Noticing the recent trend toward taking shots at ever-longer ranges, I felt the need for a reality check.

I reviewed my journals on the last dozen or so elk kills I’ve been in on during rifle season on public land. One shot stretched about 300 yards and one was within 10. The rest were between 35 and 75 yards. Most often, you couldn’t shoot much farther because the elk were hiding in timber.

“Elk use a lot of different kinds of escape cover, but in forested areas when the pressure is on, a lot of elk will just timber up,” says Neil Anderson, regional wildlife manager for Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks.

The same is true with whitetails, moose, and bears. Sometimes, a 300-yard shot might be your best bet. But at other times, you have to go in after them or go home empty-handed.

You can creep into an elk’s darkest haunts, but don’t count on an easy shot. The chance will likely be off-hand and the moment of truth may be only a fraction of a second. Here’s how to make that split-second count.

1. Pick the right weapon
Short-barreled, quick-handling rifles are the trick. Bulky scopes, stock-mounted bipods, and long-barreled magnums create liabilities.

2. Pick a tree
When still-hunting through a forest, move from tree to tree. A trunk provides both cover and vertical rest for your rifle’s forearm should a shot arise.

3. Practice using your hasty sling
A hasty sling will help stabilize off-hand shots. Practice until muscle memory takes over.

4. Carry your rifle
When game is nearby, it takes too much time and motion to shrug your rifle off your shoulder. One benefit of a lightweight rifle is that it spends more time in your hands, less over your shoulder.

5. Crank down your scope
My 2X–7X variable stays at 2X or 3X in the woods to maximize the field of view. Open sights are fast, but even a low-power scope gathers light and makes for crisper detail on the target. Simple crosshairs beat complicated reticles.

6. Practice precision
The kill zone on an elk is the size of a garbage can lid—a big target. Trouble is, you will probably only see a part of the kill zone—a tan sliver between tree trunks. A small patch of vitals is all you need.