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How To Hit A Moving Target When Hunting Wild Game

leading a target

It’s no surprise that some of the biggest frustrations that new hunters experience are in accurately engaging the target.

Hunting is a challenging activity, so much so that you need to remain alert the entire time you’re out; oftentimes, you are presented with an opportunity to shoot an animal that just happens to cross your path. Your ability to score a one-shot kill on that target is critical – at the very least, all big-game targets should be dispatched in a maximum of two shots or less. Considering that most hunters spend their time hunting for game and comparatively little time shooting, it’s easy to see why there are so many misses. Missing a target after an entire arduous day of stalking is also one of the more disappointing aspects of the sport; it’s hard enough to even find an animal, much less to score a hit on one.

There are so many factors that go into scoring a kill shot, so many things a hunter needs to factor in before squeezing the trigger:

  • The range to the target, and the hunter’s ability to accurately judge that range.
  • The direction and strength of the wind.
  • Brush, vegetation, or other obstacles between the hunter and the target.
  • The movement or speed of the animal.

The last one is the clincher for most hunters, as it is possible to adequately practice just about everything except for shooting a moving target. The fundamentals of marksmanship can be applied to any shooting situation, and it’s easy to practice stationary target shooting at most any rifle range. At some ranges, you can even go get a bramble or loose bush and put it in between you and the target to simulate shooting through brush; in so doing, you can see how your bullet behaves when it hits resistance such as tree branches.

Hitting a moving target, however, is not something that is easy to practice, since the vast majority of ranges don’t have moving targets. And thus a problem develops with the hunter in that he or she is not able to adequately practice to hit moving targets.

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The act of shooting a moving target can be accomplished with a number of methods, two of which we will discuss.

Leading the target. For most shooters, the easiest method to learn is called leading the target. Essentially, one moves the rifle such that it follows the trajectory of the target, staying slightly ahead of where the target lies. Leading the target is easier to accomplish when the target is barely moving, such as a deer slowly walking in the distance. As the speed of the target increases, so must the lead, to the point where it won’t be worth a novice hunter’s time to attempt a shot at a target that is moving rapidly.

Leading the target is nine-tenths instinct (which comes by practice) and one-tenth skill. So how do you practice? One method you can use to develop a basic skill at leading targets is skeet shooting. While the concepts are markedly different than big game shooting in that the clay pigeon travels faster than most big-game animals, and the spread of the shotgun pellets gives you a margin of error, you will however, teach yourself to judge the way targets move in relation to your shots. Skeet shooting will noticeably increase your ability to hit moving game animals, since the principles behind leading the target are the same: the faster the target moves, the more you need to lead it, while the slower a target moves, the less you need to lead it.

Trapping the target: Trapping is another way of hitting a moving target, albeit a method that is a little harder than leading. With trapping, your rifle stays stationary – it does not move with the target, but you fire the shot in advance such that the target basically walks into the path of the bullet. It is harder than leading, since you must accurately judge the speed of the target and the flight time of your bullet, and combine those two in order to create a firing solution that matches the bullet to the target. Still, trapping a target, if you know what you’re doing, is a great tactic to hit a fast moving animal that is moving perpendicular to you. To practice trapping the target, practice on smaller game and varmints such as rabbits and gophers; it’s the best way to hone skills that will directly translate to larger game.

Lastly, it needs to be mentioned that the easiest way to hit a game animal is to shoot it when it’s standing still. Your ability to silently and stealthily stalk the animal, take careful aim, and apply the fundamentals of marksmanship will result in the opportunity to take aim a stationary animal, which is the easiest shot of all.

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