The leaves are changing, the temperatures are cooling, and general gun seasons are beginning across the country. It’s time to hunt! Before you hit the deer stand, it might be time to brush up on your shooting skills. Maybe they’ve gotten rusty since the last hunt. It’s time to grab your rifle, ammo, ear, and eye protection and hit the range!
Before you ever climb into the tree stand, you need to get those skills sharp. A good hunter will be a well-trained shooter with their weapon of choice. If you respect the animals you are hunting, and you need to be able to quickly and humanely kill them. Anyone can shoot a deer. Deer are huge targets, but to humanely kill one, you have to hit them in an area approximately ten inches in size at best.
It’s also worth training because when targeting the heart and lungs of a deer, it’s easy for that shot to miss and go low. Legendary hunter Fred Bear had a set of ten commandments for hunting. One of those commandments was, “Be sure of your shot. Nothing is more expensive than regret.”
Fred Bear most certainly knew what the heck he was talking about too. Missing isn’t an option, so let’s get to the range and train.
How to Train At the Range
First and foremost, it seems to be a meme at this point, but you need to check your zero first. If you haven’t fired your deer rifle in a year, it’s worth making sure it’s still hitting where it’s supposed to. You may need to account for a different ammo weight or projectile design, or the optic just gets knocked around a bit.
After that, it’s time to brush up on your fundamentals. You need to embrace marksmanship and the core fundamentals of putting a shot accurately on target. Practice employing a proper cheek weld, a proper grip, trigger pull, and breathing techniques mixed with an uncompromising sight picture of the target.
When training at the range, you should have your hunting stand or blind, or whatever, ready for the season. With that in mind, you should examine your ‘fields of fire’ and know how far you’ll be able to take a shot. At my tree stand, I know the furthest shot I can take is 75 yards because I hunt in the swamps of Florida.
With 75 yards in mind, I want to make sure I can effectively hit a target at that range. As we mentioned before, the kill zone of a deer is about ten inches. Suppose I can hit a 10-inch target at 75 yards. Then great. However, that’s planning for the best possible shot. Instead, I want to be able to hit a target half that size consistently at 75 yards.
I want to be able to hit a five-inch target at 75 yards every time I pull the trigger.
Without fail, every year, a deer comes into my line of fire at a very awkward angle. This forces me out of my awesome, supported sitting position into something more compromised. This means I might be standing, kneeling, or in some odd hunched position. With that in mind, train beyond shooting in a supported bench rest position.
Take a breath, and shoot in the standing and kneeling. Get used to how they feel and if these positions can harm your accuracy. If so, you might have to set a minimum engagement range if using these positions. Maybe your 75-yard max shot is now 50 yards if you have to take a standing position.
If you hunt on the ground or stalk, you might just stumble into a deer. Crazier things have happened. You might have to take a shot at close range. With that in mind, you’ll need to understand and be prepared for how height over bore shifts your zero at close range.
Practice shooting targets at close ranges, from 10 to 25 yards, and mentally note how your round lands on paper. At super close range, you might be surprised to see how low your rounds hit. You’ll need to compensate and make a mental note of what compensation is required.
Keep It Real
Finally, if possible, use realistic targets. Paper deer targets exist, and they provide a realistic look at your average target zone. This helps you mentally prepare to engage a deer and realistically picture where that kill zone is. A good realistic target gets you used to snapping into the target and putting a round where you need it to be.
We train to make sure that the shot both hits the target and quickly and humanely kills the target. It’s respect for the animal and respect for the hunt. A hunter should be able to call themselves skilled and to be skilled. You need to train. Get out there, break off some rust, and get yourself set in and ready for the hunt.