One thing that we gun owners have going for us these days, other than a strong and influential NRA at a turbulent time, is the fact that we have more cool guns to choose from than any generation in history. We have Zev Technologies Glocks, Barrett MRADs, FNH USA SCARs, Cabot Guns 1911s, JP Enterprises ARs, and the list goes on and on. Really, the choices can be painfully overwhelming, and my buddy Colion Noir has made it more complicated by allowing me and many others to be comfortable with the idea of buying guns simply because they are cool.
In the midst of all of the tough buying decisions, some of the least expensive, most practical and, yes, boring guns can be overlooked. One of these is the scoped .22-caliber bolt-action rifle. When showing friends your gun collection, it is guaranteed to be ignored. It will be bumped aside multiple times while the rifle deeper in the safe is being sought. It’s always the Rodney Dangerfield of every collection: It gets no respect.
This gun in my safe is a Savage Mark II with 3-9x scope and spectacular AccuTrigger. While it will never hang with the hip crowd, it is the one real workhorse in my collection that I use more regularly than any other. It makes the trip to the range virtually every time I go. Either at the beginning or the end of my range session, it will fire at least 50 Federal Premium Gold Medal 40-grain bullets. In the midst of all of the tough buying decisions, some of the least expensive, most practical and, yes, boring guns can be overlooked.
This is the practice that has earned me the title of “fastest and best shooter” from the professional hunter (guide) I have used for my last three hunts in Africa. He has become a close friend and may be lying to me, but I don’t think so. He has been a PH for about 25 years now, and he most often sees hunters who don’t work as hard on their practical field shooting as I do. It makes me feel good to know the dedication and work have paid off. The skill it has generated allows me to step up and get the job done when opportunities are presented on the hunt.
Now, I am the first to acknowledge that there are thousands of competitive shooters in the country who could shoot circles around me while blindfolded. I am attempting to convey only that simple, structured and frequent practice from real-world shooting positions can make anyone an excellent all-around shooter. The nice thing with the .22 is that all of this practice is extremely affordable and does not punish me physically in the same way my actual hunting rifles would.
My routine with my Savage involves posting five 6-inch paper pie plates out at 50 yards and shooting 10 shots at each from different positions that are likely to have to be used in the field while hunting. The most significant thing here is getting away from the bench! I’ve been hunting for nearly a quarter of a century now, and I’ve still never seen a bench rest in the deer woods, pronghorn prairies or sheep mountains.
My acceptance of adjustable-length shooting sticks as a substitute for a more stable rest or rifle-mounted bipod has been the single most important move of my hunting life. I don’t leave home without them, and they are an integral part of my training with my .22 bolt gun.
If you are a hunter and don’t already have a good, accurate bolt-action .22 with a scope on it, you should make it your next purchase and then go out and try to wear it out.The various positions are standing unsupported, standing with sticks, kneeling with sticks, sitting with sticks and prone unsupported. These were the positions that I knew had to be mastered for shots in the real hunting world. I expect that my groups should decrease in size from about three inches to less than one inch as I move closer to the ground, position to position. A good rule of thumb is that lower is almost always better as long as the shot is unobstructed by vegetation or terrain changes.
After each shot, I work the bolt quickly and aggressively to ensure that the reload is absolutely reflexive. Even with this quick action, I’m still able to call my shots on the target as the trigger breaks. It’s a rare time when I can’t predict where my bullet hits within a half-inch or so. Calling the shot is an important skill to practice because it is a good check to indicate that many other things are being done correctly.
If you are a hunter and don’t already have a good, accurate bolt-action .22 with a scope on it, you should make it your next purchase and then go out and try to wear it out. The rifle will not impress your friends, but as long as your shooting is not from a bench or bipod and structured to the point where you know exactly where your rounds are hitting (why I use unnecessarily large pie plate targets), your skills will improve rapidly. It will make everything easier and more efficient when that big shot comes during rifle season. It’s almost guaranteed!