As mountain hunters, we go to great expense and effort to access remote areas. Some of us pay an outfitter to take us in pursuit of game that would be otherwise unattainable. As passionate hunters, we wait months, years or even decades for a single opportunity at a Dall’s Sheep, Yukon-Alaska Moose or something more exotic, like a Himalayan Ibex. My experience has taught me that absolute confidence in my rifle system is a must-have.
system | ˈsɪstɪm | noun
a set of things working together as parts of a mechanism or an interconnecting network; a complex whole.
a set of principles or procedures according to which something is done; an organized scheme or method.
I see the rifle system as having three main components:
- The rifle
- The rangefinder
- The rifle scope
What does the term “absolute confidence” mean? When it comes to hunting mountain game, I am referring to the knowledge and the feeling that I know how to operate my three components correctly and that I have confidence that they will work the way I intend. For the rifle, it means that I am intimately familiar with my body position, how I operate the trigger and action and knowing that the gun is running smoothly. It means that I know the ballistics of my chosen cartridge in all conditions. I tape my ballistics to my rifle stock and always use the same ammunition.
For the rangefinder, it means I know that the ballistic information I have entered into it is correct (should my rangefinder support this), that the battery is fresh (I often carry a spare battery), and that I am running it in the horizontal compensation mode.
I must also know how to operate my rifle scope properly. A good start is to keep the scope zoomed out at the beginning of each hunt. This is always a good idea in bear country (allowing quick target acquisition in a hurry). I must be intimately familiar with elevation and windage adjustment turrets and how to quickly and correctly make adjustments.
Now, confidence in each system component is a starting point. Still, I must also be comfortable and confident in using these components as a system, as per the second part of the definition shown above. It is an organized scheme or method. Do I have methods for prone, seated and standing shooting? Can I shoot at high and low angles effectively? Can I take my shooting position, range the animal and adjust my scope quickly and properly? The answer to all of these questions must be a resounding yes. While respecting our quarry and shooting ethically is a must for every hunter, whether hunting whitetail or grouse or a 70″ bull moose, absolute confidence in the shot is paramount when a hunter has waited years for a single shot on a book ram.
How to Achieve Absolute Confidence
Acquiring accurate ballistic information for your rifle and cartridge is a baseline to achieving confidence. You may receive this information from your rifle manufacturer as I did with my Gunwerks ClymR rifles. You may need to head to the shooting range with a chronograph and a notebook, taking careful measurements of what your shots do at the ranges you are comfortable shooting. At a minimum, you are looking at your box of bullets, recording what little information is there, and verifying it against your own field testing.
Practice your shooting in a variety of realistic positions. It’s not often we find a bench rest and chair in the field, so practicing in that position is a good start, but it should only be the start of our training. The prone position will be your bread and butter if you are primarily a sheep hunter. Spend 80% of your time working on that. If possible, practice higher and lower-angle shots. Use your tripod, but also use a pack as a rest.
You will likely face a standing shot if you are a moose hunter: Spend 80% of your time working on these.
A seated or kneeling shot can come in handy on any hunt. When was the last time you took seated shots at a 300-yard target?
You must be an expert in each part of the rifle system. You must know what each dial, button, lever, switch or other control of your equipment does and how to use it. Your rangefinder battery must have an adequate charger, your bolt must move smoothly, and your rifle scope lenses should be clean. In summary, both you and your gear must be squared away.
Maximize Your Chances of Success
I’ve been on enough mountain hunts to know the feeling of having confidence and not having it. I can assure you, whenever I am out in the hills, and I wonder whether that scope is on, whether I am sure about my ballistics, the excitement and enjoyment of the hunt decreases. I hunt better and enjoy hunting more when I am confident in my gear and rifle system. My heart rate is lower when I know the bullet will go where I want it to. Thus, my success is higher when I have confidence in myself and my gear.
Before you head out again, ask yourself if you have absolute confidence in your system. If not, where do your doubts lie? Address those, and you will be a better, more confidence and more successful hunter.