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Small Game Training for the Big Game, and a Whole Lot of Fun

Athletes, coaches and fans understand “The Big Game.” Hunters have their definition, too, but these meanings overlap. In the progression of a hunter, big game is usually considered “The Big Game.” Neither hunters nor athletes arrive for “The Big Game” unprepared. Both train and prepare, often for years. “The Big Game” can be the culmination of an entire career.

The best training to hunt big game is hunting small game. Turns out, hunting small game – squirrels and rabbits – is so much fun in itself.9461723 s

Hunting small game teaches skills critical for big game hunting, like stealth in the woods. The only way you’ll be successful taking small game with a rimfire rifle is to quietly sneak within range, or in the case of squirrels, sit quietly in a carefully scouted location and wait for them to come to you. Camo helps, but success depends on being quiet and still. Learning to spot a stationary squirrel among the tree limbs or a rabbit in the brush – before it spots you – is a difficult skill. When you’ve mastered it, you’re definitely ready to spot big game, too. 

Hunting squirrels and rabbits with a rifle is superb marksmanship training for hunting big game. The goal is a clean, one-shot kill every time. Because the targets are so tiny, it might be said small game marksmanship is actually more difficult! On squirrels and rabbits, the objective is to make a headshot so as not to ruin any delicious meat, and you’ll find cleaning and eating squirrels and rabbits taken with a small caliber rifle far more pleasant than dealing with those centered in a shotgun pattern.

By carefully selecting the rifle for hunting small game, you acquire truly transferable skills. For example, the Savage line of big bore rifles feature the AccuTrigger. This modern version of a set trigger creates the light, crisp trigger pull essential for accurate shooting. However, it takes experience to get the feel of the AccuTrigger. The best place to do that is in the woods hunting rabbits and squirrels with a rimfire rifle also featuring the AccuTrigger. With the Savage BMag rifle in .17 WSM scoped with the same optics as the rifle with which you’ll hunt big game, you create the perfect training regimen. Savage also offers a variety of standard .22 rimfire rifle models with the AccuTrigger.

While basic skills of marksmanship should be learned at the range under the watchful guidance of an instructor, skills for “The Big Game” are learned in the field. The great thing about hunting small game is you’ll likely get numerous shooting opportunities each hunt. It takes reps to prepare for “The Big Game.”

Reps is what America’s “all-around” .22 rifle is all about. The Ruger 10/22 is well-suited to plinking and serious range work as well as taking small game. Current configurations include sporter, takedown, target, compact, and tactical models. There are dozens of after-market features and accessories that can be added to this ultra-versatile semi-auto.


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Maps for Scouting and a Whole Lot More

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Good maps are essential to hunters. More than simply keeping us from getting lost or wandering onto the wrong property, maps are primary scouting tools.

It would be nice if we could put boots on the ground to scout at every location we planned to hunt, but often that’s not possible. Distances are too great and time is too short. But with the quality of maps and satellite imagery available online today, 90 percent of scouting can be accomplished at your computer, on your smartphone, or with GPS in hand.

Quality maps allow you to locate hunting areas, then zoom in with topographical and satellite image layers. Studying these carefully, you can pinpoint the exact tree in which you want to hang a stand or the precise reedy point where you want your duck boat for opening morning. Plus you can determine the best route to reach those locations. And you can do it from halfway around the world.

onXmaps offers maps for Garmin GPS, computers, and smartphones/tablets that quickly become a tool you won’t know how you lived without. Their fast, intuitive topo maps highlight all public and private property boundaries, and their HUNT Map series adds a layer of private land parcels including landowner information. Imagine coming to a fence you’ve never seen before, popping out your GPS or phone, and not only seeing who owns the property on the other side, but having contact info to find out if you can hunt it! And being out of cell service isn’t a problem either. You can cache portions of maps offline to view any time.

Visit to see all the features and options available. You can purchase chips or downloads by state and by region, and there’s reduced pricing for updates as they come out.


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Five Critical Strategies for Successful Bird Hunting on Public Land

Often we dream of upland bird hunting in far-flung locations. Pheasants in South Dakota. Doves in Argentina. Quail in Georgia, Texas or Arizona. Ruffed grouse and woodcock in New England. If you ever get the chance to make any of these hunts … TAKE IT! These locales are renowned among bird hunters for a reason. Grouse2

But for most of us, nearly all of our bird hunting is done close to home and often on public hunting grounds. These hunts can be not only successful, but enjoyable and lifetime memorable, too.

