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Shooting Tips to Improve Your Accuracy with Rifles

by Robert Ranstadler

Improving Your Shooting Accuracy

rifle lens aiming at deer

Not surprisingly, one of the top concerns for many hunters is accuracy. There are few things less frustrating for a hunter than missing his or her intended target, especially after spending precious time and money on firearms, ammunition, and other equipment.

There are three major issues to consider if your concerned about improving your accuracy with a rifle. First, is marksmanship, or the skills necessary to accurately fire a rifle at a target. The remaining pair of issues, environmental factors and equipment, are separate matters but still influence one’s accuracy. What follows is a brief list of tips and advice that will get you on target in no time flat.

The Fundamentals of Sound Marksmanship

camouflage sniper shooting rifle

Like many other pursuits, being able to shoot accurately starts with some fundamental concepts. Even the best marksmen in the world occasionally miss their targets but routine practice often pays off in the long run.

Marksmanship is more than lining up in front of a target and pulling the trigger. Instead, it encompasses a variety of physical and mental factors that collectively affect the ability of a shooter to accurately put lead on target—regardless if it’s a paper bullseye or an eight-point buck. All these elements are equally important and discussed in detail below. Some will probably seem like common sense while others are a bit less intuitive. Either way, both novice and experienced hunters should benefit from the following pointers:

Support: Support refers to the foundation upon which hunters shoot. Resting your rifle on a steady and solid surface will always enhance accuracy. It can be either artificial support, like a bipod, bench, or old log, or a natural support. Natural support is also called bone support, and it’s where your skeleton acts as a foundation. When shooting, for example, make sure that your offhand elbow is directly below your hand and not off to the side, where it will offer little stability.

Muscular Relaxation: Tensing up right before taking a shot, jerking the trigger, or trying to “muscle” your sights onto a target are all common mistakes. Strained muscles also cause excessive shaking, which is a surefire way to waste lead. Instead, close your eyes, take a deep breath, and refocus on the target before taking your shot. If everything is lined-up correctly, your weapon sights should naturally settle on the target. If they don’t, adjust your position and repeat the process. This technique is referred to as achieving a “natural point of aim” and nearly a foolproof way of consistently hitting your mark.

Sight Alignment and Sight Picture: Sight alignment refers to the relationship between the rear sight and front sight, for open sight weapons, or proper eye relief (the distance from your eye to back end of the scope) and cheek weld (how your cheek rests on the top of the gunstock) when using scopes or other advanced optics. In a nutshell, you won’t hit what your aiming at unless your sights are properly and consistently aligned with one another. Sight picture, meanwhile, refers to where your properly aligned sights settle on the target. Always go for center of mass or high probability shots. One-shot kills are more humane than simply wounding an animal and should be a priority for every hunter.

Breath Control: Proper breath control ties into all the above techniques. Smooth breathing is of critical importance in making an accurate shot because the sight of a weapon, along with the placement of a corresponding shot, will rise and fall with each breath a hunter takes. The key here is to gradually squeeze the trigger and time your shot between breaths, ideally during the 3-5 second pause after exhaling.

man firing a black rifle in desert

Other less immediate but still vitally important concerns associated with marksmanship include physiological and psychological factors that can impact a shooter’s ability to execute the above techniques. These issues include:

Physical Fitness: Physical fitness affects accuracy in many ways, from being able to quickly catch your breath for a well-placed shot to simply having better flexibility, which can make getting into an ideal shooting position easier.

Emotional Fitness: Stress and emotional fatigue can be just as detrimental to good shooting as physical demands. Work on achieving a clear state of mind and enjoying yourself on your next hunt.

Nutrition: Try to eat balanced meals with plenty of good nutrients. Also, avoid excessive sugar, caffeine, tobacco, and alcohol that can make you jumpy or give you a bad case of the shakes at the worst possible time.

