November 07, 2022
Hunters often obsess over minute details regarding their rifles and ammunition, but many seem to think their marksmanship is beyond reproach. It’s almost like they think because they’re a well-equipped hunter, they can always hit whatever they want. The truth is, you can have the best rifle, optical sight and ammunition ever made, but if you can’t place the bullet where you want it, you might as well be using a squirt gun. Don’t get me wrong, your gear matters. But to be an effective deer hunter, you gotta know how to use it.
Practice is the key to shooting success, and there are many ways to train—with and without ammunition. I think most rifle hunters overlook how much dry-fire training can help them become a better shot. Then again, practice is one thing. Understanding your real-world capabilities is another. You must know your limitations so you don’t attempt shots you’ll likely miss, and so you can put yourself in situations to take the shots you can make.
That’s why I devised the Deer-Killing Drill. While you can certainly use it for practice, it’s intended for evaluation, not training. At its heart, the deer-killing drill is designed to help you discover your maximum practical effective range.
WHAT YOU NEED
To begin, you’ll need a 100-yard range, a shot timer and at least three rounds of ammunition for each position from which you want to shoot. You’ll also need the means to simulate the shooting positions you expect to use when you’re in the field hunting. This might be just a rifle sling, but it could also be shooting sticks or something to replicate firing from a rest like out of a shoot house window or off a rock or tree limb. If you don’t want to walk downrange after each shot, a spotting scope is handy, too.
You’ll also need some Thompson Target True Blue targets. I helped Thompson Target design this several years ago. It’s very visible in all lighting conditions, and it’s excellent for zeroing a rifle or testing ammunition. It has several other uses, but it’s ideal for this drill because of the different size circles on its center bull.
HOW IT WORKS
Hunters shoot from basically four positions: standing, kneeling, sitting or prone. Now, you might also shoot with a support such as a tree, a fence post or a bipod or shooting sticks. But unless you’re some sort of Zen yoga master, you’ll be in one of those four positions when you break the shot. Which position(s) do you shoot from for this drill? Any. Or a combination of the positions you expect to shoot from when hunting.
Start the drill with either both feet on the ground or with one knee down. Pick the start position that allows you to get into the shooting position you want to use the fastest. When the shot timer beeps, assume the shooting position of your choice—with or without support—just like you would while hunting. Once in position, fire one shot and then return to the start position. Time stops when the shot is fired, and the goal is to fire in less than 8 seconds. Repeat this two more times. You must use one target and fire three shots for each position you want to evaluate. Write down the time for each shot then check your target(s).
HOW IT'S SCORED
The target has five circles radiating out from the center. There is a 1/2-inch circle, 1-inch circle, 2-inch circle, 3-inch circle and 6-inch circle. They’re worth 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1 point, respectively.
Total your points on each target, then divide the total by three. The result, or quotient, multiplied by 100 is your maximum practical deer-killing range for the position associated with that target. If you scored a 5, 4 and 1 on a target from the sitting position, the total would be 10; 10 divided by 3 is 3.33. Multiply that by 100 and your maximum practical deer-killing range from the sitting position would be 333 yards.
The timer is there to provide stress and replicate reality. Deer don’t stand around all day waiting on you to shoot them. Add the times together for all the shots at one target and subtract one point for every full second your total time was over 24 seconds. For example, if it took you 9, 7 and 12 seconds (28 seconds) to fire three shots at one target, you would subtract 4 points (28 minus 24) from your point total before dividing by three.
WHY IT WORKS
The concept here is threefold. First is the practical assumption that your shot precision will increase proportional to distance. In other words, if you can hit a 1-inch circle at 100 yards, you can hit a two-inch circle at 200 yards. This would also suggest you could hit a 6-inch circle at 600 yards.
However, while bullets might fly like that, shooters don’t shoot like that. Testing has shown that with most of us—because of shooting and aiming error—at distance, bullet dispersion increases at a rate closer to 2.2 times as opposed to 2.0 times when the range is doubled. Therefore, a shot inside a 1-inch circle at 100 yards would most probably translate to a shot inside a 2.2-inch circle at 200 or roughly a 5-inch circle at 400 yards.
Second is the concept of reduced-size targets to simulate distance. Many hunters don’t have frequent access to long-range facilities for practice. The military has been doing this for many years. If you only have a 100-yard range and want to simulate shooting at 200 yards, just shoot at a smaller target.
Finally, there is the stress induced by time. If it takes you more than 8 seconds to assume a position and make a good shot, you’re likely uncomfortable with that position. It means you need to practice.
What this exercise does not consider is trajectory. If you’re going to try to hit a target at 400 yards, you’ll have to make some sort of ballistic adjustment. This test assumes you know what that adjustment must be, and that you’ll make it correctly.
The Deer-Killing Drill is not perfect (it doesn’t consider your ability to make wind calls at distance, either). But, if you only have a 100-yard range to work with and want to know your maximum practical effective range from a certain position, this drill is a good place to start.