How many range trips have you witnessed all the other attendees with butts glued firmly to a seat next to a bench rest? Ironically, these same stool shooters will decry conventional bullseye competition events as “boring” and ignore events that test and develop base marksmanship skills directly applicable to field shooting. While conventional competition and round bull targets have much to recommend, there are other factors in field shooting worth considering. Shots in the woods are freestyle and there often is a time factor involved. We can take these elements and create shooting games that are not only useful for building better hunting skills but make range time more fun.
Avoiding the benchrest in favor of more realistic shooting usable in the field is a great way to eliminate buck fever.
A Game of R-I-F-L-E
Remember high school gym class? If you’re like me you spent a good portion of your youth wondering why all public schools don’t have rifle teams and instead waste time with silly games. My high school gym teacher wasn’t particularly bright, so instead of learning something useful like how to properly lift weights, sprint, or shoot, we wasted our time with dumb things like basketball, softball, Frisbee and the like. Luckily, the gym class experience doesn’t have to be a total waste. I’ll show you how to take one game and make it a good field marksmanship exercise.
The game of Horse is freestyle basketball practice that teaches players to make a variety of shots. (Unless you plan to “earn” millions of dollars in the NBA, why would you want to? That’s a question only my gym teacher can answer.) Players take turns attempting various shots. When someone sinks a basket, everyone else has to duplicate that shot. Missing earns you a letter and the first person to spell H-O-R-S-E loses.
We can use this for something useful: The improvement of our field marksmanship skills. To play, you’ll need a self-resetting reactive target, an electronic shot timer and a few hunting friends. Use whatever firearms you normally hunt with. To get into the proper mindset, have the participants spell “Rifle” or something similar. Of course you can spell anything you want: “Pistol”, “Whitetail”, “Elk”, “Antelope,” etc. I suppose if you have the time, you could play a round of “Supercalifragilisticexpealidotious.” Whatever trips your trigger.
Any form of competition shooting, even against bullseyes, helps inure you against stress and reduces buck fever when hunting. Basic position shooting practice is more realistic than any bench rest shooting. Field shooting drills are even more realistic and fun!
Another important factor in getting into the proper mindset is remembering the goal of this exercise is improving field marksmanship, where the targets are living beings and actions taken have real world effects. Unlike the basketball folks, we are concerned not only with hitting a shot, but not attempting something foolish. Upon their turn some Horse players will frequently attempt low percentage shots hoping to get lucky and stick their opponents with a letter. After all, there is no penalty for missing a shot during your turn. This is a poor attitude for a field marksman because every shot attempted counts.
In playing Rifle, have the participants select a shooting order and take turns. This order can be selected randomly (draw straws), or just agreed upon. As with Horse, the person up attempts a shot. The participant will dictate the conditions, such as distance to the target, start position, where to start, condition of the firearm (chamber empty or loaded), etc. When ready, the timer is started and the participant engages on the start signal. If the participant hits, the elapsed time is noted and everyone else has to duplicate the shot and get a hit on target within the elapsed time or receive a letter. However, if the participant misses the target he is assigned a letter. Once this is completed, the second participant takes his or her turn and the cycle repeats until someone spells “R-I-F-L-E.”
Electronic timers have been common in practical competitive shooting since the early 1980s and are boon to evaluating any form of shooting with a time element, field shooting and hunting included.
Variations of R-I-F-L-E
The participants have to emulate the shooter as closely as possible. For example, if the participant made their shot from the kneeling position, then everyone duplicating the shot has to shoot from kneeling as well.
Here the only criterion is making the shot beginning from the dictated start position within the elapsed time. After the buzzer goes off, how the job gets done is up to the individual participant with no need to copy the first shooter. Just get the hit within the established time any way you see fit.
When a participant takes their turn they have to call their elapsed time before shooting. When attempting the shot, the participant not only has to hit the target, but do it within their called time limit. For example, a participant takes the line and calls a time of 4.50 seconds for their next attempt. If the actual elapsed time is 4.51 or higher, they receive a letter even if they hit the target and the other shooters do not have to duplicate their shot. If the participant hits the target within their called time, the participants duplicating the shot use the called time as their time limit, not the actual elapsed time. Say a participant calls a time limit of 6.0 seconds and hits the target in 5.6. The participants duplicating the shot have a 6.0 second time limit to work with.
Self-resetting steel targets are ideal for field shooting drills and games. They give instant feedback, are ideal for shooting that is scored as hit or miss only, and don’t require going down range to score or repair.
The Five Second Drill (“Weishuhn Drill”)
Anyone that has ever taken the field in pursuit of big game realizes how wily this prey can be. Even with modern equipment, taking a mature buck on his home turf is no easy feat. To be successful, you’ll have to think and act fast.
So how fast is fast? How much time will you have to work? Obviously, the duration will vary greatly from situation to situation but the time will likely be short. Back when Larry Weishuhn was the Field Editor of North American Hunter, a publication of the North American Hunting Club, he suggested a limit of five seconds in several articles. I think this is a reasonable time for the field marksman to work with.
To work this drill you’ll need a timer (a stopwatch or simple kitchen timer operated by a friend will suffice for this if you don’t have an electronic timer) and a target. Ideally, the target should be reactive and self-resetting so you get visual and audio feedback and don’t have to go downrange to reset. In a pinch, a paper dinner plate will work but you’ll have to stop to find your hits and repair the target.
Shots afield are rarely taken with the hunter-shooter beginning from an aimed-in position, so beginning from some sort of ready position, such as low ready, is recommended.
Set your target up at close-enough distance for a fairly easy shot and enter a five-second time limit on your timer. At the start signal, engage the target before the time limit elapses. If you can land a hit, move back a predetermined distance. This can be a set distance (25 yards) or a percentage increase (usually 20-30%) of the distance just fired. A miss ends the exercise. This makes for a great general-purpose field marksmanship drill as it quickly teaches what sort of distances constitute easy and more difficult shots for you. Every time you go to the range to practice you can try to meet and beat the distance you managed last time. Of course, the time limit can be adjusted. While Mr. Weishuhn suggested five seconds, feel free to use any reasonable time limit you prefer. This set up makes for a good practice drill attempting to beat your previous distance or can be shot with a group as a quick match to determine who makes it the furthest.
An easy-to-run event can be arranged using this system. Place a self-resetting steel target downrange and have the participants start at an agreed-upon distance and start position for a set number of shots. For example, the participants could start at 100 yards from Standard Ready, or at 50 yards from Sling Arms, or whatever your imagination can come up with. The participants take turns engaging the target within five seconds (or other established time limit) for each shot. Award one point each time the target is hit within the time limit. After everyone has fired the prescribed number of shots, the participant with the most points wins. In case of a tie move further away and have the tied shooters rerun the exercise until someone wins.
Any sort of field-useful shooting position can be used. Learning to assume positions and land hits on the clock greatly improves hunting skill.
Alternatively, you could plan for every shooter that “qualifies” to advance to a next round. If the prescribed number of shots is five, participants may have to earn at least four points to “qualify” and move back to the next firing point and repeat the exercise further away anew. If nobody qualifies, the participant with the most points on the last run wins.
Any number of games and drills can be set up. While basic position shooting on bullseye and other fixed targets are always useful, it can be beneficial and fun to test shooing in other ways. Especially for field shooting skills useful to hunters, setting up range drills to mimic shots on game are helpful. With these games they can also be fun.