It all adds up after wayward shot

Don Caswell

In the morning sunlight, the big male wild dog stood like a statue near the carcass of a cow, killed earlier by a canine pack. Here was a real bonus. I had been chasing these dogs hard for a few days and was expecting a black juvenile wild dog to show up. The robust alpha dog had left plenty of images and video on the trail camera, but always at night.

My Vanguard HSP .223 Rem was resting on a sandbag in the low hide I had built. The dog was 120m distant, according to previous readings on the rangefinder. With a clear sight picture, the cross-hairs of the Swarovski z8i 1.7-13.3×42 could not have been steadier.

Just like taking a shot off the bench at the range, I eased off a 55-grain Fiocchi soft-point. There was no sign of a hit. The dog raced a short distance, stopped for a split second to glance anxiously about, then hit warp speed and galloped off to the sheltering scrub. Well, gosh-darn, as they say. I was perplexed. Under such steady conditions, with the range known to a metre, I would be confident of hitting a 10-cent piece. I decided that somehow, the rifle had been knocked out of alignment.

I was pretty unhappy as I packed up. There was no point staying at the hide with the rifle shooting like that. I had not missed a shot at a dog in a long time – a dog’s age, in fact. I convinced myself that the rifle must be shooting a few hundred millimetres low, or high.

The next day I took myself off to the local SSAA range. There I espoused my problem and theory to a few old cronies. The fellow beside me offered to use his spotting scope in an effort to see where the bullets were going.

As is my usual practice, I had drawn vertical and horizontal lines through the centre of each target. I even went as far as using a 10-cent coin to draw a circle where I wished the point of impact (POI) to be at 100 yards. When pinning the targets on the frame, I use a plumb bob to ensure the targets are truly vertical. Back at the bench, I check that the scope cross-hairs match the target verticals and, if needed, adjust my bipod until that is so. That simple and easy technique ensures the rifle is shooting exactly in the vertical plane and makes any sighting adjustments much easier. The range officer opened the venue to shooting and I settled down to see what the story was.

My spotter called the first shot – exactly where it should be. Hmmm? The next two shots evaded detection by my spotter. What the heck… I was shooting at a central circle in the group of targets in case the sighting was way out. Even so, we could not see any other holes anywhere on the sheet. Perplexing. While waiting for a ceasefire, various theories were put forward as to just what was happening and what the cause could be.

Inspection of the target at the first ceasefire was illuminating and sort of humbling. My rifle-scope-ammo combination had embarrassed me and my wild theories by delivering a 0.1 MOA group. All three projectiles had cut the same hole. And, the group was precisely where it should be. The combination routinely averages 0.6 MOA, but 0.1 MOA was a first. Naturally, my range buddies insisted that another group be shot. That too was exactly where it should be, and more like the average at about 0.6 MOA. So, there was nowhere to hide. The rifle had proved itself blameless. That only left the nut-behind-the-butt.

Back in the paddock, I sat in the hide and stared down at the dead cow and where the dog had been when I fired. The distance was 120m and the bullet would cover almost that entire distance at knee-height, over short, dry pasture with the odd tiny weed stem here and there. It seemed that the projectile must have struck one of the flimsy weeds and been deflected enough, or even destroyed, to completely miss the wild dog. On my next visit, I had a box and an SSAA fox target and my camera with telephoto lens.

I put the fox target down where the dog had been and then used the camera to check on obstructions between me and that spot. The benefit of the camera and telephoto lens was that I could use variation in the camera settings to highlight what was not obvious to the human eye, especially when looking through a scope. Within a minute, I had proved that there were more woody weed stalks than met the eye. Enough, in fact, to easily intercept a speeding .223 projectile and divert or destroy it.

I have always known of, and been reasonably cautious of, brush between me and my target. But, during many years of shooting heavy calibre big game calibres it had never been an issue. Maybe I had become complacent? Anyway, my appreciation of just how sensitive a light, high-velocity projectile can be to intervening twigs has been greatly enhanced. It was a salutary lesson in basic small game hunting. On my next visit, I will borrow the wife’s pruning shears and do my best to remove every weed stem between me and the target zone.

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