Confessions of a Mediocre Shot, and Some Notes on How to Get Better
Looking back at last deer season I have concluded that I’m not all that good a shot. In fact, I’m...
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
This is the first rule of long-range shooting rehab. Most hunters are either doing something wrong when shooting or using equipment that is doing something wrong. Mistakes are magnified at long range. If your gun is off a little at 100 yards, it will be way off at 300 yards. If you pull off the bull at 200 you will pull off the entire target at 400. If you can’t sight a target at 50 you won’t even find it at 500. There little forgiveness in long-range shooting; either you get it right, or you don’t get it at all. If you don’t know it’s broken you can’t fix it and you’ll figure that out in a hurry if you practice shooting at long distances.
Get good equipment and learn how to use it
Serious long-range shooters have good equipment and know how to use it. These guys don’t waste much time fussing with junk equipment. They shoot good loads and good bullets through good guns. Equipment matters and good equipment is key to good shooting. This is especially true for optics. If you can’t see well you can’t shoot well. The top long-distance hunters all use top-of-the-line rangefinders, spotting scopes and long distance turret adjustable scopes.
Most modern factory rifles will shoot 1-inch groups
So what do you have to do to be a good long range shooter? Well for starters, you need a good rifle. One capable of shooting close to 1-inch groups at 100 yards. Oh boy, there goes that new truck you’ve been saving for. Right? Wrong! According to Sessions and most of the other shooting experts I talked to, many of the factory rifles available today will shoot minute-of-angle groups; especially if you take the time to find the right ammo.
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
I was truly blown away when I discovered what some of these long-range scopes are capable of. I haven’t bought a scope in years so you can only imagine what was going through my head when Sessions demoed his Huskemaw scope. I’ve been seeing turret topped scopes on TV and in the field for the past few years but frankly had written them off as outgrowths of the current fascination with anything “tactical.” Sessions was quick to point out that while his Huskemaw incorporated some “tactical” technology it was 100 percent a hunting scope. He began cranking on the turret and reading off ranges and windage adjustments and in no time at all I had it all together. Wow! Read the range, check the wind, dial in the scope and shoot. No holding over, no remembering inches of drop, no counting clicks, no guessing wind drift.
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
I used to be pretty good with a bow. In fact, I’m not all that bad even today. I shot at stumps and I shot at 3-D targets and I shot at Styrofoam blocks. And every arrow I shot, I shot correctly. I watched my form, drew deliberately, anchored at the same place every time, picked a spot and burned (and I mean burned) that pin into that spot, released and followed through. I was taught it is better to shoot 6 arrows the right way than 60 with poor form.
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
Next summer I will put together a well tuned rifle set-up and probably spring for a Huskeman scope to top it off. I will spend some money on ammo and maybe even start reloading again.
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.