If a person were to review online hunting forums in Alberta, a recurring theme is: “Where can I go to sight-in my rifle?” Good-hearted forum members will offer suggestions of various Alberta shooting ranges, but most are open only to members, or membership is capped for the year, but the biggest grumble by the original poster is: “The membership dues are too high, I only want to verify my zero.” At this point, they will be advised that they can always shoot in some parts of the forestry. It is surprising how often this issue is raised immediately before the opening of hunting season.

Folks, that is not how you should prepare for hunting season! To be ethical hunters, we need to have our firearms, optical mounts and optics in top shape. We also need to have been practicing with our firearm throughout the year.

I was once asked to take a hunter on an antelope hunting trip and, as I love hunting antelope, by that time had taken several. This hunter wanted a nice trophy for the wall. I assumed (my mistake) that this veteran hunter would have been prepared. As we were spotting for antelope, he proudly showed me his box of 270 Winchester shells. There were only 6 cartridges left in the box. That is all he had with him. He proudly proclaimed that he had taken 14 animals with 14 shots. I asked how he had checked his rifle and scopes zero. He hadn’t, as the rifle and scope combo “never changed zero”. Besides, he didn’t like shooting from a benchrest and wasn’t very good at it. He described himself as a “better field shot.” We split up and when I returned to the truck, I learned from my brother that the aforementioned hunter had taken a nice buck. After congratulating him, I learned that he now needed a new box of shells as he had expended all 6 in harvesting the antelope. Fortunately, he was able to harvest it as many of the shots were not lethal. His cape was nearly useless. Later in the day I took a nice buck with a good cape and gave him the cape. Don’t be that guy. Be better prepared!

Our firearms preparation for next season should begin immediately after the close of the current hunting season.

1) Take the time to thoroughly clean your firearm before you put it in your safe. In addition to a proper cleaning rod, cotton patches, jags and brushes, solvents and lubricants, old toothbrushes, dental picks and rags will round out the tools that will enable you to treat your firearm like you should. Remember to lightly lubricate your firearm. Too much lubricant can be as much of a problem as too little, especially in cold weather.

(When storing firearms, any old lubricant/preservative will do, but when going hunting in cold weather, choose lubricants that are formulated to retain their lubricity in the cold. That way your firearm will always be up to the task. I use Remington Dri Lube on my action in cold weather.)

Cleaning your firearm. 1) Ensure your firearm is unloaded, including the magazine. Check visually and tactilely! 2) Use a cleaning rod with a properly fitted jag to push a cotton patch soaked in a solvent through the bore. Where possible, always clean from the rear of the firearm using a bore guide. Allow time for the solvent to work. Switch the jag for a bore brush. Push the bore brush through the bore. Opinions vary as to how many times the brush should pushed through the bore. The goal is to loosen and remove debris from the bore. 3) Switch back to the jag and push a cotton patch through the bore. Continue to push patches through the bore until the patch comes out clean. 4) Check your bore. It should be shiny clean. If you detect copper streaking, you will need to start over, but use a solvent designed to remove copper. 5) Clean your action. A product like Gun Scrubber can help. Use a rag, old toothbrush and dental pick to remove any debris in the action. When complete, lightly lube the action with a lubricant/preservative. 6) Use a lightly oiled rag, toothbrush and dental pick to carefully clean the exterior metal of your firearm. Ensure a light coat of oil covers the metal.

2) If your firearm or scope has any issues that require repair, immediately after the season closes is the time to get the repairs done. You have time to find a good gunsmith, the gunsmith has ample time to complete the repair and you have ample time to practice before next season, once the repairs are completed.

3) Find a local shooting range and become a member. If you are an avid golfer, you likely pay membership dues. Why do so many hunters and shooters not want to pay for a range membership? There is no free lunch! I think of it as a price of doing business.

At a formal range, there is likely a good solid bench. I take my pedestal stand and sandbags. These combine to be an adjustable and very supportive shooting position. With this setup, I have safely removed as much human element from the shooting equation. I can now, with great confidence, fine-tune my zero, and test various factory loads and/or my handloads for accuracy. There is nothing more confidence inspiring in KNOWING that your firearm is precisely sighted in with a very accurate factory load or a handload with a bullet that was selected to perform the job demanded of it. NOTHING!

Now that your firearm is sighted in and your load selected, have fun and practice!

Practice makes perfect. Many people think that practice at the bench, where you can shoot little itty bitty groups, is all you need. Simple fact of the matter is that your practice regimen should include shooting from all of the field shooting positions; prone, sitting, kneeling and standing. Dry-firing your firearm (most firearms of modern manufacture are unharmed by dry-firing (check your owner’s manual)) after ensuring that it is unloaded, is also good practice. Whether shooting from a field position, or dry firing, concentrate and imagine that you are squeezing off a shot at that big buck you have been trying to harvest for years. Realistic practice will make you a better hunter and shooter. Joining a metallic silhouette league, PRC, or even partaking of the old prairie tradition of gopher shooting with rimfires, or small caliber centerfire varmint rifles, will make you a better field shot. Whether practicing or hunting, never fail to make use of any available rest. Whether you use a bipod, shooting sticks, backpack, nearby tree, rock or downfall, any rest is better than no rest, if you have the time to use it. There is a simple moral to practicing with your firearm: any trigger time is good trigger time!


4) Prior to hunting season, a final check of your zero is in order. You may want to wipe down your firearm to remove the lubricant/preservative and replace it with a product that is cold proof.

For a listing of approved shooting ranges in Alberta please refer to: http://www.abshooters.org/gun-ranges.html



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