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Ammunition: Hunting

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Porting/  Muzzle Brakes

Hunting: Shooting Positions

Hunting: Getting Lost

Gun Maintenance

Hunting: Tracking


Rifling and Twist

Hunting: After The Shot

AR-15 .223 Wounding Properties

Sighting In

Hunting: Types Of Tracks


Hunting: Ethics

Hunting: Field Dressing

Bullet Penetration

Hunting: Where To Aim

Hunting: Trophy

Breaking In Barrels




Gun manufacturers and after-market designers have devised a number of ways to reduce perceived recoil or muzzle flip after a shot is fired.  These typically utilize a portion of the expanding gas from the exploding gun powder.  Rather that being propelled out the end of the barrel, some of the gas is redirected out of "ports" or finely cut and aligned holes in the top or sides of the barrel near the muzzle.  Gasses vented in this fashion tend to push back the barrel in the direction opposite their thrust, in a manner similar to that of a jet aircraft exhaust.  This action counters, or reduces, some of the recoil felt by the shooter or some of the jump which affects the end of the barrel.

Porting is well suited to handguns chambered for large caliber rounds intended for hunting.  Its use in a handgun intended for personal protection is strongly discouraged.  

In a self defense situation, the intended victim may find it impractical to fire upon an assailant from the traditional stance of extended strong arm point of aim.  Due to proximity of the aggressor or dictates of available cover, the armed citizen may find it necessary or desirable to fire from a position  in which the elbow is held close to the body, forearm extended forward, with the handgun secured in a grip at waist level.  

Rather than using the gun's sights, the intended victim points the firearm with the orientation of the body.  When a shot is fired, porting on a handgun held in this manner will likely propel hot gasses and debris into the face of the person holding the gun, causing distraction, or worse, temporary blindness.  In a life and death situation, any mishap that gives an advantage to one's adversary is to be avoided at all costs.  Don't use a ported handgun as the weapon of choice to protect your life.  

"Muzzle brakes", chiefly found on rifles, work in an identical fashion to handgun ports in reducing recoil.  They normally are comprised of a separate attachment that is installed on the end of the barrel.  An issue to consider with muzzle brakes is that they won't win you any popularity contests with shooters to either side.  Some of the hot gasses and debris that normally would be expelled from the muzzle down range are blown sideways.  Anyone who happens to have the misfortune of occupying adjacent space at the wrong time is deluged with hot gas, smoke, and noise.  When a rifle is fired from a prone position, muzzle brakes have a way of stirring up dust.  The  reduction in recoil, particularly on rifles chambered for smaller calibers, may not be worth the negative repercussion.

"Compensators" are similar devices that also rely on ports, with the objective of reducing muzzle flip rather than recoil.  This is accomplished by port orientation.  Installed as an integral part of the muzzle or as a muzzle attachment, the compensator allows for extremely quick target acquisition, and thus shot follow up, after the initial shot is fired.  A "compensated" sight plane is not nearly as disrupted as one subject to normal muzzle flip.  Again, realize that the down side of a compensator is blast to adjacent space on one's sides.

You will likely find the terms "muzzle brake" and "compensator" used interchangeably, without distinction. 

The "BOSS" or "Ballistic Optimizing Shooting System" available from Browning on some of its high quality rifles is a high tech, yet simple means of improving the inherent accuracy of a rifle.  When any rifle is fired, the barrel experiences a series of vibrations from the time the firing pin strikes the cartridge primer to the time the bullet exits the muzzle.  These vibrations exist during the period in which the bullet is traveling through the bore.  The ultimate effect of these vibrations is to cause the barrel of any rifle to act as a whip at the muzzle.  

Controlling these essentially imperceptible vibrations in the barrel is the function of BOSS, which consists of a weighted body and adjustment ring fitted to the muzzle of the rifle.  By repeated experimentation, the shooter is able to "dial in" the adjustable ring to arrive at the optimal setting for one's particular ammunition and rifle that yields the best accuracy.  The system is that straight forward.

The BOSS  comes in two distinct configurations: with and without a muzzle brake feature to reduce recoil.

A conventional "flash hider" or "flash suppressor" is essentially a fitting attached to the muzzle of the rifle which redirects a significant portion of the propellant gasses in a uniform circular direction perpendicular to the alignment of the barrel.  Because gasses are  equally distributed in all directions, benefit from reduced muzzle jump is negligible.  Alignment of the ports in a flash suppressor is not intended to reduce recoil either.  A flash hider assists the shooter in conditions of darkness by reducing the perception of muzzle blast which can temporarily cause loss of visual acuity. 

With the exception of BOSS, the accuracy of a rifle is not improved by the addition of porting, muzzle brakes, compensators and flash suppressors.  In fact, the opposite is true.  A bare muzzle with a target crown allows for the uniform escape of propellant gasses from the barrel.  This condition is conducive to bullet accuracy.  That is why it is important to protect the crown of the muzzle with a brass or plastic rod guide when cleaning the bore, to assure that the rod never touches the rifling at the muzzle.



As with any precision tool, it is important to properly maintain your firearm.  Purchasers of new guns will find detailed instructions for gun maintenance supplied in the "owner's manual" provided by the manufacturer.

The emergence of new synthetic solutions is a boon to the gun owner, and greatly assists cleaning and maintenance.  Developed to military specifications, "Breakfree"  is a three-in-one product.  It serves as a solvent, as a lubricant, and as a corrosion inhibitor.

Discount department stores such as WalMart or your local sporting goods store or gun shop should carry this triple action synthetic solution.  Its use is recommended.  There is rarely any need to use anything else to properly clean and maintain your handgun, rifle, or shotgun, other than occasional use of copper or lead solvents as required.  Autoloaders, however, will appreciate the additional application of a high quality lubricant to ensure reliability.

