to place their target (another cardboard box) only 25 yards away. Their groups looked like buckshot patterns.

Another was a Pennsylvanian who, like me, had traveled to Alabama to hunt whitetails at White Oak Plantation near Muskegee. He was attempting to check the zero on his lever-action Marlin .30-30, which had a pretty big variable in see-through mounts.. He did use the range's sandbag rests, but placed the barrel of the Marlin on the front bag, maybe four inches behind the muzzle. After watching him for a while, and noting the piles of empty ammo boxes and brass, I decided to go back to the lodge until he got zeroed--or ran out of ammo.

At least the White Oak bench set-up was pretty good. I have run into some really strange arrangements on various hunts around the world, perhaps the worst a card table too tall for the kitchen chair behind it. However, there was also a Lead Sled on top of the table. The sled was too high to sit behind, and too low to stand behind, so most shooters knelt one knee on the chair. I eventually decided to bypass the sled entirely, sitting down and resting the rifle's forend (not the barrel) over my folded-up soft rifle case.
[Linked Image]

I also have a good friend who actually knows how to use a rest, but does not believe in shooting groups on paper. He's not really interested in consistent accuracy, but in cranking out LOTS of ammo on progressive presses.

I also suspect he doesn't own a chronograph--or if he does, it's buried in some dark corner of his garage--but do know that instead of looking up handloads in manuals, he tends to call me for suggestions about cartridges he' s never loaded for. He usually calls his human loading manual at least once a year, because he buys and sells a lot of rifles.

Like many long-time handloaders, he keeps adding powder until the rifle shows signs of distress, then reduces the charge a little. I've never actually see him work up a load, and don't particularly care to, but during the process he apparently shoots at dirt clods and rocks, and his rifle ends up sighted-in for hunting.

This actually works pretty well, even on small animals like prairie dogs, because unlike the father-son duo my friend buys very good rifles and scopes. With good equipment, some handloads are bound to shoot well enough to hit at least some prairie dogs out to 300 yards, about as far as most people can hit them consistently in typical prairie winds. And of course big game is by definition big, and super-fine accuracy doesn't matter all that much when shooting out to 300-400 yards, despite what many hunters believe these days.

[Linked Image]

As evidence of how well his method works, he points out his full freezers and the hundreds of burrowing rodents he slays each year. (Of course, he doesn't keep track of rodent hits and misses, though does use a clicker to keep track of his total hits for the day.) Sometimes he does "refine" the sight-in on a prairie dog town, which I've done myself on a number of occasions.

However, over the years I have noticed that rodent rifles sighted-in while shooting at rodents often aren't exactly zeroed when later bench-tested on paper. This is because almost all shots at Western burrowing rodents involve some wind, often far more than persnickety paper-shooters tolerate when sighting-in on an actual range. As a result, field-zeroed rifles often end up an inch or so off at 100 yards, since the shooter kept tweaking the scope until it worked in that particular wind.

[Linked Image]
Sometimes prairie dog rifles zeroed in the field end up being off an inch or more when rested on a paper target in calm conditions.

My friend tends to poke fun at people who actually shoot groups, whether in paper or on painted gongs. This obviously includes me, whereupon I point out that most magazine editors and readers would not be satisfied with an article listing "shoots flat" and "hits rocks most of the time" rather than actual velocity and accuracy data.

Of course, when working up rodent loads I experiment quite a bit to find the finest accuracy, checking each test round for bullet concentricity, and tweaking both powder charges and bullet-seating depths. After that, I often test several primers, to see if one particular brand results in measurably smaller groups, in the process often shooting 10-shot groups, to see if they keep making holes in the same basic place after the barrel gets hot.

I did this most recently with a brand-new bullet in my 6XC, a rifle put together in 2017 by gunsmith Charlie Sisk. He screwed a #7 contour, 1-8 twist Lilja barrel into one of a few "700 footprint" bolt-action he made a few years ago, then bolted the barreled action an adjustable Sisk Tactical Adaptive Rifle (STAR) stock.

I mostly shoot prairie dogs at ranges under 350 yards, because the landowners who grant permission want as many prairie dogs killed as possible--but sometimes stretch the range considerably, especially when wind conditions cooperate. For longer ranges really high-BC bullets work far better than the typical prairie dog outfit, a .204, .222 or .223 loaded with relatively light plastic-tipped bullets.

