Shooting in a Snap

Catching up with deer on the run.

Field & Stream Online Editors

The buck catapults through the opening and is gone. You play it again in your mind-slow motion. Your niece could parallel park a school bus where that deer crossed. Why didn't you shoot? If the buck had been a ruffed grouse, you could have easily fired both barrels.

The difference between pointing a shotgun and aiming a rifle isn't that great. In both cases you must align the barrel with the target. Sights on a rifle simply help you align it more precisely. When your target is up close and moving, however, precision becomes less important than speed.

Snap shooting a rifle is part art, part science. It is not merely throwing bullets at game and hoping for a hit. It means taking quick aim, sometimes with a moving rifle, and ticking off a few carefully rehearsed procedures in rapid succession. Use these tips to prepare for that split-second shot.

Your Rifle
Short, lightweight rifles come up quickly, but if you pare too many ounces, the rifle won't swing smoothly. Balance matters. A slight tilt to the muzzle is what you want, but the right balance is easier to feel than to describe.

Though you will have more success without one, the best kind of sling is slender and lightweight, adjusted to hang loose. A wide, heavy carrying strap will disturb your aim when it swings, and a tight one can interfere with your forward hand.

Stock fit is crucial. Your eye must center the sights right away. Take this test: Put a thumbtack in the wall. With rifle in hand, step back and focus on the tack. Now close your eyes, quickly shoulder your rifle, and open your eyes as soon as the comb hits your cheek. The sights should be on the tack. If not, the stock comb may need work, or the sight may need repositioning. Sometimes you can speed up your shot by shortening the stock, especially if you wear heavy hunting clothes.

Use a low-powered scope for a wide field of view. Mount it low and well forward. You should see the scope's full field with your head as far forward as is comfortable. Experiment with scope placement, starting with the ocular lens directly over the rear guard screw.

Your Technique
Fast shooting starts with good footwork. If you shoot right-handed, keep your feet shoulder-width apart, with your left foot advanced a few inches toward the target. Keep your weight on the balls of your feet, your knees and hips relaxed. Keep your right elbow high to form a pocket in your shoulder.

When still-hunting, stop in spots where you will be able to shoot. Bucks often break cover during a pause in your movement. Pick places where your feet can be quickly positioned for a shot and where you have shot alleys in several directions. Have your rifle in hand, not slung on your shoulder. Keep an elastic chest strap on your binoculars, so there's no interference when you bring the rifle up quickly. In cold weather, wear slitted mittens that free the fingers of your trigger hand; you won't have time to shuck a glove when a buck runs into your shooting lane.

A snap shot is still an aimed shot. If your sights aren't on target (or properly leading the target), you will miss. Rehearse your shooting routine-release the safety, shoulder, aim, and dry-fire at the thumbtack. Wearing your hunting clothes, do it over and over, beginning a smooth trigger squeeze as soon as you cheek the stock.