Six of the Best Shots of All Time

– A 9.3×62 solid dropped this elephant within arm’s reach of the hunter. No chance for a second shot! (this photo courtesy Norma).

 Would you rather make one eye-popping shot or never miss? Can you do either?

In the autumn of 1908 in what is now lower Tanzania, elephant hunter James Sutherlin fired the right-hand barrel of his .577 into the chest of a bull. Heart intact, the elephant charged. The second shot also missed its mark. The animal grabbed Sutherlin and flung him, then snatched him up again and hurled him against a tree. Badly injured, he fumbled his .318 onto the shoulder of his tracker, who, astonishingly, had not run for his life! Unable to steady the rifle, Sutherlin missed. The elephant came to finish the men. Telling the African to hold the rifle barrel, Sutherlin coolly cycled the bolt and at 14 yards killed the bull.

It was an important shot after mediocre shooting. Ivory hunters who lived to pen memoirs made enough good shots without muffing the most crucial.

A grandson of the Talla Des man-eater’s last victim poses with the cat. Jim Corbett shot it at 3 yards. (Wayne Van Zwoll Photo)

Jim Corbett, who early in the last century hunted man-eating tigers in India’s Kumaon district, had very close shots: “…Within three yards of the bracken I saw a movement …. my first bullet raked her from end to end, and the second bullet broke her neck.” The Talla Des tigress had killed dozens of people.

On the trail of the Chowgarh man-eaters, he came upon them undetected. In thick forest he crept to within 20 steps and, peeking over a tall rock, judged the light-colored animal to be the eldest. He fired; she fell. To his chagrin, Corbett had killed the youngster. An easy shot. A mistake.

By April, 1930, the surviving tigress had killed at least 64 people, and Corbett was again closing in. Beside the jungle trail he noted a pair of rare bird’s eggs. He picked them up. A few steps farther on, he rounded a bend and looked “straight into the tigress’s face” three steps away. The eggs in his palm, he wrote, checked his reflexive urge to cheek the rifle – action that would have cost him his life. With one hand Corbett inched the .275 across his chest. An eternity later, his bullet shattered the man-eater’s spine.

This African bush can limit shots to mere feet. Lives can hinge on fast, accurate delivery of one bullet. (Wayne VanZwoll)

Distance isn’t the only variable that can make a shot difficult.

On a beat (drive) for the Champawat tigress, Corbett loaded two of his three cartridges in a .500 double. When the tigress streaked through an opening, his shot missed. She broke cover again at 30 steps. Absorbing marginal strikes from the remaining rounds, she then vanished into cover. Corbett ran toward the beaters, grabbed from one a derelict shotgun and dashed after the tigress. He found her just as he saw, to his horror, a gap between the gun’s barrels and breech! He fired anyway. And missed! By great good fortune, her previous wounds claimed the tigress at that moment. She had killed more than 400 people.

Perfect shooting is rare. Adequate shooting can be cause for thanks.

Distance isn’t the only variable that makes shots hard. Add position, brush, urgency, target speed….(Wayne Van Zwoll Photo)

These days, marksmen and hunters are hailed for hitting at great distance. Having fought the wind and mirage and my pulse to smack targets a mile off, I admire the long-range wunderkinds who ring steel or punch bullsyes far away – if they’re consistent. Accuracy is a measure of repetition.

On 26 June, 1874, buffalo hunter Billy Dixon was one of 28 men asleep in the Texas panhandle town of Adobe Walls. At dawn 700 Comanches led by chief Quanah Parker came to kill. The defenders repulsed the charge with withering rifle fire. But two days later hostiles still lurked near the settlement. When several appeared on a bluff nearly a mile off. Dixon was urged to take a shot with the 1874 Sharps he’d used during the battle. A skilled marksman, he obliged. But even he must have been astonished when, seconds after the blast, an Indian fell from his horse. Whether or not you believe Billy Dixon dropped a hostile at a measured 1,538 yards with a black-powder Sharps, you’re in good company! The tale reminds me of a hunter who fired offhand at a deer vanishing over a distant ridge. “I found him dead – but with no bullet hole! Then I saw a crease between his antlers. My bullet had nicked the skull.”

Not every shot that brings desired results is a good shot, or confirms good marksmanship.

In 1861 recruits wanting to join Colonel Hiram Berdan’s Sharpshooters had to prove themselves. “No man would be enlisted who could not put 10 bullets in succession within five inches from the center at a distance of six hundred feet from a rest or three hundred off hand.” Black powder and iron sights, of course. Few hunters with scoped rifles these days would meet that offhand requirement!