For this longer-range work I've used rifles chambered in various cartridges over the decades, from a fast-twist .223 WSSM to a custom 6.5-06 with a medium-heavy barrel. The 6XC is the latest, and so far I've liked it the most, partly because with a typical "dialing" scope it weighs around 13 pounds, which dampens recoil sufficiently to spot long-range hits and misses even through a high-magnification scope.

Recently I was assigned to test some new super high-BC bullets, among a 110-grain 6mm. I already knew what powders the 6XC liked with bullets in that weight range, and the best load ended up consistently grouping five shots (not just three) well under half an inch at 100 yards.

Along with accuracy, I also needed to test the factory-listed ballistic coefficient as much as possible. To determine the G7 BC, the company had clocked rounds with Doppler radar ay out there, but I would not be much of a journalist if I didn't do some longer-range shooting and see how the trajectory worked out using their number. So I loaded up a bunch of ammo and headed to the local 1000-yard range. However, instead of shooting the 6-inch gongs scattered across the range, I decided to be more precise.

Small chunks of limestone are common in the range's earthen berms, which come from the local bedrock. (In fact the range sits on the slightly sloping plain at the foot of the local mountains, close to a factory which dynamite-blasts limestone cliffs and grinds the rock into powder.) The pale-gray limestone chunks show up easily against the dirt berms. I'd already calculated how many elevation-clicks were required for various ranges out to 600 yards, and the numbers indicated that at any range beyond 500 the bullet would under-shoot small rocks if the BC wasn't quite as high as advertised.

I peered through my spotting scope to find appropriate rocks, around two inches in diameter, then started dialing and shooting. (The scope had previously been tested in several ways, and its 1/4 MOA clicks had proven very accurate and consistent.) Luckily, a thunderstorm had just blown through, and the rain had not only darkened the dirt on the berms, allowing any limestone to show up better, but the air was as close to dead-calm as it ever gets around here. This meant the BC-check would be about the bullet, not my wind-compensation.

I started at around 250 yards, and kept working out to longer ranges, checking through a spotting scope to find just the right rocks. On my final, longest shot the rock went flying through the air--in two pieces. Obviously the listed BC was accurate enough, but just as obviously I'd sighted-in on rocks, and it worked!

[Linked Image]


“Montana seems to me to be what a small boy would think Texas is like from hearing Texans.”
John Steinbeck
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Re: SEPTEMBER column--Sighting-In [Re: Mule Deer] #14102621 09/05/19
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Originally Posted by Mule Deer
...

I also have a good friend who actually knows how to use a rest, but does not believe in shooting groups on paper. He's not really interested in consistent accuracy, but in cranking out LOTS of ammo on progressive presses.

I also suspect he doesn't own a chronograph--or if he does, it's buried in some dark corner of his garage--but do know that instead of looking up handloads in manuals, he tends to call me for suggestions about cartridges he' s never loaded for. He usually calls his human loading manual at least once a year, because he buys and sells a lot of rifles.

Like many long-time handloaders, he keeps adding powder until the rifle shows signs of distress, then reduces the charge a little. I've never actually see him work up a load, and don't particularly care to, but during the process he apparently shoots at dirt clods and rocks, and his rifle ends up sighted-in for hunting.

This actually works pretty well, even on small animals like prairie dogs, because unlike the father-son duo my friend buys very good rifles and scopes.
...



Calling Captain Kirk ...


"In the real world, think of the 6.5 Creedmoor as the modernized/standardized/optimized version of the 6.5x55/.260." John Barsness 2019
Re: SEPTEMBER column--Sighting-In [Re: Mule Deer] #14102627 09/05/19
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Mule Deer, I am near Tuskegee and White Oak Plantation. That is a good area for Deer Hunting. Thanks for the column.

Re: SEPTEMBER column--Sighting-In [Re: Mule Deer] #14102671 09/05/19
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Well I learn something new every time I read one of our MuleDeers articles.

While I will usually just hunker down into a squat, and blaze away at a mark on a box placed a paced off 100 meters or so away.
I’ll have to try taping up a target or two.

Some folks use benches , and target rests ! Do they schlep all this paraphernalia when out hunting ?
No wonder they need a 1 ton hunting rig.

I do appreciate the luxury of practicing the sit ( with sling ) , perched on top of a shooting bench at the range. I might even sit on a gardeners kneeling pad if the bench top is splintery.

