Updated: Jun 17
After retiring from the fire service in 2017 I started guiding full-time. Not long after, I started Best Of The West Arizona (BOTWAZ). Guiding coupled with owning a long-range rifle company has afforded me numerous opportunities to work with hunters/shooters of all backgrounds and experience levels. Today, I am fortunate to be part of a dozen or more harvests a year with our Best Of The West/Huskemaw long-range systems.
Between shooting schools, teaching private lessons, and guiding customers I get to see a lot of the mistakes shooters make. I’m often the one helping them avoid mistakes by showing them how to shoot correctly in the field so they can score their big buck or bull. This is arguably one of the most rewarding things I do, and in fact, it’s the reason I started BOTWAZ in the first place - to help hunters succeed!
The purpose of this article is to share with you my observations and experiences hunting and shooting alongside dozens of sportsmen and women so that you can hopefully avoid the gut-wrenching enduring pain and disappointment we experience when we miss a trophy animal.
Being in this business affords me a front-row seat to some of the most baffling, borderline ridiculous approaches to long-range hunting/shooting you can imagine. What I've ascertained from these experiences is that a lot of hunters are poor shots at best. Many hunters are largely unfamiliar with their rifle, its shooting characteristics, proper shooting technique, and the principles necessary to be accurate and consistent beyond 200 yards. I suppose this is job security for me but again, I’m here to help so I’m going to share with you a few tips that should go a long way to helping long-range hunters bag more game.
I compiled a list of the top 5 things I see every year along with my personal tips for doing it right and avoiding mistakes in the field. These 5 things are not in any particular order. They’re all equally important when it comes to being prepared for your hunt and making a one-shot kill in the field. Let’s get started!
#1 Didn’t Sight In Or Prepare
I can't tell you how many hunting clients I've taken out who showed up in camp bragging about what an ace long-range shooter they are only to fail on the first opportunity at our target buck/bull. Today, I insist clients use my BOTW systems because I got tired of missing target animals after scouting so hard.
I’ve seen too many guys who think they’re training “long-range” but have never shot beyond 200 yards. They think they’re prepared because they printed up a drop chart and taped it to their rifle stock. Or their brother-in-law set them up with a “sweet” ballistic app on their phone. Inevitably these hunters learn the hard way that these methods are mostly unreliable in long-range situations.
Drop charts and data provided by ballistic calculators are unreliable in raw form. The information provided by these means must be verified at long ranges before it can be counted on for an actual hunt. Relying on ballistic calculators or drop charts for your shot solution without verifying the data is just guessing and it's a sure way to miss as these methods are largely unreliable beyond 500 yards.
My Long-Range Technicians use ballistic calculators in a limited capacity every day when collecting data for customers' rifles and I can tell you without fail that calculators are almost always off by 2-5 clicks at ranges beyond 500 yards. On an actual hunt, this can mean missing by a little or missing by a lot but either way, you miss and that's never a fun scenario.
If you choose to use conventional rifle scopes that require you use a ballistic calculator or a drop chart taped to your stock be sure to train with it at ranges you're likely to shoot on your hunt. Practicing at 200 yards for a hunt where 600-700 yard shots are probable is a poor way to prepare. Simply put, you’ll never become familiar with your rifle's true long-range shooting characteristics. Likewise, you need to see for yourself where drop charts and calculators fall short so you can make the proper adjustments to your dope before your hunt begins.
Our Huskmemaw systems avoid all this nonsense because we’ve captured, verified, and trued your rifle's ballistic data by shooting it in the field out to 1,000 yards. This provides us the information we need to then cut your custom turret. Your bullets' drag model and shooting characteristics have been etched for eternity on your custom turret. We have, in fact, eliminated the guess! The custom turret on a Huskemaw Optic is in essence your bullet's ballistic “fingerprint” and it's right there for you to see and use. That's why we say, just RANGE, DIAL, and SHOOT!
#2 Failure To Locate Target Animal In The Scope
Target Acquisition is arguably the toughest thing for a lot of hunters. More specifically I’m referring to the ability to go from watching the animal in your binoculars or spotting scope to then relocating the animal in your rifle scope. I’ve seen hunters take up to 20 minutes to locate animals that, in my opinion, were not hard to find. This can result in long delays to a shot or perhaps even a missed opportunity altogether.
We have a section in our long-range school and private lessons dedicated just to this topic and we teach a very specific method for acquiring your target in the scope. This discipline must be practiced and when you do so you can cut your re-acquisition time down to just a few seconds.
In a nutshell, our tactics involve using terrain features proximal to your animal to help you acquire your target. These terrain features are used to help you identify the approximate location of your target animal. In big country, it can be hard to see your animal with the naked eye but you can often see terrain features like the contour of the ridgeline against the sky, large trees or boulders, oddly shaped vegetation of patterns or clumps of vegetation near your animal to help you zero in on their location.
