Know Your Target and What Is Beyond It

Written by Sierra Bullets Ballistic Technician Philip Mahin

Before we begin, let’s review the first three rules we have discussed:

So we have come to the ‘Know your target and what is beyond it’ part of the four rules. At least one of the examples in my last post would have fit in this category. Knowing what your game is before you take aim at it is paramount in the hunting fields. That is why I carry a pair of binoculars with me when I go out. The pair I have is light in weight and easy to handle. They can be as inexpensive or as high dollar as you want to spend, but they allow you to see further with both eyes open and that will help to find game easily. I have also found that they not only work in wide open spaces, but they work well in thicker woods also. They will fuzz out the timber that you don’t want your eyes to concentrate on and let you see any movement of intended game with ease. If ever I wanted to travel to where the shots will be long and I could see that quarry coming from an extreme distance, I would want something that had enough magnification and could attach to a tripod. It will help keep the view steady and relieve a lot of eye fatigue when viewing for an extended time.

Now that the game animal has been identified as the one being sought after, it is time to take into consideration what is beyond the target. In other words, if the bullet was to pass through or miss the animal, where would it go? A lot of whitetail hunters here in Missouri use tree stands because it puts us at a vantage point to see further and gets us out of the direct view of the animal. From this higher place, the bullet will easily travel into the ground even if it doesn’t connect with the intended animal. Myself personally, I have hunted my fair share in tree stands but I have never been able to keep warm enough by hunting this way. My preferred method is by still hunting and it does keep me warmer because I am in motion (albeit slow motion) but I am eye to eye with the intended game. Where will my bullet travel to, even if I connect and it goes through? What if I miss completely? Are there any other hunters around that I need to worry about? It is always a good idea to communicate well with other hunters in your party or even hunters on adjoining land to make sure they will not be in your line of fire as well as keep you out of theirs. Do your homework well before the hunting season and when it comes time to making the shot, you can plan for what direction you should be facing to keep all of the variables in check. This includes not shooting over a ridge line that you don’t know what is beyond it. A scenario could be something like this…

With your trusty 30-06 with our 165gr SBT GameKing shooting at 2,800fps, you’re walking the ravine where the creek used to be and you spook the largest racked whitetail you’ve ever seen. In your haste to get your gun in action, the deer took off for the top of the ridge and you fired as it reached the top. You get to the top only to find out that you missed and the deer is nowhere to be found. If the firearm was angled at 31 degrees upward, that bullet just went 5,175 yards or just short of 3 miles. What was 3 miles beyond your shooting point; a field full of cows or worse yet, a neighbor’s house or a sub-division with kids playing? Don’t take that chance that something could be damaged or someone could be killed from your negligence to maintain a proper backstop behind your intended game.

To be honest, this isn’t as farfetched as it seems to be. We do get a few calls (a lot more than we should) asking to run trajectories for just this type of scenario. The story usually goes that someone had a bullet travel through their roof or window/wall and made it into their room they were occupying at the time. How scary would that be; sitting on your couch with your sweetie eating popcorn and watching a movie when your TV gets a hole shot through it!?

It is crucial you know what your target is and even what is beyond it because there are no take backs in firing a weapon. Once that bullet leaves the muzzle, you are no longer in control of it, but you are still liable for it. This will conclude our four points of safety but they are a worthwhile subject, worthy enough to pass on to young shooters just beginning their shooting careers or life of hunting. Remember to pass them along whenever you can and don’t take any of them for granted.

Till next time, be safe and have fun shooting.

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5 Responses to Know Your Target and What Is Beyond It

  1. David Ruppel says:

    Thank you for reminding us all that no matter how long we have been in the shooting game, we still need a refresher from time to time.


  2. Down range distance can also be changed. An increase in travel distance can be affected by wind from behind the shooter along with slight changes in angle of departure which will exceed the given distance from the computer program of shooting across a flat surface. Along that line the difference from the height which a bullet is fired and to which is lands can also add a different result in max range. Example a shot fired near the top of a tall mountain at an angle for max trajectory assisted by leeward wind off the mountain landing in a valley at a much lower altitude will increase the linear travel distance. Sounds far fetched, well it happened here in NZ with a .22rf that exceed the 1 mile warning.


    • Our ballistic technician Paul was a forward observer for the 105mm in Vietnam and knows it has an 8 mile range, but he also agrees that this was a freak accident. Thank goodness no one was hurt and this incident can be used as a learning tool. Thank you for sharing it with us. – Philip


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