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Saturday, May 19, 2012

What the NRA Does For Hunters

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, May 19, 2012.)
No organization exceeds the energy
and resources the NRA invests
on behalf of hunters.
A recent opinion piece in the New York Times titled “I Hunt, but the NRA Isn’t for Me” has author Lily Raff McCaulou making a truly astonishing claim: “The NRA has never had much to do with hunting.”

Can Ms. McCaulou really be ignorant of the countless ways the National Rifle Association supports hunters, when evidence against her view is so abundant, readily available, and irrefutable? (And how can the NYT print something so factually flawed?)

The NRA is, first and foremost, dedicated to the constitutional right of citizens to own and carry arms. That right would exist even without hunting, but does it have anything to do with hunting? Yes. Hunting is one way – probably the commonest way – people actively exercise that right.

That’s why the NRA has plenty to do with hunting. A bulleted list would take far more space than this column can permit, but I’ll outline enough to show that no organization offers broader or deeper support for hunting than the NRA.

Can anyone ignore American Hunter magazine, with paid circulation over a million? That’s larger than Outdoor Life, but it’s just the beginning. The NRA also teaches hunting skills by producing television shows, publishing books, and promoting seminars. It even provides support to bowhunters.

The NRA issues legislative alerts through various channels so hunters can actively engage in protecting their sport. One of those channels is www.NRAHuntersRights.org, the first website dedicated specifically to the rights of hunters. It’s no static web destination – it provides daily reports about threats to hunting and ways hunters can help preserve hunting heritage.

The NRA fights to prevent funding generated by hunters and designated for wildlife conservation through the Pittman Robertson Act of 1937 from being diverted to illegal uses. The NRA stays active in the courts, making sure that wildlife is managed according to sound scientific principles and not according to the emotions of anti-hunters.

Without the NRA, fewer weapons would be available to hunters. Why? Because it fights against lawsuits that would drive gun manufacturers out of business – lawsuits that attempt to shift liability for crime from criminals to manufacturers.

Without the NRA millions of hunters’ guns would be illegal. Why? Because the NRA fights against so-called “assault weapons” bans – proposals that invariably include countless firearms used by traditional hunters every day.

The NRA effectively opposes legal and regulatory efforts to shut down federal lands to hunting. It makes sure hunters are free to travel with their firearms and to transport harvested game animals. It fights legislation that would regulate or prohibit owning or using hunting dogs.

The NRA advocates for state constitutional amendments that guarantee the right to hunt and fish. On the environmental front it grants funding to state game and fish departments and many conservation organizations in order to benefit habitat for all wildlife.

Since 1949 the NRA has led the way in hunter education through 4-H clubs, Boy Scouts and state game agencies. Plus, millions more youth benefit from supervised shooting programs supported by the NRA.

The NRA supports mentored hunting laws, opening doors for younger people to enter the world of hunting. It helps disabled people meet their special challenges as hunters. It sponsors programs introducing women to the sport of hunting. Ms. McCaulou doesn’t take advantage of those programs, but it’s a sad irony that she snubs the efforts of the NRA to include women like her in the ranks of hunters.

If the NRA wasn’t doing much for hunting, would anti-hunters be so at odds with the NRA? I doubt it. It’s safe to say that no organization exceeds the energy and resources the NRA invests on behalf of hunters. Without it, fewer people would be hunters.

The NRA claims to be the “largest pro-hunting organization in the world.” In light of all these efforts and more, it takes someone who is willfully ignorant to challenge that. The NRA’s opponents don’t have to like the NRA, but they should at least dislike it for honest reasons. To say that “the NRA has never had much to do with hunting” isn’t an honest reason.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Why We Miss Turkeys

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, May 5, 2012.)

Shooting with your pulse pounding in your
ears is nothing like shooting at a silhouette
outline of a gobbler’s head on paper.
Now that spring turkey season is underway, some hunters haven’t shot yet, some have connected, and some have missed.

Why do we miss? Here are six reasons:

1. Stretching the range of your shotgun. Turkey shotguns have come a long way in the last few years. Manufacturers now make specialized turkey shotguns and custom gunsmiths can trick them out to produce dense, turkey-killing patterns at 50, and even 60 yards. But knowing your shotgun is capable of 60-yard kills doesn’t mean every turkey shot from 60 yards away will flop over dead.

I’m confident my shotgun can kill a gobbler at 50 yards with the right load. Should I take 50-yard shots? I don’t think so – for all the reasons that follow.

2. Misjudging distance. Accurately judging distance is critical to shooting turkeys. Even though my shotgun can kill turkeys at 50 yards, I seldom shoot beyond 30 yards. That increases any margin for error in judging distance and insures that the shotgun pellets still have plenty of energy. It also lessens the chance that an obstruction is somewhere between me and the gobbler.

My rule-of-thumb recommendation is to limit shots to no more than 75% of your shotgun’s effective range. For my 50-yard shotgun, that’s about 37 yards. For a 40-yard shotgun, it’s 30. With that rule-of-thumb, if I think the gobbler is 30 yards away, and he’s really at 37, he’s still well within range. Without it, if I pull the trigger on a turkey I think is 50 yards away, and he’s really 60, I’ll wound or miss him.

3. Awkward shooting position. When you pattern the shotgun, you shoot from a comfortable position with your eye in line with the scope or the beads on the barrel. But shooting with your pulse pounding in your ears is nothing like shooting at a silhouette outline of a gobbler’s head on paper. Plus, when you’re shooting at a live gobbler he can twist you into a pretzel.

Last year my second gobbler came from behind on my right. I had to twist my body and by the time I pulled the trigger I was tilting the shotgun. I got the turkey, but I almost missed him at only 30 yards.

4. Obstructions. One big difference between patterning your shotgun on paper and shooting at a gobbler in the woods is that in the woods you may not notice obstructions. Something might be between the place where your shot leaves the barrel and the place where it meets the gobbler’s head.

A few years ago when I shot at a gobbler in New York, one of us was going to have a bad day. It should have been me. Fortunately, it was him. At 35 yards away he wasn’t a big challenge for a 3½" magnum shotshell. But I didn’t see the 1" sapling about 25 yards away. I splattered it with shot, and the wad from the shotgun shell chiseled a squarish notch in the tree. That obstruction could easily have given the gobbler a much better day, and sent me home crying the blues.

5. Failure to pattern your shotgun. Some recommend doing this every year. I believe that’s unnecessary. However, it’s essential whenever you choose a different shell, or get a new choke tube.

The goal of patterning is to learn the capability of your shotgun and load. You need to know how dense the pattern is at 20, 30, 40 yards or more. You should test different shot sizes and have an idea of the differences between brands. Sometimes a certain shell will leave gaps in the pattern.

6. An improper sight picture. The biggest advantage of a scope on a turkey shotgun is that it insures a good sight picture. On the other hand if your sights are nothing more than a bead at the muzzle end, you need discipline not to lift your head.

Some people lift their heads in anticipation of recoil, or to see the turkey go down. Either way, lifting your head means you’re likely to shoot over the turkey. Keeping your head down preserves a good sight picture.

We miss turkeys for all those reasons. Eliminate them, and you’ll eliminate a gobbler virtually every time you pull the trigger.