The hunting season has started with bows and those pointy sticks and the rifle season will soon follow. 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.
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 in 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.
It’s time to sight in that rifle, too, and you may even be able to justify a new one (more research). Sharpening those marksmanship skills (there’s that knife metaphor again) shouldn’t be left until the week before the hunt. It’s far better to shoot a few rounds at the range each month than a few boxes at the range to “find the target” just before the hunt.
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 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 after tightening the screws and 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 now have a lifetime guarantee and the manufacturers are great about servicing their products. Start your preparation 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 it will put you in the 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.
Optics are as important to hunting 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, waterproof 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.
When it comes to knives, it doesn’t have to be an expensive collector’s model and you don’t need a Bowie-sized knife either. A three or four 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.
Careful consideration should also be given to a sturdy gun case for traveling. A comfortable shoulder sling is of great importance as well. 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.
Are those boots ready for another season? Have those hunting shirts, jackets or pants ‘shrunk” a size? How about repairs and cleaning the tent and other gear? Now’s the time, a neglected small hole or tear in a tent screen will be an irresistible invitation to a horde of mosquitoes or black flies.
Did I forget to mention exercise? Ouch. Not getting in shape before the trip has been the most common reason for unsuccessful trips. This is best done carrying your pack and rifle. This could be at the gym, but they usually discourage the pack and rifle on the elliptical or stair-stepper. Try getting into the field and working those legs, back and lungs; you may even get to liking the outdoors and hiking scene. I shoulda started two months ago, but it’s not too late.
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. This has become more important in recent years as many hunts are of a shorter duration, from one to three days and the desirability to get away from the increased number of hunters and off-road vehicle enthusiasts using common areas. I’ve chosen the new Slumberjack Carbine 2500 as it’s lightweight and comfortable as a day pack, but can be expanded to a full game carrier. It’s ideal for that scouting trip or the three-day pack- in hunt.
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, whether it’s a four-wheel 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. A breakdown on the other side of nowhere can make for a bad day.
I’ve found it prudent to also have a couple of backup plans just in case. Neighboring states often have over-the-counter tags. Don’t give up; finding the tag has become part of the modern hunt. More on that next time.
Do these things early and you’ll have a more relaxed and successful adventure when the day comes. Enjoy the process, its part of the adventure. Good luck, safe hunting and don’t forget there’s also some great fishing now and it’s time for the adventure to begin.
Good luck and good hunting.
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