This section will give you helpful information on how to choose the weapon you plan to use hunting. This information intends to be helpful not all encompasing.
Bowhunting more than any other style of hunting can be more of an art than science. Each archer must adopt a shooting style to fit his/her shooting abilities and personality.
The selection of a bow and its accessories will be a personal and subjective choice.
Choosing a bow and its accessories is largely a matter of personal taste.
Many bowhunters eagerly make use of all the most modern compound bows and the latest accessories. While others prefer a more traditional approach and use long bows and use accessories sparingly. Either will give you years of enjoyment!
Though a hunter need not to buy the most expensive bow and it’s accessories it does make sense to invest in quality equipment.
If possible seek the advice of a hunter you respect or from a reputable source before purchasing your hunting equipment.
No matter what style of bow you choose compound or traditional you will need to determine three VERY important variables: eye dominance, length of draw and draw weight.
See our section on Choosing a Bow to see how to determine your length of draw and draw weight.
Bows are configured for right-handed and left handed people. Your choice should be determined by eye dominance not just by being left handed or right handed.
In most cases, hand and eye dominance match, but occasionally a right-handed person will have a dominant left eye or vice versa.
To figure out which of your eyes is dominant, point at a distant object with both eyes open. Now close your left eye, then your right.
When you look through your dominant eye, your finger will still appear to point at the object, but when you look through your subordinate eye, your finger will appear to shift to the side.
If your eye dominance matches your hand dominance, simply select a bow configured for your dominant hand. In the rare case, your hand and eye dominance are mismatched, it’s best to choose a bow based on your eye dominance rather than your hand dominance.
Though it may feel weird and cumbersome at first, in the long run, a person will become accustomed and become a better shooter. Research shows most successful archers sight with the dominant eye regardless of hand dominance.
Choosing the right rifle and the correct ammunition will make your hunt much more enjoyable, and can really boost your odds of being successful.
When selecting a rifle for hunting, you should consider how it fits, the sights, how heavy it is, plus its action and caliber.
A properly fitting gun will help you fire a more accurate shot. A stock that is too long for the shooter can get caught on your jacket, in your armpit.
If too short, the scope could strike a person in the eyebrow, giving them what’s known as “scope bite.”
Stock lengths can vary GREATLY with each model and manufacturer.
Downfalls of improper fit are the amount of drop you will encounter. While your cheek is pressed firmly against the stock of the rifle, your shooting eye should line up with the sites.
Too much drop will prevent you from placing your cheek against the stock, and the recoil could cause the stock to slam against your cheek. More than likely to leave a mark! A gunsmith can almost always change the length of the stock for you if needed.
If hunting in heavy brush where you must use short sights, buy a low power scope or a peep sight that has a large aperture. Either one can be aimed quickly and very accurately.
Variable power scopes within the ranges of 1.5x to 7x are ideal for this purpose. Open sights, which are standard on most rifles are difficult to line up quickly and more important accurately.
Another important consideration in choosing a rifle is weight.
The action you choose will largely depend on your need for a quick second shot, accuracy plus your personal preferences.
Keep in mind not all calibers are available in each type of action. Actions can vary from the very reliable and sturdy single shots to fast shooting lever actions, pumps, and semi-automatics.
Most actions will function fine without oil for short periods of time. If you do a lot of shooting in very cold climates, you may want to consider using a graphite lubricant.
Important: Most states have laws that specify minimum calibers and cartridges for hunting Big Game animals.
Shotguns and slugs are most commonly used for deer hunting in densely populated areas, many states don’t allow rifle hunting.
Some of the southern states permit you to use shotguns with buckshot only. The ideal shotgun for deer hunting is one that has a rifled barrel and special sights or a scope.
Rifled barrels shoot slugs more accurately than do smoothbores, but you have to make sure they are carefully patterned.
Rifling causes the slugs to spin and stabilize, allowing shots at deer up to 125 yards away. Slugs guns and ammunition are available in all the popular gauges with the 12 gauge being the most widely used.
Muzzleloaders or “smokepoles” as they are commonly called can only fire one shot so you better make it count. Due to technology over the last few years, they have become very accurate and reach out to around 125 yards.
Many states have seasons allowing you to extend your time in the field.
Hunters can choose between caplocks and flintlocks.
Many hunters prefer the flinlocks, though the caplocks are likely to misfire less often. They come in a variety of calibers the most common being .50 and .54, which are the most preferred by hunters today.
You have a choice of round balls, conical bullets, and pistol bullets. Check with your local state to see which are allowed for hunting.
Long-range shooting is one of the hottest trends among today’s riflemen. In some ways this is really good because it has driven the manufacturers to create a bow wave of excellent new products. We have a whole bunch of fast new cartridges, so many that it’s downright confusing, but they’re all wonderful. Some of them, at least theoretically, offer more accuracy than the previous generation of belted magnums, and a few offer genuine increases in trajectory-flattening velocity.
We also have a lot of rifles that, right out of the box, offer significant improvements in accuracy. To me this is even better to play with than new cartridges. Hunting scopes and this new breed of “tactical scope” are more rugged than ever, plus–a big plus–they have genuinely repeatable adjustments and a variety of reticles to help judge range and allow a more precise hold at extended ranges.
This is all good, and the best part of it all is that it has given guys like me lots of things to write about. So we’ve written about long-range shooting, and many of you have done it. With or without the new equipment, you’ve honed your skills and increased your capabilities until you are genuinely dangerous at much farther ranges than you once thought possible. This is also good; riflery is about getting better, not standing still.
I do have a rub with this thirst to extend the range envelope, however, and that’s when it is taken hunting. Don’t get me wrong. There are circumstances where long shots are appropriate, and the very word “long” is very subjective. A great many hunters, perhaps the majority, have no business shooting at game much beyond 200 yards. There are others, a minority, who are perfectly competent out to 400 yards and beyond when the conditions are right. There are a very few who, on a calm day, in good light, with plenty of time to set up and think it through, can shoot considerably farther with confidence and reliability.
It is not my place to tell anyone how far he should or should not attempt to shoot at game, so I’m not going to put a figure on how far is too far. It depends a whole lot on the circumstances and the conditions at a given moment, as well as an individual’s skill. I can say that, with all the new equipment, I occasionally hear people telling about shooting game at 700, 800 or even 1,000 yards. This is sort of like pornography: It’s very difficult to define, but you know it when you see it. I can’t precisely define a range limit; it varies with every person, and no two situations are alike. But I can say that I am totally opposed to shooting at game at the ranges mentioned above.
Note that I am not suggesting that shooting at such ranges is impractical. Long-range shooting is fun, and long-range competitive shooting is fascinating. Thousand-yard shooters continue to raise the bar, now shooting groups that many of us would have trouble matching at 200 yards. And the stories are just now starting to trickle in about the shooting feats of some of our snipers in places like Afghanistan and Iraq. This is all great stuff, but to my mind it has nothing to do with hunting.