Remember, more damage to firearms has occurred from over zealous or improper cleaning than from actual use.  Hence, it is better to err on the side of minimums, rather than maximums, where cleaning is concerned. 



Rifling is the series of spiraling grooves machined into the inside of a rifle or pistol barrel.  Purpose of the rifling is to impart a "spin" to the fired bullet to improve its aerodynamic properties during flight, in a manner similar to a quarterback throwing a football.  Rifles represent a technological advance over "smooth bore" ball firing muzzle loaders in this respect.  Aerodynamics of a bullet can also be improved by various "boat tail" designs. 

S lugs intended to be fired from shotguns are often rifled to improve accuracy.  In this case, the rifling or grooves are on the slug rather than on the smooth bore of the shotgun.  Rifled slugs are popular for short distance shotgun deer hunting.  Typically, however, the shotgun is used to fire multiple round pellets, thereby improving the shooter's chances of encountering the intended target with multiple projectiles.  Choice of pellet size depends upon the chosen game or target.  For personal defense in a twelve gauge shotgun, buckshot is recommended in the size 00 ("double ought") buck.  Consider visiting the Armory munitions rooms "Shotgun Ammunition: Hunting" and "Shotgun Ammunition: Self Defense".

"Twist" is the term given to the distance within the barrel over which a rifled spiral completes one full revolution.  Specific twists are better suited to optimizing the flight of bullets of differing weights or types within the same caliber.

As an example, consider the .223 Remington/5.56 NATO caliber bullet popular in both military and civilian applications.  A 1 in 12 twist (one revolution per twelve inches of barrel length) stabilizes 40 to 55-grain bullets well, but is unsuitable for heavier bullets like the 69-grain boat tail used in match target competition. 

Conversely, a 1 in 7 twist, suited to stabilizing the mid to heaviest bullets well, is so rapid that it may cause potentially frangible bullets such as soft points to disintegrate.  This makes accuracy erratic, unpredictable, and unsatisfactory for typical hunting rounds.  The 1 in 7 twist is perfectly suited to FMJ and JHP bullets, which are the best for personal protection.  The 1 in 7 twist rate is mil-spec. 

A 1 in 9 twist in a 20- to 24-inch barrel allows for essentially the full range of bullet weights, 40 to 75 grains, as well as for the use of potentially frangible bullets.  Hence, it represents a good compromise for this caliber because of its versatility.  A 16-inch barrel in the 1 in 9 twist will accurately launch all bullet types in weights up to 69 grains.

Most manufactures attempt to offer the public a choice of barrel twists that will accommodate a wide variety of popular bullet weights associated with the generally recognized uses of a particular caliber.



Sighting in is the process of adjusting the rear sight on a rifle or handgun, or the alignment of the adjustments on a rifle or handgun scope, to achieve a "dead on" hit or target "bulls eye" at a known distance with a given caliber and bullet weight.  The trajectory of a bullet in flight resembles that of an arc.  High velocity, relatively light weight bullets will follow a flatter arc than slower, heavier bullets, but it is still an arc nonetheless.  

Perhaps the most important factors to consider when sighting in your hunting rifle are the type of terrain you plan to hunt and the trajectory of the particular bullet you plan to use.  If you are hunting eastern whitetail deer in heavy timber, you may choose to sight in at no more than 100 yards.  On the other hand, typical western mule deer habitat, open country, suggests a longer sighting in distance: possibly 200 or 250 yards.

Whatever the sighting in range you choose, however, it is important to know your bullet's performance at other incremental distances along its arc of travel.  Thus, if your "zero", or dead on sight in point is at 100 yards, know how much your bullet will "drop" at 200 yards.  Conversely, if your rifle's zero is at 200 yards, know how much your bullet will "rise" at 100 yards.  

Various sources are available which will give bullet trajectories for different calibers and weights.  One of the best is that compiled by Remington in the company's catalogues and on its web site,  An even more user friendly site is  Federal maintains an on-line ammunition and ballistics catalogue available in an interactive version for download.

The second skill that must be acquired to achieve a successful hunt involves the ability to closely approximate distances in the field.  Some scopes have reticles or "cross hairs" which aid in making an estimate of distance.  Knowing distance between the shooter and the target,  one can achieve an accurate hit by holding the point of aim either high or low on the quarry, based on the bullet's trajectory.  

If you are good at estimating ranges,  consider zeroing your rifle at at a distance suggested by the hunting conditions you expect to encounter.  If your target appears at longer range, you can compensate by holding high, thereby taking into consideration the fact that the bullet will be below horizontal by a set amount (horizontal being a straight line between the eye of the shooter and the predetermined zeroed point of aim) during its travel along its arc to this point of distance.  On a shot shorter than the sight in distance, you will want to aim a trifle low with respect to the point you wish to hit to compensate for bullet rise, or the fact that that the bullet is above horizontal as it passes along its arc at this point.    

Don't feel alone if you find it difficult to estimate distances in the field.  Most hunters and shooters do.  There exists a method of sighting in that will take some of the need to perform mental calculations out of aiming, particularly if your rifle is a modern, high velocity caliber.  This method takes into consideration the dimensions of your quarry's vital area.  

The vital area of a mule deer or whitetail deer is approximately 10 inches high and wide.  Within this area are the heart, lungs and spine.  A good starting point is to to sight in your rifle at 200 yards.  This will make your shot somewhat high, but "on target", at 100 yards, dead center at 200 yards, and still well within the vital area at 250 yards.  Holding the point of aim at the approximate location of the spine would still place the shot with the vital area at 300 yards.

