New technology makes you a better rifle shot up-close and far away.
Every so often, a new technology comes along that challenges our definition of fair chase. Telescopic sights, compound bows and laser rangefinders come to mind immediately as now-common tools that not only moved our understanding of ethical hunting limits farther downrange, but ultimately made all of us better hunters closer in. At the 2013 SCI Convention, a new company called TrackingPoint unveiled a technology that will likewise redefine the outer limits of hunting for some, but at the same time, will improve the overall taking of game for everyone who chooses to embrace its benefits.
TrackingPoint is an integral rifle/ammo/optic shooting “system” that provides external ballistic solutions. That’s a fancy way of saying it lets you put a bullet exactly where you want it, and if the shot isn’t right, you get a do-over before actually firing the shot and with no harm done. The system consists of a custom Surgeon rifle; precision ammunition loaded by Barnes; and an optic that combines either a 6-30x or 6-35x scope with a heads up display computer having external variables correction and target “lock-on” capability.
In simple terms, when you look through the optic, you will see a dot. When that dot perfectly aligns on the animal’s vitals, press and release a button to mark that spot. That mark is called a “tag” and it stays visible on the animal for as long as you keep the animal visible in the optic—even if the animal moves. If you flinch or otherwise make a bad tag, simply re-tag. Next, pull and hold the rifle’s trigger in the fire position and “track” the animal until the scope reticle perfectly aligns with the tag. When they align, the gun fires, and you make a perfect shot. If you choose not to shoot, simply release the trigger. Depending on which of the three TrackingPoint systems you’re using, your shot is good to as far as 1,200 yards.
If there’s a system failure, failure mode is to a basic bolt-action rifle with fixed reticle and you’ll have to dope all the external variables as you would with any old-fashioned rifle. Likewise, if you are presented with a shot and no time to tag, the gun functions just like an old-fashioned bolt-action in that all you have to do is take off the safety, aim and fire.
Clearly, some will use this new technology to take longer shots than they would without a TrackingPoint. But there are some hunters out there already taking those very long shots, and the ones they fire might as well be good. What’s of greater importance to the rest of us hunters is how TrackingPoint makes us better at the distances we’re currently taking game. If you’ve never missed or made a bad shot on game, it’s because you haven’t been hunting long enough. Even the very best target shooters firing at known distances, reading from their dope book and shooting under controlled conditions are known to make a bad shot. I don’t take long shots at game, but once I realized that tagging an animal before firing a shot lets me “take back the bullet” if I flinch, I had nothing short of an epiphany on how beneficial this system is to all rifle hunting.
It was, in fact, a bad shot that led to the development of TrackingPoint. The idea came to the company’s founder, John McHale, while on safari in Tanzania. His last trophy for that safari was a Thompson’s gazelle, and the only shot he had was at 350 yards. The tiny antelope demands a high level of precision and McHale missed. “We can do better than this,” he thought, and that set the gears in motion for the “Precision Guided Firearm.”
While riding to Gunsite for a recent live-fire demonstration, TrackingPoint’s V.P. of Sales and Marketing took advantage of my willing audience to tell me in detail about the technology that goes into the system. Some might call the level of our discussion painful detail, but I’m the kind of person who reads things like McCoy’s Modern Exterior Ballistics for pleasure and the ride went by all too quickly.
I listened as he explained how TrackingPoint automatically corrects for range and shot angle so you don’t over or under shoot. There are other optics, turret knobs and reticles that do that, too, but when he started hitting me with serious high-level ballistic variables I had to stop him. “Did you just say it accounts for spin drift?” I asked. Most shooters don’t even know that bullets drift right or left, depending on rifling direction. He continued with how TrackingPoint uses a gyroscope to compensate for rifle cant, counts rifle shots and corrects for barrel wear over time, automatically self-zeros every time it’s turned on, and even considers the rotation of the Earth and corrects for the Coriolis effect, depending on whether you’re hunting in the northern or southern hemisphere! The list of what the TrackingPoint continuously computes and corrects for just kept going—and then we got to wind.
Wind deflection is the only variable you have to enter manually into the TrackingPoint, and you enter it in .5 mph increments using a simple toggle button on the top of the optic. As I learned at Gunsite, as simple and reliable as TrackingPoint is, you can miss. A bad tag or misreading the wind is no different from bad aim or calling the wind wrong when using an old-fashioned scoped rifle.
There’s another significant feature to TrackingPoint that has nothing to do with aiming but is especially important to SCI Members and their PHs because a lot of the game we hunt are herd animals and/or have wildly varying anatomies. The TrackingPoint optical component is also a wireless computer that communicates with external electronic devices so your PH can watch on a tablet screen and see exactly what you see through the TrackingPoint scope. It sets up its own wireless network so no matter where you are in the world and regardless of cell or satellite signal, it works, and since TrackingPoint systems conveniently come with their own iPad Minis, you’re assured of compatibility.
There are several benefits to the tablet view. For one, it eliminates any question of which animal your PH is talking about and which one you’re aiming at—no more trophy fees for taking the “wrong” animal. Another is that with your PH able to see exactly where the bullet is going to hit, he or she can call a good hit before firing the shot, which means less time tracking wounded game. Less safari time budgeted for or actually spent tracking wounded game means more time for hunting. Finally, the computer records audio and video of the entire tagging, tracking and firing sequence so you can preserve and share your experience with others. It’s compatible with several social media outlets, including Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and email.
TrackingPoint isn’t a “sure thing,” but having a “precision guided” bullet, combined with a hunting partner seeing what the shooter sees, have the potential to be significant tools for both seasoned and new hunters. For seasoned hunters, I like to think of TrackingPoint as something of an insurance policy. If you’ve just dropped a bunch of cash on the hunt of a lifetime, one that’s going to be difficult to begin with, you can feel more sure of your shot even if your only shot is just a little out of your ordinary comfort zone. For new hunters, both they and whomever takes them on their first hunt, will know the shot is going to be a good one, and that removes at least one level of uncertainty for a first-time hunter.
As with all new technologies that come into the shooting sports, there are going to be those who question if we’ve moved so far ahead of rocks and spears that it takes the “sport” out of hunting. It’s a fair subject, but one that begs the question of how we define sport and to that I think we can all agree that there’s nothing sporting about making bad shots on game. As for TrackingPoint moving the goal posts farther downrange, there’s no question that it does. What you do with that enhanced ability is up to you.– Scott Mayer