Retro WON: Learning Big Game Hunting Skills

Michelle Cerino recently spent time learning the art of big game hunting in a specialized Sportsman’s All-Weather All-Terrain Marksmanship (SAAM) course in Texas. 

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She Shoots 2 is sponsored by Galco Gunleather.

Do you know what it takes to get that precision shot while hunting or competing? Have you ever shot at dangerous game charging toward you? How about shooting off African hunting sticks? I had the chance to learn and experience all this and more at the FTW Ranch, located three hours west of San Antonio, Texas. On more than 12,000 acres of rugged terrain lie several cabins and a beautiful 8,000-square-foot lodge decorated with a variety of mounted game from around the world. There I had the opportunity to attend the Sportsman’s All-Weather All-Terrain Marksmanship (SAAM) training, whose slogan is “Because you only have one first shot!”


With this type of attitude in the kitchen, how can the food not be delish! (Michelle Cerino photo)

My first day at the ranch began with a steaming cup of coffee delivered to my private cabin. Once dressed, I walked to the dining room and joined the other guests for a delicious breakfast of omelets made to order, grits, ham and fresh berries. Yes, these home-cooked meals continued throughout the weekend.


(Michelle Cerino photo)

After breakfast we met in the classroom to begin the lessons. During the first few hours I learned the parts of the rifle and scope, along with an explanation of minute of angle (MOA) and milliradian (MIL). Learning how to calculate for trajectory (MOA and MIL) is mandatory knowledge for long-range shooting, and something I never quite understood.


Safari jeeps ready and waiting. (Michelle Cerino photo)

Next we moved to another building for a hands-on, rifle-cleaning lesson. Everyone had her own work station, which meant we’d all start out at the range with a clean rifle. Finally we headed out in a customized safari jeep though the incredible hilly terrain to one of the ranch’s 15 ranges.


(Sandra Smith-McDougal photo)

Larry, my instructor, showed me the 7 fundamentals of marksmanship and helped me practice them.

1. Body Position, or “Build your house”: Creating a strong foundation that is necessary for good rifle shooting.

2. Acceptable Reticle Movement (ARM): How much movement will allow you to still make that shot?

3. Breath Control: This is done through the natural repository pause.

4. Front Sight Focus: Achieved through proper sight alignment, correct eye relief and focusing on the reticle.

5. Trigger Control and Squeezing the Trigger: Squeezing the trigger without disturbing the alignment of the rifle with the target.

6. Follow Through, “Ride the Bull” and Stay on the Gun: Staying on the gun through recoil, while still looking through the scope.

7. Call Your Shot and Reengage: Being able to accurately identify where the center of the crosshair was when the rifle discharged. Also keeping your eye on the target and recycling the action to shoot again quickly.

Finally I began shooting. I tried all the different positions—standing, sitting, kneeling and prone, with and without African shooting sticks. My greatest accomplishment was a hit at 1,200 yards on my first shot.

Targets Big Game Hunting

Can you see the live axis deer feeding among the targets? (Michelle Cerino photo)

The second day brought a completely new adventure, stalking big game. Sure, they were just targets, but as I walked down the windy wooded path and a cape buffalo popped out at me, it felt slightly nerve-racking. When a lion appeared from behind a bush, right after I shot a “leopard,” my heart again raced to a faster beat. Did I mention the charging elephants?

The FTW Ranch is the perfect place to learn precision shooting skills. From hospitality, to great food and with amazing instructors, it served the perfect learning experience. Many of the events I partake in require me to step outside my comfort zone; this trip was no exception. Sure, I may never get to Africa on a big-game hunt, but I can apply the skills learned at the FTW Ranch toward any long-distance shooting opportunity. Who knows? Maybe I’ll even participate in a sniper competition someday.


(Michelle Cerino photo)

Learn more about FTW Ranch.

Are you ready for some big game hunting?

This Retro WON first appeared July 6, 2015.

  • About Michelle Cerino

    Michelle Cerino, aka Princess Gunslinger, first entered the firearms industry in 2011 as co-owner, president and trainer at a national training company. She immediately began competing in both 3-Gun and NRA Action Pistol, becoming a sponsored shooter. Michelle is currently a columnist and Managing Editor of Women’s Outdoor News, as well as owner of Pervenio LLC. She also manages social media for Vera Koo and GTM Original. Michelle encourages others to step out of the comforts of home and explore.