I hear the familiar sound of the bolt running a round into a chamber of my buddies Browning X-bolt. I am focused on looking through my spotting scope and watching the young Black tail, slowly feed from left to right about 360 yards off, the sun is at our back the wind coming from right to left. The situation and set up could not be more perfect for my older and more experienced buddy.
The next sound I hear is the familiar click of the safety, the next sound .. BAM! The round must passed right through the deer because the cloud of dust had to settle to see where he was hit. After a couple seconds it was obvious that he hit about 2 feet to low. The Deer had jumped but stayed pretty much in the same spot. And now completely baffled as to what he did to the rocks in front of him for them spray dirt everywhere.
He racks another round, BAM! This time a hit was made, but I can see the rear leg was hanging, the young buck started hobbling up the hill side. He racks the 3rd round… BAM! Missed above!.. I here the cursing get louder and fumbling of the ammo pouch for more rounds. 20 seconds go by, loaded, racked … BAM! Low again.. he did not take into account the deer had moved about 30 yards further.. I quietly thank the good lord that my children taught me patience when they were young so I calmly tell him, “steady up, hold over about 6 inches over his nose.” BAM! Low neck shot, the Deer is down.. finally... Damn, that was painful to watch.
When we sit back and let the nerves settle down before making the trip over to the other ridgeline. My buddy looks at me and says he did pretty good since the rifle mounted with the old Nikon Scope had been set up 20 years before and had only a few rounds through it..
If that doesn’t make you think about how we as hunters look at an ethical kill and how we should strive to accomplish that.. then I cant help you.
Long Range theory for a Short range shot was the premises of this clinic. But shooting long range and understanding the factors that go into ringing steal out past 600 – 1000 yards can only increase your knowledge, instill discipline, and provide you the confidence when the time comes to make a quick and ethical kill. When any small factor is off, or your fundamentals are not honed in, you will miss at these ranges. By nailing this down, your short range shots will be second nature and each time you pull that trigger your chances to fill that tag go up ten fold. You are 100% certain that you took control of everything you could for a quick merciful death.
When hunting, there a lot of factors that you cannot control such as weather, animal behavior, animal paths, landscape, but we are obligated and required, not only by law, but ethically to control our weapon. We are 100% responsible for setting it up, knowing how to use it proficiently, and understand every aspect, to include every nut and bolt in them. Knowing your type of ammo, the weight of your ammo and your sighting system, from a scope to good ole iron sights. I will say this again, you are 100% responsible for all aspects of this, not your gun shop, not your buddy, not a YouTube channel.. you!
On April 2nd, 2023. BHA Armed Forces initiative descended upon Avenal, CA and held long range clinic at Avenal Gun Club. we decidedly to call this event, NEW YEAR, NEW ZERO. My goal was to get as many BHA and AFI members together to learn how to properly mount and zero their rifles, then stretch them out to 600 and 900 yards for trueing their Ballistic Coefficient (BC) to nail down a proper DOPE. This, I believe will make us better shots by giving each of us the confidence not only in your weapon, but confidence when you pull the trigger which will in turn provide us with a solid ethical kill.
After opening the gates at a cold 630 am, 17 BHA and AFI members drove on in from all parts of the state of California. A nice quick round of introductions and having each person give a quick history of their experiences in hunting and shooting sports, I was extremely happy to see all walks of life, from the old grizzled red flannel hunter to a young lady who just got her first rifle a couple of months prior to the event.
With the help of the Precision Rifles Series West Coast match director Scott Woodhouse and a board member from the Avenal Gun club, Jon Bibb, we dove right in a started showing and helping the team mount and re-mount scopes with the proper tools. I explained what and why we do this, and the importance of being able to do this yourself. The benefits of this include confidence in your gun system and knowing what to do if a malfunction happens in the field.
Jon Bibb and Scott Woodhouse over the finer points of a rifle set up.
After the group felt good about their systems, it was time to go live and find our zeros. We discussed the importance of 100/200 yard zeros in hunting applications. The proper operation of scopes, along with getting accurate measurements for muzzle velocity. I know a lot of the old school thought is to just go with what the box says, but with so many different types of rounds, types of guns, and materials that make each item up, you would be taking the easy way out and this can cause significant heart ache down the road from missing a once in life time Bull or injuring an animal with no recovery.
Shawn McCarthy zero’s his rifle
Were able to not only get rounds down range and get our team behind their fire arms which in of itself, is a massive confidence booster but we were able to dive into building profiles on Ballistic apps and in Kestrals. Watching the eyes open and light bulbs go off when the understanding sets in on what each person was able to do, was a pretty damn good feeling that early in the day.
We were able to quickly get up to the top of the range for the 600 yard and 900 yard steel targets to true our velocities. I had set up 5-6 steal targets at each range with a nice water mark across each one. Using our various ballistic apps we would range the steel, and dial in the desired dope based on the zero. About 90% of the team was to ring steel on the first shot, from there we did some slight adjustments to the velocity of the round, so we could dial in the DOPE and hit the right elevation every shot!
AFI Liaison Jesse Cook goes over the course of fire and goals for the 600/900 yard shots
With todays technology and products available, there is no reason why we would need to shoot 4-6 times at an animal to harvest it, even with hunting with our grandfathers rifle, we can dial that in to a damn near perfect bullet placement when we pull that trigger. Yes, your practice and your discipline for fundamentals will always be the most ethical way to take an animal, but you need to strive to hone every factor in your control.
Mariano Balbuena sends rounds down to the 600 yard steal
Attempting to harvest an animal at these long ranges, to me, is not an ethical or a wise choice, but practicing and undertesting all the factors that go into shooting long range will only provide you with confidence, and the shot discipline required for a quick kill. By doing this, will this always result in that quick ethical kill? No, and I am not arrogant or ignorant enough to say that, but we need to strive for it, and try and remove all factors that would prevent that.
Thank you to the Avenal Gun Club, Back Country Hunters and Anglers with the Armed Forces Initiative for this event. Thank you all that came out and allowed me to share my knowledge and sharing with me your experiences. See you next time!
California AFI and BHA Clinic
California Armed Forces Initiative Representative
Retired Command Master Chief, USN