Both Forms of Hunting Take Practice
As a guy who mostly hunts with guns, bowhunters get on my nerves. That's right, I said it. Not all of them, but the hypocritical ones who act like using a firearm is cheating and then scamper for every new archery product that offers a technological advantage. Elitism aside, we can learn from serious archers. One lesson is a dedication to practice and equipment preparation.
Shooting a bow is challenging. Bowhunters practice. Most of them practice a lot. And while it's true that it's a heck of a lot easier to find somewhere to shoot your bow than a centerfire rifle, it shows a commitment to ethical shooting that all hunters should emulate.
Do you drag your rifle out of the safe right before deer season and look through the scope? Be honest.
A rifle is easier to shoot than a bow. That doesn't mean it's magic, though. It takes practice.
I shoot at least once a week, but I have easy access to my own range near my home. For most, it's anywhere from one to four months until the opening day of gun season. You should commit to at least one range session a month between now and then. You don't have to burn a ton of ammo, maybe a 20-round box per trip. Get away from the bench and shoot the way you do in the field. Shoot prone, sitting, kneeling, using sticks, leaning against a post, whatever you can to simulate real hunting conditions. Make precious range time as realistic as possible.
Home on the Range: 7 Tips for Building Your Ultimate Home Shooting Range
Archers often practice at home. So can you. Dry-fire practice is a fantastic way to build your skills and it doesn't cost a dime. Be sure your rifle is unloaded with no ammo in the vicinity. Be safe about it. Don't scare your neighbors and don't dry fire at anything live, not even the neighbor's cat. Experiment with different positions and find out what works best for you. Build a solid shooting base using the gear you hunt with. Practice things like: working the bolt, removing scope caps, adjusting the scope, etc. Five minutes of dry-fire practice a few times per week can pay huge dividends when it comes time to take the shot of a lifetime.
It's important to ensure our gear is up to the task. Confirm your rifle is zeroed correctly for the ammo you'll hunt with. Know points of impact at various distances, too. Clean the bore before your final range trip or your point of impact may wander. Be sure scope mounts are tight, scope lenses are clean and nothing is gummed-up with lube. I know of two lubrication-induced misfires on trophy animals over the past few months. Don't be that guy.
Resist the temptation to treat your rifle like an invincible death ray. Put in the hours during the off season to ensure your success. Looking back on some of my greatest hunts, the difference between success and failure was often how much time I spent preparing. Adopt the bowhunter's mindset for preparation and there is a good chance you'll perform at the moment of truth.
Editor's note: This Realtree.com blog post was first published July 20, 2015.