A lot of guys will go out and buy a gun and head for the woods. The factory bore-sights all rifles mechanically, but I've seen plenty of brand new guns that won't even hit a target at 50 or 100 yards," May said.
The rifle that won't hit a 30-inch target at 100 yards will not kill a deer at 200. The best it's likely to do is wound one, and that's the last thing a sport hunter wants.
To avoid just such an undesirable end, at least two rod and gun clubs in the area are sponsoring sighting-in days over the next couple of weekends, both open to the public. Experts will be on hand to help out with the fine tuning.
But none is likely to be as expert as May, who has been working at Clark Brothers, the busiest gun shop in Northern Virginia, since he was 13 years old. He became the sighting-in man nine years ago, almost by default.
"As much as these guns kick, most of the other guys didn't want to do it."
This time of year, May sights in about 30 rifles a week, half with scopes and half with iron sights. He helps do-it-yourself customers with countless more.
Doing it yourself generally means burning up a box or more of bullets. May can generally get the job done with six shots, never more than eight.
Here are some of May's hints on sighting in.
Start at short range, never more than 25 feet. If you have a bolt action, pull out the bolt and sight the bull's eye through the barrel. Then line up your scope or sights-on the bull.
If you're using a scope, once you get a good pattern at 25 yards move directly to 100 yards. With iron sights, pattern in again at 50 yards before moving to 100.
Use two rests, if you can, one about halfway up the barrel and one under the butt of the rifle.
Your adjustments will be much more severe at close range than at 100 yards. Twelve or fourteen clicks on a scope adjustment are not unusual for corrections of a few inches at 25 yards.
Never try to pattern a gun when the barrel is hot. If it's overheated, a rifle that's capable of a two-inch pattern at 100 yards will give you six-inch patterns.
Most ranges only go up to 100 yards, but many hunters want to zero in their guns for 200-yard shots. Check the ballistics tables for the ammunition you are using. They will tell you how many inches the bullet will drop from 100 to 200 yards. Make a dot that distance above the bull's eye on your target and zero in at that dot at 100 yards for a perfect 200-yard sighting in.
With all his experience in zeroing rifles, May has some specific views on what is best. Tops on his accuracy list are bolt-actionrifles along the lines of the .243 cal. Remington 788. "It's one of the cheapest bolt actions and one of the most accurate," he said.
Next on the accuracy scale are pumps or lever actions and after that come automatics, which May disparagingly refers to as "spray guns."
Clark Brothers has a free range in back of the shop for use with ammunition bought at the store. If you don't want to do it yourself, May will sight in a rifle for $8.
The two local clubs that are holding public sighting-in days are the Wildlife Achievement Chapter of the Izaak Walton League in Damascus, Md., and the Prince William Rod & Gun Club in Woodbridge, Va.
The Damascus club has programs today and next weekend. Hours are 10 a.m. to dark Saturdays and 11 to dark Sundays at the club range off Mulinix Mill Road. The fee is $2 per rifle. Call Dr. C. P. Chaconas at 588-7224 for details.
The Prince William Club's hours are 1 to 5 p.m. today, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and 1 to 5 p.m. next Sunday. Fee is $2.50. Phone 494-4546, 494-6604 or 979-2990 for further information.
Other clubs undoubtedly are running similar programs, but most are only open weekends. Call the one in your area today for details.
Mitch May has sighted in so many deer rifles over the last 10 years that he doesn't even have to stop chewing, spitting or talking to get it right.
That's fortunate, because this time of year, May has more work than he knows what to do with. Deer season is just 15 days off in Virginia and Clark Brothers Sporting Goods in Warrenton, where May is the chief zero-in man, is getting to look a lot like Safeway the day before Thanksgiving.
Sighting in is one of the annual rites of passage for the people who look on game as a significant part of their lives and their diets. May, like any good hunter, has little use for gun-lingers who take to the [WORD ILLLEGIBLE] without checking to see if their weapons shoot straight.