The best laid plans, as we know, don’t always go as planned; and far too often we end up trying to navigate around events that we didn’t account for. This is especially true when it comes to shooting and hunting. We plan and practice for months, based on certain variables we build up in our minds, only to find reality quite different. How we react to these challenges and move forward often is the determining factor in success or failure. It is almost impossible to factor in all the variables that we may encounter, but being well rounded certainly helps.
All those times at the range trying those quick shots, or even shooting a friend’s gun just to see how it does, can all pay off sometime in the future. Attending various shoots, outside our own level of comfort and/or disciplines, are little things that build our levels of proficiency for when we need it the most.
I remember several years ago I was on carbine course down south. We were shooting a close-range drill over and over again; they seemed like mindless time filers and at the time I thought they were a waste of good ammunition. That was until the last drill of the course, when we had to engage our targets, at close range but blindfolded (all safely supervised). We had no vision whatsoever and were forced to rely solely on muscle memory for the last scoreable stage. I will never forget that and it has stuck with me ever since. I didn’t win the event by far, but I was able to keep most of my rounds on the target. Those kinds of experiences do build confidence, which is one of the first things you need to be successful.
When I bring my kids or new shooters out shooting, I will let them shoot any of my firearms within reason. I obviously would not let them shoot something that they could get hurt from recoil (which will manifest into poor shooting in the future) or cause them to drop the firearm. My 10-year-old son has become proficient with his grandpa’s old .30-06, shooting it off of a rest or support. He’s good enough to take game out to a couple of hundred yards, he has learned what the recoil will be like and does well with it.
This past spring, bear season had its little surprises in store for us even though we had planned carefully for months prior. We wanted to determine the best dates to hunt so the snow would be gone and the fresh, green grass would draw in the hungry bruins. Taking the past few years as an average, we determined when the best time to be there would be. Constantly keeping updates with friends who lived closer to assess the weather and snow melt, we were confident we had our timing right. Even though some other areas greened up a few weeks early, our chosen area was weeks behind. Where we had two to three inches of green grass last year, we found on our arrival literally two to three feet of snow. Bears were hard to find and, with the lack of fresh vegetation, there was nothing to draw them in. We spotted a few bears but they were located in a shot only – no single projectiles area, which meant our rifles were of no use to us. Thankfully, I had brought a new shotgun to practice with in camp in the evenings and had buckshot along so we were still in the game.
We were now faced with two hurdles, the first being can a 10-year-old handle a 3 ½-inch magnum load of buckshot out of the 12 gauge? This is something that most grown men don’t particularly enjoy. He was confident he could handle it and I let him shoot a few rounds of various non-buckshot loads in camp before we went out to try a stalk on a bear.
Hurdle 2, having taken numerous bears with shotgun, I have found that the effective range of buckshot is very close and usually requires a follow-up shot or two. My son was still willing to try, so off we went. After a few blown stalks and a miss or two, we managed to close the distance on a cooperative bear. His first shot rolled the bear and it got back up, it managed to travel a few yards and then piled up. I had him put another shot into it just to be sure, but it probably wasn’t needed. Our party ended up taking one more bear with the shotgun that trip. We managed to turn our luck around by trying a different form of hunting. All the times when I had allowed my son to try a new gun or just finish off the last few rounds really have paid off. I have never thought that just going out plinking or “burning up” old, mismatched ammunition was a waste of time and money, it builds experience and confidence, whether on the range or in the field.
If you get a chance introduce someone new to the shooting sports or hunting, it helps grow our sport and you never know, you might get a good shooting and hunting partner out of it.