Warm summer days give way to the brisk chill of fall and, with it, the anticipation of another hunting season. With days getting shorter, the season can be upon us before we are ready for it. Your hunting and trapping digest from purchasing your license will inform you of changes to seasons/bag limits, regulations, and CWD. You can locate desired hunting spots ahead of time and secure permission from the landowner. This means you can spend more time in the field instead of hunting for a place to hunt.
Now is also a great time to sight in a bow or rifle. Knowing what your firearm or bow will do ahead of time means you can be confident in their performance when it counts. It also means you can possibly identify mechanical issues before the season. I found a broken crosshair on my scope ahead of time and saved myself the headache of finding it out in the field.
Small game presents many fun and exciting opportunities and unique challenges.
However, ammunition, especially shotshells, can be hard to find. The time to buy ammunition is when you see it. For small game, match your load to the game you are hunting. Shotshells that are #4 or #6 are generally advisable for rabbits due to their higher density and weight of shot. #7 and #7 1/2 shells are generally handicap loads that have smaller shot that won’t offer the penetration a more well-suited game load offers.
Choke is another factor to consider. A poly choke is versatile and can adapt to different situations. In the absence of a poly choke, choke tubes can control the spread of your shot. It’s important to match the choke to the kind of game you are hunting. Cylinder and Improved Cylinder spread quickly and are useful at closer ranges. Modified has moderate constriction and allows for a denser pattern over longer ranges. I use modified as a good all-around choke for hunting rabbits. You also have improved modified, full, and extra full, the latter being preferred by Turkey hunters.
Patterning your shotgun can be done by shooting at a 48” sheet of paper with a 6” bullseye at a distance of 40 yards. Use the ammo and choke you intend to hunt with. Then draw a 30˝ circle around the center of impact. Repeat on a second sheet of paper and compare. Note how the shot is spread and whether it is uniform by examining the distance from the center of your pattern to the bullseye. Experimentation with choke and ammunition can possibly correct or improve inconsistencies. Also, remember, if you are shooting a side-by-side or over and under, you will want to pattern both barrels. Shooting clay pigeons is a great way to practice before the season, as much as a fun recreational activity.
One of the best ways to prepare for the opening day of deer season is by sighting in. It only costs you some of your time and a few rounds. For archery, start sighting in at a shorter distance. Start at 10 yards and then move back to 20, 30, and 40. If you have an older crossbow, 50 yards might be stretching it. Newer and faster crossbows like my Ten Point Titan SS can comfortably hit the vital area at 50 yards. That’s why sighting in is imperative, as it tells you not only what you need to do to be consistent and accurate but it tells you what your equipment can and can’t do.
Scopes can vary greatly. Some guides may tell you that one click is one MOA (Minute of angle) which roughly translates to an inch at 100 yards. (guns.com has a great detailed article about this). Generally, your scope adjustments will have arrows indicating which way to turn the dial. If you are hitting to the right, move the point of impact to the left, following the corresponding direction on your turret for windage. For elevation, if you hit a bit high but your windage is fine? This will mean that you can shoot at ranges greater than 100 yards. If you are “zeroed” at 100 yards and are trying to shoot further than 100 yards? You will end up shooting low. Allowing yourself 1”-2” above center for point of impact (POI) at 100 yards will reduce the need to guess and “compensate” in the field. This is especially useful for those that are shooting heavier calibers like .30-06. where the bullet will drop faster than a .243 or .7mm-08, where they are noted for flat shooting.
If using open sights, move the rear sight in the direction of the POI the way you want it to move. If your POI is to the left, move the rear sight to the right. If the POI is to the right, move the rear sight to the left. For elevation, if the POI is high? Lower the rear sight or raise the front sight. If the POI is low, raise the rear sight, and lower the front sight.
The biggest thing to remember is consistency. Sight in with what you intend to hunt with. If you shoot Remington 100 gr. 243. pointed soft point to sight in? That’s what you should use in the field. In archery, match the weight of your field points with that of your broad heads. You can do most of your sighting in with field points, then shoot a few shots with broad heads to see if they perform consistently. Avoid mixing and matching different bolts, broad heads, and weights. If you shoot carbon arrows/bolts to sight in, shoot carbon in the field. Make sure you can get a good group. You want to eliminate as many variables as possible.
Cleaning your gun and equipment at the end of the season also can be crucial to ensuring it performs when it counts. This can help prevent them from becoming gummed up and jamming when you depend on them. Time spent on preparation now; can save you headache and heartache later when you get the chance at that buck of a lifetime.