Hunting Skills: Use Pellet Practice to Perfect Your Shots

Want to be a deadly big-game rifle shot? Then start right now, with an air gun.

Photo by Remie Geoffroi

While hunting seasons forge great hunters via experience, off-seasons make riflemen. Here are drills that will train muscles, improve hand-eye coordination, ingrain field positions, and perfect your trigger squeeze to make you a better game shot.

The Rifle
Buy a single-stroke, spring-piston air rifle for adults, such as a Gamo Whisper Fusion, and top it with a scope similar in size, power, height-above-bore, and reticle style as the one on your hunting rifle.

The Setup
In your backyard or shooting area, hang soda cans from fishing line to tree limbs or clothes lines 10 to 50 yards distant at various heights, and number the cans in bold permanent marker. Be sure of your background and ensure that pellets either hit a backstop or sail into a safe zone. Have a friend randomly call out the number of a can to shoot. Find it, pull up, and hit it as fast as possible. Wagering on each shot will increase mental pressure and enhance your training session.

Skill: Off-Hand Shooting
Practice keeping your eye on the can and centering it in the scope as you smoothly raise the rifle to your shoulder and cheek; focus on the number on the can and concentrate on a steady hold—by holding your breath just before the shot—and a smooth trigger squeeze. Accept that it's impossible to hold the reticle absolutely still, so practice pulling the trigger decisively when the crosshair hovers on target, then following through by trying to keep it there throughout the shot.
Drill: Shoot all cans as quickly as possible, then take a short rest.

Skill: Breath Control
During a mountain hunt, it's not uncommon to find yourself heaving for breath as the animal presents a shot.
Drill: Do anything that will increase your heart rate: performing jumping jacks, jumping rope, or taking a lap around the house. With your heart pumping wildly, find a rest and try to deliver an accurate shot. The key here is to hold your breath, squeeze the trigger between surges, and shoot quickly enough that you don't have to hold your breath for long or take another breath.

Skill: Field Positions
From a relaxed stance, randomly choose a field position, quickly assume it (remember, smooth is quick), then shoot a can. Use any natural rest available, such as a tree, or an artificial one, like a lawnmower or deck railing or even your kids' swingset, to enhance accuracy. (Field positions used without rests are for competitive shooting; hunters can almost always augment field positions with a pack or a natural object.) If using a railing or tree trunk to support the rifle, for example, put your weight on your forward knee so you can use your rear knee to brace the elbow of your trigger arm. Keep track of the number of hits.
Drill: Find and assume a solid position and deliver an accurate shot at a can in 10 seconds or less. Next, execute the drill with shooting sticks or a bipod from standing, kneeling, and prone positions.