Getting In Position

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Shooting from the best possible position can increase your success rate

As we snuck ever closer to the big red stag, my mind raced. It was like a scene out of one of those futuristic movies where a string of calculations runs across a visor before the shot is taken. We were well within the range of my 270WSM, but we were undetected and I wanted to stack the odds as greatly in my favour as I could. I’ve always been a high-odds shooter, doing everything in my power to increase the odds, without blowing the stalk of course. I was calculating range, angle, wind and the most critical factor – shooting position. I know I shoot best from the prone position, off the bipod. That’s always my goal when planning a stalk: getting into the prone position. It often doesn’t work out, but I won’t take a shot from another position until I’ve exhausted all the possibilities for getting prone. It was looking as though that was the case with the big stag. The terrain was just not going to allow for a prone shot.

On to option number two. There was a steep bank about 180 yards from the stag and the group of hinds that accompanied him, which would not only conceal our approach, but also offer a stable platform to set the rifle on. The wind was gusting to about 60 kilometres an hour, so I knew I needed to get close. It took us about 30 minutes to traverse the steep slope and arrive at the bank. As planned, it offered a perfect shooting position and I was even able to set the bipod up and sit behind the rifle. The crosshairs were rock solid as I settled them just behind the huge stag’s shoulder. This would allow for a few inches of bullet drift and still catch the stag right on the point of the shoulder.

Taking a free-range New Zealand stag had been a lifelong dream for me and all that stood in the way was 2.5 pounds of pressure on the trigger. I love it when the report of the rifle startles me a bit. Through the scope I could see the big stag stumble at the impact of the bullet. He leaped uphill, but that was as far as his legs would carry him and his back end collapsed and he careened down the steep slope. I had my dream stag.

I’m a fanatic for getting into the perfect shooting position and as I make my way through the woods or the mountains my mind is constantly calculating the best scenario should an animal appear. Too many people wait until they see an animal before looking for a suitable place to shoot from, but most of the very experienced hunters I know have their next opportunity planned before it ever pops up. I’ll often pick a route based on possible shooting positions, rather than the ease of traversing it. If I crawl over a ridge for a look, I make certain it’s at a spot that will offer the best shot. I’ll pick my way around a tree with the thought that a deer might suddenly appear. It’s this meticulous pre-planning of your next shooting position that will ultimately result in more well-placed shots.

If I had to break down the process of looking for the ideal shooting position, it would be something like this:

1) Prone with bipod or other suitable rest

2) Sitting with bipod or other suitable rest

3) Standing with a suitable rest

4) Prone with no rest

5) Sitting with no rest

6) Standing with no rest

This is the process that goes through my head every time I prepare for a shot. I begin by looking for an opportunity to take my shot from the position at the top of the list and then slowly work my way down the options. I routinely practice from all of these positions and feel confident from all, within certain yardage restrictions. But regardless of range, I still look for the optimum position. If I can take a prone shot at 20 yards, you bet I will, even though I’m certain I’d have no trouble from any of the positions. It’s just a habit I’ve gotten into that has served me well. My thought process is why not stack the odds in your favour?

Obviously each position comes with its own set of limitations, with distance being the primary one. With the right rifle and scope I’m more than comfortable shooting to 800 yards when environmental conditions dictate; but when I’m forced to stand and shoot off of shooting sticks, then my maximum range is reduced to 300 yards or so. There are many factors to consider before pulling the trigger on an animal, but before I consider any of those I need to assess what is the best shooting position I can get into. After that, I need to consider range, wind, angle, etc. But first and foremost in my mind is the list of shooting positions and the best one I can achieve.

Most of our hunting is either spot and stalk or still hunting. We are constantly on the move and the challenge that comes with that is the terrain is constantly changing, as are your options for shooting positions. Add in the fact that some shots must be taken quickly and one needs to be vigilant regarding from where your next shot will be taken. If a person hunts from a stand or a blind, it’s not something that’s always on your mind; but when constantly moving, it should be.

Vanessa broke her arm on an October mountain goat hunt last fall, so getting into a proper shooting position took on an entire new meaning when elk season rolled around later in the month. With her arm in a cast, it was more critical than ever that we were constantly aware of where she could get into position, as she was pretty much limited to shooting prone off the bipod. We’d came close a couple of times earlier in the season, but it was mid-November before it looked like preparation and opportunity would finally meet.

There was only about 90 minutes of light remaining when we parked the truck and headed off on foot. There had been some fresh snow the day before, so we decided to loop around a quarter section and see if there were any fresh tracks coming or going. We’d walked about a quarter mile from the truck when Vanessa noticed something brown in the trees. She quickly raised her binocular and at about the same time I found a lone cow elk in my binocular. As the wind caressed the back of my neck, I knew we were in exactly the wrong spot.

We quickly circled to the left to try and gain the wind, but it was too late, the damage was done. Now, the one elk had turned into about 50 and they were milling about nervously. We kept circling. We now had the wind on our side and as we crawled up a small rise, I noticed a young, five-point bull about 250 yards away. We’d already assessed the terrain and knew the small knob was perfect for a prone shot. Vanessa, somewhat awkwardly, got into position while I looked for more antlers in the group.

The five point was now moving to the left, but he was surrounded by cows and no shot offered itself. Suddenly, the entire herd bolted down the hill toward a large hayfield, the scent of human still fresh in their noses. We had been so close. Dejected, but still not ready to give up, we ran down the hill, our approach obscured by a thin strip of aspen that grew along the fence line. We constantly scanned the terrain below for a spot that would allow Vanessa to shoot from the prone position. We couldn’t see the elk, so we were pretty certain they couldn’t see us either. At the bottom of the hill, the stand of aspens widened and there was a narrow cut line that would take us right to the hayfield. There was a small rise at the end – the perfect location for Vanessa to shoot from.

The elk were still there, but they were slightly over 600 yards away. We moved quietly but deliberately down the cut line, to the edge of the hayfield. We’d gained 50 precious yards. It was as close as we were going to get. I flipped out the legs on the bipod and set it in front of Vanessa. She managed to get herself in position behind the rifle and I quickly removed my parka and balled it up underneath the rear of the stock.

I found the 5×5 again and ranged him at just over 550 yards. His butt was to us and he was slowly moving through the cows. A couple of times he turned broadside, but either did not pause long enough or there was a cow too nearby to risk a shot. I was so focused on the bull that I really hadn’t looked at the remainder of the herd. Vanessa indicated that she saw another bull to the left. I was shocked to see a big six point all on his own. The readout in the binocular said 542 yards.

“How far?” she asked.

“Five forty-two.”

The bull took a step to the right, fully exposing his vitals. Vanessa had her big bull, despite a broken arm, and all because we took the time and forethought to plan her shooting position. As you are out in the field this fall, constantly keep asking yourself what you’d do if you saw your quarry at that moment. I guarantee it will make you re-think the way you hunt.

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