As with most things in life, practice makes perfect, and it is especially true for hunting. The first time I shot a rifle I was about 20 years old. The guys were in the field shooting at an empty milk jug. They were teasing each other with each shot that they missed. As I continued to watch these guys I thought how hard could it possibly be? I walked closer to the group and announced that I too, wanted to take a shot. I couldn’t tell you what kind of gun it was, other than a rifle. They handed me the loaded gun, and said make sure to keep it pushed tight against your shoulder or the kick will really hurt. I followed the directions that were given to me, lined up the gun, and squeezed the trigger. No one could believe that the girl, was the first and the only one that day to actually hit the target. The poor little milk jug never knew what hit it.
My second and many more attempts after that were not quite so lucky. As the years progressed, so did my skills. Had I not been practicing I might never have felt the rush that I did that day. I will be honest I was lucky, and I really don’t know how I made that shot that day, but I will tell you that even hitting the target during practice shooting is almost as good as getting a kill shot.
Today, I have children who are learning to shoot, and they enjoy practice shooting just as much as I do. We set up a very simple range on our farm, but I have seen many others that opted for purchasing equipment to not only make it look nice but offer a little more conveniences. One home made shooting range that stays in my mind, is that of a man who spend several hundred if not thousands of dollars build his. The whole area was littered with 3-D animals set at varying distances. A large pavilion was built at the edge for him to stand either on the ground or in the air much like he would in a tree stand. While none of that is necessary, it is very important that no matter what you set up, you actually use it!
City, life doesn’t offer the same conveniences as living in the country. We have four acres, and only woods completely surrounding us on all sides. Our closest neighbors are more than a quarter mile away. This enables us to use our range as often as we like without the fear of bothering our neighbors or someone accidentally walking behind our range. Even if you live in the city, and a range is not available to you, you may still have options. Talk to your friends, the guys at the club, or find land that can be rented for the purpose of setting up a range.
The very first step you should take before ever setting up the shooting range is to think about safety. Where can you safely shoot without dealing with the possibility of people walking past while you are aiming? Do not aim the range in the direction of a house. Do not aim it in the direction of a road. The best place to put it is in an open field, next to the woods, or against a shed. We decided to build ours next to the garden facing toward the woods. This was the best option for us because our garden is 150 feet long, and there is a field and woods behind that. The only thing that comes near our shooting range is the occasional chicken or cat. The children’s play area is behind us and we never shoot unless the children are sitting next to us or someone is with them keeping them away from the area. Safety is number one, always.
Building a backstop is required. It is not an option, it is a necessity. These can be made of purchased material specifically designed for the purpose, or using a stack of hay bales, sand bags, or other dense material. Others propose using a wood stack, however, these have gaps that bullets could pass right through, and I strongly advise against it. I realize the possibility of this happening but, I don’t like to take chances. Personally, we use a large round bale. We set up our range directly in front of our hay storage. As we use the hay we move the targets to ensure that they are always in front of the bales. You, on the other hand, may choose to set up a permanent location that doesn’t need to be moved.
Targets come in various sizes, shape, material, and price. For a beginner, I highly recommend the milk jug. Other items like paper plates, pizza boxes, soda cans, bottles and any other trash items work great too. They are smaller, cheaper, and will train your eyes to hit a smaller area first. When hunting there is only a small portion of the animals body that will kill it immediately. Styrofoam targets are readily available just about anywhere and are fairly inexpensive. These work as a great as an inexpensive option for beginners and veterans alike.
If multiple targets are an option set them at different distances away from where you will be shooting. Each time you venture to the shooting range take a shot at each one. The animal will never be at the exact same distance from you. Practice shooting from each distance to refine your skill. If placing multiple targets is not an option or in the case like me, your target needs to be moved each time, consider placing stones or blocks in the ground to mark where to stand each time.
When practicing the idea is to mimic what it will be like in the field. If you will be hunting from a chair in a ground blind, do the same at the shooting range. If you will use a gun rest there, build one for use in the range. If you have a stand that you use in the field build or use the same one at home. Practicing teaches your body how to react, what to do, how to stand. If you train one way then use another option in the field you may not have the same results.