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Bill's Blog

Bill McLeod is our branch Patron with years of hunting and shooting experience, including representing some of the biggest firearms manufacturers in the business.  During his career he has come across almost every kind of problem a shooter can have.  In the series of posts below he offers some insights, comments and advice to shooters and hunters.

Thanks Bill.

  • 01/12/2022 10:48 AM | Bob McMillan (Administrator)

    There is no doubt, shooting elephant guns is a real blast. I found I was really apprehensive when I was about to turn one loose. You didn’t quite know how fierce the recoil would be. The first time I recall being shocked at recoil was my first shot with a 44 magnum S & W revolver. The muzzle shot up and clonked the rolled up roller door. I didn’t see what I hit. When I got my own 44 revolvers and learned how to shoot them, I found them easily manageable.

    My first run with a true elephant rifle was with Maurice’s 416 Rigby Ruger. Ruger had gone all out to produce a first class rifle for heavy game. Shooting from the standing position rocked me back considerably but I was able to focus on the sights and achieve good hits. We were shooting at a rabbit hole on the opposite bank. The impact of the bullets was very impressive, great fountains of dirt.

    My next run was with a Ruger 458. This was a plain grade rifle, an altogether different one from Maurice’s and of much lower quality. Again shooting offhand I managed to fire six well aimed shots until the seventh when I was a good foot away from the target when I turned it loose. It double fed on my next attempt to reload it so I called it quits.

     The next horrible recoiling rifle I recall shooting was a break action single shot 45-70. It had a number of small ring bulges up the barrel no doubt caused by oil. The recoil was brutal in the light weight rifle. It hurt. It didn’t shoot well either. 

    I fired a single barrel 12 gauge shotgun with a 45-70 insert barrel. Once. Awful.

    I recall shooting another single barrel shotgun that some enthusiast had sawn the barrel and stock off to make it into a Mafia type “lupara” gun. That thing tried to flip completely out of my hands and finished up pointing backwards. 

    Many  years ago I was hunting bulls and felt the need of a 458. Chris said he had just sold one. I recently got the chance to shoot that rifle. It was a rebarreled rig with a roll over Parker Hale stock. Horrible to shoot. I’m pleased it was unavailable when I needed one. 

    Then I had to evaluate a rebarreled Mauser in 416 Taylor. A friend had made it up as a whale killing rig and the district manager wanted to know if the department should use it on whales. The rifle shot well and was manageable by an experienced shooter but presented too many issues for my liking. I recommended the department not buy it. 

    Then I had a go with a real big boomer. Normie and his mate had built up a 50 BMG single shot bolt gun for whale shooting. We were taking turns at firing it. My turn, I fired it just as Woody came up beside me. It was like Mount Ruapehu erupting. Just this huge event. But it didn’t hurt. The muzzle brake worked well. So well it literally blew Woody back off the mound. 

    I was with Simon when he was demonstrating Federal ammunition to an assembly of gun shop people. He asked if I would shoot the 416 at the gel block so that at least we would get a hit. Duly impressed everyone with the power of the rifle. I then supervised anyone who wanted a go with the rifle. Most accepted advice on how to handle the big gun. One bloke was showing off to his mates so I left him to it. The recoil made him drop the gun, lucky I caught it because Simon had borrowed the gun. Sixteen of the seventeen shots fired were in a palm sized group at 25 metres.

    My own heavy game rifles are much milder. A couple of 375 H&H Sakos which I find awesome, a 9.3x62 Sako which I’ve used on deer and a 35 Whelen Remington which I’ve used on a variety of game. I haven’t fired my 416 Rigby Sako yet, don’t intend to. I’ve found out a few things when shooting these big guns. They recoil, no doubt about it, it’s going to happen. Don’t try to prevent it. Give your body a chance to give with the kick but maintain control of the rifle. I like to roll my shoulder back and forward while preparing for a shot and check my foot position to allow some weight to come back. Then concentrate on the sight picture and practice good trigger control. If you are worried about recoil in any of your rifles go and get a 458. You will soon be begging to have your own rifle back. With a good technique you can get pretty good with a big boomer.

