Pre-Season Shooting Practice
By Tim Bolduc - Big Woods Bucks Pro-Staff
Through the years I have learned there are a couple different types of deer trackers. One is the slow and sneaky hunter who has a knack for getting close to the bucks they are after and shooting them in their beds without them ever knowing they were on the same mountain. The other is the hunter who has a little steadier gait to him/her and tends to shoot at a bounding buck more often than one standing or laying down - this is where I land.
Both, however, can be equally as effective.
One of the best deer trackers I know is fast paced and covers lots of miles. Big bucks fall to him consistently, almost with ease. One of the most overlooked skills he has is his ability to shoot fast and accurately which takes years to get good at. This isn’t something that we are just born with but a skill that is acquired through practice. The problem is how to practice for the shot at your fleeting buck, possibly the shot of a lifetime.
A lot of hunters shoot their guns a week or two before the season off a rest or bench…get it hitting in the bullseye…and into the woods they go. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always work for me. I’ve found that the years I do this, I seem to come out of deer season with more “stories” than racks for my wall. The years that one or more big bucks have made the ride back to camp with me are the ones that were filled with confidence due to my pre-season shooting ritual. Here is what works for me:
I put my old, trusty Remington 760 pump carbine, .30-06
with a peep sight-
in a gun vise on a bench and make sure it is still on. If not, I make the required adjustments until its consistently hitting the center of my target. Now I take the gun vise and put it back in the closet where it will stay until next year when I do it all over again. This is where a lot of inexperienced trackers make a big mistake. In this style of hunting you are lucky to have a tree to lean one forearm on when the shot presents itself… never mind a bench like atmosphere such a tree stand shooting rail. This is why the rest of my practice time is spent shooting off hand. Trust me, chances are, this is how you are going to be shooting at the buck you tracked down. You will soon find out shooting off hand and hitting a 3 inch circle at 50 yards really isn’t that easy. It’s kind of like shooting a bow… a lot of muscle memory is needed to do it well. When you first start the bead will be shaky and hard to keep on the target but as you do it more the right muscles start building and getting stronger. Now that bead is getting a lot more steady and easier to keep it where you want it.
When I start getting to this point I move on to another exercise.
I will continue the same thing I have been doing except now I will keep my gun down at my side like I carry it when I know I’m getting close to my buck. There is a way we all hold our guns when we feel like we are going to see a deer at any minute. It’s a ready position that is safe but your gun can be to your shoulder in a fraction of a second. I get into this position and practice snapping my gun up and getting it on target as quick as I can while still being accurate. The safety also has to taken off in this motion so there is a little technique that goes with doing it fast and efficiently. If you do it enough it all becomes one motion that your body will just do it without even thinking. When I’m in tune I can be up on target and firing between 2-3 seconds, that’s usually enough time to be shooting at your buck on the end of his second bound. Before I go to my last shooting drill I’d like to mention this; when a deer is bounding, his front feet come down and hit the ground…. back feet follow and land… then he drives off his hind legs into his next jump. When his front feet land, there is a moment where his ribcage is actually still (waiting for his back legs to catch up and land). This is ideally the best time for your shot. It’s a timing thing but with practice can been done as second nature.
That being said, it brings me to my final shooting exercise. Find an old tire with no rim. Cut a piece of cardboard that fits inside the outer edge of your tire and attach it to the side wall. Screws work great for this. Next make a dot in the center of the cardboard with spray paint or whatever you choose. Next find a buddy that will roll the tire down a hill so it’s traveling broadside or quartering away from you. I like to have the tire go through 20-30 yard openings to get me used to seeing it like I would a buck in the woods, this forces you to react like if it was a deer you just jumped.
It’s great if you can set up bumps that will make the tire jump sporadically like a whitetail does. This will really help with getting your timing down on shooting at a running buck. All of this should be done in a controlled safe way. I am lucky that I have access to a gravel pit and the owner builds ramps and sets piles of dirt so the person rolling the tire is never in danger. We always shoot with a safe backdrop also. I think with a little poking around you could also find the right spot to do this.
The years that I do a lot of shooting like I talk about in this article I have an extreme amount of confidence when I’m tracking a buck. My rifle becomes an extension of my arms and eyes. I feel like all I have to do is look at a target and my body will automatically put the bead there. There isn’t any flinching or other bad shooting habits, my mind doesn’t even think about those things because I’m so confident from the practice that I have done through the pre-season. I already have the sight picture in my head and know what it looks and feels like to get my bead on a moving target. By now I know every stitch of trigger pull on my gun. You start to feel like there isn’t a situation that you can’t handle. Being a good shot, practicing shooting is one part of tracking that you have complete control over. Get good at it and I’ll promise you’ll put more deer on your wall!!!
Good luck this season!
Tim is a member of the Big Woods Bucks Pro-Staff, registered Maine Guide and lives in Southern New Hampshire with his wife Andrea ( also a member of the Big Woods Bucks Pro-Staff) and their son. Tim has successfully taken some huge whitetail bucks in Maine, New Hampshire, Illinois, Ontario and Alberta.