Most upland and waterfowl seasons are over. Spring turkey season is coming up fast, so for many of us this is time to shop for a new turkey gun. Fine, but shotgunning is really about familiarity and fit (probably in that order). Turkey hunting is a bit different than most shotgunning because the birds are (more or less) stationary and you aim, but any time you invest in a new shotgun, it’s wise to also expend time and a bunch of shells in practice. Although they taste terrible, there are no bag limits on clay targets. Clays vary widely in speed, angle, and difficulty, but it really doesn’t matter if you shoot trap, skeet, sporting clays, or hand-thrown targets: Every clay you shoot at (and especially every target you hit!) will make you more effective with that new shotgun.
I am probably best-known as a “rifle guy,” not so much as a shotgunner, and definitely not a turkey hunter. The latter is valid: I hunt turkeys, but I am no turkey expert! Shotgunning in general is a slightly different story. The Kansas I grew up in had few deer and zero turkeys, but we had oceans of bobwhites and lots of pheasants.
Nobody said it better than Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry Callahan: “The 44 Magnum is the most powerful handgun in the world.” At that time this was true, but the .44’s reign as the most powerful handgun cartridge has long since ended. Today it is surpassed in power by several factory cartridges, including the 454 Casull, 480 Ruger, and both the .460 and .500 S&W. However, these cartridges also surpass the .44 Magnum in recoil.
The big .44, properly the .44 Remington Magnum, is a handful in a handgun! Some find it difficult to master, but in a heavy revolver it’s really not that bad. It remains my favorite handgun hunting cartridge, very accurate and plenty powerful enough for anything I desire to hunt with a handgun! For years gunwriter Elmer Keith had been experimenting with heavy handloads for the old .44 Special, using that case because the brass was thicker and stronger than standard cases for the .45 Colt.
I’m on the record as stating (more than once!) that the 7mm Remington Magnum isn’t one of my favorites. It’s a popular cartridge so this always brings howls from its many fans. More importantly, at least to me, is that it’s not good journalism—or business—to contradict myself. Since I’ve been writing about this stuff for 40-odd years I think it’s possible (and allowable) for my opinions to change over time. But this opinion has not changed: The 7mm Remington Magnum is not among my all-time favorite cartridges.
My reasons are simple: There are lots of excellent cartridges, and it’s impossible to love them all equally. I love the .270 Winchester because it shoots just as flat as the 7mm Remington Magnum…but burns less powder, has less recoil, does fine in a 22-inch barrel, and can be built into a lighter rifle. If I feel I might need (or just want!) more power I’ve generally stepped up to a fast .30-caliber, which can offer more bullet weight and frontal area with similar velocity…albeit with more recoil.
It’s a big world out there with almost limitless opportunities. Transportation has never been faster and remains fairly affordable. It’s a fact that many international hunts are beyond the financial reach for many of us. However, it’s also fact that a lot of amazing adventures lie within the reach of average working folks. To some extent this is a matter of priority, and we’re all entitled to our own hunting dreams. Honestly, good old North America is a pretty cool place, with a wide variety of habitats and game animals. Also, because of our vast public lands, North America offers the greatest opportunity in the world for DIY hunting.
It’s okay with me if you’re content hunting close to home. North America has the world’s largest hunting culture, but according to surveys, most American hunters rarely hunt far from home. Your hunting goals are your business. Hunting is hunting and hunters are hunters; it doesn’t make you less skilled if you prefer to do all of your hunting in your back 40. In fact, I humbly submit that good old American “DIY” public land hunters are among the world’s most skilled.
Because, North America has the world’s largest hunting culture, we dominate the market, and although the percentage is small, we also have the world’s largest group of traveling hunters, tens of thousands annually, including both veterans and first-timers.
You’ve drawn a license for the fastest land animal in North America, the Pronghorn! Well that’s great but how do you know what to look for in a mature buck? The pronghorn is one of the most difficult animals to judge in all North America. I’m speaking in terms of antler size of course! Even after being a professional big game hunting guide in Wyoming for seventeen years I still misjudge pronghorn on the hoof. Now pronghorn are not antelope but are often referred to as such because they closely resemble the true antelope in Africa. So, I will use both terms as I refer to them in this article. We regularly call them “speed goats” as well (because of their similar features to goats and notorious speed).
