How can a firearms hunter get in enough practice to be good? Fake it.
OK, it’s not fair. Bowhunters get to practice in their backyards. Gun hunters have to drive far into the country or wait for an “official” range to open, then put up with all the other shooters and delays and closing hours. But there’s still hope: Pretending to fire is almost as good as the real thing, and in many cases better. Here’s how:
MUSCLE MEMORY AND HANDLING SKILLS
Believe it or not, many shooters are so poorly trained that they don’t even know how to carry, dismount and assume a steady shooting position. Faced with a quick shot in the wilds, they puzzle and dilly and think when they should be reacting as naturally as throwing a ball. Just do it! But how can you do it if you haven’t practiced the moves. So practice already.
Lock all your ammo away, unload guns and magazines and if possible remove the bolt/firing pin. An easy option is to shove a bright paper towel into the chamber so no live round could ever get in there. Then pick up the firearm and carry it around the house. Pretend you see a deer and get the gun off your shoulder quickly. Assume a prone or sitting position. Paste the reticle on a target and keep it there. Envision the deer, see the bullet fly to the spot. (Don’t forget to push all obstructions from the muzzle/barrel/chamber before actually shooting. Barrel obstructions aren’t safe. Always clear barrels before shooting any gun. Place a slab of brightly colored tape over the muzzle to remind you when the chamber is plugged.)
If you’re having trouble getting the slung rifle off your shoulder, try hooking your shooting-hand thumb under the sling at your shoulder. Push the sling forward, reach between it and your side and grasp the forend of the gun. Using the forend hand, swing the gun off your shoulder and up into the shooting position while bringing your trigger hand around the trigger grip. Smooth, quick and functional. Practice this a bunch and you’ll soon be doing it with both eyes tied behind your brain. And that’s what you want—autopilot.
This hunter shows perfect offhand form. Note level trigger arm to create high shoulder pocket, straight head, cheek welded on stock comb, head nearly dead straight. He’s leaning slightly right to clear a tree blocking his buffalo shot.
KEEP BOTH EYES OPEN
If you have trouble finding your target in the scope, it’s probably because you’re focusing on the rear of the scope, the eyepiece lens. The target isn’t on that lens. It’s way downrange. The scope only makes it look as if its in the scope itself. The trick is turn scope power down to about 4X. Keep both eyes open and focus hard on the target. Don’t shift focus anywhere else. Bore a hole through that target as you lift your rifle/scope to your cheek. If the gun fits and you aim it correctly, the target should appear almost perfectly under the crosshairs. If it doesn’t …
MAKE THE GUN/SCOPE FIT
Your eye should align with the scope when you raise the rifle into shooting position. If you have to bend your head to the side and scrunch it down to get on the stock comb, raise the elbow of your trigger hand/arm level or even higher. This raises your shoulder pocket. Raise the rifle butt stock to fit in this pocket. Keep your head nearly perfectly straight and looking ahead at the target while doing this. Too many shooters scrunch down to meet the rifle. No. Make the rifle come up to meet your cheek. If it still doesn’t, try building the comb higher by temporarily taping on some hard foam or a slab of cotton folded over. Or buy an aftermarket comb riser. You might also have to lower your scope. If the objective bell sits more than about 1/8 inch above the barrel, it might be mounted too high.
If you see edge blackout in the eyepiece, it’s either too close or far. Loosen the rings and slide the scope fore or aft until you see the entire sight picture with your head straight and the stock lifted to your face. Don’t be embarrassed if you aren’t holding and aiming properly. Most shooters are never taught how to do this. It doesn’t come naturally.
This is the author’s favorite field position. It’s quick to get into, easy to shift around, clears most grass and brush
and is steady enough for 400-yard shots.
ASSUME THE POSITION
Learn the cardinal shooting positions and then modify each to suit your idiosyncracy, but develop a system and perfect it. My all-time favorite is sitting at about a 25-degree angle to the right of a straight line to the target. I put a portable bipod under the forend, my elbows on or just inside my knees and my back against anything solid if I can get it. Thus anchored, I can usually hold steadily enough for 400 yards. That covers 95 percent of my hunting. Getting into this position took years of experimentation and practice. I assume it by crossing my legs and lowering my butt to the ground while spreading the bipod and unslinging the rifle. With my tailbone as an anchor, I can kick left or right to reposition in a split second if the target requires. Can’t do that from prone.
Zack Keller dry-fires at the range to practice “calling” his shots while his partner, Sarah, stands ready to see the actual hits when he goes live. Both are training for real hunting where the shooter must know where he likely hit and the spotter myst stay in the binocular instead of flinching when the shot blasts off.
Here’s the final touch. Once you’ve got the rifle/scope fitting properly and you’re putting it on target quickly, put snap caps in the chamber and dry fire. The goal here is to, again, keep both eyes open, acquire the target and keep the crosshair on it when the firing pin falls. You want to see where the reticle is when you hear that click. This is known as “calling the shot.” You should be able to do it while hunting and actually firing, which is why dry-fire practice is so effective. You learn to break the trigger without flinching or jerking and you learn to watch that sight picture. Nest time you shoot at game you’ll be able to say, “I pulled slightly right when the shot broke. I should have hit that deer just on the shoulder about halfway up from the brisket.”
Now you’re talking like a shooter. And shooting like one.