By Richard A. Mann II
Hunting skills like scouting and stalking will not put antlers on the wall. To close the deal, you must make the shot. Tactics, techniques, scents and calls might get you close but will be of no use when it’s trigger time. Many of us hunt with bow and rifle, but fail to recognize the similarities between the two pursuits. Often, when we take our rifles to the woods, we forget the importance of those things we consider vital with our archery gear.
Sure, you’ve got to see the buck to shoot it. But it’s accurate shooting that keeps hunters smiling and taxidermists in business. With some forethought and practice, you can be prepared when that once-in-a-lifetime buck finally makes a mistake. Here are 10 tips from the mind of a bowhunter to help make that gunshot count.
1. THE RELEASE
Bowhunters understand the importance of a good release, whether it’s mechanical or fingers. It is no different with a rifle. Consider having your factory trigger worked or replaced. It doesn’t need to be set “feather-light,” but it should break clean and crisp.
A high-visibility sight can make all the difference when you are pressed for time or light to aim at your buck. Don’t overlook thick or illuminated reticles.
3. ARROW FLIGHT
With bows, we commit to memory the trajectory of our arrows and use different sight pins to help us hit. Know where your bullet will hit at 100, 222 and 327 yards. But don’t rely on trajectory tables; go to the range, shoot and see for yourself.
Your rifle should fit you. Proper stock fit helps control recoil and makes the rifle feel like it belongs on your shoulder. Most hunters’ rifle stocks are too long. Grip the wrist of the rifle and put your finger comfortably on the trigger. Lay the stock along your forearm. The butt of the rifle should be about 1/2 to 1 inch away from your bicep. If it isn’t, go to a gunsmith and have it corrected.
Silence is golden to a bowhunter, and noise can betray a rifle hunter just the same. Last year, a friend spooked a buck when he popped up his scope lens covers and missed an opportunity. Make sure your rifle is silenced.
6. SIGHTS, AGAIN
A scope should be mounted as close to the rifle as possible. Large-objective lenses or excessively high mounts will not allow your cheek to contact the stock when you shoot. The result is some unnecessary head wiggling when you shoulder your rifle. When you shoot your bow, you don’t want to strain to look through your peep sight. You should also be comfortable when you look through your scope.
Archers understand the importance of a stable bow for accurate shooting, but we will take our rifle to the woods and leave a 2-pound padded sling with our name embroidered in it attached to sway back and forth as we try to shoot. Quick-detach swivels let you keep your sling in your pack until you need to carry your rifle while you are dragging that big one out of the timber. I doubt you leave your bow sling on while you are hunting.
8. LIGHTWEIGHT PRACTICE
Use an understudy gun for initial practice. By that, I mean get out your .22 rifle (it’s even better if it resembles your deer-hunting rig) and shoot it. It’s much cheaper and there is no law against shooting deer targets with a .22. Many archers start early practice with their bows set to a lower poundage or use lightweight limbs on their recurves to get in shape and develop form. Additionally, your big game rifle should be of a weight and generate a recoil level with which you are comfortable.
9. PRACTICE POSITIONS
You should also spend time shooting from your weak side. Don’t try this with your bow! You never know when that monster buck will approach from the wrong side and you won’t be able to twist around to get a shot. I have had this happen more than once, and pre-season practice allowed me to take those deer left-handed. Also, shoot while kneeling, squatting, sitting and in any other position that might actually be required in the field.
10. LIFELIKE TARGETS
Most importantly, practice shooting at deer-like targets in real world conditions. Just like 3-D archery courses, set them in the woods, up or down hills, and partially obscured by cover.
You spend the pre-season scouting and setting stands. You take vacation from work and precautions to control your scent. Don’t let all those hours of preparation blow away in a muzzle blast because you failed to develop one of the hunter’s most important attributes: the ability to hit your mark.
-- Richard A. Mann II