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Marksmanship is the mark of a great hunter
Let’s face it: hunters as a group are pretty lousy shots. For all the gun-store talk I hear of off-hand 200-yard instantly-fatal shots, I see deer coming into the processing plant with more holes than a Confederate soldier after Pickett’s Charge. During public-land duck hunts, I hear more gunshots than the Battle of Verdun but only the occasional splash. My own experience with hunting buddies is that if excuses were doves, we’d all have full game bags.
We’ve got to do a better job of handling our firearms.
It is common knowledge that the typical American male believes he has an innate, inborn ability to paddle a canoe, drive fast, hold his liquor and shoot a gun. In my lifetime of experiences, it is clear that not too many people can do any of those things well and then only after much practice.
Before we get there, let me share my own shooting curriculum vitae. Having carried a firearm professionally for 30 years (and still carrying one daily), I have been blessed to have been trained by literally the greatest minds and institutions in the field and have put many of those skills to the test in real-world encounters. Furthermore I’ve been writing for national shooting publications for over 20 years while also working in various capacities as a staff instructor and shooting coach.
That rundown of experience isn’t to dazzle the reader with my own greatness but rather to point out that my opinions, while still subjective personal belief and wholly infallible, have been totally and utterly stolen from some really exceptional people and further seasoned with a few decades of trial-and-error (mostly error) in the field. Please keep that background in mind before ignoring this advice in favor of shooting tips from the gurus at your local gun store or even kindly old Grandpap who carried a rifle in The Big War.
First and foremost, understand that shooting is a perishable skill. In 2016 I spent some range time with 24-time USPSA National Champion and 7-time IPSC World Champion Rob Leatham, widely considered one of the fastest pistol shots of all time, and saw firsthand his devotion to regular practice. If a guy like Rob Leatham needs trigger time to stay sharp, so do you and I.
However, firearms practice isn’t just plinking away and busting a few caps before opening day. That’s fun but it often further ingrains bad habits. Practice is a matter of heading to the range and following a consistent plan of action to refresh your marksmanship skills.
The matter of shooting a firearm is literally the subject of multiple books but, because we as a civilization are quickly developing the attention span of swamp gnat, I’ll attempt to distill shooting into a few words: sight picture, trigger control and follow-through.
Sight picture refers, strangely enough, to how your sights look on target. This is simplicity itself but is the first place most people whiff badly. Remember that when using iron sights, the front sight blade should be sharp against a blurry target rather than the natural tendency for vice-versa. A scope solves this focal-plane problem though shooters still tend to watch the game rather than the crosshairs.
Trigger control is a matter of a steady, sustained pressure on the trigger until the shot. This careful, controlled pull must be done quickly when facing game but done nonetheless. A fast, wild slap on the trigger causes subtle unseen movement of the weapon that translates to a miss downrange. While shotgun shooters are often advised to slap or snap the trigger, single-projectile weapons need this fine control.
Follow-through is the most-neglected aspect of marksmanship. In this context, follow-through essentially means holding your firing position for a brief moment after the shot breaks or, with a shotgun, continuing your swing in line with the target.
If you don’t follow through, you will relax after the shot and the gun will start moving off the target before the projectile even leaves the barrel. Wildly exaggerated, imagine trying to hit a target when you’re holding the gun at your waist. That is effectively what happens when you don’t follow-through on the shot. This simple point makes a huge difference in your accuracy and is difficult to “remember” when facing live game. That’s why we should ingrain good habits through regular practice!
Now that we’ve reached September, the weather is decent and you’ve got a little bit of time to sharpen those skills. Make a commitment today to spent quality time on the range with yer shootin’ iron, punching paper or clay targets to make sure you are one of the “lucky” who regularly score on game.
The truth is that there is no luck involved, at least not from the shooting side. Always remember an old adage that is also custom-made for hunting: “Fortune favors the prepared.”