Jim Chap­man cov­ers a tech­nique to im­prove your short-range hunt­ing

Jim Chap­man helps us to avoid a com­mon pit­fall

Air Gunner - - Contents -

For many of the hunts I do, there is a fo­cus on long- range shoot­ing. When out af­ter prairie dogs, for in­stance, shots in the 75-100- yard range are the norm, and when go­ing af­ter jackrab­bits in the wide- open deserts out west, 50-75 yards is a typ­i­cal range. In prepa­ra­tion for these hunts, I’ll set up tar­gets at 30 to 100- yard in­cre­ments and fa­mil­iarise my­self with the tra­jec­tory so that I have a clear sense of the point of im­pact ( POI) at each dis­tance. This POI map­ping cou­pled with a rangefinder is the best means of en­sur­ing solid hits on quarry, leav­ing the wind as the only ma­jor vari­able to deal with in the field.

The guns I pre­fer for this type of shoot­ing, with re­spect to cal­i­bre and power out­put, have been dis­cussed in the past. I find a .25 or .30 cal­i­bre mov­ing at ve­loc­i­ties over 800 fps op­ti­mal for this style of shoot­ing. Since there are no power re­stric­tions on air­guns in the States, the com­pen­sa­tion for in­creas­ing cal­i­bre and pel­let weight is to in­crease the power out­put. This re­duces the sub­stan­tial ef­fect on tra­jec­tory as­so­ci­ated with larger cal­i­bres when the over­rid­ing re­quire­ment is to stay within le­gal power lim­its. What I’d like to dis­cuss this month, though, is the other end of the spec­trum – i.e. man­ag­ing the close- range shot op­por­tu­ni­ties that pop up.

It seems coun­ter­in­tu­itive; most shoot­ers spend their time wor­ry­ing about the shots at the fur­thest and not short­est ranges, what the ri­fle is ca­pable of, and the shooter’s lim­i­ta­tions. The as­sump­tion most of us have is that if we are go­ing to miss, it’s go­ing to be the 70- yard shot and not the 35- yard shot. So, we spend the lion’s share of our prac­tice time on those shots. This makes sense as we strive to en­sure that we can hit any tar­get we pull the trig­ger on, which is the eth­i­cal and prac­ti­cal thing to do.


To be hon­est, my prob­lem area is not the 35 or 70- yard shots, the ones I most fre­quently fluff are the short- range, five- yard shots that pop up right in front of me. If I were to line up all the shots I’ve missed over a long hunt­ing ca­reer, from a per­cent­age stand­point it would be the short- range shots that have vexed me. Sev­eral fac­tors con­trib­ute to this, but there is an ob­vi­ous one based on my pre­vi­ous com­ments – I’ve tended to spend

a lot of time as­sess­ing my hunt­ing rig be­tween 30-100 yards, but not so much at 5-15 yards. I sup­pose my rea­son­ing has been that in most hunt­ing ap­pli­ca­tions these shots are the cor­ner cases, and some­where in my sub­con­scious, think that even though my life ex­pe­ri­ence has clearly demon­strated oth­er­wise, close shots are dead easy and not to be wor­ried about.

Be­fore dis­cussing why close shots can be dif­fi­cult, let’s take a quick look at when and why they hap­pen. The most prob­lem­atic for me are the un­ex­pected op­por­tu­ni­ties; when out hunt­ing squir­rels and watch­ing a feed­ing area or den tree from 50 yards off, a sound is de­tected and look­ing up, a big fox squir­rel is at eye level in a tree five yards away. Or, I’m glass­ing dis­tant bur­rows for prairie dogs and putting down the binoculars find a head pop­ping out of a bur­row right in front of me. In these sit­u­a­tions, my tar­get is in a range for which I hadn’t done ad­e­quate prepa­ra­tion. My zero is set out far and I haven’t shot much from the muz­zle out to 15 yards.


A bit less trou­ble­some, but still not a sure thing, are ap­pli­ca­tions such as turkey hunt­ing, when most shots will be in­side of 40 yards, but closer shots are not un­com­mon. For this quarry, your tar­get is the head (about the size of a wal­nut) or the base of the spine. I have missed a few tur­keys that have charged the call and/or de­coy, al­most end­ing up in my lap. To im­prove my suc­cess rate, I’ve started ze­ro­ing my turkey gun at 30 yards and prac­tis­ing on tar­gets at 5- 40 yards be­fore the hunt.

