Beginner’s Guide: Rifle Shooting 101
Don't budge: Despite the warnings to not flinch once I knew what to expect from the kick, I did. It's natural to anticipate the jolt and brace yourself when you pull the trigger, but try not to. I missed the target the second time because of this, and opted out of any more attempts with the 30/06. Next time I'll know better.
It’s backwards, other way, keep turning: I’m unfamiliar with guns. So for starters, Dave pointed out the barrel, shaft, chamber, bolt, sight, trigger, and butt of the Remington Model 504 .22 with a Kahles 2X-7X scope I’d be using. He showed me the .22 Winchester bullets and how to load five into the magazine. Then I tried to get the magazine back in the gun. It didn’t fit. That’s because I was loading it backwards. A little direction corrected this problem.
Eyes and ears: Rule number one is to always bring “eyes” (eye protection) and “ears” (ear protection) when shooting. Long-term exposure to gun reports can significantly damage hearing, and unprotected exposure to just one shot will have them numb and/or ringing for a few minutes. It’s pretty important to be able to hear when you have a gun in your hand. Dig my old-school RayBan “eyes?”
We don’t trust safeties: Right away, Dave instructed me to always keep the barrel pointing down-range–towards the target, away from people. As a precaution you always leave the bolt open, regardless of the safety. He emphasized that any machine can malfunction and to never count on a safety alone.
Your jeans are going to get dirty: First I learned how to shoot while kneeling, the easiest position because your arm has support. You put one knee on the ground and the other knee up to steady your arm. Keep the right elbow over the knee (if you’re a righty). This hand should hold the forearm at a 90-degree angle and the hand you’re shooting with should grip the handle firmly. Put the butt of the rifle in the crevice of your shoulder right where it fits snug. If the butt is on your collarbone or misplaced, a larger gun that kicks you could easily injure you. Keep your shooting elbow up and look through the scope from about four inches away.
How many push-ups can you do?: When shooting off-hand, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and keep the non-shooting elbow directly below the barrel, with your shooting elbow held up and level. Stand up straight or lean into the shot if you’re small like me. Women have a tendency to lean back to compensate for the weight of the gun. This may only make shooting with a .22 mildly unstable, but with a larger gun it can kncok you off balance. Shooting off-hand takes upper body strength for steadiness. By the end of the day, Dave suggested I work on a few more daily push-ups.
You have seven seconds: Once you’re in position to shoot, push the bolt forward and down swiftly and aggressively. I messed up a few shots being dainty here. Then sight the target and pull the trigger as soon as the crosshairs are centered on the bull’s-eye. If you’ve never shot before, you’ll be surprised how unsteady you can be. It’s pretty difficult to center on that “X,” so Dave suggested lightly leading the scope in circles until your centered, and you have to breathe to stay still. Inhale, then shoot as you slowly exhale. If it takes more than seven seconds, pull the bolt back and rest your arms for a minute before trying again.
Round One: My first five shots while kneeling (shown) went straight to the center ring, as did my first five off-hand. I was as surprised as Dave when we saw the holes, especially after watching my arm fumble around through the scope. Dave called the shots “creepy and unnatural” and decided we’d need smaller targets if he was going to teach me anything. I agreed; there’s no way I’m a natural marksmen.
Round [Terrible] Two: He switched to a sheet of 12 tiny targets. Dave starts with the target at the top left and moves vertically down each row. He told me to do the same and shoot the first five. These results were more consistent with his expectations of me from the start. The first shot barely made it on the page, and all but one missed the targets altogether. Now we had room to improve.
How to correct: When Dave listed what I did wrong, he basically repeated his initial instructions. My shooting elbow was slacking, my supporting elbow wasn’t underneath the barrel, I was leaning back, and I didn’t grip the gun firmly enough. It’s easy to set up in the proper stance, then lose focus when you fire, especially when you’ve never held a rifle before.
Eye exam: We realized more was wrong than my stance after the second round on small targets. It was worse than the first despite the corrections. I thought I’d switched which eye I was using to sight. Dave showed me how to choose the correct eye by holding your hands in a circle in front of your face. Close each eye one at a time. You’ll lose sight of the target in between your hands when you close your dominant eye. Use the other eye to aim.
The only difference is…: Dave took a break to explain that shooting is just like golf: you have to concentrate while remembering every part of your stance and then take the shot the second you think it’s all in place. The only difference with shooting is you get punched in the shoulder every time you pull the trigger. I’ve never golfed, but somehow this helped.
Clearing things up: When I’d shot the target enough from about 20 yards, Dave had me try from further away, then closer when we used smaller targets. In both instances you have to adjust the scope for the best clarity to aim effectively. This is much easier then trying to adjust your eyes and can make your aim more precise.
The big guns: Once I was comfortable shooting to .22, Dave handed me a 30/06. I was slightly worried about handling the gun as soon as I saw the difference in the size of the rounds. Dave shot first so I could gauge the kick. He didn’t budge when he fired, so I figured there was nothing to be afraid of, and I confidently took my turn.
You killed Bambi: This time I’d be aiming at a deer with a circle around the shoulder indicating the vitals. My confidence was in vain; the butt of the gun clearly caught me by surprise. I don’t know if I was more hurt or startled, but I killed the deer hypothetically and was amused enough to try again.
Don’t budge: Despite the warnings to not flinch once I knew what to expect from the kick, I did. It’s natural to anticipate the jolt and brace yourself when you pull the trigger, but try not to. I missed the target the second time because of this, and opted out of any more attempts with the 30/06. Next time I’ll know better.
Bonus round: We finished the crash course by shooting Field & Stream‘s I “Heart” Guns target featured ina recent web contest. We can’t enter, but we wanted in on the fun, and I got a few more shots with the .22.