George Block Column
Many factors affect long-range shooting
Having a good scope and cartridge combination is a good first step in getting the best of out a varmint rifle.
While skimming through the latest edition of Pennsylvania Angler magazine, I noticed that Washington County Waterways Conservation Officer Sean Sauserman won the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission Top Gun award.
Sauserman won the award through his efforts for boating under the influence education and enforcement.
It’s a great job by Sauserman, and I find that he and I have some things in common. We both like playing with long rifles and enjoy long-range shooting.
In last week’s column, I wrote about the rainy weather and lack of cut fields. You have to roll with the punches that nature deals, so I find myself testing loads and paper punching between rain storms.
Over many years of groundhog hunting, I have learned some things. As I relate those, you’ll find that my head is just full of worthless trivia.
A good medium- to long-range cartridge needs to be fast. There are two factors that control the trajectory of a bullet once it leaves the barrel.
Remember that the bullet is a free-flying projectile once it exits the muzzle, and the air offers resistance. The two controlling factors are speed and ballistic coefficiency.
If those two are the same, drop will be the same regardless of caliber.
There is no magic. Many times a shooter must reach a compromise in gaining either.
The ballistic coefficiency is affected by shape and length, and the bullet cam only go so far if not stabilized by the twist of the barrel.
A good example is trying to shoot bullets of a heavy weight that are designed for A.R.-type rifles in the slower twist rifling of a sporter bolt action. They will be spread all over the target and even key hole or hit sideways. The twist in the sporter is just too slow.
The ballistic coefficiency is important and can be demonstrated by driving with you hand out the window. Place you palm forward with your fingers pointing up, and then try the same with your fingers pointing toward the front of the car. One position slices through the air better than the other.
In most instances, you are looking at the smaller cartridges for varmint hunting. You don’t need big. Groundhogs aren’t grizzly bears.
Also, smaller cartridges don’t recoil as hard and are easier to shoot accurately. Accuracy is a must when varmint hunting.
When shooting at deer, you have a 14-by-14-inch target, but a groundhog is much smaller, and many times, you are only shooting at a part of the animal’s anatomy.
Sometimes, the only thing you can see at 400 yards is the head. That is not a big target.
With that in mind, a good varmint rig should keep all of its shots within a 1/2-inch circle at 100 yards. That will be two inches at 400 yards, and that is just rifle error and under perfect conditions.
The other question usually asked is whether to go with a standard hunting barrel or a heavier model? The answer to that depends on how much walking is being done.
No rifle round can cover all situations. That is why we own more than one.
It’s probably safe to say that the heavy-barreled rifle is more accurate but there are light rifles that will shoot well.
An often-overlooked factor is that the heavy rifle usually has a longer tube and is potentially faster. I have often said the best and safest way to add speed is not more powder but a longer barrel.
I like a 26-inch barrel on my varmint rigs and my 40X has a 27-inch barrel. It is at least 200 feet per second faster than another rifle I own in the same chambering with a 24-inch tube.
Another overlooked factor is the bullet’s construction. Since hunting in Washington and Greene counties means doing so near livestock and houses, the shooter should try to hunt with a fragile bullet that breaks up on contact.
Even under that condition, there should be a backstop behind every shot.
I once knew a landowner who only allowed one person to hunt on his land. He told me that this hunter used a bullet that never riccochetted.
I didn’t tell him, but I don’t believe in never. Maybe most of the time, but never say never. Just be safe and never shoot toward a building.
The only way to find the best out about a varmint rifle, scope and cartridge combination is to shoot a lot of paper. I don’t know any shortcuts.
The shooting is the fun in itself.
George H. Block writes a Sunday Outdoors column for the Observer-Reporter.