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January 28, 2013
Shooting Tips: Rifle Skills That Will Make You a Better Hunter - 2
It’s the time to elevate your skills for next hunting season. We reached out to two authorities to assemble this guide. Both are accomplished hunters, shooters, and competitors. Wayne Van Zwoll discusses the fine points of practical field marksmanship while Bryce Towsley interviewed some of the country’s best shooting instructors to create the drills illustrated here, most of which can be done at ranges of 100 yards or less. Good shooting.
Focus While Practicing
As with any discipline, bad shots in practice amount to practice in bad shooting. Call your shots before you see where they’ve hit. Not all will punch the middle, but if you feel the rifle hop to 10 o’clock at let-off, and a hole appears there, rejoice! When bullets hit where you don’t predict, suspect a flinch or rough trigger squeeze. Slow down. When practicing, a bull’s-eye and a couple of well-called bloopers beat a target sieved by holes you can’t explain. And with a hunt on the line, a slow hit trumps a fast miss.
Improve Your Positions
The crossed-leg sit puts your center of gravity very low. This is great when you’re 16, with the flexibility of a rope. Age makes this pose as pleasant as a cramp. You can condition muscles into compliance by supporting your rifle Buddha-like while watching TV. Crossed-ankle is faster and easier—but you must still lean far over, with the flats of your elbows on your knees. Because the “footprints” of crossed positions are smaller than that of the knees-up option, the latter works better when shooting from hills and on uneven ground.
Kneeling, you’ll find the rifle swings from 3 to 9 o’clock and back. Counter that by twisting your left (front) foot to parallel your right leg, which should be at about a 45-degree angle to the target. Your weight, and the rifle’s, will hold the foot in place. That shin should be vertical and bear about a third of your weight. Half of your heft is properly on your tailbone atop your right heel, and the remainder is on your rear knee.
Whether sitting or kneeling, bone-on-bone support is key.
Master the Sling
You’ll want a leather sling like the Brownell’s Latigo I use. Nylon is cheaper but will slip—not what you want when a $6,000 elk hunt hangs on your shot. While the Harris bipod is popular, and a fine aid in low positions, it adds weight and can chafe when the rifle is slung for hiking. Besides, you need a strap or sling for carry anyway. So trade that canoe-paddle cowhide with the colored elk head on the clavicle pad for a Latigo sling.
A sling is of little or no value when you’re shooting off-hand, because your left elbow isn’t anchored. The “hasty sling” is a technique that is used off-hand with a strap or sling wrapped around your arm. It can help deaden tremors, but you’ll likely shoot as well without it.
Be sure that you don’t set your zero too far downrange. Most cartridges merit a 200-yard zero. Your bullet will strike 2 to 3 inches high at 100 yards, and about that low from 250 to 280. You can aim point-blank to 250 yards. While some flat-shooting loads permit a 250- or even a 300-yard zero, it’s a mistake to put bullets more than 3 inches high at mid-range, where many shots will likely come. More game is missed high than low. Increasing the gap between sight-line and arc at mid-range is particularly unwise in light of the tendency to shade shots high when animals look small.
Know Your Limits
My personal rule for hunting: I shoot only if under current conditions I can make a lethal hit 90 percent of the time. Think of a deer’s vitals as a 9-inch sphere—a soccer ball between shoulders. Big bucks (and game like elk and moose) offer a bigger target. But as in politics, modest expectations afford a useful margin. In fact, one reason hunters miss (or, worse, make fringe hits) is that they don’t pick a small mark. An entire animal is too large a target. Narrow your focus to a spot on the ribs or shoulder. Aim small; miss small. The longest poke I’ve taken at game put the bullet a hand’s width from my aiming point—still well inside the vitals. Prone, on a windless evening, I didn’t commit to that shot until the reticle settled into a very small orbit on a forward rib.
Shots at running animals are difficult at best, and a bad bet at a distance. A pal who took a running elk at 300 yards told me when pressed that the bullet had struck high in the neck, not through the lungs where intended. He could just as easily have missed or wounded.
Fire (Only) When Ready
After the shot, cycle the action. You should be closing the bolt on a fresh cartridge as the rifle comes out of recoil. If you were properly positioned for the first shot, you won’t have to shift your body for a follow-up unless the animal has dashed some distance.