Bull’s-eyes Without Benches

Here’s how to shoot in the field with the accuracy of the range.

“No matter where I hunt, I’m constantly looking for the best place to take a shot,” said Wayne van Zwoll, noted outdoor writer and shooting authority. “If I’m stalking game, in the back of my mind is a search for a flat to shoot prone, or a tree limb or trunk to rest against. Once you develop the habit of maximizing your shooting position, it becomes second nature and you do it instinctively.”

The Safari Club International Convention is not only one of the best places in the country to book a hunt, but to polish your hunting and shooting skills as well. I’ve had the privilege of hunting with Wayne van Zwoll, so I jumped at the chance to attend his recent SCI seminar in Las Vegas.

Wayne van Zwoll is “old school” in his approach to shooting and seeks out vintage rifles with history and character. Last year he hunted elk with a .30-30 Win. rifle, knowing that his range was limited. He downed a good bull at 60 yards. “The extra work and challenge of getting close was worth any range handicap the .30-30 presented,” he said.

To paraphrase the old real-estate cliché, shooting is position, position, position, and van Zwoll is all about being prone, his go-to stance whenever possible. “Prone is ideal because you are low to the ground, you have the most ground contact, and your center of gravity is lower,” he said. “You can use a pack or a jacket over a rock to get steady. However, never rest the barrel of the rifle on a stationary object because it changes the harmonic vibrations of the barrel and the bullet will be thrown off.”

Bipods are a second accuracy asset, but you must know how to use them quietly and with ease of set-up. Wayne prefers shorter bipod legs than longer ones due to decreased weight, yet acknowledges that the size of the legs depends upon the terrain you’re hunting. For steep uphill shooting, longer legs are necessary.

Sitting is the next-best position, yet you don’t want your elbow resting on your knee cap. “Make sure your elbow rests above the knee so that you don’t have a swiveling motion,” he suggested. “Also, bipods can work well with this position, especially when hunting in sagebrush or tall weeds.”

Wayne uses a shooting strap, once standard issue in the military, but a device that has been replaced with a wider padded sling for most shooters. The narrow strap allows the shooter to push his arm through one loop and secure his wrist with a second pulling the rifle toward the shooter and greatly increasing steadiness. Shooting straps can be used in all four positions, increase accuracy, but must be used consistently for best results. Practice using the strap just as you would with your rifle.

Kneeling is the third option with off-hand, sometimes called “awful-hand,” to follow because these positions have less contact with terra firma. When kneeling, don’t rest your elbow on your kneecap, which floats. Instead, brace your elbow on the upper leg above the knee for the steadiest hold (photo below).

Although off-hand is frowned upon by shooters, it can be an effective position for close-range shots with practice. Of course, shooting sticks can assist the off-hand shooter and are common on safari in Africa where three sticks often provide a solid, triangular rest. If you have only a bipod, angle the sticks back toward you so that your body becomes the third leg of the triangle.

Trigger pull is a critical element of accuracy and developing a consistent “squeeze” will help you make better shots on game. “If the sight picture is weaving, many hunters attempt to guess when the sight will be on target and pull, (jerk) the trigger,” Wayne said. “This moves the rifle and is a frequent cause of missing.” He suggests applying consistent pressure when the sight is on the target and holding pressure when it is not. When the sights line up again, continue the squeeze until the rifle fires and your accuracy will improve.

Finally, van Zwoll (photo below) suggest practicing at the range on vital-size targets such as a sheet of typing paper, which is about the dimensions of a whitetail’s heart/lung area. “You’ll be amazed how well your bullets can group even on a larger target,” he said, “and it gives you a better feel for your shooting abilities in the field.” If you have a scope with variable power, he suggests using the lowest magnification for maximum light transmission. Usually 3- to 4-power is all you need.

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