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Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Be a stand-up marksman

Hunting season really isn’t that far away. It will be here before we know it and many sportsmen will be thinking that they should have practiced their shooting more. Ideally we should shoot a lot and practice our marksmanship most of the year. Realistically most of us do not. A few others go out for a day or two just before the season, fire a few rounds, and say “close enough.” Probably the majority of hunters do a little plinking during the summer and then get serious about practicing during September and October.
The first thing you have to do is sight in your gun. Have a bench rest or other steady area to eliminate gun movement. Fire enough rounds of the ammunition you will be hunting with to make sure that the gun will hit where you aim it. Make any adjustments to the telescopic or open sights that you need to.
Next you face the reality that you won’t be having a bench rest out in the woods while you are hunting. Practice shooting from different positions, especially the ones that you will be using most while hunting. Shooting from a prone position is the steadiest but the one we are less likely to use unless we are stalking game at long distances out west.
Sitting and resting the gun on your knee is much steadier but we are not likely to use that except while sitting on watch for deer or possibly calling in predators. Today most of us still shoot offhand from a standing position, while sitting on a stump or from a tree stand.
The least steady, but most commonly used shot is the standing or offhand shot. The reason for this is that we are often standing while waiting for deer, walking, still-hunting or stalking. Deer, coyote or squirrels are not going to stand there and watch us while we sit down, get comfortable and draw a bead on them.
Pat Salerno, the noted Adirondack deer hunter, stresses that he usually carries his gun at “port arms” or held in front of his chest to be ready for a quick but steady shot when he sees a deer. He may only have a few seconds and having the gun ready will give him time to properly mount the gun and take a careful aim.
Many of us may think that because we have the gun sighted in, it will be alright. There is, however, a lot more to it. Our form, getting the proper sight picture and steadying the gun all are important factors. Holding the gun steady is an overlooked factor, especially as we “add a few years” our muscles aren’t what they used to be and our aim is not as steady.
If you have any doubt, give yourself this test. Crank up the power on your rifle scope, use your telephoto lens on the camera at high power or just use a high power binocular and try to hold it steady on some distant object. A lot of people will see the object bounce around in their lens or even disappear from view. Imagine that you are now firing your gun during this small movement and you will see how your bullet can miss completely.
Some time ago David Petzal of Field & Stream had an article that said shooting while standing is by far the most difficult of all the positions. It requires exponentially more practice than any other simply to be competent, never mind good. He emphasized that it is still absolutely necessary to master unless you enjoy papering the walls of your home with unpunched licenses.
According to Petzal, the secret to shooting offhand is to accept that no one can hold a rifle steady while standing. So don’t try to eliminate muzzle movement; instead, control it. Develop the finesse to make the end of the barrel move in a circle and to make that circle smaller and smaller as you aim. Then, the instant the crosshairs are on any part of the bull’s-eye, pull the trigger. Crude as this approach may seem, a great many of your shots will land in the center of the bull anyway.
You must be able to shoot fast because bucks won’t stand around waiting for you. An aimed offhand shot should take you no more than five seconds, and three is better. The longer you wait, the more things will go wrong.
Start practicing by using a .22 rimfire that is as close to your centerfire rifle as possible. Get a package of 100 NRA A-17 paper targets, each of which has 11 black bull’s-eyes about the size of a silver dollar.
Set your scope at 4X and start from 20 feet. Shoot strings of five rounds per bull; a hit anywhere in the black counts. Your initial efforts are likely to be very bad
As you improve, move back to 25 yards. Once you are shooting mostly fours and fives, switch to your centerfire rifle and shoot from 100 yards at a 50-yard pistol target with an 8-inch bull’s-eye. Shoot no more than 20 rounds per session, and try to get all of them in the black. Very few shooters can do this; if you can get 18 or 19 into the 10-ring, you’ve done very well.
Practicing offhand is logistically easier, cheaper, and more valuable to real hunters than practicing at long range will ever be. Second, shooting is a sport of muscle memory, repetition and concentration, so shoot lots.
Of course, if the opportunity presents you should also use a handy tree or something similar, to brace your forward hand against. Just remember not to rest the barrel of the rifle on the tree or post, etc. You can also drop to a kneeling position, if possible, which takes but a moment and steadies the shot considerably.
Ladies & Youth Day VNSP: Ladies of all ages and boys and girls ages 12–16 are invited to a day of adventure, fun and learning skills provided free thanks to grants by the local Friends of NRA. The day will be Saturday, Sept. 19, 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. at the Vernon National Shooting Preserve on Burns Road, Vernon Center. Activities include a pheasant hunt with guides, personal instruction in shotgun skills with certified instructors, and shooting trap and sporting clays.
Meals include a light breakfast, lunch, snacks and beverages throughout the day. Participants need to bring a shotgun. Ammunition (12 and 20 gauge) will be provided. A Hunter Safety Course certificate is required for all youths shooting and for ladies to hunt pheasants. The event is limited to 50 participants. Reserve your spot early by calling Ralph Meyer (264-1087) or Lynne Pletl (527-4016).


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