Exclusive: Preparing For A Handgun Hunt
Tips And Hints To Make
Your Hunt A Success!
By Mark Hampton
A special handgun hunt can cover a lot of ground. For some, our dream hunt may entail a safari on the Dark Continent or perhaps a hunt for moose and caribou in Alaska. Others may define “special hunt” by drawing a coveted sheep tag, maybe a trophy mule deer, elk, or a big bear up north. Heck, if a 160-class whitetail strolls past my deer stand that alone will be a special hunt for me. We all dream about our next handgun hunt even if it’s an early morning squirrel hunt or popping prairie poodles out west. Properly preparing for that next adventure can be fun, and most of all, can lead the hunter in to punching a tag after a successful hunt.
A quality holster makes carrying a large, scoped handgun comfortable. This backpack holster was made by QuietHide. Mark took several hikes before the hunt, wearing this holster, making certain everything fit properly.
Get The Lead Out
Believe it or not, the most important component of your next hunt is you. That’s right, getting yourself prepared is more important than any other piece of equipment, including your gun. I am no different than anyone else, we all like to read about guns, favorite loads, that new scope, or anything else we deem appropriate. Yes, I realize this is not a men’s health magazine. But unless you plan on sitting in a blind all day or embark on a hunt that requiring limited physical activity, it’s in your best interest to be physically and mentally qualified.
No, I’m not a fitness guru, ex-Navy Seal, health freak, or Richard Simons fan. I’m just as fond of French fries as the next person. However, the last three hunts I have taken included two sheep and an ibex. Those mountain hunts were friendly reminders of why it’s extremely important to prepare for physically demanding rigors that often will be experienced. If you can’t get yourself where the game is, your choice of gun or other equipment is irrelevant. I’m not saying you have to be able to swim the English Channel to be successful. For the most part, being in reasonable physical condition will enable us to enjoy the experience and may increase our odds for success.
Long hours following tracks in the jungle can be demanding. Here, Mark stops for a well-needed break while hunting bongo in Cameroon.
Sometimes you meet some real characters while hunting. This pygmy tracker was a comedian and fun to be around despite the language barrier.
Know Thy Equipment
A few years ago I ordered a new rangefinder. This unit had all the bells and whistles you could imagine. This useful tool did not arrive on my doorstep until the day before I departed on a hunt. I didn’t have time to even read the instructions. So, I arrived in Turkey, climbed steep mountains for several days before spotting an ibex on the opposite mountainside. Do you think I could get a reading? Of course not! I didn’t want to know the temperature, degree of angle, direction I was facing, or the altitude. I just wanted to know how far away this stinking ibex was! That was a fine time to be unfamiliar with a valuable piece of equipment. The same can be said of any other type of hunting gear. Being familiar with all of your hunting equipment is unambiguous. This is especially true for your gun, scope, and ammunition.
After days of following tracks, the author finally leveled his sights on this bongo. T/C’s Encore in .375 JDJ with Leupold scope performed flawless. Hornady’s 270-grain spire point did the dirty work.
Regardless whether you are hunting whitetail deer on the back 40 or Argali sheep in Mongolia, being familiar with your gun and ammunition will increase the odds for success.
Work responsibilities, family obligations, honey-do lists, there’s always something demanding our time and attention. Making time for quality practice sessions will certainly increase the odds when that moment of truth comes knocking on your door. Knowing exactly where your gun shoots at various yardages is crucial for most hunters. Once you have the gun punching bug-hole groups from the bench, leave the bench.
As much fun as it is to shoot from a bench with a sturdy rest, it becomes little benefit for practical hunting purposes. Successful hunters I know always try to emulate field conditions they expect to encounter on their hunt. If I think a backpack will be used for a rest, then I practice off the backpack as often as possible. Whatever conditions I anticipate on the hunt, I will do my best to duplicate practicing in this manner. Ammunition is expensive. Reloading components have been difficult to obtain over the past few months. Shooting a .22 LR is a great way to enjoy practice time without zapping your wallet. I strive to get as much practice as possible before any hunt, but never feel I have too much.