The quickest way to sight in your rifle, and a way which uses the least ammunition, is to first shoot at a target at about 25 yards.  To minimize human error in holding and aiming, it is a good idea to shoot from a bench rest or from the prone position.  Don't rest the barrel on any support.  Rather, rest the forearm stock.  Take a normal breath, let half of it out, then hold the point of aim and slowly squeeze the trigger. 

Squeezing the trigger is an acquired skill that is vitally important to accuracy.  If your squeeze is so gradual that you are unaware of the exact instant that the rifle will go off, you are well on the way to becoming a good shot. 

If using the "iron" or open sights installed on the rifle, hold at 6 o'clock on the bulls eye, fire three shots and mark the group with a pencil.  If sighting in a rifle scope, follow the procedure identically, but hold the cross hairs dead center on the bulls eye.  If the group is tight, adjust your sights or scope to move the center of the shot group to your point of aim.  With open sights, move the rear sight in the direction you wish to move the point of aim.  

Fire another three shot group, and if the bullets are striking the target very close to the point of aim, move the target down the range to the distance you've selected for sighting in.  For distances up to about 250 yards, you may expect to be "on the paper".  Repeat the procedure at the selected distance, making final adjustments to zero in your point of impact at this actual range.  

Note that a bullet from a clean barrel may not print in the same place as a bullet from a fouled barrel.  If you clean your rifle after practice or after sighting in, consider firing one "fouling" shot before the actual hunting trip.



The hunter has long been the champion of conservation.  Through hunting license fees, purchase of migratory bird hunting stamps, and excise taxes on firearms and ammunition, the sportsman finances wildlife habitat restoration programs and other activities intended to benefit wildlife.  Many worthy national and local conservation organizations dedicated to the same principles are supported by sportsmen.  Excise tax use for conservation purposes, game seasons, and bag limits were all ideas that were successfully formulated, supported, and implemented by hunters and outdoorsmen.  

Hunting on private property is a privilege, not a right.  Through courtesy and respect for landowners' property, the privilege will hopefully be extended to future generations of hunters.  Likewise, use of public lands should be conducted with the hunter's conservation ethic in mind.  In this fashion, the multi-purpose use concept of lands administered by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management will be preserved.



The logical location to place a bullet on most big game animals is the heart, lung, spine area.  On deer, this vital area is approximately 10 inches square.  A shot to the vital area is lethal, and damages very little meat.  A further benefit resulting from a hit to the vitals is that the animal will, in most cases, experience  considerable internal bleeding.  This drains blood from the tissues, greatly improving the quality of the meat for eating.  

In this respect, removal of blood from the tissues is accomplished in a manner similar to that of a butcher preparing domestic animals for slaughter.  The butcher stuns the animal and "sticks" it, or cuts its throat, while it is still alive and the heart is beating.  The heart pumps blood from the tissues and the animal literally bleeds to death.  There is no point in sticking a deer after it is dead because the only blood loss will be localized drainage from the jugular veins and the large artery.  Tissue drainage won't be accomplished by sticking a dead deer because the heart has stopped pumping. 

A neck shot kills quickly and cleanly, but the chance of missing the animal is greater than with a shot to the vital area.  In addition, there will be damage to tasty meat.  A brain shot kills instantly, but the brain offers an extremely small, rapidly moving target.  Only when demanded by unique circumstances is a neck or brain shot warranted.

Should you desire to mount a trophy head, the taxidermist will be extremely unhappy if you bring in a deer that has been stuck, or shot in the neck or brain.

Unless the hunter is an exceptional marksman, it is good sportsmanship to pass up shots at 400 yards.  Because no hunter is proud of wounding an animal that is unlikely to be retrieved, it is also sporting to favor a shot on a standing quarry versus a shot on a running animal.  With considerable practice, the skills necessary to successfully shoot running animals can be acquired.  

The procedure is somewhat similar to that involved in waterfowl hunting, whereby the shooter "leads" a bird in flight.  The proper amount of lead depends upon the distance to the animal, its speed, and the angle at which it is running with respect to the hunter.  Determining the proper lead comes only with practice.  A good conditioner for those fortunate enough to have access to rural areas for practice involves shooting at a rolling tire with a card board center.  Remember to keep the rifle moving with the target at the proper lead.  Whether in practice or while hunting, always make certain of a safe background prior to shooting.



The prone position offers the steadiest hold for the hunter and is the position most recommended, particularly for long shots.  The shooter lies down, face first, at an angle of 40 to 45 degrees from the line of sight or direction of aim.  The legs are spread well apart, with heels turned inward and down.  The left elbow is placed directly under the forearm to ensure solid support (right handed shooters; lefties, reverse the drill).  The right arm will assume a naturally comfortable position dictated by the grasp of the right hand on the pistol grip of the stock and the proximity of the finger to the trigger guard.  

Often high grass or rocky terrain will rule out the possibility of a shot from the prone position.  In such instances, the sitting position is an excellent alternative.  It elevates the rifle above any obstructions, and is nearly as steady as the prone position.  The shooter sits at an angle of 45 degrees from the line of sight with the feet well apart and the knees bowed inward slightly.  The shooter leans forward so the upper portion of the left arm rests against the left leg just below the knee.  The left elbow again should be directly under the forearm of the rifle.  The right arm is supported by the right leg just below and inward of the knee (south paws, do the reverse).    

Sometimes a running shot leaves little time for the hunter to assume any position other than the offhand position.  Another instance that favors the offhand position is one where the hunter, discovering game to be very close, will not want to spook the quarry by unnecessary movement.  The shooter's body should face 90 degrees to the line of sight.  The feet should be spaced naturally, with equal weight distribution on each foot.  The right elbow should point outward at shoulder level, and the grip hand should press the butt stock into the shoulder with reasonable firmness.  The left arm should be directly beneath the forearm (left-handed shooters, reverse the drill).