THIS ISN’T COMBAT
The variables that make long-range shooting difficult are the same whether we’re talking target shooting, hunting or tactical shooting (which I take to be a euphemism for police and military sniping or preparation for same). The list is long, but it includes knowledge of distance and knowledge of trajectory for the proper hold; adjusting the hold for wind; sheer accuracy, which includes the inherent accuracy of the rifle and load, the shooter’s skill and the degree of steadiness and stability that the current circumstances allow; and, finally, pesky little things like shooting angle, light and temperature. Long-range target shooting is a wonderful sport and the best way in the world to learn about these variables. One of the lessons to be learned is what you can do and what you cannot do.
Tactical shooting for real is the ultimate test. I have never been to sniper school, but I have commanded Marine scout/snipers on numerous occasions. The training is wonderful but no less wonderful than the great shooting these folks have done. Snipers have played an important role in American military tactics since our Revolution, although it has only been in recent years that we have had formal schooling and an official “Military Occupational Specialty” (MOS) for the trade. Some have passed into legend: Timothy Murphy, whose felling of a British general during the battle of Saratoga may well have changed the course of the American Revolution; Alvin York, not a designated sniper but one helluva rifleman; Carlos Hathcock, Marine Distinguished Marksman, whose incredible exploits in Vietnam led to several books.
As riflemen, we admire their skill, but I consider it an exceptionally bad idea to try to replicate their feats in game country. Hunting is not combat. The stakes are immeasurably higher in the latter, at least to the shooter and his teammates, but the two situations couldn’t be more different. As hunters, we have an obligation to take our game cleanly, efficiently and humanely. It is preferable to do this with one well-placed shot, but we all know sometimes this isn’t possible, so we are prepared to follow up with additional shots until the game is brought to bag. This is not the preferred situation, but it’s acceptable. What is not acceptable to any hunter worthy of the name is wounding and losing game.
In combat, the situation is much different. While the military sniper always seeks the best shot he can get, the real goal is almost always to take the target out of the fight. A nonfatal hit is perfectly acceptable under most conditions because most hits will take most men out of the fight, and near-misses will cause a lot of men to rethink their next move. Perhaps more important, in most armies a wounded soldier must be recovered and cared for, which expends resources, takes other enemy soldiers out of the fight and just may expose other targets during the recovery process.
Folks, this has nothing to do with hunting, where the only goal is to take your game cleanly so you can recover it. Let’s review some of the challenges in long-range shooting as they apply to hunting situations.
DISTANCE AND TRAJECTORY
Thanks to the laser rangefinder–a truly wonderful tool–near-perfect knowledge of distance is now within everyone’s grasp. Used correctly, the laser rangefinder does remove one of the critical variables in long-range shooting.
Of course, this is only half the battle. Once you know the range, you must also know where your bullet will hit at that range and adjust accordingly.
Do not think that this is just a matter of getting one of today’s fastest and flattest-shooting magnums. Flatness of trajectory helps but not as much as you might think. Thousand-yard competitive shooters generally sight their rifles inordinately high at short range to simplify holding on their known-distance targets. Hunters cannot do that. If you sight in more than three inches high at 100 yards, you must hold low at the midrange distances. This is very difficult to make yourself do, so misses at about 200 yards are almost a certainty. With a normal sight-in of perhaps three inches high at 100 yards, we have a lot of cartridges that will allow shooting without holdover to 400 yards and change. This is a very far poke and gives a great deal of flexibility, but push them much farther and it simply doesn’t matter what you’re shooting. You will have to adjust your hold, and in order to do this you must know your trajectory.
It isn’t impossible, not at all. At the Battle of Adobe Walls, scout Billy Dixon is credited with knocking a Cheyenne off his horse at nearly a mile. In Cuba and the Philippines, American troops using trapdoor Springfields silenced Spanish and insurgent positions at 1,100 yards. Today most of our military sniping is done with match 7.62mm NATO ammo. Downrange ballistics aren’t impressive, but these kids are deadly–and consistently deadly–at 1,000 yards and beyond.
So the issue isn’t really trajectory at all but how well you know your trajectory. It can be learned, but ballistics charts won’t tell you what you need to know. The only way to effectively shoot at distance is to actually shoot at distance–a lot– with the exact rifle and load you intend to use. Few of us actually shoot at 400, 500 and 600 yards, and if you don’t, you have absolutely no business shooting at game at these distances.
This is because ballistics charts are only a guide. Your barrel may be faster or slower because of internal dimensions. It may be longer or shorter. The height of your scope above the bore may be different from the standard used on the charts, and this throws off everything. At medium ranges these differences may not be enough to matter, but at long range everything matters. These things can be learned, but it takes hundreds of hours and thousands of rounds at genuine distances.
Another supposed shortcut is the scopes that allow you to dial-in the range. Some are useless and some work very well, but none is so good that it provides a textbook solution without actually shooting at real ranges to verify each increment of adjustment. Personally, I have found very few “dial-in your range” scopes to have adjustments consistent and accurate enough to make this possible. Because of this, I much prefer to leave the adjustments alone and use reticles with additional stadia lines or aiming points such as mil-dot reticles. These work, but again, you must shoot them at actual ranges under ideal conditions because the textbook solution is very unlikely to be a perfect match to your rifle and load.
Once you get past knowledge of distance and trajectory–and with practice you can get past them–you must deal with wind. There is nothing simple about this. Even on a formal rifle range with range flags blowing, it’s hard to figure. In the field it is almost impossible. There are great little wind gauges that will give you the wind speed and direction, but this only applies at the rifle. You also must judge the wind at the target and along the way between you and the target.
It’s a simple thing to learn that a 10-mph crosswind will blow a .30 caliber 180-grain spitzer bullet with a muzzle velocity of 3,200 fps somewhere between 14 and 20 inches (depending on the exact bullet) off course at 500 yards. But what does a 10-mph wind feel like? And how do you tell if the wind is the same at the animal?
There are clues as to what the wind is doing downrange, like waving leaves and moving grass. With experience, a few really great riflemen–like Carlos Hathcock–develop an innate feel for it that is almost like a sixth sense. But there’s no way to be sure. In sniping, given the vertical presentation of a human and the relatively narrow target, misreading the wind probably means a miss–or a perfectly acceptable wounding shot. In hunting, with the horizontal presentation of four-footed animals, misreading the wind is much more likely to mean a wounding shot. Sometimes, of course, it’s calm. Sometimes there’s a very mild breeze that seems consistent. If everything else is accounted for, then you can take the shot. But if there’s much more than a puff of breeze, you probably need to get closer. And guess what?
The hunting country where long shooting is most likely–plains, mountains, tundra–is usually windy country.
ACCURACY AND STABILITY
For serious long-range shooting there is no such thing as too much accuracy. The kind of group that we think of as perfectly adequate for hunting accuracy–say, 11?4 inches at 100 yards–is nowhere near good enough. With normal spread, that’s more than six inches at 500 yards, which is still well within a deer’s vital zone. Except very few rifles and riflemen can hold a group to that normal spread at extreme range.
