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December 11, 2006

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Why You Should Practice Your Offhand Shot

Bill Heavey and I regularly exchange nasty e-mails; he is a querulous and testy fellow who does not always write in English, but what the hell, he’s a colleague and I am obliged to answer. Anyway, on a particularly bad morning when two of his five remaining hairs came out in the brush he told me about a big deer he had killed with a bow after a long stalk, and compared this with my shooting animals thousands of yards distant. The implication was that he was a real hunter and I was a mere technician who is carried by his equipment. Now Bill is an amusing writer, but he is the small dust of the balance, and I don’t care an assful of ashes if he thinks poorly of me. However, his testy e-mail caused me to reflect on the past season and see just how I took what I did.

It goes like this:
Alaska moose, one shot, offhand at 60 yards
Black bear, one shot, offhand at 40 yards
Whitetail buck, one shot out of a tower stand at 160 yards
Whitetail buck, one shot offhand, 70 yards

I draw two conclusions from this: In the real world, we usually shoot at game at 100 yards or less. It may be fashionable to buy equipment that will let you hit targets on Saturn, but in real life, things rarely work out that way. Practice that offhand position. It ain’t easy, but by crackey, it sure comes in handy. Sometimes—if fact, quite often, you gotta stand on your hind legs like a fully evolved primate and pull the trigger.


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Maybe you should remind Bill that you were clever enough to do all your hunting without a set of coffee scalded 'nads.


Ah, the old bowhunter vs gunhunter argument. Who cares. As long as both of you are proficient with your chosen equipment and you enjoy the experience, perhaps you can find other more worthwhile subjects to argue over. Like, which hair replacment products haven't been working for either one of you.

Mike W.

It gets tiresome hearing these old arguments about bow vs. gun vs. standhunting vs. stalking etc... I suppose writers have to find something to write about and stirring up controversy is one...
However, I have not read an article lately in which the author expresses gratitude for the ability to hunt, (however he or she pleases)the opportunity to be outdoors, the right to own a firearm or bow. I am on the other side of 50 and cannot make some hunts like I did before. I love being out there. There is something spiritual about watching the sun rise from a deer stand or duck blind or watching a campfire.
You're a good writer, Dave. Keep it up.


Hunting has a lot to do with perceived imagery. Hunting also has a lot to do with kindergarten behavior. We all want to feel special. Plan A usually consist of rationalizing why we’re special. Plan B is for us to rationalize why the other guy isn’t special. Sometimes both.

Ed J

A poor craftsman blames his tools. A good craftsman compiments his tools.

A few years ago I was in a sporting goods store listening to a customer complaining to the clerk that he needed a bigger better gun. He was hunting antelope and it took four shots to put it down. what was he using? A 375 H&H! It seems He hit it in the ear, then in the hoof, then in the brisket and then in the rump. Yup it was the guns fault.

David Lane

Is this the same "common man" Bill Heavey with precious little time to hunt, little money to hunt, little resources to hunt, and little capability to hunt? If his emails to you are genuinely testy, then he has officially lost his "common man" status and entered the ranks of the elitists, and that is nowhere I want to be.


Funny, a few days ago I read on this blog an article trashing the one shot kill. Yet today I see that in all four examples of animals taken this year it clearly states that all were one shot kills.


In addition to the offhand shot.I say we should be more familar with a variety of sight and action types.And Kentucky Rifle is another name for the Pennsylvania Rifle.Seriously,the quiz was great.Scored 85.


I don't know why people shy away from the off-hand shot. I grew up shooting a .22 and there was no bench rest in sight. Even when I was old enough for the .30-30 and .30-06, I started with the off-hand shot. That is until our shooting range had to bow to insurance issues and placed ply-wood that hanged down all along the covered range, limiting you to the bench. At least when I go to Maine I can find a gravel pit and practice off-hand.

I really don't think your ability to make off-hand shots should come before your ability to make great wise-ass comments on the real world, dave.

JC Blauvelt

The key phrase here is "In the real world". You are 100% correct Dave. In the field you will have many occations to make an off hand shot. Or have no shot at all. A true sportsman practices the off hand shot and should be confident enough to take it. Most hunters I see at the range are shooting off the bench, resting the gun on sandbags, geting a 3" group, and calling it "ready for deer season". They never practice any other position. Then they wonder why they miss,or worse yet wound, an animal at 50 yards when forced to take the shot off hand.


I do pretty good off hand.....

