Improve your Marksmanship

James Mott looks at seven key fundamentals of better marksmanship. 

Marksmanship

Becoming a proficient deer stalker is an exciting journey which takes many years of dedication. Many place emphasis on getting out into the countryside and developing their spotting skills and fieldcraft. However often overlooked, is the stalkers ability to take an accurate and effective shot when the opportunity presents itself.

Indeed the stalker (different from the bench shooter) has the additional challenge of having to make quick decisions in the field and will be ‘shooting cold’ with no opportunity to take a few practice shots before the main event.

For people starting out, a good proportion of time should be dedicated to improving their shooting skills, alongside time spent stalking and looking for deer. Equally, for the experienced stalker, time spent practicing and reaffirming their skills is invaluable and will maintain confidence in their abilities.

This article aims to provide a few basic fundamentals designed to help you become a better marksman. 

The four Shooting Positions

There are four basic shooting positions that the deer stalker can employ depending on the situation.

1) Standing 2) Kneeling 3) Sitting 4) Prone 

Practice (and plenty of it) is required on a regular basis to master these different positions. Although many stalkers only practice the more usual shooting off sticks or prone positions, kneeling or sitting are essential skills you will need to deploy when shooting in heavily wooded areas under the browse line.

Steady position

Whatever position you choose to shoot in at any given time, it’s important that you maintain a comfortable, relaxed, steady position and a natural point of aim at the target.  In layman’s terms, this means that the rifle should be naturally pointed at the target without the user manipulating it into position. 

Common issues are badly adjusted shooting sticks or bipods to the users height, unstable shooting supports, awkward shooting positions and muscle tension (the enemy to avoid).

Try this simple test – From a steady position, align the cross hairs on a target. Take a controlled breath, slowly exhale and then hold it. You should be able to close your eyes for a few seconds and when you open them, still be on target.

Note: this is a good tip if you find yourself in an unfamiliar situation and/or feeling shaky before a shot at live quarry i.e. your adrenaline has kicked in and you’re experiencing what is commonly described as ‘buck fever’. This will help you ‘centre’ yourself.

Clear sight picture

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When looking through your riflescope, make sure you have a clear sight picture. You should see a crisp circular image.  If your eye/head position is not correct (angled, too close/far from the scope etc.) you will see shadowing (a crescent shaped dark spot) creeping in from the edge of the image that you are seeing.

Note: also make sure your scope’s eyepiece is focused properly and if using an optic with parallax adjustment, make sure it is set to the range you will be shooting at. Set your magnification to 8x maximum during the day and reduce to 6x in low light. Magnification higher than 8x is hard to hold still and will affect your accuracy.

Breathing  Control

Put simply, you will need to stop your breathing before taking a shot to avoid unwelcome body movement. There are two options:

There is a small natural pause at the end of every breathing cycle. Most experienced marksman advocate purposefully inhaling, slowly exhaling and then pausing (at the bottom of the breath) and taking the shot.

Alternatively, another option is to inhale and only half exhale, hold your breath and then take the shot.

Trigger Squeeze

Keeping your cross hairs firmly on target, gently squeeze the trigger (using the pad of your finger, not the tip or the 1st joint) until the firing pin strikes. The gun should fire and ‘surprise’ you which will help avoid flinching which would compromise the shot.

Flinching is an unintended mental and physical response to a negative stimulus; in this case the rifles report, recoil and muzzle blast that will result in a displacement of the shot from its intended point of impact. The louder the report and the harder the recoil, the greater the tendency is to flinch. Everyone flinches to some degree or another and the trick is to flinch after the shot is fired, not before or during.

Follow through

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Think positive and maintain the sight picture through the recoil – mentally think about following the bullets journey through to the target. This means that you’re intentionally applying your will to keep the sights on target even if you know the rifle is going to hit you with recoil. Accept the fact that recoil is going to happen. When you come to the realization that you’re going to focus through and make your shot, you’re following through.

Once you have fired the shot, don’t lift your head or immediately reload- stay in the same position for a second or two, so as to be able to observe the animal’s reaction to the shot. Then, still maintaining you position, reload in case a second follow up shot is required.

Confidence

Be confident in your abilities and maintain a positive mental frame of mind. Don’t think about ‘attempting’ a shot on live quarry. If in your experience you are able to take a shot off sticks at 120 yards and a deer presents itself for a shot, mentally you can be 100% confident in despatching the beast, so think positively and get to it.

However, in the words of Clint Eastwood ‘A man’s GOT to know his limitations’

Pushing the limits and being over ambitious in the field leads to wounded animals, missed shots and a loss of confidence. Once confidence is lost, it can be a major challenge to rebuild it. Know your limitations and stick to them.

Mott ThumbnailJames Mott is a director at County Deer Stalking and is directly responsible for running CDS Training & Courses.

The three stage proficient-stalker course is designed to provide first class training and mentoring to stalkers wherever they are on the journey. Beginner or seasoned hunter, if you would like guidance with firearms training, this can be achieved via one of our courses. Call James on 01403 790244 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more information.

If you're in any doubt about James' capabilities, then why not follow this link to watch him in this short film shooting off stick: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zj3cLEP74FM

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