Practice is a surefire way to sharpen your shooting skills, whether you’re gunning for increased speed and accuracy with a modern sporting rifle or looking to improve your game in 3-gun competition. Since most shooters don’t enjoy the luxury of unlimited ammunition and range time, however, efficient prep and practice are keys to making it happen.
Competitive shooter Patrick Kelley is a firm believer in the concept. “Anyone can buy an accurate rifle,” he says. “What makes someone a really good shooter is becoming intimately familiar with every aspect of that firearm’s operation, and practicing with it as much as possible.”
He also knows the real world often sets limits on practice time. “People think competitive shooters are all sponsored because we like to wear jerseys and look professional,” he says. “But the truth is, almost everyone has a full-time job and is trying to balance work and family with their passion for shooting. They’re trying to squeeze in enough practice time to shoot proficiently when a match is on the line.”
To help shooters hone their form in a hurry, Kelley offers a three-step plan for high-efficiency practice. While he focuses on the competitive side of the MSR scene, his advice holds water for hunters and plinkers as well.
1. Familiarity Breeds Success
Step one is getting a feel for your firearms. “Handling your guns at home is a great way to become familiar with how they feel and work, so you’re not fumbling around at the range,” he says. “It’s also a whole lot easier to find time to work with guns at home than it is to make extra trips to the range and familiarize yourself with them there.”
Kelley’s personal gun-handling regimen begins well in advance of competitions. In fact, it truly never ends. “I handle my guns during the off-season, but this increases dramatically during my train-up before the season starts,” he explains.
Gun-handling practice includes shouldering long guns and establishing a proper cheek weld, aiming, dry firing, loading and unloading the shotgun (with inert “dummy” shells) and magazine changes with the rifle and handgun. Handguns are drawn from the holster and retrieved from table tops and presented to the target. “I want to be as comfortable as possible with the gun before getting into live-fire practice and competitive situations,” he adds.
If you’re new to the sport, Kelley advises watching videos that offer instruction, as well as those featuring actual shooting competitions.
“Devote plenty of time to mounting the gun, dry firing, safely abandoning it and picking up another gun.”
“If you’re interested in 3-gun matches, pay attention to the different steps involved in competition and work these into your gun-handling practice,” he says. “For example, making fast and smooth transitions between different guns is a huge factor, so devote plenty of time to mounting the gun, dry firing, safely abandoning it and picking up another gun.”
Of course, even veteran shooters benefit from such exercises. “All these steps are critical to prepare you for the moment when the range officer asks, ‘Are you Ready?’”
2. Find Your Zero
Kelley is also a staunch advocate of zeroing every gun in his battery. “If I’m shooting a 3-gun competition, the rifle, pistol and shotgun are all zeroed in,” he says. “This gives me the confidence to make any shot, as I know where my guns shoot relative to the sight system at any distance.”
As many shooters know, zeroing a firearm is the art of setting its sights so the bullet or slug hits where you’re aiming at a given range.
“The actual zero distance is a personal matter,” Kelley notes. “With a scoped MSR, for example, I like to zero so that one of my scope’s stadia lines is on at 300 yards for example, then I work backward taking note of impacts relative to the rest of the scope’s reticle.”
3. Steel Yourself
When these fundamentals are accomplished and you’re finally ready for some serious range time, Kelley advises a paperless program.
“I rarely shoot paper targets at the range other than to establish my zeros,” he says. “Steel is the deal for efficient training. It makes short work of practice, because there’s no wasted time checking to see if you hit the target or having to tape it up. Steel gives immediate feedback. Either you hit it or you didn’t. If you feel the need to check your groups—which should have been part of the zeroing process—you can always paint a steel target.”
Kelley favors heavy-duty steel targets that deflect splashback and are the same shape of a paper target, only smaller, and designed for use with rifles, pistols and shotguns.
When peppering steel, he rotates guns and shooting positions to mimic situations he might face in competition. “Practice in all possible field positions that a particular range has available,” he says. “If all you have is a bench, use it, but don’t just sit down and shoot. Kneel and shoot over the bench while supporting the rifle with your elbows. Also shoot some from the prone position using your magazine as a monopod for increased stability.”
“The very best shooters in any sport still work on the fundamentals of marksmanship, as it is the foundation of all good shooting.”
Through it all, Kelley recommends mastering the fundamentals first, before getting too creative. “People want to run before they can walk,” he laughs. “The very best shooters in any sport still work on the fundamentals of marksmanship, as it is the foundation of all good shooting. Once you have that down, all you have to do is apply them to whatever situation you encounter in the field or competition.”