August 24, 2021
Growing up, we sighted in our rifles an inch and a half high at 100 yards. This rough calculation meant we were dead-on at two hundred yards and six to eight inches low at 300 yards. Anything beyond that was probably too far to shoot and we never gave it much thought. Fast forward 20 years and most western big game hunters are toting around some variation of a “long-range” rifle. 300 yards is now a chip shot and anything inside 700 yards is well within range. So, what changed?
The primary culprit is the rapid advancements in our gear. Rangefinders that calculate bullet trajectory, turreted riflescopes, high ballistic coefficient bullets and meticulously built rifles combine to allow precision shooting at previously unheard-of distances. Whether shooting a whitetail 100 yards across a soybean field or settling your crosshairs on a high-country muley 500 yards across the basin, the ability to make a precisely placed shot is a valuable asset in your personal hunting arsenal.
Just because you own a fancy “long-range” rifle that’s capable of shooting extreme distances does not mean that you should. Far too often hunters head into the field with a false sense of confidence knowing what the rifle is capable of but lacking the personal skills to execute the shot. Becoming a proficient precision shooter takes time and practice. Here are a few tips to help get you on track to becoming a better shooter and, subsequently, a more successful hunter.
All About the Rest
No matter the distance, building a solid rest is the number one variable that a shooter must master when attempting a precision-type shot. Armed with a capable rifle and given a good rest, a hunter can precisely place their bullet at extreme distances.
Depending on your shooting position, you will need to adapt to your surroundings when building a solid rest. Low tree branches, rocks and dirt mounds can often supply front support when shooting sticks or a bipod are unavailable. Rear support is equally as important as front support when taking a precise shot. When sitting or kneeling, tuck your pack under the armpit of your trigger arm. This supplies ample rear support to a less than ideal shooting position. When a prone shot is possible, support the front of the rifle with a well-made bipod and tuck your pack or a lightweight shooting bag under the rear of the stock. This combination provides the closest thing to a bench rest in the field.
In a perfect world, all shots would be executed from a prone position, but that is rarely the case when hunting. Having the ability to adapt and make a precise shot from any position will exponentially increase your odds of success. When using shooting sticks from a standing or sitting position, square up to the sticks and lean into them. When possible, have your hunting guide or partner lean into you. This will give you another solid point of contact to steady your cross-hairs. This skill requires practice and a lot of trial and error but is crucial in making precision shots in hunting scenarios.
Understanding the effects wind will have on your point of impact is an extremely valuable skill to have, but it's one of the tougher ones to master. Inside 300 yards, anything less than a 15-mph wind will have a negligible effect on your bullet’s point of impact. Once you get beyond that distance, any amount of wind can drastically impact the flight of your bullet. Modern gear advancements allow us to know the exact speed the wind is blowing at our position, but that is only half of the equation. The wind is constantly changing the direction and speed between you and your target. The only way to become proficient at shooting in the wind is to practice—a lot. Once understood, the ability to make a precise shot in the wind is a game-changer.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Practice can feel repetitive, but it is the only way you will become a better precision shooter. Once you have verified your rifle’s zero on the bench, practice from a multitude of different shooting positions and scenarios that you may face when hunting. Also, practice shooting at longer distances of 500+ yards. This makes most real-world hunting shots a walk in the park.
The thrill of the hunt is getting as close as possible and outsmarting a mature animal on their own turf. In most scenarios, this puts you well within 300 yards. With that said, there are three arguments why having the skill set to execute a precise shot at any distance can make you a better hunter.
1. Long Follow-up Shot
We strive to make our first shot count, but things, unfortunately, don’t always go as planned. A wounded animal will often run several hundred yards and stop. If you have the confidence and skill level to execute a precise shot at further distances, then you can put the animal down quickly and save yourself a long track job.
2. Practice, Practice, Practice
Good opportunities are fleeting and can lead to more than a little chaos in the heat of the moment. If you are proficient with your weapon and its abilities, then making a precise shot in the moment of truth becomes second nature.
3. Close as You Can
Despite your best efforts, especially when hunting the vast landscapes of the west, it can be impossible to close the distance inside 300 yards. When this is the case, the ability to make that long shot can mean the difference between tag soup and a trophy of a lifetime.
I ran into this exact scenario on a recent mule deer hunt in Idaho. After getting as close as possible while staying undetected, the distance between me and the big buck was still beyond 500 yards. Because of my confidence in my rifle and prior practice, I knew I could make the shot if I had a solid rest. My Spartan Precision Javelin Bipod steadied the front of my rifle while I tucked my pack under the butt of the stock for rear support. When the buck stood up for a mid-day stretch, I settled the crosshairs and squeezed the trigger. The 190-grain Berger Hybrid launched out of my 30 Nosler, centering the buck's shoulder and dropping the biggest buck of my life.
All your hard work and preparation is for naught if you can’t make your shot count when the moment of truth arrives. Additionally, we owe it to the animals we pursue to kill them as quickly and humanely as possible. The ability to execute a precisely placed shot when hunting satisfies both of these prerequisites resulting in quick clean kills and a full freezer.