Late summer and early fall most hunters ritually check their rifles’ sights over sandbags and benchrests. I’ve noticed, though, that most seem to think that the Creator made them naturally born expert shots. Few practice from offhand, sitting, kneeling, or prone positions, or fire from shooting sticks, or do any other rifle shooting except from the dratted bench. Maybe they think they’ll find a benchrest in elk timber or up on the side of a sheep mountain.
Wise hunters sight-in their rifles at 100 yards, then they fire at 200 and 300 yards to see where their bullets are landing at those ranges. They also shoot in the off-season using .22 rimfires and .22 centerfires. They shoot empty vegetable cans and paper targets—and dispose of them. They practice their breathing, their trigger squeeze and various shooting positions. They check and re-check their rifles, and leave nothing to chance.
Even with this kind of diligence, there are surprises.
An example involved a trusted .338 that I used on three Alaskan brown bears, four or five elk and a few mule deer. It shot well and I had complete confidence in it. So I took it to southwest Alaska for a barren ground caribou hunt a decade ago. My partners and I floated the Nushagak River in two rafts, stopping occasionally to climb into the hills and hunt. It had been raining for several days when I got a shot at a good bull caribou. However, to my horror, I missed the bull repeatedly from prone position and a rest at a range of about 325 yards.
Back in camp I found I could not hit a paper plate at 100 yards! I finally determined that the rifle had shifted impact—the rifle no longer “shot where it was looking”-- and was striking more than 16 inches to the right, and more than four inches high at 100 yards! I must have been missing that bull by four or five feet! I am convinced the stock warped and threw the rifle out of zero.
The story has a happy ending. I had the .338 completely rebuilt, saving only the original action. I took three big barren ground caribou bulls with it over the next several years, and a 55” Alaska-Yukon moose on the now infamous 11th of September, 2001.I still check every rifle I am going to use during the season, whether it’s going to be a hunt for whitetail does north of town, or a plains game hunt in Africa. Frequent rifle checks and lots of practice shooting help prevent those untimely and unpleasant surprises.