I would not consider myself an expert on the subject but, I have been there many times. Having said that, I’m not sure that even matters. What matters is, I managed to receive a great secret early in my career as a professional outdoor communicator on how best to prepare for a western big-game hunt.
I am often asked by hunters about how they should prepare for their hunting adventure out west. I gladly pass on the same advice I heeded then and still do to this day – practice, practice and then practice some more. In fact, that is exactly what I plan on doing until the plane takes off to Wyoming with me aboard later this fall.
Most often my advice is taken as simply, too simple. I get the look as if I skipped chapters 10-17 of the out-west-hunting manual and forgot the importance of rifles, cartridges, bullets, boots, apparel, binoculars and range finders. Don’t get me wrong, all of that stuff plays a vital role but the bottom line is you need to be able to hit what you are aiming at.
If I told you that a local competitive shooter had been spending every Saturday at the skeet range preparing for a match in Colorado and had managed to run through seven cases of shotshells in doing so, you probably wouldn’t take the news as a surprise. You might not even ask what shoes they choose to compete in our even what particular brand of shotgun or length of barrel they preferred.
But if I stated that Fred has drawn a tag for a bull elk in New Mexico for a hunt this fall, the questions might just tend to be more in depth about calibers, ballistics, terminal performance of the projectile and of course, the always popular debate, what cartridge ol’ Fred is planning on using. The rifle’s chambering is always a debate that brings people to their feet. I have heard passionate opinions for every cartridge from the magnum thumpers with heavyweight bullets to the finer attributes of the flatter-shooting ones with speedier projectiles. The Ford-versus-Chevy-style arguments are indeed entertaining and most have very valid points.
But like the competitive skeet shooter, who has been practicing like crazy in hopes of retaining muscle memory and the confidence in themselves and their equipment so that when the shot presents itself they are prepared, hunters should decide confidently and quickly on a rifle/cartridge combination and head to the range. Because, a miss is a miss no matter how big or how fast the projectile is going.
In order to be ready to make the shot, hunters need to practice in real world scenarios. Shooting from a bench rest is perfectly acceptable for sighting in a scope to the rifle, but I have not seen an outfitter yet who was willing to hump around a bench and sandbags all day just in case a bull elk steps out at 267 yards.
The key to being ready for your hunt-of-a-lifetime out west? Practice shooting in the field at yardages you feel comfortable that you can make the shot. That way when the shot presents itself, you are ready and confident. It is as simple as that – well, almost.