Guns Out

By Kent Boucher

I believe that there are two types of gun owners. First, there is the ones that owns guns simply because they love them. These folks spend weekend afternoons firing off several boxes of shells at steel targets, followed by a complete teardown and deep cleaning, and end the day by researching custom components for their shootin’ irons. The other type of second amendment beneficiaries view their firearms in much the same way as they do their favorite fishing rods. Oh they have a fondness for their guns, but it is mostly a means to an end – they need their guns to hunt. Neither class of gun owner is more righteous than the other, but the latter is more likely to struggle with adequately preparing firearms for the upcoming hunting season. And regardless of even the most diligent preparations that are made to pull off a successful hunt, a weapon that cannot be called upon to perform reliably can very well spoil the moment. So join me fellow gun owners, and let us get ready to ensure our guns are in working order. .

When There’s Time to Lean, There’s Time to Clean
A chore that haunts the back of the average hunter’s brain throughout each offseason is the procrastination of cleaning his guns from the shots he fired during the season before. But redemption for even the worst of procrastinators can be relished if he invests just a little time towards setting up a workspace that provides plenty of room to operate, bright lighting, and won’t be harmed by a little cleaning solvent and powder residue. Once the workspace is established and the gun cleaning kit is assembled, the cleaning process may commence.
For hunters the most commonly used firearms are muzzleloaders, rifles, and shotguns. Muzzleloaders require the most intensive attention as the barrels become coated with fouling and quickly begin corroding with surface rust as humidity interacts with the now chemically vulnerable barrel. Using the appropriate cleaning attachments, solvents and patches, and breaking the gun all the way down to clean each component will be critically important for the proper functioning and longevity of the ol’ smoke pole. Annoyingly, this protocol will have to be revisited after each outing when the muzzleloader is fired. Once clean, muzzleloaders should have their barrels salved over with heavy lubricant designed to bar surface rust from taking up residence in the rifling of gun bores.

Rifles typically have the most intricate designs of the hunting firearms, but do not get nearly as filthy as their cartridgeless ancestors. For rifles the cleaning process is still critically important to prevent pitting in the walls of the barrel or lost accuracy due to fouling buildup in the rifling, but equally important is lubricating all of the different components to make sure rounds cycle smoothly and as expected. Shotguns can handle the most abuse, and typically have the least demands as far as cleaning is concerned. Once again all powder residues should be removed from the barrel to prevent pitting. After the internal cleaning is accomplished a good lubricating of the action and a wipe down of the stock and fore grip should be done to remove any accumulated dirt and mud from a season of trudging through duck marshes and CRP strips. Cleaning guns is a chore, but before hunters get too grumpy about this messy drudgery, they would do well to remember that tags can’t be filled with a dirty gun bore in the end.

Eyes On The Prize 
The proficiency of target shooting that many group one gun owners possess is quite enviable. Because hitting targets from various angles and from a multitude of ranges is the name of the game for them. Sighting in a new scope, or set of iron sights is a well-tuned science strengthened by hours of research and practice. Instead of reading books on ballistic coefficients and wind compensation, group two gun owners have their noses in literature focused on patterning deer behavior, and the irony of this reality is that without a sure shooting weapon it doesn’t matter where and when the game can be located. The bottom line is that sighting in is of utmost importance before taking a firearm into the field.

For rifles and muzzleloaders this will most likely include getting a scope mounted and adjusted so that the operator can comfortably and quickly see through the glass to acquire their target and squeeze off a shot confidently knowing that a miss will be the result of human error, or an environmental factor and not the alignment of their optics. In order to achieve this level of certainty, every offseason should include an afternoon of verifying the consistent pinpoint accuracy of a gun/scope combination at normal hunting range. The best procedure for this is to eliminate all variables beyond environmental factors and the alignment of the scope. This can be achieved by first ensuring that all mounts are screwed down tight and haven’t loosened since mounting or from the last hunting season. Once at the range the gun should be placed in a weighted gun rest positioned on a shooting bench where the operator can comfortably fire down range. Having a friend on a spotting scope will help the operator determine what real time adjustments need to be made after every few shots. A similar approach should be used if sighting in with iron sights, and although optics are not typically an integral part of hunting with shotguns, patterning different hunting loads can help its owner bag a few more roosters in the fall once they understand how their shotgun sprays pellets.

Practice Like You Play
While the first two phases of preparation can be rather routine, the practicing aspect of the offseason should be the most fun. Of course safety needs to be the first consideration whenever guns are handled, but beyond that all planning should be focused on practicing in a manner that enhances the comfort and proficiency of the operator while they handles their gun in circumstances that will be consistent to what they will encounter during the hunting season. This can be simulated by adding competitive activities to the practice session that increase a feeling of pressure and adrenaline release. Physical activity that increases the operator’s heart rate can also be incorporated to provide the increased heart rate and breathing rate you will have to control when a 160” class buck is standing in your crosshairs. Another wrinkle that can be added to this training session is shooting from realistic hunting angles, or with normal environmental barriers such as branches, trees and tall grass that demand compensation in order to locate a clear shooting lane.
For bird hunting, hunters should spend time shooting clays launched from various angles and sight levels to improve the shooter’s reaction speed needed for successfully handling the unpredictability of a target suddenly appearing.

Of course these three suggestions are just a portion of the preparation that a gun hunter needs to consider as they head into the next hunting season, but if you gets these three nailed down, your odds of being rewarded with wild game cuisine and a hefty taxidermy bill are only going to improve, and the nagging voice of your blaze orange donning conscience will be silenced.