January 09, 2012
Confessions of a Mediocre Shot, and Some Notes on How to Get Better - 2
Looking back at last deer season I have concluded that I’m not all that good a shot. In fact, I’m not even close to being a good shot. Sure, I killed most of what I shot at but I also did some God-awful sloppy shooting. I wounded and lost a whitetail at 65 yards and made a marginal shot on a very nice buck at slightly over 200 yards. I recovered that buck but I'm not proud of the shot.
That’s why I was excited to meet shooting guru Jim Sessions on a recent Connecticut hunt. Jim is well known as one of the most knowledgeable long distance shooters in the country and appears regularly on “The Best of the West” TV show where he and many of the other routinely take animals at ranges of out to 750 yards. Jim also heads up Huskemaw Long Range Optics, which specialize in building scopes designed for long-range hunting.
My interest in meeting Jim had nothing to do with shooting long range. I’ve never been a fan of long range shooting at game animals. I’m an old school guy when it comes to shooting and prefer to take my shots within my effective range with bow and gun. Trouble is, my effective range has shrunk so much I may as well be shooting a sling shot.
It was time to open my mind and begin learning about this long-range shooting stuff. More and more hunters are getting into long-range shooting gear so there must be something to it.
A half hour into our conversation the lights started to come on. Another half hour later I was well on my way to long-range shooting rehab. Here's what I've learned so far...
If you don’t know you have a problem, you can’t fix it
Get good equipment and learn how to use it
Most modern factory rifles will shoot 1-inch groups
Sure it’s nice to have a custom gun or a world-class Cooper rifle with a special trigger job or a muzzle brake or any of the other tricks that gunsmiths do to make guns shoot better, but most modern rifles are plenty good out of the box for what most hunters would call long-range shooting.
Optics are key
These specialized long distance scopes do everything but whisper “take him” in your ear. With them you can estimate range, compensate for wind drift and most importantly hold dead on the animal you are shooting. Best of all, they are easy to use even for a technically challenged wanna-be shooter like myself.
According to the guys who shoot these things all the time, the key is designing a turret system which is both precise and easy to use. Some optics manufacturers use standard ballistics charts to develop theirs, Huskemaw develops them specifically for the gun, load (velocity), and bullet you will be shooting. They even take altitude and temperature into account. I guess that makes a difference when you are really stretching out there and some of their customers order multiple turrets for the same gun in order to accommodate different loads and/or bullets and elevations.
I was absolutely blown away by what these long range scopes were capable of and vowed to put some of this technology to work next season. Even if I was only shooting a couple of hundred yards or so.
You need to practice, and you need to practice right
Somehow I forgot all that when it came to shooting a rifle. Last year I paid a whole lot more attention to how I shot my bow, (and wound up with a nice clean kill for my trouble) than how I shot my rifle. Looking back at last year’s rifle shooting fiasco, I remember shooting at the side of a deer (instead of a spot on a deer) I remember a poor scope image (black ring on top) and canted crosshairs and I remember pulling the trigger as my crosshairs moved across the area where I hoped to hit the deer. In other words, when it came to shooting deer with a rifle I did almost everything wrong.
Shooting long range will make you a better all around shooter
I will center the crosshairs on all kinds of targets and squeeze off (dry fire) imaginary shots. I’ll build good muscle memory and become better friends with my rifle. I’ll practice from different positions and work on better shooting rests in our shooting houses. I will visualize shot placement (like I do with my bow) and get my head together to kill deer with a rifle.
I will also shoot long distances. I’ll find a place to shoot 500 yards and work at it until I get good. I’ll get back into chuck hunting and look for long distance opportunities. I will be confident in my ability to kill a whitetail at 500 yards.
I’ve only shot at one animal at over 30 yards in over 30 years of bowhunting; but I’ve shot plenty of 50 and 60 yard arrows. They are not all that hard to shoot and when you go back to 20 yard shots the target looks as big as a Volkswagen. You can’t help but make a good shot.
But before I do any of the above I’m headed out to the range with one of “The Best of The West’s” Professional Shooting Instructors. This rehab is starting to sound pretty good to me.