George Little: Practice your shot before the hunt

October 13, 2013 at 05:17 PM
No matter what type of game we hunt, missing a seemingly easy shot haunts most hunters for seasons to come. If the memory includes a fireplace buck flagging his tail and sailing over the hill it is especially painful.

We shoot and miss more deer, doves, ducks, geese, pheasants, rabbits, quail, squirrels and coyotes than we hit. If we were all the expert marksmen and women we think we are, ammunition manufacturers would be in big trouble.

This is the time of the year for us to tune up our shooting skills. Shooting from a rest or having a pal fling clay targets out of a hand trap is fun and gratifying, and it can’t hurt, but it isn’t even close to shooting in hunting situations.

Many shooting experts stress the importance of “real world” practice. They suggest tailoring your practice sessions to the type of hunting you do, the distances at which you are likely to take a shot, and the time of day that you will be hunting. It’s good advice. Practice can help build the muscle memory needed when you pull up on a towering pheasant, or level off on a 10-point buck.

Wherever you practice, make sure it can be done safely, with a good backstop. Wear ear and eye protection. Keep spectators a safe distance behind the shooter. Unload your gun before you go look at the target.

Researchers have documented that just seeing a huge whitetail buck can increase a hunter’s heart rate from 60 to 172 beats a minute in only a few seconds. One shooting expert suggests practicing for this heart pounding increase by leaving your gun at the place where you will take your shot, then backing off 100 yards and sprinting to the spot before shouldering the gun and firing at the target. This should get your heart rate in the 172 range. He says run through this drill until you can hit your intended target off hand, with the first shot every time.

This might be a great drill, but grounding it in reality might include being gassed at the 50-yard line, or staggering to the finish with no strength left to pick up the gun.

Part of this drill has merit, even if you can’t sprint the 100-yard dash in under a minute. If you can hit a 7-inch paper plate off hand with the deer slug you hunt with on your first shot at 50, 75 and 100 yards, you will be a better shot than nearly everyone in your hunting party — and probably a better shooter than you are now.

This marksmanship standard is nowhere near Annie Oakley shooting the ash of her husband’s cigar, but it is more than good enough for the real world deer you’re likely to get in your sights.

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