Born in an Ohio cabin in 1860, Phoebe Ann Moses became great exhibition shooter Annie Oakley. (Wayne Van Zwoll Photo)

In succeeding decades exhibition shooters also had to perform consistently. Phoebe Ann Moses was a gifted talent who, at the age of 15, married Frank Butler, a marksman she’d beaten in a local Ohio rifle match. She joined his traveling show, then, as Annie Oakley, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. On stage she shot coins from Frank’s fingers and a cigarette from the lips of Germany’s Crown Prince. She used a .22 rifle in 1884 to break 4,772 glass balls of 5,000 tossed! In her sixties, badly crippled by an auto accident, she could still hit 25 tossed pennies without a miss.

Texan Ad Topperwein tapped his gifts as an artist to drill “Indian head” profiles in tin with a .22 at the headlong rate of a shot a second. In 1894 he hit 976 of 1,000 airborne 2 ¼-inch disks. Ad perforated postage stamps stuck on airborne washers, and could nip the bullet from a tossed cartridge. Shooting for Winchester, he fired a Model 63 autoloader ejection port up, then spun and shot the .22 hull in its arc! In 1907, firing Model 1903s at tossed 2 ¼-inch blocks, he hit all but nine of 72,000! That record lasted until 1959, when Remington’s Tom Frye used the new Nylon 66 .22 on 100,010 tossed blocks and missed six!

These feats predated computer wizardry that could make fiction look like fact.

Expert marksman David Tubb shows the form that, with superior equipment, delivers long-range hits. (Wayne Van Zwoll Photo)

Winchester hired Herb Parsons in 1929. Deadly with a shotgun, Herb could toss a stack of seven clays and with a Model 12 pump shatter all before any hit dirt. He shot tossed marbles with a .22. Talking non-stop, he pulped airborne fruits and vegetables with all manner of rifles, swapping them without pause or help. From the hip he emptied a .351 auto to dust 10 clay disks on edge. “They’re not hard to hit, folks, just easy to miss!” The last of the era’s great shooters, Herb Parsons died at age 51 from a blood clot.

Men and women who bet their lives and reputations on consistent hits demonstrated shooting all too rare now. Instead of benches and bipods, they relied on bodies disciplined by long training to steady rifles – or deftly bring them alive – for the shot. With iron sights and steel nerves they survived the jungle and wowed audiences. Modern barrels, bullets and optics have extended our reach. But marksmanship, not hardware, has defined the best shots ever.

Wayne Van Zwoll
Award Winning Gun Writer
Outdoor Line Blogger
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle

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Tips for Better Accuracy

by Jason Brooks

If you have been hunting for a few years or more then I am sure you have missed a time or two. We all would like to think that under pressure and when it counts that we will make the shot. And when we do miss oftentimes we start guessing at why the shot went awry. Here are a few quick tips to help with accuracy that you can use before hunting season starts so when you are offered that opportunity to fill the tag you don’t miss.

A quality scope with good mounts on your hunting rifle is a must for accurate shooting-Jason Brooks

1. Use Quality Optics

More than once hunters have fallen victim to using a cut-rate scope thinking that it will work since the rifle is only used a few times a year. Either a heavy rain, freezing storm, or a slip that lands you on your rifle, the bargain-basement scopes always fail. Not only are low-quality scopes prone to breaking due to lack of quality controls when made but the low-cost scopes often lack clarity, precision adjustments, or ease of use. There are several scopes on the market that offer exceptional quality and provide better accuracy. Currently I have a Vortex Razor HD LH on my Kimber Mountain Ascent. This is precision scope built for hunting, and is built with tight quality controls. The scope is one of the most important components to shooting. A good scope, such as my Vortex, is clear, multi-coated to keep the rain from fogging up on the outside as well as the inside of the glass, has micro-adjustments of ¼ inch that are easy tuned by turrets, and most of all it stays true under drops, jarring, and extreme difference in temperatures.

Custom Grade and Premium Ammunition is  more accurate than generic and inexpensive ammo-Jason Brooks

2.  Ammunition makes a difference

Ammunition is one of the other areas where hunters need to understand that the better they buy the more accurate it will be. The reason why some ammo cost more than others is because of the manufacturing of these rounds. From precision length cases, primers, exact measurement of powders and quality bullets. All of the components can make a difference in how the ammunition performs. Most companies that offer high-end precision ammo have their own blends of powder and all of them have done extensive testing. A well-built bullet is designed to fly farther, flatter and hit with more energy than a cheap, mass produced one. All of this leads to much better accuracy. If you have ever hit an animal with a “perfect shot” using cheap ammo and somehow the animal got away, it was more than likely due to a bad bullet design that didn’t transfer energy or failed to create a wound channel that was fatal. Several ammunition manufactures even make custom ammunition tailored for your rifle. Nosler makes a commercial round that is extremely accurate in their Trophy Grade as well as a precise round in their Custom Grade.