Again, the only way to know how well you and your rifle can shoot at 500 yards is to actually shoot at 500 yards. Once in a great while you run into a rifle that groups better farther out than up close, but don’t count on it. I figure the standards for a serious long-range rifle are about the same as for a serious varmint rifle. I want consistent groups of 1/2 inch or less at 100 yards, and I feel a whole lot better if I can break the quarter-inch barrier.
The good news is that both rifles and ammunition are considerably more accurate than ever before. This is at least partly because American riflemen have demanded better accuracy, and the manufacturers have responded. Barrels are better, and factory ammo is a whole lot better. Today it isn’t unusual to get the kind of groups with factory ammo that were once the exclusive province of precision handloaders. So, while accuracy will always be somewhat mysterious and, in a given rifle with a given load, may prove elusive, you can get the raw accuracy you need.
The next question is whether you can apply that accuracy under field conditions. There are no shooting benches in hunting country, so the perfect conditions that produced your best groups no longer apply. Obviously, there are many ways to get steady, such as over a pack, with a bipod, even a good prone position. But however you do it, getting steady is an absolute requirement for taking a long-range shot.
This means that even if everything else is right, sometimes you can and sometimes you can’t take the shot. Things like vegetation and uneven ground may make it impossible to get into a steady, supported position. The bottom line is that, somehow, some way, you simply must get absolutely steady. If you can’t, then there isn’t a shot.
Again, it’s the same story: A miss is the really good news. At very long range, the average shooter who hasn’t spent a lot of time shooting at distance will probably miss. On the other hand, the shooter who has done the homework–knows the distance, knows the trajectory, understands wind drift and has the accuracy required–will probably not miss by much. Which means a wounded animal.
ANGLES AND THINGS
Hopefully, we all understand what happens when shooting at uphill or downhill angles. The effect is the same. Gravity acts upon the bullet only on the horizontal distance, which, whether it’s uphill or downhill, is a shorter distance between you and your target. This means your trajectory is stretched out. It doesn’t mean that your bullet rises when shooting at steep angles, but since you are sighted-in above your line of sight at shorter ranges, this is the effect.
This is not something to lose sleep over at short to medium ranges. It takes a fairly steep angle and considerable distance before the effect is worth worrying about, but way out there you’d better worry about it.
Shooting at angles is a bit like doping the wind. Some detailed ballistics charts and computer programs will tell you what the effect is for a given load at a given angle and distance. You could print out this data and carry it with you, just like a wind-drift chart. But in the field, can you accurately measure the angle? Can you really tell the difference between a 25- and a 40-degree slope?
As I’ve often written, I do not actively pursue long-range shooting in the field. But I do practice for it and know how to do it. If conditions are right and there is no way to get closer, I will take a shot at, say, 500 yards and change. I have never taken a shot at game at 600 yards or beyond and don’t intend to.
At 500 yards and change, most of my shots have been successful–with two notable exceptions. Both times, once on a downhill shot and once on an uphill shot, I failed to read the angle correctly, didn’t adjust for it properly and shot right over the top. The good news, of course, is that I missed cleanly both times.
It’s important to remember that temperature affects velocity, and as altitude increases, retained velocities are higher because of reduced air friction. Any shift in velocity will impact your carefully memorized and annotated ballistics data. If you do all your hunting close to home, this isn’t a big deal. But don’t think you can work up your data at sea level in Florida and use it in the Canadian Rockies. As with shooting angles, it takes both a lot of distance and a radical shift in outside temperature or altitude to make a difference, but we’re not talking about normal shooting ranges here. Out at the quarter-mile mark and beyond, you need to know if you’ve lost or gained a couple hundred feet per second.
BULLET PERFORMANCE AND ENERGY
This is one long-range variable that applies only to hunting. In target shooting, the criteria for long-range bullets are accuracy and aerodynamics; all the bullet has to do on arrival is punch a hole through paper. In combat you can argue endlessly about what might be best, but international treaties stipulate nonexpanding bullets. So match-grade spitzer boattail FMJs are almost universal.
This is not fine in hunting. Ideally, you want the same bullet performance at long range as you get at close range: enough penetration to reach the vitals coupled with enough expansion to create a large wound channel, disrupt vital organs and dispatch the animal quickly. This is not only a humane consideration. The faster the animal goes down, the quicker and easier it is to recover your game. No matter where the hit, the farther an animal is able to travel after receiving a bullet, the greater the chance of losing the animal.
Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to obtain the same expansion at long range that you can get routinely at close range. Velocity is always a key contributor to bullet performance. Way out there, your velocity has dropped off considerably, so bullet expansion will generally be less, and less rapid. It also becomes more erratic. Most of the guys who shoot game at long range tend to use bullets that are both very accurate and generally quite frangible. Many use Sierra MatchKing hollowpoints, which is not specifically a hunting bullet but is very accurate and generally quite effective, especially at longer range. Others use polymer-tipped bullets like Nosler Ballistic Tips.
In my experience it doesn’t much matter what you use. At extreme ranges, when velocity has dropped off dramatically, bullet performance is no longer consistent. I have seen even quick-expanding bullets like these act just like solids at longer ranges. Energy drops off right along with velocity, and as expansion is reduced, energy transfer is also diminished. What this means is that as range increases, shot placement needs to be even more precise because you can no longer count on bullet expansion and energy transfer as hedges against poor shot placement.
Personally, I don’t want anything to do with shooting at game at 600 yards, but when conditions are right, I have several friends who make this work on a routine basis. So my limits need not apply to you, but there are limits.
In terms of hunting ethics, our image as hunters and the future of our sport, the stakes are much higher in hunting than in the other venues. As range increases, a near miss is an increasingly likely result. And hunting is the one shooting venue where a near miss is absolutely unacceptable.
Your definition of “varmint” may be different than mine. To me, a varmint is any inedible critter that may potentially cause damage to the ecosystem if its numbers are left unchecked.
However, we’ll probably both agree that one of the most effective ways to keep them in check is with a small-caliber centerfire rifle. And the only way to do this with any amount of success is with the help of quality optics, both to find these critters and to place bullets accurately.
The class of optics you might use in varminting can be separated into two groups: those designed for shooting and those designed for hunting.
Those designed for shooting–long telescopic riflescopes with large objectives, whisper-thin crosshairs, and high top-end power ratings, and monstrous binoculars that jiggle when you blink your eyes–don’t necessarily roll over into the hunting aspect of varminting.
But optics designed for hunting applications–low-power variable scopes and binoculars that you can handhold–can get the job done whether you’re after coyotes, prairie dogs, groundhogs or whitetails.
Though I enjoy spending a few hours on any given sunny day overlooking a prairie dog town with a bull barrel .22-250 and a scope that weighs nearly as much as the rifle and is almost as long, my real passion is in hunting–not necessarily in shooting.
So it follows then that on my varminting rigs, excepting guns designed specifically for shooting from a bench, I prefer optics more suited to the former. It’s a matter of versatility.
I decided this several years ago on a prairie dog shoot in western Colorado. I didn’t bring my own gun along on that shoot and used a heavy barrel Ruger M77 in .223.
