It’s July, have you hugged your rifle lately? I haven’t, and it’s high time I did. Despite what the calendar says deer season is right around the corner. Soon, the heat of Labor Day will give way to cool mornings, cooler nights and the anticipation of days on stand we crave all year. Though spring presented me with innumerable warm days without rain, I passed up too many opportunities for a tune-up at the range.
I need a little recoil in my life.
What rifle should I carry into the woods this year? I could dust off Dad’s old Marlin. It’s not only good for deer, but the .35-caliber slug it throws is ideal for bears that appear seemingly out of the blue (and with greater frequency than ever) in the Blue Ridge Mountains each November. The view through the Marlin’s Redfield Widefield is a bit milky these days, but the last time I shot the rifle the scope still held zero; no reason to expect anything different now. There’s my trusty .270 Featherweight. Of course I’d need to mount a new scope on it, because I pulled off the Leupold Vari-X II years ago and put it on my understudy gun—a Remington 504 rimfire. Or I could opt for my latest favorite, the Kimber 84M in .308 Win. After all, that rifle and I go together like peas and carrots.
There’s nothing like a day at the range in mid-summer to remind a rifleman why he shoots. The weather can be blazingly hot, but beneath the roof at the range it isn’t so much the heat but the cacophony of sounds that begs my attention. I watch as benches are positioned just so, as rifle cases are unzipped, ammo cans opened and staplers tap-tap targets to backboards. Blasts ring out from rifles new and old made for sport and for war. Old-timers chew the fat. Youngsters exclaim, “That wasn’t too bad,” while rubbing sore shoulders.
This season I’ll use the Kimber again. But first, I’ll tune up with the Remington rimfire. There’s nothing like the absence of recoil to expose bad habits that crept into my mind with Old Man Winter.
Amid the clamor I begin my work in sandals, shorts and a T-shirt. Steadily, surely I breathe, relax, squeeze and fire. Then I fire again and again until I’m convinced it’s time to move to the centerfire. I don the recoil pad and follow through on a promise I make to myself every year—to pay the bill now that will come due in November.
I love July almost as much as November. Where else on Earth besides America can a guy hear the sounds of freedom represented by the fireworks of Independence Day and gunshots at the local range? Do yourself and your fellow patriots a favor this month: Annoy anti-gunners by sending well-placed rounds downrange every chance you get.
Do This at the Range
Start range sessions with an understudy rifle that mimics your deer rifle. You likely haven’t fired a round in earnest in months, and no doubt your skills are rusty after the winter/spring layoff. So don’t beat yourself up, waste expensive ammo or grow frustrated. Use a rimfire to concentrate on breathing, relaxing, squeezing the trigger and following-through on meaningful shots. Then move to your centerfire rifle of choice.
Bore-sight a new scope at close range. Despite your best efforts at home, that scope will likely produce groups way off center. So set up a big target at 25 yards, the better to see where rounds impact it. Once you’re satisfied, move the target to 100 yards and fine-tune your zero.
Move off the bench. In preparation for hunting, a bench rest is good for one thing only—assuring your rifle is zeroed. There are no shooting benches in the woods, so why use one for practice? Instead, fire from the prone, sitting, kneeling and offhand positions most likely used while hunting.
Become proficient with artificial shooting rests. The best field-shooting position can always be enhanced with a backpack, a pair of shooting sticks or a proper sling. Practice shooting with all three, make them part of your “kit” and never leave home without them.
Identify problems with rifles and ammo now. Extractors break. Scope erectors grow weak and stop taking adjustments. Ammo misfires. Now, not November, is the time to wring out problems with equipment.