So why are pronghorn so hard to judge? First, their antlers aren’t very large to begin with. Therefore, a difference of twelve inches and fourteen inches is hardly anything at 800 yards but a world of difference up close. Due to the far distances from which you will be looking at antelope, you’ll need to know what to look for. I’m a firm believer that score means very little and that the trophy is in the eye of the beholder. However, to better help you understand what to look for in the antlers of a mature pronghorn I’ll be talking about SCI scoring a little bit. It’s also a good way to convey relative size to other people. You get one length measurement on each side starting from the base and ending at the tip. Then you divide that number by four to find where you will take your four mass measurements. Finally, you get one prong measurement on each side. (ex. figure below)
Just recently I got back from a “mixed bag” hunt in Argentina: where I did some wingshooting, deer, and water buffalo hunting. I took an over/under Blaser12 gauge; and a Blaser R8 with .270 and .375 barrels. At this moment I’m on an airplane, headed toward Cameroon. I do not have a gun case in the cargo hold; I’ll be using a “camp gun.” In this article I will be discussing the pros and cons of flying with and without firearms while traveling to hunt.
Mindsets vary. If you’re a hunter who views a firearm as an essential tool, then, so long as a suitable tool is available, it may not be important for you to bring a favorite firearm. On the other hand, if you’re a “gun guy,” it may be important for you to bring a firearm you consider perfect for game you’re hunting. Destinations vary. Sometimes it’s fairly easy to bring guns; other times it’s a major hassle, but still possible. And there are places where the hunting is great but it is not possible to bring a firearm. You simply must use whatever is available.
I’m both a hunter and a “gun guy.” Given a sensible choice I prefer to bring my own. However, I’ve hunted several places where bringing a firearm isn’t possible. That’s easy: I’ll use whatever is available! Where decisions get hard are situations where practicality and convenience enter in. Essential to consider: Game and hunting conditions; and what firearms are available?
Some of us are smart enough to service our vehicles regularly to forestall problems. Others, unfortunately like me, are constantly late with scheduled maintenance. It’s a testament to good design and manufacturing that I don’t have more mechanical problems than I do.
Shooting is a bit like that: Constant maintenance, meaning practice, really is essential to keeping your shooting skills honed. I’m pretty sure all competitive shooters, in all disciplines, and at all levels from beginner to distinguished would agree. Practice is essential not just to get better, but to maintain skill levels.
I probably should follow my own advice, but I’m no different than most in that I often don’t! I’ve often written that varmint shooting offers the best practice there is. Woodchucks in the East and rockchucks in the West are good, likewise small rodents like ground squirrels and gophers… but there’s nothing better than prairie dogs.
Serious benchrest shooting is one of the most demanding shooting disciplines. It’s essentially a scientific search for ultimate accuracy. I don’t pretend it’s my game. I’m primarily a hunter, and my preference is to get away from the bench and spend as much practice time as possible shooting from field positions.
However, shooting from the bench is essential for achieving the desired zero, as well as determining the level of accuracy your rifle delivers and which loads produce optimum accuracy. So, although I have never been and probably never will be a benchrest competitor, I do a lot of benchrest shooting.
What we call “buck fever” is a strange malady that can do the most amazing things to people. In its minor stages, it causes shortness of breath and acceleration of pulse. This can quickly progress to ague-like shakes that would do a malaria sufferer proud. In its most advanced state almost anything is possible, but classic cases range from being physically unable to manipulate a trigger to ejecting an entire magazine of live cartridges onto the ground without ever firing—and being totally unaware of doing so.
Obviously. buck fever is not conducive to hunting success, especially in its more virulent forms. That said, and this is important: Buck fever can be a good thing! It manifests itself when you are in the presence of a magnificent game animal; it’s simply an extension of excitement, and you might even say that its presence denotes respect for that animal. As hunters, we’re supposed to be excited in the presence of game. If we are not, and are able to take a fine animal’s life with total dispassion, then I suggest it’s time to hang up the guns and bows and take up golf or tennis.
So the key isn’t that you avoid getting excited. Getting excited isn’t just okay; it’s a good thing. What’s important, and truly critical to success, is that you find ways to manage that excitement and hold it at bay long enough to do what you need to do. Naturally, this gets better and easier with experience, but field experience in the actual taking of game is hard-won and can take many years. Also, some of us are more excitable than others. I can’t compare my “excitability quotient” with anyone else’s, but after decades of doing this stuff I’m generally able to control the most serious manifestations of buck fever until the shooting is done—and then the shakes begin.