Environmental Factors

two hunter rifles in snowy forest

Environmental issues are sometimes out of a hunter’s control but are still important to accurate shooting. A little planning goes a long way in this department. Some of the more important issues include:

Weather: This one might seem like a no-brainer but it’s still worth mentioning. Beyond the obvious, such as rain and stiff crosswinds throwing off your shot, keep in mind that extreme temperatures can affect sight picture and ballistic performance. Humidity also has a nasty habit of fogging up optics and causing excessive sweat, which can get in your eyes or cause slippage. Overcome these issues through proper preparation before your next outing.

Distance: It’s no mystery that the farther away from a target you are the more difficult it is to hit your mark. Being able to accurately estimate the distance to a target, however, is a valuable skill that separates average shooters from truly great marksmen. There are a few ways to go about this. The easiest (but most expensive) method is to purchase a rangefinder or a scope with an integrated rangefinder. A cheaper alternative is good old practice. This entails spending some time at a known-distance range and getting to know what your prey will look like at various distances (decoy targets are handy in this regard).

Elevation: Ballistics is a huge topic in its own right. If anything, remember the two following pointers. First, bullets tend to strike targets higher than normal when shooting both uphill and downhill. This might sound of bit strange but is all has to do with gravity acting on projectiles traveling at angles. Put another way, you may need to aim a bit lower than normal if trying to bag anything significantly higher or lower than your shooting position. Second, try to avoid over estimating your angles. Remember that a bullet’s trajectory is influenced more by the horizontal distance between a shooter and a target rather than the elevation difference between the two.

Equipment Concerns and Considerations

hunting rifle ammunition

A final aspect of accurate shooting hunters should consider is the appropriate selection and upkeep of their equipment. This includes everything from the most obvious concerns, like firearm maintenance, to finer details like the type of clothing worn while stalking prey. While the below list is neither exhaustive nor all-inclusive it should, at the very least, get novice hunters and shooters pointed in the right direction.

Rifle Selection: First and foremost, make sure to pick the right rifle for the job. Firearms with shorter actions and barrels generally lose accuracy at greater distances. Know your prey, understand about how far away you’ll be when taking your shot, and consistently practice with the same weapon.

Sights and Optics: For the most part, open sight (or “iron sights”) are a thing of the past when it comes to modern hunting. Most new rifles, if not already equipped with a scope, are usually configured to accept one. That said, take the time to mount your scope correctly and don’t skimp on the pocketbook in this department—you literally get what you pay for when it comes to scopes and optics.

Ammunition: Setting aside the needs of professional shooters or advanced hunters, it’s generally best to go with the rifle manufacturer’s recommendations when selecting your ammunition. Take in mind, however, this is a very broad generalization. There’s some great ammunition out there that’s capable of improving performance.

Clothing: In addition to serving its intended purpose, like keeping a hunter warm in the cold, clothing needs to be comfortable. Also, keep in mind that changing your clothing can affect your shooting position. A bulky coat, for example, will make a rifle sit differently in your shoulder, which will likely affect your stock weld, eye relief, and your overall accuracy.

Accessories: Accessories can include everything from rifle features to extra equipment taken along on a hunt. Gunstocks, like the many that Boyd’s offers, can improve the look, feel, and accuracy of a weapon. Just be careful not to overdo it in this department because too many trinkets or features can sometimes prove distracting.

Upkeep and Maintenance: Finally, there are the issues of weapons maintenance and the upkeep of equipment. Even the most expensive rifles and sights will fail to shoot straight if not properly maintained. Tasks as simple as lubricating your rifle or tightening your scope mounts can all maintain or improve accuracy.

Shooting for Success

hunters dogs hunting bird woodcock

As mentioned earlier, this isn’t an exhaustive list of tips and guidance when it comes to improving your accuracy with a rifle. On the other hand, shooting straight isn’t exactly rocket science either. Consistency and patience are key when it comes to accurate shooting. Add in a little time spent performing rifle maintenance and you’ll likely be hitting that bullseye in no time.

Stay safe and good shooting!