In the last post, I had triumphed in a titanic struggle to get sighted in at 500 yards. Six hundred, I’m pleased to report, was as exciting as a Jeb Bush speech. Using my previous experience with other .308s, I put the 14-MoA stadia wire on the bull’s-eye, pulled the trigger, and the bullet went right where it was supposed to. The lesson in this—there’s always a lesson—is that I went from the 10- MoA wire to the 14. This means I had 4 minutes of angle, or 16 inches worth of bullet drop, between 500 and 600 yards. Sixteen inches is almost the body depth of an antelope.
So, now it was time to shoot. I did all my firing at NRA Life Sized Deer targets, which are available from National Target Company in Frederick, MD, and are just about ideal for any kind of realistic shooting practice. The vital zone is roughly D-shaped, and is 10 inches deep by 8 inches wide. You can’t see its outline from a distance, so you have to estimate where to aim, just as in real life.
I fired 10 rounds at 300 and 500, and 14 at 600 yards, all from prone, using a bipod. The shooting took place on three successive days with 5 MPH wind, no mirage, and 8 AM light.
At 300 yards, all 10 rounds were in the vital zone in a neat group you could cover with your hand. This was not a surprise. If you become reasonably competent at 500 and 600 yards, 300 yards is a chip shot.
At 500, I had nine shots in the vital zone and one round low in the chest, 2 ½ inches out. In real life this would have still been fatal, or at least put the animal down.
Why 14 rounds at 600 yards? Because sighting in had gone so smoothly that I had ammo left over; why not shoot it for record? So, of these, 9 were in the vital zone. Two were ½-inch to the rear, toward the diaphragm, and would have been fatal in real life. Two were ½-inch low, ditto, ditto. One was 1 ¼-inch low, and would not have been fatal, but would have put the animal down.
My shooting skills at these ranges are modest. Someone who is really good could have put all 34 shots right smack in the center of the vital zone. I know, because I’ve seen it done.
Now the question: Is shooting animals at long range ethical? In most cases no. It’s not fair chase because you’re negating the animal’s chief means of defense—its sight, scenting ability, and hearing. At a third of a mile, if you have the brains to break up your outline and hold still, most animals can’t see you or hear you, and while they may be able to detect your scent, they won’t be able to tell where it’s coming from.
If you shoot and miss, they will almost invariably hold for another shot because they have no idea what’s going on, or what the crack of the bullet meant, or what the crack of the rifle meant, or what to do about them, if anything. I’ve made only one kill at long range with the first shot; all the others came after multiple rounds and multiple corrections.
On the other hand, there are places where you can’t stalk or get close. South Carolina comes to mind, where the woods are so dense that you have to either hunt from a treestand, or do it with dogs and a shotgun. So South Carolinians have invented the beanfield rifle, and shoot at long range, and I have no problem at all with it.
Sometimes it’s the last hour of the last day and/or the animal in question is a lifetime trophy, but far, far away. Then you will shoot; anyone who turns down such a shot has more willpower than I can comprehend. That’s one thing. But to perfect the sniper’s skill and turn it on animals, fairness be damned, is another. Sniping is for warfare where the whole object is to deny your enemy a chance.
Animals are not the enemy.