Preparing For The Hunt

By Mark Hampton

As handgun hunters, what skills do we really need to be successful in the field? How do we prepare ourselves? It’s a good idea to make certain our handguns are functioning safely and properly. If optics come into play, make sure the base and rings are solid. Also, one of the biggest handicaps for handgunners is a heavy, gritty, trigger. Why be handicapped? Get it fixed. For revolvers, I like a trigger pull around 3 pounds, breaking cleanly and without creep. Single-shot handguns of mine break around 2 pounds. Give me a handgun with a terrible trigger and I might as well be armed with an atlatl.

Good quality guns deserve quality ammunition. Are you shooting the most accurate load possible? What about matching the appropriate bullet to the game intended? Choosing the best possible load and proper bullet which shoot accurately from your handgun is essential. Maybe the discount ammo at WalMart isn’t the best for your needs. You have to test it to find out, don’t just assume.


At what distance can you keep all of your shots inside a standard-size
pie plate? This plate was shot with a .41 Mag. from 100 yards.
Learn your limits in the real world.


If there’s such a thing as a substitute for practice it might be dry firing. For years I taped a dime on the wall and spent hours working on a consistent grip and proper trigger pull. Excluding this ritual, there’s nothing more important than perfect practice. The moment I start developing bad habits, it’s time to stop. I’ll return when I’m rested and in the right frame of mind. Practice sessions should be fun, rewarding and beneficial.

If I plan on hunting with a revolver, I’ll grab a .22 or .32 H&R Mag. revolver best resembling my hunting rig. Likewise, if a single-shot pistol will be the hunting choice, I’ll take a .22 rimfire or .223 single shot and burn up a lot of practice ammo without burning a hole in my wallet. But, prior to the hunt I’ll practice with the same handgun and exact load intended for the hunt. It’s also helpful to know exactly where your bullet hits at various ranges, so range time is essential.

Occasionally I will jog a bit or do a set of push-ups, then get behind the gun. Ever climb a ridge, then once on top spot the big buck you’ve been chasing for the past few days? This exercise accelerates your heart rate and induces heavier than normal breathing — just like you might experience while hunting.


Finding any sort of rest will help steady your aim and
improve shot placement.


Once you’ve sighted-in your gun, leave the bench behind. I’ve never encountered a shooting bench in 40 years of handgun hunting. If I anticipate shooting from a backpack on a hunt, I’ll practice shooting from a backpack. You’ll usually know what type of terrain, method of hunting and shooting opportunities are expected, prior to the hunt. If the vegetation is tall you might have to shoot from a tripod rest of some sort. If so, practice sessions should be geared toward shooting from a tripod. Experienced handgun hunters will find some sort of rest to help steady their aim whenever possible. Improvise and adapt.

I often get asked, “How far is too far?” It’s easy to answer — for you. Get a standard-size white paper plate, 9″ in diameter. This plate roughly represents the vital area of a whitetail deer. At what range can you consistently keep all of your shots inside the plate? You’ve just answered your question. Don’t guess or assume. In the field, 100 “real” yards can look mighty far away with iron sights.

Shooting from a rest, if I can’t keep all of my shots in this plate from a particular range, I honestly have no business shooting at an animal from that distance and need to get closer. Believe me, there’s also a big difference between shooting at a plate and a big buck. The pie plate doesn’t rattle my nerves and send my heart racing into over-drive!

What about shooting offhand? I can tell you my distance keeping all shots in the plate decreases dramatically. I’ve had to pass up some shots simply because I didn’t feel confident in my ability to place the shot precisely. As ethical hunters, we owe it to the magnificent game we pursue to make a clean, killing shot. There’s nothing more disturbing than wounding game because we took an unethical shot. Don’t do it, you’ll regret it instantly.

Knowing the anatomy of the game we hunt is important. Seldom are we offered a perfect broadside shot. Do you know where to shoot the quarry at any given angle? Being familiar with the exact location of the heart/lung area will help you determine where your bullet should enter and exit, passing through the vitals. Proper shot placement is our obligation and responsibility.

Spend quality time behind the trigger. It’s an investment in time, energy and resources, but worth every ounce of commitment.

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