The price and scarcity of ammunition suggests we shoot less, yet to be effective hunters we should practice shooting more. We can do both by practicing smart.
Most hunters practice shooting by sitting on a bench and punching 10 or 20 holes in paper or standing and plinking away at cans, rocks or clays stuck in the dirt. Fun, but not very effective.
Effective shooting practice saves ammunition and maximizes learning and training with each shot. Here are 10 tricks used by pros:
1. Visualize the shot. You don’t even need a rifle in hand for this. Just spend time running through your head all the little steps you need to make each shot count. For example: Spot deer. Estimate range or employ laser. Check surroundings for steadiest position. Assume position. Check scope power setting. Place rifle on shooting sticks, over boulder or limb, etc. Keep both eyes open while pointing rifle at target until it’s acquired. Breath in, exhale while reticle settles behind shoulder. Squeeze, squeeze—bang.
2. Dry fire. Unloaded gun, double checked, ammo locked away. Dummy (snap-cap) cartridge inside. Go through the above scenario with the rifle and click the firing pin. Observe how the crosshair moves when you shoot. It shouldn’t. If it jumps significantly, you might be flinching. If you didn’t see it, you’re closing your eyes. Dry fire from all your field positions, not just standing. (See a more detailed post about dry firing right here.)
3. In the field, set goals for each shot. Example: I will take one shot at a standing deer from 75 yards, one while sitting from 200 yards, one prone at 300 yards, one sitting with shooting sticks from 325 yards, one 400-yard shot while sitting with sticks and back against my pack.
4. Take a moment to think through each shot before beginning, memorizing the steps you will take to be smooth and efficient. Range target, assume position, acquire target, exhale, squeeze …
5. Call your shots. “That went left. I pushed that one low.” Check your call against the bullet hole in the target.
6. Have a partner watch you. They should check for flinching, closing your eyes, slapping the trigger and other mistakes. If no partner, try setting up a video camera/phone on a tripod and watch the playback.
7. Memorize your trajectory tables and how they work with your sighting system. If you use Maximum Point Blank Range, test how effectively it puts bullets into game-sized targets at all distances. If using a ballistic reticle or turrets, study them before going afield, and then take the time to make sure they’re working properly and you fully understand how to use them before continuing.
8. If you’re shooting poorly, stop. Think. Figure out what’s wrong before wasting more ammo. Go back to dry firing or have a partner load your rifle behind your back. Drop the hammer on an empty chamber and you’ll quickly feel if you’re flinching. Cure this before continuing. A flincher will never improve his shooting. You must stop the flinch.
9. Shoot a .22 rimfire. Nothing is better for learning trigger control. No recoil. No flinch. Less than 10 cents a shot.
10. Forget rapid fire. Make the first shot count. You can work on manipulating the action later. More game is missed due to a poor first shot than any inability to get off rapid follow-up shots.