A zeroed scope and practice from a benchrest aren’t enough to prepare you for the field, but these hunting rifle drills will get you ready.
A lot of hunters don’t spend the necessary time practicing with their hunting rifles in the same ways they will use them when they’re hunting. I believe gun magazines and gun writers have sort of corrupted many hunters because too much focus is spent on shooting itty-bitty groups from a bench. This is a great way to test ammunition and almost mandatory for sighting in a rifle, but it does very little to help you enhance your relationship and interaction with the rifle you’ll be hunting with.
Some practical exercises that help you develop field marksmanship and gun handling skills are a better approach to preparation for hunting season.
These three hunting rifle drills can be fired on any 100-yard range; they’re easy to set up and easy to score. Most importantly, they focus—isolate—skills a rifle hunter may very well need to be successful. These hunting rifle drills are also based on incidents that have occurred during actual hunts. Give them a try the next time you’re at the range and then conduct an honest evaluation of how ready you are for the woods.
When hunting in Africa, much of the shooting occurs from shooting sticks. This is partly because of the way the hunting is done there, but also partly because the vegetation there often limits shooting from the kneeling, seated or prone positions. This hunting rifle drill is ideal for preparing a hunter for an African safari or for hunting anywhere standing and shooting from sticks is expected. You’ll need one Thompson Target Quick Kill Zone target (#R-8700), and you’ll need to set it at 50 yards. Hitting the target at this distance is easy, but keep in mind this is as much of a gun handling drill as it is a shooting drill.
You’re also going to need a shot timer, and it needs to be set for a random delay start.
Start with your rifle on the sticks and your sights on the target. You’re simulating a situation where you’re waiting for the professional hunter to tell you to shoot. For this drill, your shot timer is your PH, and when you hear the shot timer beep, you’re free to engage the target. As soon as you fire one shot, come off the sticks, step to the side and fire two additional shots from the standing unsupported position. (If you’re using shooting sticks with two legs, make sure you push them forward and out of your way as you move.) These final two shots simulate you needing a follow-up shot on an animal that’s moved and may be running away or even toward you.
Ideally, you’ll have three hits on the target, and they will all be inside the 6-inch circle. However, to pass the drill, you will need at least one shot to hit inside the center 2-inch circle. The par time for this drill—the time it should take you to fire all three shots and get your three hits—is between 7 and 10 seconds. If you miss with any of the shots, you fail the drill and need to slow down and take more time shooting or you need to work more on your rifle handling skills.
Deer Hunter Drill
This hunting rifle drill resulted from a situation I encountered on the first deer hunt I did alone. I was walking an old logging road, with my rifle slung on my shoulder, when a big whitetail buck stepped out in the road right in front of me at only about 30 yards. I struggled to get my rifle off my shoulder, and by the time I did—and at just about the same time I got the riflescope up to my eye—the buck bolted into the brush, never to be seen again.
Granted, it’s not wise to hunt with your rifle slung on your shoulder, but we all do it when we’re not expecting something to happen. And, if you’re an experienced hunter you know, things often happen when you least expect it. This drill lets you prepare for that moment.
You’ll need a Thompson Target Life Size Deer Sight-In Target (#R-8825), and you’ll need to set it at about 30 to 35 yards. You’re also going to need a shot timer, and it needs to be set for a random start delay. You start this drill with your rifle slung on your shoulder, so you’ll also need a sling attached to your rifle. This is a single-shot drill, but you’re going to need four rounds because you’ll shoot it four times for score.
For your first two runs on the drill, start with the rifle slung on your shoulder in the American carry style (strong side, muzzle up). On signal from the shot timer, unsling and make a single shot on the target. You’ll do this again for a total of two shots. (Make a note of the time it takes you to fire each shot.)
Now switch to African carry (weak side, muzzle down) and run the drill twice more—again, writing down your times for each shot. After the four shots, total the four times. A good average time for each attempt is about 3.5 seconds, and your goal is to get four hits inside the heart/lung area on the deer target in less than 16 seconds.
Getting the hits should be the easy part. At 30 to 35 yards, it’s almost like shooting at a basketball. But remember, this is mostly a gun-handling drill designed to test your ability to get your rifle from the slung position and on target as quickly as possible. If you cannot do that and hit a basketball-sized target at 30 to 35 yards in less than 4 seconds, you need to practice unslinging your rifle in a hurry, with as little wasted movement as possible.
Walk Back Drill
This is a good hunting rifle drill to establish your maximum practical range when shooting from the standing off-hand position. You’ll need four Thompson Target 8-inch Halo targets (#R-4610), and you’ll need to set one at 25 yards, one at 50 yards, one at 75 yards and one at 100 yards. Alternatively, if you have a range where you can set the four targets at 100 yards and then step back and shoot from 25, 50, 75 and 100 yards, that’ll work, too. This drill is a combination of gun handling and marksmanship, and it replicates you having to take a quick shot at an animal you expect is just about ready to run.
You’re also going to need a shot timer, and it needs to be set for a random delay start. Start the drill at 25 yards with the rifle in the high ready position and, on signal from the shot timer, fire one shot and record the time. Repeat this four times, recording the time after each shot for a total of five shots. Once you’ve fired those five shots, total your five times and determine the average. You’ll follow this same procedure at 50, 75 and 100 yards. Just don’t forget to write down the time for each of the five shots at each distance and average them.
You should have five hits on each target, but you might find that you do well out to a certain distance and then your shot times substantially increase and/or you begin to get misses. Ideally, you should be able to get your hits at 25 yards with an average time of about 2 seconds. At 50 yards, your average shot time should be about 3 seconds, about 4 seconds at 75 yards and about 5 seconds at 100 yards. Regardless of your averages at each distance, when you add your averages up, the total must be less than 16 seconds with 20 total hits. When you get to 75 and 100 yards, you might want to use a spotting scope or binoculars to check for hits.
So, what about misses? You’re probably going to have some, and to keep the scoring simple, you only get 25 rounds to run this drill. If you miss a shot, try to make it up using one or all five extra rounds. But, when those extra five rounds are gone, you’ll have none left for mulligans.
Also, don’t count the times where you missed a shot; only record and average the times for the shots that hit. If you can clean this drill out to 100 yards and within the time limit, you’re doing very well, and you might want to move the 25-yard target to 125 yards and give it another try.
Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the September 2023 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.
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