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by Gary Smith a.k.a. Gary Last updated: 2009-10-03 18:28:04
Living With The Wobble
Hunters who are new to handgun hunting often struggle with holding the gun steady. Part of the issue, for those used to shooting rifles, is the appearance of being much more steady with the long guns and when they take up the pistol, their mind is telling them this won't work — don't shoot. The other part of the problem is simply a matter of learning what shooting positions do work for the handgun hunter. To be ready for any situation you should practice each of these shooting positions and their variations. If you master them all you'll be a great field shot and your friends will wonder how you do it.
The handgunner, especially those new to scoped handguns, often find their sights dancing all over the target. This is particularly unnerving when a nice buck is your intended target. In reality, this is how unsteady you actually are and the problem is magnified (pun intended) as the power of the scope increases even when you aren't suffering from buck fever.
Handgun hunters must learn to live with the wobble. It's there when you are using open sights, you just don't notice it as much. It will never completely go away but you can minimize it enough that your sights wobble around in the kill zone vs. someplace you don't want them wobbling causing a missed shot. So lets take a look at some of the field shooting positions that I use and what they look like.
The Sitting Position
The supported sitting position is shown in the first picture at right. It has three components that make it very steady in the field. First, the torso is supported and kept stable by leaning against a stationary object, in this case a tree. Next, the knees are brought up to support the forearms. Notice I didn't say elbows — don't place your elbows on your knee bones. It's much more steady to place your forearms on your thighs. Think meat to meat not bone to bone. Finally, the gun is supported by some type of rest. Shooting sticks by Stony Point are shown here but a small sapling or even some sticks fashioned in the field with a short piece of cord will do if you left your sticks back in the truck. I've actually grabbed a handfull of broom sage grass with my off hand and pulled against that to help steady a shot when time was of the essence and nothing else was available. Being prepared is the best way to go but when caught unprepared be creative.
The unsupported sitting position is used often when you're presented with a shooting opportunity you didn't expect, like when you're walking in to your stand. It's not as good as a supported sitting position but it's one you should practice often. Shown in the second photo, an unsupported sitting position has one or more of the support points missing. In this case there is nothing to lean against and the right leg is being used to steady the torso instead of the forearm. How you actually execute this position will depend on your individual preferences and perhaps even the terrain where you're going to take a shot.
I rarely ever use a sitting position when hunting in the woods. If you do you'll regret it sooner or later when an animal comes up to you from the side or behind. The drawback here is a lack of mobility. Sit down and you're generally committed to one direction.
The Kneeling Position
Kneeling is another generally unsupported shooting position that you can use when there isn't time to take up a more steady position and when the game is within the range that you can be effective from this position. I find that I'm nearly as steady shooting from a standing position as kneeling but to remain standing when game is afoot will often hasten their departure if they see you. Dropping into the kneeling position is quick to assume and can be used to help conceal yourself from your quarry. If you don't expect to take the shot within a few moments of taking this position then perhaps you have time to move into the unsupported sitting position. I know my flexibility isn't what it used to be and I can't maintain a kneeling position for very long with out some discomfort.
A supported kneeling position can often be used when hunting using the spot and stalk or still-hunting methods. One of my favorite still-hunting tactics is to ridge hop and I've often used a supported kneeling position to take some shots that were made easier from this position.
Big Tree Bracing
If you're hunting in the woods and need to be ready for game to appear from any direction then using a big tree for bracing is the most versatile and accurate position you can master. With a single-shot pistol like a Contender or Encore this braced position is very steady and I've used it on the edge of large fields to make shots on deer approaching 300 yards.
Using a two-handed hold with the off hand on the pistol forend allows two contact points for steadying the gun. You don't place the gun directly on the tree but put the back of your trigger hand and the fingers of your off hand in contact with the tree. This eliminates nearly all wobble. I've found the larger the tree the more stable it is because you don't have to place your hands too close together.
Stand facing the tree with your feet shoulder width apart and place your hands as I describe above. I wear gloves to keep the skin attached to my knuckles, you may do as you wish. Practice this and make sure you have enough room that you don't let your scope turrets hit the tree and if you're shooting a big boomer watch for limbs or other obstructions directly above the gun which could damage your optics.
