Rifle Shooting: Real Practice

The problem with rifle practice the way too many shooters do it is they do it wrong!

“Bang, bangity bang bang.” They bang away. Either they sit at a bench and punch holes in the same 100-yard target over and over or they stand using bad form and plink at cans, rocks and whatnot.

Who hunts like that?

Ron Spomer
Ron Spomer

If you want to become a better hunting shot, you have to practice as if you’re hunting. First, get a rifle support. I like a portable bi-pod or tripod best, one that is tall enough to shoot sitting or kneeling. Some of these are jointed, some solid, some have twist legs. Most can be spread far enough to hold your rifle’s fore-end at a useful variety of heights. They can be leaned far forward or back to change elevation even more. And instantly. You can’t do that as easily and effectively with bipods that lock onto the stock. Save those for target work or varmint shooting where you have plenty of time to set up perfectly. Game doesn’t often give you time for perfection. You must train and practice to assume your steadiest AND quickest shot before your buck steps into the trees. It’s a compromise. But, done right, it’s deadly effective.

using balloons for target practice
Balloons on sticks make cheap, easy targets for field shooting practice

With an empty gun you can and should merely practice getting into steady positions. This takes a surprising amount of trial and error and then repetition. You’re training to assume the steadiest shooting position almost instinctively so that it’s second nature. You don’t have to think. You just do.

I find that crossing my legs and sitting works 90 percent of the time. It puts me on the ground in a hurry, right-side up while allowing me to keep my eye on my game. Sitting also keeps me high enough to shoot over most grass, brush and rocks. It gives me latitude to aim far uphill or down, which prone doesn’t. And while sitting I can spin on my butt to cover 360 degrees. You can’t do that from being prone, either — or from kneeling — and kneeling isn’t nearly as steady.

As I’m in the process of sitting, I spread my shooting sticks with my lead hand and tilt my rifle up so it drops into the V as it comes down. I usually rest my elbows inside my knees all in one motion. If there’s a cut bank, tree trunk, bush or boulder to put my back against, so much the better. That really adds stability. I’m usually ready in three to five seconds. And I’m almost as steady as if I’m on a bench with sandbags.

hunter sitting by bush
Sitting with your back against some kind of support, even a bush, improves steadiness markedly.

After you’ve honed your sitting position, move into the countryside where you can shoot legally and safely. Set up shooting targets (steel plates, spinners, balloons on sticks, plastic jugs of water) against safe backdrops. Now walk into that field as if hunting. As soon as you see a target, engage it. Don’t rush at first. Work on smooth, consistent motion and careful shot placement. Speed will come later with more practice. No sense in being too fast and missing. Start with fairly close targets and move out as you improve. Eventually you’ll want to be shooting to your maximum range. That’ll give you important confidence when hunting the real thing.

To save money on ammunition, start with a .22 rimfire. Or use inexpensive centerfire ammo, even if it’s not the most accurate. Try reduced power loads if you’re afraid of recoil. And always wear good ear protection. Switch to full-house loads, the same you’ll use for hunting, for your final few rounds of practice.

Be sure to visit Sportsman’s Guide for your full assortment of ammo and shooting supplies.

Ron Spomer has been photographing and writing about the outdoors for nearly four decades. He’s written seven books, hunted on six continents and been published in more than 120 magazines. He’s currently rifles’ editor at “Sporting Classics,” Travel columnist at “Sports Afield,” Field Editor at “American Hunter” and “Guns & Ammo” — Optics Columnist at “North American Hunter,” Contributing Editor at “Successful Hunter,” Senior Writer at “Gun Hunter,” and TV host of “Winchester World of Whitetail.” He will write on Shooting Tips weekly for sportsmansguide.com. You can read his blogs and catch some of his YouTube videos at www.Ronspomeroutdoors.com.

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One Response to “Rifle Shooting: Real Practice”

  1. Big Ed

    Dear Ron, Thanks for writing this article. However I find it discouraging that there are no comments here. It may be fun to argue with your friends about the ultimate rifle, caliber-bullet combination but practice is critical to sucess. I look back at my youth and so often see a trend toward the bigger and the badder. Yet at the same time my father transitioned to muzzle loaders (both rifles and shotguns) for the challenge. He was a better shot then I. It has been many years since his passing and I am getting back into hunting. I find myself appreciating his choice of learning the capabilities of the gun and practicing with it until one can put the bullet where you want consistantly. Also in my youth, I clearly remember missing a spike buck (whitetail) with an 12 ga Ithica deerslayer and slugs. I couldn’t miss fast enough! Being honest about it, who goes to the range and burns through boxes of deer slugs to really learn how to shot it? (Check the record energy.) I was not ready for that encounter with that deer under those conditions. Recently, I have gravitating toward rifles I can enjoy shooting at the range and that will effectively deal with non-dangerous big game. This often leads me to a reduction in muzzle energy and not buying the next ultra mag. With best regards.