Long shots

| January 03, 2006

Ready for action. A camoed Wayne Hartford with his 7 millimeter Browning Magnum with fiberglass stock and stainless steel barrell. Note the left-handed bolt.

Thumb tacks.

Tiny little spears used for upholstery, tacking canvas to a picture frame or gently pinning a message to a soft board.

But try to hit one at 200 feet with a rifle.

Wayne Hartford’s father shot them in competition as they were numbered and pushed through a piece of paper and into plywood backing. Hartford learned as a youngster to do the same thing. Now, when the 10-year Covenant Transport veteran driver goes hunting, he is both a hunter and a marksman, and he prefers to shoot most of his game from long distance.

“I started hunting with my dad when I was 15, but I’d been shooting a long while before then,” says Hartford, 58. “My dad used to shoot in competitions. There’d be 20 or so guys show up, and they’d start out shooting at maybe 25 feet, then 50, then 75 and so on. That cut the field down quickly. And they’d keep shooting up to 200 feet or more to get a winner.”

Charles Hartford used a specially built .22 caliber rifle with a long barrel but only a four-power scope. And it was set up to be shot by a left hander. Like his dad, Wayne Hartford is left handed.

“Dad would practice a lot on our back porch. I was born and raised in New Hampshire, and we had nothing behind us but woods, so we could go out there and shoot all day. When we’d practice, the targets were always small, and we’d shoot over distances at them. I was too young for competitions, but shooting became second nature to us. I got pretty good at hitting nickels at 100 yards. Our rifles were set to be accurate at long distances, and they weren’t re-set when we went hunting. So I learned to make 250- or 300-yards shots when I started hunting.”

Distance shooting is a family talent. At a Fourth of July shoot Hartford’s younger brother Scott wanted to shoot, but at 12 years old was too young to enter. His father entered for him, but Scott handled the gun. He won. Years later came a similar incident. When his son Joshua was just 15, Wayne Hartford took him on a hunting expedition to Texas. “There were about 12 of us, and my son shot the highest scoring buck, an eight point, with the smallest rifle, a .223.”

When he was a boy, Hartford and his family re-loaded their own ammunition to save money and learned to shoot straight to save even more. It was a lesson not lost as Hartford aged. When he took to practicing by shooting clay targets, he found a way to make them himself, and unless they took a direct hit he could collect them and use them again. He got good at it, too, hitting in the mid 90s out of a hundred regularly “but never quite getting 100/100.”

But distance shooting held his imagination, and it is a skill that never left him. In the military he was certified as an expert with a rifle up to 1,100 yards.

Another thing has not left him. His father’s hunting rifle. Hartford owns “about 25″ rifles and six pistols, all stored in a safe “as big as a refrigerator, and if we took the ammunition out, we could fit two people in there easy.” (see “Weapons of Choice” on page 37)
Before every hunting season, or after every long break, Hartford checks his rifles to make sure they are calibrated exactly the same way they were the year before. He takes little colored dots, the sort you might see used as price tags, and sticks them on to a target. “When I can hit five of them in a row, the rifle is ready to go,” he says.

Hunting when you plan a shot of 200 yards or more is not the same as the everyday hunting so many Americans enjoy.

“There are a lot of things different,” Hartford says. “In some ways it’s easier because the deer aren’t going to smell you. If you find a good deer trail and have to set up at, say 75 yards, you have to worry they’ll smell you and it limits your choices.”

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