Letâ€™s face itâ€”big game animals present large target areas, so how is it that we miss? A big part of it is plain old buck fever. This has different manifestations, but itâ€™s some combination of excitement, jitters and inability to handle the pressure. Itâ€™s not a bad thingâ€”if you donâ€™t get excited in the presence of game then you really should be doing something else. But you should be able to control the shakes long enough to get the shot off. Learning how to do so is mostly a matter of experience. It does get easier over timeâ€”which I guess is pretty easy to say with nearly 50 years of hunting under my beltâ€”but isnâ€™t particularly helpful to those of you starting out.
In the end, thereâ€™s no substitute for practice. All shots are easier when you are simply doing what you know you know how to do. At that point itâ€™s just a matter of executing what you know. A shot unlike anything you have attemptedâ€”whether on the range or in the fieldâ€”is daunting. So practice often and be creative with the types of shots you train for. Get away from the bench and shoot from as many positions as you can dream up. Spend a lot of time with .22s. All shooting is good practice for at least some hunting situations. That said, some situations are more difficult than others. Here are a few hot tips to train for hunting’s toughest shots.
Oâ€™Connor spent a lot of time shooting at running jackrabbits with a rifle, and by legend he was hell on wheels on running game. Europeansâ€”who love their driven hunts in which all shots are at moving gameâ€”often have â€śrunning boarâ€ť and â€śrunning mooseâ€ť targets to practice on.
Unfortunately not all of us have jackrabbits in our backyards, and rifle targets on a track are rare in North America. Running shots are extremely difficult without practice. But hereâ€™s a secretâ€”hitting a moving animal with a rifle is really more like shotgunning than the precise aiming most rifle shooting requires. So spend some time shooting clay targets.
Iâ€™m more of a trapshooter, but because of the hard crossing angles skeet and sporting clays are probably more useful. In many ways hitting moving game with a rifle is exactly the same as shotgunningâ€”you must swing with the target and keep the rifle moving steadily. Establish your lead, keep swinging and squeeze the trigger. Just donâ€™t stop the rifle. By the way, with a high-velocity centerfire at fairly close range there isnâ€™t much lead requiredâ€”as long as you donâ€™t stop the rifle.
Shooting at such distances is simply beyond what many of us should attempt. However, when I was a kid in the pre-rangefinder eraâ€”with inferior rifles, ammo and optics compared to what we have todayâ€”400 yards was a very long poke. Today that distance should be attainable provided the wind isnâ€™t crazy and you have time to set up.
But hereâ€™s the dealâ€”you canâ€™t shoot confidently at 400 yards if you do all your practice at a standard 100-yard rifle range. Period. To shoot at distance in the field you simply must shoot at distance on the range. Ideally this should happen at real, actual, and full distance, but if you can practice at 200 yards you can go somewhat beyond that in the field.
If you can practice at 300 yards, then you should be good to 400â€”provided you understand your cartridgeâ€™s trajectory. If you can gain access to a 400-yard rifle range, even better. But donâ€™t do all that shooting from the bench, because that wonâ€™t do you any good in the field. Practice shooting at distance over your pack, from a bipod or from prone and sitting positions.
Any shot at a distance longer than youâ€™ve ever shot is frighteningly difficult, but if youâ€™ve practiced at that distance from a similar position, then itâ€™s just a matter of taking a few deep breaths, calming yourself and implementing what you know how to do.
Remember, game animals offer large targets. You donâ€™t need to worry about it unless you have a incredibly steep angle, considerable distance or both. I do carry a range card that gives a percentage of correctionâ€”and I have used itâ€”but most of the time this is something you should keep in the back of your head, not foremost on your mind.
Wind is another story. Wind is serious, and as range increases itâ€™s the major factor in the decision to shoot or not. Do you know the effect it has on your bullet, and can you read the windâ€”not just where you are, but at the target and between you and the target? If the answer is â€śnoâ€ť and you have anything more than a light breeze, you canâ€™t shoot.
The only real way to learn how to shoot in wind is to actually do it. Long ranges with range flags are great teachers, but watch the grass and the mirage as well as the flags. The best teacher of all is the prairie dog. Itâ€™s almost always windy on the prairie, and if you can hit a 3x9-inch prairie dog in the wind, you can surely hit a deer, elk or ram. For some, itâ€™s just as easy to plan an off-season western varmint shoot as it is to find a 500-yard rifle range. Think about that as one of your training options.
Fast shots are never easy, and a fleeting opportunity at distance probably isnâ€™t an opportunity at all. You always want time to get into the steadiest position possible, but sometimes it just isnâ€™t there. A standing or offhand shot at game is the last resort, always to be avoided. But sometimes thatâ€™s all there is.
So although this is the last position you want to use in the field, you should practice offhand shooting at least as much as the other positions. Within 100 yards on a deer-sized target you should be able to raise your rifle and place your shotâ€”though many of us canâ€™t do that at half the distance. Practice offhand shooting and practice fast alternatives like dropping to one knee and quickly using shooting sticks.
Second, do the best you can to get in shape and stay in shape. All shots are difficult when youâ€™re out of breath. Iâ€™ll be honestâ€”I was a runner for 40 years, but I donâ€™t run much anymore. Instead I do a lot of hiking and cardio stuff at the gym. Do what you can and when youâ€™re hunting, stop and get your breath before you crest a ridgeâ€”not when you top out.
Finally, understanding that all too many of us have limited access to varied field-like ranges, consider formal training courses. There are a number of great shooting schools out there that have good instructors andâ€”equally importantâ€”field ranges that will help you with distance, wind and how to get steady. Shooting practice is really a lifelong commitment, but a crash course with good instructors will give you a wonderful head start.