We hope things are getting better, but it’s not over yet as we continue in a partial lockdown. If it’s going to be isolation, there is no better way to enjoy it than a hunting adventure.
If we were lucky we drew that coveted local game tag. If not, we’ve made plans for an out-of-state hunt or settle for dove, quail or waterfowl; it’s still hunting.
Joining another lucky hunter is my preferred second choice, even as camp cook and packer, which appears to be my fate this year.
We all know what needs to be done prior to a hunt, so consider this a checklist. We’ve all also had the experience of neglecting one of these reminders and lost time, or that once-in-a-lifetime hunting opportunity.
The physical and mental experience ties us to our traditions and culture we share with hunters over the past decades, centuries and millennia. We maintain this link by spending time in wild places, as hunters have always found necessary for sustenance and maintaining a balance with nature and in our own lives.
We are all busy in our technological society and most of us spend too much time at the desk, behind the steering wheel or on the couch. Yes, I’m talking about myself too.
Perhaps you’ve been doing a bit of walking around the block or at the gym, but now it’s time to get in the field and nothing prepares you better than heading for the hills, mountains or open spaces. It doesn’t have to be far, but should duplicate some of the terrain you’ll be hunting.
It’s important to put on that pack you’ll be carrying, with some weight in it. This will get you comfortable with the feel and you can start determining just what you need, and don’t need, in that pack. Nothing gets you more prepared than these short trips in the field.
It’s also time to get that equipment in shape.
Start with your rifle or shotgun. Make sure the bolt, lever, or pump action feeds smoothly with a full magazine and, equally important, with a single cartridge. I had an unfortunate experience when I discovered a weak spring on my magazine would false feed the first cartridge, causing me to go home empty-handed. This is most commonly caused by leaving a magazine full for an extended period, causing the spring to compress and lose strength. The message: always remove cartridges when not being used.
Next, check the stock and recoil pad for loose screws and closely examine the rear tang for any looseness or cracking. This can lead to more serious problems, including a broken stock, but it’s amazing what a little epoxy can do. We were able to repair a broken stock with a reinforcing pin fashioned from a dowel and a little epoxy while sheep hunting in Northern British Columbia, after a horse rolled on it.
A well-functioning rifle is not of much use, however, if the sights are off. This is most often caused by the mount screws being loose. Make sure they are secure and use a Loctite product to keep them tight, but don’t over-tighten them; a stripped thread is not good, but a broken screw is really bad.
If your scope is still not zeroed in after tightening the screws and making proper adjustments, you may have an internal scope problem. I like a set of fixed sights as a backup in case this happens in the field or while traveling. Send it back to the manufacturer. Leupold and other quality scopes have a lifetime guarantee and the manufacturers are great about servicing their products. Start your preparations early to make sure you get it back in time for the hunt. They’ll work with you.
While sighting in, use a bore sighter to get you in the general area of the target; it could save you a lot of ammo just getting on the plate, but don’t take it for granted that a bore sighter will put it in the target center. That’s done by shooting live rounds, and the same ones you’ll be using in the field. This will also give you a chance to check the strength and functioning of the floor plate, if you have one. They have a nasty habit of becoming fouled and dropping your ammo on the ground at times that could be embarrassing, especially when hunting dangerous game. With a light coat of oil or dry lubricant you’ll be ready to go. I prefer oil in wet environments and the dry lubricant when hunting in cold conditions, as oil can harden.
No, it’s not enough to shoot a couple of rounds and call it okay. It’s much more effective to go several times and shoot a few shots rather than going once and burning up a complete box of ammo. This could prevent developing that dreaded flinch or perhaps a sore shoulder and ringing ears.
Also, practice from the effective shooting positions you will use during the hunt as you probably won’t find a bench rest when that deer, elk or sheep steps into the clearing. If you use shooting sticks, practice with them. In all cases include practice sitting, standing and prone positions.
Careful consideration should also be given to a sturdy gun case for traveling (Cabela’s catalog is a good place to start your research). A comfortable shoulder sling is also of great importance. I recommend not ordering the sling from a catalog, but taking your rifle to your favorite dealer and trying some on for size. If the fit isn’t right, as with hunting boots, you’re going to feel the pain. Just make sure the swivel attachments are solid and don’t interfere with bringing your rifle to shoulder.
Optics are as important on some hunts as the rifle, especially sheep hunts. You will often spend days peering through the scope and binoculars before finding the game you’re after.
One rule, get the best you can afford. I would stay away from the bargain “good buys.” If you’re hiking or mountain hunting, consider some of the newer lightweight versions. I have a lightweight Leupold spotting scope and find it ideal with a pair of quality lightweight binoculars.
Don’t forget the camera. There are many high-quality compact digitals on the market. Take your pick but make sure it’s a size that fits in your pocket, or it will be back in camp when you need it. I’ve had great use of my waterproof Pentax-Optio and Sony pocket camera. They’ve become international standards in hunting and fishing camps around the world.
When it comes to knives, it doesn’t have to be an expensive collectors’ item, and you don’t need a Bowie-sized knife either unless you’re carving up a cape buffalo or defending yourself against a charging elephant. I prefer a 3-inch folding lock blade knife for my belt, but also a 6-inch sheath knife and small folding saw in my pack. These don’t have to be expensive custom blades, but look for a name brand like Buck, Gerber, Puma or Case. All will give you years of dependable service and become more than a tool. After several years they feel like an old trusted friend and become part of the tradition that lasts for years and even decades as they are handed down through family and friends.
Unless you’re road hunting (shame), a backpack is your next most important item. Pockets and lightweight materials are what to look for, but fabric strength and strong zippers are most important. You’ll want it large enough to carry your “possibles” which will include a first aid/survival kit (we’ll talk about that in a future column), some strong cord, a water container (not disposable plastic) and some lunch or dinner if it’s an overnighter. If you’re planning on backpacking your game out, there are many good options. Cabela’s catalog is again, a good place to start looking.
Now let’s look at the other “stuff.” Set that tent up in the yard and make sure all of the poles and stakes are still with it and you can set it up quickly and efficiently. If you’ve ever set a tent in the rain you know why this is important.
Put those things in the tent that will be used on the trip and you may even enjoy spending a night in the yard with it and the kids, or perhaps just a nap and a lunch. It all helps you get practice and into the spirit of the hunt.
Next, make sure your stove and cooking equipment are also in good working order by using them to cook a meal for family or friends. Make it the same as you’ll be having on your hunt; if it’s freeze-dried or beans, then enjoy the adventure and your friends will too.
If you’re going to use a trailer, camper or RV, get the tires, brakes and fluids checked and then pack it with what you will be using on the trip. Just like the tent it will put you mentally in that comfort place and not create last-minute anxiety by getting ready “while on the road.”
Preparation and anticipation are part of the hunt and like many things often the best part; enjoy getting in the “hunter’s mode.”
And finally, all of this is of little importance if you can’t get to your hunting area. These days it’s all about transportation (we’ll do that in a future column too). Whether it’s a four-wheel-drive Dodge Ram, Jeep or a quad, you know what you should always do. Just do it. Take extra care checking its cooling system, tires, battery and air filters. Remember some extra gas too.
If you’ve done all of these things, you’re ready to go. If not, it’s time to get moving. Enjoy getting ready, packing and visiting with friends and other like-minded sportsmen. They may even enjoy helping. It’s part of the tradition and not meant to be stressful, but savored like a good meal, Cuban cigar, fine brandy or other quality experience.
Good luck and good hunting.
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