Lessons Learned The Hard Way Are Often Worth Repeating!

HollandBy Darrell Holland
AGI Senior Instructor/Master Gunsmith

and Hunting Guru

The 2009 hunting season was looking pretty grim. I had just built a new .280 Remington on my Signature Series Action and wrapped it with a new adjustable comb rifle stock. I was anxious to “christen” this new rifle, but the tag draws were unkind to me and I was left in the cold with nowhere to hunt. At the urging of a friend, I managed to find some over the counter tags allowing me to hunt. Idaho elk and Wyoming antelope were now on the menu.

The rifle shot pretty well with 168 grain Bergers. They sped along at 2800 fps and fist size groups at 500 yards were com-monplace. I was set. All I needed was a decent shot and meat in the freezer was assured. I created my Holland’s Ultimate Data Card and attached it to the rifle, cleaned the barrel and loaded the rest of my ammunition for the hunt.

I tend to be a little anal retentive when it comes to my rifle. I carry my own rifle, and shy of being a snob, don’t like folks handling my rifle. I handle my rifle as if it were nitroglycerine, carefully and quite protective–kid gloves and cased when not in use. If I knowingly bump the rifle or take a bad fall (Montana 2007), I shoot the rifle to confirm zero and continue the hunt.

The perfectly zeroed .280 went into the rifle case and rode vertical in the back seat of the truck from Powers to Salmon, Idaho. No bumps, no jarring 4×4 roads, nice and easy does it. Having provided such loving care from range to hunt camp without the usual airline baggage handlers, I was confident everything was fine. On the second day of the hunt we spied a nice elk that was easy to get to, and I ventilated him at an easy 356 yards.

Holland49Two days later I was Wyoming bound for antelope. I was going to shoot an antelope between 600-800 yards if possible, given good conditions. Violating my own rule, I neglected to confirm zero upon my arrival in Wyoming. Why bother? The rifle shot great in Idaho, killed a nice elk and was never bumped or handled roughly in between. It rode in the same protective case atop blankets in the back seat of the truck. What could possibly go wrong????

Antelope were quite plentiful, but as many of you know, when you want to shoot one at long range they are always close. We backed off on more than one occasion to get the desired distance, only to have the antelope move or feed out of range. Finally, in the late afternoon we found the shot we were looking for. The range: 875 yards with only a slight breeze. Calculating the wind and drop I was ready to shoot. Inhale, exhale, focus and “ka-boom” the shot broke, hitting the ante­lope in the front of the chest. I shouldn’t have misjudged the wind that bad. Elevation looked good but the wind was off. A few shots later and the rodeo was over.

I should have had an “Edison Moment” about then, but the thought of confirmation never entered my mind. I consoled myself that I had just misjudged the wind and failed to see the conditions for the entire 875 yards. Not until making a second error did I begin to wonder what was going on. Had I lost my wind doping skills? Were the shooting gods trying to tell me something?

Taking a cardboard box from the truck, I set it up at 100 yards and went prone to confirm my zero. Hmmm, a 1.5 MOA “right” error at 100 yards would indeed screw things up at 875 yards. Anger, frustration, bewilderment and several other emotions came to mind. What had happened??? The rifle had kid glove care over the entire journey. What caused the point of impact change?

I guess I’ll never know. But I do know that (hopefully for the last time) I will confirm my zero prior to the hunt like I have done in the past, no matter how confident I am in the rifle’s previous performance.


In the future I feel it is important to have the most rugged, heavy walled scope tube on my rifle. I use Picatinny mounts and rings on most of my rifles and always have the maximum wheel base support for the scope. If I can find the time, I may endeavor to do a torture test as to how much abuse a scope can take before a point of impact change is evident. Scope tubes do flex under firing. Do they have a memory? Did I inadvertently toss my pack on the rifle and jar the scope? Would my disdain for the current administration produce “bad karma” that affected the rifle? Did I pick up a gremlin at that rest stop in Eastern Montana that took refuge in my rifle case? Inquiring minds want to know?

