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Summer Shooting Skills

Sharpen your shooting skills in summer

Spending time at the range prior to opening day is an important element of ethical hunting.


Brad Fitzpatrick


Even though summer may be considered the “off” season, there’s still plenty of work to be done during June, July and August in anticipation of fall hunts. One of the most important things that you can do in summer is to sharpen up on your shooting skills, and that means spending time at the range. That can be a formal range at a local gun club or, if you have a safe place to shoot and it doesn’t violate local law, in your own backyard.

Summer shooting is about more than killing time until season rolls around, though. When I’m in the field in the fall, I want to know that I can make a clean, effective shot. It’s a key component of ethical hunting and you owe it to the game animals you plan to harvest. Despite what many hunters believe, the argument that “it was on target last year so it will be this year” doesn’t hold up. A nearly year-long sabbatical from shooting requires you to reevaluate your equipment and brush up on your skills.

As always, safety should be your primary consideration. To begin, be certain to protect your hearing and vision. Birchwood Casey offers their Krest 24 ear muffs and Vektor glasses in a combo pack with an MSRP of $31.20. ( Treat every gun as if it were loaded at all times, keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction and don’t touch the trigger until you are ready to shoot. Before you shoot, make certain of your target and know what is beyond it so you do not injure any person or property.

Upland Game: September means dove hunting in many states, and these lightning-fast birds will test even a practiced shooter’s skill. If you plan to hunt doves, ducks, quail, or small game like rabbits with a shotgun this year, you must spend some time on the clays course. Again, that could mean a trip to the local trap and skeet club, or you could brush up on your shotgun skills in your backyard with a portable clay target thrower like the Patriot from Atlas Traps ( or the Promatic Super Hawk ( Having a well-built automatic trap at home allows you to get in some serious shooting time and you can adjust the target presentation to mimic a variety of actual shooting conditions like rising quail, incoming wood ducks and teal, and hard-crossing doves. The key to effective shotgun shooting is remaining target-focused. Follow-through is also critical, and on moving targets the muzzle should remain in motion before, during, and after the shot. Having a personal target thrower allows you to practice shots again and again to improve upon your skills, and compared to a gun club membership, a personal trap thrower may save you money over the course of several years.

Varmints, Predators, and Big Game: When hunting with a rifle, handgun, or bow, shot placement is critical and you must be certain that you can place your bullet or arrow in the correct place. This begins by knowing the anatomy of the animal you are hunting, usually the heart/lung area. I prefer targets that provide instant feedback, something like Birchwood Casey’s Shoot-N-C targets that offer immediate feedback on shot placement. Remember, when you are shooting a bow or a rifle, you need to fire multiple shots to determine accuracy. Three, four, or five shots will help ensure that the groups you are producing are consistent and precise enough to hit the vital areas of game. If you notice groups that are wide or expand as you shoot, you’ll need to diagnose the problem and you’ll need to do this before you head to the field. Sometimes the issue lies with the shooter, and you need to practice trigger control or a smooth release. In other instances the problem might be an issue with your scope, your sights, ammo, arrows, or any number of other things. If you are having issues with your accuracy, it’s oftentimes best to allow a competent professional to assess the situation and diagnose the problem. Oftentimes these problems are simple to fix but they do require time before you head out into the field in search of game.

Summer is also a good time to evaluate your maximum effective range, which is the farthest you can accurately and consistently place a shot in the vitals. I have a personal rule that I won’t shoot game at a distance farther than I have already practiced, so even if my rifle is grouping well at 200 yards, I don’t shoot game at 250 unless I have tested my firearm at that range. That helps boost my confidence and eliminates errors. This is true whether you are shooting a bow or rifle, but you need to be able to accurately assess distance to the target (both in the range and in the field). For this reason I believe that a quality rangefinder is a must-have accessory. Leupold’s RX and Vendetta Bow Rangefinders are both excellent options and they will provide very fast, accurate ranges in a matter of seconds (

Once you have practiced your skills with your rifle, shotgun, handgun or bow, the other critical element is to remain consistent through the summer and into the hunting season. Changing optics, ammo, arrows, or anything else on your shooting system can cause changes in point of impact, so if you find it necessary to swap out any gear or accessories, be certain to reevaluate your accuracy on the range before heading to the field. Once you have mastered the mechanics of shooting and feel confident that your gear won’t let you down, then you are ready to hunt. You’ll enjoy more success and you will minimize the chances of lost or wounded animals when opening day finally rolls around.