Note that in all three shooting positions, the arm which supports the forearm of the rifle should not be bowed outward or inward.  The elbow should be tucked directly under the gun's forearm.  You will find that when shooting offhand, the angle formed by your two bent arms with respect to each other is 90 degrees.  The support arm will be braced against one's side, perfectly vertical, parallel to the body, and the arm with the grip and trigger hand will be lifted to a horizontal plane, perpendicular to one's body.



Tracking is the skill of following either a two-legged or four-legged quarry.  From the perspective of the game hunter, it means methodically discovering the whereabouts of the target animal.  To the less experienced hunter, tracking might imply that one follows each successive hoof print until the animal being stalked comes into sight.  To the contrary, rarely does an experienced hunter attempt to walk up on his prey in such a Sherlock Holmes-type manner.  The exception is when a wounded animal is being pursued.   

Most animals that are preyed upon, including deer, are very conscious of their back trails.  They are well aware that predators and natural enemies such as mountain lions and dogs, after having trailed the scent of the deer, will attack from behind.  

Deer constantly check the terrain they've traveled only minutes before.  They may quickly trot through the edge of a clearing, and once safely in the cover, stop and watch to see if a predator crosses the clearing.  To follow a deer under such circumstances is difficult, to say the least.  While your attention is riveted on his tracks, the deer is peering at you from the protection of some dense  thicket.  Perhaps the easiest way to spook a deer is to attempt to approach him from his back trail.

The experienced hunter reads, rather than follows, tracks.  Aside from identification of the animal, and confirmation that the animal is in the area, the real value of tracks lies in the fact that they reveal the habits and traits of the quarry.  Tracks alone will not tell the whole story.  The hunter must possess  knowledge of the game animal that is sufficient to allow an interpretation from tracks of the patterns of individual or herd movement.   Such skill is derived from experience, one's own and that shared from others. 

Deer, for example, are essentially nocturnal animals.  They feed during the night and bed down during midday.  Usually these feeding periods extend through early morning and commence in early evening.  With only this basic knowledge, the hunter can interpret much from  deer tracks and choose the logical places to hunt during certain times of the day.  

A feeding area will reveal itself by many tracks milling and crisscrossing.  Nipped off browse bushes will confirm this.  Unlike elk, deer prefer to feed on brush and bushes rather than on grasses.  A bedding area, usually in heavy cover, will have a similar preponderance of tracks.  The depressions in the grass or dirt will confirm the presence of a bedding area.  Tracks concentrated in a rather narrow or straight direction usually indicate a trail between bedding, feeding, and drinking areas, a good place to intercept deer at dawn or dusk.

Usually deer do not use the same bedding and feeding sites for long periods of time.  The freshness of the tracks will tell you the likelihood of finding them there the next evening or morning.  Fresh tracks have sharp, distinct edges opposed to round-edged, weathered tracks.  However, be suspicious of tracks made in dust, as they may retain sharp edges for several days.



After shooting a deer, it is generally recommended that a hunter wait 15 to 30 minutes before picking up the trail.  A vitally wounded animal, if not pushed by an excited hunter, will soon lay down and stiffen, presenting a short trail.  On the other hand, a final burst of speed from a hard pushed animal may present a very difficult trail to follow, lacking the well defined blood trail of a slower moving animal.

Before assuming that you have missed your shot, check to make sure.  Many a fatally wounded deer has given no indication , at the instant of the shot, that a hit was scored.  Look carefully for blood or a patch of hair.  Bright blood indicates a shot through muscle, including the heart.  Light, frothy blood indicates a lung shot.  A gut shot will reveal itself by splashes of intestinal fluids.  Often, a well hit animal can travel 50 to 100 yards before such evidence appears.  Trail very slowly and deliberately, stopping every few steps to study the cover ahead.

Be aware that at the beginning of the hunting season, when hunters are plentiful, deer may not be so habitual.  Routed from their beds and disturbed frequently, they will very often not use established trails and feeding areas.  

Consider the advantage of arriving in deer camp a day or two early to scout the terrain.  Reading tracks and other signs of undisturbed animals will help you select a productive hunting area on opening morning.




The tracks of mule deer and white tailed deer are very similar:  very pointed at the toe.  Often the rear portion of the hoof pad does not print clearly, because deer tend to step gingerly, striking the tips of the hooves sharply downward.  If terrain is soft, the dewclaws may print.  A bounding deer will print all four hooves in a tight group.  A deer going full tilt will print his hooves at intervals of about 20 feet and the toes will be widely separated.  The faster he goes, the wider the spacing between the toes. 


Antelope have no dewclaws.  The print of their hooves is smaller than that of a deer.  The hoof halves are more parallel when compared those of a deer.


Elk have dewclaws, but they seldom print except in mud or snow.  The elk is one of the few animals whose sex can be determined by its tracks.  The general contour of the bull's tracks is rounder than those of the cow.  Also, the hoof halves of the bull are more parallel than a cow's.


Moose tracks are identified by their large size and the tendency for the hoof halves to diverge outward.  Moose seldom plant their hooves "tippy toes", so dewclaws usually print.



After the hunter has approached a fallen deer and ascertained that it is dead, the ritual of field dressing begins.  For reasons mentioned earlier, it is not logical to stick the deer at this time.  Also, it is not necessary to remove the scent glands on the hind legs, as long as the hunter is careful not to get any secretion on his or her hands and carry it to the meat.

