Bullet control

"He's going to come out of the bushes over there," whispered my
guide, pointing at a clump of junipers about 100 yards away across a deep

We were stalking wild boar in the beautiful California Coastal
Range near Coalinga, on a 40,000-acre ranch associated with Turk Station
Lodge (www.turkstationlodge.com), one of the nicest hunting lodges in

I held the 7mm rifle ready, peering through the scope at the
opening. Suddenly, a black, muscular form emerged from a thicket, moving at
a remarkably rapid pace for such a steep slope.

You do not shoot randomly
at a wild boar and expect to kill it. Wild boar are the armored tanks of
wild game. A thick cartilaginous sheath up to two inches thick grows along
the spine and fore-quarters. The skull is like an armored plate. The skeletal
bones seem massive. Despite being the size of a small bear, the kill zone
on a big pig is about the size of a football, right behind the foreleg. That's about the only place where there is not something protecting
the pig's vitals.

I finally got the boar in my sights as it reached the crest of the ridge. It stood
there silhouetted against the golden evening sky — about 120 yards away,
looking right me, standing broadside. I could have shot, but I passed, in
part because I recalled a recent event that reminded me of the distance a
bullet can travel.

A near miss

Last month, several employees at George Lucas' Oscar-winning special
effects company, Industrial Light and Magic in San Rafael, California, were
standing outside on a mid-morning coffee break. Suddenly one of the
men felt sharp pain in his arm, then another on his head. He checked
himself and found bruises and welts, but no immediate visible cause. (Invisible attackers… sounds like the start of a great special effects movie, doesn't it?)

It turns out that in this
case the cause of the man's pains was very real. They were stray
bullets from a shooting range near San Quentin prison, about a
mile away.

Neither bullet pierced the skin, but when San Rafael police began to
inspect the area they found 12 to 15 spent lead slugs on the ground nearby — all from a 9mm semi-automatic pistol, which is standard gear for most law
enforcement officers.

Range administrators told the Marin Independent Journal that eight U.S.
Park police officers and three instructors were training on the range at
the time. Lt. David
Johnson of the San Rafael Police Department said that this was the first
time in at least 10 years that any such incident involving stray bullets
from the range had been reported. Let's hope it's the last.

One of the San Quentin ranges is visible from the road. The targets are
lined up against a hill that must rise 100 feet above the line of fire. On
the other side of that hill there are a few buildings and then a marshy
section of San Francisco Bay, which ultimately becomes dry land again near
a complex of buildings that begins with a Home Depot store. A few
hundred yards farther sits the Industrial Light and Magic complex
of Lucasfilm Ltd.

From the top of the ridge by the San Quentin range, it seems like a long
way to ILM's parking lot, but consider the statistics (see sidebar, above) on the
maximum range of ammunition provided by the California Rifle and Pistol
Association (www.crpa.org/).

Anyone who has a hunting license should know about the zone of danger from
his or her firearms. In all 50 states people are required to take a class in Hunter
Education to get a license, and that class contains specific material on
maximum distances that bullets can travel.

Even with the best instruction, when someone says that a bullet can travel a certain distance, it's not easy to judge just how far that may be.
Here's one way: In an open area mark a starting point, get in your car
and start driving. When you've traveled as far as the bullets from your gun
can carry, stop and look back. Fix that distance in your mind and carry it
around as a reminder whenever you consider shooting.

A deer, wild boar or an elk standing on the ridgetop may make a great
photograph, but it's not a safe shot for a rifle, unless you know for
certain what lies on the other side for at least three miles. Those
animals standing on ridgetops, silhouetted by the setting sun, make great
memories. And those are some of the best trophies that a hunter can ever
take home.

James Swan is the author of the book "In Defense of Hunting."

To purchase a copy visit his website.