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Follow-Up Shots

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I once read an article in which the author postulated that a poor marksman was more apt to connect with a follow-up shot than a skilled marksman. His theory was that having missed a deer (or whatever) with his first shot, the good marksman would continue repeating the error that caused him to miss in the first place. The bum shot, on the other hand, would spray his shots in random directions, one of which might accidentally hit the intended target.

I read that several years ago. It lodged in my memory because I thought it was about the dumbest thing I’d ever read. (Of course, that was before the advent of Internet shooting forums.)

It could very well be that the writer of that dizzy piece was just fishing for controversy. This can happen when writers spend too much time hunched over keyboards and don’t get enough oxygen. And there’s apparently no shortage of gullible souls who rush to embrace even the most ludicrous hypothesis (reread my statement about Internet above). The simple, logical and intelligent fact of the matter is that a keen marksman has a far greater likelihood of connecting on follow-up shots than a poor shooter. Here is a short list of why the odds favor the better shot.

First of all, a good marksman can “call” his shots, meaning that at the moment the gun fires he has a mental image of where the sights, crosshairs or shotgun bead is pointing. This is why experienced skeet or sporting clay shooters often know they have missed even before the shot charge has time to reach the intended target, or why a good rifleman knows where he hit the target even before seeing the bullet hole. When we transfer this skill to shooting at game, the better shot who called his miss will be far more apt to connect on a follow-up shot.

Another aspect of successful follow-up shooting is learning from your misses. Varmint hunters (especially prairie dog shooters) get very adept at making use of what their misses tell them. By seeing the puff of dust kicked up by a missed bullet, the savvy shooter “dopes” any crosswind and corrects for errors in his original range estimate.


“Blessed be autoloaders” is the battle cry of many, many dove and waterfowl hunters who connect with their third–and final–shotshell after missing with their first two. What they have demonstrated is a textbook example of a learning curve applied to wing-shooting. The feedback provided by the two misses tells the hunter that the leads he used didn’t work, so he then lengthens (or shortens) his lead and connects. This reminds me of a story I probably shouldn’t tell about myself, but it illustrates how the “learning curve” applies to follow-up shots. The event was my very first double on doves, a stellar event of my boyhood.

One afternoon after school, a gaggle of my chums and I were in our usual spots on an early-autumn dove field when a pair of spooky doves (one behind the other) came whistling by where I was hunkered in a fencerow thicket. All eyes were on me as I rose to fire and took a calculated lead on the leading dove. When I fired, however, it was the rearward dove that fell. Clearly, I hadn’t led the first dove by nearly enough, so, putting this feedback to use, I lengthened my lead on the remaining bird and it too fell. My “double,” as it were, caused considerable comment among my much-impressed companions, but I don’t think I’ve told anyone the whole story until now.


There have been a number of times when I’ve seen running game hit by follow-up shots at seemingly impossible distances or in the most difficult circumstances. Oddest of all, these shots usually follow a miss when the target was closer and standing still. Also, speed of fire didn’t seem to be a factor in the great follow-up shots I’ve witnessed because all were with bolt-action rifles. This brings up an interesting theory for speculation: Does the brief interval of time it takes to manually cycle the bolt provide extra time for the hunter to analyze his misses, or does credit for a successful follow-up shot go to the learning curve, increased focus of concentration or just luck?

Over the years I’ve borne witness to some really spectacular follow-up shots. Often the hunter whoops in disbelief and claims the hit was blind luck, pure and simple. But just as often he’ll look me in the eye and confess with complete sincerity, “Somehow I just knew that shot was going to hit.” A somewhat old-fashioned explanation for astonishing follow-up shots and other such implausible achievements is “willing” it to happen. As if by the force of one’s will the impossible was overcome. But perhaps “willing” is another word for that focusing of concentration that momentarily transcends one’s normal abilities.

This leads us to the more practical matter of how we prepare ourselves to pull off follow-up shots great and small. The glib answer, of course, is simply to be sure you don’t miss your first shot and you’ll never need to worry about the follow-up. But no matter how good you think you are, the day will come when you miss.


