Our Outdoors
Nick Simonson

When you get a great target in your sites, youll want to have a proper rifle shooting technique molded in your mind

An old neighbor of mine who was just as good at busting sporting clays on the skeet range as he was at busting my chops regarding my tales of fishing and hunting misadventure, asked me what my problem was when he read I didn't get a deer on opening weekend a few years back.

I told him it wasn't for lack of trying, I fired 12 shots, and missed every single one of them. Having never hunted with a rifle before, I told him that I was new at it. Being a veteran of World War II, and from all indicators on the skeet range one night, an excellent mark, he said that was no excuse and gave me a tip he used in training soldiers on the firing range.

"Shoot an unloaded gun" he stated matter-of-factly. He and his fellow trainers knew who the flinchers were when they'd hand a soldier a gun, the recruit would pull the trigger and immediately wince, despite nothing happening. It was an easy fix after that, he related. Sure enough, the flinch was my problem. Last season, I was able to eliminate most of it by mentally preparing myself before each shot and practicing with my 30.06 more often than in previous pre-seasons.

This year, my shooting skills and the resulting groupings have improved, thanks not only to his tip but also by the addition of a smaller caliber rifle to my collection. Both factors have the flinch out of my firing, and have my shots marking the bullseye more consistently.

Perhaps the biggest advancement has come from the use of the .22 rifle I asked for last Christmas. When many of my friends looked at me like I was a 30-year-old preschooler, in regard to the teenager's gun I had on my list to Santa, I simply explained my hopes for what a smaller firearm could accomplish in my preparations for the next deer season.

So far, the experiment has paid dividends far greater than the cost of some quizzical stares; not only with better form on the shooting range, but also helping me to focus on the shot rather than the noise and motion with the larger caliber rifles I shoot each fall. I find that the lack of bump and boom with a small caliber rifle has helped me focus on the target, keep the crosshairs in the black, and maintain a steady aim. The feeling that I won't receive another red crescent moon on my forehead is nice too.

This same mentality has transferred over to the bigger calibers I shoot, helping me to remain calm, breathe and aim while not fearing the larger jolt and noise. Having practiced with the small rifle all summer, this fall's sighting in and practice rounds with the .270 and 30.06 have been much more productive. I am consistently putting groups of bullets within a four-inch circle, and I am more confident in my shooting skills compared to a year ago. I find that my eye remains on the target before and after the shot and I am more aware of shot placement because I am settled before I squeeze the trigger.

While these are probably hurdles many hunters overcame when they first picked up a rifle at age 10 or so, it may be they now know up-and-coming young hunters and shooters who suffer from the same ailment. By focusing on the problem and addressing it from a variety of ways - including these - those experienced hunters can assist the new ranks in making both the sports of shooting and deer hunting more enjoyable. After all, a safe, flinch-free and fun deer season is what we're all looking forward to…in our outdoors.