Long Range Hunting is not hunting?
I started hunting at a very young age. At first it was small game, then doves and upland birds, next Kansas whitetails once a year. I eventually fell in love with waterfowl hunting and my Kansas deer hunting progressed from rifle hunting to bow hunting. It was not until one fateful day at the magazine rack when I picked up an Eastman’s Hunting journal that I discovered western public land big game hunting. I was immediately intrigued. I purchased the magazine and went home to do more research.
Within a week I had purchased some leftover Wyoming antelope tags and was being joined by my Dad and a good buddy. What gear would I need? I had no clue what gear was even good for a western hunt. I stumbled on a, new at the time, company by the name of Hunting GPS Maps, now known as OnX. I purchased a very basic Garmin to use the public land chips. My research suggested I would need a rifle capable of reliably hitting game out to 400 yards. I found a reworked Remington 700 chambered in 7SAUM with a .5 moa guarantee from a relatively new company, Redhawk Rifles, and topped it with a Zeiss Conquest with the Rapid Z-800 scope. I purchased a cheap spotter and tripod and made due with the rest of my gear. The hunt was set.
The day to leave Kansas for our Wyoming hunt arrived and we headed west to the unknown. After several hard days of hunting, and figuring out the checker board of public land, we had killed two goats at around 350 yards. I was hooked.
Caption- We had no idea what we were doing with the hunting or picture taking, but we were having a blast!
It was time to reevaluate gear and plan the next trip. After several post hunt range trips, armed with the knowledge we had gathered about the animals, it became apparent that my rifle and scope setup was going to hold me back. I had already developed a decent understanding of rifle ballistics and accuracy from my love affair with shooting prairie dogs and wanted to apply that to a western big game hunting setup. I started accumulating parts for a custom rifle and set them off to have it built. I also replaced my Zeiss and it’s holdover reticle with a better-suited scope to dial for longer ranges. We did some more research and decided to try to do another antelope hunt in a better unit. The following year we applied in a harder to draw unit and actually drew the tags. In the mean time we learned a lot about trophy quality and judging, and knew we wanted to hunt for some bigger animals. I received my first custom big game rifle and began practicing at longer distances. I was shooting out to 900 yards and started to learn to shoot in the wind with greater accuracy.
Once again it was time for the hunt. This one left us with a completely different set of challenges. While this unit had far more public land in it, and therefore more animals, the big ones were few and far between. To make matters worse, just like the Kansas whitetails I grew up hunting, big pronghorn don’t get that way by being dumb. After covering many miles in the truck and what seemed like as many walking we found a goat with long horns. He was hanging out in the flat open and getting close was unlikely. With no terrain to cover us on a stalk we were left with a 600 yard shot or nothing. I was prepared. We got set up for a solid prone shot. I went through my shot sequence and squeezed the trigger. I fraction of a second later the antelope was running, dead on his feet, as the 180 grain Berger had doubled-lunged him. He went down with a well-placed bullet from exactly 600 yards. Our second hunt was successful, and the passion was growing.
Caption- Watching this pronghorn, completely at ease, prior to the shot was exactly the experience I want.
Since then, the knowledge and skills, for western hunting, as well as shooting have grown. The years and hunts have come and gone. I have even begun muzzleloader hunting to gain new hunting experiences and opportunities. It is said that hunters go through 5 stages. Those stages are the shooter stage, the limiting out stage, the trophy stage, the method stage and the sportsman stage. We don’t all go through them all, and we don’t necessarily have to be in only one. I have been in and left the shooter stage for the most part. I do still enjoy shooting prairie dogs for many reasons. This I would place in the shooter stage but the trip is not complete without good friends so it also carries over to the sportsman stage. I have been in the limiting out stage and would say I am still in it combined with the sportsman stage while water fowling. I have progressed into and remain in the trophy stage while hunting big game, which we could write an entire article on. As you just read most of my hunting keeps me in the sportsman stage and has been the case from shortly after I started to hunt, as the experience is really what is important to me.
