Crossover Shooting Skills
Thursday, November 12, 2015
By Jansen Jones, 3GN Pro
I've always loved to hunt, whether it was pheasants, ducks, geese, whitetails, turkeys or mulies, I was game. I didn't care how early I had to get up or how cold it may be out, I was there.
I've always believed that competition allows one to learn and grow from the crucible it provides. You can learn from defeats, failure, mistakes; you can learn from winning and learn from the opponent. Back in 2004, I thought I knew how to shoot when it came to hunting. I had a rifle zeroed. I could "point" a shotgun, and I had the average hunter’s success in the field, which by most hunters’ standards means you’re doing something right. Then I started shooting competitive pistol (IDPA) and shortly after that, 3-Gun.
From 2006 to 2012 I hunted very little, as competitive shooting became my 2nd job in many ways. I became proficient with a pistol, rifle and shotgun. Not just in the basic marksmanship skills one acquires from competing, but I became quicker on target, quicker to mount the gun, able to take quicker shots, learned to "call my shots," and eventually made my way onto the 3-Gun Nation Pro Series on television.
In 2015 my career path caused a move to Idaho, considered by many to be the greatest state for sportsmen in the lower 48. After driving through North Central Idaho and seeing the gorgeous landscape, I knew I wanted to get out there and back into hunting.
So where does this all fit in? As a hunter you need to be able to make difficult shots—from difficult shooting positions, in less than ideal lighting conditions, when the target may only present itself for a moment or two before it disappears, or simply a shot on command or a fast follow-up shot before the opportunity passes.
All of these skill traits I lacked as a hunter in 2004, but I acquired them all and more through competitive shooting.
Depending on where you rifle hunt, shooting opportunities vary greatly. In Idaho much of the shooting is long, at an incline or decline, and has wind variables. These shots are not easy for the average hunter, however anyone who has competed in a few 3-Gun matches can gain valuable insight and learn a thing or two about how to tackle such targets.
Difficult Shooting Positions
Take the "difficult shots" scenario described above and add more variables of difficulty—you won't be shooting prone, nor will you be shooting off a bench at your range. Difficult shots on game can come in the form of offhand shots at 50-100 yards, shots through tight confines, shots through or between trees or shots while bracing against a tree or limb.
These shooting positions are rarely practiced by the average hunter, which is exactly what I was in 2004. But after shooting a few matches, such as 3-Gun or tactical rifle events, those shooting positions in the field become relatively easy.
Offhand rifle shots often occur at 3-Gun or action-rifle matches. Shoot offhand at "A/C" zone steel from 40-90 yards helps improve one’s steady rifle work at calling a good rifle shot. Shots through tight confines happen frequently at matches that require one to shoot from a vehicle or off a makeshift roof. Shooting out of a blind is something this reminded me of recently, as the ports/shooting windows were less than ideal. But after shooting some action-rifle championships in Georgia I was comfortable with any strange angle or shooting position in the blind. Now I feel like nothing can faze me, whether in a match or afield.
Often, game presents a tight shot between two trees. Most hunters become concerned when presented with this shot opportunity. Having experience shooting rifles around, between and across targets with "no shoot", "hostage" or " hardcover" targets around has given me the experience and confidence I need to make these tight shots on game in the field.
Lastly, hunting in the woods rarely offers the ideal shot situation. Many times a hunter finds themselves faced with trying to shoot off a limb or tree and isn't accustomed to getting into the most advantageous position to make the shot.
Major 3-Gun matches almost always include some type of barricade shooting, whether it's off a specialized barricade, a wall, through a window or some other devious shooting position the match director came up with. Having the ability to shoot off of these unconventional shooting positions in 3-Gun arms the hunter with knowledge and confidence he can take to the bank in the field. Whether it's reverse kneeling, modified “rollover” prone or sitting, action-rifle or 3-Gun will teach the hunter valuable impromptu shooting positions that will stick with him or her for life.
Adverse Weather & Lighting Conditions
Hunters are used to hunting in various weather conditions, rain, wind, sleet, snow, poor light or low light. But how many hunters actually practice shooting in these conditions? The answer is few, if any. Hunters, by and large, get this kind of experience when the animal of a lifetime steps out in adverse weather conditions or bad light, and now things get interesting.
As a competitive shooter all these scenarios become customary. Rarely does the long-range target presentation look ideal. The target may be shaded by trees, or the rain and wind is pouring down. Knowing how to shoot in these conditions is paramount to success in competitive shooting, and the same can be said for hunting. By competing I've learned from mistakes and gained insight and experience on how to dope wind, how to shoot long range in rain, sleet and snow. While rare, being able to know how to make good hits on targets in the rain or snow could be the difference between getting skunked or taking the trophy of a lifetime.
Limited Exposure Targets
As hunters, we are often only presented with a shot opportunity for a moment of time. The buck gives you the ideal broad side shot or those geese fly over at the right height. However, in the blink of an eye that ideal broad side shot is gone; so, too, are those geese.
Being able to shoot fast and accurately on command is a critical skill in competitive shooting that has crossed over to my hunting game.
All action-shooting sports use a timer to measure speed, while hits on target determine score and penalties. Competition can hone one’s marksmanship skills, forging a shooter with the ability to make the accurate shot in a quick manner on game of any size in the field.
I remember the time I got my first triple on ducks. I had just come back from the IPSC World shotgun Championships in Hungary and was in a blind with my father. Three ducks flew over, and I immediately dropped the first one, pumped the gun, took another in no time and lead the final bird as if it were an outgoing clay and sure enough, dumped that last duck. The hunter from 2004 could have never hoped to score a triple in that fashion with an auto shotgun, let alone a pump gun. But after four years of dedicated action shotgun, I was able to make those quick shots on the passing ducks like they were second nature, because they were.
Shots On Command & Follow-Up Shots
Many hunters go on guided hunts. Whether the quarry is turkey or Cape buffalo, being able to shoot when the guide says to is paramount. I like to call this shooting on command. A good friend of mine and sometimes guide says that in guide circles they love hunters who can shoot when given the word and love those hunters even more who can make faster follow-up shoots. Why? Take the previous scenario, where being able to shoot fast and accurately is key, and add in the fact your game is dangerous and now running off wounded. Being able to make fast follow-up shots helps reduce the need to track that animal or even better anchor the beast in place.
Competitive shooting hones this skill as well, whether it's long-range rifle, action-pistol or shotgun, all of these disciplines teach the competitor to make quick decisions and fast shots. Take aerial clays off a flipper target for example. If a clay comes up broke you still need to give the bird a round. Or maybe you get two clay birds thrown at once; you shoot, breaking one clay, missing the second. You need to make a split-second shot on the second bird or else it's going to hit the ground and its lost for the stage.
Pistol targets and calling a good shot also comes into place here. If you think you missed a shot on target because you called it, you can make it up quickly and avoid incurring a miss penalty.
As I fall back in love with hunting I am constantly reminded of how all the things I learned in competitive shooting have helped redefine my hunting capabilities, enabling me to make better, cleaner and quicker shots on game.