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There is no doubt as we evolve as hunters, gear is going to improve, advancements will be made with equipment and firearms will have a greater capacity to shoot more accurately at extended ranges.
It wasn’t so long ago that open sighted rifles were all that sambar hunters used in Australia, then came low power scopes and following that the step up to variable magnification was ground breaking. Heavy military rifles were replaced with lightweight sporting firearms, pump actions, lever guns and semi automatic weapons were all used and upgraded to. Trends are simply continuing and like it or not, it’s a natural progression that follows other hunting cultures both local and overseas and long range hunting is another facet of the pursuit of sambar. There is no doubt each year we are seeing a greater number of hunters heading into the field with a turreted scope, rangefinder and an app on their phone for ballistic calculations and in this article we will try to give some background on where it all started and where it is headed.
Ten to fifteen years ago a lot of sambar hunters used optics to glass for sambar and either found semi open country to glass or sat off fringe country waiting for deer to step out. Often these animals were glassed at extended ranges or outside the capacity of their typical bush stalking sambar rifle. Sometimes animals would appear at the end of shooting light where there was simply no way of closing the distance in time to what they might have been comfortable shooting at. Leaving that deer to hunt the next day has merit, but sambar being sambar there are many variables that will affect just where those deer might be, and often they don’t follow the same routine two or three days in a row. So the options back then were either to try again the next day or elevate the crosshairs using a little Kentucky windage holdover and hope for the best. The second option was very unreliable and an ineffective method of harvesting sambar but I’m sure anybody who has done a fair bit of sambar hunting in the past will have been faced with this dilemma of whether to shoot at deer outside of their comfort range.
When hunters started using tripod mounted 15 power binoculars this opened up a whole new world and many were seeing sambar at ranges far beyond what was thought possible. The cogs started turning over for a few and research began as to what rifle set up might be suitable to use on these sambar that were glassed at longer ranges. Some deer might have been glassed walking across a clearing where they were only visual for a few minutes and others might have been in positions that were simply not stalkable due to habitat and terrain and the need for a rifle with the ability to reach out at longer ranges became a necessity for many hunters.
Many people tried faster .284 and .30 calibre rifles and these were quite effective but they did have range limitations. Some hunters already using decent calibres simply swapped over scopes for larger objective lenses that had higher magnification at the top end and with a bit of work on the reloading bench and down at the range, they were able to easily extend their effective shooting distance. During this period optics were changing and trying to keep up with the advancements and there were many scopes with multiple horizontal crosshairs that became available. These needed to be calibrated and checked at the range and often there were programs that gave the shooter an idea of where each horizontal aiming crosshair was going to be accurate depending on calibre, bullet weight and speed of projectile. The different aiming points were checked on paper and then noted for use in the field. The big issue with these holdover type crosshairs is there are no adjustments for when the hunter is at different elevations and often there was no adjustment for wind compensation. Another complaint was that if you had a deer standing in between the determined distances of two of the crosshairs then you still had to estimate or guess where that precise aiming point was. For example if horizontal crosshair three was perfect for 465m and crosshair four at 590m where do you accurately aim to hit a deer if it is standing at 510m? The moment you start trying to calculate where aiming points should be is when you start making mistakes and this certainly led to plenty of deer that were missed or not harvested. Holdover type crosshairs were an answer but they weren’t the solution, especially for hunters who liked to really stretch the ranges and shoot out wide.
Another option was to know your bullet drop calculations out to a certain range and tape this information to the side of your stock or have it handy in your pack. This required a rangefinder to be used in the field and still some guesswork was required with the actual elevation. Trying to precisely measure 12 inches of holdover in the field on a large animal is never easy and with variations in crosshair thickness and design many hunters realized this was simply another half step forward to being accurate, consistent and ethical on longer shots.
Some hunters realized what the Americans were using on their long range deer, bear and elk would also work on the sambar and custom rifles with larger bore diameters like the .338 in various forms were used and hunted with. Talk of edges, rums and lapuas soon dominated campfire discussions and their virtues were thrown back and forth. Muzzle breaks were not something many sambar hunters needed or wanted, but now they were a necessity to tame recoil and aid shooters with accuracy.
