The art and practice of straight shooting
I never owned a rifle as a kid, except my dad’s .22, which I occasionally played with under his supervision. It was probably a question of money, I don’t know why it was never given to me. Instead, when deer hunting happened, Dad borrowed a gun from a friend, a .243, with which I killed my first white-tailed deer, a doe.
This borrowing thing continued after I left the house. The last time was in 1980 when a friend from Pioneer Press, our joint employer at the time, loaned me a Remington pump .280.
It wasn’t until a year later that I bought my own rifle, a Ruger M77, in .270, a caliber made famous by the late Jack O’Connor.
I had read a lot about rifles before the purchase, including everything written by O’Connor, an English major turned gun expert – a collision of interests that produced volumes of writings on guns.
Outdoor Life magazine named O’Connor its firearms editor in 1939, and he began writing his gun and ammunition column two years later. A proficient big game hunter, O’Connor opted for a .270 Winchester Model 70 for, among other activities, sheep hunting, impressed he was with the rifle’s flat shot, low recoil and relatively light weight. .
These attributes also impressed me and 40 years ago when I walked out of old Joe’s Sporting Goods in Como and Dale in St. Paul with my own gun in hand I felt great.
In the years that followed, unlike O’Connor, I never killed a sheep with my .270. But with it, I have killed deer in various states, as well as moose in BC, elk in Colorado, and black bears in Montana. As the old saying goes, “Beware of the man with a gun, he probably knows how to use it.” “
This is how things continued until last Christmas, when my wife and two sons insisted that I buy a new rifle.
Apparently a family consensus had emerged that I was undernourished or that, anyway, the time had come for the old man to join the gun-buying frenzy in the United States. . My new rifle was a Christensen Arms 7mm Remington Mag with a synthetic stock, carbon fiber barrel, and muzzle brake, topped with a Vortex Viper 4-16×50 scope – a nice package I couldn’t wait to name.
What I did on a Montana hunt, Trevor and I did about a week ago looking for mule deer in a Badlands type country.
Climbing up and down jagged mounds divided by deep draws, we chased dark to gloomy tote bags that carried our guns, ammunition, food, water and survival gear.
The same packs would make a quartered deer if we pulled one.
The first trick was to find a male worth tracking down.
The animal may be feeding, moving or lying down. But when we located a probable suspect using powerful binoculars or our spyglass, we were heading towards them as quickly and stealthily as possible. Each ravine we crossed seemed deeper than the last and each cliff higher.
Trevor is a fan of preparation and insisted on practicing shooting before the hunt. âFinding these animals is hard enough, you don’t want to hurt or miss them,â he said.
While chambering Barnes Long Range 139 grain charges carrying copper bullets, we zeroed our rifles at 200 yards.
During the first day and a half of the hunt, we did four movements on deer that gave nothing except back pain and tired legs – mine, anyway. The result was that a certain fatalism had set in by 4 o’clock of the second afternoon as we sat on cold ground amidst a maze of spiers and chasms, continually searching for woods.
The shadows were lengthening and the end of the day would soon come.
“We must be lucky,” Trevor finally said as he moved closer to reposition his telescope.
I joined him soon after, and soon after he said, âTwo dollars. “
The animals were half a mile away and upwind.
Plotting a route in their direction, we ditched our bags and inserted earplugs. Then we curled up among the teams and crouched behind the outcrops as we closed the expanse between us and the maybe 500m deer.
Finally crawling to a mound overlooking the animals, we watched them feed unsuspiciously on a rock table.
The mule deer in this country can spot an ear twitch a mile away. To avoid being spotted, I slid my rifle on the climb inch by inch. As I did, the bipod attached to its front gained traction, stabilizing the aim of the rifle.
Collecting the deer in his rangefinder, Trevor said: “350 yards.”
On my rifle butt was a table taped showing the adjustments needed for my scope at distances greater than 200 meters, which was my zero.
Checking the print, Trevor reached out and adjusted my scope as I lay face down in the rifle, leaning on the bipod and supporting the rifle butt with my holstered binoculars.
The corrected range allowed me to line up the reticle exactly behind one of the buck’s front shoulders without guessing the trajectory, a fairytale shooting technique favored by hunters whose freezers yawn more often empty than full.
When one of the males got rid of – a 4×4, western counting – I said, âI’m on him,â and pulled the trigger.
The alarming report of the rifle echoed with decreasing amplitude on the canyon walls visible and invisible.
The deer was dead before it hit the ground, and by nightfall, under the conical beams of our headlamps, we had it quartered and in Trevor’s pack, and in mine.
We had a mile to go before we could climb steeply out of the rugged country. The singing yelping of the coyotes and the clicking of our trekking poles against the rocks were the only sounds.
Following topographic maps downloaded to his phone and observing a small dot that indicated our position with a satellite above our heads, Trevor guided us along a series of craggy peaks under a glittering black sky. a million stars.
Jack O’Connor might have pulled it off with his .270.
I was glad I didn’t have to.