In my last two posts (“optics prep” and “rifle bolt cleaning”), I shared some tips for preparing for predator hunting season. The last step is to put in some range time. This is where we confirm that ammo, rifle and optics are all working together as a unified system. Of course, we will zero our rifle, but there are also other things we can do to get ready. There’s one procedure in particular that most hunters never consider.
The distance at which a rifle is zeroed is a personal decision, based on the terrain one hunts and on hunting style. I use 200 yards, a distance that allows me a dead-on hold out to 250 yards and thus covers 90 percent of the critters I shoot. Of course, after zeroing at the range, I’ll always shoot at closer and farther distances so I can check points of impact. Most of my predator rifles have a compensation system for longer shots (custom turrets or hash marks on the reticle) and I’ll always check to ensure the system is accurate and those long-range rounds are dropping where they should.
Presuming everything is good, I’ll then work out a ranging system with my scope’s reticle. Simply put, this is a method of quickly ranging a distant coyote by using the scope’s crosshairs. The simple duplex, thick-and-thin crosshair that is most common on North American riflescopes works very well for this. Here’s how I do it:
From actual measurement, I know the coyotes in my area tape about 11 inches from the top of the back to the bottom of the chest. I therefore staple a bright piece of 8.5X11-inch paper at the 100-yard line and adjust the power setting on my rifle scope until the thick parts of the crosshair bracket the paper top to bottom. I’ll then mark that power setting on the rings or on the scope itself. With Leupold scopes, for example, this setting is usually around 5X.
This then becomes the default setting for that riflescope—meaning that unless there’s a very good reason to change the setting, I leave it there all the time. And about the only reason I’ll change it is for one of those long-range deliberate shots where I have the time to use a laser rangefinder, work out a trajectory and dial a turret. By using the reticle in this way, I have a ranging system built into a riflescope, allowing me to at least make a rough yardage measurement (not a guess, but a measurement) when things are happening fast at a moderate distance.
This ranging system is important for me because I often overestimate the distance to those 200-yard coyotes and shoot over them. Since I started using this system, the overshooting problem has disappeared and the confidence I have in my intermediate range estimation has skyrocketed. The point here, however, is that to use this system, you have to set your baselines at the shooting range, using a known distance and a known target size. It’s all part of solid preparation for predator season.