These larger calbres worked well with heavier bullets and hunters discovered that a big projectile hitting a sambar carried a lot more down range energy than a smaller weight and diameter bullet going at similar speeds. Along with the mindset shift came changes in projectile selection. Many who previously stalked with and used the harder controlled expansion type bullets soon figured out that at longer ranges and slower impact speeds these bullets simply did not open up and were very ineffective when used as a long range hunting type bullet. Barnes X’s, Failsafes, Partitions and many other types of projectiles that were often used stalking pills simply did not work at the other end of the spectrum. More research and work at the range was needed and hunters realized that the softer and thin jacketed, but higher BC type bullets were much better at expanding at long ranges yet still carried energy and did enough to penetrate and cause fatal damage at lower impact speeds. Being very streamlined many were holding their course and offered a reduced arc in flight compared to some of the harder jacketed type bullets. This aided hunters with being less affected by wind as breezes and thermals can certainly be one of the most challenging aspects of long range hunting.
About the time peoples mindsets were changing companies like Berger, Sierra, Hornady, Nosler and Winchester were coming to the forefront as manufacturers of longer range hunting projectiles and these businesses were well aware of the increase in hunters around the globe who wanted to extend their range. New technology was applied in the manufacturing plants and the variety and selection of suitable long range projectiles grew annually. With the rapid increase in hunters wanting to use rifles on game out further came the realization that the most accurate system involved the use of a turreted scope. Essentially winding an elevation turret on a scope adjusts the internal mechanisms and shifts the crosshairs up or down. Say your rifle is sighted in for 200m and there is a target at 350m, you will do your calculations then wind the turret up the adjustment required. Internally the crosshairs will be lowered. This means you are actually raising the barrel ever so slightly higher when you centre the target with the newly adjusted crosshairs. The extra elevation will compensate for the increased range and bullet drop and the target will be hit. As you go out further and the range increases more internal adjustment is required according to how much you calculate the bullet drop, the angle of the shot and the elevation. After turning turrets you still hold where you want the bullet to hit, but the internal mechanism of the scope has adjusted the crosshairs according to what you are calculating the bullet drop to the target is. It can take a little for hunters who have never used turrets on a scope to get used to, but time at the range will certainly give hands on experiences as to the internal adjustment of the crosshairs using turrets. Many scopes nowadays have both external elevation (up and down) and windage (left and right) turrets so that precise bullet placement can be made in all practical field conditions.
Generally turreted scopes are adjustable in minute of angle (MOA) usually 1/8th or ¼ clicks and others use a metric system called Millradium which typically works on the value of one click equals one centremetre of adjustment at 100 metres.
Some hunters like to pair their metric rangefinding to the Millradium system here in the South Pacific and others will be happy to range in yards and calculate in inches, which is the MOA adjustments. If your rifle is sighted in and checked out wide at varying ranges then either system will work providing the hunter is competent and fully understands everything that affects flight path and trajectory in field situations.
Aussie hunters got educated quickly on the better calibres, scopes, and projectiles to use and before we knew it many sambar stalkers were converts sitting on ridges and spurs with a long range gun on a bipod and rangefinder ready to go at the press of a button. For better or worse we had followed the trends largely found in the Western states across America and as can be expected there was great division here in Australia. On one hand you had people who didn’t think the new age long range sambar hunter was being ethical or sporting to the deer and on the other hand you had people who were embracing change and advancements in technology. It’s fair to say both sides of the argument had merit, but one thing is certain and that many hunters who opposed long range hunting of sambar had previously engaged and accepted all the technical advancements with new hunting gear and equipment up until that point and they often drove sleek modern vehicles to the bush in comfort and style. To sit there and say a certain form of sambar hunting wasn’t acceptable but having previously embraced every other piece of technology that was available to them didn’t really make sense.
The moment somebody started shooting sambar at ranges they considered unethical there was a lot of outcry.
To their defence there were probably a few wounded animals and deer that weren’t recovered until the next day, but was this any more then what already went on with bush stalking of sambar and wounded animals not being located immediately?
There is always going to be a percentage that do things differently, whether its hound hunting, bush stalking, sit and wait on farm fringe, bowhunting or long range hunting of sambar. It all requires a certain skill set and a certain level of competency and many hunters understand it’s a natural progression evolving as hunters get better at figuring out ways to harvest animals.