Many hunters unnecessarily remove the tarsal glands, located on the inside of the back legs at the hock.  The tarsal glands secrete a musk which attracts the opposite sex during the rutting season.  This musk, however, is secreted externally onto the long hairs around the gland, which act as a wick.  These glands do not taint the meat on a live animal, nor will they on a dead animal,  unless secretion is inadvertently carried to the meat by the hunter.

In addition to the tarsal glands, deer have metatarsal glands.  These glands secrete a similar musk externally and are located on the outside of the hind legs, approximately six inches above the dewclaws.  It is not necessary to remove either the tarsal glands or the metatarsal glands, but the hunter should avoid touching them if possible.

To field dress a deer, turn the animal on its back, head uphill if possible, to facilitate the removal of entrails from the hind quarters.  Make a deep circular incision around the rectum, and if string is handy, tie a strong knot around the intestine.  This prevents intestinal fluids from escaping into the body cavity.  

With your fingers, locate the "V" shaped beginning of the breastbone.  Carefully insert a knife and cut toward the hind quarters.  The direction of this cut is with the lay of the hair, which minimizes cutting the hair and getting it onto the meat.  With two fingers of the opposite hand, hold the abdominal skin high and guide the knife blade so it doesn't cut into the intestines, a situation which is to be avoided at all costs.  When the genital organs are reached, encircle them widely with the knife.  With string, tie them off so that no excretory fluids escape.  Continue the cut to the rectum.  It is not necessary to split the pelvic bone, but you may wish to do so in order to facilitate removal of the large intestine.  

Again, commencing just below the rib cage, enter the body cavity and cut through the diaphragm, which is the tissue that separates the heart and lungs from the abdomen.  Reach into the upper neck and cut the esophagus and wind pipe free.  Now carefully remove the heart and liver and save them in a plastic bag, should you wish to cook these delicacies later.  Gently remove the entrails, cutting any connecting tissues that offer resistance as you move through the body cavity.

Thoroughly drain all blood from the body cavity.  You may have to turn the animal over and prop open the body cavity to do so.

The animal should be cooled as quickly as possible.  In camp, hang the animal from a tree in a well ventilated area and prop the body cavity open with sticks.  Wash the body cavity with water, preferably salt water.  Keep out dirt and insects.

Cooling can be hastened by skinning the animal as soon as practical after field dressing.  The hair of deer and many other big game animals is hollow and affords excellent insulating properties, keeping the animal warm.  However, on a deer-sized animal, cooling from the body cavity is usually rapid enough, precluding the need to skin the animal.  Skinning can also compound the problem of keeping the meat clean, once the hide is removed.



If you wish to have a trophy mounted, make a cut just in front of the shoulders all the way around the neck of the animal.  The  cut should be in a vertical plane.  Peel off the hide to the base of the skull and cut off the head at that point.  Liberally salt the flesh side of the hide and roll up the neck skin with the fur on the outside.  Store in a cardboard box in a cool, dry place.  Take the head to the taxidermist as soon as possible.



The best prevention to inadvertently losing your way is to carry a map of the area you are hunting.  Excellent topographic maps, prepared by the U.S. Geological  Survey (USGS), are available from the U.S. Government Printing Office in Pueblo, Colorado, or local Printing Office outlets.  USGS maps can also be found at local sporting goods stores, as well as at some state departments of transportation.  An even more readable three dimensional type map is published in a bound edition for each state by DeLorme (  Termed "Atlas & Gazetteer", these detailed topographic map collections are extremely well done and can be found at sporting goods stores, bookstores and similar outlets.  

A high tech alternative to a compass is the GPS, or global positioning system.  These handheld units can tell you your location on the earth by orienting on satellites in known fixed orbits.  Exact position can be determined from within a range of less than a hundred feet or so to as close as a few feet, depending upon the sophistication of the make and model.  

When entering a hunting area, know the direction you are going so you can back track if necessary.  Periodically check your back trail or "six" to become familiar with terrain features when viewed from the opposite perspective.  Also, it doesn't hurt to see what might be sneaking up on you!  Take the trouble to frequently orient your position with landmarks.   

Always inform others as to the general area you plan to hunt.  In addition, be prepared for the contingency you may get disoriented and have to spent more time away from the conveniences of your hunting camp than planned.  

This involves bringing along basic necessities of survival such as a good field knife, a multi-tool or small pocket knife, water proof matches and dependable lighter, small first aid kit, canteen or water bottle (full), small roll of string and possibly fishing line with hooks, bandana, and a means of disinfecting, filtering, or boiling water for drinking.  

Older military style canteens come with a metal cup in the base which can be used to boil water over a small fire after it has been grossly filtered through the bandana.  Figure five to ten minutes at a rapid boil to be safe, with the longer time associated with higher elevations.  Otherwise, bring along iodine tablets or a pocket water filter capable of removing bacteria, the parasites giardia Lamblia and Cryptosporidium, as well as viruses.  These essentials won't weigh you down much and could very well save your life. 

If you do get lost, avoid compounding the problem by getting further lost.  It is almost always best to keep calm and wait where you are.  A search party of friends or governmental personnel is likely to be organized.  Build a fire to keep warm, and as a means of signaling.  To break the wind or conserve heat, construct a lean-to, snow cave, or other type of shelter depending upon circumstances and materials availability.  

If emergencies dictate hiking out, bear in mind that civilization is most likely to be found down a stream, or along a pipe cut, power line, or fence.

One method that is useful in determining directions, assuming that you have in your possession a watch that keeps time with hands, is to lay the watch flat on the ground, placing a match or straight twig vertically against the rim of the face.  Turn the watch until the hour hand points along the shadow of the stick, cast by the sun.  South will be the direction halfway between the hour hand and 12 o' clock, measured the shortest way.



