by Peter Ruddle
Is long-distance shooting ethical? The definition of ethics is the moral principles that govern a person’s behaviour or the conducting of an activity. So in essence, it means that your ethics may differ from mine and I personally have some reservations about long-distance shooting. So, before I penned this blog, I decided to find out firsthand for myself and arranged to meet Hannes Gouws of Mahathi Pursuit who offers long-distance shooting hunts on BookYourHunt.
We met at his 1025-meter (1120 yards) long shooting range, used by the previous owner of the property as a bush landing strip for light aircraft. At one end was a two-story-high purpose-built tower for the activity and metal plate targets set up every 100 metres (110 yards). First, we zeroed my Howa 30.06 at 100 metres and then the fun began. It was fun and I can well understand how people can get hooked on long-distance competition shooting. However, out of curiosity, I was here to understand why hunters get a thrill out of shooting an animal at a long distance. My philosophy has always been to get as close as possible to ensure a good clean shot.
My Howa 30.06 with a Nikon Monarch (M3 4-16X42 SF) scope was going to be put to the test today. This is not a custom-built rifle and the scope is nothing fancy but it serves its purposes well as my rifle of choice to hire to clients on an African plains game safari. To me, this rifle is used just as a mechanic would use a wrench on a car engine to get the job done.
Furthermore, we would be shooting 180-grain standard factory rounds, as opposed to Hannes who uses hand loaded Berger bullets for his competition shoots and for hunting.
So on the mechanical side of things I wanted to see what we could achieve with my rifle. Due to the bush in the areas where I hunt, the majority of my client’s shots are taken at 70 – 125 yards. Rarely do we shoot anything beyond 300 yards.
Unlike my mountain or desert hunting associates for whom long distance shots are the norm, I was a little psyched out about hitting a target at 400 meters but with Hannes as my coach, I was spared the embarrassment of missing the target in front of the audience.
Know your Gun and Ammo
First, we discussed some of the important technicalities. I do not want to bore you with the details but you need to know some facts about your rifle and the scope set up. These include things like scope height above the bore (HOB), rifle twist, muzzle velocity, length of the stock and ideally you should have an adjustable reticle scope with a zero stop if you are going to get serious about long-distance shooting.
Then Hannes explained wind speed, spindrift and how even the earth’s rotation needs to be taken into consideration when the target really gets out there. Now I am starting to feel like the real sniper training has begun.
The light breeze of 8-9 mph was perfect shooting conditions. Something I learnt that is handy when hunting in the field, especially across open flats or deserts, is that mirages are only created when the wind speed is under 15 mph. At 800 metres, we could see a mirage so we could not use the wind as an issue if we missed our targets today.
Using all these details and taking into consideration the bullet weights used on the day, we were ready to go.
On the Range
My two guinea pigs today were my fourteen-year-old son and his friend. First, we zeroed the rifle at 100 metres and then we went to the top floor of the shooting tower. After making the necessary scope adjustments, both boys hit their target at 300 metres. Hannes did the adjustments and the boys kept hitting the targets out to 600 metres.
Then, we ran out of ammo and opened a different box and as expected, they missed their targets and it meant we would have had to start all over again by first zeroing the rifle at 100 metres. By now they were complaining that at 800 metres they could no longer focus on the target as the Nikon scope had reached its limits. At 600 metres, the scope had already been cranked up 74 notches. However, I remain impressed that my working rifle is accurate to that distance and could still perform much further if set up correctly.
With the two boys both hitting their targets the first time round at each distance, there was no doubting that long-range shooting is about rifle and ballistics knowledge, practise, experience and confidence. Obviously, Hannes who instructs at long-distance shooting courses in South Africa and hosts a long-distance shooting competition in Denmark, also helped to fast track our experience.
Does this mean that shooting an animal at a long-distance meets my ethical expectations? Whilst hunting in Africa you will be accompanied by a professional hunter who will witness your shooting ability. It is not like back home in the woods where if you take a shot at a deer and miss, nobody needs to know about it, as you are probably all alone sitting in your tree stand.
Shooting targets is one thing but shooting a living animal is another. As an experienced professional hunter, I am well aware of how buck fever affects different hunters. My worst experience was with a client who completely missed 6 different nyala (mule deer size antelope), shooting at a distance between 60 – 80 metres. His buck fever was so bad that his eyebrows flashed up and down across his bald head, like the wiper blades on your windshield. It was a sight to behold but an issue that he overcame through some coaching.
I know a hunter can wound an animal at any distance by making the wrong shot selection and missing the vitals. Another concern is if you only wound an animal at long range, you may not be able to make an effective follow-up shot. However, in reality, even when hunting a short distance and you wound an animal there may not have time for a second shot before the animal takes off and disappears into the thickets. Making the first shot count should be the first priority no matter what the shot distance.
I posed the question of ethics to Hannes as being an experienced long-distance hunter and professional hunter, who better to answer this question. He gave me the perfect answer, “It’s all about the client’s shooting ability and the discretion of the PH”.
It is very important to establish a hunter’s maximum ethical hunting range (the distance at which they can confidently hit the target) and take this experience to the field. Recognising your shooting ability and remaining within your bounds are the key ingredient to confident shooting whether it be short or long-range. Trying to be Rambo and emulating fake shooting scenes in action movies does not work for me.
And don’t forget that by pulling the trigger, you are ultimately responsible for your own decisions.
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