If new hunters want to get involved with extended range hunting of sambar there certainly needs to be a lot of thought required before expensive purchases are made. Do you want a rifle purely for sitting on ridge tops and spurs or are you after a multi purpose lightweight type gun that you can stalk with and still reach out to the opposite face or ridge and cleanly kill a deer. Companies like Fierce Firearms, Christensen Arms, Browning, Sauer, Blaser, Winchester, Remington, Red Rock Precision, Gunwerks and a host of others all produce lightweight long range heavy hitters. Some have carbon barrels, titanium actions and others wear lightweight stocks that reduce overall weight yet still maintain balance and control to the weapon. Many have triggers that break like glass at very low resistance and often master gunsmiths like Precision Ordnance in Tasmania are engaged to order and build the perfect long range rifle.
Calibre selection has become critical and with the development of heavier weight bullets from the leading long range projectile manufacturers we are seeing 210gr, 215gr, 230gr and 245gr projectiles available for the faster 30 calibre rifles. The 300 Norma, 300 RUM and 30 Nosler with heavier weight, (but very high BC projectiles) are comparable to the .338 calibres that were previously shooting 250gr projectiles. Velocities and trajectories are similar and you can achieve this in a rifle that recoils less and burns less powder allowing for a longer barrel life and reduced pressures. Faster twist rate barrels are becoming more common as companies realize there is a need to stabilize these heavier weight bullets that many hunters are now reloading.
It has to be said that before any hunter thinks they can fire off a few shots downrange at a steel target and then competently go bush believing they can harvest animals out to a kilometre or so they need to do a lot more work studying and learning ballistics, effectors to flight trajectory, understand wind speeds and they certainly need to be extremely familiar with their rifle in all types of ranges shooting on all angles. Nothing will beat time behind the gun at steel targets ironing out any kinks or deficiencies you might have in your set up and more importantly your technique. Practice on rainy days, windy weather and from different positions with various holds on your rifle and make sure you are shooting off different platforms to see how your rifle reacts to various pressures associated with field shooting. Consistent long range shooting is all about repetition and you must have a clear understanding of this because when its go time on the hill and a deer appears everything should be on auto pilot and routine for the hunter.
Only when a hunter is extremely competent at the range or in the field shooting at targets should they then progress to live animals. And that step should be taken gradually. Head out and shoot lots of bunnies and foxes with your deer hunting rig. Hunters should get extremely good at shooting these animals in the field. The fundamentals of ranging, obtaining a field rest, levelling the rifle, dialling turrets and shooting live animals remain the same whether you are hunting varmints or deer. It all comes back to repetition and only when you are confident on smaller game and show consistency then its appropriate you take the next step into sambar country. But always know your limitations regarding rifle, scope, bullet combination and effective killing range. Don’t go pushing things when you don’t feel comfortable or haven’t shot game at certain distances, its not about bragging how far you can shoot, its about having respect to the animals and ensuring you are ethical and mindful each and every time you fire of a shot whether you are shooting at 150 metres or 1200 metres and remember long range to some hunters might be 300m and to others it will be multiples of this distance. I think as soon as you start turning a turret and shoot outside of your effective point blank range of the rifle you are carrying then you are engaging in extended range hunting.
No matter how we look at it, long range hunting is here to stay, its only growing in popularity and there is a certain sense of satisfaction knowing you have a set up to reach out wide if need be. Some hunters might only shoot a deer once or twice a year dialling turrets, but having confidence in the rifle and set up will allow the shooter to capitalize on the opportunities if and when they present. Long range hunting of sambar should never replace the basics and fundamentals of why we hunt this magnificent species, it should be another tool a good keen hunter uses to control, manage and harvest sambar when the time is right. Never tally hunt, never shoot animals and leave them to simply retrieve antlers from next time you are over that side of the valley and always be mindful that ethical and safe practices are followed when you are hunting sambar with a long range rifle.
Embrace the long range movement, learn to become a better hunter and shooter out wide, but never abuse the fact you have a weapon that can kill animals at extended ranges. To do so is loosing touch with why we hunt this superb deer species.
A book could be written on the virtues of hunting sambar with long range rifles and we have really only scratched the surface with some of the topics covered. Lets hope this article gets hunters on both sides of the fence thinking about their views on this form of hunting and perhaps newer hunters will be a little more educated on what’s required to be competent with a long range rifle before heading into the field in pursuit of sambar.
Be safe out there and always be ethical with our approach to each and every shot we take at sambar, no matter what range that deer is at.