  • 10/10/2022 10:48 AM | Bob McMillan (Administrator)

    We broke out of the Chatham Island bush onto the “clears”. The dense fog and rain prevented us from seeing too far. The bush we had come through was unlike any I  had seen before. Dracophyllum and tree fern dominated forest. Not a full sized tree in sight. The bush was soggy wet. There was a rudimentary track which we had followed from the shelter at the Tuku reserve. We’d come past the taiko nesting area which was the main reason we were here. They are the critically endangered magenta petrel, only breeding on the Chathams. We’d been doing predator control work in the reserve. Now we were hunting. 

    Breaking out of this vegetation revealed a pakihi type low vegetation cover on essentially flat peat land. It was very boggy underfoot. Ian and I headed south along the edge of the clear. The first animal that showed up was a big ram. The owner of the stock, Bruce, was happy that we hunted his animals that wandered into the reserve. The cattle particularly were having an effect in the reserve. The effort of mustering and the cost of transport meant that the cattle and sheep were worthless to him. I found that the islanders I met were very protective of the island's natural values. We hunted carefully south along the eastern boundary of the dracophyllum forest. There were plenty of cattle marks. Really unexpectedly we saw the big ram, a full wool which probably had never been shorn. It  was just too far from any handling shed to have had any attention. Lined up the ram with my 35 Whelen and let strip with a soft point bullet. No result. The next bullet in the mag was a full metal jacket, designed to penetrate heavy animals. The ram had barely moved before I fired the solid. It collapsed at the shot. We went to the ram to check it out. The fleece was amazingly dense. The horns were very impressive so I recovered them. I had intended to autopsy the carcass but the dense mat  of unshorn wool was a bit daunting. I still don’t know why the first shot did not appear to have any result but the solid bullet did the job.

    We continued on south. The misty rain was intermittent. During one of the clearer spells we saw a couple of small mobs of cattle at widely spaced intervals across the clear. Wind direction didn’t appear to be a problem so we approached the first group from behind what cover we could find. They saw us and off. They were the spookiest animals I have ever hunted. Clattered off for miles. We’d have to really sleuth up to the next mob. Finally located another mob, four animals, two cows with a couple of younger bulls. There was a finger of bush which we could use for cover. We stalked ever closer and this time it was successful. We spread out a bit so that each of us could shoot without endangering the other and opened fire. The young bull staggered at the shot, lurched a few metres and went down. Next one on my side was a cow. She made off after the shot so I fired again. She went down. All the shots were centre chest shots. The other two animals were still on their feet so hit them as well. Eventually all four were down. It was not possible to assess the relative effectiveness of either Ian’s seven mil or my 35 Whelen as the animals were hit several times. They did not, however, travel very far after getting hit the first time. I was happy with the effect of the solid bullets on these animals. Sufficiently so that when I hunted in Botswana for buffalo I had Trophy Bonded Solids in the mag of my 375.

    Ian butchered the younger animals, cutting off the backsteaks. This amount of meat was all we could carry and it was a long way back to the quad. We had some of the steak at a staff barbecue a bit later. The party was a roaring success. The islanders were the nicest people.

  • 05/09/2022 5:13 PM | Bob McMillan (Administrator)

    We were hunting up the top end of Lake Rotoroa . Simon, Claire , Ian and I had climbed to the bush line only to be met with thick cloud cover, white out conditions.  There was no point in going any further. All the gut busting effort had been in vain. We couldn’t see more than five metres in front of us and once we were out of the shelter of the bush there was no way of being sure that we were on the right ridge to the hut that was only a kilometre away. We sat on our heavy packs for some time right on the place where the track emerged from the bush waiting for the cloud to lift. To be fair, we’d been climbing in cloud for some time but the track was through bush so we could not get lost. Finally the decision had to be made. Back down we went. Talk about dejected. Bummer. 

