A random thought clicked in my head: maybe the stock bolts are loose. They were. Protocol says to check this before you even start the scope mounting procedure, but unaccountably I didn’t. So I tightened all three stock bolts to the correct torque, and… started over.
After much encouraging, persuading, cajoling, and outright badgering from me, my surrogate niece Heather took the irreversible step on the deer hunter’s road: she bought a rifle of her own.
Quite a nice rifle, a Ruger Model 77 Hawkeye bolt-action in 7mm-08 caliber, and she insisted on a walnut stock, saying that plastic-stocked rifles were hideously ugly. Some days even an old curmudgeon sees a glimmer of hope for the next generations of hunters.
Coaching her on her choice of a deer rifle, I had more fun than Santa Claus on Christmas eve. I admit being a bit obsessive over the course of a couple months’ search for the perfect rifle, and more than a little bit obsessive in the search for a dealer than had the right one in stock for her to look over. No one should buy a hunting rifle or shotgun without handling it first. When the right one is in your hands, you know it – you can feel it.
An added benefit, for me, was spending the next day preparing this rifle for her shooting sessions on the gun range this summer and ultimately for our deer hunt in November. Cleaning, scope-mounting, sighting-in, assembling a few custom loads of ammunition to fine-tune its accuracy – all that rifle tinkering I love but have not had opportunity to do for several years.
As it worked out, I was clearly out of practice.
Cleaning was the easy. My garage clubhouse is a perpetual gun cleaning shop of sorts with all the equipment, tools, solvents, lubricants, and a pile of OOR (old oily rags). Certain people have suggested the main reason I shoot targets is that I get to clean the guns afterward. That is absolutely untrue. The main reason is that I’ll have ammunition to reload; cleaning guns is a secondary perk.
Then came the scope mounting. Ruger provides mounting rings with their rifles, of an excellent design, so mounting the scope is fast and easy. Unless you attach the front scope ring base onto the rear slot and the rear scope ring base onto the front slot, which I did. Since this put the scope at a 25-degree incline, it was easy to see that a mistake had been made. I took the scope and scope mounts off and…
Once the scope was attached, I placed the rifle into the shooting rest in the workshop, hung a 48-inch straight edge horizontally on the opposite wall, and rotated the scope to set the reticle’s crosshairs in perfect alignment, vertical and horizontal. When I tightened down the mounting screws I inadvertently twisted the scope tube slightly to the left, tilting the reticle. So I loosened all the screws and…
Time to sight-in. Outside the garage is the shooting bench for the 25 and 100-yard rifle range, so setting up the rifle rest and steadying it with a half-dozen sandbags was the work of a few minutes. I stapled a few paper targets to the 25-yard target frame, and then hiked across the draw to clip a paper target to the 100-yard frame. The last of winter’s snow was slushy on a 40-degree afternoon, but I only fell once. The dogs were right there to lick my face, make me feel better, and help me get…
With the rifle wedged solidly in the rest, I took out the bolt, and sighted through the bore to center it on the bulls-eye of the 25-yard target. I adjusted the scope so that its crosshairs were also on the bulls-eye, fired one shot, and saw that point-of-impact high and to the left. Adjusted the scope two inches right and one inch down, and fired a second shot that was dead center in the 25-yard bulls-eye. Ready to test at 100 yards, so I moved the rifle rest and sand bags and…
First shot at 100 yards was 2 1/2 inches high and dead-center. Perfect. I should have stopped shooting, but I fired four more “proving” rounds and they were all over the target. Damn. The scope won’t hold zero, I thought; maybe I should send it back. Checked all the scope mount screws: tighter than a bull’s ass in fly season. What the hell was wrong?
A random thought clicked in my head: maybe the stock bolts are loose. They were. Protocol says to check this before you even start the scope mounting procedure, but unaccountably I didn’t. So I tightened all three stock bolts to the correct torque, and…
Fired five shots at the 25-yard target; the group measured one inch. Not horrible, but certainly not good. Fired five shots at the 100-yard target; the rifle was maybe shooting high and left, but group was so big, more than three inches, that it was impossible to tell. By now I had fired 17 of the 20 rounds of factory ammunition, so I took the empty brass into the clubhouse to reload it and…
The Hornady reloading dies were brand new and had to be adjusted to fit the press. I wrinkled two pieces of brass in the process. Resized the other 15 pieces of brass with resizing die set my specifications. Bolt would not close on resized brass in the rifle’s chamber, so I re-set the dies in the press to the specifications recommended in the Hornady instruction booklet, and…
Loaded 12 rounds: Hornady brass, 139 grain bullet, 45.5 grains IMR 4350 powder, CCI 200 primer. Made a wild guess that the factory ammo may have been too hot for this rifle. so created this lower velocity load. Seated the bullets with just the slightest crease of crimp, overall cartridge length 2.850 inches. Cartridges would not chamber easily at that length, so I re-set the seating die for 2.750 length and…
Took rifle and reloads back to bench and fired five shots at the 25-yard target: a 1/2-inch five-shot group in dead-center of bulls-eye. Fired five shots at the 100-yard target. Eye fatigue was causing “target trembles,” a common Old Coot’s malady, so I was satisfied with 1.75-inch group. Adjusted the scope to move point-of-impact to 2 1/2 inches high at 100 yards. Shot the two remaining reloads: 1.25-inch two-shot group, at correct point of impact.
Returned the rifle to Heather. We’ll shoot another dozen rounds off the bench this summer to make sure it is sighted-in for maximum-point-blank range when she is doing the shooting. We will also have opportunities for her to shoot about 50 rounds at targets with her new rifle and a few hundred rounds at targets with a bolt-action .22 rifle, which is the best practice for shooting afield.
Then we will be ready for the Nebraska deer season in November. Hopefully these shooting sessions will go smoothly and we will not have to…
More stories about hunting, rifles, and shotguns are published in my collection of essays, Crazy Old Coot, and my novel, Hunting Birds. Both are available in Kindle and paperback editions at Amazon.com.