Using these terrain features along with proper technique to get into position is key. Too many times I watch a hunter break from their bino’s and take their eye off the terrain, lie down to get prone, fumble around with the rifle a bit then aim it in the general direction of the animal only to be searching all over the place to relocate. A more methodical approach will help.
For example, we teach students to repeatedly break their eyes from their spotting optics to look at the terrain features around their animal. Only when they are completely confident where the animal is located on that distal ridge are they allowed to move into position. But, as they move into a shooting position we teach them to keep their head up and their eyes on those terrain features they've identified. We teach them to then get down on their knees keeping their shoulders square to the target. Before they get any lower into a prone position we teach them to then line up their muzzle to the target.
Again, they may not be able to see the animal itself, especially with deer-sized game, but they can point their muzzle toward the terrain features proximal to their target. Then they slowly ease into position, keeping their heads up and eyes on the target, before they get in the scope. When done properly the shooter can quickly locate their noted terrain features and then walk their eye into the target animal, usually in a matter of seconds. Developing this skill helps insure you get a shot off quickly, without unnecessary delays, and may mean the difference between a lifelong memory of a successful hunt or going home empty-handed.
Animals move off to bed, bucks run off chasing does or to challenge other rutting bucks so the faster you can get into position the better. Also, don’t discount the fact that other hunters may be bearing down on the same target animal as you at first light, so time is of the essence!
#3 Not Shooting From A Prone Position
So many bad shots or missed opportunities could have been salvaged if the shooter had simply shot from a prone position. To be clear, “prone” is chest down, lying flat on the ground. Prone is arguably the most stable shooting position there is and there's rarely a better substitute for shooting in this manner.
Trust me, I’ve come across “that guy” who claims he’s shot everything under the sun from a standing free-hand position at 500 yards in 30 MPH crosswinds while the animal was on a dead run. Yup, I’ve met that guy several times but unless you’re as remarkable as he is, us mere mortals should always, with very few exceptions, be shooting from a prone position. The virtues of the prone position cannot be overstated and I could spend a lot of time writing about it but trust me when I say this is how you should be shooting long-range.
I’ve heard every excuse why a guy “couldn't” get prone. More often the reality is that they simply didn't try. Too many hunters find the first excuse they can to not get prone and they wind up shooting from an unsupported position such as free-hand, kneeling, or leaning against a tree.
I had a student once that I took out for a lesson. He had a brand new tack-driving custom BOTW rifle and Huskemaw 5-30x56, the crown jewel of hunting rifles. This guy was smashing targets with ease beyond 800 yards from a prone position the entire lesson. As always I was emphatic about how important the prone position was and he left his lesson a total believer, or so I thought.
A few weeks later he goes on a hunt and misses a great big buck at 500 yards. When I asked him what happened he gestured like he was shooting standing up. I asked if he shot prone and he said no, “The grass was too tall.” Man, I’ll tell ya, I was so disappointed when I heard that. After all, we’d talked about and all I taught him about long-range shooting I couldn't believe he would even attempt an unsupported shot like that at that range.
But wait, here’s where it gets good! He then explained that after he missed that buck he did indeed find a place just a few yards away that allowed him to get prone. He wound up taking a lesser buck from that spot in a prone position like he was trained.
That hunter learned a hard lesson that day. If he had only prioritized getting prone from the start he would have found that better location the first time around and more than likely harvested that bigger buck.
Following that conversation, I began using the phrase, “Fight to get prone!” This is one of my new mantras. I've found that too many hunters just don't want to be bothered getting down in a prone position and they’ll find any excuse to avoid doing so. “Grass is too tall”, “The ground is too rocky”, “There was a cactus”, “My neck hurts”, etc., etc. Stop making excuses. Fight to get prone!
When I’m in the field I face the same challenges as these hunters, the difference is that we fight to get prone. We don't take risky shots standing, kneeling, or whatever else guys do. We always manage to find a way to get prone and quite frankly that's why we go home with trophy animals.
Plan to shoot prone and make an effort to do so. You’ll see your groups tighten up. You’ll become more consistent and more accurate with your rifle and you’ll hit your target more frequently. I’ve only met a few hunters that had serious enough physical limitations that made prone a poor option for them. The moral of the story is most hunters CAN get prone and SHOULD get prone. And that’s a good segway to #4, using two points of contact.
#4 Failing to Use Two Points Of Contact
It's not enough to just get prone. Getting prone is a great start but your setup in that prone position will be a deal-breaker on those longer shots. If you've bought into what I’m saying so far and you're committed to getting prone all you need now is two points of contact (POC).
For instance, you may see our setups on social media or on our website where we’re using a small lightwe