Summertime shooting keeps skills sharp

Shooting is a degenerative skill; whether you favor a bow, handgun, rifle or shotgun, abilities decline with lack of practice.

It’s just like playing any musical instrument; any period of neglect will lead to a notable deterioration in competence. It’s not the piano or guitar that changes, and it’s not the gun, scope or cartridge. It’s the operator’s comfort and familiarity.

That said, shooters need to make a special effort to head to the range this summer and not postpone efforts until hunting season arrives this fall.

There are a surprising number of shooters who don’t hunt; and a lot of others who chase upland birds or perhaps waterfowl but have no interest in big game. Regardless of plinking metal targets, shooting holes in paper or busting flying clay targets, whichever you choose involves fresh air, sunshine and the now-vogue social distancing. Practicing marksmanship not only involves hands-on gun safety, comfort of handling and establishing muscle memory that will carry over into “meat on the table” outings, it’s just plain fun for family and friends. 

Many Aroostook towns and villages have Fish and Game or Rod and Gun clubs that have been established for decades. Some have trap and skeet fields, a couple boast sporting clays courses, and most have bench rest shooting ranges of at least 100 yards. A few clubs feature rifle ranges at 200 and 300 yards for big-game rifles and long-range varmint guns, and some even feature a short 50-yard range for .22s and handguns.

There are a lot of extra items besides a gun and ammo that need to be taken to any summer shooting outing to assure safety as well as fun. (Courtesy of Bill Graves)

If you travel downstate there are even indoor shooting clubs that operate year around. There’s a chance for Mom and the youngsters to join Dad for some plinking, winter or summer. Under current COVID-19 conditions and social distancing guidelines, staying near home makes family shooting outings a better idea. Crown of Maine outdoor enthusiasts enjoy the options of lots of wide open fields and woodlots nearby; some may even be family-owned.

There’s bound to be a safe location on your own land, or a friend or nearby farmer who will give permission for a shooting session. Any selected location obviously needs to be away from houses, farm buildings and machinery, roads, ATV and hiking trails. It’s also essential to have a raised backdrop like a hill or thick woods to stop bullets from going astray. To this end, Aroostook agri-land abounds with hundreds of gravel pits, every shape and size, and from years of personal experience I’ve found these high walled enclosures to be safe shooting locales.

Whatever location you chose for a plinking session, leave it in better shape than you found it. Do not use glass containers as targets. It’s dangerous on so many levels. Gather and pack out your cans and paper targets, pick up your brass or shotgun shells, and if you use wooden frames or cardboard backdrops, take them with you.

While I do like to fire a few rounds from my hunting rifles to stay comfortable and familiar, I’d much rather enjoy the reduced cost of ammunition and milder recoil and noise of my .22 rifle or handgun. Everyone in the family can have fun with this favorite old caliber. The same basics for mounting, steadying, righting, breathing and trigger controls are utilized and will easily transfer to larger hunting guns when the time comes.

For shotgunners who want to powder a few fast-flying clay pigeons, it’s not necessary to visit a commercial site. A simple hand thrower will suffice or a multi-bird mechanical machine that can be staked into the ground or attached to a vehicle bumper or trailer hitch. Prices range from $10 for a handheld to a couple of hundred for a good, multifunction, long-lasting middle-of-the-field machine. Then all you need is a secluded field.

Gun safety, proper gun handling and shooting techniques are instilled on every target shooting outing with a new generation of sportsman. (Courtesy of Bill Graves)

Some scattergunners insist on using the guns they prefer to hunt with, usually a 12 gauge; but I try to save money on shells and a bruised shoulder by opting for a 20 gauge, or even a 28 or .410. The youngsters and smaller-framed women will like these lighter shotguns as well, and busting and dusting clay targets is a bit more a challenge with the lighter loads. 

There are plenty of commercial targets — metal animal silhouettes that clang and fall over when struck, some that spin and even a few that fall then reappear. Newer paper targets feature high-visibility colors that appear when a bullet strikes, and even have self-sticking dots to cover holes for reuse over and over. I’m still happy with a package of paper plates, tape and a staple gun.

For the kids, it’s fun to blow up colored balloons, or fill a couple of plastic bottles with colored water. Once in a while I’ll take a tomato or carrot from the garden or an apple from my tree and hang it from a string for an extra challenge. It’s all fun and there’s an underlying teaching experience for future hunters. 

Current restrictions limit a lot of activities for old and young alike, so why not get out in nature with an age-old pastime that is literally a page in Maine’s outdoor hunting heritage? A summer shooting outing will have a lot of benefits for all involved.

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