column By: Gordy J. Krahn | January, 19
Riflemen spend the majority of their range time each year punching paper at the shooting bench. That might not translate to a lot of success in the field when it comes time to put the hammer down on a coyote. A great deal of satisfaction can be had in knowing a favorite fur rifle can put three shots inside an inch at 100 yards, but what these hunters and shooters don’t seem to realize is that it could cost them big if they’re forced to make quick and unexpected shots in the field from positions from which they have never practiced.
To be successful where and when it counts – in the field, when a critter comes to the call – it’s important to be able to react quickly and shoot well in those precarious positions predator hunters often find themselves in. That is why it’s vital that when preparing for upcoming hunts, hunters should become intimate with their firearms and practice from those shooting positions that might be encountered in the field. A lot of the hidey-holes where four-legged predators like to hang out, hunt and escape detection can be physically challenging for two-legged predators. When shot opportunities present themselves, hunters are frequently forced to shoot from an awkward stance – sometimes at the drop of a hat and at considerable distance – without the use of a rest.
Once the baseline is established with a rifle that is consistently shooting about 1.5-inch groups at 100 yards from a solid rest, use that as a reference for the accuracy and consistency obtained when shooting from various field positions, and to establish a maximum shooting range in those positions. Obviously, the better a rifle groups from the bench, the better it will shoot in the field. If, for example, a rifle is capable of shooting only 4-inch groups at 100 yards (yikes!), consistently killing predators when shooting offhand at that distance might be extremely difficult – or at 200 yards from prone position, for that matter. That’s why it’s first important to determine how well a rifle shoots in a controlled environment. That way it’s possible to experiment with various bullets, optics, trigger adjustments and such to squeeze more accuracy out of the rifle – or get a new rifle.
Now it’s time to ditch the bench and practice shooting under real-world conditions without the aid of a rest and from various field positions. First, the end goal should be discussed. There are two parts. The first objective is to put each bullet within the kill zone of the target animal (approximately 7 inches for coyotes) from various shooting positions, say at 100 yards. Once this has been accomplished, it’s time to establish the maximum range at which those results are repeatable for each shooting position. Obviously, it’s not reasonable to expect the same accuracy from the offhand standing position as from laying prone with a backpack for a rest. It’s important for a predator hunter to know the limitations for each.
Begin by getting into a common shooting position like sitting, with the rifle resting on a bipod. First establish that every bullet can be put in the 7-inch kill zone at 100 yards, and then move back from there in 50- or 100-yard increments until you can no longer group shots in the vital area. Doing so will reveal a maximum range for that shooting position. Repeat the process with other shooting positions, with and without a rest. This is especially important for offhand, the most difficult position for most hunters to master. If a hunter can’t consistently hit the 7-inch kill zone offhand at 100 yards, he has no business attempting the shot in the field. Either pass on the shot, or try to get into a more stable position such as sitting or kneeling. Here is where practice comes into play. Get off the bench and practice field shooting to extend your maximum killing range.
The closer the shooter is to the ground, the more stable his or her position, and the more potential for accuracy. If visibility allows, shooting prone is the best option, followed by sitting, kneeling and standing. Prone can be tricky in hunting situations because there is a good chance there will be obstacles between the shooter and the target. However, when hunting in hilly terrain where I can get up high and obtain a clear path to my target from the prone position, doing so will always be a first choice.
A rifle on a bipod or resting on a backpack when in the prone position is the closest thing to shooting off the bench. On the other end of the spectrum, obtaining accuracy at long distances can be challenging from the standing position. However, there are times when standing is the only option because of a lack of visibility. The key is to practice from each position to improve performance and determine limitations.
The following is a brief summary of the four standard shooting positions for right-handed shooters. Each can be used in conjunction with a shooting aid for added stability. There are going to be those times when you have to act quickly and shoot without the aid of a rest, and that’s why it is also important to practice and become proficient at each.
The prone position is the steadiest of the four shooting positions because the body has the most contact with the ground. Using a backpack or bipod for added stability, it’s the best position for long-range shots at small targets. Shooters can attain benchrest accuracy in this position.
To shoot from the prone position, lie on your stomach with your body slightly to the left, your back straight and legs in a relaxed, spread position. Both elbows should be bent, and your shoulders curved slightly forward to form a solid upper body platform.
When obstacles make prone shooting impractical, the sitting position is the next-best option. It’s relatively easy to get into, and the shooter has multiple points of contact with the ground. It provides a steady shooting platform when done correctly, and it allows the shooter to clear small obstacles.
Position your body about 30 degrees to the right and place the left elbow near, but not on, the bony part of the left knee, tucking the elbow as far under the rifle as possible. Place the right elbow on or near the right knee, forming two triangles to firmly support the rifle.
This is a great field position because it’s quick and easy to get into. Kneeling gets the shooter up off the ground for good visibility and, when executed correctly, is almost as steady as the prone position because the left arm is supported by the left knee that is being steadied by the ground.
For kneeling, line up at a 45-degree angle to the target and lower the body so the right knee touches the ground and place the left foot forward. Sit comfortably on the heel or the side of the right foot and place the left elbow near, but not on, the bony part of the left knee, and as far under the rifle as you can.
The standing position, often referred to as “offhand,” is exactly what the name implies, and it can be the most difficult shooting position to master. This is by far the least steady position, too, and it requires the most practice to become proficient. Essentially, you must use nothing but your body for support, and fatigue can become an issue.
Position your body 90 degrees to the right of the target with your feet shoulder-width apart. Support the rifle with the left arm, holding it against the body for extra support. Hold the rifle firmly against your shoulder with the right hand.
The next time you are at the range, spend less time at the bench and more time practicing those shots that will make you a better marksman in the field – and put more fur in the truck at the end of the day.