Saturday, May 9, 2009

A new rifle, old demons and first shots

Eighteen aching days. That's how long I've waited to shoot my new rifle.

I picked up my baby - a Savage 114 American Classic in .270 - on April 21, and haven't had time to go to the shooting range since. I wasn't supposed to have time today either, but after our planned striper fishing trip got canceled, Boyfriend and I determined this would be the day.

As soon as my eyes opened this morning, I was aflutter - Christmas morning, a first date and my favorite cake (white, buttercream frosting, corner slice please) all wrapped into one joyous moment.

But as the minutes wore on, all my old demons zoomed back and hovered near my right ear like Minnesota mosquitoes, filling me with the same old doubts, and some new ones, too. Read more...
What if you're just as wobbly as you were last summer? What if you're still flinching? What if quitting coffee didn't help even a little bit? (Yeah, I quit coffee!) What if you don't hit the paper? What if the scope sucks? What if it was mounted badly? What if this gun shoots non-toxic bullets like total crap? (I've decided to shoot just non-toxic, because I typically hunt hogs in the California condor range.) What if it was a mistake to get a right-handed gun? (I'm right-handed, but left-eyed. Click here for that whole discussion.) What if the gun's fine, but you just can't shoot?

I knew it was at least 50 percent irrational. I killed three big game animals last year - my first year of big game hunting - and the second and third were perfect shots.

But the first will haunt me forever. I placed my shot on a quartering animal as if he were broadside, so the shot was too far back. And I pulled left on the trigger (shooting left-handed, with a hand smaller than the gunmaker envisioned for that pistol grip), pushing the shot even farther back. I ended up with a gutshot pig, snarling and dragging a hind leg with a shattered femur as I put a bullet in his head at 10 yards to finish the poorly done job.

With memories like that never far from the surface, it's no wonder I began to feel grim. But there was no backing down now. With than $1,200 invested in my new Savage, scope, accessories and ammunition, and a pig hunt scheduled for May 18, I had to take those first shots. We got in the car, and I did my best to ignore the demons. Two perfect kills, Holly, two perfect kills.

And by the time we got to the range, I couldn't help but be excited again.

"Long time no see!" the rangemaster greeted me.

"I'm here to shoot my new gun!" I replied with a big silly grin. "These'll be my first shots with it."

Boyfriend and I parked at the 25-yard range. I loaded, took a few calm breaths and pulled the trigger.

Shazam! Not perfect. But just 3/8 inch right of perfect bull's eye. I know it was just 25 yards, but I never underestimate my potential for imperfection, so it was a big deal to me.

We adjusted the scope a bit, got the windage right and moved to the 100-yard range.

My first two shots on the Savage.
Second one was a little lower than I wanted, but we moved on anyway.

At the 100-yard range, my first shot was 2 1/2 inches low, so I cranked up that scope and got the next shot about 2 inches high. One more adjustment, and time to just shoot.

This is when I remembered what I learned last summer: My first few shots are usually my best shots. I start getting squirrely after that. And yes, despite having decaffeinated myself - in part because I want to be a better shooter - I found I'm still prone to flinching. So my shots really weren't grouped as tightly as I wanted them to be.

But I found if I stopped and thought about it, it was actually easier now to calm myself down and avoid the flinch. (Uh, yeah, it's hard to calm yourself down at all if you're drinking four or five cups of coffee a day.)

After all the adjustments were done, I got two right next to each other about an inch over bull's eye. And they weren't flying way to the left like they used to, so I knew I wasn't pulling on the trigger much like I was last summer.

First six shots at 100 yards

Time for three more shots, and then I'd call it a day.

First shot: half inch high, and a little to the left.

Second shot: 2 1/2 inches high. Flinched. I knew it would be bad.

Third shot: Nicked the edge of the bulls-eye.

Whew. I could leave with a smile on my face. OK, I know it needed to be an inch high, but 100 yards is my ideal range at this stage of my development as a shooter, so being on the bull's eye wasn't terribly upsetting.

Target still life with Giblet the Kitty

"Not bad, Heyser," I thought to myself on the way out. This is far better than my usual disgusted self-castigating "Shitheyser!"

Oh, I'll be back at the range one more time before my pig hunt. I really want to see a tight grouping on that target.

But it went well enough to shoo those demons off my shoulder. No more worrying, no more waiting. Just time to keep practicing. With my new gun.

