Without a doubt, handgun hunting is one of the most challenging of the hunting sports. When done properly and successfully, it combines marksmanship, knowledge of the game hunted and woodcraft at an extremely high level.
The path to success lies in practicing safe gun handling and marksmanship, and determining your maximum effective range. If you carry those skills into the field, a clean, humane kill and a great day in the woods will result.
The goal of any hunter should be to deliver a quick and humane killing shot. To accomplish this it will be necessary to pay close attention to the three basics of marksmanship: sight picture, trigger squeeze and breath control.
The handgun should be aimed at a sight picture so that shots will hit dead-on at a practical range, say 50 metres. Practice will acquaint the hand gunner with the sight picture he should see to deliver a shot to the proper point of aim. A change in the sight picture, even in the act of squeezing the trigger, requires a slight adjustment to correct it.
Trigger squeeze, or trigger press, refers to the slow and gentle adding of pressure to the trigger until the gun discharges. When practiced properly, the trigger squeeze is so gentle that it is accomplished without affecting the sight picture at all. The real challenge occurs when the gun fires, as the thumb and three fingers of the shooting hand must maintain a strong enough grip on the gun to control the heavy recoil while the trigger finger gently squeezes the trigger.
Breath control is important because it is virtually impossible to deliver a well-aimed shot while breathing. The body and, therefore, the gun are always moving. Accuracy improves when the shooter exhales all, or most of the air, from his lungs and then holds his breath while he adjusts the sight picture and finishes the trigger press.
While these basic marksmanship skills seem simple, it can be difficult to put them together in the proper combination needed to make an accurate shot. This is why practice is so important. It is also the reason a handgun hunter, especially a beginner, is better off taking a shot at standing game that is not alarmed. Even on running game, however, basic marksmanship skills are critical to ensure a clean kill. With practice, the handgun hunter learns to compress the basics and make the shot.
Lying on your stomach is rarely the ideal position in the hunting field because the line of sight is obscured by grass, rocks and natural contours of the land. Then again, firing from a standing position, even with a solid two hand hold, is one of the least-accurate positions the handgun hunter can use. It is far better to make the shot when kneeling or sitting, or by using an available rest. When wandering through the woods, the experienced handgun hunter should always be conscious of a nearby rock, tree limb or tree trunk that can be used as a brace to steady the shot.
it is best, when sitting, to brace your back against a tree or similar stable object. Your elbows should settle against your thighs on the inside of your knees, not on top of them, for the most solid rest. Keep your feet flat on the ground.
When kneeling, legs should be positioned at an angle of 90 degrees from each other to provide the most solid foundation. Your support elbow should not be directly on your knee, as this is bone-on-bone contact and can get wobbly. Place your support elbow in front of your kneecap and line it up with your support knee, one atop the other, allowing the bones to support the gun and not the muscles.
In the standing position, your feet should be spread apart, about the width of your hips with knees slightly bent. Your shooting arm should be slightly bent at the elbow, with your support elbow pointing down. Take an isometric hold on the gun; the support hand pushes back and the shooting hand pushes forward. This is the Weaver stance, which helps control the heavy recoil and get the gun back on target quickly.
When shooting off sticks, it is best to rest the wrist of your shooting hand, and not the gun, in the crotch of the sticks whenever possible. A gun rested on a hard surface, even shooting sticks, may cause the point of impact to change. The handgun hunter should practice with and without sticks. Sticks work best when you have a guide to set them up for you. Doing it by yourself can waste valuable time and prevent you from getting off a shot.
It is important to determine your maximum effective range. Maximum effective hunting range is that range at which the shooter can place all shots into the animal’s vital zone on demand and under field conditions. “On demand” is an important term. It is not what you’ve done once, but what you can do virtually every time. Again, determining your effective range requires practice. Obtaining life-size targets of the actual game animal you plan to hunt will provide some realistic practice and also an opportunity to study the anatomy of game.
One quickly realizes that the vital zone of most game animals can be contained in a 200 mm circle. So an excellent and inexpensive target can simply be a 200 mm paper picnic plate. Set up the plate on the backstop and shoot from the various field positions that are useful in actual handgun hunting: standing, kneeling and sitting. In each position, the range at which all shots will stay on the plate is the maximum effective range. Obviously, the more one practices, the more that range can be extended.
In the hunting field the successful shooter not only holds on the vital zone but actually picks a spot within it, maybe a tuft of hair, a wrinkle, where he intends for the bullet to impact. And the successful handgun hunter keeps the game in visual focus until just before the shot is fired. At that moment, the eye should be focused on the front sight or the scope’s cross-hairs in order to deliver the most accurate shot possible.
Handgun hunting should be all about matching your skills against the game animal so you can stalk within your effective range and make a clean, humane kill. What is most pleasing is the challenge of using woodcraft to get close to the game. For this reason, the handgun hunter should never pass up an opportunity to study game animals, learn their habits and practice stalking skills. Going out in the offseason and just wandering the woods can be extremely educational. The more one knows about the habits of wild animals and the use of terrain and cover, the better handgun hunter one will be. It also helps to have the mindset that allows you to pass up a shot at a trophy animal when you know it is beyond your maximum effective range and there is no way of getting any closer. Wish that buck a good day as it wanders over yonder hill or, better yet, plan for how you will ambush it tomorrow.
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