It’s the exact type of gun you’d expect to have on a prairie dog shoot, but it featured a 3-9X Simmons V-TAC variable (which has since become a Weaver product, marketed under the name Tactical).
At first, I was concerned that it would be inadequate for the small, distant targets, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. In fact, during the midday heat, I actually had to turn down the power to 6X or 7X to see through the heat waves when squeezing off on ‘dogs at ranges up to 300 yards.
Since then, I’ve had good success using a number of low-power variables on small targets, preferring nothing with more than 16X at the top end–even when using scopes with specialized reticles.
A Pentax Lightseeker AO in 4-16X with a mil-dot reticle was an excellent performer two summers ago, and more recently I enjoyed shooting a Weaver V16.
Either of these scopes would be at home on a heavy barrel varmint rig or a flat-shooting big-game rifle along the lines of a .300 Win. Mag. or 7mm Rem. Mag.
If your varminter is a sporter-weight rifle used to hunt a variety of small game, then I’d suggest an even smaller variable with no more than 10X at the top end and 3X or less at the bottom end. Quite often, the versatility you’ll need will come at the lower end of the power range, not the top end.
I have a little tack-driving Savage 16FSS in .223 and fancy it mostly as a coyote rig. While calling coyotes in Texas one afternoon, a gray fox scampered from the heavy cover in front of me and stood at 20 yards.
Fortunately, I had a 1.5-6X Swarovski scope mounted on the rifle and had a precious few seconds to back the Xs down for a decent sight picture.
I took that fox home, but only because I could see it through the scope at low power. With the same scope turned up to 5X or 6X, the rig becomes fully capable of potting prairie dogs out to 200 yards. You probably have a scope capable of such versatility on your deer rifle.
Because all spotting scopes are used with a tripod and feature a great deal of magnification, they don’t really fit into my argument for fewer Xs.
Binoculars definitely do, though. But remember, I’m basing my bias on one point: versatility. If you’re an ardent prairie dogger or groundhog shooter with little interest in other types of varminting, you definitely are best off with the largest, brightest glass you can afford. Mount it on a tripod, and you’ll have an optimal binocular setup.
However, large, high-power binoculars are uncomfortable to carry, and they offer a smaller field of view in most cases, as well as shallower depth of field.
The higher you go in power, the worse these conditions become. So if you need binoculars that you can wear around your neck while calling coyotes in the back woodlot and also spot small critters at 300 yards with, you’ll have to step down in power and size. Utility demands this.
Medium-size binoculars, something along the lines of the Pentax PCF III series in 8×40, are an excellent choice for all-around use. Binocs in this power range offer great field of view and depth of field. I had the chance to use the PCF binoculars for a couple of days two summers ago when they were still relatively new on the market. They proved to be a good mix of durability, brightness and price.
For more mobile varminting situations, you may even want to go with lighter, more compact binoculars. Weaver has a line of relatively inexpensive binoculars that worked well for me last summer while roving around the Colorado countryside searching for prairie dogs–and I’ve since had them along in the far north and was pleased with their use in spotting caribou.
There’s nothing wrong with high-power optics for use in varminting. They are the most efficient tools for some forms of the sport. But by stepping down in Xs, you’ll find that you can be much more efficient at keeping varmint populations in check–under a variety of field conditions.
I miss shots just like everyone else. Mostly, I miss difficult shots, but I’ve missed some easy ones, too.
Nobody is perfect, and any hunter who claims never to have missed simply hasn’t hunted very much.
It takes years to become truly proficient and absolutely confident with a rifle when difficult, fast-breaking shots on game are presented.
On the other hand, you don’t have to start out by missing everything you shoot at.
Here are 12 simple tips that I promise will make you a better field shot – whether you’re a beginner or an old pro.
Few of us admit it, but the recoil and muzzle blast from a centerfire rifle is unpleasant. Both are necessary evils when hunting big game, but you don’t have to put up with the blast and kick all the time.
The best way I know to become a really good rifle shot is to spend lots of time with a .22 rimfire. The report is mild, recoil is nonexistent, and you can do lots of shooting for little money.
Whether plinking, target shooting or hunting small game and varmints, a .22 rimfire offers the best refresher course in rifle shooting there is.
It’s a good idea for any rifleman to spend some time with a .22 during the off-season, but a .22 is also the best tool available for curing shooting problems such as flinching. It will also reinforce such basics as trigger squeeze, breath control and follow-through.
Jerking the trigger is one of the great ills in rifle shooting, and it is an easy habit to fall into. The idea is to apply steady, consistent, gentle pressure until the trigger “breaks” and the rifle goes off.
Marksmanship instructors stress that the rifle’s firing should come as a surprise, meaning that you must not anticipate the shot.
Of course, if you shoot the same rifle long enough, you will know when the rifle is going to fire. The secret is to ignore this knowledge and still not anticipate the shot.
Proper trigger control is much easier with a clean, crisp, fairly light trigger. I don’t like an extremely light trigger on a hunting rifle; for me, a trigger pull of 2 1/2 to three pounds is about right, maybe a bit more on a big-bore rifle intended for dangerous game.
These days it is rare to get a trigger pull like that on an out-of-the-box rifle. On rifles that allow for trigger adjustment – or replacement with an aftermarket trigger – the best course is to take the rifle to a good gunsmith and tell him you want a decent trigger pull.
This may not be affordable, and in the case of most lever actions, semi-autos and pumps, it may not even be possible. Don’t despair. You can learn how to control even a terrible trigger, but it takes a lot more practice.
Trigger control may be even more difficult if you use a variety of rifles, some with great triggers and some with poor triggers.
You cannot shoot well while inhaling or exhaling; it’s imperative to hold your breath while squeezing the trigger.
Take a deep breath, let part of it out, and then commence your trigger squeeze. This is not so easy when you’ve just climbed to the top of a steep ridge and a huge buck bursts from cover, so it is an act that must be practiced until it becomes second nature.
There’s more to proper breathing technique.
When I miss, it is usually because I rush the shot. Once in a while, you have the luxury of unlimited time, but more likely you have just a few seconds to get into position and shoot. Sometimes you have no time at all; you must either shoot now or forget it.
If there really is no time to make a proper shot, don’t take it. That said, the best possible situation is to take a few extra seconds and take a deep breath – maybe two or three if you’ve been exerting yourself – before you let out part of that last one and start your trigger squeeze.
Tiny groups mean little in most field shooting situations. If you can consistently hit a pie plate at a given distance, you will get your animal.
On the other hand, consistent game shooting is a matter of confidence, and there’s no better way to gain this confidence than to know that your rifle shoots far better than you do. I don’t want to go into the field with merely pie-plate accuracy; I want a whole lot more.
It is not essential that your rifle shoots quarter-inch, half-inch or even one-inch groups, but it is essential that you really know what you and your rifle are capable of under ideal conditions.
This will build confidence and let you know what you can and cannot attempt in the field. Spend some time shooting across a solid bench rest with good ammo, and really get to know your rifle.
One of the most important skills in good field shooting is the ability to find and use a solid rest quickly.
