KEEPERING WITH THE NGO: Practice makes perfect
... But, as Tim explains, make sure it is perfect practice – whether shooting a shotgun or a rifle. You owe it to your quarry to make every shot count
With the shooting season now heading into full swing, clay grounds up and down the country will have been busy with clients coming in for an hour’s lesson to remember how to swing the gun properly, get their stance right and have a practice. It is responsible to make sure that you are competent when you go out shooting and that is why many people will take a lesson or two each season. Shooting comes naturally to those who have done it for years and years, and to those who take their summer sport of pigeon shooting seriously, too. But for those that shoot once or twice a year only, a lesson, in my view, is a must. Even taking advantage of the BASC have-a-go sessions at a game fair will make a difference. It
‘At the range, I try to make it as real as possible: I only give myself a few seconds to get the rifle up, set and aimed, just like in the field’
all helps. You will also enjoy your sport much more; there is nothing more frustrating than missing everything and not knowing why, but after some instruction at least you should know why you are missing!
It is not just the game shooting season that goes into full swing in the winter months – the nitty-gritty part of deer stalking, the doe cull, is also at its peak. It can be hard work, with poor weather, but the job needs doing and deer stalkers and deer managers are out and about. For the hobby stalker, does can really be hard work because of the lack of daylight hours. In the summer, on the roe bucks, you can easily get out at 4am and be back home to get ready for work at 9am and still have time for a second evening stalk. But the winter is different; hobby stalkers will only have weekends or the time they have taken off work, unless they are lucky enough to be retired. And let’s face it, who really wants to do their hobby when it is raining sideways and blowing a hooley?
That’s why we have to make every shot count and where, just like with a shotgun, practice makes us better. I use a rifle far more often than I do a shotgun, both for foxing and stalking, but I still take plenty of range time too. I practise different shooting positions, from prone to standing, and will go through the DSC1 shooting test as practice. I try to make it as real as possible: I only give myself a few seconds to get the rifle up, set and aimed, just like in the field (although on the range I have the advantage of knowing what is behind the target, which I check in the field first and before shooting). Gongs are also a really good way to practise your rifle shooting; they are reactive so you know when you’ve hit it and you can easily set them at varying distances. Light-hearted target practice is great fun too, but can be expensive with a centrefire rifle. I must admit that I do tend to use my deer rifle for my practice because that is what I shoot most of the time, but there is nothing stopping you using a .22 rimfire for practice – you will still need to get into the correct body positions and stances.
That brings me on to another point: all this practice might be for nothing if I’ve been practising bad habits. Your muscles learn your preferred body positions (muscle memory) and the brain will automatically set you up to be in the same position as last time. Now, what if that isn’t the correct position for shooting? We could well be teaching ourselves bad habits. For example, I have to take a yearly shooting test with the Forestry Commission for a stalking licence. It is basically the DSC1 but with fewer chances to mess up a shot. Last year my last two shots at the deer target were taken standing, from sticks, at 40m. I set the sticks and took my two shots. Both went into the kill zone but I really didn’t feel right; if that had been a live deer I probably wouldn’t have shot (I know I shouldn’t have shot at the target either, but you know what it’s like when you are on a test – no matter how many times you do it, it is still nerve-racking). As soon as the test was over the ranger said: “Well done, but do you know what you did on the standing shots?” “No,” I replied, “but I didn’t feel right, not like I normally do.”
“You didn’t put the sticks up high enough and your back was bent; you should be standing up straight. That’s why it didn’t feel quite right.”
Now that is a common mistake and one that many people make. I really try to remember to get the sticks up so I am straight, but, as that example shows, I don’t always. Could it be down to muscle memory?
So, later this year I am off to see a friend of mine at Carlton Moor Range, Mike Dickinson. Mike has a wonderful facility in Derbyshire with two underground tunnel ranges and long-distance stuff out on the hill. He is also a great instructor so I am going to have an hour’s lesson with him just to check over my stance, positions and technique. Maybe it would be a useful thing for all rifle shots to do every now and then. I will report back on what is wrong with my shooting.
Any target practice helps – just make sure you are practising the correct technique
When shooting from sticks you should be standing upright, not leaning forwards