Moving Targets: Tips for Shooting Game on the Run

Even when shooting from a relatively close distance, success means putting the bullet where the target will be.

Shooting Moving Game

Hollywood would convince us that hitting a moving target, consistently, isn't rocket science. It may not be, but one look at the math will certainly leave you wondering where all those elite military snipers were hiding in your college algebra class. 

The average .30-30 Win. load takes 0.3 seconds to strike a target at 200 yards. Sounds fast, until pitted against a whitetail deer capable of 30 mph bursts, or around 44 feet per second. 

A hunter at that distance and with a rifle in that chambering — with a lightning-fast trigger finger that hits a sprinting deer's vitals the instant they appear in his crosshair — will have the bullet impact as much as 13.2 feet behind.

The two-deer-length miss is mathematically verified by multiplying the bullet's airborne time (0.3 second) times target velocity (44 feet/second). 

Even at relatively close distance, success means putting the bullet where the target will be. Thankfully, geometry usually works in our favor. In the original situation, the animal is running across a field, relatively parallel to the shooter. If, however, the animal's path is 45 degrees toward the deer blind, the distance the deer covers — relative to the shooter in 0.3 seconds — is cut in half. 

Practiced marksmen connect with moving targets regularly, despite all the challenges. The U.S. Marine Corps recommends two approaches in regard to hitting a moving target via its "Moving Target Engagement Techniques" lesson plan (2008).

The first approach is the ambush method. "With this method, the weapon is aimed ahead of the target along its path, allowed to remain stationary, and fired when the target reaches a predetermined engagement point," the lesson plan explains. When it's impossible to track the quarry due to position or topography, it's a great option. The shooter's follow-through should be rock steady and smooth to minimize/eliminate muzzle movement during the shot. 

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The other leatherneck method is termed tracking, or following the moving target with the reticle ahead — at the proper lead distance — until the downrange sight picture is clear and the trigger is squeezed. One of the keys to success here, according to the lesson plan, is follow through, "'¦ so the desired lead is maintained as the bullet exits the muzzle. They should continue to track the target which will also enable a second shot to be fired on target, if necessary."

There are distinct advantages and disadvantages to each system, and U.S.M.C. marksmen practice both until they're proficient. Sportsmen should do the same by any of many techniques, such as rolling tires or setting up a pulley system on the range. 

Another option, especially if clay birds are you're thing, is to trail the target with the sights, pass through and fire when at the proper lead the shot is made. However, with a rifle, especially at distance, things must be more precise than with a shotgun. 

Regardless of preference, some common skills and knowledge are required. For example, knowing the cartridge and its ballistics is important. The .30-30 Win. isn't exactly a fast and flat round, but even if you upgrade to a .270 Win., you're going to be surprised how far a deer can move while that bullet is aloft.

Gain an intimate knowledge of your game, speeds capability and relative size to help you gauge lead. And determine distances before any animals appear. Without that knowledge, it's literally impossible to arrange a bullet's arrival where your quarry is going to be located. 

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