column By: Gordy J. Krahn | March, 19
I think it is the diversity and idiosyncrasies of furred critters and the microenvironments they occupy that I find so compelling about hunting predators. No other pursuit demands a higher degree of determination – and specialization when it comes to equipment. From head-to-heel camouflage clothing, terrain-specific boots, special-purpose guns and ammunition and a wide variety of sighting options, hunters select gear that precisely matches the hunt if they want to eke the most from each outing. This is especially true when it comes to sighting solutions. From open sights to scopes, red dots and even lasers and night-vision optics, today’s predator hunter has never had it so good.
Anyone who has hunted predators with any degree of regularity understands that things can, and often do, go south in a hurry. Hard-charging coyotes and bobcats arrive on the scene quickly and unannounced, then disappear just as fast once they discover they have been duped. Instantaneous and accurate target acquisition is paramount to success, whether hunting with a rifle or shotgun, and the hunter’s choice of optics – or the decision to not use optics – and how they are applied often determine how many critters end up in the fur shed at the end of the day. Sighting options not only need to match the firearm, but more importantly they should match the type of terrain and time of day or night in which the hunting will take place.
Some hunters solve the dilemma of choosing between open sights and optics by carrying two guns – a scoped rifle and a shotgun. In more open areas, the hunter will typically sit with the rifle at the ready on a steady rest and the shotgun in his lap. Should a critter hang up at longer range, he can end the drama with a well-placed shot from the rifle. Should it show up unexpectedly and close, he can ditch the rifle and take up the shotgun. The reverse is true in tight cover, where the shotgun will be the first choice and the rifle will serve as a backup.
Buddy hunters often agree on diversity – one with a rifle, the other a scattergun. I recall one such hunt with my good buddy Gerry Blair some years back. Three hard-charging coyotes materialized from the yuccas at 30 yards, “begging for rabbit,” as Gerry liked to say. With an Ithaca 10 gauge, he had two of them rugged out before I could gather my wits. I did manage to run down the straggler with my scoped .243 Winchester as it escaped the wrath – and range – of the 10 gauge. We scored a triple because we had the wherewithal to cover both bases.
One-gun hunters must decide between a rifle or shotgun based on terrain, and here sighting options become more critical. For tight, brushy country, a shotgun with open or aperture sights, or even a low- or no-magnification red-dot sight, will provide quick target acquisition. My favorite choice for a shotgun is a peep (aperture) sight. The eye automatically centers the front sight in the center of the rear aperture, and they can be surprisingly accurate. My older eyes have difficulty with traditional open sights that tend to block out the lower portion of the field of view. Because of the depth-of-field limitations of the human eye, iron sights require more practice to use conveniently, especially for shooters with older eyes or poor vision.
An advantage of open sights and aperture sights is that the shooter can keep both eyes open when a critter responds to the call and avoid the tunnel vision that often accompanies aiming through a riflescope. This can be extremely helpful if multiple critters show up and follow-up shots are necessary. Low-magnification riflescopes provide greater field of view in these situations, too.
In more open terrain, a variable-power scope atop a centerfire rifle is a better option. When I sit down to call, I generally keep my scope dialed to its lowest magnification unless I’m hunting in wide-open country where I can see for hundreds of yards in every direction. I figure I’ll have more time to crank the scope up if a critter hangs up and stares me down from 200 yards than crank it down should one bust out of the brush in a dead run at 50 yards.
The near-fanatic popularity of AR rifles and tactical shotguns among predator hunters opens the door to a host of sighting options, such as aperture sights, red-dot sights, low-power scopes with lighted reticles, etc. Probably the coolest options for quick acquisition and low-light conditions are laser sights and night vision optics that can be quickly and easily mounted on an AR or tactical shotgun’s rail system.
Listed below are some of the popular sighting options and what might be their best applications:
This is a bare-bones approach to sight acquisition and includes traditional iron sights and aperture sights, such as the popular ghost ring. With both eyes open, the shooter avoids tunnel vision that often accompanies shooting through a scope.
