A Lady’s Big-Game Rifle
Tips, Tricks And Techniques.
He thought it was funny. The rest of us standing around during a cease-fire at the shooting range didn’t agree. No one laughed, although a couple just-to-be-polite almost inaudible chuckles cut the hot air. The fellow was talking about how he got his wife to shoot a 12-gauge, double-barrel shotgun. “Now hold it a few inches from your shoulder, Honey,” he said. “Then pull both triggers.” When he discouraged his wife from shooting and hunting he lost out on a potentially fine partner, especially in a cold camp on a stormy night.
Lady’s do hunt. Statistics show a 36 percent increase in women hunters since 2001, with 70.6 million dollars spent on women’s hunting licenses since 2009. When people see her trophy room they say, “Your husband must be a great hunter.” Nancy, a Phoenix, Ariz., based lady, smiles and says no. Her husband does not hunt. The trophies on the wall from Africa, USA, Canada and other parts of the globe are all hers.
I never met a woman who couldn’t shoot. There’s no puff in that statement. It’s fact. I recall a professor of my acquaintance who declared she might like to try shooting a rifle, but knew she could never be good at it. In 20 minutes she was popping beverage cans with an iron-sighted .22 rifle. There are basic instructions that will help that prospective big game hunter of the fair sex track down the road to success. We’ll pitch a few in this article.
But all in all, “they can shoot.” They really can. Theories have come forth as to why. “More stable through the pelvis.” I don’t know about that. Better coordinated? Try dancing in high heels, boys. The ladies can. I do know that after a couple hours and 100 rounds of light ammo, one of my granddaughters, Jonalyn, took her first deer with me. Imagine a 12 year old with a perfect shot at 75 yards being told, “Don’t shoot that buck. We’re going to find a bigger one.” That day passed with no deer. Next morning she got a mature 4×4—one shot rangefinder-verified at 175 yards.
Sam’s .240 Gibbs from McGowen Precision Barrels, in Kalispell, Mont., is a heavy rifle on purpose; it’s not carried far, mainly for antelope on the plains where a stalk is initiated after spotting a buck and hunting river bottom whitetails from high on the banks. The Savage Model 11 (rear) for the lady hunter is much lighter so she can actually enjoy carrying in the hunting field.
Some Specific Ideas
My sister-in-law, Pat Fadala, has taken all manner of big game, including Cape buffalo, and has a room full of fine trophies. Although Pat handles strong recoil and considerable packing weight, when I bought her a present of a rifle to carry in the mountains, it was much lighter than her .300 Weatherby. My wife Judy received the same rifle—a short-action Savage Model 11 Lightweight Hunter at 5.5 pounds, under 7, scope and all. I topped off both rifles with variable Leupolds, plus carry straps (not slings). “What are those holes for?” both ladies asked, referring to the slots “cut” under the forearm of the rifle. To reduce weight a little, I said. Actually, they are more useful in cooling the barrel during practice and sight-in sessions.
The cartridge for the lady’s big-game rifle has to carry enough impetus to do the job. But what about recoil? The Savage 11 comes in .223 Remington, .243 Winchester, .260 Remington, 6.5 Creedmoor and .308 Winchester. Winchester just came out with a .223 factory load suitable for feral hogs. Where opportunities are less than 100 yards, one well-placed 64-grain bullet on deer-size game would no doubt bring home the bacon (or in this case the venison).
The .243 is a good choice, too. The 6.5 Creedmoor will do good work. The .308, especially with the latest ammo, such as Hornady’s 180-grain load at about 2,700 feet per second, is a little powerhouse. But I chose the 7mm-08. The 7-08 shoots as flat as the .260 Remington, in practical terms, and only a freckle greater recoil. It enjoys a wide range of bullets in the 2,600 to 3,000 fps range. But what about that recoil gremlin?
Ammunition comes in two forms for our lady: practice and hunting. A 7-08 is capable of 2,600 fps with a 160-grain bullet, even in the 20-inch barrel of the Model 11. That is an elk load when properly applied. I know, because I witnessed six bulls dropped with six behind-the-shoulder shots with a 7-08 so loaded.
For antelope and deer: a 139- or 140-grain bullet at 2,800 fps is fine. But Pat and Judy will never shoot that kind of ammunition in practice. I made two sets for them—a large batch with a Lyman 135-grain cast bullet from mold 287346 at 1,400 fps with 20.0 grains W-748, and then the “real stuff.” Practice light, then switch to big-game loads only for hunting. No one remembers recoil after a shot on big game. But we all do from bench and practice.
Carrying the rifle means a carry strap. And she will want to carry her own rifle. When I offered to pack my wife’s rifle, she told me, “My father taught me if you can’t saddle your own horse you can’t ride. And if you can’t carry your own rifle, you can’t hunt.” But a true sling is not necessary. The Savage 11 carries its promise of easy-on-the-shoulder carry. But there is more to it than simply slipping the strap on and marching away. My lady shooters practice getting the rifle off of the shoulder in one smooth movement, while at the same time bringing the body into position for the shot. It’s one step. Rifle off-shoulder as the body assumes the shooting stance.