Count me amongst those who believes in tuning the zero whilst whacking rodents.
I can always blame my spotter when it’s off next time.

Re: SEPTEMBER column--Sighting-In [Re: Mule Deer] #14103161 09/05/19
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I have a portable bench I use and a portable target I use at the deer lease. If it’s a new scope-rifle set up, I use a lead sled to get on center and an inch and a half high. I then use sand bags to double check shooting on the sled. Year to year with the same scope on the rifle, I use bags to make sure it’s still on.
It seems my rifles stay on since I went to Talley bases and rings. I had always used the Leupold windage adjustable bases. No more.

I don’t like gun ranges anymore, too noisy, too many people!

Alpha

Re: SEPTEMBER column--Sighting-In [Re: hanco] #14103389 09/05/19
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When I was working at the gun store/range a customer purchased a Barrett M 82 and the most expensive Leupold Mil scope and some cheapo rings. When the set up arrived the customer requested that we sight in the rifle at 1k yards so he could go shooting. The sales guy, who was pretty sharp, tried to explain how it really worked, the customer got pissed and called his old friend, the owner and raised hell. The owner, who was dumber than the customer, called me and said fix "fix his [bleep] rifle"

I bore sighted the rifle on the bustop across the road @ 50 yards. Got some dope from a ballistic calculator and printed it out along with the website for Rifle Only and made another customer who would bitch eternally about dumbasses in gunstores.


mike r


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Stab them in the taint, you can't put a tourniquet on that.
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Re: SEPTEMBER column--Sighting-In [Re: Mule Deer] #14103788 09/05/19
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Quote
From what can be gleaned from the Campfire, most members sight-in their hunting rifles by putting up a paper target 100 yards from a benchrest, then shooting the rifle and adjusting the scope until the rifle puts groups where they want them to go. However, there are plenty of variations, and over the decades I've seen quite a few, due to visiting a lot of ranges and hunting camps.


FWIW I'll usually sight in at 100 metres (ranges here are generally denominated in metres rather than yards) , but with a hunting rifle while I use a rest I am actually holding the rifle in my hands, weak hand holding the fore-end. I might do this over a benchrest or over some other rest, such as my daypack.. Holding the rifle like this is how I'll take the longer/more critical shots, so I want the POI to reflect that hold, rather than, say, sitting the rifle directly on the benchrest, and perhaps letting it recoil freely.

With a new rifle or new scope I will typically start at 50 m after boresighting. With a new rifle or load I also like to see how it goes at longer distances than 100 too, but once I have that sorted then confirmation of zero is usually just at 100.

I like to check zero before each trip. Part of this is confirming everything's lined up, part of it is having a couple of foulers down the bore before the shots that are to count, and part of it is just practice. I don't begrudge the few rounds it takes, and if I'm going to go bush for a few days I like to be confident that the rifle's on the button. Even just up on the family farm I'd check zero if I haven't shot that rifle for a while.

I've been on a few hunts with guides, and it has been my experience that they like to see you zero - more to see how close they are going to have to get you than anything else I suspect. They always seem to be relieved to see that a bloke can put them all into a nice tight cluster from whatever improvised rest they give you.

Re: SEPTEMBER column--Sighting-In [Re: Mule Deer] #14120735 09/12/19
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Good write-up.It does have a few colloquial names,but that's the first time I've heard it called "Muskegee"...

Re: SEPTEMBER column--Sighting-In [Re: Mule Deer] #14133965 09/17/19
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I don't like public ranges either. Too many unsafe idiots.
Thankfully a friend has a 600 yard range with a bench at his farm here in SW Missouri. When I travel out west to hunt I find a nice big flat rock face and shoot out to 600 yards while recording the impacts through my spotting scope with my smart phone and an eye piece adapter. Works like a champ and saves a lot of walking.


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Re: SEPTEMBER column--Sighting-In [Re: Mule Deer] #14150589 09/24/19
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Best part of the article is the picture of the 788

RJ


When you go afield take the kids. . . . . . . . and please, wear your seatbelts.
Alder, Montana Native. . Transplanted to Craig, Colorado.
Bravo

Re: SEPTEMBER column--Sighting-In [Re: Mule Deer] #14150635 09/24/19
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I built this tailgate bench for my Z-71. I find it easier and faster to set up than my bench rest and it works OK. The extra length gives room for a free standing Magnetospeed chrono.

1/2" plywood is light enough, yet strong and stiff enough with 2x2 bracing. The extension is to get out of the way of the tailgate cable.

