(Continued from Part 1.)
Becoming a true marksman does not come overnight. It comes over many trips to the range. I was blessed to be going into my first season of hunting already knowing of what I was capable. I had nothing to prove regarding my shooting.
I have been involved in one of the Olympic pistol disciplines for seven years. Through competitive shooting I have learned many, many valuable lessons. Some of these regard shooting under stress. Others involve simply the basics of shooting taken to a competitive level.
Aside from competition, my dad and I regularly shoot a bolt action .22 on our backyard range. Our range is 100 yards long; perfect for sighting in rifles. The targets are copies of the Swiss B-4 330 yard (300 meter) targets. They are scaled down, so that at 55 yards they appear the same as the original at 330 yards.
Our course of fire consists of five rounds shot over four positions: prone, sitting, squatting, and offhand. We start at the 50 yard line firing one round from prone and another round from sitting. Then, we move up to 35 yards and fire another round from squatting. Our last round is fired offhand at 25 yards (remember, this is the equivalent of a man-sized target at 150 yards). The remaining round is fired differently depending on the stage. It is fired from prone in the first stage, then sitting in the next, so on and so forth.
This course has been adapted from the courses which Jeff Cooper designed. Jeff Cooper is more than the greatest firearms instructor, he is a legend. Not only is Col. Cooper responsible for the resurrection of the 1911, he is also responsible for the development of the Scout Rifle.
Randy Cain of Cumberland tactics refined the Scout Rifle by broadening the spectrum of what it was considered. He refers to them as “practical rifles.” In my way of thinking this is what all hunting rifles should be. Cain is also quoted as having said, “You will never rise to the occasion, you will revert to your training.” Nothing is more true, and that is what keeps me training. I have seen that come true many times, both in pistol matches and once when a certain deer found himself in my crosshairs.
One major problem with hunters today is that they take their rifle to the range, sit at a bench, fire a box of ammunition, and call themselves good. Many deer have been wounded as a result of this “practice.” You must learn to shoot a rifle from any of the field positions. If you shoot a bolt action rifle, you must learn to operate that bolt with the utmost speed. Finally, you must learn to make every round count. As Jeff Cooper said, “The purpose of shooting is hitting.”
I would highly encourage everyone to give the course I explained above a try. It has helped me more than any other rifle training I have done. Although it cannot compare to a course at Gunsite or Cumberland Tactics, it is perfect for those who can shoot 25 rounds every Saturday afternoon. JWR Adds: A few rifle ranges still seasonally offer a cableway “running deer” moving target, popularized in the 1970s.
The first stage of the hunting season starts long before the season opens. This is scouting. Thoroughly scouting the area you plan to hunt is necessary for a successful hunt. This is the reason deer feeders are unnecessary. You do not need to change the deer’s habits and movements. You need only to learn them, and learn them you must if you hunt as I have.
My property has areas of water and food for the deer. It also has some impenetrable brush in which the deer take refuge. I know where these areas are. Because I know where they are, I can change my hunting tactic to best fit the situation.
I went into my first season sorely unprepared in regards to the deer’s movements. I knew where I had seen tracks, but I didn’t know what the deer was doing when he made the tracks. Many times I still don’t know exactly what the deer is doing from the tracks; therein lies the ongoing fascination of hunting. I can tell you generally what the deer was doing when he made a visible track. I know they move through some parts of our land to find water. In other places, they move through to find shelter to bed down.
It is not enough to know why the track is where it is. You must be able to figure out at what time of the day the deer moves through that area. Take for instance a small spike buck I saw during the early part of the season. I saw him move through a certain part of the property one morning. I didn’t even consider shooting him because of his size, but I was thankful to see a buck who would grow into a trophy someday if he was given a chance. The next week I was back at the same spot, and there he was again at the same time. This happened once more. I’m sure he continued to show up there every morning at the same time, but I moved to a different part of the property, so I cannot tell for sure.
An important part of scouting is keeping record of what you see. I do this through a journal. While you are scouting, you can reference back to your journal to track the deer’s movements through an area year after year to see how they change. Many times deer move through the same trails year after year, but occasionally a tree will fall across a trail and deer will adapt. You will only know this if you spend the time scouting. You will only be able to hunt that trail successfully if you can study the big picture of what is going on inside your property.
During the season itself I personally keep record of where and what I see. I have subsections for each area I hunt. On a couple of pages before these subsections I have everything simplified on a graph. In this graph I have lines and columns. My lines are separated by the different places I hunted (i.e. N.E. Corner of Break, S.E. Corner of Break, Raven’s Gap, and The Rendezvous). The columns are separated by when I saw deer (i.e. Morning Doe, Morning Buck, Afternoon Doe, so on and so forth).
With all this information, hunting becomes like an antique picture. You focus and clean away the grime from a single part of it looking for what you want while remembering that there is still the rest of the picture left clouded. Every time you return to the woods that picture becomes more and more clear. It is always easier to clean the picture when you know that you will not be pushing a deer in front of another hunter during the season.
Now comes what most consider hunting to be, the time to grab your rifle and head for the woods. Slipping into the woods while it is still dark is almost necessary, although it will almost certainly ensure a long wait before the deer begin moving. Early morning and late evening are typically considered the best times to hunt, but I have found that big bucks tend to also move during the midday hours. I have found that it is important to never be caught without a flashlight when hunting because those early pre-dawn hours in which you will be venturing out are the darkest of the night. Do not use a very bright light. I use a dim headlamp that has a red lens. Using a red lens will keep the light from transferring as far as a white light.
Before you head out, you also need to have a game plan for the rifle. If you are hunting in a stand you will not want to chamber a round until you are seated, but if you are hunting on the ground, as I did, you can afford to load your rifle while you are stepping out of the door.
My mindset going into the season was this: either get a mature, big-headed buck, or keep all my rounds unfired.
The morning of October 17 dawned with anticipation and excitement. I was in the woods watching the sunlight begin to hit the tops of the longleaf pines with my favorite rifle in my hands. My body was still, but my eyes were constantly moving. A couple of squirrels were running around on a tree to my left, for a while, completely unaware of my presence. I knew then that this was where I wanted to be. I was thankful for that because I knew I would be spending countless hours in these woods doing this very thing over the next few weeks.
Unfortunately, I left those wonderful woods too early to see any deer activity, a beginning hunters mistake. This mistake is one I hope to keep others from making.
Always stay in your spot until your pre-decided time. I had to learn this lesson the hard way, the really hard way. I left this same hunting spot 10 minutes before my decided time a few weeks later. I walked about 3 yards and heard all heck break loose across the property line which was behind me. Turning around I heard the noise, which can be best described as the sound of a pig chasing a deer, come onto our property. It was two bucks, one of them easily mature enough for my standards, doing a pre-rut ritual. The big one came out of the brush first and saw me as I was raising my rifle. Through the scope I saw the tops of his antlers, then the tall tail, from which these deer derive there name, waving good-bye. This lesson stuck with me through the rest of the season, and it will continue to stick as long as I am able to hunt.
It is probably just as well that I was unable to get a shot off. At that time I was still too unfamiliar with the anatomy of deer to have placed a shot in the vitals.
(To be concluded tomorrow, in Part 3.)