Open sights give the scattergun shooter the ability to react quickly when predators show up unannounced. This is a great option when hunting where terrain and vegetation limit shots to 50 yards or less, such as high-desert mesquite flats, big timber or frozen cattail sloughs. Open sights can also be used effectively while hunting at night with snow cover and the ambient light of a partial moon.
Available in low- and no-magnification models, red-dot sights are ideal for shotguns and rifles in relatively close quarters. They are also popular with hunters who use ARs. This type of sight provides positive target acquisition from awkward angles and can be adjusted for various light conditions – even the faintness of the moon.
These sights offer the shooter nearly instantaneous target acquisition and the ability to track a moving target without losing peripheral vision, allowing quick follow-up shots when multiple critters arrive on the scene. They also work great for shotguns, especially when hunting in semi-tight cover, or when working the graveyard shift.
Sometimes simplicity is best – as is the case with fixed-power scopes. The most common magnification among fur hunters seems to be 6x, at least in my experience, which is ideal for a wide range of shooting, meaning such a scope is good for both close-range (wide field of view) and moderate-range (plenty of magnification) shots. Experienced hunters who use these scopes with regularity can quickly and accurately judge the distance to a coyote by how large it appears in a fixed-magnification scope.
To many hunters this might seem a bit old school, but in the hands of a seasoned fur hunter, fixed-power scopes are extremely effective. There are no bells and whistles, so the hunter can concentrate on handling the shot without fidgeting with his optics.
Probably the most popular of all riflescopes are variable-power models seen on so many dedicated predator rifles. The operator can quickly dial up the amount of magnification desired for a wide variety of shooting situations. For fur hunters, scopes that fall roughly in the 3-12x magnification range are most common. Eastern hunters might get by with lower magnification, such as 2-7x or 3-9x, if most of their shooting will be at moderate range, say 200 yards or so. Western hunters who like to “stretch the barrels” of their favorite fur guns might opt for more magnification.
These scopes are popular because of their versatility. Atop a good rifle they can be used in almost any situation and in any terrain. Just try not to get caught with your pants down. As mentioned, I keep my variable scope set at its lowest setting while calling, in the likelihood that a critter might show up quickly at close range. Choose the amount of magnification to match the terrain.
Ballistic-compensating riflescopes feature reticles with multiple horizontal lines or dots and/or “dial-up” turrets said to take all of the guesswork out of long-range shooting. These scopes utilize hash marks or adjustable turrets to remove the necessity of hold-over. The shooter sights-in at 100 yards and then either selects the hash mark that corresponds with a predetermined distance or rotates the turret to preprogrammed yardages. They do work but take some practice to get used to.
They otherwise work like standard variable-magnification scopes – except there will be no need to calculate hold-over at extreme ranges. Simply select the predetermined hash mark or dial the turret to the appropriate amount and tug the trigger. Hunters who utilize these optics often have a yardage (dope) card taped to the stock of their rifle that they can “quickly” reference
to select the proper hash mark or dial in the shot. Such riflescopes perform as advertised – if and when there is adequate time to quickly and accurately calculate range and select the proper setting while staying on target.
For high-tech hunters, laser sights are a great option for the fast action inherent to calling critters. Models are available that can be used alone or in tandem with a riflescope. In concert with a scope, they provide a redundant sighting reference that coincides with the scope’s crosshairs. Used without a scope – on an AR or tactical shotgun – they provide quick, intuitive target acquisition at close range, particularly in low-light situations.
Quick target acquisition is the key, and laser sights are a good choice for close to moderate ranges when shooting either shotguns or rifles. The laser draws the shooter’s eye to the target for quick and positive acquisition, much like a scope with a lighted reticle.
Seasoned predator hunters know that things can often happen quickly when predators show up unexpectedly. They might encounter foxes or bobcats at any conceivable range, from in their lap to out on the horizon, and have to make quick shot decisions in the blink of an eye. That’s why a considerable amount of thought should go into selecting the perfect sight for each and every hunting situation