Hunting birds on public lands introduces extra challenges and possibly the element of competition if you’re going to enjoy a full game bag. Here are some tips to help:

  1. 1.Scout Harder – just because a patch of ground is bordered by “Wildlife Management Area” or “Waterfowl Production Area” signs doesn’t automatically mean it’s going to deliver great hunting all season long. Public land hunting requires mega-scouting. Use your truck, your optics and your boot leather to thoroughly scout every piece of viable public hunting ground within a reasonable drive of your home. Learn the land and how the birds you’re after use these habitats through the course of the season.
  2. 2.Go Deeper – when you’re hunting the areas you’ve thoroughly scouted, rely on your compiled maps and GPS to go farther from the roads and trails than most hunters are willing to go. If you can locate good habitat a half-mile or more from easy access, even in an otherwise heavily hunted area, chances are very high you’ll have it all to yourself through most of the season.
  3. 3.Take a Different Approach – animals, including birds, quickly become wise to the patterns of hunters on public areas. Take hard-hunted pheasants for example. As soon as they hear car doors slamming and dogs being turned out in the main parking lot, the roosters are making a beeline for the far end of the field to flush and fly away before the “predictable” hunters move ten feet into the cover. If you can figure out a way to sneak to the far end of that field and be waiting when those hunters arrive, they’ll push the birds into your lap!
  4. 4.Hunt When No One Else Can – while weekends at public areas are usually a zoo, weekdays are often deserted. You can’t get the time to be there on weekdays either? Well, how about during a rainstorm or snowstorm? Remember, game birds don’t evaporate in bad weather. They’re out there … you just have to find them.
  5. 5.Go High Tech – to find great public bird hunting in your area, the National Shooting Sports Foundation has created a brand new website. Just click on each state and you’ll find loads of information, including listings and maps of public hunting

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Make Your First Dove Hunt a Blast


Never been dove hunting before?  You’re in for a treat!  Dove hunting is a blast – figuratively and literally.

More shells are fired at doves in the United States than any other feathered species. Even experienced dove shooters seldom achieve success much above 50 percent.  If you take a limit of doves (12-15 birds in most places) with a box of shells, consider yourself a pro!

That means you’ll be doing a lot of shooting on your first dove hunt.  Thankfully, doves are small birds with light feathers and relatively easy to bring down.  They are the perfect game for shotguns like the 20 and 28 gauge.  These guns recoil less making high volume shooting more comfortable.  Particularly with a gas-operated semi-auto shotgun, even the smallest-framed shooters will shoot comfortably and bruise-free all afternoon.

While the .410 can bring down doves quite well, it’s not recommended for the beginner.  The .410 is an expert’s gun.  The density of the pattern in the 28 and 20 gauge offer so much more margin for error with little extra recoil, there’s no need to risk frustrating the beginner with a .410.  (And .410 shells are actually the most expensive you’ll find.)

Acquire the lightest loads you can find for dove hunting.  Lower velocity and lighter payload equate to less recoil.  Loads like the 20 gauge Federal Game-Shok Upland Game at 1210 fps with 7/8 of #8 shot or the Wing-Shok Quail Forever load of 1 ounce of #8s at 1165 fps.  If you’re hunting public lands for doves, you may be required to use non-toxic loads -- that means #7 steel.

Doves are most commonly hunted by waiting at the edge of feeding fields or watering holes.  Skeet shooting does a good job of simulating all of the kinds of shots you’ll likely get on your first dove hunt. However, shots are often taken while you’re sitting, so be sure to practice that, too.

Focus on the target (dove) and not the shotgun barrel when making your shot.  Next to not stopping your swing, this is the most important skill to hitting flying targets.  The right bead on your gun plays an important role.  While you’re not focusing on the bead, most coaches will tell you it’s an important reference point in your peripheral, out-of-focus vision.  Seeing the bead but not focusing on it, relies on it standing out in all conditions.  That gives the HiViz CompSight the winning edge.  It comes with eight interchangeable light pipes in four colors and three bead sizes.  Experimenting at the range will reveal which you “see” best in varying light conditions, and you can use that knowledge to increase your percentages on your very first dove hunt.

The right gun – check.  The right shells – check.  The right bead – check! Your first dove hunt is going to be a blast – guaranteed!

The Hunter's Handbook