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So You Want To Own a Gun (Part Four)

The meat of all will taste the same, but by harvesting the doe with albinism and a deformed jaw -- a real-life game management problem encountered years ago in a deer herd in Halifax County, North Carolina -- you remove an animal that may starve in the future because of her deformity, and improve the quality of the herd’s genetics in the process. Before man intervened and killed off most predator species in the U.S., a red wolf or large bobcat might have culled that deer or others from the herd. By eliminating predators, we now bear the responsibility of playing their role as ethical hunters, even if that sometimes means leaving the trophy for another day.

Zones of Fire

Equally important to target identification and discrimination is knowing what is downrange of your target. As more and more Americans move into rural areas and suburbs pop up in farm fields like mushrooms after a spring rain, it is vital for hunters to know the land they are hunting in and to establish zones of fire. They must know that they can safely shoot without risking a shot in the direction of a building or road. This may not be as much of an issue in truly rural areas, but in many parts of the country the population density and geographic realities conspire to make finding a location with truly safe backstops for your zones of fire more problematic. In particularly crowded areas, these concerns have even affected the kinds of weapons that can be used. In some locales, centerfires must be traded in for shorter-ranged shotguns, or firearms are banned entirely for even shorter-range bows.

Hot and Cold

From the pure shooting perspective, most big game and many kinds of small game hunting hinges upon being able to fire an accurately aimed "cold shot."

You may have just one shot at the animal you intend to harvest. If you miss cleanly, the animal will likely bolt at the sound of the shot and may flee into cover before you can fire a second shot. Worse, if your gun isn't "cold-zeroed" or you fail to follow the basic mechanics of shooting, you could injure an animal and sentence it to a slow, painful death, something all ethical hunters avoid.

Two key mistakes made by many hunters: zeroing their optics or sights at the range as part of a shooting session, and not letting a barrel heated up from the firing of the previous shot cool back down. A warm barrel will often not shoot to the same point that a cold barrel will. The difference can be subtle, but crucial.