What Makes a Good Shot?

For the most part another hunting season is in the bag. Winter has set in, and we find ourselves longing for something to do. There’s some handloading chores that always need doing, and, of course, there is the gear review and inventory. But there’s often a nagging question: Why did I miss that one shot? Most of us like to think that we are pretty good shots but are we? This can be an uncomfortable question to answer. In order to answer that question, we need to define what makes a good shot—more specifically, what makes a good field shot?
For the purposes of this discussion let’s define a good field shot as one who can make a killing shot on a game animal from any field position 95 percent of the time or better and within a certain range. That’s a pretty high level of expectation—or is it? In reality our good field shot has practiced enough to know his limitations. He has shot from all the field positions at paper targets and knows pretty well where his marksmanship lags and at what range. Moreover, he has the self-discipline to turn down chancy shots. Sometimes this knowledge has come from making poor shooting decisions, analyzing those decisions and reevaluating one’s own skills.
Marksmanship is not a stagnant skill. Its competence comes from several factors, among which include sight picture, trigger control, breath control, range estimation, familiarity with one’s firearm and load and an accurate self-appraisal of one’s skill. Marksmanship is also an athletic endeavor. All other things equal, the better shape you are in, the better your accuracy will be. As an example: At one time I could shoot from the sitting position with a tight sling nearly as well as I could from a bench rest. Age and an artificial hip now prevent me from getting into a sitting position in the field. I simply don’t bend as well as I once did.
This has forced me to reevaluate my field shooting. Today I never go afield without a set of shooting sticks. While not as steady as the old sitting position with a tight sling, shooting sticks help me immeasurably in steadying me in positions that I can get into. My range limitations have shortened as well. I no longer attempt most 400-plus-yard shots. But I do make nearly every 250-yard shot I take.
Now might be a good time to head to the range and see how well you shoot from field positions. Yes, ammo is expensive and hard to find, but you can compress the range by using rimfire ammunition at shortened ranges on smaller targets. For many of us now, a trip to the range can be too unpleasant because of the weather. But after missing a candy shot on a cow elk earlier in the season, I can assure you that as soon as it warms up and dries out a bit, I’ll be headed to the range with my with my .338 Win. Mag and doing some serious self-evaluation. I owe that to the game I hunt as well as myself.

Dave Campbell
Dave Campbell began his hunting career with a spear off the southern California coast in the late 1960s. It did not take long for him to graduate to the gun on land. Campbell is the founding editor in chief of the NRA’s tremendously successful Shooting Illustrated magazine. In 2006 he also edited the iconic book of terminal ballistics, Rifle Bullets for the Hunter—A Definitive Study. He returned to his beloved Wyoming in 2007 as a freelance writer, though he usually refers to himself now as a “recovering editor.”
  1. Brad Woodward Reply

    Excellent article my friend! You have woven together a series of issues that “hits” every one of us who go afield for wild game; respectful, responsible and realistic. Love your style and principles – the “real deal” rings true when I read every piece you write…See you at the range.

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