Maryland's two-week modern firearms deer season begins Saturday and continues though Dec. 9, and another record-setting hunt is expected. Unfortunately, many hunters will miss their chance at bagging a whitetail this year simply because their rifles and shotguns will be incorrectly sighted.
Anne Arundel County deer hunters are not allowed to use rifles during the hunt because of residential safety concerns. In fact, half of Maryland's counties, including all of Southern Maryland and Baltimore, Harford and Howard counties prohibit the use of rifles during the modern firearms deer season.
At one time I looked upon such laws as a serious handicap to successful deer hunting because shotgun slugs fired from traditional smoothbore barrels were woefully inaccurate much beyond 25 yards. Luckily, slug use has changed dramatically thanks to rifled shotgun barrels and choke tubes and sabot-type slugs.
The rifling in a barrel imparts spin on a bullet or slug, which in turn allows accurate placement of the projectile on a target. Rifle bullets are just big enough to allow the rifling to cut into them, thus ensuring a tight barrel fit and high level of accuracy. The old, traditional Foster-type slug was, for safety reasons, slightly smaller in diameter than the internal dimensions of shotgun barrels. In practice, they resembled loose-fitting bowling balls rattling down the barrel. Where they went after exiting the muzzle was more a matter of luck than marksmanship.
Modern sabot slugs are slightly lighter in weight than the old Foster slugs and shaped better ballistically. The slugs are encased in a sheath of plastic to form a tight barrel fit and perfect gas seal when fired. The plastic sheath falls to the ground a few feet beyond the muzzle of the shotgun. The end result is higher velocity, flatter trajectory and greatly enhanced accuracy. Instead of a 25- to 50-yard deer gun, we now have one capable of hunting accuracy to a full 100 yards or better.
To sight your modern modern shooting shotgun correctly, begin by laying the forearm (not the barrel) on a firm rest such as a sandbag or tightly rolled jacket. Shoot from a bench rest, if
possible or, at the least, while laying prone. Always shoot into a high bank or other safe backstop. Many private shooting clubs open their facilities to the public for sighting-in and you should take advantage of one in your area.
Sight the gun to hit 3 inches above a 50-yard aiming point. Your slug now will hit 1 inch high at 25 yards, be dead on at 75 yards and, depending on the load you use, 1 to 3 inches low at 100 yards.
When sighting in, don't shoot your gun hot. If you do, you'll find it will refuse to group at all. Always fire 3-shots to get an average group location and size, then let the barrel cool. Also, keep your barrel clean. If you are shooting slugs with a plastic sabot, lead build-up in the barrel will destroy accuracy.
Try a few different slug loads because each barrel favors a particular load. My Remington 11-87 rifled barrel, for example, shoots the standard 2-2/34-inch BRI Sabot slug into less than 2 inches at 50 yards, but doubles average group size if I switch to the 3-inch magnum load.
Deer check stations
Hunters must take their deer to an official Deer Checking Station within 24 hours of bagging it. There are five in Anne Arundel County -- Cobe Marine and Sports Center (formerly Stammer's), 8936 Fort Smallwood Road, Pasadena; Hunters Haven, 219 Thelma Ave. (at Quarterfield Road), Glen Burnie; Marty's Sporting Goods, May Road, Edgewater; On Target, 2618 Annapolis Road, Severn; South County Marine, 668 Deale Road, Deale.
Deer hunting tip
That old saying about keeping the wind in your face and the sun at your back is never truer than when deer hunting. A whitetail's keen sense of smell is his first line of defense. A deer may not spook if he hears or sees something unusual. But that same deer will be gone at the first hint of human smell.
When stalking, move into the wind to keep deer from scenting you. If possible, keep the sun at your back. An animal looking into the sun is blinded by the glare.