As easy as bench shooting is, it’s not often a hunter gets to enjoy such a flawless position. In the field, with the gear you’ll be using, chances are you’ll need to take your shot from something other than a bench.
Ideally, head out to the plot you’ll be hunting or terrain like it and practice some real-world shooting positions. If you can’t manage that, many shooting positions can be recreated at your local range. In this video we’ll cover offhand, seated, kneeling, prone, and natural-terrain-based shooting positions.
As with any shooting, the fundamentals of breathing, trigger control, and follow through are key elements of accuracy. In hunting, running the bolt to load a second round is also important, should a follow-up shot be needed. Keep these things in mind while working on your positional shooting.
Safety Manipulation: When building any position remember the mantra, “off target, safety on; on target, safety off”. This will help prevent both a negligent discharge and the embarrassment of missing a shot because your safety was on. As you come on target, disengage the safety. When dismounting the rifle, engage the safety before any other movement begins.
Breathing: If you are actively breathing when the shot breaks, chances are good you’ll miss the target. As your chest inflates and deflates it will cause the rifle to effectively pivot on your support hand; and vertical stringing of shots. A shot fired during inhalation will hit low and during exhalation will hit high. Rather than hold your breath at an arbitrary point, train to take the shot during the natural pause between inhales and exhales (or exhales and inhales). This ensures chest-pressure influence on the rifle is consistent shot after shot.
Follow Through: This can be a challenge with lightweight, high-powered hunting rifles, but keeping in the scope through shot impact and running the bolt for a potential follow-up shot should be a priority. This task is also one that will let you know if your scope is truly mounted at a height and distance that works for you. Watch the shot to verify the hit and be ready with a second round if needed.
Offhand: This is one of the most difficult positions, especially after physical activity with heart pounding and heavy breathing. Ironically this position also often affords the best vantage point to clear brush or other obstructions from your shot. The icing on the cake is chances are this will be the quickest position to take for a target of opportunity.
To train for physical stresses without hiking, and at a local range, try some jumping jacks, jogging a lap, or anything else to get your heart rate up. Rifle ranges are a great spot for known-distance jogs. When the range goes cold for target checks, jog down to the 50- or 100-yard target line and back.
When building an offhand position don’t forget about your sling! Beyond helping you carry your rifle, the sling can also greatly enhance stability and follow-through. The sling method demonstrated in this video turns the support hand from a single point of contact with the rifle to three points of contact. With the right sling tension this method marries the rifle to the support hand, greatly reducing rifle float while aiming, and reducing a lightweight rifle’s attempt to jump under recoil. Another trick for shooting offhand is to reduce your optic’s magnification. The wider field of view will reduce your perception of rifle movement and frustration.
Kneeling: A more stable position than offhand, kneeling is a relatively quick position to build while still permitting some clearance of brush or compensation for angles. Dropping down to sit on your firing-side foot, wrap your support-side arm in the sling as shown previously. Rest your support-side elbow just behind the support-side knee. Compensation for angles can be done by simply moving your support-side foot farther from or closer to the body; changing knee height.
Using Your Gear: If you have the time and terrain, getting low not only provides more stability for the shot, but can also be a lot more comfortable. Shooting sticks are great, but your pack can also be useful as an improvised rifle rest while providing three different heights of support from length, width, or height.
Natural Terrain: Rocks, tree branches, and logs can provide a lot of stability and allow for shooting at various angles, but don’t always provide the most sure-footed feeling when resting a bare rifle against them. Your pack, a lightweight shooting bag, or even a garment should be emplaced to soak up some of the shape discrepancies between your rifle’s stock and the surface you’re resting against it. Using natural objects as a rest may require some unconventional body positions, but when done right can provide the same shooting stability as shooting from a bench.
Prone: The most stable position can also take the most time to build and requires fairly open terrain. If open terrain is your shooting environment, consider using a bipod as an empty pack might not provide the elevation needed. Without a bipod an empty pack can be used under the torso and elbows to provide both some elevation and cushioning/protection for the elbows.
Practicing these positions, ideally in the environment where you’ll be hunting will give you knowledge of which positions work best for you, how much time they require to build, and will help you have confidence in every shot.