Composite of nine shots at 100 yards - yes, the final three shots are total Photoshop Phakery. But whatever.

© Holly A. Heyser 2009


Albert A Rasch said...

Looks good to me Holly.

That's minute of animal in anyone's book, and better than some folks that claim to be experts. If all your shots stay in that group, you are a great shot!

Now let's get better.
You'll need 270 snapcaps,
your Savage, set up for hunting,
and five minutes every evening with a clear view out the window.

Pick a target six inches in diameter a hundred yards or so away and take:
Five shots sitting,
five shots kneeling,
five shots standing.

You will be amazed how much better you'll become.

Have lotsa fun!
The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles.
The Range Reviews: Tactical.
Proud Member of Outdoor Bloggers Summit.

Holly Heyser said...

Oh yeah, I definitely need that to get over the flinch, which is totally stupid.

But, the cool thing about this gun is that the Accutrigger helps. Everyone says you're supposed to squeeze the trigger so gently that you don't know when the gun's going to go off, but with Boyfriend's Remington 700 last year, I always knew. With this trigger, though, it's a surprise. And I didn't even adjust the pull weight - it's at the factory setting now.

Holly Heyser said...

Oh, and before Phillip weighs in here, I also need to add that his ammo recommendation was fantastic.

We'd been using Barnes bullets in Boyfriend's gun, and for some reason, lots of people with .270s have a hard time with them. But for this one, I got Nosler E-tips, and they worked great.

Phillip said...

Good job, Holly!

Confidence is step one. Practice is step two... you're on it! Hopefully we'll be able to make the best of it next weekend.

Holly Heyser said...

Well, confidence is ALWAYS a problem with me. Took me 20 years to feel confident as a writer.

BUT. I know I killed effectively last year with Hank's gun and Barnes bullets. From what I saw today, compared with my range performance with Hank's gun, I'm pretty sure I'll be able to do as well if not better with the Savage and the Nosler E-tips.

The question mark next weekend is on the big variables: What do we see? How close are we? Will I be in a place where I can get comfortable with a good rest? But I'm comfortable with those questions because that's always the issue when you're hunting, isn't it?

The Suburban Bushwacker said...

You are SO RIGHT
the corner slice is always the best.

PS the shooting looks good too.

Blessed said...

My best ever target shooting was the day at deer camp that the guys were making fun of me for missing a deer (at an odd angle, behind me and I was up in a tree stand 15 feet up a tree - I shot too low) and set up a piece of scrap wood against a log 50 yards away and stuck a bulls eye sticker in the middle of it. When I blew through the bulls eye on my first (and only) shot they all shut up. It was a lot of fun, the looks on their faces... now if only I could do that consistently at the range!

Phillip said...

Next weekend you'll have a great guide who'll make sure you've got the best possible shot opportunity, and will also make sure you're ready for the shot.

I've also got my monopod, which you should practice with, because it makes a WORLD of difference in the field... particularly out here where there just aren't that many natural rests. I know it's an extra piece of gear to carry, but it's worth every ounce when you see those crosshairs stop wavering and settle right on target.

Anonymous said...

The idea of getting a .270 Snap Cap is a really good one!

Marines use "snapping in" practice as a regular part of their riflery training. (and they're mostly ALL good shots!)

Also, being able to "call" a shot, i.e. good or bad, is almost as valuable as looking at the target you just shot. For instance if you had 4 good shots, right "in there" and there was a 5th shot that you called as being "off", that means you KNEW that that shot was going outside of where it should WASN'T a surprise.

This means that it wasn't your rifle, it was you. And you can work on that; learning to not let one go that you couldn't call "good".

Again, if you can get that good .22LR to practice with, that and a nice resetting reactive target can work wonders on building your self's great practice!

Bill C.-Orygun

mdmnm said...

What Bill C. said. Dry fire, every day if possible (it won't hurt the rifle) and get a bolt action .22 with a scope and shoot 500 rounds through it before going back to the .270. The carton of .22 long rifle will cost much less than a box of .270 ammo. Also, you might check around and see if there is a 4-H rifle team or a local club that holds smallbore position or kd highpower matches. Ask a master class shooter or coach to go over position fundamentals with you and then practice dry firing and .22 from offhand, sitting, and kneeling positions. Being able to quickly assume a stable kneeling or sitting position in the field is a big advantage to accurate shooting.