March 25, 2021
By Brad Fitzpatrick
Despite reports that shows hunter numbers have declined over the last several decades, obtaining a tag can still be a real challenge. This is particularly true in 2020 when quarantine and work-from-home orders have seen hunting license sales and draw applications increase in states like Colorado and Idaho.
While this increase in hunters has been good for the sport and industry, it has led to lower draw odds and limited hunting opportunities in some areas. In many instances, scoring a tag to hunt the species, season, and unit you’re after is tougher than actually locating game.
One way to improve your odds of drawing in any given year is by applying for special short-range weapons tags – if offered in the state you wish to hunt – instead of the popular general rifle seasons. Many states – including my home state of Ohio – offer special firearms seasons specifically for primitive or short-range weapons. Ohio isn’t the only state where taking advantage of short-range or primitive weapons seasons can work to your advantage. In many western states, draw odds increase if you apply for muzzleloader, handgun or crossbow seasons. In some states, like Idaho and Alaska, there are specified short-range weapon hunts that offer access to areas of the state which are closed to rifle hunters.
For most of us, the dream of drawing a tag for elk in Arizona or a bighorn sheep in Wyoming during rifle season simply isn’t realistic. However, if you are willing to use short-range weapons like crossbows, handguns, muzzleloaders, air rifles or shotguns, you can put a tag in your pocket. In Colorado, for instance, hunters can draw muzzleloader hunts with fewer points than are required to draw general rifle hunts in premium areas. As a bonus, the state’s muzzleloader season is in the middle of the rut and prior to general rifle season. Idaho pronghorn tags are another notoriously difficult draw, but applying for short-range weapon hunts can significantly increase your odds of being selected. In some instances, applying for these short-range weapon hunts is the only mathematical chance you have of ever drawing some coveted big game tags.
Improving Your Short Game
In truth, labeling muzzleloaders, handguns, shotguns and crossbows short-range weapons is something of a misnomer. Modern machining technology, improved mechanical designs, and better bullets and powders are some of the reasons you can extend the effective range of your muzzleloader, air rifle – which are now legal for big game in states like Kentucky – handgun, or crossbow well beyond what was possible just a few years ago. But regardless of the short-range weapon you select, you must be certain that you choose the right optic.
Red-dot reflex sights, like those available from Aimpoint, are a popular choice for all short-range weapons, and with good reason. At ranges out to 100 yards or so there’s simply no better optic for hunters than a reflex sight. Reflex sights like the Aimpoint H30S and Micro H-2 are perfect for short to medium-range applications because they offer a wide field of view and, unlike magnified optics, they are parallax free and offer unlimited eye relief. Red-dot sights allow shooters to rapidly get on target – which is why so many competitive shooters and dangerous-game guides rely on nothing else – and as generations of European hunters have proven, there’s simply nothing better for making accurate shots on moving animals than a red dot.
All Aimpoint red-dot sights, from the compact ACRO to the larger 9000L and H34L, are built with the finest materials and offer unmatched durability suitable for any field conditions. These optics are impervious to rain and can withstand the recoil of slug-loaded shotguns and magnum muzzleloaders. Battery life is measured in years instead of days or hours, so there’s no need to worry about a loss of power preventing you from taking a shot at a once-in-a-lifetime trophy. Aimpoint’s optics are built with quality components for maximum light transmission and superb clarity, and their adjustable dots instantly conform to match ambient light conditions.
One reason so many hunters select red dot optics for their short-range weapons is that reflex sights are more compact and weigh considerably less than traditional scopes. I’m a passionate handgun hunter, but I’ve ditched my handguns with magnified optics. Why? Because red dot sights offer a lighter, easier-to-mount alternative to magnified pistol optics for about the same price. My last handgun scope added nearly a pound of weight to my handgun, and the scope measured nearly 10 inches long. The added weight was a burden, and the optic limited holster options and reduced field of view. With handgun manufacturers like Smith & Wesson and Taurus offering more hunting revolver models with rails that make mounting red-dot sights fast, simple and secure, there’s little doubt that reflex sights will be the optic of choice for handgun hunters going forward.
Similarly, muzzleloader, air rifle, shotgun and crossbow hunters are turning toward reflex sights for many of the same reasons that handgun hunters are adopting them. For shots under 200 yards, reflex sights give up little to magnified optics with regard to accuracy. In most instances, shooters can fire their shotgun, crossbow, muzzleloader or handgun just as accurately with a red dot as they can with a magnified optic – and much more accurately than with open iron sights – without having the added bulk and burden of a magnified scope.
Aimpoint optics are durable enough to pull duty on just about any short-range weapon, and their robust mounting systems allow them to be quickly transitioned from one firearm to another. Magnified optics don’t enjoy that same versatility because of eye-relief issues. But, a single Aimpoint optic can perform on your turkey shotgun in the spring and your crossbow, muzzleloader or handgun in the fall.
If you aren’t hunting with short-range weapons, you are missing opportunities at game. While selecting whether a muzzleloader, handgun, crossbow, shotgun or muzzleloader is the best short-range option for your state requires some research, choosing the right reflex optic for your short-range weapon is simple: Go with an Aimpoint sight.
The Essentials Gear Box.
Our editors have hand-picked these essential pieces of gear to make you a more successful hunter when you hit the game trails this season.