A Useful Reminder – Verify Zero On Those Rifles

November 4, 2013

Just a little something that I thought of this weekend, with the opening of rifle season down here.  I pulled out my go-to rifles, the Savage 30-06 and Browning Lever Action .243.  Both of these rifles have always been tack drivers, and each has taken a fairly good number of game animals.

I set up a couple of targets at 100 yards, figuring that I’d shoot four or five shots just to get the feeling back in my trigger finger.  I’ve done plenty of rimfire and pistol shooting over the summer, but the big guns didn’t get out much.  I leveled off the 30-06, and squeezed off a crack.  The 180gr ETip screamed off down range and…

Where the hell did it go?

I pulled out the Leicas and scanned the target.  I can’t remember which brand these targets are, but they’re the ones with the reflective layer under the black, so you can spot your hits easier.  After a moment, I realized that the yellow spot way over on the right edge of the target was not a number, but my bullet hole.  I must have pulled it pretty bad.

I settled in behind the scope again, got my breathing nice and easy, squeezed the Timney trigger (at 2 1/4 lbs., it doesn’t take much), and sent the second round about 1/2″ above the first shot.  My third shot went just to the left of the first.  It was a nice little MOA group, but it was over 4″ to the right of where I was aiming.

I made the adjustments and got the group to settle just at the top of the 1″ bull.  I thought, while I’m at it I should give these Barnes Vor-TX loads a try.  These are launching a 165gr. tipped TSX (TTSX) bullet, so I was curious how much different the point of impact would be.  I stuffed four of them into the mag and settled in.  My first shot was about an inch higher than the ETips, almost dead over the bullseye.  My next three all landed almost even with the ETip group, but maybe an inch and a half to the left of it.  The group was a little bigger than I got from the ETips, maybe 1 3/4″, but I can’t say that was the ammo… and it was still a really respectable group for a hunting round.  My plan is to hunt with the Barnes Vor-TX ammo this season, since I have yet to take any game with this cartridge.

Happy with the Savage, I set it aside and loaded up the BLR.  Now I’ve had this rifle for close to 30 years, and it got a lot of use.  It has always been scary accurate.  I’ve shot holes in dimes with it at 100 yards, and even used to hang a beer can from a piece of kite string, and then shoot the string.  But the trick about this rifle is that it’s got a wispy-thin barrel, and .243 is a pretty hot round.  You have to let it cool off after a few shots, or the group will start to walk across the target.

The BLR didn’t like Barnes ammo when I tried it a few years ago, and Winchester was good enough to provide me with some of their new (at the time) XP3 ammo.  The XP3 shoots lights out from this rifle.  Unfortunately, when I dug my ammo out I realized I only had about seven rounds left.  “Oh well,” thought I.  “I’ll shoot a three shot group to verify zero, and that will leave me four rounds for Kat to use to shoot her deer.”

To make the long story shorter, my first group settled about four inches high and six inches right of the bull.  I made adjustments, but now I had a decision to make.  Use up the last of the XP3 ammo, or switch to something else.  I had about a half box of rounds on top of the safe.  They were in a Winchester silver box, but instead of the nickel cases these were brass.  I decided to give them a go, and stuffed three of them into the mag.

The first shot was almost exactly 12:00, but still almost six inches high.  My second shot went right by about two inches, but was only about one inch high.  My third shot was about two inches below the second.  What the hell?

It turns out that the ammo in the box was mixed.  There were some 85gr Barnes TSX mixed in with what I think were 100gr Winchester PowerPoints, along with a third bullet that I couldn’t recognize (it was coated, so I think it was some kind of Winchester Premium line).  Just for kicks, I tried it again.  The Barnes bullet went in about four inches high and an inch or so to the right.  The Power Points hung together, just to the right of the bull and a little high.  I think I was getting fatigued at this point, because I landed the coated bullets all over the place.  It was time to stop.  The next day and well rested, I was able to get the Power Points into about a two inch group, about one inch high of the bull.  Even though I know this rifle is capable of more, that was plenty good enough for shooting deer.

The whole experience was a sobering reminder that it’s a good idea to re-check the zero on our hunting rifles at least every season, even if you don’t think it’s necessary.  For example, even though both are topped with identical Leupold VX-II glass, the two rifles I sighted in this weekend have had very different lives.

