Offhand is the most useful position for the woods hunter, be those woods in Pennsylvania or India, and no one can call himself a good all-around shot unless he is fairly deadly in that position. It is the position for short-range shooting at running game and the most flexible (if also the most unsteady) of all positions.
A cardinal rule of big game shooting is to use the steadiest position it is possible to assume in order to make the first shot as nearly exactly right as possible. No one should ever take an offhand shot if he can sit, or a standing shot if he can get prone. In a book I read by an Englishman who was for years an African guide and professional hunter, the author wrote that he always sat down when he shot to stop the charge of an enraged lion, rhino, or Cape buffalo. One shot in the right place is worth a dozen poorly placed shots.
The big game hunter should never be too proud to use a rest if he has the time and has no choice but to make a difficult shot. He should pad a hard surface with a jacket, a hat, or his hand, and he should rest the rifle on the fore-end so that the shot will not fly high. In hunting antelope in open plains, my favorite stunt is to wad up a jacket and rest it over a clump of sagebrush and then rest the rifle on it. Shooting that way I have killed several antelope at ranges paced, not guessed, at from 300 to, in one case, a bit short of 500 yards. Because of the fairly level terrain in which they are usually found, antelope can – in the majority of cases – be shot from prone or prone with rest. Again, let me repeat that any hunter is a sucker who does not make the most of his opportunity by using the steadiest position he can assume.
I have seen many hunters stand on their hind legs and blaze away at running antelope 300 yards and more away and shoot offhand at standing deer across a canyon when in each case they could have planted their posteriors firmly on mother earth with much better chances of a hit.
I have shot two bull moose offhand, one of which was running; and two from the sitting position, one of which was running. The longest shot I have ever taken at a moose was at about 200 yards. Of the mountain sheep I have shot, two were shot offhand at very short range, two at long range from a padded rest, two from prone, the others from the sitting position. Because, like antelope, the caribou is an open country animal, I have shot more caribou from prone than from any other position. Deer I have shot in brush country were almost all taken offhand, those in the mountains from the sit.
In big game shooting then, the steadiest possible position should be used so that the first shot will be in the vital area. This shot should also be taken as quickly as possible and the shot should always be called. In other words, the hunter should know exactly where his sights rested when his rifle went off. He must know it, because if he does not he cannot hold-over for a long shot or his lead for a running shot. In practice, he should get off his shots the instant the sights look right. He should form the habit of shooting at once instead of dawdling because in the game fields, his quarry may turn into a less favorable position or may move off.
Shoot from the steadiest position you can get into. Place the shot right. Call the shot. Shoot quickly.
I missed the only double-shovel caribou I ever got a shot at by fooling around. The caribou was standing, and around 300 yards away. I got into a prone position. I thought I had all the time in the world, so instead of shooting immediately, I squeezed one off on an empty chamber, just to see how I was holding that day. The crosshairs were just right, and if there had been a cartridge in the chamber that would have been a dead caribou. As I started to work the bolt, that doggoned caribou took two steps and dropped over the edge of a ravine. When I next saw him he was a mile away trotting like a race horse. We had the wind on him and he gave no evidence of having seen us. Maybe he had forgot to mail a letter.
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