Rifle hunters might be the laziest, least-trained, worst-shooting bunch of gun owners on the planet. That's a bold statement, but I can say it because I'm a rifle hunter and I've seen a lot of rifle hunters shoot. Most can't.
It's not all your fault, but you have to take the responsibility for it. While you're trying to accept the fact that you can't shoot a rifle very well—in a hunting scenario—place some blame on gunwriters like me and those who manufacture the rifles and ammunition we shoot. They all like to brag about little groups that were shot from a bench and preach the virtues of a "1-inch" rifle.
In the real world of hunting, a 1-inch rifle means nothing. This is especially true if you can't shoot from your own hind legs, when that buck trots past with his nose tickling a doe's tail. Sure, we all like to brag about how accurate our rifle is, but if you want to brag about something that matters, brag about how well you can shoot.
The first problem is the way we practice. Gunwriters and gun magazines have conditioned us to shoot from a bench and try to get every bullet in one hole. This emphasis on bench-rest accuracy is detrimental to hunters. A wise man, Col. Jeff Cooper, once said something like: "If one hole is your goal, fire only one shot."
When it comes to the rifle hunter, wiser words may have never been spoken because, very often, one shot is all you get, and that one shot better be in the right spot.
Look at it this way, a common cliché with firearms trainers who work with the military and police is, "Train the way you fight." This means you should practice shooting the way you might actually have to shoot when it matters. It makes perfect sense and it's why the military and police shoot at targets that resemble the things they will be shooting when all hell breaks loose.
Surprisingly, bowhunters are the only hunters who do this with regularity. Archers practice on 3D, lifelike targets all the time. Why? It's simple really. What they're doing is creating a mental image that will trigger their eye to tell their fingers to let go of the string. And bowhunters do this from the ground while standing and seated, and even from treestands. Rifle hunters need to get away from the bench and start shooting at targets that look like the game they will hunt, from positions they may have to shoot from while hunting.
Train the way you hunt!
Here's a test for you. Take a life-size deer target, like this Big Buck Bow Target, or cut your own out of a cardboard refrigerator box. With a pencil, draw a 5-inch circle over the kill zone where you think your bullet should land. Now, place that target at 50 yards and go get your deer rifle.
Have a buddy stand by with a stop watch to time you. Your task will be to start with the rifle at the ready position and fire one shot while standing, one shot while kneeling, one shot while seated and one shot from the prone position. The goal is to put all four shots in the kill zone in 30 seconds. Here's a demonstration of the drill:
Editor's note: If you're unable to view the video, click here.
If you can't do it, you're not a rifleman. You've been at the bench too long, been eating too many Twinkies, reading too many gun magazines or just plain don't know how to shoot. The first thing you'll have to do to become a better shot is admit you can't shoot. Then you need to start practicing using the same target from those same positions. And, while you're at it, learn how to run your rifle without removing it from your shoulder.
Sure, you might be older, have bad knees like me or maybe even be growing large love handles. No worries, this is a non-discriminatory drill; many of us are handicapped in some way. Run this drill dry with no ammo to see how long it takes you to get into these positions and adjust your par time accordingly. If there's a position you can't get in, skip it and fire that shot from another position. If all you can do is stand or even just sit in a chair, no worries—fire all four shots from that position. In those cases, leave the par time at 30 seconds.
Real riflemen are few and far between. You can't learn to be a rifleman sitting at a bench, and bragging about small groups will not make you a rifleman, either. Take note of how tactical shooters and bowhunters train and become a real rifleman.
Someday, somewhere, a big buck will give you a fleeting opportunity to shoot him. The chance that there'll be a shooting bench handy will be about the same as Carmen Electra calling you up and asking you out on a date! Dude, she doesn't even have your number ...
Practice shooting lifelike targets to become a true rifleman.