Because it’s always on standby down here, the Savage spends a lot of time bouncing around in the truck.  It’s travelled all over the country, often just riding on the back seat or in the rear floorboard.  The dog walks on it.  Groceries get set on top of it.  All things considered, it wasn’t a big surprise that the scope had shifted.  I account for this, however, by shooting it from the bench at least a few times each year.

But the BLR lives in the safe, except during hunting seasons.  Last year it came out once, Kat shot a deer with one well-placed shot, and it got cleaned and put away.  The distance from the safe to the stand wasn’t more than a 100 yard walk.  Before that, it’s been over two years since I used that rifle on a hunt.  I shot it a little bit in the interim, mostly messing around off-hand behind the barn, but this weekend was probably the first time that rifle has been on a bench in three years.  My guess is that it was off last year when Kat shot her deer, but four or five inches of variance didn’t really matter on that 75 yard shot.  The bullet may have gone a little high and wide, but it was still well within the kill zone.  But if that deer had been 200 yards out, across the pasture, the result might have been very different.

Besides the obvious, I don’t know why scopes tend to go out of zero from time to time.  Manufacturers like to make big claims about the ruggedness and reliability of their optics, rings, and bases.  And I think most modern scopes are pretty danged solid.  But when you think about it, the mechanics that hold and adjust the crosshairs and mirrors of a modern scope are relatively delicate things.  They’re subject to all sorts of forces, from recoil to air pressure and humidity.  Even rocks change over time.  It should be no wonder that our optics do too.

Checking zero shouldn’t require a whole box of ammo, or a whole lot of time.  It’s a reasonably small effort that can pay out big rewards in the end, though.





Black Rhinos And The High Price Of Conservation

November 2, 2013

What is the price of conservation?

What is the value?

It’s a fact of this modern world that everything comes with a price.  It’s also a fact that if you want to get someone’s interest in something, you have to provide a payoff.  Altruism still exists, but by and large it’s a practice reserved for little things… the intangibles like sparing a kind word for a stranger or moving a flock of ducklings out of traffic.

I guess I should focus first, before I wax too esoteric.

About a week ago, the Dallas Safari Club made big waves with the announcement of an auction for a permit to shoot a black rhinocerous.  Ripples spread quickly from news sites to blogs.  The argument is that the sale of this permit will generate somewhere in the neighborhood of $1 million, 100% of which would then be turned around to fund conservation and protection of these endangered species in their native home.

According to what I read (I’m no expert here), there are about 4000 black rhinos left in the wild.  About 1800 of them live in Namibia, which is where this hunt, along with four others, will take place.  As part of the country’s management plan, five mature, male rhinos will be taken in the coming season.  The argument is that the males selected will be past their prime as breeders, but may still be capable of severely injuring or killing younger rhinos as they fight over mates.  Taking these animals out of the herd may preserve several others.

What I’ve also read, and something about which I am only slightly more informed, is that the biggest threat to the survival of the black rhino (and to most endangered African species) is poaching.  Because most African countries are fairly poor, fielding the personnel required to police the huge areas of wild lands to protect game from poachers is a daunting task.

Selling the various parts of endangered species, such as the horn of the black rhino, is big business and can provide significant income… and poachers are willing to kill anyone who tries to interfere.  Stopping the poachers, therefore, requires more than the lightly armed, solo game warden with which most US hunters are familiar.  It takes a small army, equally armed, to patrol the countryside.  Small armies are not cheap.

An important source of the funding for African conservation is the dollars brought to the country by travelling sportsmen.  Hunters from all over the world travel to Africa to hunt the exotic species that can be found there, and they often pay top dollar to do so.  The more exotic the species, the higher the tab.  As with any commodity, short supply drives the price tag higher.  With this in mind, some African countries provide extremely limited opportunities to hunt endangered species.

Of course, even for some of the hunters among us, this practice raises a flag.  Selling hunts for endangered species?  How does that even make sense?  Who would shoot an endangered animal?

Part of the problem is purely perception.  When a species is listed as “endangered”, that doesn’t mean there are only one or two animals left.  What it means is that, left unprotected and unmanaged, the population is in danger of collapse.  And really, in many cases at least, hunting is one of the few ways that both of those requirements, protection and management, can be achieved.

Of course, it would be wonderful if folks felt the urge to just open their checkbooks and send a few hundred thousand bucks over to Africa for wildlife conservation.  There certainly are a handful of charitable organizations trying to accomplish exactly that.  But the best way to get someone to part with their money is to offer them something in return.  That’s just how it is, and hunters are just like anyone else.

Which brings us back to where I started…

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