One of the biggest challenges the long range hunter faces, is learning how to make accurate, first-round hits on animals in the field. It’s one thing to shoot a nice group at the range, but quite another to place a single shot into an animal’s vitals under pressure. Here are some of the things I teach, and practice, to help make that first round hit every time.
- Master the fundamentals. Understand and practice the principles of Natural Point of Aim (NPA). In the field, you will be faced with awkward and uncomfortable positions. Knowing how to build a position around your NPA will help make the shot, and it will allow you to spot your hit. Perfect your breathing, trigger press, and follow through. These skills are essential to precision rifle shooting.
- The devil’s in the details. Consistently making long range hits requires focus and attention to detail. With an animal spotted across the canyon, it can be easy to forget some of the steps required to be successful. Practice them every time you take a shot. Small fluctuations in temperature or pressure, accounting for Coriolis and spin drift, or a few degrees of cant in the rifle might not matter at moderate distances, but you better believe they will at extended ranges! To develop good habits, we input precise readings to our ballistic solvers for each shot taken, and zero the turrets when done. Practice, practice, practice.
- Know your limits. Even the most experienced shooters are limited by how well they can accurately read conditions. A 600 yard shot, taken while the wind is changing direction and speed, can be more difficult than a 1200 yard shot with a calm, predictable breeze. Make it a point to shoot when the weather is bad, keeping notes on what the conditions were that you observed and accounted for, as well as where the bullet went.
- Spend some time behind a spotting scope. The best shooters are quite often the best spotters. The fastest way to gain experience reading conditions, is to observe them through a spotting scope for another shooter. If you don’t already shoot with a partner, find someone with an interest in it to shoot with. Don’t be stingy with barrel steel or bullets; the more field shooting you do, the more experience you will gain. Between strings of fire, or while your shooter is setting up, practice reading the wind through the spotting scope. Look for mirage by focusing on the air between you and the target. Watch the vegetation around the targets for clues. Learn to set up the spotter to watch the bullet’s trace during the shot. The trace provides instant feedback for the correction.
- Rehearse the shot. One of the best things you can do is practice at the location where you will be hunting. Set up some scenarios in likely areas, and go through the process of making a single shot. Keep notes on hits or misses, wind conditions, and likely target locations. Practice using all of your gear to make the shot, fixing the things that don’t work, and refining the things that do. I make it a point to take my rifles for long walks in the woods, seeking out new hunting areas and shooting in them.
In the end, nothing replaces experience when it comes to making first round hits at long range. I’ve found that applying these principles to your practice sessions will help shorten the learning curve, and help you to gain that experience. Aim small, miss small.