Practical MarksmanshipBy: Jerry Grozelle
There's more to bringing home venison than taking a trip to the range before the season to make sure your rifle is shooting straight. This is essential, but there are a lot of things you can do to improve your marksmanship when the opportunity to fill your tag arises.
Whether you're on the ground or in a tree stand, have a solid rest. Get in a comfortable position and make sure your rest is at the right elevation for the areas where game is expected to appear. Since deer seldom make their entrance exactly were you envision, practise sighting with the stock of the rifle on your off shoulder. When taking a temporary stand while others make a drive, find a place where you can sit with your back to a solid object. Something dry to sit on will greatly improve your odds of staying still. The most solid shooting position for a right-hander is with the muzzle of the gun about 30 to 45 degrees to your left. Shooting straight in front from any position is awkward.
The Standing Shot
Still-hunting is popular, but offers the biggest challenge. Stalk to a tree or other rest before studying the terrain with binoculars. If possible, use a gun rest. If you practise shooting with one, a walking staff can be the ticket.
Practice is only good if done properly. The 30- to 45-degree stance toward your off side, with your feet positioned comfortably 11⁄2 to 2 feet apart, is a starting point. You will know what's comfortable, both in stance and the degree of turn at the waist. The elbow of your trigger hand should be about level with your shoulder. Your trigger finger should be as far onto the trigger as you can. Using the first joint as an anchor point, you ensure your trigger squeeze is as close to the same from shot to shot as possible.
The best way to become good at shooting offhand is to practise. With most centrefire rifles this can be done safely without actually expending any ammunition. Dry firing – without any ammo – is a great way to sharpen your skills and especially to overcome the dreaded flinch, or the "F" word, as Keith Cunningham calls it. "If someone comes to us and says you've got an hour to make me a better shot, we go right for the flinch," he said. Getting into the routine of dry firing and transferring this routine into the live shot will improve your marksmanship.
As long as you make absolutely certain the rifle is unloaded and always pointed in a safe direction, you can practise aiming and dry firing in your basement. But, a day afield spent mostly dry firing, with some live fire, can greatly improve your odds during the hunting season. Choose a target, assume your comfortable stance, settle the sights as best you can, and dry fire. You won't be as rock steady as you would be with a rest, but you will soon learn to call your shots and learn to squeeze the trigger as the sights move onto the target. You will know if you were on target when you hear the click as the firing pin does its magic. Dry firing a rimfire rifle is not recommended, though.
Seek Professional Help
By far the best way to improve your marksmanship is to spend time with a professional trainer. Keith Cunningham and Linda Miller operate the MilCun Training Center near Minden, where they train competition shooters, police, military, and security personnel at ranges up to 1,000 yards. They offer a two-day hunter-marksmanship course in September. Information is available at www.milcun.com.
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