3 Summer Archery Tips for Mountain Hunters

There was a miserable stretch of days sometime in the late 80s when I missed something like fourteen pheasants in a row. The reason is quite simple: I was a bad shot. Dad taught me to shoot. I never practiced. No wonder I was terrible. Many of you may be in the same place I was. If you want to get better, now is the time to start, and I have a plan for you.

Ammo, target fees, and gas to go to a gun club cost more these days, so I’m going to make this program as economical as possible. By the way, this curriculum is modeled after an actual game plan I created for a hunter I’ve been coaching over e-mail since last summer. It’s working for him, judging by the pictures of boats and pheasants he’s been sending me since we started corresponding.

First, I’m going to hope and assume that you’ve already read what I’ve written ad infinitum on unloaded gun assembly practice and three-bullet training. If not, you can find many videos that explain them. Gil and Vicki Ash have a good one at the three-bullet drill. There are many videos about gun assemblers, including some that I have made. These drills, especially gun fitters, are some of the best, most economical (as in free) shooting practice out there. Make them. Now, on to the shooting.

Step 1: Buy a BB gun

Daisy Red Ryder BB Gun

Purpose: Learn instinctive shooting

Whether you’re trying to learn instinctive shooting, or binocular shooting, or even switching sides so you can shoot on your dominant side, a BB gun is an inexpensive, fun, and valuable learning tool. A Daisy Red Ryder costs $30. BBs cost about $00,002 per round. First, remove the sights from your new gun. Start with stationary targets at 5 yards. A can of pop works. Instead of aiming the gun, place the index finger of the front hand along the front and point it at the target. Do that, and hitting your sightless weapon is easy as long as you keep your eyes on the target and point. Instinctive shooting is all about learning to trust hand-eye coordination.

Work your way up to smaller objects, like golf balls on the ground, then try flying targets. Two aluminum pie plates taped together so you can throw them like a slow frisbee. You can take this BB gun shooting as far as you want. I’ve been shooting very lightly, I close incoming clays with my Red Ryder, and some people practice until they can shoot pennies out of the air.

Step 2: shoot backyard clays

Birchwood Casey Clay Target Thrower

Purpose: Move the gun mount, translate your BB gun drill

If you don’t have a portable trap, find someone who does or buy a very cheap hand trap for $20 to $30. Sniper shooters have improved to the point where you can shoot fairly consistent targets. Take turns throwing mud at a friend in a place that is safe to shoot with shotguns.

Start with a pre-assembled gun if necessary and work to carry over what you learned from shooting the BB gun. The shotgun is noisy and kicks a bit, but the concepts are the same: look at the target, point instead of aiming the gun. Start with slow straight or gently held targets with your trigger right next to you, then start going left and right for shots where you’ll need to move the gun along the target’s line of flight.

When you can, start shooting from a low gun position and work on mounting the gun. Always remember that the first move towards the target is to push the muzzle towards it.

Step 3: Shoot the Trap

Professional trap shooter shooting clay targets.
Trap is an accessible way to improve your swing. visual space via Getty Images

Purpose: Shoot longer, unfamiliar angles, take your eyes off the gun, learn your way to the gun club

If you are serious about getting better at shooting, sooner or later you will need to start shooting clays at a gun club. Trap is the game of shooting at the goal. There are trap fields all over the country. Most people can score better at trap than they can at skeet or sporting clays when they first start out, and the game is a great teacher of some key fundamentals.

In this program, you don’t need to trap much. Try to go to a gun club three to four times and shoot 50 to 75 targets. It is better to go a few times and shoot a little than to go once or twice and shoot a lot.

Start with a pre-mounted gun with the safety off (this is good gun etiquette. Some trap guns don’t even have a safety). Your gun should be aimed at the house or a foot or more above it. Your eyes should look behind the gun and the house and into the distance. (They’ll turn to focus on a closer object much faster than they can reach—that’s just how the eyes work.)

Instead of trying to follow the target from the gunbox, look at it first, read its angle, then move the gun and go through it. It’s exactly what you’re going to do when a flush game bird and it will make the targets look much slower and easier. By the way, traps swing randomly, so you can’t predict where a bird will drop. Don’t bother, react.

Read more: How to shoot Trap, Skeet and Sporting clays

You will also learn that the trap punishes head-raising and lack of follow-through. Keep your head on the gun, your butt on your shoulder, and your eye on the target until it breaks. Make it easier on yourself by choosing lighter, slower loads (1 ounce at 1180 fps will break any target from the 16 yard line fine). The lower support of light loads will help you stay on the gun.

Tramp is easy to learn and hard to master, and the learning phase of the game is fun. You should be able to hit more than you miss after a few tries, and you’ll be a better hitter when the seasons begin.

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