Improving Your Field Accuracy »

Improving Your Field Accuracy

For most hunters, sighting in a rifle starts on the bench. But it shouldn’t stop there.

By: Brad Fitzpatrick - bradfitzpatrickoutdoors


Over the last decade, rifle makers have been vying to produce the most accurate rifle at the lowest price point, and that competition has been very good for hunters. Modern machining advances have made it possible for companies to produce guns that are more accurate and less expensive, and even the most inexpensive rifles available today have great triggers and are oftentimes capable of sub-MOA accuracy. Logically, then, we should all be more effective hunters that are capable of making clean shots at extended ranges, but that isn’t always the case. Why? It’s hard to fault a rifle/load combination that delivers groups that are consistently under an inch, so maybe there is something else that leads to misses in the field.

Over the course of the last several years I’ve talked to several guides, outfitters, and professional hunters who have a similar tale to tell; hunters are capable of producing tight, accurate groups on the bench, but they suffer when they’re shooting at game in the field. The problem lies, as many of these hunters see it, with a lack of time spent practicing from field positions. And unless your hunting blind has a fixed rest and the game offers a perfect shot at a known distance (which is a very rare situation), you’ll need to practice shooting in the field.

I’m not blameless in this regard. I’ve had rifles that I knew well, rifles that I’d shot hundreds of times on the bench, that failed to deliver on that all-important shot in the field. The blame didn’t lie with the gun itself, but with me. I knew how the rifle shot from the bench, but I hadn’t taken the time to practice for the type of shots I was likely to face in real hunting situations.

The Importance of Bench Shooting

I don’t recommend giving up bench rest shooting entirely. On the contrary, I believe that shooting from a bench is fundamental to field accuracy. This is the time to evaluate your rifle, scope, and load and to develop the foundation you need to make good shots in the field. But this isn’t where your preparation should stop; it’s simply a time to evaluate how the rifle and load perform while eliminating the variables of flinching, unknown distances, and all the other elements that you’ll have to face down the line. When I have a rifle and load that I trust on the bench, the real work of hunt preparation begins.

Field Positions

After the initial sight-in, begin practicing from field positions. I like to start with the most stable position, which is prone. If you have an opportunity to shoot from the prone position in the field it’s a good option because it provides a stable platform and will increase your odds of making a good shot. Lying flat on a mat or blanket will allow you to stabilize your body, and a pack or bipod can serve as a platform upon which to rest your rifle. Another important position is kneeling, and this is usually the position that I practice after shooting prone. Using your knee as a support, rest your rifle so that it is as stable as possible and make sure that you are seated in a comfortable, secure position. It likely won’t be as stable as a prone or bench position, but it’s just the type of shooting situation that you’re likely to face in the field. Finally, I practice from the standing position. This is perhaps the hardest of all shooting positions, but it is common in the field and, like the prone and kneeling position, it requires practice. Shooting off-hand is the least stable position and should only be reserved for the most extreme situations. Oftentimes, though, you can find some type of rest from which to shoot. In the mountains of Idaho I used the trunk of a fir tree, and in Africa I’ve used small rock piles and termite mounds. Rest the forearm of the rifle against these fixed objects, and hold the gun firmly in place with your non-shooting hand so that the gun moves as little as possible. To practice this, I like to shoot from a stand-up bench, the same type used by many big-bore shooters, because it helps you get accustomed to shooting from the standing position. Also, be aware natural rests like trees and rocks in your hunting area and rely on these to stabilize you when you need to make a standing shot in the field.

The Right Gear

When you’re in the field you are limited to what you can carry, but I think that there are three essential items that up your odds of success. The first is a good sling. When wrapped around the non-shooting arm, a sling can help you stabilize the gun and can increase the chances of making a good shot. In addition, I always try to carry a bipod or shooting sticks, and many professional hunters, particularly in Africa, expect their clients to know how to use sticks. Learning to use sticks is not something that you want to do in the field on safari, so practice from home. You’ll be surprised how much they can improve your field shooting when used properly. A good bipod that extends works well too, and many bipods will allow you to shoot from the seated, prone, or standing position.

Lastly, I think a rangefinder is a great investment. Many shooters know how to shoot at 100, 200, 300 or even longer distances, but it can be very tough to accurately estimate range, especially in a foreign environment. Having a quality rangefinder tucked in your pocket can be the key to success in those situations.

At home, I like to practice on targets that look like the game I’ll be hunting. I want to understand what my sight picture will be in the field and have time to evaluate whether or not my shots are going to produce a quick, clean, ethical kill. It may seem odd to think that going from a standard bullseye to a real animal will change the way you shoot, but it can happen. Learn the anatomy of your game and know where to place your bullet. 

The Mental Game

Hunting is a mental game, and while you can’t recreate the same rush of excitement and emotion you’re likely to experience in the field you can insure that you have developed the physical skills needed to make the shot. Flinching is a major problem for many shooters, and practice from field positions will oftentimes expose a flinch. Practicing proper trigger pull and “staying with the rifle” when the shot breaks is critical. It’s also important not to rush your shot; take the extra second to insure that you’re on target before pulling the trigger.

We owe it to the animals that we hunt to be fully prepared to make the shot, and that means we need proper practice. Shooting from the bench is an important aspect of hunting, but it should only serve as the first step in your preparation for the field.   

Shooting from a standup bench



Shooting from a standup bench, such as the one Monty Kalogeras of Safari Shooting School is shown using here, helps you learn the mechanics of firing from a standing position.

Shooting from the bench is important, and it helps provide the foundation for field shooting. Just shooting from the bench, though, won’t adequately prepare you for most hunting situations.

shooting from standup

Shooting offhand is the least stable position, and there are only rare occurrences where this is the best option. Nevertheless, practicing from this position will help you if the need arises.

Shooting sticks are a great aid and make it much easier to shoot from the field

Shooting prone is a good option for the field because you are firmly planted and you minimize arm and trunk movement. Having a good bipod also helps.


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