Chances are you won’t find any bench rests in game country, but there are lots of ways to achieve a solid rest – rocks, stumps, trees, mounds of dirt, whatever.
In open country, you can carry your own rest such as a bipod, shooting sticks or a pack frame.
You may have to bend your body like a contortionist to snuggle behind your chosen rest, but if it is good and solid, it will be better than any unsupported position.
Never rest the barrel directly against a solid object, and you should always cushion the fore-end by placing something between the rest and the rifle.
I almost always carry a daypack, which I place over whatever natural rest I can find. You can use a fanny pack, a rolled-up jacket, a scrunched-up hat – or even your hand if time is short.
The trick is learning how to recognize a potential rest and then learning how to drop into position quickly. This comes with experience, but it is possible to practice the skill during informal shooting sessions, small game, and varmint hunting, and even in your backyard or living room (with an empty rifle, of course).
In open country, I am quite fond of bipods, and crossed shooting sticks are also effective. Both require practice to use well. If you choose a bipod, be sure to check your rifle’s zero with it mounted on the gun; some rifles shoot differently with a bipod attached.
A solid rest isn’t always available, and sometimes it’s necessary to shoot from the prone, sitting, kneeling or even standing position.
None of these positions come naturally and all require practice. So practice each and every one of them. This can be done at home or on the range.
I generally combine most shooting positions with a tight sling – once in a while a genuine target sling, but almost always a hasty sling.
The hasty sling is assumed by wrapping your supporting arm through the sling so that it tightens across your chest. A sling is a great shooting aid, especially in unsupported shooting positions. I recommend it highly but, like everything else, you must practice until its use becomes second nature.
I made the shot on my biggest pronghorn from about 250 yards.
While the distance wasn’t spectacular, I was pinned down in the shade of a big yucca with absolutely nothing to rest on or against. The buck was slowly angling across my front. While he was behind a bush, I undid the rear sling swivel and made the two-claw sling into a target sling.
Then I eased into a crossed-leg sitting position. I shot the buck on the point of the on-shoulder; had I not known how to get into a real sitting position, I’m not sure I could have even gotten a shot.
Never forget it’s the bullet that does the work. Today’s bullets are better than ever, but rifles are finicky creatures, and some have strong likes and dislikes regarding bullets and loads.
You may have to make a compromise between the bullet you really want to use and the bullet that shoots the best in your rifle.
You want adequate accuracy, but on game, you also want the right performance. Larger game requires a tough bullet that will penetrate.
On deer-size game, you want more expansion. This means that the “super-premium” bullets, which are usually tough, controlled-expansion designs, may not always be the best choice for deer.
Use your head, and spend enough time on the range to be sure that your chosen load delivers enough accuracy for the game and country you plan to hunt.
If you travel a significant distance, you should always check your zero before you start hunting.
It doesn’t matter whether you travel by plane, train or truck. None should affect the zero of a well-mounted scope, but things happen.
It is good insurance to check one last time. This is especially essential if you make a significant change in elevation.
On lengthy hunts, it is also a good policy to check your zero every few days. Carrying a rifle in rough country can be hard on it; horseback hunts are even tougher, and banging around in a truck is possibly toughest of all.
While it is unlikely that the rifle has gone out of zero, it’s always best to be sure.
Just recently, after nine days of tough hunting, we finally found the bighorn ram we were looking for. He was a long distance away, so before starting the stalk I took a rest and fired one shot at a rock. The rifle was fine, as I’d expected it to be, but it was worth the cartridge to know.
Along the same lines, if you miss a shot that you don’t think you should have missed, check the rifle immediately. Chances are it was you – and that’s okay – but you have to know. Otherwise, your confidence will be shaken even worse when you get another chance.
Obviously, you want the best shot you can get, but there is a fine line between waiting for a better shot and dawdling away an opportunity. The perfect broadside presentation is rare.
You certainly don’t want to take a going-away shot on an unwounded animal, and straight-on shots are almost as tricky, but you may have to accept some degree of quartering angle.
And while it’s preferable to avoid shooting through brush, sometimes it’s unavoidable. In short, if you wait too long for the perfect shot the animal can simply walk out of your life.
Two seasons ago, Jim Davis and I got the drop on two Tule elk bulls down in a little ravine about 125 yards below us. The wind was strong in our faces and the elk were facing away, completely unaware.
I had the shot, but I didn’t want to shoot down through the backstraps. I rested the rifle over my pack and waited.
The smaller of the two bulls took a couple of steps, then laid down. Oops. The bull I wanted would almost surely do the same, so a perfectly acceptable shot was quickly going to get worse.
My bull took about three steps forward, then started to turn to the left, probably preparing to bed. As soon as he turned enough to give me a quartering shot, I fired. The bull walked about 10 steps and fell over.
This principle also applies to close the range. The old adage of “get as close as you can, then get 10 yards closer” is a good one – but only to a point. I would much rather shoot a bit farther from a steady rest at an undisturbed animal than run the risk of bumping it.
I recommend avoiding head, neck and spine shots like the plague. There’s little margin for error and a great likelihood of a wounded and lost animal if you don’t do them just right.
I believe in the good ol’ heart/lung shot. The target area is the largest and most forgiving, and a good bullet placed in this area will be quickly fatal.
This area is also the easiest to visualize when the animal is quartering one way or the other.
African professional hunter Willem van Dyk once told me that most of his American clients were pretty good marksmen, but they had a bad habit of “admiring their shots.”
What he meant was that, after firing at game, Americans would often watch to see what happened rather than prepare for a second shot. That’s a huge mistake because the second shot could well be as important as the first – maybe more so if the first one wasn’t a clean miss.
Sooner or later, a hunter will screw up his first shot. When this happens, the only thing between you and a long tracking job – and maybe a lost animal – is quick work with the second shot.
I’m not advocating filling a heart- or lung-shot animal full of more holes. There’s a fine line between letting the first well-placed bullet do its work and making the horrible mistake of not shooting again when it’s necessary.
On large and tough game there should be no hesitation whatsoever. If the animal is still standing, shoot again. If he’s down, keep your rifle on him for a time, then approach with caution and keep your approach as clear as possible so you can shoot again if he starts to get up.
On dangerous game, always fire the insurance shot and approach carefully from the rear. On medium-size, non-dangerous game, reload immediately and be ready. If you have the slightest doubt about that first shot, shoot again.
One mark of a truly skilled rifleman is that he knows exactly where his bullet went. He knows whether it went high, low, was too far back or was a perfect heart/lung shot.
Determining where the shot went–and being able to admit it to yourself instantly–helps determine whether it’s necessary to shoot again.
There are other good reasons for learning to call your shots. When you mess up, the only way to avoid the same mistake is to know exactly what you did wrong.
If you don’t know precisely where the sight or crosshair was when the trigger broke, then you weren’t as steady as you should have been. Period.
You cannot learn to call your shots while firing at a deer or two every fall. It’s a matter of lots and lots of practice from all positions.
Following through is a necessity for the rifleman; you must concentrate on the target and keep the rifle under control – as well as you can – when it goes off.