    We returned to the research hut on the lake edge between the mouths of the Sabine and the Durville. Ian had arranged for us to use it in return for us doing some monitoring work on a control plot for the Nelson Lakes Mainland Island program. The work did not take us long. We hunted the lower country around the top of Rotoroa for a few days, saw a few marks.  Ian did a solo hunt up to the bush line and tussock from the Sabine. I was impressed that he got so far. Finally a bit of clear weather. Ian and I climbed Mount Miz, up to the bush line where we had had to turn round , and on to the hut. The day was fine so we carried on. Ian saw a chamois buck down off the main ridge but I just caught a glimpse of it. No chance for a shot. Back to the hut  for the night. 

    The next day was a shocker with more bad weather forecast so we groped our way back through the cloud and rain to the start of the track down through the bush. It was a huge relief for me to see the place where we turned round days ago. Made it back to the hut at the top of the lake , no worries.

    Ian and Simon hunted the Glenroy while I hunted the Durville. I got a hind which Simon carried back for me. I had to go back to the hut to get him. He was grizzling about his crook back, having to carry a deer. I told him I didn’t want to eat it so if he wanted to eat it, he would have to carry it. It wasn’t that far back to camp, specially for me. 

    Ian had to be back for work so, on the night before the day of his departure to catch the plane at Picton, we figured that there was no way he could climb over the Mount Robert Spur from Rotoroa and make it to the plane on time. The only other way we could get to the bottom end of the lake in time to get Ian to the plane was for him to take one of the sea kayaks we had with us down to the jetty at the end of the lake. We had no place to store the kayak at the jetty at the bottom of the lake.  We hatched a plan. Simon's back was so crook that he couldn’t make the paddle. Claire said she would paddle the length of the lake in her kayak with Ian, then tow Ian’s one back to our hut. I thought this was a huge ask for her so I said I would walk down the east side of the  lake as far as I could to meet her and paddle the other kayak back. Beauty. First thing in the morning Claire and Ian set off in the kayaks and I was away. Was a bit fit in those days so I ran most of the way over to the Sabine then down the track on the eastern side of the lake. I was getting a bit concerned that I had missed Claire as I was getting very close to the bottom end of the lake. It was with great relief that I finally spotted Claire paddling along with the other kayak in tow heading up the lake toward me.

    Jumped out onto a boulder and signalled to her. She saw me. She brought the kayaks to shore and I hopped into mine. She gave me some rudimentary instructions on how to operate the kayak and we set off up the lake. It was the first time that I had been in a kayak. I got a bit of a clue as to how to balance the kayak. Made a bit of progress up the lake. Things were getting a bit better. We met a couple of blokes in an outboard heading back down the lake. Claire handled her kayak like a pro while she talked to them, I was  trying hard just to stay balanced and not tip out. The blokes in the outboard were clearly impressed by this sheila handling the situation with aplomb, with me being a complete novice and Claire having to help me. There was a fair bit of chop on by this stage.  We continued on up the lake. Then it started to really blow. From a nice paddle to what seemed like an eight foot surf. Claire said we were not making any headway because the wind was so bad against us on the east side of the lake so we would have to cross the lake and make our way up the lee west side. It was terrifying. My arsehole was clamped to the seat of the kayak.The waves would try to swamp me all the time. I was fully expecting to can out at any moment. Finally we got to the other side of the lake. We made our way in comparative calm up the lee side of the lake till we got to the hut. Simon was at the jetty and hugely relieved that we had made it. He said that he was looking down the lake for us to appear. He happened to glance out into the middle of the lake and couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Us in a welter of foam in the middle of the lake. What on earth were you doing in the middle of the lake? No other choice. We made it though.

    Got to the hut , changed and had a brew. I was shattered. Claire cooked us a beaut feed that night. After paddling both ways down the lake. Talk about her impressive stamina.

  • 08/08/2022 9:58 AM | Bob McMillan (Administrator)

    While still in my teen years, I used to compete against a cobber called Murray Potter. He was a nationally ranked smallbore shooter and was a first class shot. He had an Anschutz 22 magnum which he used on some farms on Waiheke Island. His tales of the effectiveness of the magnum on rabbits really caught my interest. Best thing since sliced bread, he reckoned.

