How to Shoot at Running Game Animals

Most aspects of rifle shooting require a methodical, reasoned approach. Shooting well with a rifle is a fixed mechanical process that requires the shooter to think about what they’re doing.

by Bryce Towsley


How to Shoot at Running Game Animals

The running shot is a highly debated shot opportunity that most hunters are strongly for or against.

How to Shoot at Running Game Animals

Those who take the running shot should be trained in this discipline and only pull the trigger at closer yardages.

Most aspects of rifle shooting require a methodical, reasoned approach. Shooting well with a rifle is a fixed mechanical process that requires the shooter to think about what they’re doing. Every step must be executed in a precise manner. Shooting at running game with a rifle requires a technique that’s similar to shotgun shooting. You must learn to let your “computer” work its magic. When you put your hand on a hot stove, you don’t stop and think: “This is hot, I should take my hand off.” Instead, you yank your hand away. It’s that part of your brain making you take your hand off the stove that you need to use. And there are basically three ways to handle your rifle while taking running shots. Here is how to shoot at running game animals.

Point Shooting
To do this, you shoot with a stationary rifle at a spot ahead of the animal where you think it will be when the bullet arrives. Generally, this is done by throwing the rifle to your shoulder as you focus your vision on the spot. You shoot as soon as the rifle hits the right place and the sights look correct. You’re predicting where the target will be at a point in the future that will coincide with the bullet’s arrival, and you’re aiming at that spot. For this to work correctly, the hunter must fire the instant the sights look right. Any hesitation at all will cause you to shoot behind the animal.

A variation of this method is how my grandfather first taught me to hit running deer.

“It’s thick here with lots of trees,” He said. “If you try to swing your rifle with the deer, you will hit a tree almost every time. To hit a running buck, pick an opening in the woods a little bit ahead of him and point your gun at where you think he will be as he comes through. Watch the sights, but keep looking for the buck with the corner of your eye. When he enters your sight picture, pull the trigger.

“If you miss, don’t chase him with your rifle shooting trees and wasting all your bullets. Get on the next opening, hold the rifle still and do it all again.

“Focus on the sights. You still have to aim, but let your brain figure the lead. Don’t try to think about it too much—your eyes and head know how to make it work.”

Swing Through
With this method, the hunter starts with the rifle behind the running target. By swinging the gun faster than the game is moving, the sights will pass by the target. When the forward lead is correct, the shooter fires the rifle. The timing requires anticipating when the lead will be correct and shooting a little before that to allow for shooter lag time, as well as the lock time for the rifle.

The rifle is kept moving the entire time, until well after the shot and follow-through. If you stop moving the rifle, you’ll shoot behind the target. You must keep the gun moving and fire without hesitation when the sights are at the correct amount of lead. Hesitation will usually cause you to shoot in front of the target, as the gun will swing past the correct lead before firing.

I find this to be the most difficult method and I rarely use it in the field. The few times my subconscious took over, there wasn’t time for a sustained-lead shot.

Sustained Lead
The gun moves with the target at the same perceived speed. The proper lead retains while the rifle is moves through the shot and follow-through.

This is my preferred method for long-range shooting at moving targets. I think it’s easier to maintain a constant lead than to shoot during the very short instant when the lead is correct, such as when you’re attempting the swing-through or point-shooting styles of shooting.

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