The quote in the title is attributed to William B. (aka Bat) Masterson, lawman, buffalo hunter, and participant in the Battle of Adobe Walls. Supposedly, Masterson was describing the necessary/desirable qualities of a gunfighter. Of these four qualities, Deliberation is the most interesting because it represents a state of mind that appears to have fallen out of use in the modern age.
Many people are determined to “do something”, “make something happen”, “bring about change”, ad infinitum. Almost all of them are victims of the psychological disease called “Instant Gratification Disorder”, so speed is of the utmost importance.
The fallacy of this thinking is the amazing amount of human effort being expended toward various goals while achieving little or nothing in the form of real results. A lack of adequate Deliberation is the overwhelming cause of this failure to achieve results.
Merriam-Webster.com defines the word Deliberation as: “the act of thinking about or discussing something and deciding carefully”
OxfordDictionaries.com expounds further by including “Slow and careful movement or thought.”
Without careful thought and planning the objective of the action, the “What”, we want to do lacks clarity. If the “How” of our action plan is not carefully considered and balanced against our ability to deliver the required effort, the “When” can never be pinned down, and our results cannot be predicted with any certainty. How do we know if we succeeded if we did not know exactly what we wanted to accomplish when we set out?
Why is this important? Because the notion of deliberately placing a single round in a target and “making meat”, as the mountain men used to say, has become something akin to black magic for many shooters. Military snipers, and SWAT marksmen, are held up as being the best of the best shooters on planet Earth, and routinely capable of making shots unattainable by mere mortals. These shooters have talent, no doubt about it, but they start with deliberation and practice. A LOT of practice.
At the beginning of the 1992 version of The Last of the Mohicans starring Daniel Day Lewis the story starts off with Hawkeye, Uncas, and Chingachgook chasing a deer through the forest. Finally, Hawkeye gets ahead of the stag, and unlimbers his flintlock. Taking careful aim, he kills the deer with his one available shot.
Before cartridge firearms became the norm, most guns fired one or two shots before a cumbersome reloading process was required. This meant the shooter had to be careful and take his time making his shot, or he went hungry. He was deliberate even when he was in a hurry.
Unfortunately, the modern substitute for deliberation and practice is high volumes of fire. The problems with this approach are:
- Stray rounds hitting things that should not be shot.
- Wounded animals that suffer and die because
- The poor critter was hit in an area that was not immediately fatal.
- Along with deliberate marksmanship, tracking skills have fallen off the critical skills list for the “ditherers in red jackets” as Jeff Cooper called them.
- An extensive logistics train is required to keep a soldier in the field supplied.
So let’s circle back.
Q: What do we want to do?
A: Place a bullet in a target.
Q: When does it need to happen?
A: Before the target moves out of view. In other words, ASAP.
Q: How will this be done?
A: Now we have to THINK!
- How far away is the target?
- How much will my bullet drop (fall towards the Earth) over that distance?
- How far above the target do I need to hold to compensate for the drop? (This is elevation.)
- How strong is the wind blowing?
- How much will my bullet be blown off course over the distance to the target?
- How much to one side do I need to hold to compensate? (This is windage.)
Now that I have asked the questions, and come up with the answers, I can adjust the place where my sights are looking, and I am ready to press/squeeze the trigger with intention to send the round on its way.
What? You don’t have the answer for half of those questions? In that case, you can count on the hard fact that pumping a whole bushel of bullets at the target is not going to significantly improve your chances of hitting your quarry.
The upside is these factors are not that difficult to come up with based on the simple exercise of sighing in your rifle for a given range and working backwards.
Example: My hunting rifle is a nothing fancy, off the shelf, Ruger M-77 bolt-action 30-06 with a Simmons scope on top. I shoot a 150 grain boat tail bullet as my general purpose hunting load.
My Speer Reloading Manual has ballistics tables in the back that tells me in general terms how my bullet will behave in flight.
When I sight in my rifle, I set the scope so the bullet impacts 2 inches above the center of the target at 100 yards. For my load, 2 inches high at 100 yards should hit the center of the bull’s eye at 200 yards, and be about 8 inches low at 300 yards as the bullet slows down and gravity pulls it earthward.
In the field, I know that deer and hogs both have a vital zone 6 to 8 inches in diameter, so that is the area, I need to put my bullet into to make a clean and humane harvest.
Sighted in 2 inches high means I can aim at the center of the vital area from 1 to 200 yards and my bullet will go where it needs to be. All I have to do is align the sights and squeeze the trigger intentionally.
If the critter is between 200 and 300 yards, I have to hold my crosshairs so the horizontal crosshair is lying along the animal’s spine, and the lower half of the vertical line crosses the vital area, then apply the trigger. In the interest of full disclosure, I have never had to shoot at a game animal that far away. All of my game has been taken at 100 yards or less. This is an explanation of how the mechanics work.
Windage is a bit harder to judge without a tool to measure the wind speed, and some math skills to figure out the deflection. Using my general purpose load, I don’t worry about a crosswind from 1 – 100 yards unless the grass is being blown flat. From 100-200 yards, I would aim into the wind just a bit, and should be close enough to do the job.
My scope reticle looks like this:
The distance between the spot where the wires cross in the center and the point where the lines get fatter represents about 3 inches if I am looking at a target 100 yards away. It covers 6 inches at 200 yards.
If I want to shoot at a target at 300 yards, the fat line starts 9 inches from the cross, so I hold the horizontal line along the critter’s back, and hold the top of the lower fat line (red circle) over the vital zone of my target.
If the wind is coming hard from my right it is going to push my bullet to my left, so I use my knowledge of distance, and my scope to compensate by using point where the left wire gets fat as my aiming point. Keep in mind this type of windage is really only necessary at ranges over 200 yards.
Now I can combine these two techniques to adjust elevation and windage to address targets at ranges over 200 yards. Assuming I have a target from 200 – 300 yards out, and a strong crosswind coming from my right. I end up with my scope reticle looking like it is way off target.
What I am really doing is drawing an imaginary vertical line off the end of the fat horizontal line and an imaginary horizontal line off the lower vertical fat line. Where those imaginary lines cross is approximately where my bullet will hit.
Now that I know all of this, I go out and shoot. A LOT!
If your primary rifle is too expensive to shoot often, you can learn to reload, or you can get a rifle chambered for .22 Long Rifle ammunition that matches your main rifle. Put on a rimfire scope that has the same type of reticle as your main scope.
Now get out there and make every shot DELIBERATELY.