How to shoot quickly

How many times has a big-game hunter, carried out a successful stalk, only to fail in that critical few seconds when he takes the shot. He either shoots too soon or else allows the opportunity pass without recognizing it. Knowing exactly when to shoot in order to get off your shot at the best possible moment is a technique, which many hunters are never able to master. In essence, it is based on three factors of animal behaviour, the hunter’s situation and the animal’s state of alertness or readiness to take flight. It is a knack, which the inexperienced nimrod regards as sheer luck, but it really is a technique which may be learned.

The question is: what to do – and what not to do; how to skillfully utilize the moment of greatest shooting advantage. A basic hunting mistake is to take too long in getting off your shot. If you wait too long, the game may become aware of your presence and spook, or it may catch your scent on a errant breeze and immediately take off. The first aim is always the best, and the longer you hold it the more chance your sight may wobble off a vital area and the shot be misplaced or even be a clean miss.

Let’s look at the three factors involved in the crucial few seconds in which the shot should be got off.

Different big game animals have certain charactaristics peculiar to its species. But a great deal of hunting procedure can be learned if one considers all game as leading a pursued life. All game species are hunted by predators the most dangerous of which is man; and their survival is dependent on escape.

Because of this, their pattern of daily living involves being constantly alert for danger and being ready to flee. Most hunters approach from behind, due to detection of sign, or following fresh tracks or a recently used game trail. It is, therefore, only natural that game keeps a close watch along its back track. Game moves cautiously so that it may watch from positions of advantage or from cover, which puts its pursuer at a disadvantage by having to show himself in clearings or in bush where his movements can be seen or heard.

When closely pressed, mountain game will move upward, gain a vantage spot and closely watch its back track from cover of some sort. Also, game will map out the terrain to which it intends to go, with the same amount of care.

The wise hunter will climb high and work along below the ridge tops above his intended quarry knowing full well that the game will be more concerned with danger from downhill than above. In the event game travels around the side of a hill, the hunter is likely to catch up with it hind-end-on. Lower down he will find wary game, along the edge of clearings, or just inside fringing timber, just beyond hill crests or other similar situations where he will be forced to show himself first. Exceptions, such as deer moving at dusk out into the open from wooded country, only substantiate the generality – deer habitually sneaking in the shadowy side of thick brush using approaching darkness to shield their movements.

This is how the big-game hunter usually comes on undisturbed game from poor shooting positions. He catches the flicker of an ear, the white tail patch of a buck or a sweep of antlers as a deer raises its head from grazing, or turns to look over its shoulder. These are all the reasons why experienced big-game hunters take care to come upon any game, whenever possible from the unexpected direction. They either detect or anticipate the presence of game in an area, then plan their stalk accordingly.

This technique often results in sighting the game at a far better shooting angle, presenting a far better and longer opportunity for the shot. In the event the game has detected the hunter first, it poses a more difficult problem; but not one that is insurmountable.

If a deer catches your scent, it will not always go bounding away in an opposite direction and clean out of the country. If it is not too badly spooked it will often bound off a few meters and stop to locate the source. A big stag hearing, sighting or scenting something that makes him suspicious, will stand immobile until he’s sure of the cause before activating his escape strategy.

Again a startled sambar may honk and instinctively “scissor” away, but unless there’s further evidence of danger, he will often pause on the last crest to make sure. The skilled hunter well aware of this, will assume some kind of rest and be ready to take the shot in the instant he stops.

The physical reason for this behaviour lies in its eyesight. The retina in a deer’s eyeball is positioned so that movement may be detected quickly from the corner of the eye, but shades of colour and form are better detected from straight ahead.

This is why when game glimpses hunter movement, it bounds off for momentary safety, but turns and pauses for head-on, complete identification. Since his eyes are in the front of the head this is not not possible during flight.

Every action of the hunter, once he’s been “sprung” by the game, has a vital bearing on the length of this pause. Experienced hunters are convinced that game animals can divine the intentions of man. The common complaint that men always see game when they haven’t a gun – “He just stood there and watched me” – seems proof of this. Deer will often stand and stare at the solitary hiker or slowly passing vehicles on bush tracks; pay no attention to a motionless man; totally ignore a horseback hunter. This is common behaviour in most species of non-dangerous game.

The most wary predators will often do the same. Many a farmer working in the bush has had foxes or dingoes watch him for long periods of time. Many a farmer has had a wild boar follow his tractor while he ploughed. Some hunters swear that animals can spot and understand the presence of a firearm. But I believe that they have the instinct to interpret any intent to harm.

How long will a game animal stand after mutual recognition between hunter and quarry? This is the vital “instant of flight” factor. The time will vary between different species, distance, hunting pressure in the area, and degree of fright. Many alerted game animals will pause from two to ten seconds before taking off.

The basic fact for the hunter to remember is that this pause-before-flight represents the best opportunity for a successful shot. But it is largely determined by evidence of pursuit, and in turn is often betrayed by the hunter’s actions.

If the hunter sighting game acts surprised or excited, or in any way lets the game know he is interested, it’s likely to bolt. If, on the other hand, he shows no interest, but stands still, bringing his rifle up in a slow natural movement continuous with his former careful movements – the game will often pause before flight long enough for him to get away an aimed shot.

The most unproductive thing any hunter can do when he realizes he can’t get any closer, is to blaze away, offhand, as fast as he can work the bolt. If, instead he made no quick movements, and simply dropped into a sit, resting his rifle across his knees and got properly ready, he’d have a good chance of making a fatal shot and bagging his game.

The very poorest opportunities for a successful shot are at the glimpse of an animal, the hasty inaccurate snap-shot taken without thought at a glimpse movement in brush that’s proved fatal to more than one hunter’s mate in sambar country.

The best way to slow down or stop any game animal is to drop down and/or get out of sight. If in open country the best way to do this is to drop down slowly to take a sitting shot, When the animal stops for a last look, it more often stands broadside than end-on. The pause is prolonged because the hunter is out of sight and hard to identify. In this kind of situation he has a better chance, since his rifle is already aimed.

Last is actually getting off the shot. Sixty years of big game hunting has convinced me that the successful shot at big game should be taken relatively quickly. I know fine rifle shots who can shoot /2-minute groups regularly from prone or benchrest, but who, somehow, simply cannot get off the shot at game in time. They squeeze and squeeze, but the rifle doesn’t go off until after the game does.

The trigger pull for deadly big-game shooting is a squeeze. But it is fast and continuous, often taking only one or two seconds. The old hand has already mastered this technique and will be able call his shots – he’ll know exactly where they hit the animal, and if it runs he’ll know whether it was only wounded or is likely to fall after running a short distance.

There are many lessons to be learned in hunting patience and game strategy when hunting with a rifle. But they have to become instinctive before they pay off.

This article was first published in Sporting Shooter Magazine April 2013




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