Five Pillars of Excellent Shooting

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Some freinds and I got quite a laugh after  pulling into a parking lot at some public land in Missouri one fall.  As sometimes happens, we met a real character. After listening to him for a bit, we cordially nick-named him “RS Double Quad” (RS: His Initials, and “Double-Quad”, his bow that supposedly shot 400 feet per second.) He spoke with us  about his spectacular ability to regularly kill deer at over 100 yards with “Double Quad”.  I really hope that his entire presentation was a well rehearsed stand-up act.

Becoming an excellent shooter starts with exactly what RS missed.  Honesty is crucial to finding your baseline of ability and building on that foundation. Knowing and understanding your effective range and being honest about your actual ability to execute a shot will always be more profitable than assuming.

Excellent shooting in hunting has five elements. Working on improving these things will make you more efficient and safe in the field.

1. Safety

No matter how far you can shoot, or how well you can execute a shot under marginal conditions, taking safety for granted immediately undermines your classification as a “good shot”. No animal or hunting situation is as valuable as your life or the life of another Hunter. If you have never been introduced to the Ten Commandments of firearm safety, I recommend you see them here.

2. Situational Awareness

What’s going on outside of your sight picture? There may be other animals with the one you are attempting to harvest that may walk into your shot path. There may be terrain obstacles like rocks, sticks, trees, or other items in the path of your shot. Most importantly, what’s beyond your target? Taking a shot without that data could turn what seems like a harmless shot into a nightmare. Something else to consider is where the animal is standing when you take the shot. It’s critical to be able to find blood, hair, or tracks to determine whether or not the animal is hit. Otherwise, tracking could be impossible.

3. Problem Solving

Moving parts fail, sometimes non-moving parts fail. Being able to identify potential mechanical failures and deal with them safely in the field is a part of hunting. Do you know how to safely clear a jammed cartridge in your firearm? Do you know how to re-attach or adjust a part of your bow that has fallen off in transit? A major part of effective shooting is being able to properly handle and manipulate your choice of weapon. Hunting season is not a good time to have to deal with these sorts of failures, so it’s important to have your equipment ready before the season opens. If you do not know how to properly inspect or tune your equipment, I recommend taking it to a gun dealer or bow shop and having a reliable professional walk you through making sure your equipment is in hunting condition.

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4. Understanding Your Target

Although you use the same technical procedure to shoot a target as you do to harvest an animal, hunting is very little like punching paper at a range. The goal of shooting a paper target is to hit a single dot with the highest degree of accuracy you can as consistently as you can at varying ranges. Shooting an animal is about placing a single shot, without any warm up, in a most efficient area that will cause the animal to expire most quickly and ethically. The only way to do this is by understanding the animal’s anatomy, and the capability of your bow or gun. Typically this means placing a shot in the heart and lung region(for larger game species) or in the head (for birds like turkeys or water fowl.) But this isn’t where this understanding stops. What does a heart shot do to an animal after it is hit? What’s the difference between a broad head impact and a bullet? Knowing these things will help you decipher animal behavior after a shot, and interpret blood trails more effectively.

5. Consistent Accuracy

It sounds counter-intuitive that you need to practice as much as you can to be able to make a one-time hit on a target in the field. Consistent and accurate shooting is about a person being able to use a gun or bow that has been zeroed in properly and at any moment, execute a shot with precision multiple times if necessary. Just as with a sport like golf or baseball, we have to train our body and our mind to make the proper calculations and recall necessary muscle movements to recreate a system that leads to a successful shot. This means we have to develop a reliable technique and be able to utilize that technique again and again until it is second nature. Our equipment and our technique work together to make an accurate shot. Therefore, it’s helpful to view shooting practice as giving yourself time to condition your body for when that specific action is called for.

These things may seem elementary,  but they reach across all shooting disciplines.  We all fail in them at some point, so the only responsible thing for us to do to avoid this is to practice. There is confidence in practicing these particular categories every time you head to the range. As we all know, confidence in your abilities and your gear can make or break a hunt.

What shooting tips have helped you the most? Leave a comment!