Mule Deer, Elk and Western Big Game Hunting -

Making The Shot
-Off Season-

"Why the heck did I miss that shot?" "I was right on him!" "The gun is not shooting right." Famous bad shooting excuses, reasons for missed shots; we could publish a book. It seems that we all have them and never seems to include. "I just can't shoot." "I'm a lousy shot" or "I never practice." Of course telling any red blooded American he or she can not shoot is dangerous!

With today's quality scopes, mounts, rings, ammunition, and rifles the responsibility lies on the shooter more than ever before. Add lack of practice, bad setup, the anxiety of the hunt and making the shot, wrong equipment, wrong ammunition, misjudged distance and your chance of missing is very high. Shooters who set up a beer can, pie plate, rock, or some other "non target", and shoot from the hood of the truck are insuring a miss on game. Those who practice and sight in this way should be sure to include a mirror in the gear so they can look at it and know who to blame when they miss. It escapes me why a serious hunter pays $30,000 for the truck, several hundred for the permit, thousands for the scouting, gear, equipment, food/gas and then skimps on the practice and shooting equipment. They do it on a regular basis and some with pride! "Heck, I never practice!"

Recently in a Tucson, Arizona Superior Court, a very wise judge ruled that practicing shooting is an integral part of hunting and stated that it is the responsibility of the hunter to practice and improve his/her shooting skills. It is humane and most fair to the game being sought to make a good clean shot. Makes sense to me.

Back to the excuses. We hear them all. We receive rifles that are reported to be bad, never shot, and on and on. Ninety percent of the time the rifle is fine and it is the shooter. Once a rifle is properly set up, my counseling to the shooter is practice, practice, practice. Use of the proper equipment is very important. Carpet covered 4x4s are not a steady rest. The hood of the truck, card table, folded jacket, bipod, cleaning kit, or something similar is not adequate. Kneeling, sitting flat on the ground, standing, or something other than a solid stool is not a proper setup either.

To properly practice the shooter needs the following:

1. The rifle set up properly. It should be clean, in good working condition and everything tight. Do not make the assumption that just because it worked last year, it will be fine. Check and recheck.

2. The rifle must have the correct equipment on it for your shooting situation. Scope or sights that match the normal shooting situation. Recall all of your shots in the last five years. Better yet keep a simple written log. Most will be surprised to find that the average deer or elk shot is under 300 yards. Most shots are over 50 yards too. This leads the hunter to the proper scope of a low of 4 power and a high of 14 power. If you are shooting a 3 to 9 that is second best. Most hunters could work with a 6 to 20 power for shots of 300 to 1,000 yards too. More power is your friend.

3. Consider the ammunition to be used. One size does not fit all. There is not a magic bullet that will kill coyotes, antelope, mule deer, and elk. The differences between the weights of these animals will vary from 25 pounds to 1,000 pounds. Some are heavy boned and others are very light boned. Shoot and practice with the ammunition that applies to the type of game you plan to hunt. Many feel the 165-grain bullet will do it all and it will not. We recommend a bullet and caliber for each body weight.

4. Find a safe and comfortable place to practice. One that you are not always looking over your shoulder for the farmer or landowner to come and chase you away. Choose a place with a good back stop and clearly identified shooting distances. One hundred yards is fine. If longer, you have a bonus. Out the truck window, and down a gravel road at a sign, is not correct.

5. Use a strong and steady shooting bench. If you shortcut this area you will not get good results…period! Heavy is good. A bench that almost takes two men to move is great. Even better if you can not move it at all. Use a comfortable low stool or chair. You must be able to get down on the rifle. If you are high on the rifle, you will not shoot well. You must be on and behind the rifle, not down from the top or up from the bottom. Comfort is key in the shooting. The shooting setup must feel natural. If not, do not pull the trigger until it does.

6. Shooting equipment must match the success level you are seeking. Use wooden blocks and get poor results. A vee in a cardboard box is laughable. Sandbags are average, a shooting rest is best. There are god, bad, and ugly shooting rest systems too. The rest should be low to the bench with a front bag that fits the stock tight. Place the rifle on the rest were the rest is near the recoil lug of the rifle (in front of the trigger about 4 inches). Do not put the rest on the front of the stock at the sling swivel stud. In high velocity and heavy recoil rifles, it is possible for the stock to slap the barrel before or just as the bullet leaves the barrel. This will effect accuracy in the worst way. We see it all the time.