    My first chance to use the magnum was when I was working for Forest Service in Hokitika. Part of the possum control operation involved night shooting on the current years pine plantings. The possums would devour the fresh planted seedlings. The night shooting had a couple of objectives. First was the immediate relief from possum damage while the second was to establish possum densities to justify further work. When all the protection forestry workers were in the hills I would be the third man on the spotlighting team. The rifle of choice was an Anschutz 22 magnum. We sometimes used a 222, the cost of ammo was an insignificant part  of the whole operation. While doing the shooting myself and watching others, I was seriously impressed with the performance of the Anschutz.

    The next time I used the magnum was again on the West Coast , this time in Westport. The two pest board staff would get me to accompany them on night shooting possum control operations. Again, the rifle of choice was an Anschutz 22 magnum. The rifle was excellent for night shooting possums. As Mickey and Dalk had a side hustle going involving skinning the possums, everything had to be head shot. No misses were acceptable. Interestingly, whenever they had spotted a deer during their regular work, Mickey would ensure that I went with them the next night and I was to bring my 270 as well. We got a lot of possums and quite a few deer.

    The magnum was both accurate and effective.

    Working in the King country on goats showed me one of the shortcomings of the magnum. A young bloke turned up to work with us, a “good keen man”. He was useless as tits on a bull and his rifle was worse. It was an inexpensive Philipino 22 mag which was hopelessly inaccurate. The bore was heavily rust pitted and the rifle couldn’t reliably hit a cardboard box at fifty yards. The 22 magnum has a jacketed bullet which does not coat the bore with wax as a regular 22 does. The magnum needs cleaning every time you use it. A lot of the magnums I examined while in the gun shop had rust pitted bores. We lent the bloke a regular 22. He didn’t last long on the job. 

    Eventually, I got my own 22 magnum, a Sako Quad. It turned out to be a very accurate and useful rifle. Living in Auckland limited my range of target species. I used it mainly on rabbits, hares, turkeys and peacocks. The peacocks were a bit different to hunt. On a couple of occasions I had made a good hit only to have the bird fly off. About a hundred yards from where they took off from they died in mid air and crashed to the ground. The Quad had a 17HMR barrel with it but I came to favour the 22 magnum over the 17 for the bigger critters I was chasing. It may have been just an impression but I gained a lot of confidence using the 22 magnum barrel. I didn’t use the magnum on bigger animals, goats and pigs, but a couple of professional hunting mates used it and were very impressed. I hold the 22 magnum in very high regard. Murray was right.

  • 24/07/2022 6:57 AM | Bob McMillan (Administrator)

    We knew that we would have to learn to hunt somehow. Barry Crump’s Good Keen Man gave me the inspiration but it was a long way from sparrows in the back yard to climbing mountains after deer. I was so lucky that my Uncle and Auntie had a hundred acre dairy farm at Woodhill, just around the corner from the Woodhill Store. I would wait in anticipation when the school holidays were approaching for the invitation to stay on the farm. Dad’s sister would invite me. You beaut.  And there were rabbits. We got possums up the Macrocarpa shelter belts but that wasn’t the biggest challenge.

    Rabbits were a more difficult proposition. Get it wrong and they would run away. After milking I would make for some areas where I had seen rabbits or burrows. A careful plan had to be made to keep out of sight of where they were likely to be, then a cautious  peek out from behind cover. The open sights on the 22 were not considered a drawback, there were almost no telescopic sights then. So there was the aspiring deer hunter, sneaking up on rabbits, trying his best to keep the rifle steady to take home a rabbit for the farm cats.

    I was to have a lot of fun with rabbits in later years. Working for the Hauraki Gulf Maritime Park Board based on Motutapu Island I was tasked with supplying two Kleensacks full of rabbits on a Friday when the park boat took the workers back to Devonport. The rabbits were distributed to pensioners by the then assistant chief ranger. I would go over to Browns Island where the rabbits were truly out of control. It would take me about an hour to fill the sacks with rabbits, all head shots. The little Brno with a scope did great work. Then there was a resident population on Motutapu. They were on the list.  Came home for lunch one day and noticed my rifle leaning in the corner of the room where Jeanette did the ironing. She said go and have a look in the vege garden I had put in. In among the carrots, one dead rabbit. Well done, Nette.

