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Dan Simmons’ Sportsman’s Quest: The hunt starts here

Well, it’s that time again. If we were lucky, we drew that coveted local game tag. If not, we’ve made plans for an out-of-state or out-of-country hunt; both have become more popular and reasonably priced.

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 past, the tradition 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 all live busy lives 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.

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 last 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. While sheep hunting with a friend on the Yukon, we were able to repair his broken stock with a reinforcing pin, fashioned from a dowel and epoxied after his 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 Lock Tite product to make sure they stay tight. Make sure to not 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 proper adjustments, you may have an internal scope problem.

Send it back to the manufacturer, Leupold and other quality scopes now 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. I like a set of fixed sights as a backup in case this happens in the field or while traveling.

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.

Insights offered

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 on elk and 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 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 at camp when you need it. I’ve had great use of my waterproof Pentax-Optio. It’s become an international standard 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. A 3-or 4-inch sheath or folding knife is good for anything except carving up a cape buffalo or defending yourself against a charging elephant. Buy something solid with a good grip; a serrated saw blade is worth looking at too.

Carrying your items

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.

Take a look at the Slumberjack (SKJ), Eberlestock and Tenzing packs. They’re reasonably priced for a quality pack and will give you a lifetime of service. Again, Cabela’s catalog is a good place to start.

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.

Do these things early and you’ll have a more relaxed and successful adventure when the day comes. Good luck and good hunting.

If you have an adventure, a story or a comment give Dan Simmons a call 775-727-9777 or e-mail him at dansimmons@usa.net

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