7. The rest system must include a rear bag that fits the stock. The rifle must be level across in both the front and rear bag to be best fitted for accuracy shooting. Do not set the rear of the rifle on the bench to shoot it. Do not hold it up with your hand. It is not necessary to hold the rifle with both hands. It should rest in the bags and can be shot with the trigger hand only. The less you touch it the better. Most shooters do not know that shooting free hand, off the bench, and from a bipod can all have different impact points on the target. Do you know what your rifle does in each of these positions?

8. The grip on the rifle, your breathing, shooting with both eyes open, firm into the shoulder, and smooth trigger pull all effect your shooting. Do not fight the rifle on recoil, ride back with it in the rest. Don Haggerman, of McMillan Brothers Rifle Company, is one of the smoothest shooters on the bench I have ever seen. Trained by Gale McMillan, he takes a heavy recoil rifle and slides with it like new shock absorber. Very smooth and a pleasure to watch. Do not be tense and fight it, work with the rifle. If you can, shoot with both eyes open so you do not put a strain on the open eye.

9. Do not sweat or worry each shot. Get on the target and shoot! I watch so many shooters worry the shot, they look and look and look. If you are not steady then stop, get steady and start again. Buddy Clifton, 3 time World Champion 50 BMG 1000 yard shooter, shoots his five shots in competition in about 20 seconds. Current 1000 yard 30 caliber World Benchrest Champion, Karl Huntsinger, can be even quicker. You would think these champions are shooting semi-auto rifles instead of bolt guns. Waiting or delaying can be very bad in shooting targets. Practice, Practice, Practice.

10. Most shooters do not realize that as they shoot the rifle everything heats up to a point where the ammunition will not shoot properly. Hot barrels move, vibration changes, cold metal (the bullet) and hot metal (the barrel) do not always work in harmony. We find in a 30-378 Wby Mag. from a cold barrel of 82 degrees, that by the 3rd shot it is 117 degrees, an increase of 35 degrees or 11.6 degrees per shot. At five shots it can be 150 degrees in the barrel. It is not possible for the rifle to shoot the same. The ammunition is effected by the increase in temperature. In a cold chamber the powder fires differently than in a hot chamber. If you delay firing your shot, the primer and powder are heating up as you wait! Test it sometime by firing three or four shots and then put a round in the rifle and count to 5. Pop the round out and feel it. It will be hot and cannot possibly shoot the same as a cold round!

11. Use a target you can see to shoot at and one where you can see the bullet hole. A 10-inch orange dot or pie plate are not a good targets for accuracy testing for a rifle. Black rings do not show bullet holes very well. Use a target that is large, not 8 1/2 x 11 inch--large! You need to spend your time shooting, not searching for bullet holes. Start at 25 yards and verify the accuracy of the sights. Good ballistic charts will tell you where you should be on a 25-yard target. I do not mean the charts in the back of the loading manual either. Use a quality chart that matches your rifle. Barrel length, twist rate, bullet weight, and velocity dictate the ballistic charts. After verifying at 25 yards, move out to 100 yards and try again. You now know the sights are good based on the test at 25 yards. If you are off at 100 yards..DO NOT CHANGE THE SIGHTS…it is your shooting! Practice-Practice-Practice.

Further on targets, I am amazed at the number of shooters at the range who use a cardboard box to hold targets and do not consider that the bench is 30 to 35 inches off the ground. This puts the rifle as much as 40 inches off the ground while the target they are practicing on is 10 to 12 inches off the ground. They are basically shooting downhill. When possible use a target that is at the same height as the bench or shooting rest.

In the off season practice, practice, practice, check your rifle and equipment. When it is set, leave it alone! Consider if you have the correct equipment for you shooting situation. Spend a little time getting the correct shooting equipment to support your sport and have fun. Try varmint hunting with your deer rifle and learn more about it! With just a little understanding of the equipment and practice, your success rate will go up! Happy shooting.

Written by Jim Schmidt (Arizona Ammunition, Inc.)

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