Why did I skip the method stage? That is the point of the article. Why is it that we don’t give each other grief over the other stages but we have heartache with the method? As you read this if I had left the shot distances out and without discussing more of my hunt kill ranges I imagine you would be daydreaming of your personal experiences and would find our experiences very relatable. To a very small extent some hunters don’t like trophy hunting, which is why I said we could write an entire article on it, but many have a very difficult time with the method. Outsiders are constantly attacking hunters. We do not need to be attacking each other. I hunt, as I said, with the three main weapons. I understand the enjoyment of each. Each has its own challenges from a gear standpoint. Each comes with a different level of difficulty as far as taking game. Each method can be made harder or easier with a few tweaks to the systems. Each has its limitations.
Caption- Great times with great friends!
The method shamers have two approaches. The first is ethics. Some will claim one way is more or less ethical. I have seen a lot of things in my 30 plus years of hunting. I am just going to be blunt and say that most animals I have seen wounded have been from archers and deer hunters shooting running game, even at short distances. Do I think negatively of the method? Not necessarily. It is not the methods fault. The hunter is the one making the choice. Ethics lie in the heart of the hunter. Two hunters could do the exact same thing, but the skill set of one hunter may cause a different outcome than the other hunter. Ethics, from a lethality standpoint, are directly tied to the skillset of the hunter with the given weapon system, their ability to use them, and knowing when not to. This is where the Long Range Only motto comes into play. “We do long range right”. Knowing when not to take the shot is just as important as when. Does that mean we are perfect? Absolutely not, but I can tell you that I practice shooting long range much more than 99% of hunters practice with their chosen system. I can assure you my confidence, when I take a long-range shot, is near 100%, and is not unfounded.
The second argument is even more confusing to me. It typically comes from short-range hunters and, more often than not, dedicated archers. Their claim is that if it is not shot within x distance it is not hunting. To me this argument is the most nonsensical. This is blurring the line between the method stage and the sportsman stage. I cannot for the life of me understand why one hunter feels they can tell me what I should get out of my hunt, or how I should enjoy my hunt.
Caption- This elk was taken with the hunt running out of time and with no way to physically get closer. The experience of watching the bull in it’s natural state, completely unaware of our existence, is what made the hunt so memorable for me. A perfectly placed shot from exactly 800 yards anchored the bull where he stood.
When I consider the 5 stages of a hunter, if I had to place me in one stage, I would say I am overridingly in the sportsmen stage. What makes me enjoy a hunt is a culmination of many things, not always the same. I can, and do, go on solo hunts. I do find enjoyment in them, but I much prefer to hunt with close friends. I do hunts out of hotels. I do backcountry hunts. I hunt many of the western states. I have hunted multiple continents. I have hunted and continue to hunt multiple species. As I stated before, I hunt with all three major weapon systems, but if I had to pick one weapon, and only one for the rest of my life, it would be a scoped rifle. I love to nerd out over the gear side of it. I love bullets, ballistics and accuracy. The thing I love the most about it is I do not have to worry remotely as much about the kill shot as with other systems. I find this allows me to enjoy the overall experience more. I know when not to shoot. I know when to shoot. When I fail I learn from it. I try to get as close as I feel the animal and situation will allow, but I know with great confidence that I can kill very ethically and cleanly out to the distances I regularly practice at. This is the peace that allows me to enjoy the hunting experience I want. It is after all my money, my time, and my hunt. Instead of the fighting, bickering, and cutting down others in our relatively small community why not find opportunities to help others? Offer guidance and assistance to those trying to find their way through the five stages. Long-range hunting is here to stay and I feel we should spend more time helping others be the best, most ethical, hunter they can be while they enjoy the hunt they want. We should spend less time telling others how they should enjoy their time in the outdoors. Solidarity amongst hunters is paramount as we move into the future of hunting and spending time in the outdoors.
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