It's all about the shot. Always has been, always will be. No matter if you are shooting at paper, animals or bad guys, ultimately it all hinges on the shot. Here are six ways you can make a bad shot.
Forget about shot placement: Shot placement will always matter. 9mm or .45, .30-06 or .270 ... cartridge size isn't nearly as important as hitting the right spot, be it the X-ring or the heart. Know where the right spot is regardless of the shot angle and shoot for it—always.
Shoot too fast: You can't miss fast enough to stop a bad guy or kill a monster whitetail. You have to get the sights on target—in the right spot—and keep them there while you manipulate the trigger. During a recent buffalo hunt in Mozambique I rushed my shot. The result: We had to go into the long grass to get him, and a gun battle with a buff at 15 feet is no fun. Trust me. Take enough time to make the shot right. Running out of time to make the shot is better than making a bad one. Craig Boddington said it best: "Be absolutely sure of your shot."
Fail to know your bullet's trajectory: Where will your bullet hit at 148 yards, 227, 309? You need to be familiar with your bullet's flight at any and every range you intend to shoot. In some cases a bullet that hits too high or too low by just a few inches might be far enough off target to mean the wound will not be lethal. Study a ballistic program and then actually shoot on the range at the distances you expect to shoot at.
Set a poor zero: Your rifle or handgun has to be sighted-in, and it's best to finalize this at what you might call mid range: the distance between the muzzle and the farthest distance you intend to shoot. If you zero a rifle at 25 yards and are off by 1/4 inch, you'll be an inch off at 100 yards and three inches off at 300 yards. Combine that with a little bit of wobble induced by excitement and you have a bad shot. If you think 400 yards is as far as you will shoot, confirm your zero at 200.
Use a bad trigger: You can't make a firearm shoot at a precise moment in time with a bad trigger. From the bench you might manage a bad trigger, but when shooting off-hand it's a challenge. Craigh Hamman installed a Timney trigger on his .458 Mauser rifle when he started his career as an African Professional Hunter (PH) 23 years ago. Take note.
Don't practice: None of us do it enough. Most of us do it wrong. You should practice shooting from positions you will likely shoot at when it matters. You should practice shooting at targets that look like what you will shoot at when it matters. And, you should practice every chance you get. Misses and bad shots ruin hunts and are notorious for not stopping bad guys. Can't make it to the range? No problem. Dry practice. Get familiar with your gun, its sights and trigger. A deer hunter should be able to hit a 5-inch circle, off-hand, at 50 yards every time. With your defensive handgun you should be able to hit that same circle every time at 15 yards.
Don't put yourself in a position where you'll have to start your campfire story with, "I made a bad shot."