Being a hunter boils down to mastering just two skill sets: shooting and stalking. Hunting is just a matter of sneaking up on your target and taking the shot.
Now, these skill sets break down into individual skills. And, if you master your rifle skills, you’ve mastered about 50% of the skills you need to be a great hunter. On the other hand, if you struggle with your shooting, it’s unlikely that you’ll be a successful hunter.
So, it makes sense that dedicating some time to developing strong rifle skills will take you a long way toward returning from your hunts victorious.
We’re going to talk about marksmanship skills here. We’ll assume that your optic is attached and configured properly, and that you’re familiar with all the operating procedures for your firearm.
Here, we’ll focus on the marksmanship principles that apply to shooting any rifle. If you follow these principles, you’ll shoot more accurately. And, that means more successful hunts.
This is an easy one to mess up, especially if you’re shooting from a prone position. Often, people will lay down, then position their rifle. This causes you to force the rifle into position, and it compromises your natural point of aim. Then, you end up pulling the rifle in one direction or another, and you’ll usually pull your shots off to one side.
The best way to position your body so that your rifle naturally points are your target is to put your rifle down first. If you have a bipod, you can set the rifle down, pointing at the target. If you don’t have a bipod, just lay it down where you’re going to shoot from.
Once your rifle is pointed where you want it, slide in behind your rifle and get a grip on the stock. Position your body so that you can fit the stock into your shoulder pocket and get your finger on the trigger without disturbing the point of aim.
Ideally, you’ll have your feet spread far apart, with your elbows flared out nice and wide. This will bring you down low to the ground, so you don’t have to flex any muscles to keep yourself in position.
However, the terrain may dictate that you need to have your legs closer together, or that your elbows are closer together. Or, you may not be able to lay down at all.
There are alternative body positions if you can’t lay down. However, the goal is the same: to get the rifle pointed at the target, then put your body behind it. Rest the forend of your rifle on something, if you can. Carrying a shooting tripod gives you access to a lot more shooting positions, with better accuracy. But, a tripod isn’t mandatory.
No matter where you shoot from, the most important thing is to establish a natural point of aim, so that you don’t need to push or pull on your rifle to get your crosshairs on target.
Long Range Shooting Grip
There are different grips for different types of shooting. The long range shooting grip is very relaxed. The goal is to keep the rifle stable with the absolute minimum pressure.
You want to avoid crushing your rifle stock in your grip. Many shooters use a half-wrap type grip, where they rest their four fingers on the front of the grip, without wrapping their thumb around. Their thumb just rests on the side of the grip.
Note the term “rest.” You rest your hand on the grip. There’s no need to pull or push on the grip if your body is positioned well and the stock is nestled properly in your shoulder pocket. Just set your hand on the stock, so that your trigger finger can press the trigger.
This prevents you from pushing or pulling the grip in any direction, which will change the trajectory of the round and cause you to miss.
So, avoiding tension in your grip will keep you from disturbing your natural point of aim as you move through the last principle: the trigger press.
The trigger press is what causes the most misses. Once you’ve got good body positioning and a nice relaxed grip, the trigger press is what’s most likely to mess up your point of aim.
In broad terms, if you avoid sudden movements with your trigger finger, your accuracy will be good. It’s jerking and slapping the trigger that cause accuracy issues. You want a smooth, consistent trigger press.
The good news is that you can practice your trigger press without ammunition. Just ensure that your rifle is completely unloaded, and practice pressing the trigger on an empty chamber. This is called “dry fire.” It will help you get familiar with the feel of your rifle’s trigger and practice breaking the shot without moving your rifle.
Most hunting and precision rifles have very good triggers, without much slack (this is trigger movement that’s very easy and doesn’t actuate the firing mechanism). So, all you have to do is practice gently increasing the pressure until the shot breaks, holding the trigger back for a moment or two, then smoothly releasing the trigger until you hear it click.
Keep your eye open and looking through the scope the entire time. You need to see if you’ve gotten your hit or not. Also, when you’re dry firing, looking through the scope will help you assess how much your trigger press disturbs your sight picture and point of aim.
The trigger press is one of the hardest marksmanship fundamentals to master. But, you can dry fire as much as you want. So, it’s entirely possible to perfect your trigger press before hunting season.
Putting it All Together
You may have noticed that there’s nothing about breath control. That’s because you don’t need to control your breath for typical hunting distances. Just breathe normally. Usually, when people attempt to control their breathing, they end up holding their breath, which makes them shake. It just makes things worse.
If you’re concerned about your breath, there’s a slight pause between breaths. If you can break your shot in that pause between breaths, without holding your breath, that’s good. But, you can easily take a shot as you inhale or exhale.
All that aside, if you master the big three marksmanship fundamentals—body positioning, grip, and trigger press—your accuracy will increase a lot, and you’ll be successful in the majority of your hunts.