Clayton: Tips on shooting and fishing

Luke Clayton
Special to the Empire-Tribune

If you're like many deer hunters, the last time you touched your hunting rifle was several months ago at the close of deer season when you gave it a quick spray of gun oil, wiped it down and placed it in your gun cabinet. If you take a quick glance at your trusty rifle, she will look as good as new on the outside but what about your rifle's bore.

Did you take the time to completely remove all the fouling (carbon and copper) that accumulated throughout the season? It's the lands and grooves inside the barrel that stabilize the bullet as it spins down the barrel. If these are plugged with residue, the bullet simply isn't spinning correctly and accuracy cannot be achieved. If like many Texans, you shoot and hunt with your rifle throughout the years on hog and exotic game hunts, regular cleaning is very important.

Accurate rifle shooting requires regular cleaning, especially of the rifle’s bore. Drew Clayton is busy shooting a good group with his Airforce Airguns “Texan” 45 caliber.

There are many factors that cause a rifle to lose accuracy. Lack of cleaning is the primary culprit but there are a host of others such as warped stocks, trigger pull that becomes too heavy (usually from a varnish like residue caused from using too much oil) or improper screw tightness on action screws.

Granted, most of us are not adept at completely disassembling our firearms and giving them a thorough cleaning, but we can all learn to do a good job cleaning the bore and the action. Best results come from a good carbon or coated cleaning rod with a wire cleaning brush of the proper diameter to fit the rifle's bore. Oversized or undersized brushes simply won't get the job done.

There are several things that a qualified gunsmith can do to make an old rifle shoot as good, and many times better, than when they were brand new. Trigger settings from the factory are often too heavy to allow maximum accuracy. For the average shooter, the best setting for triggers is between 2.5 and 3 pounds and this is easily achieved by a qualified gunsmith. It's not uncommon for triggers to come from the factory with much heavier pulls, sometimes as heavy as 10 pounds. 

Bench shooters have to get the most from their rifles in order to be competitive. They have learned all the little tricks to get the best accuracy possibly.  After adjusting trigger pull, the next step to better accuracy is free floating the barrel and bedding the action. The pressure of a swollen wooden stock on a barrel can adversely affect accuracy and removing excess wood so the barrel/stock does not touch is imperative for good accuracy.

Luke Clayton

Accuracy is also lost at the very end or the barrel (muzzle). This problem can be solved by lapping the muzzle crown and also the locking lugs that hold the head of the cartridge in place. A thorough cleaning and polishing of the barrel is next and nothing can replace good old elbow grease and a quality bore solvent to ensure a barrel is completely clean.

Even with a completely clean bore and properly bedded stock and proper trigger pull, a rifle can only shoot as well with a properly installed and adjusted sighting apparatus (scope or iron sights). Scope ring and base screws need to be properly tightened and the scope aligned properly with the rifle's barrel. Most gunsmiths use a bar to ensure the front and rear rings are in proper alignment.

Shooters should experiment with various loads until they find what shoots best in their rifle. After a good cleaning and adjustment, most hunting rifles will shoot a 2-inch group at 100 yards with just about any brand of ammo. With a bit of experimenting, they can often reduce those 2-inch groups by nearly half. For many years, I have shot Hornady ammo in all my hunting rifles and have found it to be very dependable.

So, if you happen to have a rifle or two in your gun cabinet that has lost some of its "tack driving" ability through the years, chances are very good it can benefit greatly from a knowledgeable gunsmith.

It’s been said that choosing a quality scope is even more important than the brand of rifle one hunts with and I believe this to be true. Most scope manufactures today offer scopes that are light years ahead of what they were a few decades ago. But even today, some of the rifle/scope combos come with scopes that simply will not hold their zero. Nothing is more frustrating to a rifle shooter than trying to achieve accuracy with a scope that simply will not adjust properly.

No boat? No problem

Many people assume to be a successful fisherman, one must fish from a boat. I’d be the last to say the mobility of a boat doesn’t stack the angling odds in one’s favor, but I’ve caught a lot of fish while fishing off the bank. Now is the time when 90% of the fish are truly in 10% of the water, especially crappie.

Precise timing of the spawn, regardless the species cannot precisely be predicted, there are too many factors involved. But if you want to catch fish and don’t have a boat, NOW is prime time to invest in some waders, rig up with a good jig pole, grab a handful of crappie jigs and head to the shallows.

For the next few weeks, crappie fishing will be good in water that is often 3 feet deep or less. Anglers easing along shore or wading and vertically dropping jigs or minnows around cover such as stick ups, standing timber or reed beds will put a lot of good eating crapping in their fish basket.

Another method is "fan casting" from shore. A jig or minnow set a foot or so below a floater and cast to likely bits of fish attracting cover can be lethal this time of year. The trick is to cast past your targeted area and then slowly crank the reel to move the bait into the intended strike zone. Once your bait is in position, twitch the rod lightly and keep the bait next to the cover as long as possible. Luke Clayton

To learn more about outdoors writer Luke Clayton, visit his website www.catfishradio.org