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This off-season, you’re going to become the best marksman you’ve ever been. These eight shooting drills will have you making the long shot come fall. Also, be sure to check out F&S’s off-season shotgun drills.

Drill No. 1: Hit the Can

rifle drill
Hang six soda cans from trees. Then, have a competitor call out a certain can and start a stopwatch. Kenneth M. Ruggiano

The Goal: Simple—become an offhand ace. Why? Because one day soon you’re going to get caught with a big buck standing close, ready to bolt, and nothing to rest your gun on.

The Rundown: Get a real-gun-like airgun, a tin of pellets, some string, and six pop cans of varying colors. (Beer cans work, too.) Hang them at different heights and distances from trees or stakes around the yard. Then, standing with gun at the low ready, have a competitor call out a certain can and start a stopwatch (or a countdown). You have five seconds to find the can, shoulder the rifle, and make a hit. Practice aiming not at the entire Coke can, for example, but at one of the Os in Coca-Cola. If you hit the can, continue. If you miss, pass the gun. Wager a buck to see who can rattle the most cans in a row.

Drill No. 2: Know Your Rifle

rifle drill
First zero your rifle with your preferred hunting bullet. Kenneth M. Ruggiano

The Goal: Memorize precisely where your rifle puts a particular bullet at any range out to 400 yards, so that when your dream critter shows briefly in the distance, there will be no guessing or math. Just bang, flop.

The Rundown: The only way to really know where your rifle hits is to first zero it with your preferred hunting bullet. (I prefer a 200-yard zero.) Then shoot it in 50-yard increments from 100 to 400 yards, noting exactly where it hits and the necessary compensation via ballistic-reticle hash marks, come-ups, or holdover. Create a cheat sheet to keep it straight.

That done, the drill is simple. Set up targets from 100 to 400 yards in 50-yard increments. (Paper is fine but reactive targets are way more fun.) Now shoot the targets, alternating from short to long: 100 then 400, 150 then 350, 200 then 300, 250 back to 400. Repeat until you no longer need the cheat sheet. If you do no other shooting this off-season, do this.

Drill No. 3: Fire the Laser!

rifle drill
Set up in a part of your house that offers the longest shot, and concentrate on perfect trigger control. Kenneth M. Ruggiano

The Goal: Perfect your trigger pull with a laser trainer. LaserLyte makes projective laser cartridges that chamber like real rounds and, when the trigger is pulled, emit a laser beam. The company also offers an accompanying target that lights up or rattles when hit. Think of it as dry-firing for the 21st century.

The Rundown: Using a laser-equipped rifle and target, set up in a part of your house that offers the longest shot, and concentrate on perfect trigger control. You want to hit the center every time, and to do that requires a pull that’s smooth and straight back. Any yanking will be seen via the laser. Take 10 “shots,” twice a day, several times a week. The trick is to practice enough to where a perfect trigger pull is so ingrained that it crosses over to all of your hunting guns.

Bonus: Trigger work is just a start. With a laser, you can drill for fast target acquisition, offhand shots, timed shooting, and even close-quarter battle (CQB) work.

RELATED: Eight Shotgun Drills to Master in the Off-Season

Drill No. 4: Go Stump Hunting

shooting drill
When you see a stump, quickly get into the best field position available. Kenneth M. Ruggiano

The Goal: Learn to identify and use Mother Nature’s best gun rests. Anyone can shoot well from the bench. Problem is, there’s an acute absence of benches in the deer woods. This drill trains you to make the most of what’s available.

The Rundown: Take a hike through the woods with a .22 rifle. When you see a stump, quickly get into the best field position available, aim at a piece of moss or bark on the stump, and shoot it. Use what the cover allows. In open terrain where the grass is low, go prone and use a log as a rest. If the grass is high, sit with your back against a tree, or kneel over a boulder. If the cover is too high for that, stand and use the side of a tree for a rest. After the shot, take some time to assess your choice. With practice, you will pick out and use the best rest available without even thinking about it—an invaluable skill in the heat of the hunt.

Drill No. 5: See and Shoot

shooting drill
Starting offhand, use your naked eye to spot a target 100 yards away. Kenneth M. Ruggiano

The Goal: Get on game quickly and make the shot. Countless big-game animals owe their lives to dallying riflemen. Good shots don’t waste time, and this drill will teach you not to.

The Rundown: The first key is learning to find the target in a turned-up scope—which bedevils lots of shooters. So, starting offhand and with your scope at 7X or higher, use your naked eye to spot a target 100 yards away. Now bring the scope up to your eye, rather than your eye down to the stock. In essence, place the scope in your eye’s path of vision. Center the crosshair, take a deep breath, let it out slowly, and then squeeze the trigger off. Work to kneeling, sitting, and eventually prone. When you’ve got the procedure down, put out several targets at varying distances, get into your chosen position, and have a friend call out a target as he starts a stopwatch. You’ve got 10 seconds to hit. When you miss one or hit five in a row, it’s your buddy’s turn.

Hold Your Fire

Can’t get to the rifle range? No problem. Here are two simple drills you can do at home, plus one you can do anywhere and everywhere.

  • Dry-fire at objects on the TV screen before they disappear. Just make doubly sure the gun is unloaded so you don’t pull an Elvis.

  • Guess the ranges of random objects in different ­environments and light. Check your accuracy with a ­rangefinder—and watch it improve.

  • Use dummy rounds to practice blind reloading your rifle’s magazine from your recliner while watching the idiot box. So I watch a lot of TV, O.K., but I’m really fast at reloading.

Lead photograph by Kenneth M. Ruggiano