There are two dominant trends in hunting rifles today. One is the AR. The other is long-range shooting, by which we mean at ranges beyond 500 yards.
The latter applies to both standard target and military-discipline (sniper) matches, as well as hunting varmints and big-game. There are serious ethical questions about shooting at big-game animals at 500 yards and beyond, but that is another matter. Largely because of the questionable influence of television, everyone, it seems, wants to be a “long-range” shooter.
Fifty years ago, hunters took pride in getting as close to the animal as possible, in order to ensure a clean kill. In fact, ensuring a clean kill is one of the basic tenets of both the rules of fair chase, and hunting ethics generally.
Today, the situation is turned on its head. In an Alaska moose camp two years ago, the outfitter was one of those guys who never shuts up, and goes on endlessly about the kills he has made at 600, 700 or 1,000 yards. In the face of this, one of the clients actually apologized to the outfitter for shooting a moose at a mere 140 yards, instead of making a longer kill.
For the record, I don’t believe that 99 out of 100 hunters have any business shooting at any animal beyond 350 yards, and even that may be stretching it. They simply don’t have the skill at judging range and angle, wind strength and direction, and matching those to the ballistics of their rifle and bullet. However, both rifle and scope manufacturers, seeing the way the wind is blowing, have started offering equipment designed especially for shooting at animals beyond 500 yards.
The high-end scope market is dominated by Swarovski, Zeiss, NightForce, and Schmidt & Bender, with quality companies like Leica edging in. They led the way in developing ever-larger and more powerful scopes, as well as ballistic programs, both conventional and digital, that allege precise bullet placement at ultra-long hunting ranges.
Some of these scopes cost $2,000 and more, and you have to wonder how many they are going to sell. I asked an industry veteran that question, and his answer surprised me.
“I estimate that 60 per cent of their market is long-range scopes, and they sell enough of them to make a profit.” Ten thousand scopes? I asked. “At least,” he replied.
They have devised all kinds of weird and wonderful ballistics programs tailored to individual loads, and added elaborate reticles that allow precise adjustment depending on range, angle, elevation, wind speed and direction, and even atmospheric pressure and temperature.
All of this is interesting enough, if you leave out the ethical questions. Unfortunately, hunting real animals, that is impossible. No one, hunting alone, can do all of the above and, at the same time, note the animal’s reaction, judge if it was hit, and then find the exact spot to look for a blood trail.
As I mentioned above, much of this interest has been inspired by television and, speaking as one who worked in television news for a mercifully brief period in the 1970s, it is an essentially fraudulent medium.
Some years ago, I got maneuvered into participating in one of these programs (my first and last!) and watched as the killing of four bison, only one of which died cleanly with one shot, was edited into three one-shot kills, with a fourth described as “two shots, but the second wasn’t really necessary.”
The entire program can be summed up in two words: Outright lies.
That, however, is the tenor of our times, from politicians’ resumes to everyone’s Facebook page, so why should hunting television be any different? The problem arises when the average shooter tries to emulate these stirring deeds, like a kid pretending to be Superman.