3 Shooting Drills that Will Make You a Better Deer and Elk Hunter

Use steel plates to train for real-life hunting scenarios

champion steel target used as practice
This 15-inch steel gong replicates an elk's vitals zone.Bill Buckley

Every year, hunting camps are rife with new stories about big bucks and old bulls that eluded a hunter’s best shots. Maybe you’ve got some of your own. Don’t despair. Here are three drills that will help you put killing shots on every big-game animal you draw down on. All you need are two steel plates, one 10 inches in diameter and the other 15 inches across.

The 10-inch plate represents the vitals area on a mule deer or whitetail, and the 15-inch plate represents the average vitals area of an elk. If you can hit those, you can kill deer and elk. The awesome thing about shooting steel is that you get immediate feedback in the form of a ringing, swinging target. It’s either a hit or a miss. You either killed that big buck or bull, or you didn’t.

Max-Range Drill

To start, hang your steel plates at 50 yards. Now shoot the gongs from the four basic field positions—prone, sitting, kneeling, and standing. Hit the plates every time? Good. Now move them out to 100 yards. Keep moving the plates out until you determine your max distance for each target size and from each position. This gives you a baseline to work from. You’ll find that prone is your most accurate position, followed by sitting and kneeling, with standing being the least accurate. Keep practicing, and your max range will slowly increase.

TIP: Mix dry-fire practice in with your live-fire practice. It’ll keep your flinch at bay.

Follow-Up Drill

Find a shooting range that allows you to set up targets in a wide variety of settings and distances. Hang a steel plate inside your maximum lethal range.

Now assume a field position and execute a careful first shot. Rapidly rack another round and fire at the still-swinging plate. Push yourself to shoot as swiftly as you can without missing. Repeat from each of the four shooting positions. This drill will train you to keep eyes on the target, reload quickly, and place a fast and accurate follow-up shot into that big buck or bull.

TIP: Keep your cheek on the stock and your eye in the scope while you cycle the action. With firm pressure from your forward hand, pull the rifle into your shoulder as you work the bolt handle or lever with your shooting hand. It’ll keep your rifle in place, and enhance speed and accuracy during your follow-up shot.

Reacquisition Drill

Place your 10-inch plate at some distance downrange, and place your 15-inch plate 50 to 100 yards farther away and at least 30 yards off to the right or left. Now assume a field position, execute an accurate first shot at the 10-inch target, and then a rapid follow-up shot at the more distant 15-inch target. Repeat from each of the four field positions. This drill simulates making a follow-up shot at a wounded, moving animal, training you to reacquire your target in a different location and then place an accurate coup de grâce shot.

TIP: Turn the magnification on your scope to 8X or less. This will give you a bigger field of view, enabling you to reacquire targets faster. Don’t be surprised when going even lower, you end up running the drill faster.

The Gear

Make sure you get steel targets made from AR500. Anything lighter can fail when shot with hunting loads. Champion makes plates in many sizes that have mounting holes on both sides. You can find them at championtarget.com.