Precision rifle shooting is the fastest-growing segment of the hunting industry, training should go hand-in-hand with it.
Hunting and sniping have a lot in common. It’s why back in the old days, Marines and hunters who were adept at hunting were often chosen to fill the military’s ranks.
Today, it’s not quite the same. For example, I graduated from sniper school, having come from a reasonably large city and with no hunting background. As Brad Pitt noted in Spy Games, we had a Safeway back home to put food on the table.
The main difference I see after years of being involved in the precision rifle world is the education side of things. Snipers have chased technology and seek out a lot of training, whereas hunters are happy to do things as they always have. In other words, if it was good enough for grandpa, it’s good enough for me.
I have story after story of students who attended classes because they missed a trophy elk inside 200 yards. Once fall hits, I get e-mail after e-mail about animals being taken at twice this range. I see everyone, from guides to professional hunters, in the classes I teach.
World-class hunts are expensive, so why risk a failed shot because of a lack of training?
Hunters are not solely to blame; the industry has not helped their cause. The firearms industry has been slow to address the recent changes we see on the military side, as well as with competition shooting. It has gotten better, and there are pockets of excellence out there in the hunting world. Sure, you might have to spend a premium to find it, but what are your efforts worth?
Get the Best Precision Rifle Training
The first place I would start to look is at a company such as Gunwerks, because I believe it’s providing training correctly. To begin with, it hired former USMC scout sniper instructor and competition shooter Philip Velayo. He is a rising star in the precision rifle community. Gunwerks is bringing a modern take to hunter education. Deep in theory and practical in its application, Gunwerks has a great hunter training program. I highly recommend it.
It’s no longer about the minute-of-pie-plate standard most hunters use. Well, if 99 percent of your engagements falls inside 100 yards, does it matter? The answer is yes; it should always matter. We are talking life and death here.
Offer Training and They Will Come
Even in my precision rifle marksmanship classes, we see a lot more hunters coming out to get educated. On my first few trips to Alaska in order to teach precision rifle courses, it was all about hunting rifles on the line. In Alaska, nearly everyone hunts to put food on the table or to protect themselves from the angry “dinosaurs” roaming the woods.
I had to adapt my training for the shooters who showed up with hunting rifles in magnum calibers designed for no more than three shots. It’s a tricky way to teach a class and includes a lots of downtime so the barrels can cool. (Gunwerks’ rifles have moved from pencil-thin barrels that cannot handle more than three shots at a time to carbon-fiber variants that keep the weight down.)
Combine this with scopes that can’t reach out past 600 yards, and the result is some students making hits on target at 1,000 yards, while the others are barely able to take advantage of the ballistic power their rifles possess. Today, all our shooters are able to distance within that three-shot limit.
Precision rifle shooting is the fastest-growing side of the firearms industry, so it makes sense that we’re seeing hunting technology move forward. Better still is the current group of shooters who have adapted the competition tools and techniques to their hunts.
Competition shooters generally engage multiple targets at multiple distances in fewer than 90 seconds—as many as 10 shots on a variety of targets from 300 yards to 1,000 yards. And, they are doing it from alternate positions.
Let’s break down the facets of precision rifle shooting:
- Sub-MOA targets
- Compressed time standards
- Alternate positions
- Tripods and game-changer bags for obstacles
- “Find it, range it, engage it” approach
- Precision rifle shooters act as their own spotters
In fact, everything on this list applies to hunting throughout North America.
First, optics. Step up to a modern piece of glass with target or tactical-style turrets you can actually adjust. You have a fast-moving caliber that can effectively reach 1,000 yards in training. Dialing the scope is not going to slow you down; it will help you establish your verified drops to distance. These drops can be translated to the reticle for holds when time is on the line. Every student with a hunting scope is given two ways to attack this issue: a table of drops and a diagram of holds.
Change your zero. Get away from the 200-plus-yard zero and stick to 100 yards. With a 100-yard zero, everything is up, including shots, inside this distance. Zeroing at 200 yards or longer does not afford you any advantage at all. In fact, it costs you more than you realize, because atmospheric effects will begin to work on the bullet. If you are traveling, this is going to cause a lot of headaches.
Once you have a 100-yard zero on your scope, you can dial any point-blank range you want. You can put 200 yards on the turrets; you can put 300 yards on the turrets; you can use a battle sight zero the same way grandpa did—but with an actual value in range. Dialing for your point of impact to intersect your point of aim is critical. It doesn’t have to be a guess as to how much to hold over the animal’s back.
Next, when it comes to the rifle, don’t be afraid of a little weight. A carbon-fiber stock and thicker C.F. barrel will help balance the weight with the ability to shoot the rifle.
Get On Target With Precision Shooting:
- Mils vs. MOA: Which Is The Best Long-Range Language?
- Buying The Perfect Precision Scope
- Should You Unplug From Your Ballistic Calculator?
- Shooting Positions: Variety Is The Spice Of Life
- Testing Riflescope Tracting For Accuracy
In addition, consider a MagnetoSpeed Riflekühl for your training. This device will cool off your barrel and chamber in between shots so you can take advantage of some real training.
Better record-keeping means better results. Accuracy and precision come from a couple of places. A shooter’s ability to gather and interpret data is one of them. You need rounds on target in order to gather data. Simply checking zero at 100 yards using a paper plate won’t do the trick. The record-keeping process has helped students land animals at longer ranges, making them more effective hunters. Without this critical data, there is no long-range hunting.
Consider support. Tripods are the quickest and easiest way to create a stable shooting platform. You can use your tripod for spotting, as well as shooting. In my opinion, the tripod is the most valuable tool in the practical shooter’s toolbox. Given a choice, I would leave the bipod at home and focus solely on shooting from a tripod. There is not a single scenario for which it does not apply. Zero from it, shoot it from it, embrace it.
My current Really Right Stuff tripod with an Anvil 30 head weighs 4.5 pounds and folds to fewer than 26 Inches. The Anvil 30 is the shooting tool for the modern shooter.
Combine lasers and binos. Laser rangefinding binoculars are going to be your best friend for spotting and ranging. You can do both in a single action. If you have doped out your rifle properly prior to the hunt, you have everything you need to hit any target, point of aim, point of impact. Sure, it takes practice and effort to learn.
When it comes to bags and nylon accessories, the new lightweight fills are amazing. You don’t have to carry a 7-pound game-changer; you can now accomplish the same thing with a bag weighing just ounces. These bags cradle the rifle off hard surfaces so the recoil will not bounce you off the target. In other words, instead of placing the rifle directly on a log or stump, add a bag and see the results of your impact. (These bags also make a great pillow when you’re hanging out.)
I am certainly not putting anyone down; rather, I’m trying to elevate hunters to a more effective place.
During our fundamental evaluation at Gunwerks, we see a lot of students I wouldn’t want shooting an animal inside 100 yards—let alone 400 or 500 yards. We teach them to understand and dope the wind, gather dope and learn some basic external ballistics that put rounds on target. And finally, it’s all about the hammer-forged fundamentals.
After the class is finished, we see marksmen standing in front of us. Marksmen hit what they are aiming at … by using a combination of skills.
Just because you’re hunting something with a 3 MOA kill zone doesn’t give you license to wing it.
The article originally appeared in the October 2019 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.