If you’re handling your trigger right, the report and the jolt of recoil may come as somewhat of a surprise, but you should know exactly what the sight picture looked like when this occurred.
Until you develop this skill, you won’t be able to improve your shooting.
Shooting at game is not a perfect science, but if you’ve practiced diligently and paid attention to these simple tips, you can usually make the shot. All of us will miss, and misses are okay. Try to learn from it – and try very hard not to make a habit of doing it.
If the number of hearing protection products on the market today is any indication, shooters are taking their hearing seriously and the next generation of seasoned veterans of the sport will be less likely to suffer the hearing loss common with current and past generations.
There are a staggering variety of products to choose from and deciding which is best for your needs can be confusing. It doesn’t have to be.
You can narrow your choices down considerably by giving some thought to what your needs are and under what conditions you will use the protection, and, if you are like most of us, what your budget allows.
Then you can do some comparison shopping online and at your local gun shop to determine which models offer the best quality and features for the price.
Your hearing is important, so don’t just grab the first or cheapest product you come across. All hearing protection is not created equal.
The protection afforded by hearing protection is gauged by a numerical Noise Reduction Rating (NRR). Some earplugs are listed with ratings as high as 30 or better, which rivals the ratings of most muffs on the market. That looks good on paper and may be relevant in work environments where noise is constant but it doesn’t pan out at the shooting range.
A quality set of earmuffs properly fitted will baffle the blast of a gun better than earplugs. Nonetheless, a good set of plugs beats a poor set of muffs every time. Poor quality muffs often lose their seal over time and leak, which allows more noise into the ear, whereas plugs, being economical and disposable, are regularly replaced and always effective when used correctly.
The advantages quality earmuffs have over plugs are many. Muffs are easily removed when the range goes cold and quickly replaced when fire is resumed. Plugs take more effort to ready and you have to wait a bit for the foam to expand and seal. When you throw electronic earmuffs into the mix, it’s no contest under most shooting conditions. The only advantages left to earplugs are they will fit handily in your pocket and may be more comfortable to wear for long periods of time.
The quality and effectiveness of plugs vary. High-density foam plugs that are large enough to expand and completely seal the ear canal work well and are easy to insert. The size and shape of ear canals vary so you need plugs large enough to completely fill the canal. You should feel some slight pressure on the walls of the ear canal when plugs are fully expanded.
Be cautious of some give-away plugs at ranges and gun shops. These plugs are understandably the cheapest available and you may end up with nothing more than a porous piece of foam bedding in your ear. Inserting foam plugs is easy but some folks still get it wrong and try to press the expanded plug into the ear. This causes them to flatten and not seal properly. Roll the plug between thumb and forefinger to compress it then insert in the ear and allow it ample time to expand before shooting.
So Many Choices
Online catalogs can be a good place to start your search for hearing protection even if you plan to purchase in a store. For example, Midway (www.midwayusa.com) not only lists NRR and other specs for different makes and models but features customer ratings and comments by people who have tried the products. The ability to read hands-on experiences can be invaluable in steering clear of inferior items and determining which products offer real value for money spent. A note of caution, do not rely on only one review but read several and make a reasoned determination as to which seem reliable.
A check of the Midway web site turns up a total of 120 different models of earmuffs ranging in price from about a sawbuck for a low-end set of standard muffs to almost $700.00 for high-tech electronics. A lot of manufacturers in the marketplace means a lot of competition so prices are coming down while features continue to be added. For example, Caldwell now offers a set of electronic muffs for about 40 bucks, sometimes less on sale. Granted, it is a very basic monophonic model but compared to the cost of electronic muffs just a few years ago it is encouraging news for the budget conscious. Other makes with more advanced features are also available at reasonable prices so there is no reason for anyone to risk their hearing for lack of good protection.
Cost has always been the main factor for most as to whether electronic or standard muffs are purchased. No question, electronic muffs are preferred by most shooters but the high price tag has discouraged many. As mentioned, prices are coming down but it’s important to weigh quality against price. This can be tough to do with so many new brands appearing. Again, this is where the experiences and opinions of others, whether from friends, trusted store personnel, or online sources, can be invaluable.
Making a wise choice in electronic muffs can be further impeded due to the seeming reluctance of some manufacturers to list Noise Reduction Ratings for their electronic models. Many only tell you at what decibels the microphones shut off. For instance, they may say a particular model shuts out all sounds above 85 decibels. That’s fine but that is just the noise coming through the microphones. How much noise reaches your ears will depend on how much baffling the muffs have and how secure the seals are. In other words, it will depend on what the NRR is.
Hearing protection is one of the most important purchases a shooter makes so take the time to research your options and do not sacrifice protection to save a few bucks. If you are hesitant to spend part of your shooting money on good hearing protection consider this, should your hearing be significantly damaged a good hearing aid can cost $3,000 or more. Most people with damaged hearing would pay many times that if they could have their hearing restored. You can’t. Hearing loss is permanent.
For the last decade or so, it seems there’s been a race between gun manufacturers to see who can whip out the fanciest rifle in the most bizarre calibers with ultra magnum velocities with matching price tags.
If you listened to all the hype, you’d think that older guns and standard calibers were no longer adequate to kill a deer or any other game animal.
Yet, millions of older guns sit on gun racks of local Gun and Pawn Shops just hoping someone will come along and put them back into action in the deer woods.
I believe many of these old firearms are some of the most durable and accurate guns ever made.
A hunter looking for a deer rifle can’t go wrong when selecting one of the rifles from the 7 listed below. Not on the list are the Remington Model 700, Winchester Model 70 and Savage Model 110.
Any deer hunter, beginning or veteran, probably knows these rifles are top notch in any of the standard deer getting calibers.
But the list below consist of some rifles you may not have heard of. I want to tell you about 7 of my favorite ones in case you find one tucked back into the corner of a gun or pawn shop somewhere. Then you’ll recognize it for the deer getter it is.
I’ve owned most all the guns and caliber combinations mentioned below and can personally vouch that these old guns will still bring home the venison.
They’re not flashy mega magnums or some new whiz-bang gun of the day, they’re just well-made deer guns that will do their part if you do yours. These are the ‘deer rifles’ you can past down to your kids and theirs for generations.
Note: To see some great vintage gun ads of the guns in this list, click on the thumbnails.
If memory serves me correct, this model was introduced in 1942, or somewhere around there. You can pick up a good used Marlin 336 for a song in most shops these days.
The most popular rounds it was chambered for were the 30/30 and .35 Remington. The 30/30 has killed more deer than most all other calibers combined. And every year it ups it’s total as millions of hunters take to the wood.
The 30/30 is a good caliber out to 200 hundred yards if you know what you’re doing. Beginning shooters and those who only dust their rifles off once a year the day before season opens, should limit their range to around 125 yards or less.
I still shoot the Glenfield Model 30A (a subsidiary of Marlin) that my Dad gave me many years ago. He purchased that rifle used in New Mexico the year I was born. That was his “Deer Gun” and it didn’t matter whether or not it was Mule Deer or Whitetails.
