Since hunting season is in full swing, it’s fun to visit the coffee shop and hear the tales. Stories of success are always good, of course, but the most exciting stories are those of ruined hunts. Many a know-it-all will share dramatic tales, remarking “Can you believe _______?” or “Oh my gosh—she had no idea how to _______!” It seems we’re easily pulled into the “Oh me!” and “Oh my!” stories. Lord knows we don’t want to be at the butt end of those.
I don’t care how many years your rifle has been on target, you should take some downrange shots before carrying it into the field every season.
I shoot a Winchester Model 70 .270. I’ve had the rifle for about 16 years, and it’s always been a tack driver. That is, until last year. You see, I do take my rifle to the range every year, to verify that it’s still sighted-in and practice with it. Last year, when I sat down at the bench and fired a shot, it was about 9 inches high-left. Had that shot been on a deer or an elk, it would not have hit the kill zone.
Don’t ruin your hunt: Sight-in your rifle.
I enjoy guiding new hunters in the field, but first we work on a couple of other things. If it’s a new hunter, we spend some time learning about the rifle. It’s important to know how to verify that the firearm is clear and how to eject and load a magazine.
At the range, prior to loading the rifle, I always teach new hunters how to look through the scope, find their target, zoom in and use the crosshairs. If you can’t find your target, you can’t hit the zone.
After we load the firearm and send a few single rounds downrange, I always teach them how to send multiple shots downrange. This is called “following up on the shot.” It entails cycling the bolt and chambering another round, reacquiring the target and shooting again. This scenario is important in the event of a poorly placed first shot. If a shooter doesn’t know how to properly slam the bolt forward, it can result in a ruined hunt. It’s also important for a hunter to keep her head down on the stock while cycling another round, if possible.
It’s fun to put the rifle on the Lead Sled and send multiple rounds through a target’s bull’s-eye. But how many of you have found such a rest while you’re out in the field pursuing monster bucks?
It’s rare to find such stable rests when you’re hiking in the hills, so you should practice using your shooting sticks, backpack and other items as a rest.
While you’re at the range, you should also practice various shooting positions. You don’t want to be the laughingstock of the morning gossip quarry because you didn’t know how to get into kneeling position.
If you want a successful hunt, take the time to learn. Do your homework and work hard on the preparation. It’s a lot more fun to prove your bragging rights than to have the chance of a lifetime end up as the morning coffee crew’s folly story of the year.
Four basic shooting positions
Prone Position — Lying on your stomach, using your arms, bipod or pack to support the weight of your rifle, this is the most steady of the basic shooting positions. Practice bringing your rifle to your shoulder and finding your target. Prone is an excellent position when you are making long-distance shots, and ideal if you have relatively flat ground and nothing to obstruct your view. In the woods it can be hard to find optimal locations for a prone position. Because of this, you should always practice the other basic shooting positions.
Sitting Position — Sit on the ground with your legs crossed or apart in front of you, creating a triangle. Support each elbow on a knee. Pull your position in tight so your arms form a solid support beneath the rifle. In this position a hunter can be accurate at both long and short distances due to the tripod of surface area and anchor points. There is not always time to get down to a seated position, however; you should practice kneeling and standing positions as well.
Kneeling Position — The kneeling position lacks the solid steadiness of the sitting or prone positions due to the decrease in support of the arms, but this position will be easy to get to in a hurry. Practice dropping to one knee, resting your support arm on the knee and acquiring your target quickly. With practice you can become steady and accurate in this position.
Standing Position — The standing position is the least steady, so it requires a lot of practice. In a high-pressure situation, such as when a bull elk comes running in, there might not be time to lie down, sit or even kneel. Practice steadying, acquiring your target in your sights, trigger control and finishing your shot. In a standing position, your support arm will be held beneath the rifle, and your trigger arm will be held out from your body. If you’re wavering, move your support arm closer into your body for added stability. If you are not able to hold steady on your target, do not take the shot.
An essential component, espescially if you’re going on the spot-and-stalk, a sling is the thing you need to master. Learn how to carry your gun on a sling, and adjust it accordingly. Michelle Cerino goes into depth on using a sling in her fine column here at The WON: “The Sling Thing: Why You Should Add This Skill to Your ‘How-to Shoot’ List.” Check it out and practice with a sling on your gun. Imagine you’re on a stalk, then, get down and get quickly on your gun.
You know the rest.
Good luck out there this season. Let us know how you do and what you tag. We’ll share it socially.