Hunting season will be here before we know it. If you haven’t already, here’s why now is the perfect time to dust off that firearm or bow in preparation for the 2022 season.
Only accurate rifles (and bows) are interesting
In a 1957 issue of American Rifleman Magazine, famed writer and marksman Col. Townsend Whelen quipped that “only accurate rifles are interesting.” Townsend argued that only those who spent the time sighting in and taking pride in their firearm – we’ll go ahead and assume he meant bows as well – produced rewarding outcomes as their skillset and marksmanship increased. Shooters who neglected their firearms, on the other hand, found the road to proficiency to be long and arduous, eventually losing interest in their hobby and soon disposing of it altogether.
As hunting season approaches, let Whelen’s remark serve as a reminder that taking pride in your firearm or bow is merely the prologue to yet another edition of the hunting season. An obvious, yet important, reminder: Your hunt will not end successfully if you can’t deliver a bullet or arrow on target when it matters most.
“Taking the time to prepare and become a better marksman is a hallmark of an ethical hunter,” said Brenda Beckley, Hunter Education Administrator. “And the better marksman you become, the better your chances of successfully harvesting an animal.”
Now that we’ve established the when to get started improving your aim, here’s the how.
Get in range time
Fish and Game offers several options for shooting and/or archery ranges around the state. Blacks Creek, Farragut, Nampa and Garden Valley Shooting Range are all Fish and Game-owned, public shooting ranges designed for safe firearm/bow practice by shooters of all abilities.
In the southwest, Nampa’s public facility features both an indoor and outdoor archery range, as well as an indoor air gun range. There is also the Boise River WMA archery range complete with 20 three-dimensional foam targets. In the panhandle, there is Farragut Public Shooting Range, which also includes a one-mile walk-through archery range. Several Idaho state parks, in cooperation with Fish and Game, have archery ranges with life-sized, three-dimensional targets that mimic big game animals.
There are several other shooting ranges located across the state, some of which are co-managed by Idaho Fish and Game and the Shooting Range Development Grant program. This program’s mission is to provide funds to assist organizations or agencies to establish, upgrade, expand or otherwise improve public firearms and archery ranges in Idaho.
For a more comprehensive list of shooting ranges in Idaho, go check out the National Shooting Sports Foundation’s Where to Shoot webpage. This state-by-state shooting range directory lists contact information, facilities available, maps and more for each range.
Calling before you go is highly recommended, as hours of operation, services or shooting opportunities may change. If you’ve never been to a public shooting range, here is a beginner’s guide to get you started.
Pre-Season Prep Tips | Rifles
For rifle hunters, many shooting experts recommend setting your initial target at 25 yards to make sure you hit the paper if you have a new rifle, have replaced a scope or don’t know where your rifle is hitting. After shooting at that distance, move your target out to 100 yards or more to finish the sighting-in process.
Consistent accuracy is the ultimate goal when practicing shooting skills, so it’s important that hunters consider their effective shooting range and practice at all distances out to that maximum number.
It’s also important to practice from a variety of shooting positions and not just from a bench. Think about it. When that four-point buck or six-point bull pauses along the hillside, you’re not going to have the luxury of a bench rest and 5 minutes of slow breathing when you go to take that shot.
Shooters should try to replicate the conditions they are likely to encounter in the field as closely as possible, so after your rifle is sighted in, consider doing some exercise to get your heart rate elevated and your lungs working harder to mimic what shooting may feel like in the field.
“We stress in our hunter education courses that all hunters have an ethical obligation to know their personal limits and be prepared,” Beckley said. “Practicing often, at a variety of distances and from a number of different shooting positions, will help hunters prepare for a variety of situations they may encounter.”
Hot Tip: Hunters should always use the same ammunition for hunting as they did when sighting in their rifle.
Pre-Season Prep Tips | Shotguns
Don’t let the Elmer Fudd cartoons fool you – there’s a lot more to using a shotgun than just spraying a target with pellets. When it comes to preparation for wing shooting, hunters should focus on practicing different shots at different angles that may at first seem difficult.
Hot Tip: Be sure you use the choke and shell combination you plan to use for the hunting season. Modified chokes produce a moderately tight pattern, good for rabbits, quail and upland game birds. Full chokes have an even tighter pattern and are best suited for turkey, squirrels and other game at longer range.
Patterning a shotgun before the season is a fairly common practice with turkey hunters, but it’s something upland and migratory bird hunters should consider, too. Knowing your pattern density at given distances can help you determine your effective range, and give you a good idea of how your shotgun performs with a particular choke and shell combination. Every shotgun is different, and your shotgun will likely perform differently if you change either of those variables.
Pre-Season Prep Tips | Bows
By this point in the game, most archery hunters using traditional and compound bows will already be dialed in as early-season and archery-only hunts kick off in late August.
But if you’re new to the sport of bow hunting, you should start by visiting your local bow shop and get your bow tuned up, especially if you haven’t shot much or at all since last fall.
After that, it’s time to get your body back into shooting shape and practice at known and unknown distances. Archery ranges with life-sized, 3D targets are good place to practice your shooting and estimating distance in a field setting.
Hot Tip: Estimating distance is a lot more crucial in archery than in rifle hunting. To become proficient at gauging distances in the field, sharpen your eye by making estimates on various landmarks or 3D targets. Once you make an assessment, whip out your trusty rangefinder and confirm just how close or far off your naked eye was.
Fish and Game has ranges at its Boise River Wildlife Management Area and Farragut Shooting Range. You can also find archery ranges at some Idaho State Parks, including Hells Gate near Lewiston, Castle Rock near Albion and Dworshak near Orofino.
Remember that most ranges will not allow you to shoot broadheads, and they usually shoot differently than field tips, so you will need to resight in your bow when you make the switch.
So whether you’re hauling a rifle or a recurve out into the field with you this hunting season, proper maintenance and preparation is a must. Be sure to brush up on your marksmanship and take care of your weapon to ensure a fun, safe (and “interesting”) hunt.