Scanning the wood line with your compact binoculars you pick up movement in the thicket. Your heart begins to race and you make out what appears to be a large set of horns pushing through undergrowth and trees.
Switching from binos to rifle, you shoulder your gun. Your best estimate is that the trophy buck is somewhere between 125 and 150 yards. When he pauses you can see his head, a magnificent rack, and part of his shoulders.
As you take aim it occurs to you that you haven’t fired five rounds through your rifle since last season. Questions and doubts start to run through your mind. Is my scope still zeroed? Should I hold over? Can I make the shot even though only part of his body is exposed? In your mind you have missed the shot even before the trigger is pressed.
Confidence leads to success. The best way to build confidence in your rifle, and your own skills, is through experience. Firing a few rounds to check your scope the week before deer season is no way to build confidence. You need to get out in the field, but how? Deer season is only a few weeks long.
Seems simple, but how many folks don’t make the time to get out to the range regularly? Running off to the range a week before opening day seems to be the norm. I know my local rifle range is crowded with hunters during the weeks leading up to gun season. That’s like trying to cram an entire semester’s worth of Algebra the weekend before your final exam. Sure it might work out, but there are better ways.
Shooting/marksmanship skills are perishable. They deteriorate when not used. Make time during the spring and summer to get to the range. Take you kids and make morning or afternoon out of it. Load up your favorite centerfire rifle, a .22 LR or two and spend some time relaxing behind the stock.
When you hit the range take along both paper/cardboard targets and something reactive. I like to fill gallon or half-gallon jugs with water and place them out at reasonable hunting distances. Bust a water filled jug at 100 yards with a modern hunting bullet and the kids will hoop and holler.
Targets of Opportunity
If you have varmints in your area you have a perfect opportunity to hone you hunting skills yearlong. When I lived in Ohio ground hogs were my game of choice. Being varmints, no special license or permit was necessary. They were fair game all year long save deer gun season. Marmots hibernate in the winter anyway.
There were no caliber restrictions either. I’ve hunted woodchucks with .17 and .22 rimfire rifles, traditional varmint rounds like the .223 Remington or .243 Winchester as well as with full sized rifle cartridges. Throughout the years I’ve taken pasture poodles with .270 and .308 Winchester, 7mm WSM and a variety of centerfire handgun loads.
Some folks scoff and spout how they’d never spend a dollar a shot to kill a ground hog. They are really missing the point. Ground hogs aren’t field rats like prairie dogs or gophers. You don’t sit on a hill and shoot 50 of them in an hour. Marmots are actually very leery creatures. If they see or smell you they are gone. Woodchucks spend most of their lives in sprinting distance to their burrows. Some wildlife biologists suggst that a marmot will rarely venture more than a hundred yards from where they are born.
Every part of the nation has its share of four-legged pests. Coyotes, wild/feral hogs, javelina, nutria, jack rabbits, armadillos, all have one thing in common; they are normally classified as varmints and have very relaxed hunting restrictions.
Taking to the field during non-traditional hunting months will give you the opportunity to practice your field craft and test out your gear. This is a great time to break in new boots and try out recently purchased hunting accessories. I’d rather find out that a certain piece of gear did not perform as advertised during a day trip to shoot coyote rather than during my once in a life time elk hunt.
Varmint hunting lets you practice taking actual field shots, as opposed to the sterile environment of the target range. Success against varmints leads to confidence with your rifle and personal skills. This is can also be a humbling experience. If you are missing shots on varmints you might need to invest in some more ammunition and marksmanship training before the big hunt.
When the opportunity arrives to take that once in a lifetime shot at a Boone & Crocket monster you should not have any doubt in your shooting skills or rifle capabilities. Confidence equals success. Genuine confidence can only be purchased with the time and energy spent getting ready for that big day.