Hunting season is right around the corner, and you’re gonna need skills. Here are three skills to train for so you’ll have a more successful time afield.
A timeless sport—hunting and pursuing big game—entices many of us.
Between the time spent waiting for hunting season to start and the money we spend on licenses, travel and equipment, we should arrive prepared for the moment of the shot. Not to have trained for that moment would be a shameful waste of time and money—not to mention the risk of a wounded/lost animal.
Because I am a police officer, competitive shooter and whitetail deer hunter, I know there are certain skills necessary for long-gun success. You should know how to run your gun and keep it running; manipulation skills should be systematic and pre-programed. Making quick shots from off-hand positions instills confidence in your rifle and yourself. Creating a hasty, supported position when you have a little time to make the best-shot possible can get you that trophy you’ve dreamt of.
Here are three skills to work on toward proficiency in order to increase your success rates.
While stalking or merely walking to a hunting spot, a shot could present itself. Don’t be caught off guard and unskilled should that opportunity arise. Being skilled at making quick shots accurately is essential.
However you carry your rifle—elbow carry, trail carry, two-hand ready, cradle carry or sling carry—practice getting your gun into action, pointed downrange and on target. You should also think about what distances you are likely to have to make a quick off-handed shot.
On your own or with a friend, practicing can be as simple or complex as you want it to be. Simple targets, such as a sheet of cardboard with an 8-inch paper plate stapled to it, is sufficient. The 8-inch paper plate is a good approximation of the vital area for deer and larger game, and the large cardboard backer shows how far off you are if you miss.
Choose a carry position and a distance. On your own command, a friend’s command or timer signal, practice getting your gun into action: Shouldered, on target, safety off … make the shot. Practice each distance for eight to 10 repetitions.
No more than one or two misses is acceptable, and that depends on how far off target they are. It also matters if you called the miss or if you have no idea what happened.
Try this drill from 50 yards to about 125 yards out and move in increments of 10 or 15 yards. You can go closer or farther, depending on your skill level and competence.
Knowing how to use your environment to brace for a precise shot makes sense. Whether it’s a hasty position or slow methodical position, you need to have the skills to get locked in and on the target for the most ethical kill. If there’s enough time to “scope-out” a particular animal, there’s certainly enough time to brace up to make a good shot.
Shots as close as 50 yards can be missed due to “buck fever,” and getting solid hits with advantageous body placement from a support doesn’t happen without practice. As distances increase, you will want more support and to get closer to the ground. Standing, high-kneeling or two knees are positions that all can benefit from support. Kneeling (with your butt resting on your foot) and seated positions don’t [[require]] external support, but it can only help to have it. However, you need to practice shooting from these positions before the hunt.
If you have woods to shoot in, you’re lucky. Shoot from the right side and the left side of a tree. Knowing how to place your hand to create support on both sides of the tree is mandatory, because you might not get the opportunity to shoot from your favorite side of a tree. Foot placement can aid in managing recoil to view impact, as well as to track an animal you hit.
In the absence of a supportive structure, there are always seated and “front-knee-up” supported kneeling options. Knowing how to drop down to these positions is important, but understanding how to use your limbs (legs and arms) to increase or decrease elevation is important in wild country. Up hill, down hill and shots in tall scrub will dictate the final firing position.
Bolt-Action Gun Skills
Modern sporting rifles are more present than ever in hunting today, but much of big-game hunting is still done with bolt-action rifles.
Having good bolt-action skills is an art. Working a bolt gun while maintaining a sight picture and tracking a target is something that many don’t do well. Shooters firing bolt guns, even from a rested or prone position, often lift their head off the stock and away from the optic every time they work the bolt.
More than just keeping the rifle mounted and in your shoulder when working the bolt, you need to stay on the gun for multiple reasons. Firing at game that is far off or in a busy, cluttered background requires sight to track your quarry after a hit.
If a miss happens, you might get a chance to send another round and make a correction based on what you saw in the optic reference to the impact. Don’t shoot at a trophy and lose sight of it in recoil. You might have to reacquire it by backing off the magnification. Remember: The field of view gets smaller the higher we turn up the magnification. Increase the chance of success by managing your rifle correctly.
Train for It
Training with long guns for hunting or competing involves way more than zeroing and firing from bench rests and prone positions. Long guns are fun, and training with them can be even more fun if you use your imagination.
So, get out this fall and work on your snap shooting, being sure to keep it in the vitals. Practice hasty shots, supported positions and bolt-gun skills, and you’ll end up being a well-rounded long-gun operator who is ready for the field.
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the September 2018 print issue of Gun World Magazine.