9 tips for summer rifle practice
This time of year, most hunters are in the countdown to hunting season. (Honestly, when are they not?) Get the best shots out of your rifle when in the field with a tag in hand by following these steps:
1. Get off the range
Early August is the time to start practicing in the mountains themselves, not on a range. You won’t have that shooting bench in the field… Time to stop using it. Shooting in the mountains will offer more opportunities to shoot from, allowing for you to get to know your rifle and bullet flight better.
2. Set up your rifle for hunting conditions
Now is the time to fine-tune your rifle system setup. A long-range rifle needs the proper accessories for best performance. A rear sandbag, quality optic, and tripod ensure stability and consistency when out in the field. Also, try to find what position you are most comfortable with, such as prone, kneeling, or sitting and using shooting sticks. When you know what you like best make sure to buy the proper accessories to help you get more comfortable in your preferred shooting position. It is important not to get too comfortable though. Hunting is not staged, so being proficient in all shooting positions is important, and will allow you to make the shot when it counts no matter how it is offered.
3. Simulate real hunting conditions
Shoot uphill, downhill, across canyons and any other kind of shot you could encounter in the mountains. The more practice you get with tricky shots now, the better you’ll be once hunting season starts. Although its not fun, take advantage of those days with 15+mph winds. Shoot into the wind, crosswind shots, and shoot with tailwinds. Get to know your bullet flight in those conditions so you can be more confident when mother nature makes your shot a little interesting.
4. Take a friend
This will really help you to understand where your bullet is hitting and why. Have your friend sit behind glass and watch the vapor trail of the bullet flight, while also watching the point of impact on your target. Sitting behind still glass with open eyes will allow to see things not possible to see when behind a recoiling rifle scope.
5. Shoot stable targets, the smaller the better
Pick out a rock for your shots and slowly move away from it for distance training. Or set up small metal targets in a canyon or along a hillside to get as many different shots as you can. You’ll be able to clearly see your shooting pattern based on how the target dents. If you’re shooting tight groups at 300 yards, move back 100 yards and see if you can replicate your success.
6. Shoot daily (or as much as a weekend warrior can…)
The more practice, the better. Try to make time.
7. Ignore dry firing’s temptation
Your rifle will handle completely differently when shooting live rounds. Dry fire techniques might be easy, but they won’t do much to improve your shots where it counts.
8. Get in “shooting” shape
A hunt is much tougher than driving to the shooting range and back. Hike with your gear to get your blood pumping and take shots while you are short of breath. With the time spent getting to know your rifle and bullet flight, now get to know your body and its capabilities. Now, pay attention to how your body can make the most accurate shots, whether that’s in between breaths and heartbeats or on a big breath being let out. Knowing both bullet and body will help you be more confident and more consistent in the field.
9. Lastly… Be ready to adjust
If you live in conditions that are much different than your upcoming hunt, be prepared and confident to adjust what is needed. With enough knowledge of your bullet flight and how it reacts to climate change, you will be able to make the proper changes confidently. this will always allow you to be more successful on hunts year after year.
Simulating altitude for physical training is possible (working out), but simulating altitude for bullet performance cannot. The higher you are, the less oxygen, so the bullet path is flatter in thin air at high altitude. Most hunters just need to pick a "most likely altitude" and use those ballistics. The only drastic impact will be noticed at extreme distances. Ballistic calculator spreadsheets are available and allow you to input the elevation and find your trajectory.