Time still remains for last-minute gun maintenance

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D.S. Pledger
Sunday, November 17, 2013

Got that deer rifle all ready for next weekend?

If you don’t, this week is crunch time for getting it sighted in, making sure it is operating flawlessly and that you have enough ammunition. Although it’s too late to fix any problems that would require a gunsmith or ordering parts, there are a few things that you can do to make sure a firearm problem doesn’t ruin your hunt.

If you’re reading this Sunday morning, there are still some opportunities to get your rifle zeroed in properly. The Beloit Rifle Club on Philhower Road will be open from 8 until 4 today. If you can’t make it, there will be one more opportunity on the 17th during those same hours.

Unless you know what you’re doing, having someone from the club helping you will make things much easier. Even though there is a cost involved you’ll probably come out ahead by saving the ammo you might’ve wasted in zeroing in on your own. You’ll also have access to equipment you might not own, such as a spotting scope or a shooting rest.

Although three shots in an inch of each other at a hundred yards is the “gold standard,” most guns with factory ammo won’t shoot to that level of accuracy. No problem. A deer’s vital area is about the size of a paper plate, so even with a 3-inch group at a hundred paces you’re probably just fine for Wisconsin hunting, where the range is usually relatively short.

If you shoot a bolt-action rifle with a wooden stock, it’s a good idea to check your bedding—the area between the stock and the barrel.

When you fire a round, the barrel oscillates, and anywhere it touches the wood becomes a node that affects where the bullet will end up. If your bedding is good, you should be able to slide a dollar bill from the action end of your barrel all the way to the muzzle without getting it stuck. If there is a slight contact point, rainy or damp weather can swell the wood and the problem becomes worse (for more on bedding see hunting.about.com/cs/guns/a/float_bed.htm).

Be sure you’re using the proper weight and type of bullet. In .30 caliber, for example, lighter bullets (under 150 grains) are more appropriate for smaller game like fox and coyote. Because the bullets have thinner jackets, they might come apart on a deer-sized target before they can penetrate. Heavier bullets (180 grains and up) are intended for big game such as elk and moose. They won’t open properly on light-skinned game lake a whitetail. Mid-range slugs in any caliber (150 to 165 grains for a .30 caliber) are the best weights for deer.

If you’re a hand-loader (or you shoot someone else’s hand loads), run every round through your gun to make sure they feed and chamber correctly. A high primer, a case that hasn’t been quite fully resized, or some other small defect can jam up your gun as you try to chamber a round on opening morning.

How about optics? Do you have scope caps in case you get into some wet weather? Are the lenses clean and are the mounts tight? Don’t overdo it when torquing the rings onto the tube, though. Applying too much pressure—a common mistake—can affect the scope’s inner workings and even damage them. Also be aware that some inexpensive zoom scopes will shift where your bullets strike as you dial between magnifications. If I had a cheap scope on my gun, I’d sight it at 3x and not move it from there just to be on the safe side.

And finally, if you’re taking a new rifle on its first hunt be sure that you’ve read the manual carefully, since firearm designs, like everything else, change over the years. For example, a friend bought a new Ruger Hawkeye last summer. Rather than loading up the clip when we sighted it in, we simply put a single round in the chamber and closed the bolt—something that’s worked with every rifle I’ve ever owned. Surprise! It didn’t fire. We were both baffled until a gunsmith informed us that the new Rugers must pick the round up from the magazine to function.

D.S. Pledger is an outdoors columnist for The Gazette. Email him at maus16@centurytel.net.

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