    Some years later while working on te Paki I had an opportunity to do more rabbit work. While the rabbits were no imminent threat to the viability of the farm it was worthwhile having a look occasionally while surveying for possums. Some of my cobbers in the pistol club were very happy with the results they were getting with their semi auto 22s and they weren’t shy about telling me.  No one should have to put up with too much bullshit so I’d invite them to shoot with me. Jeanette would drive  my Landrover and the victim and I would take turns shooting and spotlighting. The rules were you were to get ten shots, if you missed you were on the light  till either I missed or had ten hits out of ten. We soon had to reduce the hit count to five because no one, even with their super dooper semis, even got five without a miss. With the Brno most of the sets of ten were completed.

    Then we had some real rabbit adventure. The Great Easter Bunny hunt in Alexandra. Got to the venue and met some of the awesome folk who lived there. Daylight hunting at first sneaking along in an extended line chasing the rabbits round the Matagauri bushes with shotguns. Then the real work of the weekend. The locals provided our team of four with a Hilux and turned us loose on a big farm. I soon figured out that no one on our team had any experience driving a four wheel vehicle off road, let alone at night. There was no other choice, I had to do the driving. Put the best of my troops on the spotlight with clear instructions on what I wanted him to do. Just use the light like a paintbrush to sweep over all the ground then jump back onto a set of eyes that were within range. He got onto that concept pretty quick but then another problem arose. The shooters couldn’t hit anything. The two shooters were very experienced hunters but they could not shoot under these circumstances. I tried swapping the bloke on the light for a shooter but this wasn’t any more successful. This didn’t stop everyone enjoying themselves. Finally it started to snow, so thankfully we packed it in for the night and went back to the woodshed about midnight. We’d just got in when someone asked if we had left a gate open down on the main road. A mob of sheep had got onto the highway and a local had crashed into the mob with numerous casualties. As we were from Auckland,  we were immediately suspect but we managed to convince them we were nowhere near the massacre site. About three in the morning a local team headed out and I asked if I could join them. They were a very efficient team, their driver could drive , their spot lighter knew his job and their shooters could hit the rabbits. My job was gate opener.  All this work was with shotguns.

    The next year our team did about the same but knocked off even earlier. One real top local said him and I should go out together in his cut down Nissan. We used 22s. It was a pleasure to accompany a skilled bloke. We shot mainly hares on this farm, just the way it went. His unsilenced high velocity combination was noticeably more effective than my silenced subsonic combination. Took turns with the light and the gun, the driver doing the spotlighting. Night shooting has its own challenges.

  • 13/06/2022 9:14 AM | Bob McMillan (Administrator)

    Things have changed. As kids heading off into the bush we knew we had to take a torch as part of our gear. We thought they had to be  powerful so we chose 2 cell D size eveready. They worked fine. The most absurd incident I recall of this era was when a would-be hunter turned up at Ngahirimai with a 6D maglite intending to hunt at night along the Whakatane flats therefore eliminating all the hard work of hunting through the bush. His scheme was dismally ineffective so he didn’t last long. Then we found that 2 C plastic torches worked just as well.

    While guiding people through the remote Nile River caves for the department over the Christmas period I found that the 2 C torches were all I needed. We got along fine with these torches for camp use  and the occasional trip back to camp after waiting for a deer to come out onto a remote clearing.  Then came the major advance. We were very familiar with the rabbit board 6 volt head mounted spotlights which we used for possum and rabbit jobs but they were not used in the deep bush. I recall my first headlight, a Petzal, which a cobber gave me at a shooting competition, he said all the mountain climbers used them for night ascents. It was brilliant.

