I sure do. And the more technical the gear, the more my skills seem to have eroded.
If familiar fishing gear can feel so awkward after a break, imagine what your guns are going to feel like come fall and the opening of hunting seasons.
I know of almost nothing more challenging than accurate shooting when you don’t practice regularly.
April is none too soon to start practicing for the August 1 opening of the Kodiak deer season.
Yeah, I know.
Ammunition and reloading components have gone up in price, even become scarce at times.
But does that mean you should give up on practice, or even cut back?
I don’t think so, based upon years of my own off-season practice.
For one thing, do you really need to hear a bang every time you pull the trigger? Or are there forms of practice that will translate into better marksmanship once your guns do actually bark?
It’s not always possible to go to the range for practice. And as you well know, not all Kodiak days are even suitable for shooting.
I haven’t let that stop my training, however.
When you break marksmanship down to its essentials, you have a lot to work on without burning a single grain of powder.
Breathing, stamina, steadiness, strength and coordination all have to work together before you can reliably shoot well, shot after shot.
Sounds like exercise, doesn’t it?
Sure, general fitness is important, but you need to go a step beyond for consistent shooting. You need to tune up specific muscles while learning to coordinate your breathing and reflexes.
Here’s an interesting test for you.
Pick your favorite firearm and raise it into shooting position. Do the sights tremble a bit?
Sure they do. That’s only natural. But you can reduce the trembles and even begin to control them simply by repeatedly exercising your “sighting” muscles and practicing.
Go ahead and keep the gun in position for a full minute.
I bet the sights are really trembling now!
Lower the gun and relax your arms for a bit. It might help simply to lay your pet aside for a few minutes.
After a little rest, pick it up again and hold it in position for another minute. But don’t stop!
Stretch it to a full two minutes.
I bet you’re starting to feel a few twinges in specific muscles in your upper body and arms. If not, pick up the gun again and see if you can go for a full three minutes.
Good luck to you, because fit as I was, I almost couldn’t make the full three minutes the first time I tried it.
Three minutes doesn’t sound like a long time until you try it. After the one- and two-minute sessions, I can just imagine how your sights are wavering by now.
You can do this simple series of exercises in about 10 minutes. That’s not a lot to ask of yourself. So why not do it every night?
By the end of the first week, you should see a real difference in how your sights behave in the first 10 or 15 seconds. Right there you have the start of better marksmanship, no matter what you shoot.
Coordinating your breathing, aiming and trigger squeeze is also critical to good marksmanship.
Without a doubt, the best way to develop it is by incorporating your trigger finger into the mix, along with the steady hold and good sight picture. Bangs are good for practice certainly, but in fact the noise and recoil at the range usually obscure what’s really going on.
You need to see not only where the sights were pointing at the moment the trigger broke, but also what happens to them in the milliseconds that follow.
I know of no better way to focus on that than through dry firing.
Not all guns are intended to be dry fired, so don’t go doing it willy-nilly with your own. Consult the owner’s manual and see what the manufacturer recommends. If they advise against it, check into what are called “snap caps,” dummy rounds with features that allow you to safely dry fire a gun. They’re priceless.
Rimfire rifles and handguns in particular can be damaged by dry firing. You can always insert an empty, fired case in the chamber so the firing pin has something to land on when you dry fire. But even that makes me a little nervous. It’s a good question for a gunsmith, because I’m aware that lots of folks do it.
My solution is a whole lot more fun.
I prefer to shoot “adult” air guns, the really accurate ones that rob you of excuses for any miss. I still dry fire the guns which are set up for it, but I think I get a lot more out of sessions with my air rifle and air pistol.
Most air gun targets are scaled for either 25 foot or 10 meter shooting. But most of us don’t have that much room for shooting at home.
Long ago I found some targets scaled for 15 foot shooting, and used those until my supply dried up. But I don’t miss them.
My favorite target now is a simple dot on a piece of paper, whether made with a black felt pen or by firing a pellet through the paper.
At 15 feet an accurate air rifle or pistol is fully capable of hitting that hole again, enlarging it a little at worst.
But oh, the difficulty of doing so offhand!
My routine is to evenly space 10 marks or holes in the target paper and fire one offhand shot at each one. If I cut the hole or mark at all, I call it a hit.
I’ve had a few stellar days over the years when I managed a perfect score of ten. But a score of 8 or 9 is enough to make me really proud.
The point though is not the score, so much as being able to “call” each shot, to anticipate where it’s going to hit before it even arrives at the target. You know you’re on the road to consistent marksmanship when you can manage that for every shot.
All this exercise and dry firing and air gunning is a terrific help. But it’s not going to pay off if you don’t also get out and shoot your hunting arms long before it’s time to hunt.
Due to the cost of ammunition and components, I may not shoot as often or as long in the months leading up to hunting season, but I still try to sprinkle in a few range sessions even in April.
But as the opening day of your favorite season approaches, you should increase the frequency of your practice sessions at home as well as your range visits.
If you do so, you’ll thank me next time the only shot you’re offered is in Kodiak’s tall grass, even as you’re huffing and puffing from the long climb and excitement.