By Doug Domedion
We are into the fourth week of bow season, but things have been slow according to most reports. That is understandable, as the weather has been warm and the deer have their winter hair now, so anything over 50 degrees is usually uncomfortable for them. Thus, much of their activity is nocturnal, not very good for the bowhunter.
We also have a good crop of apples and acorns this year, so the deer don't have to travel too far or work too hard to get filled up. Many hunters forget that a deer is a ruminant; he can eat a lot of food quickly, and then later while resting or hiding in a thicket, he can bring the cud back up to chew and process it. This cuts down the amount of time a deer is up and about looking for food, and thus protects him from predators like a bow hunter.
The last week of October will see a real upswing in deer activity as the rut (mating season) begins. This will also trigger the serious bowhunters to do more hunting.
Of course deer season with a firearm is not far off (November 16th). With the scarcity and cost of ammunition today, many hunters may forgo taking a few practice shots with their shotguns to confirm they are on. This of course can be a huge mistake, especially if you miss a trophy buck or have to chase a wounded deer all over the countryside.
If you are like me, you probably have one shotgun for just deer hunting. Logic has us thinking, “if she was on last season she is still on." That may be true or it may not be. I always fire a few shots through my shotgun off the bench and sandbags to make sure. Not only does it give me confidence in my gun, but my shotgun, as many do, gives a truer point of impact with a slightly fouled barrel.
There have been years when I discovered my gun was off somewhat. Maybe I bumped the scope lowering it from up in my tree stand, or when dragging a deer out the season before, or maybe the scope mount screws loosened.
When you do check your gun out, shoot from a good rest like a bench with sand bags. You want to know where the gun is shooting, not where you put the shot from an unsteady position. You should know how you have to hold when shooting off-hand or from a not-so-good rest. Right now, you want to know what the gun is doing.
Another mistake I have seen is the shooter resting the barrel on the sand bag or something hard. This will “throw” the shot off, giving you an untrue reading.
Some shooters will throw their left hand (the one usually used to hold the gun's forearm) over the scope to hold the gun steady. This too will give you a false evaluation. The gun should be rested on two sandbags, one at the heel of the stock and another under the forearm. The proper way to do it is to use the non-trigger hand to squeeze the sand bag under the stock heel to adjust for height and let the front end of the gun just recoil up naturally. You also want to make sure the stock's butt is snug into your shoulder and you are somewhat leaning into the gun.
As mentioned before, most guns show a truer point of impact after a fouling shot. I usually disregard this shot, and when I'm sure the gun is grouping where it should be, the barrel is left uncleaned. If more then ten shots are fired, I will clean the barrel and fire one more fouling shot through it.
Another good idea is to always shoot the same brand and bullet weight. Having done hundreds of test firing from the bench over the years, I can attest to the fact that different ammo brands and bullet weights definitely affect the point of impact and the group size. Mixing ammunition is putting a lot of faith in luck!
Once the season is over, make sure you do a real good job of cleaning that barrel. I once knew a guy who completely ruined a Utica Deer Slayer barrel that was a exceptional tight shooter. He had not cleaned the barrel one year after a lot of shooting and a layer of lead built up in the forcing cone of the barrel, sealing in the corrosive gases and chemicals from the shooting. This in turned pitted the barrel under this layer of lead so bad that even after being cleaned it quickly “grabbed” a lot of lead from the bullets, causing each bullet to progressively move farther away from the last bullet. It was so bad that he had to replace the original barrel.
So take time before gun season to check out you gun, and then clean it good after the season. Ammunition is scarce and expensive today, but not so much so as to be worth losing or wounding a trophy.