The eas­i­est sce­nario to pre­pare for is when it is known in ad­vance that the range will be short. Shoot­ing rats or pi­geons in a barn lim­its the dis­tance – in my ex­pe­ri­ence, most shots will be in­side of 25 yards. For this ap­pli­ca­tion, the gun set- up and my prepa­ra­tions match the si­t­u­a­tion, mak­ing those short- range shots less dif­fi­cult. I might zero the gun at 20 yards and check POI at 5- yard in­cre­ments be­tween 5-25 yards.

Why are these close- range shots ever dif­fi­cult? I think it comes down to three main fac­tors; the need to re­act quickly and un­der pres­sure, the need to select the right tar­get­ing point, and the need to make scope ad­just­ments (par­al­lax and mag­ni­fi­ca­tion) quickly and with­out spook­ing your quarry. When that squir­rel pops up five yards away and your scope is set with ad­justable ob­jec­tive (AO) at 40 yards and 12x mag­ni­fi­ca­tion, all the hunter sees is a fuzzy blur. You can ei­ther take the shot that way, or risk spook­ing the an­i­mal as you try quickly and sub­tly, to make the ad­just­ments. Nei­ther ap­proach is a recipe for suc­cess.

The other prob­lem is that the hunter might need to shift to the right or the left to line up the shot. This can be dif­fi­cult enough to do with­out spook­ing your prey when it’s 40 yards away, far more dif­fi­cult when the an­i­mal is lit­er­ally right in front of you. The sim­ple move­ment re­quired to bring the ri­fle to shoul­der or get it up on sticks, will be the warn­ing alarm for that squir­rel to get the heck out of Dodge!

The last ob­sta­cle for me is the psy­cho­log­i­cal one. That 5- yard shot at the turkey’s head must be held high, some­times very high. It seems un­nat­u­ral to be hold­ing the zero two inches over the gob­bler’s head when he’s only a few yards away, but that is ex­actly what you need to do. I’ve looked at video footage of some of my close- range misses, and in­vari­ably I’m shoot­ing un­der.


The so­lu­tion to close- range shoot­ing is straight­for­ward. If I think there is a like­li­hood of a close- range shot I’ll set the scope with a low mag­ni­fi­ca­tion and the AO in close. I’ll also get the gun rested on sticks, or what­ever sup­port is be­ing used, well in ad­vance. This re­duces the need to move around if an an­i­mal pops up closer than ex­pected. It also al­lows the hunter to get on tar­get and take the shot quickly, be­fore the quarry has the chance to re­act.

Re­gard­less of where you zero the scope, don’t ne­glect prac­tis­ing at closer ranges when map­ping the tra­jec­tory. I have had enough 5- to 10- yard shots at turkey, es­pe­cially when hunt­ing a blind, to know this is a real pos­si­bil­ity when head­ing into the woods. For this rea­son, I spend a lot of time mak­ing sure that I can con­sis­tently hit the bulls­eye at 5-10 yards be­fore the hunt starts.

Every hunter hates to make a bad shot, and al­though a clean miss is bet­ter than a bad hit, a five- yard miss will give your con­fi­dence and ego a spank­ing! Once I started fol­low­ing this ad­vice on scope setup, get­ting into po­si­tion to min­imise move­ment, and prac­tis­ing with my hunt­ing rig at close range, my suc­cess at bag­ging close- range game im­proved dra­mat­i­cally.

MAIN: I stepped around a cedar and had a fast 5-yard shot at a jackrab­bit only sec­onds be­fore he bolted

ABOVE: While fo­cused on the bur­rows along the fence-line, a prairie dog popped up 5 yards in front of me

ABOVE: Start with scope mag­ni­fi­ca­tion low and AO close

BE­LOW: As a last step, I shot a life- sized tar­get at 5 yards, and hit low

LEFT: Chair­gun demon­strates the same holdover is re­quired for shots at 5 and 56 yards

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