Let’s face it—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 it’s some combination of excitement, jitters and inability to handle the pressure. It’s not a bad thing—if you don’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 time—which I guess is pretty easy to say with nearly 50 years of hunting under my belt—but isn’t particularly helpful to those of you starting out.
In the end, there’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 it’s just a matter of executing what you know. A shot unlike anything you have attempted—whether on the range or in the field—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.
- Jack O’Connor once wrote that animals are just as big moving as standing still. Yes, but hitting running game with a rifle is very difficult. For many of us, a running shot is not a shot at all. There’s a difference between a difficult shot and a shot that shouldn’t be taken, and a moving animal at distance is probably a poke that most of us shouldn’t take. However, a running animal at close range may offer a perfectly ethical shot, as might a moving animal at medium range.
O’Connor spent a lot of time shooting at running jackrabbits with a rifle, and by legend he was hell on wheels on running game. Europeans—who love their driven hunts in which all shots are at moving game—often have “running boar” and “running moose” 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 here’s a secret—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.
I’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 shotgunning—you must swing with the target and keep the rifle moving steadily. Establish your lead, keep swinging and squeeze the trigger. Just don’t stop the rifle. By the way, with a high-velocity centerfire at fairly close range there isn’t much lead required—as long as you don’t stop the rifle.