Until then, enjoy a good laugh at my expense!
Respectfully, Darrell Holland

6 Responses to Lessons Learned The Hard Way Are Often Worth Repeating!

  1. That reminds me of the time I had a new scope put on my Savage 110 .270win. I had taken it to a gun shop to have it mounted and bore sighted. The Guy told me that he left the rings slightly loose to allow me to get the eye relief adjusted so I would not get nailed by the scope. When I finally got to the range to zero the scope in I set up a target and then went to the table and went through a couple of shots. I could not tell where in the heck I was hitting! So I tried a another shot. Saw where that hit. and adjusted the scope’s cross-hairs. Fired another shot and it was way off!! WTF!! Why is the rifle not getting on target. I tried a few more shots adjusting between each shot!! I still could not get it to be accurate! Finally I said that is it I am done I am not going to waist a full box of ammo trying to zero the rifle in and not be able to hit the broad side of a barn!! Then when I went to put the scope cross-hair adjuster covers on I realized the scope moved! All of sudden it dawned on me!! “Oh Crap, I forgot to tighten the scope rings down! the gun shop guy told me he left them loose so I could adjust the scope so I would not get dinged by the scope.”

    I have still yet to go back and re-zero in that scope! Why? I had health problems keep me from doing that for several years! I had back issues develop in July 2010, knee surgery January 2013 (partially torn meniscus), then I had weight loss surgery September 2013, and then I had back surgery April 2016.

    • Matthew,

      Good story you tell us here. You’re certainly not alone in this. I too have erred with sighting scopes (and iron sights) and am always trying to learn and be aware of such things that can happen to people like you and Darrell.

      Thanks for the post. Brings back memories of how many hundreds of rounds I sent downrange still without getting things fully resolved with some of my guns sights and scopes. Those were the very early days of shooting and not knowing anything at all about guns. One example: sending out 20+ rounds .308 before fully realizing that the front iron sight assembly was too tall/high to coincide with the rear iron sight. This made the gun unable to shoot high enough. I felt the same way as you describe in your post here Matthew.

      Hope you recover and are able to get on out again to resolve some shooting things and have a pile of fun!


      • I am pretty much fully recovered from those health issues, I just have some minor nagging injuries that come and go from late summer. the one was when I had been kneeling down and went to get up and my hand slipped and caused my thumb to bend backwards, essentially spraining my thumb. Ouch! Then just as I was getting recovered from that and when I was mowing our yard, 3.5 acres with a push mower, the mower’s right front wheel suddenly dug into a mole/vole hole causing the mower to come to a sudden stop, except my right shoulder! OUCH!!! My right shoulder has been nagging me ever since. Then last Monday when I came home from Deer hunting on the first day of PA Deer Season, I went to bend down to pick something up and suddenly my left knee got a very sharp pain in my left knee and I could barely put any weight on my leg. Ugh!! But the next day it felt much better. I went to my Family Doctor Last Friday December 1, 2017 and then had x-rays of both my right shoulder and left knee, they came back as normal. So I am going to physical therapy to help with the shoulder pain and with the knee.

        I did not get out much deer hunting this year due to going to Doctor appointments, taking my mom to doctor appointments and Heavy Fog the other day. Today was the last day of PA Deer Season and of course it had to snow and I woke up late! lol Like I always say: there is always next year/season!

  2. I had to pass on a shot on a whitetail this season because I noticed when I rolled my safety off my target turrets were not on their zeroes. Always better safe than sorry, and if you have exposed turrets ALWAYS check! Mine were over 4 MOA off when I checked it at the range. After shooting a sighter I simply rolled both turrets back to zero and all was right with the world again.

    Thanks for the story. I was bragging on what I consider the underrated 280 with one of my hunting buddies just last week. The handloader in particular can sure get a ton of versatility from that cartridge.

  3. It seems like we all have some WTF moments that are great for telling around the shop after hours.

    In this vein there is one step I have missed multiple times over the years when a friend brings their new scope mounted rifle in to sight it in. We hit the range, use the laser to bring the cross hairs and then switch to live ammunition. 3 shots 3 different POI (Point Of Impact). Usually at this point I realize my error. Always always always check to ensure the scope is tight to the gun….

    On another note, I have a 100 yard range, runs east/west because of the property. To make it easier to find a red dot bore sight laser I have an old road sign mounted to the side. The reflective properties of the sign make finding the POI, Without it, seeing the red dot at that distance is difficult to near impossible.