Scopes are optical instruments composed of stationary and moving parts enclosed in a housing.  Scopes serve to magnify and define a target in a manner which presents the shooter with a sight picture that allows the full potential of the firearm and cartridge to be accurately realized.

With optics such as rifle scopes, it is advisable to invest in the finest quality you feel is justified, yet affordable.  The reason for this is that you will eventually outgrow a cheap scope due to dissatisfaction with its performance. The initial investment will be wasted when you acquire a scope that will stay with you for life.

Scopes function by incorporating an optical system which is intended to maximize the amount of pure light delivered to the shooter's eye.  Light rays from the target image enter the objective lens at the front of the scope and are magnified.  

The resulting enlarged and upside-down image is magnified and corrected to the right-side-up position by the erector lens system typically found in the middle portion of the scope's main tube.  Lastly, the target image is further magnified by the ocular lens at the rear of the scope.  This lens projects the target image, as well as the central aiming point, known as the reticle (reticule) or "crosshairs", to the shooter's eye.

The single most important indication of a scope's ability to manage light is its ability to provide contrast.  Contrast is enhanced by resolution, which is the characteristic of producing a crisp, finely detailed image.  

Contrast is also enhanced by light transmission, a parameter that is affected by the number of glass or mirrored surfaces, the absorption of light in the glass materials, and the quality of the anti-reflective and mirrored coatings.  Contrast is degraded by glare, which is the stray light that reflects off internal parts of a scope and enters the field-of-view.  Glare also diminishes detail and color quality of the image.  

The exit pupil is the circle of light a shooter sees when the scope is held at arms length.  It is a measure of the quantity of light that reaches the shooters eye, and is not influenced by the diameter of a scope's main tube.  

In typical low-light conditions in the field, a shooter's eye dilates to a pupil width of about 5 mm.  If the exit pupil of the scope is smaller than the shooter's pupil, too little light will reach the shooter's eye and the scope will impose limitations on the shooter's ability to see.

Parallax is the perceived movement by the target with respect to the reticle that a shooter experiences when the eye is shifted slightly from side to side.  Parallax is normally eliminated by manual adjustment of the objective lens or by manual adjustment of a parallax knob, depending on how the scope is equipped.

Eye relief is the distance between the eyepiece at the rear of the scope and the shooter's eye which is required to project a target image that is in focus.  Short eye relief is dangerous because the shooter can be struck in the eyebrow by the back of the scope when the firearm recoils after a shot.  The shooter is much less likely to be injured while shooting when there exists ample eye relief. 

Other features typically found on scopes include windage and elevation adjustments, which allow the shooter to sight-in the firearm or make field corrections based on actual conditions.

A power selector ring is provided to adjust magnification on variable power scopes.

Scopes may be provided with a sun shield as an option to reduce glare and may or may not possess lens covers to keep dust or moisture from obscuring the surface of each lens.

Scopes come in a wide variety of magnifications suited to particular tasks.  Variable magnification scopes have an advantage over fixed power scopes in that magnification may be adjusted to address a variety of shooting situations.  

Fixed-power scopes are adapted to well defined needs where parameters are known.  Fixed power scopes are generally viewed as being able to better withstand severe use, due to the reduced number of moving parts.  The perceived edge is not great, however, considering the quality of variable-power scopes now available, and their useful versatility.

Field of view is the picture presented by a scope to the shooter at specific magnifications.  Its diameter is typically measured in feet.  For example, a 20x power scope, with a field of view of 5.5 feet, will present a target shooter with an extremely detailed picture of the target area at 100 yards, but will show little to the sides of the target.  

This presents no problem when the target area is fixed, but greatly inhibits target acquisition when the target location is unknown or mobile.  For this reason, a variable power scope of approximately 3-9x magnification is typically regarded to be ideal for general hunting due to the range of field of view provided (32 feet, low power; 14 feet, high power at 100 yards).

The reticle is the "cross hair" feature of the scope.  It represents the point of aim.  The duplex design, which consists of a cross of heavy posts transitioning to thin lines at the cross's midpoint, is very popular.  The shooter's dot is a ubiquitous reticle, and consists of a dot in the middle of thin cross hairs.  The 3/4-mil dot, created by the U.S. Marine Corps for snipers, is now the standard range estimating reticle for all branches of the military service.  Dots are spaced in one mil (milliradian) increments on the cross hair.  The distance to the object being targeted can then be determined based on object size and the mil formula.  Conventional crosshairs, consisting of thin intersecting lines, often serve as a reticle.



The Remington .223 Remington cartridge, in FMJ, JSP, or JHP, is an excellent urban defense load.  So is its military counterpart, the  5.56 NATO in FMJ or JHP.  Stray bullets which do not strike an assailant will tend to penetrate fewer walls and other typical residential building materials than will common handgun rounds.

The ability of the .223Remington/5.56 NATO cartridge to effectively disable an assailant rests in large part on the propensity of the fired bullet to "fragment" once it enters the human body.  For fragmentation to occur, the bullet must possess a velocity in excess of approximately 2,700 feet per second.  Velocity is affected by a number of environmental factors, including temperature, humidity and altitude.  However, it is primarily a function of barrel length and ammunition selection. 

Short barrels, typically 14.5-inches in length, generate velocities insufficient to produce fragmented wound effects beyond about 100 yards.  Such rifles are acceptable for extremely close quarter engagements.  A barrel of 16-inches is suited to combat occurring at distances greater than those encountered in a residence or building, but less than approximately 150 yards.  A 20-inch barrel produces bullet velocities capable of creating wound trauma from fragmentation, identical to that described herein, up to distances on the order of 200 yards. 

