You’ve put in countless hours scouting, training in the gym and dreaming of this moment. You’re ready. But will you have the same level of confidence and competence this hunting season with your hunting rifle?
Let’s face it, when in the field, Mother Nature is anything but predictable. As a hunter, it’s our ethical responsibility to understand our own individual gun or bow system, learn how it works and what we can do to improve upon it, and know its limitations as well as our own. No matter how long we’ve been hunting or shooting, there are new skills and tricks that can be learned and applied.
So, let’s get to know our rifle.
Bad Past Experience
Let’s say I’m on a hunt and my guide hands me a rifle. “Ok sweetie,” he says, “This thing is a tack-driver.” Blah, blah, blah. Sure, that rifle might be a tack-driver for a man who is 6 feet, 2 inches tall, but it’s not going to drive a tack for me as a full foot shorter than that. And chances are good I’ll scope myself and miss my target.
Trust me, I’ve scoped myself and missed my target using a poorly fitting rifle that “is a tack driver.” The reason behind the mishaps? The rifle is designed to fit a large man, not a small shooter such as myself. This situation has happened to me on more than one occasion—and I see it happen all the time, especially with women and kids.
Gentlemen, if you want your wife and kids to hunt with you, make it an enjoyable and positive experience: Get them a rifle that they’re comfortable shooting and that fits them properly.
“As a hunter, it’s our ethical responsibility to understand our own individual gun or bow system, learn how it works and what we can do to improve upon it, and know its limitations as well as our own.”
Magnum calibers are very popular, delivering terminal performance and high ballistic coefficients; however, with smaller shooters, the recoil cycle from large-caliber rifles can be scary and cause flinching—and subsequent misses in the field.
Rifle calibers such as the .270 Win., .280 Rem., .260 Rem., .308 Win.—or my personal favorite, the 6.5 Creedmoor—have much less felt recoil than the “Big 30s,” and their terminal performance and bullet trajectories are similar.
The first limitation to a hunting rifle’s accuracy is the shooter behind the gun, so do some research on the caliber that’s best suited for the size of shooter and the game being hunted, and make the choice that's going to equate to the man, woman or kid behind the gun being comfortable with the recoil, fit and performance.
Before you head into the field, spend some time learning about your personal rifle. The rifle butt should fit naturally within the pocket of your shoulder. Find out what your length of pull is and have your rifle stock cut down or modified to fit. Some tactical stocks have adjustable lengths of pull that are easily adjusted to adapt to multiple shooters. Personally, I have my rifles cut down, and at the same time have a heavy recoil pad installed to make shooting more comfortable.
Next, evaluate the cheek weld. This is the position of the shooter’s cheek on the rifle stock. The cheek weld should be adjusted (tactical stocks) or modified with foam padding and tape so the cheek can be rested on the rifle stock without using the neck muscles to hold the head up to look through the optic. You can add layers of foam and tape to your rifle stock until the correct position is easily maintained. Make sure the foam cheek piece does not get so tall that the bolt cannot be properly cycled.
Purchasing custom rifle stocks are expensive, so don’t be ashamed to use foam padding to modify your rifle cheek piece. I’ve modified my own hunting rifles for years with foam and tape—and let me tell you that accuracy sure beats having a fancy-looking rifle. Folks can laugh at my gun all they want, because as long as my tag is punched I don’t really care.
Next, set the optic eye relief that fits the shooter most naturally. The eye relief is the distance the eye must be from the scope’s ocular lens in order to obtain a full field of view. When setting eye relief, keep in mind that your shooting position will affect the position of your eye in relation to your eye relief.
To test that the cheek weld and eye relief are correct, the shooter should be able to shoulder the rifle and set their cheek weld with their eyes closed. Once they’re set in a natural position, when they open their eyes, they should have a full field of view in the scope without having to move their head. If the head moves, the gun/optic is not set up properly for the shooter.
A properly fitting rifle will help make your next hunt more successful, guaranteed. So take the time and modify your rifle as needed to fit you the shooter. Your rifle should fit you like a glove and simply be an extension of your body.
For more info on NSSF's Project Child Safe go to ProjectChildSafe.org.