If I don't drink five cups of coffee prior, and if I shoot when I wibble and not when I wobble.


Where is Bill's BLOG?

Or Does Field and Stream not giving them out to the "COMMON


Take care and keep up the great posts!



Dave Petzal

Concerned Soldier: Bill does not have a blog. I think this is a shame. What did the troops think of Rumsfeld's good-bye to them?

Rod M.

If anyones rifle shoots like mine, they should practice the offhand shot. Dialed it in on the bench, went to practice my offhand position and would hit 4-5 inches high. Tried everything I could think of, but POI was always diffent from the bench to practical hunting position. I don't know about everyone else, but I don't like to carry sandbags around the woods much.

Jack Bohm

Honestly, I'm still pretty new to rifle shooting. The Offhand shot is THE ONE I need to practice most. I really should pull out the old 10/22 for cheap practice. With ammo getting pricey- even handloaded- you have to find a way to practice that doesn't leave you broke.

Mike Flores

I can most always hit minute of pie plate at 25 yards standing off hand with any rifle I own! That is why I try to rest my rifle against a tree or something. I guess I am a cheat!

craig curtis

i agree mike i look for a rest everytime i shoot if its possible . sometimes it isnt thats when your skills kick in !

B. Cameron

First of all, to "Bob": there is nothing wrong with a one-shot kill - if and only if it is a clean one-shot that doesn't end up with a wounded animal being lost. I've taken several animals with one-shots, and recently took a nice buck that required three shots. Our duty there is a quick merciful kill. One shot or three, just do the job.

The off-hand is the *only* position I practice from. I don't consider myself even adequate until I'm shooting off-hand into 3-4 inches at 100yd. Why not farther? Because here in Upstate NY (even farther than Westchester!), (A) there is no rifle hunting and (B) we hunt primarily woods. Yes, I have a rifled barrel on a 12ga that can theoretically shoot 2" groups at 100yd - but I can't. I have a .50 frontloader that should be able to do the same thing - but I can't. Not a failure of the hardware by any measure, simply the fact that I'm not a good enough shot to make that kind of group with that size weapon. I *can* do it off-hand with my .17HMR - but recoil is a non-issue there.

All that said, my kills over the past year:

- Whitetail buck, 12ga, smoothbore, 45yds - 1 shot, off-hand
- Whitetail doe, .270Win, 160yds - 1 shot, sitting
- Whitetail buck, 12ga, rifled/sabot, 75yds - 3 shots, first from a rail.

Three shots? THREE?? Yes, and I'm not ashamed in the least. My first shot dropped him where he stood. The second and third finished him as he thrashed trying to run from me. I'd never needed a mercy shot before, and that was, without question, one of the hardest times I've ever pulled the trigger.

Ralph the Rifleman

Practice for the off-hand shot, of course, but I'm not ashamed to admit I will take advantage of the tree/limb, or fence post to steady that shot if available. I practiced kneeling, and sitting, shots when I lived out west; lack of trees being the motivation.
Dave you are also on the mark when it comes to some shooters that want that 300 yd shot to prove manhood, I guess? Stick to hitting the target at 50 yds, then work your way up from there!
As for bow shooting..I shoot traditional, no sight pins,no flipper/atomic radiation rests or whatever..I like to keep it simple, and practice!


When I'm in the field I'll use any type of rest possible if i have the time. When i sight in a gun for target shooting its form the bench but for hunting the bench is only to get close and then the rest is from either standing or kneeling.A guy i know sighted his 338 in for moose at about 100 yards from the bench and didnt fire another shot till hunting season where he missed a big bull clean.

Dave Petzal

To all: Smart hunters always take a rest, but sometimes it just can't be done. That's why offhand was invented.

Ryan Stokes

I realize there are several makers of muzzelloader/shot gun/rifle combos made in the single shot style with interchangeable barrels. I am in the market for a 50 cal blackpowder gun for myself to convert to a single shot .243 for my children. What gun maker would be the best purchase?

craig curtis

Ryan: Thompsen center = the best at interchangable barrells (spell check ) !!

Rich Mitchell

I think that offhand is not only challenging to master but more satisfying when you make the hit. One of my favorite pastimes is NRA high power silhouette shooting, which is all offhand. The plates are at different ranges and are a specific weight. They require a solid hit to knock down. Most satisfying competition I've ever engaged in...of course the closest range is 200 meters (chickens). Offhand at 60 yards? Piece of cake!


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