There are two reasons for shooting at a running animal: First, you shoot because you want to kill that particular critter, preferably as cleanly as possible. Of course, there are times when you’ve made a marginal shot at a standing animal and then you must try to follow-up with a running shot. The second reason—and this one can be significantly more intense—is because you have to, which means the animal has you in its sights and is intent on doing you harm!
When I began deer hunting, I absolutely dreaded running shots. I had no idea where to aim, and I didn’t understand how much lead was required.
Many years later, I became involved in research projects for provincial biologists, where large numbers of deer had to be shot. I learned to hit running deer the hard way, by learning from my misses. We shot so many deer that some of the basics for success started to show themselves. In fact, I became quite proficient at hitting running deer—close in and out to 200 yards or more. I also obtained a commercial electronic moving target system that enables me to study hitting moving targets with confidence and repeatability. My friends and I have shot thousands of rounds of rimfire and centerfire ammo at a wide variety of targets on the electronic carrier.
Before examining the intricacies of shooting moving game, I’d like to make one thing clear: There are no ethics involved here—if you aren’t confident in the delivery of a shot, you shouldn’t shoot. And I’m not going to discuss maximum shooting distances. There are too many variables involved such as experience, skill, equipment and even the type of game and habitat. Pronghorns are harder to hit than moose because they’re smaller and run faster, that’s not rocket science.
Methods For Shooting Moving Game
The two most common shooting techniques for moving targets are called leading/tracking and snap-shooting. Leading/tracking is by far the most commonly used method, both by rifle and shotgun shooters. Basically, the crosshairs or sights are placed a specific distance in front of the animal and held in that position as the shot is fired.
I find there are two successful methods of leading/tracking. First, you place your sights on the critter and move with it for a short period to get a “flow.” Then, the sights are moved forward (the lead) and the shot is released at what is considered the correct distance ahead of the animal. The second technique involves placing the crosshairs ahead of the animal the required distance and keeping that distance constant while squeezing the trigger. Both methods rely on maintaining a smooth swing, and they also rely on a smooth follow-through. The big bug-a-boo with rifle shooters is stopping the rifle as the trigger is pulled, which causes the bullet to hit behind an animal every time.
The snap-shot is almost a reflex move whereby you select a location ahead of the animal and then fire when it should get to that position. This shot is often taken when only fleeting glimpses of an animal are seen, and it’s frequently the only option in heavy cover. Snap-shots are deadly when a critter is very close. You point and pull the trigger without concerns for lead. The shot is taken when the sights are on an animal’s chest.
After several years of studying hitting moving targets with the leading/tracking method, I’ve learned that if you jerk the trigger, you’ll miss, and you must resist the urge to rush the shot. Instead, focus on the aiming procedure rather than the animal, and swing smoothly and maintain the lead as the trigger is broken cleanly. Trigger control is everything, whether the target is stapled to a backboard or running through the pines. You must follow-through as smoothly as possible and avoid the ultimate mistake—stopping your swing as you pull the trigger. The common misses are high and behind. High misses are caused by jerking the trigger; behind misses are caused by not following through. Another deadly mistake is raising your head to see if you hit as soon as you fired. Raising your head from the gun stock destroys “cheek-weld,” which is essential for accuracy.
So how do you learn to hit moving animals? My first suggestion is to find a club or facility with a moving target system. Or, get a moving target system of your own, such as the Target Tracker. If that’s not possible, you can practice on tires rolled downhill at safe shooting locations. Another great way to practice is by hunting jack rabbits. The bottom line is to shoot at movers with the same marksmanship considerations you do at stationary game: Use a rest when possible, such as shooting sticks, and then concentrate on your aim, trigger control and follow-through.