I love looking back through old photo’s of him and my uncle with Mule Deer hanging from meat poles and my Dad with me on one side and that old Glenfield Model 30A on his other knee.
It was the rifle I took my first deer with and one I’ve since killed more deer with over the years.
I’ve seen Marlin 336‘s in Gun and Pawn shops fetching anywhere from $125 to $300. I’d expect to pay roughly $200 for a quality 336 in good condition and hopefully, it would have a decent scope on it.
The Ruger 44 Carbine is a great first time gun for a young hunter or for a hunter who’ll never be shooting out past 100 yards. This little carbine tames the 44 mag round and makes it manageable for those shooters who are slight of build.
The 240 grain 44 Magnum is plenty for any buck who ventures into your stand area. The rifle is compact and quick handling and comes with a rotary clip magazine. You can find clips for these old deer getters on eBay and some gun shops still carry a few.
I’ve heard of a few reports that this gun would not cycle reliably with factory bullets heavier than 240 grains, but I can not personally attest to that. I never found the need for anything heavier than the good old 240 grainers, but it’s something you should be aware of if you’ll be trying bullets of different weights.
As I said above, the Ruger 44 Carbines are getting harder and harder to find. Expect to pay in the neighborhood of $300 to $500, and possibly even more, for a Carbine in Excellent shape.
The Savage Model 99 is an old favorite of many deer hunters across the country. Whether you’re after a Whitetail Buck in the expansive forest of the Northeast or a Mule Deer buck in the Rockies, you can do far worse than carry a Model 99.
The Savage 99 is a lever action rifle that is most known for the two Savage cartridges it was chambered for early on in its production, the 250 Savage and the 300 Savage. Both are good deer rounds, although ammo may be hard to find on the shelf for both in most parts of the country. Later 99’s were chambered for the popular .243 and .308.
Early models of the Savage 99 were not tapped and drilled for scope mounts, although any good gunsmith can do this relatively cheaply. The rifles had a rotary magazine until 1984 when Savage introduced the ’99 with a clip magazine.
The Savage 99 came in both a solid frame gun and a take-down model.
The ’99 was made for nearly 100 years and was chambered in a range of calibers all the way from the 22 Hi-Power to a version that was chambered for the .410.
Savage introduced the 250-3000 Savage in 1915 and it was the first commercial cartridge to break the 3000 fps barrier. Later the name was shortened to .250 Savage.
These rifles have smooth actions and are plenty accurate for hunting needs. Expect to pay anywhere from $300 for a well worn ’99 all the up to a $1000 or more for a rare caliber Model 99 in excellent condition.
Most of the .300 Savages and the new production run of clip-fed Savage 99’s in .243 and .308 in good shape can be had for around $400 to $600.
I bought a used 788 in .308 in the early 90’s. That rifle was the 2nd most accurate rifle I ever owned (the first was a Ruger 77V in 6mm). This rifle would easily hold 1 inch groups at 100 yards with most factory ammo and sub MOA groups with my handloads with Speer 165 grain Hot-Cor’s.
The Remington 788 is a rugged “meat and potato’s” type gun. It’s far more accurate than most people can shoot. The clips can be easily found on eBay should you need more than 1.
The 788 was chambered for most standard short chamber cartridges including the 22-250, .243, 7mm-08, .308 and 30/30.
If you happen to see a Remington 788 on the gun rack at your local gun shop, be sure to grab it. You won’t be disappointed!
The Remington 760 is as fine a deer gun as you can find. It’s a solid pump rifle that many Eastern deer hunters have relied on for years. The Benoits of New England have probably done more for the popularity of pump rifles as anyone.
The Remington 760 and 7600 come in standard calibers such as the .243, .270, 30-06 and .308. You can also find some of these older guns in deer getting calibers such as 35 Whelen, 300 Savage, and the 7mm-08.
These pump rifles are amazingly accurate as well. In fact, although one thinks of Eastern hunters when they think of the Remington pump rifle, they’re used by many a Western big game hunters as well.
Remington pump rifles come in a standard 22 inch barreled version as well as a ‘Carbine’ version with an 18-inch barrel. If memory serves me correctly, the Carbine comes in 30-06 and 308 only…just don’t quote me on that!
The Carbine is a quick handling gun in thick timber. One reason it’s a favorite among Guides who go after a dangerous game like Bears in thick cover.
Expect to pay in the $300 to $600 range for a good Remington 760 or 7600. Extra clips are easily found on GunBroker.com and eBay.
The Winchester Model 88 has been around since 1955 when it was introduced for the then new .308 Winchester. The Winchester 88 is a lever action rifle that is chambered for short action rounds such as the .358, .308, .284 and .243.
The Winchester 88 uses a detachable clip magazine which allows the use of spire pointed bullets for greater velocity.
In the late 60’s Winchester introduced a Carbine version of the 88 that was chambered for the .243, .284 and .308. It had a plain stock rather than the checkered stock of the standard version.
The Winchester 88 is very accurate due to its rotating bolt lugs. Rotating bolt lugs very similar to a bolt action rifle. This is one solid gun.
I believe the Model 88 failed to ‘catch on’ because it was ahead of its time. It really didn’t look like any of the traditional deer guns of its time. The .284 and .358 weren’t the most popular calibers, although they enjoyed far more favor back then than they do today.
Expect to find a good used Winchester 88 for $400 to $700.
I know that it’s said the Model 70 is the ‘Rifleman’s Rifle’ but I don’t agree. I think the Ruger #1 is the ‘Rifleman’s Rifle’. Like it or not, there’s just something positive to be said for someone who has the confidence to use a single shot rifle.
Although the Ruger #3 is also a fine single shot rifle, it was only made in a few calibers including the 30-40 Krag and 45-70. Both of which are more than enough for any deer walking, but the rifles their self are scarce.
The Ruger #1, on the other hand, are still being made. These are accurate single shot rifles. One reason I preferred the No. 3 to he No. 1 is because of the No. 3 was a ‘Basic’ rifle with little to no frills and was accurate. The No. 1, on the other hand, is a high class big game rifle and the price reflect that.
The No. 1’s come in a wide range of calibers depending on the Model. You can get them in anything from a .204 right up to the .458 Magnum.
Another advantage of the Ruger #1 is that the standard length barrel is 26″. Even so, since there is no action, the Ruger #1 is shorter than many standard bolt action rifles with 22 ” barrels.
My ‘Perfect’ deer rifle would be a #1 or #3 with a 22 or 24″ barrel chambered for the 7mm-08. Since that combination is not available (or wasn’t the last time I looked), I’ve been thinking about a No. 1 in the .257 Roberts. (another favorite round of mine)
Ruger No. 1’s aren’t cheap. Expect to pay $500 to $800 for a No. 1 in Good condition.
There are many good rifles that didn’t make my list. Guns like the Browning BAR and BLR’s, any number of Sears and Western Auto contract rifles, Remington Automatics, etc. Some rifles I just don’t like. Others, I have never used or have been around.
One that didn’t make my list and that I’m very familiar with is the Winchester Model 94. I know it’s a popular deer rifle, but I just don’t like the 94.