So, my range is where I park the truck...

DF

[Linked Image from i.imgur.com]

[Linked Image from i.imgur.com]

Re: SEPTEMBER column--Sighting-In [Re: Mule Deer] #14222244 10/22/19
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John,

I read your article on sighting in, and just the subject--and some of the types of stories--took me a step back in time...

I can recall just starting the learning curve of scope sighted center fires in the early 1970's.

Back then, Weaver scopes came in yellow boxes, and I recall one of them having an insert inside titled:

"No One Else Can Sight In A Rifle For You. Here's How You Can Do It."

The article was from Outdoor Life, October 1947, by Jack O'Connor.

In the article he recommends a preliminary sight in at 25 yards, striking the point of aim. Then, to move back to 100 yards and sight in 3 inches high. I tried that a time or two back then, but wasn't satisfied.

One cold, late October night back in 1973, I walked a couple miles out to Bill Beyl's home, carrying my rifle. When I arrived, he was eating supper, and his kid was in a high chair--arrayed in his Halloween costume! Bill was ready to sight it in for me. We drove out back with his truck, and set up a target at 50 yards. It was dark, so we used the headlights of his truck to accomplish the task. He zeroed the rig in three shots. At that point Bill told me, "you want that bullet to hit one half inch high at 50 yards." This was a practice I used for the next couple decades.

It was almost exactly 20 years later that I read an article in Outdoor Life by Jim Carmichael titled:

"A Short Cut To Sighting In" dated November 1993.

In the article, he stated that in testing many rifles and different bullet weights, he came to the general conclusion (me paraphrasing), that if a person were to sight in their rifle one half inch high at 50 yards, most big bore cartridges in most bullet weights will hit within 3 inches of where you aim at 200 yards...

It caught my eye because it was essentially what Bill taught me to do 20 years earlier. They both are, and were--amazing shooters...

Thanks for the info, and bringing back some of the memories!


all learning is like a funnel:
however, contrary to popular thought, one begins with the the narrow end.
the more you progress, the more it expands into greater discovery--and the less of an audience you will have...
Re: SEPTEMBER column--Sighting-In [Re: Mule Deer] #14223183 10/23/19
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Hi Jerry,

Very interesting!

I eventually came to a similar conclusion on a caribou hunt in Quebec in the early 1990s. It was an "affordable" almost-DIY hunt, common then in Quebec: You brought your own food, and hunted and packed out game on your own, but were provided wall tends with cots, a primitive kitchen, and a "camp manager" to fix stuff, provide a little hunting advice, and use a 2-way radio for emergencies.

We'd already seen from the air as the plane approached that the camp was surrounded by caribou, and when it pulled up to the shore the camp manager (a French-Canadian named, of course, Pierre) was very excited. "Get your rifles and go! These are the first caribou to appear in many days!"

So we did. The camp, however, did not have any sort of target set-up to check zero, so I grabbed emptied one of our grocery boxes, and used my note-pen to draw a small circle, setting the box down 50 of my paces away. (I limited it to 50 because the only flat ground was a narrow strip along the shore. Behind the camp a semi-mountain rose pretty steeply.)

I did some mental figuring. The rifle had been zeroed two inches high at 100 back in Montana, so should shoot slightly high at 50. It did, and worked fine in the field, shooting just about dead-on at 200-225.

Did some more experimenting after that, and discovered the 25-yard sight-in recommended by O'Connor (and many others) usually ended up with a 100-yard zero higher than three inches, often 4-5 inches, depending of course on the cartridge, and how high the scope was mounted over the bore. In general, short-range zeroing at 35 yards comes much closer to the present standard for big game rifles of two inches high at 100--which of course results in shots landed a little high at 50!

Hope you are doing well. I supposedly semi-retired this year, resigning from one of my magazine markets that required half my writing time, but only provided 1/4 of my income. But it still feels like I'm working way more than half-time!


“Montana seems to me to be what a small boy would think Texas is like from hearing Texans.”
John Steinbeck
Re: SEPTEMBER column--Sighting-In [Re: Mule Deer] #14223930 10/23/19
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Great comments MD and Jerry. I learned the 50 yard sight in out of desperation while in Africa years ago. We cobbled together a 50 yard range and sighted our rifles slightly high (1/2-3/4” inch). It worked incredibly well for that safari and I have used the method ever since.

