Shooting Aids Will Make You A Better Hunter

How shooting aids will make you a better hunter.

A few years back I considered myself most fortunate to have finally arranged an antelope hunt on one of those ranches in New Mexico where the opportunity to harvest a 16-inch buck was a realistic objective. In fact, with a bit of luck and perseverance, a record book buck was even a possibility. The first morning out that became a reality for one young hunter as he had downed a monster buck on the ranch that easily scored well into the high 80s. Not to be shortchanged, I finally spotted a buck that I instantly knew would push the tape beyond 16 inches, so the hunt was on. Halfway through the stalk and unaware that I was there, the buck all but ran right up to me and stopped, giving me a broadside shot at less than 200 yards. I was so confident in making the shot that I rushed it from an awkward shooting position and completely missed. Talk about being dejected — particularly for not having taken the time to use the shooting aid I had at hand, a bipod that I had brought along for just this purpose. Thankfully, the buck stopped for one last look as it topped out on a ridgeline 400 yards away. This time I was ready and with my bipod to steady the shot, that 16¼-inch buck dropped where it stood. This bit of hard knocks schooling was a reminder that shooting aids can make or break a hunt. So let’s take a look at what is out there to make you a better hunter and a better shot.

At The Range

Let’s start where it all begins, at the range. It never ceases to amaze me the paraphernalia that is dragged out at the range in order to sight in a rifle. From seat cushions, pillows, cardboard boxes, bits of lumber to toolboxes. A rifle’s optimum accuracy and eventual point of impact can seldom be attained unless the hunter/shooter is utilizing proper shooting aids such as shooting rests. These can vary from good quality sand bags that you can make yourself or purchase to high quality shooting rests. I would like to talk about both, as it is a vital first step along the hunters’ highway of success to have their rifle sighted in correctly. I’m going to start with the latest and one that I believe is the best combination shooting and recoil reduction rest on the market. Before I discuss some of the specs that make this one great shooting rest, I should point out that a lot of it has to do with its all but unlimited alignment adjustability and its recoil reduction technology. There are many good shooting rests out there and I own at least a half-dozen from some lower priced units to a high priced bench rest model but none offer the combination of recoil elimination and alignment flexibility of the new Caldwell Lead Sled Fire Control Xtreme. It offers quick and virtually unlimited adjustment (up to five feet at 100 yards) that centres around a control arm that is akin to a joy stick, which can be moved in any direction to perfectly align your rifle and, once it is released, it will hold your rifle in that exact position for a perfectly aligned shot. If that is not enough, it will reduce recoil by up to 95 per cent ensuring you are getting the most out of both your rifle and ammo. It may cost you a bit more, but you know the old adage “you get what you pay for” and, if you like shooting or don’t like to get punished at the range, particularly with the big bores, this is one heck of a shooting rest.

At the other end of the spectrum, fill a cut off pant leg or two from an old pair of jeans with sand, tie off both ends and at least you will have a steady platform to shoot over. (Use only dry sand as in freezing weather wet sand will harden up like a rock making it all but unusable as a rest.) I like to put the sand in a plastic bag prior to dropping it into the pant leg, as it will eliminate any sand leakage, which should be avoided around gun actions. Or even better, buy a couple of inexpensive shooting rests (bags), one for the fore end and one for the butt stock. Companies such as Caldwell and Shooters Ridge offer a good variety to choose from. Fill them with shot or sand and you will have a very portable shooting rest that can also be taken into the field. I’m also assuming here that you have a proper bench to shoot from, if you don’t, make or buy one as any shooting rest is only as good as the bench it sits on. For years prior to my acquisition of the aforementioned Caldwell Shooting rest, I used a rear sand-filled shooting bag and an inexpensive vertically adjustable front rest from Hoppe’s. I then upgraded to a better quality front rest that was both horizontally and vertically adjustable. While both worked reasonably well, they don’t offer the advantages of the Caldwell rest and so now for the most part they are left at home.

Last, use a target that will allow you to readily see the bull and one that is easy to gain a quality sight picture on. Whatever your choice in rests or targets, don’t leave the range until you are satisfied that your rifle is sighted in correctly.

Practice Makes Perfect

Now that your rifle is sighted in, you need to spend some time practicing. Here again there are a number of shooting aids that will help you become a better hunter. I used to sketch the outline of a deer on a piece of cardboard, I then cut it out to size, stapled it to a stake and set it out at various distances and angles for a more realistic practice. Caldwell (www.caldwelltargets.com) has taken this concept and improved on it with their Natural Series Target Kits. They look like the real thing. They are a life sized cardboard backed colour photograph of either a Mule or Whitetail buck. They show the vital organs and skeletal structures in the background that can be seen up close but disappear at a distance. Absolutely great for practice as they not only present a realistic image but they also help you learn and gain confidence on where to hold at various ranges for an accurate kill shot. I have also blown up balloons that are about the size of the kill zone on a deer or sheep and hung them out at various ranges and angles for shooting sessions. Great fun and excellent practice but don’t forget to pick up the bits and pieces and ensure that you are shooting under safe conditions.

Learn to shoot from various positions with your shooting aids as well. For example, in Africa, because of the foliage more often than not I shot from a standing position off of shooting sticks.  In other words, get totally comfortable shooting with your shooting aids from all four primary positions; prone, kneeling, sitting and standing.

Next, I want to touch on a shooting aid that many may not even consider as one and that is hearing protectors. Use them during all range and practice sessions. They will not only protect your most valued hearing but can prevent you from developing a reactive flinch to muzzleblast. I most often double up with a pair of foam inserts in my ears as well as a good quality pair of muffs. They should become as essential to your practice as your ammo.

In The Field

In the last decade and I will even shorten that a year or two, manufacturers have really come on stream with some fine shooting aids. Twenty years ago you would be hard pressed to find quality shooting sticks. Today any number of companies makes a whole array of not only shooting sticks but also bi-pods and tri-pods as well. They come in various lengths and configurations and many are additionally adjustable as to height. I used to make my own out of two-pieces of wood doweling that I taped together a couple of inches from one end. But the modern shooting aid is so superior that my old wood ones have long since been relegated to the trash bin. I would like to touch on a couple of the best. One model that attaches to your rifle and one that is carried independently.

First, is the Deluxe Bi-Pod from Shooters Ridge. With its adaptor that attaches to the forward swivel stud it can readily be moved between rifles, pivots left and right and will rotate 180 degrees to follow game on the move. No more constantly trying to pick up and move your rifle to follow game. It allows you to move with it. What a great set up It is 30 percent lighter than conventional bi-pods and with its twist lock adjustable legs makes for one of, if not the best, bi-pod I have yet found. As it comes with various length adjustable legs but is still limited to a maximum length to 21 inches, I like to use this shooting aid for situations where the ground cover is open and you can shoot from a prone position. Good examples would be antelope, coyotes and open country mule deer.

I switch to the Shooters Ridge Magnum Swivel Shooting Sticks for most all of my other hunting situations. It is very light weight, readily portable, cants and swivels 360 degrees, is fully adjustable from 26 to 62 inches and has a contoured yoke that holds the rifle secure while still protecting it from scratches. Lastly, always remember, as I now do, that shooting aids will make you a better and more successful hunter — so don’t leave home without them.

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