Off-Season Tune-Up

By Mark Hampton

If you’ve ever played sports, you understand the importance of practice. Staying proficient in any discipline requires skills be refined by persistent repetition. Shooting a handgun to any degree of accuracy also requires quality practice. Compared to a rifle, a handgun is more difficult and challenging to shoot accurately and demands attention to skill.

Going to the range periodically is essential with keeping our shooting skills honed. Whacking steel plates at various yardages is another way to sharpen your proficiency and can be enjoyable on those long summer days. Like many, I get bored with punching paper after a short while. The reactive nature of steel adds a bit more spice to shooting sessions. But there is nothing like shooting game to keep your mind and trigger finger occupied until fall hunting seasons arrive.

Squirrel hunting is a great way to keep sharp. Using your favorite rimfire pistol, you’ll probably find yourself shooting from a variety of positions. This will provide useful practice — plus it’s gratifying. Head shots don’t allow much room for error so accuracy will be a factor. Here in Missouri we have a season running from Memorial Day to the 15th of February. That sure gives small game hunters ample time to enjoy quality handgunning.


Axis deer can be hunted in the off-season
and can be challenging. This buck was taken
with a BFR revolver in .460 S&W Mag. fitted with a 4X Leupold
scope.Practice makes perfect, according to Mark.

Tiny Targets

Small targets demand accuracy and prairie dogs are just the ticket. This type of shooting yields itself to almost any handgun and cartridge although rimfires and small centerfire cartridges usually get the nod. There is a lot more room around a prairie dog than in one so handguns capable of connecting with small targets are most welcome. Single-shot handguns in .223 are solid choices for a target-rich environment. If possible, a good shooting .22 LR or .17 HMR are good options for close range affairs. After shooting these pests for a couple of days you’ll become a better shooter, or wind up selling your guns to start collecting stamps.

There are some species of exotics which can be hunted in the off-season, such as blackbuck antelope, axis deer and aoudad sheep for example. All three offer challenge, and are prime opportunities to try out that new gun, scope or cartridge. Revolvers and single-shots are both good choices even though blackbuck and aoudad are often taken at long range.

Axis deer are among the most beautiful deer in the world and the meat is excellent. My last axis hunt found me with a Magnum Research BFR in .460 S&W Mag. fitted with a 4X Leupold scope. Stalking these skittish deer with a revolver is very rewarding during the off-season when other big game opportunities are non-existent. It beats the heck out of mowing the yard! After three days of climbing up and down those west Texas hills, my chance finally materialized. I was using Federal ammunition, and the 275-gr. slug found its mark, but there was one problem — I shot the wrong one! Oops. But, it was a good hunt and the venison was delicious.


This big mean hog fell victim to a Freedom Arms Model 83
in .44 Mag. The handgun was fitted with a Bushnell 2-6X
scope while Winchester’s RazorBack ammo performed perfectly.
Actively using your equipment in the off-season is critical
for success during big-game hunting in-season.

Adrenaline Rush

One of my favorite hunts in the off-season has to be wild hogs. In many parts of the country they are considered a nuisance, with year-round hunting opportunities and no limit. Hogs are hunted several different ways, including spot and stalk, overlooking feeders and with dogs. I like them all but for pure excitement, the dogs offer an unadulterated adrenaline rush like no other.

Recently I was in Texas with two revolvers and two semi-autos. Luckily I got to use all of them thanks to the proliferation of swine. Shots are normally up close and personal when hunting with dogs. I was testing handguns in 10mm, .50 GI, .460 S&W Mag. and .44 Mag. Keep in mind, if ammunition performs well on hogs it should do well on whitetail and such.

On one ranch it was spot and stalk only, no dogs. I was looking for a big boar with some teeth showing and would pass on anything less. The second day I bumped into a big, ugly hog. I was packing a Freedom Arms Model 83 in .44 Mag. topped with a Bushnell Elite 2-6X scope. The Winchester RazorBack 225-gr. HP was specifically designed for this application and I wanted to see how it would perform. Sneaking within 40 yards, I set up the Primos tripod shooting sticks and took a good rest. When the boar turned sideways I squeezed. The hog lunged forward, ran about 20 yards — then fell over. We had pork headed to the skinning shed. The Winchester RazorBack worked flawlessly and shot exceptionally well out of the Freedom Arms.

Keeping your shooting skills intact in the off-season will be an asset when hunting season rolls around. It’s a process that can be fun and rewarding.

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