Learning to Shoot at Unknown Distances
Learning to Shoot at Unknown Distances
First we guess at the distance, next we guess at the proper elevation, then when we miss, we guess which of the previous guesses was wrong. Of course, there are times when we might note the impact of the bullet from its striking sand or water, but this happens rarely and is generally seen too late to do us any good.
In game shooting as in actual war what must be depended upon is "danger zone." The danger zone for the soldier is taken at the height of a man, sixty-eight inches, for it doesn't make any difference whether we hit him in the head or in the foot, but the danger zone for a deer is only eight inches since we must kill him outright. The problem of the game shot then is to set his sight so as to keep his bullet in this eight-inch without any further adjustment. The limits of the danger zone are about the maximum distance at which game can be killed with any certainty, and in order to strike center the rifleman must study the path of the bullet's flight or its trajectory curve, and so hold as to correct errors.
Not everything is unknown or guessed at in this case. For example, if his rifle has a four inch trajectory at two hundred yards, he knows that it will shoot four inches high at a hundred and about two inches high at fifty or a hundred and fifty, which he must make allowance for by his holding. He cannot make this allowance, however, unless he can very closely estimate the distance and this is the present task of our rifle student.
Now is the time to begin a long and patient schooling in judging distance within sporting ranges, say up to three hundred yards. Select a variety of targets, now a knot on a tree, again a patch of moss on a bare rock. Estimate the range and hold for it. Fire several shots so as to be sure one badly held missile will not deceive you, and then go up to the target, carefully counting steps so as to verify your judgment of distance.
There are certain principles bearing on the estimation of distances which it is well to fix in the mind. On perfectly level ground with no prominent intervening objects the chances are the distance is underestimated. In rough, broken country the tendency is to overestimate. In heavy timber the probability is the range will be overestimated despite every allowance. Familiar ground will be underestimated, whereas unfamiliar lands are nearly certain to be overestimated.
The novice will shortly learn that he can hold better than he can judge the distance. A diagram of shots in an eight-inch target at some unknown distance, which he decides is about one hundred and fifty yards, is as creditable as a like target at two hundred measured yards with a spotter to mark the shots. Half dozen shots, all well held, but all missing the target owing to bad judgment of distance, will prove a lesson not easily forgotten. By and by the student will come to know both his rifle and himself, realizing that for work at unknown ranges there are well fixed limitations.
Hawks, crows, jack rabbits, wildfowl, etc., are all legitimate targets for this kind of practice. Pretty soon it will dawn upon the observant youngster that holding is not half his problem. For instance he can kill a bird the size of a hen hawk very frequently at two hundred yards if he knows the exact range, but not knowing it, his best judgment will only permit him to shoot with a good prospect of success at about one hundred and twenty-five yards. The man who can kill a crow with one bullet in three at a hundred yards (estimated) is a good shot, or a hawk at one hundred and twenty-five, or a jackrabbit at one hundred and fifty. Striking the hawk is about equivalent to hitting a four-inch, the crow a three, and the jack a six.
A hawk sitting on the dead limb of a tree with the sky for a background is a beautiful target, but hitting him at an unknown range is not so easy as it looks. I have shot at one half a dozen times, finally cutting the limb in two upon which he was sitting without touching a feather—every ball was held close enough to kill had I known the elevation.
The practice with the lightly charged, high velocity rifle should be persisted in until the marksman will be able to estimate a distance in the neighborhood of two hundred yards with such certainty that he will rarely make a mistake of greater than twenty to thirty yards whatever the circumstance of light, cover, and ground. His object is to so ground himself in this art that he can call shots fired over unknown ranges with the same certainty as the known. When he misses then he will know instantly whether it was due to a poor aim or the wrong elevation.
Half the shots which miss game and most of those that merely cripple are due to a bad estimate of the range. No man ever did or ever will judge distances perfectly when on strange ground, but the clever game shot will always be found far superior to others in this respect. Other things being equal, as shooting skill, one sportsman will still be able to take his deer with as much certainty at two hundred yards as another would at a hundred and fifty, solely because of superiority in calculating the range.
It should be remembered that the object of all this study of distance and bullet path is to enable the marksman to center his game, not land somewhere within the eight-inch. There are enough other factors tending to throw him out without willfully permitting trajectory to do it. As an example, the hunter might fire at a deer one hundred yards away. He knows that his rifle will shoot four inches high, but does not make allowance for that knowing that the bullet will still strike within the circle. However, inadvertently he pulls the shot four inches high, and the result is a ball eight inches from center and a lost buck. On the other hand, had he aimed low, as he should, the bullet would still have proved fatal.
Having thoroughly learned to handle our rifle up to the limits of the eight-inch danger zone, it would be well now to elevate one notch, sighting to center at three hundred yards. With the Springfield '06 ammunition this would give a trajectory height of a trifle over seven inches at one hundred and fifty yards, with a .30-30 the height would be fifteen inches. Practice with this new elevation until you know it thoroughly all up and down the line. Of course the object of the three hundred yard sight is to shoot only at ranges beyond two hundred yards, but it is well to know the bullet's path both inside and beyond the distance for which it is sighted. Of course, as noted in a previous chapter, the ballistics of the rifle would govern its danger zone and when I mention sighting for two and three hundred yards, it might be taken as having reference only to rifles with a muzzle velocity of 2,500 feet or better.
Askins, Charles. Rifles and Rifle Shooting. New York: Outing, 1912. Print.
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