Binoculars, rangefinders, spotting scopes, or any other valuable hunting equipment should be tried and tested before the hunt. A quality spotting scope is necessary on many mountain hunts, saving a lot of unnecessary climbing.
This desert bighorn was taken with an XP-100 in 6.5 WSM using Nosler’s 120-BT. The rangefinder confirmed the distance at 277 yards. By practicing at various distances, most guess work is eliminated when a shot like this presents itself.
If you’re looking for a 17″ antelope, 30″ mule deer, or a whopper bull elk, you should be hunting an area known for producing such trophies. A friend of mine recently went elk hunting. Like most of us, he dreamed about dropping a massive bull and was hoping for something in the 350-class. He was hunting an area that had only produced one bull elk in the last seven years that reached this lofty goal of scoring 350 on the Boone and Crockett scoring scale. It was not a reasonable expectation to set his sights on a bull of that caliber, in the area he was hunting. If I do a little research before the hunt, perhaps contacting the local game and fish authorities, it usually helps eliminate these unrealistic expectations. Most outfitters will be honest and upfront when providing statistics and harvest data so you can make an informed decision.
Another common misconception, especially if you’re paying an outfitter/guide, is that everything will run smoothly. I realize some of these dream hunts can be down right expensive but that doesn’t mean the rut will be in full swing, tires won’t go flat, vehicles won’t get stuck, the weather will always cooperate, and you will always be comfortable. After hunting big game for over 25 years, on every hunt-able continent on this planet, I have come to the conclusion it would be a reasonable expectation to plan on some problems regardless what the hunt cost.
Shooting from a backpack rest is a good way to help steady the crosshairs on long range shots typically found on mountain hunts. Practicing at home off a pack makes good sense too.
Once the gun is sighted-in from the bench, leave it. While it is fun shooting tiny groups, practical hunting situations seldom include a benchrest.
Over the years, one of the most common mistakes I have committed, and I have made multitudes of mistakes, is not taking enough pictures. Sure, I get the hero shots of the game. I even manage to take several different angles of the animal and gun, with at least one or two decent shots to show. But I never seem to get enough of the camp, scenery, locals, and other shots that will help me recall details of the hunt years from now. Even I can remember all kinds of tidbits a few days or weeks after returning home from a successful trip. Ten years from now I won’t remember squat without a little assistance. Taking plenty of quality pictures of your hunt will provide years of memories and help you vividly remember that special hunt. Usually I write a few notes in a journal after every day’s hunt too. Not a dissertation by any means, just a few notes describing the events of the day. You’ll be surprised how this helps you recall what, when, where, and how things took place when time lapses.
Most of us really look forward to our next hunt. Planning and anticipating an upcoming hunt is fun and exhilarating. It is one of the ingredients that keep us charged up. A friend once told me that “prior planning prevents poor performance” or something like that. By preparing properly you will enjoy the experience and stack the odds in your favor for a successful hunt. Good luck, and most of all — have fun!
All the practice sessions pay off when the moment of truth comes knocking on your door. When you’re looking at a male leopard in your scope, it’s not the ideal time to be uncertain of your shooting ability.
Getting a good solid rest is a priority for handgun hunters. This camera tripod turned shooting cradle makes for a sturdy rest for many hunting applications.
Hunting handguns come in all shapes and sizes. Choose what’s right for you and the type of hunting you will encounter.
Editor’s Note: Mark has hunted, literally, around the world, primarily with handguns, and is the author of two hunting books. His latest, “Addicted To Altitude, Confessions of a Mountain Hunter” is a meaty read, from someone who’s been there. Get yours directly from Mark at: (417) 932-4423, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or drop him a note at: P.O. Box 108, Summersville, MO 65571. Tell him we sent you!
A dream hunt can be as simple and fun as shooting prairie dogs. Actually, a good prairie dog town will sharpen your shooting skills as much as anything.