I don’t like the early versions because it takes a good gunsmith to mount a scope with them and the newer side ejection models still benefit from using see through scope rings. I hate see-through rings!
I also didn’t list any Magnums. I have never felt the need to use a Magnum caliber on a deer. They’re just not needed. Few hunters can actually shoot one well and if a deer is so far off that you feel you need a Magnum, you need to learn to get closer to the deer.
Case in point. I used to work with a guy who talked his wife into buying him a .340 Weatherby Magnum one year for Christmas. At the time I lived in Arkansas and he hunted the same general area I did. The Ozark Mountains. His excuse was that he needed the rifle to “reach across the clearcuts to touch ‘dem big boys”.
He only shot this rifle a day or so prior to the Gun opener and only in camp. Which meant the target was never more than 100 yards away (I visited their camp several times).
After the first few times of shooting the gun, he became afraid of it and would try and have other people site it in for him. I shot the rifle on several occasions.
Needless to say, of all the years I knew him, he only shot two deer with that rifle and both were under a 100 yards. Both were badly mangled due to one bullet hitting the front shoulder first and one hitting the rear leg bone on the other.
Another guy I worked with bragged to everyone in earshot that he used a 7 Mag and a .338 Win. Magnum for deer hunting. The other guys at work who hunted out of his camp said he would find a spot where he could see the furthest, usually a clear cut, and open up on anything that walked into few.
The running joke in camp was “When is Bud starting the Revolution?” Surprisingly, for all the firepower this guy had, he never killed a buck large enough to enter into the company’s big buck contest. Go figure.
If you run into any of the ‘Old School’ guns listed above on a gun rack, know that they’ll do a good job for you. Don’t hesitate to put the gun back into the field. Hey, chances are they’re experienced deer killers anyway!
Our #1 goal is to help you pick the absolute perfect trail camera for your particular situation. Whether you are a wildlife enthusiast, a sportsman, a wildlife researcher, or just trying to catch a vandal; we are here to help.
This “First Time” Trail Camera Buyer’s Guide will provide a quick overview of what to look for in these trail cameras. If at any time, you have questions and want to talk to someone in person, feel free to Contact Us. We look forward to helping you with your trail camera needs!
The first thing you will need to know is there are tons of cameras out there. Many of them excel in one area but under-perform in another. Knowing the situation in which you will place your camera can play a crucial part in picking your “perfect” camera.
After reading this guide, I would highly recommend going through the Trail Camera Selection Guide. It will walk you through, step by step, the different criteria you may or may not be interested in. At the end of the test, it will give you the camera (s) that matches your criteria. It essentially finds the perfect camera for your needs.
The detection circuit of a trail camera is what detects the animal. Cameras detect based off of a combination of heat and motion. The better detection circuits will produce more pictures of wildlife or people, the poor detection circuits will miss a lot of activity and produce minimal pictures.
Detection circuits consist of:
Trigger time is the amount of time a camera takes to snap a picture once the object has entered the detection zone. In general, quicker trigger speed is an indicator of a higher quality camera.
However, not every person needs a quick trigger speed. If you are putting the camera on a feeder or bait station, where the animal is expected to hang around for a while, a quick trigger is not necessary.
Conversely, If you are putting the camera on a game trail, or using for security, you need a quick trigger speed in order to snap a picture before the animal/person leaves.
We use a device called The Triggernator that scientifically and accurately tests the trigger speeds of any camera trap. If you would like to view the trigger times from the different cameras, read the Trigger Speed Showdown.
Every camera trap has a Detection Zone. A Detection Zone is an area in front of the camera that the game camera is “monitoring.”
When an animal or person steps into the detection zone, a picture will be taken shortly thereafter (how long depends on how fast the trigger speed!).
The two factors that determine the detection zone are Detection Width and Detection Range.
Game Cameras have anywhere from a 5-degree beam up to a full 90-degree detection zone. At 30′ this varies anywhere from narrow 3′ horizontal detection width all the way up to a monstrous 60′ wide detection width.
The furthest distance at which a scouting camera is able to detect motion. Distances range from 30′ on the low end to out past 100′. If you want to put a camera on a food plot and cover a huge amount of area, you need a game camera with a wide detection width and long detection range.
For comprehensive data on Detection Zones, please review our Detection Zone Test.
Recovery time is the amount of time a camera takes to capture a photo, store that photo to memory and then re-arm itself for the next photo opportunity.
Some cameras will only take a picture every 30 or 60 seconds. These cameras will work on a feeder/bait station, but not on a fast moving game trail.
If you want to see everything that is walking down a game trail, you need a camera that recovers quickly. If you want the best recovery time, Reconyx trail cameras recover in just 1/2 second.
Every year, we do our trademark test to determine which cameras have the best Detection Circuits. The test combines trigger speeds, detection zones and recovery time.
If you would like to see which camera companies scored the highest, you need to review the Trail Camera Shootout.
The first thing to know is that megapixel ratings are the LAST thing you should look for in a camera. Many companies trick you by listing a high Mpxl, but in reality they use an extremely low quality lens which makes the quality of the picture average or even below average.
The only way to define quality of picture is to look at sample pictures (and then decide yourself).
Before you purchase a camera, you need to be aware of what the pictures from that camera trap look like. We obviously test and review nearly every camera out there and one of the biggest tests revolves around putting a camera in the woods and seeing exactly what it does.
Our collection of trail camera pictures will give you an excellent representation of the quality of picture to expect from each model.
You can also view our customer photos for both educational and entertainment value!
Does the camera use a standard incandescent flash or infrared flash? Incandescent will give you color night photos, but is also subject to spooking some game.
Infrared is color daytime and black and white at night but does not spook the game (normally).
Flash range is the distance at which a camera’s flash is able to capture a discernible image at night. Some models tested were incapable of reaching past 15′ while others worked out to 80’+.
To see sample night pictures, please visit the Flash Range Test.
Battery life is often overlooked until you have been using the camera for some time. If you make the wrong decision, your camera could cost you a small fortune in the future.
If you make the right decision, (buying a camera with good battery life and using rechargeable batteries) batteries will be the least of your concern.
We are huge advocates of NiMH Rechargeable batteries. Why?
We include battery life information in all of our trail camera reviews. You may also want to read our article about Nimh, Lithium and Alkaline batteries.
When you go to retrieve your photos, will your camera still be there?
Much like batteries, this is something that is often overlooked until it is too late. If you plan on putting your camera in an area that receives traffic from anybody but you, do yourself a favor and lock your camera up.
To view security options for all the different camera traps, please visit Security Devices for Trail Cameras.
A great resource, if you haven’t already been there, is our Trail Camera Shootout. The Shootout gives you the raw data for determining which cameras have good detection circuits. If you want to read more on the different tests we perform, or to compare and see how the cameras stack up to each other, visit our Trail Camera Tests.
This will help explain many of our testing procedures and will have tons of information to familiarize yourself with how the cameras work and which ones outperform their competitors.
Also, if you would like to see which camera is right for you, complete our Trail Camera Selection Guide. Enter your preferences and find out which camera matches your needs!