Trigger Control is a snap to teach. A woman who can crochet an intricate doily certainly has no trouble applying the right pressure to a trigger. I show two ways: closing the whole hand or using an independent trigger finger. Let the shooter decide which she likes. Carefully closing the whole hand during trigger release has a tendency to fully control the rifle at the grip, while learning to pretend the trigger finger is an independent part of the hand is just as good.
Draw a straight line on a piece of paper to represent line-of-sight from muzzle to target. Then show the angle of departure a bullet takes with just a slight jerk on the trigger. The path of the bullet leaves the straight line in an ever-increasing departure until downrange even a big buck deer is missed. Take a breath. Let half of it out, so the story goes. And then squeeze, don’t jerk, that trigger. Lady shooters get it right—fast, especially with a good trigger, such as the Accu-Trigger on the Savage 11.
Fore-end pressure can be a minor problem at first. I like the old swordsmanship teacher’s advice. “Hold the sword as you would a bird. Too tight and you will kill it. Too loose and it will fly away.” Too heavy a grasp on the fore-end of a rifle can bring about a greater degree of bullet departure from line of sight than a jerk on the trigger. Of course the fore-end is part of rifle control. But it’s not a matter of choking-down. The exception is when the lady is after really big game with a really powerful rifle. Then fore-end pressure has to be increased in order that the rifle will not leap out of her hand from recoil. But on game up to elk and moose, such a rifle is not required. Grip pressure is almost a given. Tight enough to secure the rifle.
Sight picture management is an all-important aspect of teaching any new shooter the right way to “find” the target in the scope (or iron sight for that matter). I’ve noted a tendency for the newcomer, male as well as female, to sight the target, be it a bull’s-eye or a buck, raise the rifle, look into the scope, and then peer around trying to see that target in the sight. It’s easy to correct this tendency, and it’s vital. Tell her to keep her eye on that target. Now raise the rifle and mount it to the shoulder while still keeping her eye on the target. The picture in the scope is automatically replaced by the naked eye picture. There is no “searching” for the target.
Bolt management is easy to teach. Invariably, the new shooter will want to pinch the bolt handle knob between thumb and forefinger. Teach the bolt knob settled firmly into the palm of the hand. The whole hand is rotated to draw the bolt back as well as thrust it home into battery. This is faster, more secure, and absolutely natural.
Stance has been my biggest stumbling block in teaching the prospective lady hunter how to put her body into a position conducive to hitting the target. I want the right-handed woman to pose her feet about 45 degrees to the right of the target, rifle across her body in full control. But one of the best lady field marksman (or is that markswoman?) I ever hunted with—a daughter—shot her rifle in what I call a shotgun stance. Her boots were pointed directly at the game animal. I attempted to get her to do the 45-degree thing. She tried. Then went right back to toes aiming directly at the target. Stephanie had a string—if I recall right—of 18 1-shot kills, mainly with a Frank Wells custom 6mm/222 loaded to achieve .250 Savage ballistics out to 200 yards.
I remember her first miss after great success with Wyoming’s multiple-tags plus special depredation hunts. I said, “Better shoot again. The buck is still standing.” She stared in disbelief waiting for the mule deer to topple over as they always had before. She shot again. “I think you missed,” I said. She shot again. Call it the big pines the buck stood in or just plain errant shooting. She had missed. The buck walked off and she cried.
Along with stance, shooting positions are another aspect of great importance in training the woman big-game hunter. I’ve never had a lady hunter fire a shot offhand that could be taken from sitting, kneeling or with a field rest. Of all possible stances, the ladies I have hunted with do not favor the prone position. Since they do so well from others, I don’t worry about it.
They ain’t built like us, Charley! I recall guiding a pregnant lady hunter going for mule deer in a late season. I had suggested perhaps she might want to let the tag go. After all, she was due in 2 weeks. But she would have none of it. Around mid-afternoon I spotted a fine mule deer buck bedded against a rock wall. Only trouble was, the buck was across the fence onto the next ranch where we did not have permission to hunt. Somewhat sheepishly I knocked on the door of the headquarters house and the main man happened to be in for a late lunch. When he saw the lady hunter in her obvious condition he stared at first and then smiled. “Aw, heck, you can take her anywhere you want on my place,” he said. We made a good stalk, the buck having no clue we were anywhere in his domain.
My hunter began to fire offhand, which she had never done before. I quietly suggested that she take a sitting shot. She sat, wiggled, fiddled, and fooled around until the buck finally decided something was amiss and bolted down the canyon. At that, the mom-to-be stood, took aim, and toppled the running animal like a cottontail pitched over with a charge of No. 5s. It seems in her condition a sitting shot was about impossible. Teach prone, sitting, kneeling, field rest on everything from a handy boulder to a tree limb to downed slash in the forest, but “cut slack.” If the lady takes to the “preferred” positions, fine. If not and she still hits the target, leave her alone.
So we have an easy-to-carry rifle in a caliber suitable to do the job on big game, plus a well-practiced lady hunter who has mastered her rifle with squib loads. Just one thing—don’t be too surprised if her score on bullets-spent-for-game-taken turns out to best your score. I’ve seen it happen. More than once.
By Sam Fadala
14400 N.W. Greenbriar Pkwy.
Beaverton, OR 97006
Superior Ammunition, Inc.
20788 Mossy Oak Pl., Sturgis, SD 57785
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