March 27, 2020
I was just about to press the trigger when the coyote dropped to its belly, practically disappearing. I could just barely see its back through the Trijicon AccuPoint. As I tried to decide whether to fire through the grass, the coyote busted out in a run. At the distance, about 150 yards, I tracked the crosshairs a little in front of its muzzle and fired. The coyote rolled to a stop.
The guide was impressed, claiming it was one heck of a shot. I didn’t think it was a big deal; most Mississippi dog-runners could have done the same. His comments about how many times he has watched hunters miss similar shots, however, made me realize that not every hunter grew up shooting moving targets, and many might not have picked up the skill. It seems as if everyone is fired up about shooting long distances these days, but can’t seem to hit anything if it is not standing still.
There are three standard methods of hitting a moving target: tracking, ambush and swing-through. Each has its benefits for different situations, and each requires shooting at where the target is going to be.
One obvious thing about shooting at moving targets, whether for practice or in the field: The target will be moving and, in most cases, so will your gun. That means that you must take extreme care that you are shooting safely, with full knowledge of what is to the side of you and your target, and what lies beyond your target.
These techniques also require some understanding of distance and bullet speed, particularly if firing beyond 100 yards. Steven Reinhold, Mossy Oak pro staff regional manager, typically uses the swing-through method, both with shotguns and rifles. He also believes that most hunters miss because they panic and don’t take time to properly aim.
He recommends aiming just a bit in front on a running coyote.
“If you’re 2 inches or so in front, you should be good in most cases,” said Reinhold.
TRACK THE TARGET
The most popular method of shooting moving targets, especially in open areas, is tracking. Here, shooters simply swing with, or track, the target at its speed. Some also call this sustained lead. Lead is determined by distance and target speed. The lead on a coyote (or deer) moderately trotting at 50 yards is much less than one racing to escape at 150.
Another method that works well in open country is the swing-through. This is especially good if the hunter gets behind on the jump, which forces the swing to be fast to catch up. Here, the lead is basically developed by the speed of the swing, with the shooter pulling the trigger as the gun passes the proper lead distance.
SET UP AN AMBUSH
The ambush method (some call it trapping) is often used in thick areas with established shooting lanes. It is especially effective if the shooter knows where a target is going to pop out via knowledge of the terrain. For this style you need to set the scope to a magnification that permits the entire opening to be seen. Otherwise, the target could get through the field of view before you can pull the trigger.
DISTANCE AND FOLLOW-THROUGH
Hitting a moving target isn’t as hard as many believe; the human brain naturally calculates speed, distance and angle to a certain degree. If you can play catch, you can do this. Most shooters have experience with some of the factors, even if they don’t realize it.
Hitting a moving target comes down to lead: how far ahead of a target one must aim to place a round where that target is going to be. It stands to reason that at slower target speeds the lead is less. However, shooters must also factor in distance. Most bullets travel 100 yards in about a tenth of a second, including popular predator rounds, such as the .22-250 Rem., .223 Rem. and 6.5 Creedmoor. So, a predator moving broadside at 10 mph at 100 yards requires about 1 1/2 feet of lead. This increases with both greater distance and speed, and of course, the reverse is also true.
However, many shooters miss moving targets because of an issue other than lead; they forget about follow-through. Shooters must not stop swinging the gun at the shot, as the bullet will hit behind the target almost every time. The only time the rifle shouldn’t be swinging when shooting at a moving target is when using the ambush technique. Otherwise, the rifle always moves—and stays moving.
PRACTICE FOR THE RUN
As with most shooting skills, proficiency comes with practice. Of course, it can be difficult to practice hitting moving targets as most folks don’t have access to ranges with motorized target stands. Luckily, there are some lower-tech methods.
The first involves a wheeled cart, a pulley system, some long cables or rope, and a motorized vehicle such as an ATV or lawn tractor. It also requires a safe backstop and a partner. Set the pulley system for the angle you want to practice and use the vehicle to pull the target along.
The second is a bit simpler, but still requires a partner, along with a safe area. Attach a target to an old tire and roll it down a hill. Just be sure to allow the tire to roll far enough to keep your partner safe.
Of course, the best practice comes from getting out and trying to put some predators on the ground. Not only does this provide experience at hitting moving targets, it also offers action during a time of the year when few other species are available.