This position is also effective with a revolver but due to the bast from the barrel-cylinder gap you can't put your hand in front of the cylinder. When shooting a revolver I place the back of my hand and wrist against the tree trunk. If you're shooting a revolver or gun with a brake then make sure you have shooting glasses on. The blast can send debris toward your face and you've only got two eyes.
The Standing Position
Shooting from the standing position should only be utilized when the game is relatively close and no rest is available. I practice from the standing position frequently and can hit a 10 inch plate at 75 to 80 yards more than 95%% of the time with a scoped revolver and more frequently with a single shot. However, shooting at a deer or other medium sized game animal that is moving about is a different matter and how far you can reliably take game from the standing position will depend on the gun you're using and your abilities. I rarely take a shot from the standing position but when I do the shots at game are usually held to about 50 yards.
If you're going on a guided hunt outside of your region it's wise to find out from what position the rifle hunters normally shoot. In Africa, for example, you'll probably shoot from the standing position most of the time with the aid of shooting sticks. It would be foolish not to practice this technique extensively prior to your departure. I would also recommend that you request the guide provide a set of sticks with 3 legs vs. 2 legs. The three-legged versions are much more steady and easier to shoot from.
The Prone Position
Prone is probably the most steady position that you can use in the field. There are some considerations though. You have to make sure there are no obstructions that would impede the flight of the bullet. It's easy to overlook a stick, rocks, or clump of grass close to the bore. Remember your scope is a couple inches higher than the line of sight from the bore. It also puts the gun somewhat closer to your face than other shooting methods and you can easily find yourself with a bump on your noggin from a heavy recoiling pistol if you're not prepared.
You can use a bipod, a day pack, a rolled up jacket or some other type of rest for the gun but it needs some support. I like a day pack as well as anything. Most bipods suitable for prone shooting are heavy and will change the point of impact of the bullet if they are attached to the gun vs. when the gun is fired sans the bipod. I rarely use the prone position due to the type of terrain I hunt in the east. It is far more likely you'll use a prone position when hunting game such as antelope or mule deer in the western plains. Again, if you have an antelope hunt planned, practice shooting from the prone position at varying up and down hill angles if possible. Another little tip I'll share is practice shooting in high wind if you have a hunt planned for the western states.
The Creedmore and Keith Positions
The Creedmore position, popular with silhouette shooters, and what I'll call the Keith position are excellent alternatives to a prone position when the terrain or cover don't allow shooting from a prone position. You will be able to position your gun 18 inches or so higher above the ground than when prone and it may be just enough to see over the grasses or other brush. It's effective too since it doesn't require any sort of device to support the gun. Instead the gun is supported by the side of the leg or the knee (in the Keith position).
Caution should be taken if you're shooting a revolver or braked gun since hot gasses can severely burn your leg from a lateral blast from the cylinder gap or a brake. Silhouette shooters use a piece of thick leather as a blast shield but repeated firings will eventually burn through leather. Jeans or other light clothing will cause you some agony if you shoot without protection. You should be very very careful if you're using a Creedmore position with a short barreled handgun. It would be easy to shoot yourself in the calf in the excitement of taking a shot at a big bull. For short barreled revolvers I would recommend a Keith style of shooting as seen the photo at right.
These positions probably work best with open sighted guns since you'll likely find that the eye relief on your scope is a problem using these extended positions. That's why you should practice these positions prior to using them on game. It won't do much good to work yourself into a Creedmore position only to find out you can't see that big muley through the scope.
All of these positions will work very well under the right set of circumstances. Not every position will work for you but if you can master three or four of the most applicable positions to your style and type of hunting then you'll be more successful in the field as a handgun hunter.
At one time or another I've used each of these six shooting positions and techniques. It takes practice to learn your limitations with each one and to develop your own slight variations on these positions that work for me. Put in the time on your range and you'll be glad you did come hunting season when that monster buck is giving you an opportunity.
If you have a shooting position that I haven't covered here I would love to hear about it. You can share your experiences using the comment field below.
Stony Point - Shooting Sticks
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