Field & Stream Online Editors
Field & Stream Online Editors

Nothing improves your shooting like shooting. Trouble is, regular visits to the range with a high-powered rifle or slug gun can be budget-busting and bone-jarring. Worse, for many of us, it’s boring. The answer, then, is to make rifle practice cheap and easy-and make it fun, by turning it into a game.

Here’s how: Get a .22. They’re inexpensive to buy, new or used. They don’t kick. And 500 rounds of ammo sets you back about $9 (compared to about $400 for .270 and about $70 for .22 mag.). Ideally, you want a .22 that’s as similar to your regular deer rifle in weight, feel, action, sights, and trigger pull as possible. That said, it doesn’t have to be a perfect match to vastly improve your shooting.

Sight it in an inch high at 50 yards. With a midrange trajectory of about 31/2 inches for most high-speed .22 long rifle ammo, this will put you about 21/2 inches low at 100 yards, allowing you to pretty much hold on target out to that distance. Much beyond that, a .22 long rifle bullet drops like a rock, which is fine because the vast majority of deer are shot within 100 yards.

**Get some targets. **Paper plates are perfect. They’re roughly the same size as a deer’s vital area and cost a little over $1 for 50. Besides, deer don’t have bull’s-eyes painted on them. Why should your targets? Find a safe place to shoot. I shoot at a fairly remote piece of public land, and I would venture to guess that many of you have access to the same. Call your regional department of natural resources to ask about suitable locations. You might also inquire about paper-company lands, or simply ask a farmer, who may let you shoot in exchange for popping a few gophers.

**Enlist a friend. **You’ll be more likely to go-and go more often. Also, a little friendly competition tends to make your practice sessions more interesting.

Set up a shooting course. Design it to improve your in-field shooting. Make a dozen or so stations at various distances for the standard offhand, kneeling, sitting, and prone positions. But don’t stop there. Also incorporate any likely field situations, such as using a standing tree, blowdown, or shooting stick for a rest. Plan at least one station so you’ll be sitting upright (on a stump or folding chair) to re-create how you would likely sit and shoot in your tree stand.

At each station, put up a pair of paper plates, one for each shooter, making absolutely certain there’s a safe backstop immediately behind the targets.

** Set the rules.** It’s up to you. Take, say, five shots at each target with a point for each hit. Once you’re hitting the targets routinely, you might award an extra point for hits within a 3-inch circle drawn in pencil. Since deer seldom give you all day to shoot, bring a stopwatch and set up a fairly easy offhand shot, but with a time limit. Or take just one shot at a time at each station, as deer rarely offer more. Use your imagination to set rules that reflect hunting situations.

Save your targets. Fun notwithstanding, your primary reason for playing this game is to improve your accuracy. So save your targets and compare them from week to week or month to month. You’ll see fewer flyers and tighter groups-and you’ll be ready for most any shot come deer season.