A description of the principles behind the wounding characteristics of the .223 Remington/5.56 NATO bullet is in order.

Rifling in the bore of an AR-15 imparts a gyroscopic rotation to the fired bullet.  This spin stabilizes the bullet in its flight, maintaining a point forward orientation.  

Upon hitting an attacker, the rotation which stabilized flight in the air is inadequate to maintain stability as the bullet moves through bodily tissue.  After penetrating point forward for approximately 4 to 5 inches, the bullet attempts to stabilize in the context of its new environment.  

Being heavier at the base than at the nose, due to its pointed profile, the bullet possesses a center of gravity that lies behind the longitudinal mid-point.  Hence, within the assailant's body, it seeks a backwards orientation.  This it attempts by rotating 180 degrees around its center of gravity.  In tissue, the base forward orientation is stable because it places the center of gravity of the projectile  in a forward position.  

Most bullets, including the .223 Remington/5.56 NATO, possess a groove around the midsection referred to as the cannelure.  Function of the cannelure is to allow the mouth of the cartridge case to be crimped tightly against the shank of the bullet to hold it firmly in place.  Presence of the cannelure affects the physical integrity of the bullet by weakening the copper jacket.  

When a .223 Remington/5.56 NATO bullet strikes a violent criminal offender at a velocity greater than about 2,700 feet per second, it penetrates the body, moves a short distance horizontally, and yaws through 90 degrees, traveling sideways.  At this point, the structural integrity of the bullet will likely be compromised by the stress of tissue resistance. 

The leading edge of the sideways moving bullet flattens, forcing lead core to extrude out the open base.  The bullet then breaks apart at the cannelure.  The nose of the projectile usually remains intact, retaining about 3/5 of the original bullet weight.  The base portion of the bullet disintegrates violently into multiple lead core and copper jacket fragments.  

Fragments penetrate radially up to 3 inches outward from the wound track.  Because fragments have perforated and weakened surrounding tissue, the temporary cavity associated with forward bullet movement forcibly rips open the multiple small wound tracks.  

At velocities approaching, but less than, approximately 2,700 feet per second, the wounding effects of the .223/5,56 NATO bullet on an assailant are somewhat different.  The projectile exhibits a similar break at the cannelure, but multiple fragments aren't created by a disintegrating base.  Rather, the nose and the base form two large penetrating fragments.  

When the attacker is struck by a .223 Remington/5.56 NATO bullet traveling at less than about 2,500 feet per second, the diminished velocity usually allows the bullet to remain intact.  It yaws through a 180 degree arc and plows backwards through tissue.   

Again, keep in mind that the length of the barrel in a rifle chambered for the .223 Remington or 5.56 NATO cartridge has a bearing on the bullet's wounding characteristics in the body.  



A bullet's ballistics refer to its energy, velocity and trajectory.  Due to the force of gravity, bullets do not travel in a perfectly horizontal line from muzzle to target.  Rather, they travel through an arc or curved trajectory.  Likewise, bullets may slip sideways from the intended target due to the force of the wind. 

Accomplished distance shooters possess the skill to adjust the sight plane of their firearm to account for the range of distance (elevation adjustment) and wind (windage adjustment).

Information regarding the ballistics of various common cartridges is provided in summary tables for handgun and rifle rounds at    An extremely user friendly version of the ballistics tables is maintained at  Federal also offers a downloadable, interactive version at no cost. 

If you choose to  access the Remington web site, click on either "Ammunition" or "Site Map".  If you select "Ammunition", click on the "Ballistics" section, and follow the instructions to obtain information on a particular caliber of interest.  In the event you accessed the "Site Map", scroll down to "Ballistics" under the "Ammunition" section, and click on this topic.  It will get you to the same place where ballistics info can be retrieved.

 As mentioned previously, many find the Federal web site easier to navigate.

Normally, a firearm is "sighted in" for a specific distance, meaning that the point of aim of the sights or scope is dead-on at a known distance, or "zero".  The shooter must then compensate in the field for bullet drop due to target distances which vary from the rifle's predetermined zero.

Target distances greater than the zero will require a "hold over" compensation to the point of aim since bullet drop will be greater.  Target distances less than the zero will require a "hold under" compensation to the point of aim since bullet drop will be less.  

Compensation for bullet drop can be accomplished by adjusting the rear sight on the firearm, by adjusting the scope if so equipped, or by holding the point of aim over or under the target based on the trajectory of the bullet and corresponding range. 

Is target acquisition affected by an uphill or downhill shot?  Yes.

Normally, however, adjustment for bullet drop due to steepness of terrain is not a critical factor in accuracy.  Adjustment for slope is typically necessary only when the location of one's intended target is at a "relatively steep" angle, say a departure from horizontal approaching 15 degrees or so.

When shooting uphill, do you hold over or under?  When shooting downhill, do you hold over or under?  In either case the answer is the same: under.  The rifle's sights are placed below the desired point of bullet impact.  

The requirement to "hold under" to compensate for slope is somewhat counter-intuitive to what one might normally expect. 

With a typical horizontal shot, one gauges distance to the target and compensates for bullet drop based on that range compared to the rifle's zero.  One memorizes, logs or electronically accesses the bullet drop characteristics of the particular cartridge in one's firearm and adjusts the point of aim accordingly.

With a up slope or down slope shot, visualize a triangle formed by the shooter, the target, and the vertical uphill or downhill elevation gain or drop.

From high school geometry, recall that the hypotenuse of a triangle is the long side opposite the right angle.  In our scenario, the hypotenuse represents the side of the triangle between the shooter and the target, the actual distance the shooter normally perceives to be the range.  However, bullet drop is a function of gravity. Gravity only exerts its attractive force on a bullet over the horizontal component of its flight, regardless of the angle at which the bullet is shot.  Therefore, when visualizing our uphill or downhill triangle, the horizontal projection of distance is always less that the actual distance between the shooter and the target.  Effective bullet drop range will be less than actual range.  And you thought you would never have any use for this stuff ever again!

