As a solider, police officer and a hunter, I learned the hard way that mastering basic rifle skills could be as important as tactics and hunting prowess. Too many times you hear the stories after hunting season about missed opportunities due a hunter not being able to manipulate or manage their rifle. Sure, you need to be able to hit what you shoot at, but sometimes there are other hurdles to jump, too.
For instance, can you operate your rifle’s action without pulling the rifle down from your shoulder? Hunters will take a shot and lower their rifle to admire their handy work only to find out it wasn’t all that handy. By then the opportunity for a follow-up shot has passed and their shirt tail will be hanging from the camp wall.
When you take a rifle shot, follow through and then immediately run the bolt or cycle the lever or pump. Then, with the rifle still on your shoulder, access the situation and shoot again if necessary.
Sometimes you just cannot get steady enough for a shot. Hey, shooting a big buck is exciting; if it weren’t none of us would do it. Knowing how to utilize a rifle sling to steady your position is a basic rifle skill that can make the difference. Waiting until buck fever sets in, while that 12-pointer is staring you down, isn’t the time to try to properly wrap up in a rifle sling. Practice shooting with a sling, from varied positions, before going to the woods.
And what about reloading? Granted, if you empty your rifle and never hit your deer, you’ve got serious problems unless you’re using a single shot. Still, sometimes a running gun battle can be a part of the hunt. You might miss, and then your follow up shot might hit but not be good. Then, you might miss again as the buck thunders off. Heading over the ridge after him with a near-empty rifle isn’t smart.
Can you load your rifle while not looking at it? You should. In a situation like the one described above, you need to keep your eyes looking ahead at all times. Taking 10 seconds to look down at your rifle might be all the time the buck needs to slip out of sight forever. With a few evenings practice this isn’t a hard skill to learn, and it could make the difference in your hunt.
What about sighting-in your rifle? Do you know at what distance this should be done? Hunters struggle with this every year, and it’s really a very simple procedure. In fact, with modern high-velocity hunting rifles, if you sight-in dead-on at 25 yards, you should be able to hold on a deer’s heart/lung area out to around 250 yards and still get a good hit. Sure, for your rifle the magic distance might be 23 or 28 yards, but it’s easy to sort out. Sight-in at 25 yards and then place an 8-inch-diameter target at 125 and 250 yards to confirm.
When you shoot at the 125-yard target, your shots should land above center. On the 250 yards target, they should be below center. You’ll probably need to refine your zero for windage and maybe slightly for elevation at 250 yards, but the 25-yard sight-in will get you very close to where you want to be.
All these skills apply equally with regard to defensive shooting. These are just basic manual of arms tasks that any hunter, soldier or cop should know how to perform. If you need help, don’t be afraid to seek out professional instruction and spend as much time mastering these skills as you do practicing your shooting. It can save you some embarrassment.
Trust me, come around my campfire and tell me you made one of these mistakes and guess what? I’ll laugh at your misfortune. You have my permission to do the same to me, but you’ll never get that chance. I may make mistakes while hunting, but it won’t be one of these.