It seems we are always anticipating “opening day”. The excitement, the camaraderie, hunting with family and friends, the memories made, the great food… But there’s a difference in being excited for hunting season to open and actually being prepared for it. Well in advance of hunting season, sit down and think about what and where you will be hunting and the cost of your hunting licenses, ammunition, and other hunting gear. Give yourself plenty of time to purchase what you need and to practice with it so you are confident that both yourself and your rifle are ready for whatever this hunting season may throw your way!
Choosing the Right Caliber
Take into consideration the type of game you will be hunting and how long of shots you expect to be making on these animals. Use bullets that will produce the right power with the accuracy you need. One other point to keep in mind is the amount of recoil on these rifles. Use a rifle caliber that you are comfortable with and that doesn’t kick so hard that you flinch due to anticipating the recoil. The ultimate goal is to make clean, ethical shots and to put meat on the table.
The following are all rifle calibers that are powerful enough to drop a Whitetail deer, while still being light and accurate: .223, .22-250 and .243 and 6.5 Creedmoor. These are perfect for youth and beginner hunters who are looking for less recoil to their rifle.
Most Whitetail deer hunters in the Midwest use one of the following, which would be considered a more “in-between” rifle caliber: .270, .30-30, .30-06 and 308.
For hunting bigger game, like elk and moose, and for long-range shots, a .300 Win Mag, .338, and 7mm Rem Mag are all good options.
Scope or Open Sights?
The type of terrain you will be hunting can help determine which rifle you will want to hunt with. For example, if you’re mostly hunting large, open fields or food plots and expect to make shots at long distances, you will definitely want to hunt with a rifle that has a scope. If you are hunting in timber or in areas where you expect to have a closer shot, you may be better off using a rifle that has open sights. Whichever one you use, practice with that rifle and with the ammunition that you plan on using.
Getting Your Rifle Ready
Start by checking your action and your gun over for anything unusual, like cracks. Now check your scope to make sure it doesn’t move and make sure the rings don’t have any give to them. Cycle a few shells through making sure it is performing properly. Shoot a few groups and check for any loose screws or parts. If you find anything is out of place, correct it and shoot a few more times. For maximum accuracy, always shoot through a cool barrel while sighting in. If you’ve stored your rifle long term and haven’t shot it much since the last hunting season, hopefully, you cleaned the barrel prior to storage. But, now that you are actually sighting in your rifle, don’t clean the barrel afterward getting it dialed in. Doing so can cause your gun to be off and you definitely don’t want to wound an animal while hunting.
Being fully prepared with your gear is a must in order to have a successful hunting season. Know your gear and your capabilities so you won’t second guess yourself when you get a shot opportunity. Make sure you practice shooting at distances that you expect the deer to be at. For example, if you think you will most likely have to make a 200-yard shot, then practice shooting at 200 yards. Make sure your rifle is sighted in at about 1.5 inches high at the distance of 100 yards, otherwise this could lead to over or under compensating and either wounding or missing the deer completely.
Real World Practice
Now that you’ve sighted your rifle in properly, step away from the bench rest and do some real-world shooting! Try practicing in realistic shooting positions that you will most likely have to use in the field, like sitting on the ground or in a tree stand, off of one knee, kneeling, in the prone position, etc. If you use a bipod or shooting stick, practice shooting with those as well. It also wouldn’t hurt to practice all of the above in your hunting clothing to make sure you will be comfortable and can move quickly, easily and without detection.
Maintaining Your Rifle Throughout Hunting Season
Rust is the greatest threat to any firearm, and as hunters, we often hunt in some pretty nasty weather! With that in mind, it’s a good idea to cover your rifle’s stationary parts in wax or grease and coat the barrel, action, and receiver with spray-on rust preventative. When you get inside from a rainy or snowy hunt, wipe the barrel down again to prevent rust.
The above tips won’t guarantee that you will have a successful hunting season, but you are guaranteed to be more prepared when the opportunity presents itself at that once-in-a-lifetime buck!