By Eric M. Gustafson
By September, my daughter Lina and I had been working toward our shared goal of her first big game hunting experience for three months. Going from a fresh hunter safety card to being ‘field ready’ isn’t a trivial undertaking. With the rifle range being more than an hour from our house, trying to work, and scheduling range time around her busy teenage schedule, it took us a few months to get her .257 Roberts dialed in with accurate hand-loads.
Time was starting to run out. We had a load we were both confident in now it was time to figure out how far she could shoot. We had one, maybe two more trips to the range before we were off to Wyoming in the pursuit of pronghorn. The calendar was against us, and even though a .257 Roberts is relatively light on recoil, it was still significant for her 85-pound, 5-foot 2-inch frame. We couldn’t just sit at the shooting bench, sending round after round down range to determine how far she could effectively, and ethically shoot.
I chose Wyoming and North American pronghorn for her first hunt because I knew we would see lots of animals and get many opportunities to stalk them. I also knew that the two of us trying to get close to a herd of wily pronghorn in open country would not be easy. The critical question, and the big unknown, was how close did we need to get? To answer this, I turned to science. It was time to leverage technology to determine not just what was an ethical shooting distance, but to give my daughter the confidence to know what she could do when the opportunity presented its self.
At a trade show the previous winter, I stopped by the booth of Effective Range Targets, and on a whim, I purchased a pack of the pronghorn targets to try later if I had time. With the time constraints before us, I realized this would be the perfect time to try them out, but being an inherent skeptic, I couldn’t just take them at face value that they would work, so I conducted a small experiment. I also purchased, at significant expense, a pack of full-sized pronghorn targets so I could double-check the validity of the Effective Range Targets with something life-size.
The test was simple: my daughter would shoot the Effective Range Target at 100 yards and the full-sized pronghorn at 200 yards, both off a bipod, in a realistic hunting scenario, and we would compare the results. So with our prep time running out and only one more chance at the range, I pulled my daughter out of school a little early, and we headed out to the rifle range for the test. After shooting a few warm-up shots, we got down to business. With a light wind and a quickly setting sun, my daughter squeezed off three shots at each target, and then we took a walk to see her results. Her three shots at the Effective Range Target were well within the 200-yard ring. Furthermore showed she could realistically shoot out to 250 yards. One hundred yards farther out, we saw that her three shots at the full-sized target and all three shots were within the vitals zone on the target. These results were not only validation of the results of the Effective Range Target, but it also reinforced in my daughter the confidence that she was safe to shoot to at least 200 yards, and maybe a little more under the right circumstances.
After three days and many blown stalks, we found ourselves paralleling a group of fast-moving pronghorn which at the moment where just out of sight over a slight rise in the topography. I knew we needed to hustle, so when the hill between us ran out, we would be in position for a shot. I had been pushing my daughter for the last 45 minutes, and we were both tired, but I knew we were running out of time. We had one more day left of this hunt, and the weather forecast for the next day was for snow and cold. We needed to make this opportunity work because there might not be another.
At the moment I was doing this mental calculus, a buck sprang out from behind some unseen cover and sprinted out ahead of us and stopped turning broadside, presenting her the perfect shot. At this point things happened fast. As she prepared for the shot, I got a quick range on the buck and knew it was more than 200 yards, but I didn’t have an exact number because my hands were shaking too much to range accurately. She settled in behind her rifle and readied for the shot, I expressed my concern that it was too far. Her response to my unnecessary worry was a cool, “I’ve got this.”
The confidence I heard in her voice stopped me in my tracks. Knowing when to shut up, I grabbed my binos and waited silently for the inevitable shot.
When she fired, I knew she connected, but the buck didn’t just drop. Instead, it took a few steps behind a bush and then just vanished. With the buck out of sight, we looked at each other excited but nervous because neither one of us knew positively if it was down. I marked our location on GPS, and we took the long walk to find this critter. Two hundred sixty-five yards later, we found her first big game animal dead, lying in the bush that hid him from our view where he fell. Hugs, smiles, and two audible sighs of relief followed. We took a few quick pictures and got to work, breaking her trophy down for the cooler.
I am proud of my daughter, and the memories from our hunt together will last a lifetime. A 265-yard shot on a pronghorn and a clean kill for your first big game animal is impressive. I don’t think either one of us would have known she was capable of such a long shot, and I highly doubt she would have even attempted the shot without our experimentation with Effective Range Targets. These targets saved us money but also time. In our case, time was the limiting commodity, and Effective Range Targets enabled us to leverage what little time we had to make our hunt successful, not just with great memories, but with meat in the freezer.