Stay Sharp This Spring with Rimfire Rifle Training
Where it’s legal to hunt with a rifle, hunters can achieve some incredible accuracy at impressive ranges. When compared to bows, shotguns, or even muzzleloaders, there’s really no competition. But unless you have a lot of spare time, some extra cash sitting around, and a decent shooting range close by, it can be tough to practice with a centerfire rifle throughout the rest of the year. Many hunters only break it out shortly before opening day to make sure it’s still on target. Have you ever thought about rimfire rifle training to improve your rifle shooting skills? If not, there are several reasons why you should consider it and some simple rifle shooting drills you could try this spring and summer.
Why Rimfire Rifle Training?
But first, why would you train with a rimfire rifle if your ultimate goal is to get better with a centerfire rifle? Wouldn’t it make more sense to just practice with your actual big game gun instead? Depending on your own situation, maybe or maybe not. Besides the actual mode of firing, there’s not a lot of difference between the actual shooting skills between the two rifle options.
- You still rely on the basic processes – steady breathing, holding still, and gently squeezing the trigger. You also learn how to avoid target panic when you’re looking through the crosshairs with scoped rimfire rifles.
- Rimfire rifles produce significantly less recoil and noise than a big game hunting centerfire rifle, which just makes it easier on the shoulder and ears, and helps you to avoid any kind of learned flinching behavior that will hurt your accuracy later on.
- In addition, the ammunition for a .22 rifle, for example, is a lot cheaper than that for a .270 rifle. When you look at practicing every week from now until hunting season, that can really add up. Ultimately, that also means you can stretch your shooting budget further.
- As another bonus, becoming proficient at using a rimfire rifle (like a classic Ruger 10/22) can help you once small game seasons open again in the fall. What can you hunt with a 22 long rifle? Squirrels and rabbits both immediately come to mind, but you might even be able to take game birds, varmint animals, and even feral hogs with the right shot placement.
Rimfire Rifle Training Drills
With all that said, hopefully, you’re convinced that rimfire rifle shooting practice would be a good thing for you to try. If so, here are some rimfire rifle training ideas that you can start in on right away this spring. If you keep at it over the summer, we think you’ll be impressed how much your accuracy improves by next fall.
While it might not directly apply to hunt scenarios (with a rimfire or centerfire rifle), benchrest shooting can really challenge you and improve your accuracy and precision. Find a shooting range near you (the best being one on your property) and set up a sturdy shooting bench. Use sets of sandbags or a shooting rest to find a position that is comfortable and lined up well with the target. For this exercise, start out at about 25 yards, but feel free to increase this steadily. With a good quality scope, you should be able to shoot out to some remarkable distances using this approach. Load your rimfire rifle, don your hearing protection (even for this), and settle in. For this rimfire rifle training exercise, focus all your attention on your breathing and trigger pull. Despite how long you’ve been shooting, it helps to renew your focus on these areas.
After confirming your range is safe, take a few steady, deep breaths. Let your crosshairs settle in and drift around the bullseye. Don’t panic and pull the trigger when you get close – simply let your crosshairs drift in a circle around it, and focus on slowly pulling the trigger so it is a genuine surprise to you when it happens. This will teach you how to shoot tighter groups with a rifle over time, teach you how to hold a rifle steady and form a muscle memory habit that will help you in any other rifle shooting situations. Start by shooting 5 to 10 rounds and see what your group looks like. Over time, you might add or subtract rounds depending on how your accuracy and precision are improving.
For this next rifle training drill, you will focus on a more hunting-relevant shooting skill. After all, you generally won’t have all the time in the world to make a shot when you’re hunting squirrels or deer. Instead, this exercise is meant to challenge you to shoot within a certain time limit (e.g., 5 seconds). This might seem like it would undo all of the other training drill’s progress, but it is actually a cumulative gain. You can use a scope for this exercise or shoot using iron sights – as long as you keep it relevant to how you would hunt in the fall.
Set up a paper target sheet with several distinct bullseyes or mini targets on it, such as the Birchwood Casey Shoot-N-C Bull’s-eye. Step about 25 yards away from it. When you are ready to shoot, raise your rifle to your shoulder and start counting. Your goal is to acquire your target (the first one in the row), steady yourself, and make a shot within 5 seconds. At first, it will feel rushed and you will definitely miss your mark – often. After shooting three targets in a row, for example, take a break for several minutes to regain your composure. Over time, you should notice a real improvement in your ability to quickly find and hit the targets within that timeframe. If you start hitting 3 out of 3 targets, feel free to step further away rather than decrease your time (remember, you don’t want to force yourself to go too fast and create target panic).
Switching Shooting Positions
The last of these rimfire rifle training ideas focus on a similar principle as above – forcing yourself to get used to different shooting positions to make you a more efficient hunter. Because again, you won’t always get the perfect shot opportunity – sometimes you’ll be forced to shoot from an awkward position that you have never practiced before. Getting better at those shooting positions now will help you when the time comes. Again, start out at 25 yards and work your way up to 100 yards. Here are a few ideas for you to try, regardless if you are right- or left-handed:
- Kneeling on one or both knees;
- Lying down (prone) using a backpack as a rest or just your elbows;
- Free-hand standing still;
- Resting against the side of a tree trunk;
- Sitting position using your knees as rests; or
- Half-crouched and turned sideways (because you know it will eventually happen while hunting).
This spring and summer, don’t neglect to get out with the rimfire rifle once in a while to keep your shooting skills fresh for next season. If you have kids, practicing with the rimfire rifle is also a great way to include them in the training and fun.