I sat in on a web conference today listening to a number of product merchants talking about the new hunting products that will be coming to market this year. I feel fortunate to have a job that allows me to see the new products and sometimes actually use or test these products before everyone else has the opportunity to do so. It is interesting to see how the manufacturers react to the market each year.
Often times, the improvements in the product reflect the increased demand for better products. Of course, there are those new innovations that are simply an attempt to make that which we already have either more appealing, or more sophisticated, thus stimulating sales. Gimmicks come and go. Tried and true products that fill a need and do it well make it. Often, the tough part about selecting new equipment is knowing what equipment you really need and will use effectively.
When I see a customer purchasing a rifle in .338 Winchester Magnum, or a scope that is a variable power 6-18X50 mm, for deer hunting, I can't help but engage them in some serious conversation about what they will expect the rifle to do for them, where they will be hunting and why they have chosen this particular setup. Often times their response is simply, "My buddy says that this is what I need." Likewise, there are many preconceived notions about ammunition requirements, many of them based on outdated information and tales of bullet performance from 30 years ago. Today, there are many high performance bullets and ammunition choices available that were not available in years past. More often that not, these preconceived notions simply are no longer valid.
There is a lot to be said for what is generally termed a double duty rifle. One rifle that you can use to hunt more than one type of game animal can save you money and lend familiarity to your shooting technique. I have read numerous articles about the mystical rifle that does it all. Although there are a couple of calibers that have proven to be excellent choices for hunting any big game animal in North America, there is no one rifle that is best suited for every game animal in North America, much less Africa. If you are going to hunt Africa, most guides will tell you that you will want to consider a 2 or 3 rifle arsenal.
One of the weakest links in a new setup is often the optics. Hunters today rarely think much of spending $600 to $1000 on a new rifle. The hunter today knows that a good rifle will cost as much and they are willing to spend the money. It is a lot like buying a car. You want a fast sports car that hugs the corners, has rapid acceleration and looks good and it costs $25,000 to put that car on the street. But, if you had to buy the tires separately, would you put $49 no name brand rubber on that sports car? If you do, you will never realize the potential of the car. So why put a $79 scope on your new rifle?
Optics is one area where you really do get what you pay for, unless you are getting ripped off by a poor product disguised as a good one. The quality of the glass, the precision of the grind, the quality of the coatings, the overall quality of the construction and other components that go into making the optic determine the cost. If you want quality, you have to pay for it. Go cheap and lose. Just how much you need to spend depends on what you expect the optics to do for your setup.
You need to do your homework. You need to understand what a bonded bullet does for you that a swagged bullet does not. When is a flatter shooting, lighter caliber better than a slower, heavier caliber? You need to educate yourself on lens coatings and how it affects light transmittal. How are objective lens size and exit pupil related and what does that mean to you? What is parallax and when is it important?
As a rule of thumb, consider a caliber and bullet weight that will deliver at least 800 to 1000 foot pounds of kinetic energy at your target distance for big game like Whitetail Deer and Antelope. Black Bear garners a healthier 1000 to 1500 foot pounds of kinetic energy. Big game like Elk can be taken with a variety of calibers and bullets, but most guides will suggest you bring more gun for a quicker, cleaner harvest. Consider 2000 to 3000 foot pounds a good range to be in. Dangerous game is no place to skimp. You will want to consider 2500 foot pounds as a minimum, with 4000 foot pounds not being unreasonable for the most dangerous of African game animals. How big an animal you will pursue and at what distances you will expect to shoot are the two major factors to consider when selecting caliber and bullet weight.
How much can you expect to spend for a good rifle today? Entry level centerfire rifles start at around $400. Many of those entry level rifles are packaged with an entry level scope, saving you some money. For the seasoned hunter, $600 to $1000 is normal. For the hunter with a bigger wallet and the desire to have a nicer rifle, $1200 to $2000 is not unusual. Of course, if you have the means, a custom rifle can set you back anywhere from $2500 to $50,000.
Not everyone can afford to spend more than $150 on a scope, and there are a number of acceptable choices between $100 and $150, but the $200 to $400 range really does open you up to a lot more performance. A good rule of thumb when considering a scope is to plan on at least one third as much as you paid for the rifle. A good scope for a fine rifle will set you back anywhere from $400 to $750. Top of the line scopes begin in the $900 range and can easily go for more than $2000. Optics are half the equation when it comes to harvesting big game animals. Spending as much on the scope as one spends on the rifle is actually fairly common.
There is a lot to consider when picking equipment. There are a lot of equipment choices to make. But, you don't have to break the bank to hunt well. There are a number of ways to save money and still have a great setup. I haven't even touched on used firearms yet. There are so many wonderful old firearms out there. I love the excitement of finding one that I can add to my collection. Sometimes it is a real kick to see the look in a seller's eyes when they hear me say I am actually going to shoot an old rifle, rather than just put it in the safe and sneak peeks at it from time to time. If I own it, I shoot it. That is my rule. I'll leave the collecting for the sake of collecting to others.
Are you considering a new piece of equipment? Do you have questions? I can spend hours just talking about firearms, bows, optics, ammunition, tree stands and accessories. What works, what doesn't work; what is the new "got to have it" item; what is more gadget than tool; you name it, I'm game. What equipment is on your list for this season? Give us a shout. I'd love to hear what is on your mind.