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Hunting 101

Field Finesse In A Dozen Steps

A few useful items in my African hunting day pack: gloves, compact camera, flashlight and spare batteries, sling, lens cleaning pen and kit and my trusty rain jacket.

Getting Ready

• When I started hunting more than a half-century ago, sighting-in was regarded as a temporary measure at best. Wooden stocks could shift from changes in temperature and humidity; scopes — especially the inexpensive models that were all I could afford — could mysteriously shift. Having the rifle retain zero throughout hunting season could be a challenge. Today’s quality synthetic stocks and improved scopes are more reliable, but I think old habits remain worthwhile.

• After the last sight-in session before hunting season, leave the bore fouled and don’t touch the action or scope screws. Short of a disaster such as dropping the rifle in a hog wallow, there’s no need to disassemble or clean until you’re done hunting.

• Use a soft case to reduce impacts and help maintain zero. Taping the muzzle with electrical tape to keep snow, dirt, bugs, twigs and various debris out of the bore is a good idea too.

• Scope caps keep lenses clean, so don’t forget them. This lesson took me a while to learn. Dust and rain are bad enough, but what finally taught me was fog. Hunting on a very cold November day, as I raised the rifle I managed to breathe on the ocular lens — must have been puffing from excitement — and presto, cloudy lens. These days I mostly use Butler Creek caps which work well, are inexpensive and made for most scopes.

A few more goodies to make your hunt better — the butt cuff cartridge holder and clip of five cartridges, Otis cleaning kit, a first-aid kit equipped with Celox, gauze, tourniquet, nitrile gloves and Israeli bandage. The black pouch beneath it holds gauze ribbon with Celox. Note ear protection — important even when hunting.

In The Field

• A sling can be a nuisance when stalking or still-hunting in heavy cover, but a lifesaver on long hikes. Have sling swivel studs on your rifle and put them to good use.

• Carry extra ammo so it’s quiet and accessible. Cartridges carried loose in a coat pocket are accessible but can rattle, and any metallic sound can alarm game animals. My favorite carrier is a web belt slide holding seven cartridges, in addition to those in the rifle magazine.

• Generally I like to have 10 cartridges or so when in the field. Although in Africa where there can be multiple shooting opportunities on a long hike, I added a pouch with another 10 rounds. Never needed them, but few things are more useless than a firearm without ammunition. In one of Jim Corbett’s hunts for a man-eating tiger he wrote of carrying three (!) cartridges for his double .450-400. After all three were fired, the tiger was wounded but alive. Corbett had to borrow a rattletrap old shotgun from a villager to finish it. Don’t be Corbett.

• Take your time — fast. Remember the shot sequence doesn’t end when the shot is fired. It ends when you’re ready to fire again if necessary.

The sling gets the rifle out of the way for two-handed glassing, certainly preferable to laying the nice walnut stock of the Ruger No. 1 on a rock.


• Firearm safety rules apply always and everywhere. I don’t say you need to be more careful in the field than on the range, but there are significant differences. There are no range officers, no high backstops, targets are harder to identify and excitement can cloud peoples’ judgment.

• Remember the two people most likely to unintentionally shoot you, are you — or your hunting partner. Carry your rifle with magazine loaded and chamber empty. Of course in some circumstances, sitting in a blind for example, having a round chambered and safety engaged may be appropriate. During a stalk, a round has to be chambered early enough to not alarm the game with metallic sounds and hand movements. Personally, when I chamber a round the shot is going to follow in a few seconds.

• Have a regular first-aid kit for minor burns and cuts, and another with blood-clotting agent, gauze ribbon and a tourniquet. Gunshot wounds aren’t the only risk. At some point you’ll likely be using a very sharp knife, maybe working by feel while dressing game. In the field you’re far from medical help, and an otherwise survivable wound will kill you if you can’t stop the bleeding.

• The best medical kit in the world won’t help if you don’t know how to use it. At the very least study a good book on first aid, or check online for instruction — and then actually practice the various skills. Even better is a course taught by professionals.
Don’t be “That Guy” we read about.

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