Kenny Jarrett stepped away from the bench and nodded. "Any time," he said. I followed his instructions and squeezed the trigger. Amazingly, the bullet hit the target. I figured it was pure luck. Two more bullets followed, and I was astounded to see a three inch group. I figured I'd be lucky to simply hit the three by three foot sheet of wood the target was attached to. The range was 600 yards. That happened about 10 years ago, at Kenny's personal range in South Carolina. The only reason I shot that group was because I was using Kenny's rifle, and he coached me as to exactly where to hold on the target, considering the wind direction and distance. Kenny has been making quality rifle for more than 30 years, and, in my opinion, is the master of long range shooting. Many years ago, his rifles were coined the "Beanfield Rifles" because they could shoot accurately across a beanfield, which, I expect, is a considerable distance. I believe Jim Carmichel, former Shooting Editor of Outdoor Life magazine, coined that name.
So what was my impression of the 600 yard shooting? I loved it. Did I become a convert and take up long range shooting for hunting purposes? No. Here's why.
Most of us have a specialty form of hunting, whether it's with a bow, muzzleloader, or rifle. An archer who uses a longbow might not want to shoot a recurve, compound, or crossbow. A black powder hunter might want to shoot a flintlock rather than a percussion or inline. Some hunters prefer shots at a very long distance, some like shots that are very close. I prefer the latter. To me, the bigger challenge is not the ability to hit an animal at long ranges, but to stalk as close as I can. That's simply part of my personality. As they say nowadays, "that's how I roll."
For example, I hunt does in a valley with a field in the bottom and tall sagebrush on the far side. I can usually drive to the edge of the valley where there's a steep hill, park on the rim, and glass deer in the sagebrush. My rangefinder says it's 540 yards. Rather than shooting from that spot, I'll make a mental note of where the deer are, drive three miles in a big circle, park my truck, and sneak through the sage. If all goes well, I'll see my quarry and shoot it at less than 20 yards with my big game rifle.
When I hunt pronghorn antelope, which is pretty much every year, I have opportunities to shoot as far as I want. But instead of shooting the buck at 350 or 400 yards or far longer, I'll crawl up a cactus infested draw to kill it at 30 yards.
I've made some long shots out of necessity. There was no other choice. But in every case, I was using a rifle that I'd practiced with extensively at long range. I consider long range 400 yards or more. Many long range shooters nowadays can shoot accurately at 1,000 yards or more with highly specialized rifles and scopes. They'll scoff at my 400 yard definition of long range. I guess I'm a traditionalist, and am resistant to change. I remember legendary shooting writer Jack O'Connor apologizing for shooting animals more than 400 yards away. He considered an animal at 350 yards as being at maximum range. Of course, Jack was shooting conventional rifles, namely the Winchester Model 70, and usually in .270 caliber.
One species that almost always dictates a long shot is the Coues deer. I've hunted them a number of times in Mexico, and never killed one at less than 400 yards. These small deer are called "Gray Ghosts" for good reason. They're extremely difficult to see in the Ocotillo, mesquite, and other brush. The strategy is to sit comfortably on a high slope or ridgetop and glass, using very high-powered, quality binoculars, such as Swarovski's, that are mounted on a tripod. When you think you've glassed enough, you glass some more. You may be there for hours. And suddenly, when you're ready to go crazy, you see a bedded animal 600 yards away. If it's a buck you want, you don't stalk closer, because usually you can't. If you move so much as a few yards, the new angle will likely prevent you from seeing it again because of the cover and terrain. So you shoot from where you originally spotted it.
Hunters who shoot at very long distances must have a few things going for them before taking that 800 yard shot. First, they must have a quality rifle and scope. Second, they must know how to shoot it, understanding all the technology. Third, they must have a rest as close to perfect as possible. Fourth, they must be able to dope out wind speed and direction and other variables, such as heat waves. And lastly, they must have the countenance to pass up a shot that they're not absolutely sure they can make.
For me, this fall I'll be headed out with a new Mossberg Patriot rifle that shoots extremely well for me on the range. A Timney Trigger will offer the sweetest shot possible, and I'll have the rifle topped with a Swarovski scope. I'm confident with that combo, and that's what hunting is all about. Confidence in your rifle means everything. An old Montana outfitter buddy once told me, "it don't matter what you're shootin', as long as you can shoot