    Then came a succession of single AA or double AAA headlamps which worked in all the scenarios we put them in. Very easy to travel along tracks at night and useful when cooking at night. This sort of light was a key in one of the finest examples of bushcraft that I’ve seen. Ian, Simon , Jim and I were hunting in the Mangaturutu. Ian and Simon had headed down to the Mohaka to try for a fish. Jim headed upstream then cut South. I decided to try a long leading ridge heading back south of where Ian and Simon were, it was a dismal hard day of crashing through thick Manuka but I finally arrived at the Mohaka with a bit of light to spare. It started to pour with rain and I was a sorry hunter who got back to the camp well after dark. I was the first one back so got the fire going and got out of my wet clothes. Maybe an hour later saw the two headlamps of Ian and Simon bobbing back to camp, they were soaked. They stood in front of the fire for a moment. No Jim. Then we heard a shot. We all got the direction of the shot. He must be up in the saddle of the Mangaturutu and the Mangatainoka. I don’t know the exact distance to where we knew the shot had come from but the trip involved heading upriver to where there was a change in vegetation from Manuka to beech then a climb up through the beech to the saddle area. Ian and Simon said to me as you are changed and dry I should stay in camp and keep a good fire going. With that they headed out into untracked bush in the pitch black in the pouring rain with their headlamps lighting their way to see if they could locate Jim. I just don’t know how long it was till I saw their lights appear. They had Jim in tow. He said he’d dropped into the Mangatainoka by mistake then made his way up into the saddle where he ran out of light. He crouched under a leaning tree to get some shelter from the rain and eventually fired a shot to let us know where he was.I was so thankful. We got everyone changed and got the big feed I’d prepared into them. We were picked up the next day in the chopper. About a week later Jim had a major heart attack coming out of the bush in the Hunuas. So pleased he recovered but even more pleased it hadn’t happened while we were in the Mangaturutu. 

    The headlamp is now one of the essential items both for hunting and tramping. The huts along the Heaphy Track were alive with headlamps at dinner preparation time. My daughter showed me a new to me trick with the headlamps the other day when we were taking her Labrador for an early morning walk. She had a light shining at waist level which gave good illumination of the track we were on. I wondered how she clipped it on. She showed me that by extending the band of her headlamp she could put it round her waist thus giving good light. I tried it, it works. A headlamp is an essential piece of kit and the ones we have now are excellent.

  • 13/06/2022 9:13 AM | Bob McMillan (Administrator)

    Beware of the man with one gun, he may know how to use it.

    I was sitting in the maimai on duckshooting day when this old aphorism sprang to mind. I thought I would look pretty silly sitting there with my old 222 trying to hit ducks. So in the maimai I really needed a shotgun and the skill to use it. What shotgun? As a youngster I was shooting a lot of clay targets with some degree of success using a Miroku 800W trap gun. Took it into the maimai and had a dismal result. Too long, too heavy and too heavily choked. The next year used a skeet gun with great results. Where I was sitting on this duckshooting morning a skeet gun would have been of limited value as the shots were full range and the full choke was more appropriate. Clearly one gun would not cut it. 

    The same applies to rifles. The most versatile rifle I have, my 222 would be totally inappropriate when I was shooting rabbits and possums in the paddocks adjacent the Auckland International Airport or when I was shooting wild bulls in the Puketi. So where does the advice Beware of the man with one gun fit in. I think the second part of the advice is where the gold lies. He may know how to use it. It’s pretty simple. The more shooting you do, the better you will become. Shooting is a learned activity. Shooting skills are transferable. Skeet shooting is great practice for duckshooting, trap shooting is great practice for pheasant hunting. Air rifles, 22s and competitive shooting are all valid practice for hunting marksmanship. The concept that a person can be familiar with only one gun is wrong. The other problem with the advice is that some of us would be bored spitless with only one gun. 

  • 29/04/2022 1:29 PM | Bob McMillan (Administrator)

    Bill’s given me the OK to post this article on his blog site.

      Magazine Capacity

    These days “wading into a mob of deer” happens only in stock yards or in your dreams.

    Hunting rifles don’t need large magazine capacity.  Whenever I meet another hunter sporting a 10-round box magazine on their rifle I wonder if they are either a piss-poor shot, dreaming, hunting possums, or all three.