For precision competitive shooting and military sniping applications, bullet drop can be adjusted by applying trigonometric relationships formed by the shooting triangle.  For most of us, its easier to mentally adjust the range.  As a generalized rule of thumb, for a 30 degree slope, use 90% of actual range.  For a 45 degree slope, use 70% of actual range.  A 90 degree slope is straight up, and what goes up must come down.  Not a good shot!  

Some scopes are equipped with crosshairs which assist the shooter in evaluating distance to the target.  The "mil dot" feature, originally developed by U.S. Marine snipers, is another means of estimating distance.  Other scope models feature a "bullet drop compensator" which dials in the correct bullet drop for a given cartridge, bullet weight and range.  Electronic range finders are also available.  Nice!  



Three types of rifle barrels require special attention during the "break in" period to ensure optimal accuracy over the long term.  These include unchromed plain steel, chrome moly and stainless steel barrels typically used in competition shooting.  

The fourth type of barrel, the chrome lined, will "polish out" from its light, flat gray faded look to a brightly reflective, shiny appearance after several hundred rounds have been fired through it (one to two hundred).  Avoid excessive cleaning with patches or brushes during this time because it will only extend the length of the break in period and number of rounds it will take to produce the desired "bullet polishing" of the barrel bore.  

Thereafter, a chrome lined barrel will only require a detailed, tedious cleaning to remove copper fouling after the accuracy of shot group sizes begins to suffer.  This will normally occur only after several thousand rounds have been fired.  A good copper solvent, patience, and considerable elbow grease will restore a copper fouled chromed barrel to a condition where it shoots as good as new.  Be careful in using copper, lead or nitro solvents because they may attack the finish on the firearm, particularly the receiver.   

For routine maintenance, use "Break Free" to clean, lubricate and preserve (CLP) the firearm.  This product will not harm any gun's finish.  Black rags, especially black T shirts, work well for cleaning and maintaining the textured matte surfaces of the rifle without leaving the blotches produced by white shop towels.  

Once properly broken in, a chromed barrel doesn't get fouled nearly as quickly as does a plain steel, chrome moly or stainless steel barrel.  Chrome also inhibits the rust and pitting to which plain steel barrels are susceptible.  

Keep in mind that more barrels are ruined by careless or overzealous cleaning than are ever "shot out".  Remember to protect the rifling at the muzzle with a plastic or brass rod guide.

With the many advantages of a chromed barrel, why would a person select a firearm with a plain steel, chrome moly or stainless steel barrel?  These barrels possesses moderate to superior accuracy, particularly when the level of competition approaches that of match target shooting.

The break in drill for plain steel, chrome moly or stainless steel match barrels is somewhat more labor intensive than that associated with the chrome lined barrel.  These three types of barrels possesses internal marks from the machining process that can scratch passing bullets.  Similarly, bullet jacket material can foul the pores of a new barrel.  

First, remove any copper fouling from the barrel by using a good copper solvent such as Hoppe's No. 9.  At the range, fire 11 single shots, each followed by cleaning with a tight fitting patch bearing a high quality bore cleaner.  Be sure to use a wrap around style jag on the cleaning rod rather than a slotted jag.  

For shots 12 to 30, clean after every three shots.  For shots 31 to 50, clean after every five shots.  For shots 51 to 100, clean after every ten shots.  

This time consuming process will allow the barrel to smooth out without an accumulation of copper fouling in the pores of the steel.  For best match accuracy thereafter, the barrel should be cleaned every 20 rounds or so.  As the rifle continues to break in, accuracy continues to improve for several hundred rounds.



In a self defense situation,  the application of superior force on your part to dissipate a life threatening encounter with a criminal aggressor will require use of a gun ideally chambered for a round that possesses the following characteristics:

  • As an absolute minimum, be capable of penetrating at least six to eight inches of bodily tissue.

  • As a preferred minimum, be capable of penetrating at least ten to twelve inches of bodily tissue.

  • As an absolute maximum, be capable of penetrating no more than fifteen inches of bodily tissue.

The rationale behind these criteria is discussed at greater depth in the Armory munitions room marked "Ammunition: Self Defense".  

Generalized penetration associated with various handgun rounds is summarized in the Armory munitions room marked "Handgun Ammunition: Self Defense".

For you "do it your selfers" out there, try the following experiment to ascertain the penetration capabilities of your favorite rounds.

As a simple test to determine bullet penetration, use milk cartons filled with water to simulate soft bodily tissue.  This substitute is the working man's "ballistic gelatin".  Collect 30 half gallon milk cartons.  They must be the "waxed paper" type rather than the recyclable plastic milk jug variety.  As a side benefit, this will encourage mama and the kids to drink their milk.  

Find a safe area in which to shoot.  Fill the milk cartons with water, either ahead of time or at the site depending upon water availability.  

Align the cartons in rows of ten, three abreast.  They should be packed tightly together, front to back and side to side.  When you are ready and conditions are safe, shoot a round into the center row from a crouch, kneeling or prone position.  

To estimate bullet penetration in soft bodily tissue, count the number of cartons pierced including the last one punctured.  Multiply the results by a factor of 2.5 to derive an estimate of penetration in inches.  Perform the test two more times, in the first and third rows, and average the results of the three tests to determine a particular bullet's penetration potential when fired from your make and model of handgun.

Retrieve the bullets from the last cartons damaged to assess probable expansion characteristics in soft tissue.

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