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Fiddling. That’s one of the major problems with modern, firearms deer hunters. Bowhunters seem to practice and train and figure out their operating procedures so they can ready, aim and fire smoothly and relatively quickly. Rifle hunters? Not so much.
“I plug my ears and watch the deer, expecting it to absorb the hit at any second, but it doesn’t happen because these guys I’m guiding are turning scope dials, folding out bipods and otherwise fiddling around with gear when they should be shooting!” a Montana guide told me. “More than half of the deer, which should have been dead, turn and walk away. Drives me crazy!” Don’t be that guy. Train to shoot smoothly, quickly, precisely. Here are seven tips to help you get it right.
Tip No. 1: Hop on the Bike
Bicycle racers don’t shift gears smoothly and at the right time by wishful thinking. They ride and practice for hours upon hours. Do the same with your rifle. It doesn’t require expensive ammo. Just lock up your cartridges, stuff a white cloth in your rifle’s action/chamber so it can’t possibly harbor a round and start handling it … daily. Get the gun out of the safe at least once a day, double check to make sure it’s safe and start carrying it, getting it off your shoulder, raising it to your eye, finding targets in the scope and pretend firing. You are building muscle memory as well as muscle, both of which will help you shoot faster and more accurately afield. Work up a system whereby you quickly, smoothly and consistently get the rifle to your shoulder, up to your face and on target, ready to fire. The following exercise will help with that.
Tip No. 2: Eyes on Target
Don’t look at your scope and expect to find the target in it. It’s not in the scope, it’s out there, wherever “there” happens to be. If you change focus from a distant deer to the scope right in front of your face, you’ll lose the deer and spend precious seconds weaving the gun around, trying to find it in the scope. The key to finding game in a scope is to keep both eyes open and hard focused on the target while you raise the rifle to your face. Don’t duck your head to the rifle. Lift the butt and comb to your face. If it doesn’t fit, raise your shooting hand elbow. This raises the shoulder pocket as well as the rifle. If it still doesn’t fit, lower the scope if possible or add an aftermarket, lace-on comb pad.
It’s helpful to start with a scope at its lowest power. That increases field-of-view so you can see objects near your target, helping you to locate it. But really, if you maintain that hard focus on the target, it should show up darn near under the reticle. As you practice and improve, crank up scope power to 6X, 8X, 10X, whatever. Experienced, trained scope shooters can find a running jackrabbit 30 yards away through a 10X scope.
Tip No. 3: Dry Fire
Buy a snap cap (dummy) cartridge or three for your rifle. Load them up and go through the motions of loading, firing and reloading. Repeat. Concentrate on your hold/aim and trigger control. Dry firing is perfect practice because it builds the proper trigger control muscle memory — because you know the rifle isn’t loaded and can’t fire, you don’t flinch. Do this several times a week in conjunction with tips No. 1 and No. 2 above. Observe all safety rules and always, but always, double check that the magazine and chamber are empty of any live cartridges. It’s really best to lock all live cartridges away until heading to the range or field.
Tip No. 4: Adjust for MPBR
Maximum Point Blank Range is the ultimate zeroing system for quickly hitting a deer out to 300 yards without knowing the exact distance. No time wasted using a laser rangefinder. If you zero a typical, modern, bottlenecked deer cartridge (from .243 Win. through .300 Win. Mag. shooting spire point bullets) at 100 yards, you’ve wasted its potential. You’ll need to know if your quarry is at 200 yards, 250 yards, 300 yards, etc., because the bullet drops rather quickly. It never rises so much as an inch above your line-of-sight, but will drop about 4 inches at 200 yards and almost 12 inches at 300 yards. Zero this same bullet at 250 yards and it will strike about 3 inches high at 150 yards, 2 inches high at 200 yards and only 3 or 4 inches low at 300 yards. If you aim for the vertical center of a deer’s chest (the average chest being 17 inches top to bottom) you will strike it somewhere in the lungs or heart clear out to 300 yards. No hold over or under ever required.
You can figure out the exact flight (trajectory curve) of any load with computer programs or by zeroing 2 to 3 inches high at 100 yards, then shooting a big paper target (always aim for the center) at 150 yards, 200 yards, 250 yards and 300 yards. Most hunters are pleasantly surprised to see all holes no more than 4 or 5 inches above or below their aiming point, and this falls easily within the killing zone of a whitetail’s chest.
Tip No. 5 Assume the Position
“Assuming the position” doesn’t mean you’re under arrest. It means knowing how to quickly assume the steadiest shooting position for any hunting situation. Chances are this won’t be a shooting bench with sand bags, so get off that bench once you’re zeroed and practice field positions. Prone is steady, but rarely works because of grass, rocks and rising ground. Sitting with a support bipod or tripod is versatile and gets you above most ground cover. You can spin on your butt to change shooting angles, raise or lower the bipod to change shooting angles steeply up or downhill, place elbows on knees to steady the gun, lean back against rocks, trees, etc. to slow body motion. A trained shooter can reliably put bullets on target to at least 400 yards this way. But it takes practice. Try it. Figure out how to get your butt on the ground quickly, rifle to your shoulder, get the sticks under the fore-end and scope on target. Go for smooth and consistent, then work toward fast. Ideally you should be able to go from “there’s the buck!” to “bang, you’re dead” in about five seconds.
Tip No. 6: Read the Situation
Train to constantly assess terrain and habitat to anticipate your most efficient action should a shot suddenly be presented. Keep your scope power rather low. You should realize if brush is so high a sitting shot won’t work before you sit to attempt one. Don’t waste the time. Go for your steadiest standing shot. In hilly terrain you might need to run backward up a hill to clear a shot over intervening brush. If a stand of trees is nearby, you should anticipate leaning against one for rifle support on a steady standing shot — and know how to best do this.
Tip No. 7: Train, Train, Train
Once you’ve addressed all of the above, seal the deal with live field shooting. The more you go through the actions and fire at deer-sized targets at varying, unknown distances from 10 to 400 yards, the better you’ll know your gun, its trajectory and yourself. Train to perform smoothly, quickly and accurately. After dropping 10 or 20 consecutive rounds in a deer-sized target out to 300 yards, you’ll KNOW you can do it. Then, when that big buck stops between two trees 273.67 yards away to stare at you, you’ll get him before he runs away. That’ll make you happy and, should you be working with a guide, it will make him so happy he might give YOU a tip. Well, maybe not.
Hunt honest, shoot straight.
— Gun, ammo and optics expert Ron Spomer hosts “Winchester World of Whitetail” and is the creator of the app “Everything Whitetail.” Learn more at www.RonSpomerOutdoors.com.
Velocity and Ballistic Coefficient
Bullet mass and shape, together known as ballistic coefficient (B.C.), combine with velocity to determine how flat a bullet shoots, how hard it hits and how much it is deflected by wind. The higher the muzzle velocity and bullet B.C., the better. This is the real value in magnum cartridges. The extra punch doesn’t matter so much as the flatter trajectory. Maximum point blank range with a .618 B.C., 140-grain .264 bullet driven to 3,200 fps extends to nearly 350 yards. Zero this bullet 2 1/2 inches high at 100 yards and it will peak 3 inches high at 150 yards, be dead on at 275 yards, fall 11/2 inches low at 300 yards and just 5 inches low at 350 yards. Aimed for the center of a 12-inch circle, it will score every time — if the shooter does his or her part.
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