Re: SEPTEMBER column--Sighting-In [Re: Mule Deer] #14223971 10/23/19
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Quote
I have also seen many interesting ways of resting a rifle on a bench.


You mean this isn't right? smile

[Linked Image]


The key elements in human thinking are not numbers but labels of fuzzy sets. -- L. Zadeh

Which explains a lot.
Re: SEPTEMBER column--Sighting-In [Re: Mule Deer] #14224063 10/23/19
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Yes. Over time, one eventually witnesses all. Years back as we were preseason zeroing, we met a gentleman insisting we were doing it all wrong. One must zero firing from an off hand standing position.

Last edited by 1minute; 10/23/19.

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Re: SEPTEMBER column--Sighting-In [Re: Mule Deer] #14224399 10/23/19
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John,

Congratulations on the partial retirement! This will leave additional time for more loony projects, and other fun things.

Yes, that is what happened to me back in October 1973. I had spent quite a bit of time scouting out at Joe Lee's place, and had found a big whitetail buck that had my undivided interest. I day dreamed about that buck for about 3 weeks. A few days prior to opening day, I had once again sighted in my rig at 25 yards, as recommended by O'Connor.

That morning, the whitetail I was after was sparring with a smaller buck. I waited for the perfect broadside shot, and when that presented, I made a careful shot--and nothing happened! The deer took off before I could fire again. Skunked. When I got back home, my mom admonished me, saying, "You've got to shoot them in the heart." I was crest-fallen. When I think about it now, I chuckle about her comment though.

After re-living that a few times in my mind, I suspected the shot went high. It was then that I walked to Bill Beyl's house. After he fired the first round and saw where it hit, he said, "It's no wonder why you missed, your rifle is sighted in for several hundred yards out--maybe even out to about 500 yards. I figure it would probably hit much higher than 3 inches high at 100 yards--might be as much as 5 inches high."

So, that's when I got the sight in lesson, where he taught me to zero one half inch high at 50 yards. You can be certain I got my buck the next time out--which really restored my confidence.

Today I do things a little differently, but always do a follow up at 100 yards, and time permitting, farther out.

Nevertheless, the half inch high at 50 method will always be handy in those various situations like you had when you were caribou hunting--it simply works when in a pinch.

I love articles like this, as they are part of what makes the field so interesting. Kind of like what Louise Shepard said about her husband Alan Shepard back in 1960 or 1961: "He reads the technical manuals--the kind, the Admirals and Generals say should be read..."

Fun times!



all learning is like a funnel:
however, contrary to popular thought, one begins with the the narrow end.
the more you progress, the more it expands into greater discovery--and the less of an audience you will have...
Re: SEPTEMBER column--Sighting-In [Re: Mule Deer] #14224669 10/23/19
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I don't like too much mid range rise for that very reason. It is all too easy to shoot over or worse, wound an animal in a way that doesn't kill it quickly, when your rifle's zeroed to put the bullets 3 or more inches high at mid range. I remember seeing a nice fallow buck one time with a divot cut out of its backline just above the spine as mute witness of that - he didn't look happy, poor bugger.

With most of my rifles I sight in about 1 1/2" high at 100, so as to have no more than 2" mid-range rise. That will put them on or close to the button at about 200, and so for all practical purposes I can hold right on out to somewhere over 200 (depending on which rifle) without having to think about trajectory. That accounts for the vast majority of the shots I actually take at game. For longer shots I usually have plenty of time to think about trajectory.

For rifles to be used on small game I want less mid-range rise than this.

Re: SEPTEMBER column--Sighting-In [Re: dan_oz] #14237357 10/28/19
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Dan,

In 2011 I killed a Cape buffalo in Tanzania that had a missing "spinous process" at the top of the shoulder area, with round scars on either side, indicating somebody had shot high and didn't QUITE miss. I always wondered what happened after that high shot, since those often put big game down--but don't keep them there!


“Montana seems to me to be what a small boy would think Texas is like from hearing Texans.”
John Steinbeck
Re: SEPTEMBER column--Sighting-In [Re: Mule Deer] #14240357 10/29/19
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My favorite is the guy who was on a public rifle range with no hearing protection shooting a 25-06
Using a folded boat cushion.
He couldn't understand why I could get tighter groups at 200 yds.


I like to do my hunting BEFORE I pull the trigger!
There is only one kind of dead, but there are many different kinds of wounded.
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