April 12, 2023
By Colton Heward
The wintery mix that has had a tight grip across much of our great country is finally starting to dissipate and glimpses of a promising spring are on the horizon. Many hunters have been suffering from cabin fever, myself included, for several months and are chomping at the bit to get out and pursue love-sick turkeys and emerging bruins. Those spring hunts satisfy the itch for most, but then what do we do as we impatiently wait for the leaves to change and fall hunts to open up? The spring and summer are the perfect time of year to hone your marksmanship skills. Doing so will give you the upper hand this fall when you are settling your crosshairs on the buck or bull of your dreams.
Although my wife constantly reminds me that I have no off-season, here are some of my favorite things to do during the spring and summer months that will prepare you to execute a precise shot this fall.
Load Development/Ammunition Testing
If you had subpar terminal performance from a bullet last year or are just looking to increase the accuracy results out of your rifle, the off-season is the perfect time to find a new load. Luckily, ammunition is becoming more readily available, and chances are that you have more options for bullet selection this coming season than you have had the last couple of years. Take this opportunity to purchase a few different ammunition options or, if you are a handloader, load up a few different bullets and head to the range. I guarantee you that there is one or two loads that your rifle will have a sweet tooth for and shoot better than the rest. Figuring out what your rifle shoots best will better prepare you for this coming fall as well as provide some much-needed time behind the trigger.
Participate in NRL/PRS Type Match
Shooting matches have grown in popularity in recent years—with good reason. Many competitors are strictly target shooters. However, there is a growing population of competitive shooters that take the opportunity to compete in these matches to prepare them for executing precision shots under pressured situations in the fall. Both PRS and NRL matches allow hunters the opportunity to shoot targets at a wide range of distances as well as from just about every shooting position you could imagine, and probably some you had never even thought of. A quick google search will open your eyes to the wide range of matches available across the country. Chances are you probably have more than one happening this off season within an hour or two drive from home.
Throw your favorite deer rifle in the truck and hit the road in search of the plethora of vermin that are spread across the landscape. Varmints provide incredible, experience to practice for this upcoming fall. Prairie dogs and ground squirrels are great and often provide barrel-burning action, but rock chucks have slowly become my favorite varmint to pursue in the off-season. Rarely will you shoot as many rock chucks as you would prairie dogs, but hunting these cagey vermin reminds me of spot and stalk mule deer hunting. A typical day of rock chuck hunting involves time behind the glass to locate them and then a stalk to get into position. From there, you will be forced to execute a shot in a hunting scenario that undoubtedly will help keep your marksmanship skills sharp for this coming hunting season.
Simply going to the range to shoot can become a monotonous task hence why most hunters don’t do it very often. I suggest making your range time more meaningful and gear it towards making you a better shooter in the field as opposed to from the bench. I do not want to detract from the importance of bench time: It’s perfect for refreshing shooting mechanics. But, once you have those mechanics down, take your shooting sticks to the range and practice shooting off of them. Take things one step further and, at ranges that allow it, take a mat and practice shooting prone off a bipod. Anything that you can do to increase your proficiency and confidence out of a field shooting position will make you a better marksman.
Repetition is a key component to becoming a proficient. With the rising cost of ammunition, the repetition needed to become a deadeye might cost an arm and a leg. One way to overcome this obstacle is grabbing a scoped rimfire and taking it into the field. The cost of ammunition is much cheaper, and you are still able to practice shot execution in a hunting scenarios. The skills that you gain with your favorite rimfire rifle will directly carry over to your ability to shoot centerfire rifles this coming hunting season.
Don’t be the guy that shows up to the gun range to check his rifles zero the week before the season. We owe it to the animals that we pursue to put them down as quickly and cleanly as possible, and that process starts during the off-season.
The Essentials Gear Box.
Our editors have hand-picked these essential pieces of gear to make you a more successful hunter when you hit the game trails this season.