By Dave Buchanan
You can picture it now.
Your hunting partner finally has the only shot of the day, takes care aim and Bang!
“Damn. I missed.”
I’m not saying it’s ever happened to you, but there are times when that “sure thing” turned into a miss or, even worse, a wounded animal that got away.
You might regret not spending a few hours at the firing range before the season when you miss what might be your only opportunity of the hunt.
As Rick Basagoitia, a Colorado Parks and Wildlife area wildlife manager in the San Luis Valley, put it, shooting is like a muscle: It needs to be exercised to stay efficient.
“Shooting is a perishable skill. If you haven’t done it in a while, you’re going to get rusty,” Basagoitia said in a CPW online article. “There are people who believe they can go out, buy an expensive rifle and without any practice start shooting like the guys on the hunting shows on TV. Well, they can’t.”
According to Brian Bechaver, a district wildlife manager in the San Luis Valley, life-time hunter and a certified firearms instructor, the only way to become a proficient and effective shooter is to burn a lot of rounds.
“Most people can shoot off a bench and when they know the range of the target,” said Bechaver. “But a lot of things go out the window when you’re in the field and you see an animal.”
Nothing like a little nerves, eh? No wonder they call it “buck fever.”
A hunter must be familiar with his rifle, which means knowing all the intricacies and idiosyncrasies of that firearm. Is the trigger a little tight? Do you need to have the scope adjusted? What about that that new recoil pad you had planned to buy last year?
One thing both Basagoita and Bechaver recommend is to stop relying on shooting from a bench and work on real-life situations.
Basagoitia suggests that hunters practice from the prone position, either resting the rifle on shooting sticks or on a backpack.
“I don’t advocate shooting off benches. Benches are for bench-rest shooting, not hunting,” he said. “People should do all their practice in situations they are likely to use in the field.”
A hunter, Bechaver added, must be able to quickly estimate distance and sometimes your only shooting option is an awkward position that might be uphill or downhill.
And don’t forget all those other factors, such as heat, cold, fatigue and the rush of adrenalin.
The importance of good shooting also goes beyond just being able to harvest an animal. Developing shooting skills must be viewed as an ethical consideration by hunters.
We don’t want animals to suffer,” Basagoitia said. “Preferably, hunters will get the job done with one shot.”
The key is practice, practice, practice, because the more you shoot before the season, the more confident you’ll be when the big chance comes.
“When you’re hunting you don’t want to think too much about what you have to do,” Basagoita said. “By shooting a lot, you’ll reach that point called unconscious competence. That’s when you’re able to do things automatically.”