Boring as it might seem, the same practice exercises that make you a good marksman also increase your chances of connecting on a follow-up shot. Practicing your off-hand shooting is especially helpful, and even more so when you fire a fairly rapid series of three or four shots. But remember, speed isn’t as important as accuracy, so make haste deliberately.

Another great way to prepare for a deadly follow-up shot is to practice changing position between shots. For example, fire a shot from a sitting position, then get up and rip off a shot or two while standing. Then try reversing the order from standing to sitting or prone positions.

Punching holes in static bull’s-eyes can get dull pretty fast, which I suspect is why many hunters don’t practice their shooting skills as much as they should. You can have more fun and sharpen your follow-up skills faster by shooting at clay shotgun targets laid on a safe embankment or impact area. At a range of 100 or 200 yards (or whatever safe distance is available), space the clays a few feet apart so you have to move the sights from target to target with each shot. Of course, a clay target is a pretty small target, especially when shooting offhand, but even when you miss you’ll see the impact, and this will help refine your aim for the next shot. (It’s that learning curve thing, remember?)

Practicing with your .22 rifle is another great way to sharpen your follow-up skills, especially if you use the swinging impact targets made by Birchwood Casey (800-328-6156,; Outers (owned by ATK, 800-322-2342) and Target Shooting, Inc. (800-457-2613, Not only do they provide instant feedback of a hit, but they also help you develop a rhythm–a certain spacing between shots–that sets you up for accurate following shots. If you shoot an autoloader (centerfire or rimfire), don’t practice speed, which can be self-defeating. Instead, use the extra time for more exact target acquisition.

SEE BEFORE YOU SHOOT Visualization, by the way, is becoming a powerful training tool for many sports, including shooting. Skeet and trap shooters visualize the leads and motions they will use for targets at different angles. Riflemen visualize the perfect sight picture until it becomes second nature. So why not apply a similar technique to your practice and hunt preparation? For example, let’s say you’re at the range improving your off-hand shooting skills. Visualize a pronghorn at 200 yards. Then drop to a sitting position and visualize that pronghorn running away and stopping out at 350 yards to look back the way they sometimes do, and be in position for a solid follow-up shot. Sound silly? Olympic athletes don’t think so, even to the point of visualizing themselves receiving the gold medal. So why not visualize yourself posing with a trophy buck or bull that you nailed with a great follow-up shot?

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Just Jim

Shadows on a Wall

No kidding, I was a bit saddened this past July when poor, now-pudgy Linda Ronstadt was booed off the Aladdin stage in Las Vegas and subsequently kicked out of the hotel. Her sin, as it were, was bashing President Bush and praising Michael Moore and his sick joke of a movie, Fahrenheit 9/11. Predictably, Ronstadt’s defenders (aren’t the rad-libs always predictable?) claimed that she only exercised her First Amendment rights, yet they somehow failed (again, how predictable) to acknowledge that the booing audience–who paid to hear her sing, not deliver a political screed–did precisely the same thing. So why was I saddled with angst?

In earlier days, Ronstadt was delightful to behold and had a charming way with a song. But somewhere along the way she fell in with a curious crowd–people like “Governor Moonbeam” Jerry Brown–and became a prisoner in a cave: the Hollywood Cave.

Remember Plato’s Allegory of the Cave? In Plato’s cave, prisoners are chained so that they see only the rear of the cave and cannot turn around. Behind them is a fire and between them and the fire are puppets jiggled by puppeteers. Unable to turn their heads, the prisoners can’t see the puppets, only the moving shadows cast on the cave wall. In time those dancing shadows become the prisoners’ only reality, with all else becoming incomprehensible.

And so it is with Linda, Whoopi and all those other prisoners in the Hollywood Cave. Their political reality has become the fantastical shadows cast by puppeteers like Michael Moore, George Soros and Barbra Streisand. And that’s why Linda’s fall was so sad, because from her point of view all she could tell her audience was about shadows dancing on the wall of her cave.