    Deerstalking is an aesthetic and ethical sport these days, requiring due consideration for the environment, the animal, and other hunters.  Excess magazine capacity “might” promote poor ethics, poor shooting and a lack of self-discipline.  Remember, I said “might”.

    If missed or wounded, deer generally run away.  Shooting at a running deer is frowned upon, unless you are an expert shot or a culler, the latter being both (or they get sacked).  Missing with 10 rounds is the same as missing with 3 rounds, only more expensive.

    Back to magazine capacity.  Three or four round magazines are common today on hunting rifles.  That’s enough!  If you need more, take up pistol shooting.

  • 19/04/2022 8:06 AM | Bob McMillan (Administrator)

    How far is too far?. Your hunting ground often determines the number of opportunities you have at varying distances to take a shot at your animal. It’s fair to say that the bush clad Urewera will offer more close range shots than the tussocklands of the Kaimanawas or Kawekas. However I’ve had very close shots in the tussock and very long shots in the Urewera. If a high proportion of your opportunities are at long range it makes sense to have a rifle capable of handling these chances. 

    I can think of a number of factors which could limit your ability to make a vital hit on an animal at long range. Correct zero of your rifle is an important basic. I’ve found that a 200 metre zero works best for me. Trajectory of the bullet needs proper calculation. Fortunately, pocket rangefinders have greatly simplified sorting out this problem. Knowing the correct range you can apply corrections to compensate for bullet drop. Adjusting your scope, using a range graduated reticle, or calculating the required drop compensation then holding over the right amount are all valid techniques. Then there is the big stumbling block -  wind drift. Experienced NRA shooters are magicians at evaluating wind drift out to very long ranges but they have factors which help them. Generally, their terrain is flat and level and they place wind flags along the range to help them sort out wind speed and direction. They will use tables to calculate wind drift. The hunter doesn’t have these aids. 

    In conversation with an American soldier one day it turned out he was an instructor assisting NZ forces on long range shooting. I said that as a working hunter I tried not to shoot from too far away. If I was in a situation where it was appropriate and there was no other sensible option, I would select a rock face or a clay bank at the same distance as the animals and take shots until I could see how far the bullets were falling and wind was drifting them. I would then apply these compensations when trying for my targets. He said why did I think there were so many bullet holes in the walls of buildings in Afghanistan. Funny how riflemen with completely different purposes would come up with the same answers.

    Stability of the firing platform is important. It is no wonder that the military shooters use a bipod for most of their shooting. I find it much more convenient to use my backpack as a rest for long attempts. I like to cover a lot of country while hunting so I don’t enjoy carrying excess weight so the bipod is out for me. This eliminates the under recognised problem of inconsistent zeros when shooting off a bipod.

    In fairness to the animal it is sensible to wait till you can see a significant amount of vital area before you attempt a shot. If you can’t see the whole shoulder, heart and lung area from the side on position you should seriously ask yourself is it worth it.

    Bullet performance at the target is often under considered.  Conventional wisdom is that when bullets don’t expand they become useless. The first time I encountered this was when shooting at a clay bank a long way away in the Kaimais. My 308 was hand loaded with killer-diller bullets. Checked the target zone and found the bullet strikes. Being curious I excavated the bullets from the hard clay bank. They were completely undeformed, just the rifling marks on them. I have examined the bullet recovered from a fallow shot at normal range. The bullet struck the front end and was located in the hind leg. The 243 100 grain bullet was un deformed. The deer still died. I have used solid projectiles , 250 grain 35 Whelens, on wild sheep and cattle on the Chathams. They worked fine. I note that some of the old African hunters would use nothing but solids for all their game so I take the tales of failure to expand with a grain of salt.

    All this long-winded discussion done with, what is long range? I think that most animals within 100 metres of most hunters are in real trouble. Good numbers of riflemen are capable of hitting animals at 200 metres. 300 is getting to be a really long shot and few marksmen have the skills to hit them consistently and vitally much further than that. At about 500 metres, bullets from most hunting rifles are marginal in expansion (and energy – ed). I know that there will be plenty of tales about the long shots the story teller has made. These stories often don’t reflect humane consideration for the animal. While it is a real buzz to be successful in a long attempt, the chance of wounding rather than killing goes up as the range increases. The north island deer guides I have hunted with used tracking dogs to recover deer wounded at long range. I would prefer to make every effort to avoid wounding animals.