Sight-in your rifle in the same conditions that you hunt in-Jason Brooks

3. Sight-in your rifle under hunting conditions

Range time is the most important part of accurate shooting. Before shooting from various hunting positions the rifle must be sighted in. In early Spring I like to take my rifle out and re-check that it is ready to go for the fall. There is a big difference in sighting in your rifle and shooting your rifle. I have yet to find a perfect bench-rest in the high country while elk hunting. Yet, I always spend a few sessions shooting from a good rest, such as a Caldwell Lead-Sled, on a table with a chair. The reason is that I need to make sure my rifle is accurate before I simulate a hunting scenario. I also don’t go to my local gun range to do this as the range near my home is around 500 feet above sea-level, with a covered bench that often heats up in the summertime. I prefer to go to a spot on public land that is at 5,000 feet as I tend to do most of my hunting around 4,000 to 6,000 feet in elevation. I want my conditions to be as close to my hunting altitude, barometric pressure, and temperature as I can. This way when I sight in my rifle I know it is accurate under the same conditions that I will be hunting under.

As hunting season nears my rifle is accurate with good optics, quality controlled ammunition and sighted in for the elevations and temperatures I will be hunting. I am confident that I can make the shot. Well, at least I am confident my rifle is accurate enough to make the shot. A big mature muley buck for some reason always magically evades my bullet. Maybe it’s some supernatural force knowing my rifle shoots straight, as it can’t be my fault…

Jason Brooks
Outdoor Line Blogger
710 ESPN Seattle
www.jasonbrooksphotography.com

Making Lightweight Hunting Rifles Behave

By Wayne Van Zwoll

If your bullets wander about the target, and game inexplicably runs off, maybe you lack ounces.

The lure of the lightweight: comfort on the trail, speed for the shot. Note hand well ahead on for end. Photo by Wayne Van Zwoll

The lighter your burden, the more you enjoy walking, climbing, hunting. Many early bolt-action hunting rifles weighed over 8 pounds. In the 1950s Winchester introduced its Featherweight Model 70 at 6 ¾ pounds. Now 6-pound rifles are common. Kimber’s walnut-stocked 84M weighs 5 ¾ pounds and its Montana 5 ¼ pounds. The Adirondack and Mountain Ascent scale just 4 ¾ pounds. Yes, these last three wear carbon-fiber stocks.

Weights bump up for longer actions and barrels. But Kimbers aren’t skeletonized or stubby. They look good and balance well. In my experience, they shoot well too, if shot properly. But any rifle becomes less manageable as you pare ounces. That’s because mass reduces the bounce of your pulse and twitching muscles as you aim, the nudge of your hand and shoulder and trigger finger as you fire. Trigger resistance compounds the problem. The heavier the trigger, the more muscle you must tap, and the more movement you’ll see in the sight. Recently I fired a 6-pound rifle whose trigger broke at 6 ½ pounds. The muscle required to loose a shot was sure to move the rifle off target first! Such imbalance is woefully common in handguns.

Stiff triggers handicap lightweight rifles. Adjust so break weight is a small percentage of rifle weight. Photo by Wayne Van Zwoll

I’m not in the camp that insists lightweight rifles require special shooting technique. Still, from the bench some rifles perform best when left to recoil freely, while others excel with hand pressure on the forend or even down on the scope. These “preferences” seem to depend as much on bedding as on rifle weight or barrel diameter. By the way, barrel stiffness, has greater effect on group size than does its mass. A short, relatively slim barrel can be stiffer than a long heavy one. A Remington XP-100 pistol was one of the most inherently accurate guns I’ve yet fired. Very little flex in its .17 barrel!

Of course, accuracy is most closely tied to the quality of the bore.

At the bench with a lightweight rifle, I make sure the front rest contacts the forend adequately. On a hard rest, a slim, rounded forend has essentially single-point contact. I prefer a soft rest that better limits bounce. A bit of side support helps steady the rifle. Often I pull the front of the forend down into the rest while aiming. I also use a toe rest. My trigger hand grasps the rifle firmly, tugging it into my shoulder and against my cheek. Without firm support front, rear and center, a lightweight rifle will almost surely move as you press the trigger. To deliver tight groups, all rifles must be held the same way each shot, no matter your shooting style. A lightweight rifle is more sensitive to slight changes in technique.

On the bench or prone, use a toe bag. Or as here, grasp the toe to steady it. Note supporting cheek pad. Photo by Wayne Van Zwoll

Do lightweight barrels heat faster? Well, their reaction to heat is often quicker and more evident than that of heavier barrels. A given bullet at a given speed imposes on a given bore a measure of friction. Thick barrel walls act as heat sinks, and their stiffness resists the bending and lengthening that can change the impact points of subsequent bullets. Still, the value of a lightweight hunting rifle has little to do with the size of warm-barrel groups.

Wayne Van Zwoll
Journalist, Gun Writer
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle

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