You know the difference between bowhunters and
rifle hunters? Bowhunters practice.
Because they know they're handicapped with their primitive tools, bowhunters religiously fling arrows, sometimes daily,
sometimes months before the season, sometimes year-round. The
average rifle hunter? He might run to the range, lean on a table and put
a shot or two into a cardboard box the day before the opener.
The good news is that not all practice has to be expensive, loud or
elaborate. The following are techniques that can help anyone improve their
rifle shooting skills with minimal hassle and often no expenditure of
1. Handle your rifle every day. Lock away the ammo, add a trigger lock or
remove the bolt for complete safety, but keep the rifle by your bed or chair
and just lift and aim it several times a day. This
builds muscle memory, especially ability to find targets in the scope quickly.
2. When looking for targets in your scope, don't look at the scope. The
trick is to keep both eyes open and focused on the target. Then just lift the
rifle to your shoulder and face without scrunching or bending
down to meet it. If you've practiced mounting the rifle, it will come up
as it should and the scope will center over your eye, which will still be
looking at the target.
3. Practice with the scope on low power and aim at large, close targets. As
you get better, increase scope power and decrease target size. Eventually begin
following moving targets like song birds. Finally, pick up targets already on
the move. When you can smoothly lift your rifle/scope and see a flying duck
near the reticle, you're good to go.
4. Shoot an air gun or .22 rimfire for practice. It's cheaper, quieter and
easier than centerfires. Buy a rimfire
in the same action style as your deer rifle so things feel and work the same.
Try to set the triggers to similar pull weights.
5. Get off the bench. Once you're zeroed, practice from field positions -- sitting, standing, on bipods, against trees and rocks.
Practice getting into these shooting positions at home with an empty gun. You'd
be amazed how many hunters don't know how to assume a solid shooting position
in the field quickly. Don't be one of them.
6. Stop flinching. If you close your eyes and/or jerk the trigger, you're
flinching. How can you tell if you do this? Have someone load the rifle behind
your back -- or not. You won't know if there's a live round in it or not. If
the firing pin falls on an empty chamber, you'll clearly feel yourself jerk.
Keep dry-firing (doesn't hurt most rifles, but buy a cheap "snap cap" round to
be safe) with an empty gun until you're no longer flinching. Then have your
buddy sneak in a live round. Repeat as necessary.
7. Wear ear protection. The painful noise is worse than the recoil and is
responsible for most flinching.
8. Figure out your trajectory curve and memorize it. Study these figures in
ammunition company catalogs, online or in handloading
guide books. Then shoot at large targets at 200-, 300-, 400 yards to see where
the bullets land. Life-sized deer targets are a great aid for building
understanding of bullet drop and confidence in your ability to hit the chest.
Here are The Sportsman's Guide Ballistic Charts:
9. Shoot once a week if possible and at varying distances, not just 100
10. Zero and practice with the same ammo you'll use on your hunt at least
twice before you go.
Yes, it costs to practice with live ammo, but would you rather burn $300 in
practice ammo now or a $350 buck tag in November?
Shop The Sportsman's Guide for a great selection of Shooting Accessories!
Ron Spomer has been photographing and writing
about the outdoors for nearly four decades. He's written seven books, hunted on
six continents and been published in more than 120 magazines. He's currently rifles'
editor at "Sporting Classics," Travel columnist at "Sports Afield," Field
Editor at "American Hunter" and "Guns & Ammo" -- Optics Columnist at "North American
Hunter," Contributing Editor at "Successful Hunter," Senior Writer at "Gun
Hunter," and TV host of "Winchester World of Whitetail." He will write on Shooting Tips weekly for sportsmansguide.com. You can read his
blogs and catch some of his YouTube videos at www.Ronspomeroutdoors.com.