  • 04/04/2022 6:53 PM | Bob McMillan (Administrator)

    I still remember getting my first rifle.

    I was eight years old. It was in my Christmas stocking. Poked out quite a long way. The rifle came with a full set of instructions from my Dad who had been an instructor in the army, when I could use it, where I could use it, who could be there when I used it, all the safe handling rules and the requirement that no one steps in front of the gun. Dad set me the task of keeping the local population of introduced birds under control, he felt that they competed with native birds for food and nesting space. I was never to shoot a native bird. The rifle was a BSA Cadet Major in 177. I still have it and it will go to one of my grandsons. I learned marksmanship with that rifle. My dad saw that while I was left handed I was right eyed so I was taught to shoot right handed. I was taught the proper shooting positions, prone unsupported, sitting, kneeling and standing. I seriously enjoyed getting better at shooting and testing my ability against sparrows and mynah birds. Our home section of one and a half acres in Northcote was large enough that I did not have to look elsewhere for places to shoot. We used to shoot possums which had trapped themselves in the chookfeed bins, head shots worked fine. 

    High school was the time for the 22 at my uncle's farm at Woodhill. Then onto high powers and competition shooting. I used a Webley Senior 177 air pistol to dispatch possums caught in the live capture wallaby traps but was unimpressed with the results.  I hadn’t used a slug gun for literally years when I had to evaluate an air rifle the company had sold for possible faults. The rifle was purported to be a thousand feet per second power but as it was a 22 it didn’t go that fast. Alan and I took two of these rifles to a vineyard next to Auckland International Airport where we did bird control shooting. We engaged a number of possums one night with a number of escapees and one confirmed casualty. The last possum I tried was up the top of a big gum tree. Easily seen in the spotlight. Numerous shots at the head produced no result. I thought I must be missing so shot at leaves close to the possums head. I could see the holes in the leaves so that wasn’t the problem. Eventually the possum got sick of this and made his way down the tree with me still taking shots. He got to the lower trunk and kept coming down. Alan yelled out “Watch out , he’s charging.” The possum hit the base of the tree then bolted between us up the race and disappeared under the calf feeders with me still taking shots. Never did find him. Totally unimpressed with air rifles on possums. 

    I bought a nice Diana 34 and used it a little bit at work to evaluate pellets which the company considered stocking. Got a call from a scientist who l used to work with asking me if an air rifle would be effective in mopping up mynah birds following a poison operation. He was costing a proposal to eliminate a flock of mynahs in the main port of Kiribati for the UN and would I do the shooting. I thought I had better upskill my self so I joined the North Harbour Air Rifle Club shooting at Wainoni Park. Talk about an education. These guys were experts with air rifles. Some were well ranked in world competitions. My interest was in learning what could be done with a conventional spring powered air rifle as this was the simplest type which would be appropriate for use on the island. I finished up with a further three Weihrauch rifles, a 95 , a 50 and a 30 all properly scoped. They represented different power levels. By actual test the power of the 95 was about 14 pounds, the 50 was about 12, and the 30 was about 7. I learned about artillery hold, using mil dots to accommodate different ranges and  variability of pellets. I learned to hit the metal silhouettes at ranges up to fifty yards. I found that the air rifles were very sensitive to mistakes in your technique, what could be an OK shot with a 22 would be a dismal miss with the air rifle. I found that the advice frequently given that you should test your rifle with different pellets was only partially true, the aces consistently chose JSB pellets and set about winning. Some used others but mostly JSBs. The  blokes I shot with were super helpful, knowledgeable and skilled and I thoroughly enjoyed their company. Some didn’t even mind me calling them slug guns instead of air rifles.  Never heard back from Dave about Kiribati, guess the project didn’t make the cut.

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