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March 05, 2008

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Paper Versus Meat

Back when I was young and knew everything, I was convinced that a good shot was a good shot, period, and that anyone who could shoot well at paper targets had to shoot well on game, and vice-versa. Now I am not so sure.

Shooting well at targets and shooting well at game require different skill sets. The target shooter must be able to control his breathing and heartbeat, be able to read mirage and wind, have a perfect trigger squeeze, have his shooting positions down to perfection, and be thoughtful and deliberate at all times. Being a good game shot requires that you shoot quickly, from awkward positions, at ill-defined and/or moving targets, and above all, that you be able to kill without hesitation.

This last is a big thing. Taking a life does not come easily to many people, and I have seen many, many otherwise fine shots become completely unhinged when the time came to drop the hammer on something that was breathing. About the only thing you can do about this is shoot until you do everything automatically, but even that is no sure solution.

Probably the best example of the "bad target/great game" shot is an African PH. The ones I've seen shoot at paper can sight in a rifle OK, but that's about it. However, if you want someone to stick a big bullet up the nose of a Cape buffalo that is 10 feet away, coming at full speed, and has payback on his mind, he is the guy to see.


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Dr. Ralph

Dave you have described my brother in law to a tee. He is one of the best bench shooters I have ever met, sets .38 special brass up at 100 yards and shoots it with a 9 power scope and absolutely cannot kill a big buck. I have seen him shoot three times at an eight pointer less than 100 yards away without cutting a hair. Two years ago a ten pointer stood under his stand and he freaked out so much his nose started to bleed... he swears he could have thrown his gun at the deer and hit it but missed when he pulled the trigger. Doe's, not a problem. It's that ability to function under extreme duress, the man you want to give the ball to when there is 1.7 seconds on the clock and it's win or lose on the last shot. Concentrate, breath deeply and bury your emotions and you can make that shot when your heart beat has tripled and body parts are shaking for no apparent reason. That's pretty much why I hunt after all these years... just to get that rush and see if I can still get my mind right for the kill.

Dr. Ralph

I should add that my father was a veterinarian and I saw hundreds of animals killed as a small child simply for economics. Farming is a business and if it costs more to save an animal than it's worth it doesn't live.


Jim in Mo.
David will shoot the change from my pocket or anyone else's with about 75% certainty of hitting the coin. When I first heard about him I figured it was a trick or gossip. He moved in down the road and after one trip to the desert I saw him in action. By the way the coins don't have holes in them merely dents. For laughs he often asks you to call "heads or tails" and he hits correctly about 50% of the time as you would expect. He recently made a video of shooting coins that did not turn out well because you can't see them. He added eggs, lemons, oranges, cabbages, and califlowers for a more vivid visual effect. I would put him up against Tom Knapp or Tim from Benelli. The guy has unnatural eye-hand coordination, years of practice, and as you would might guess is modest about the whole thing as if anyone could do this. I swear the above is absolutely true. On your next vacation to Yellowstone stop by and Dave will gladly give a demonstration. I promise you will be impressed and humbled.


I'm a better shot when I shoot quickly. That holds true whether I'm shooting at quail whirring out of the brush, or at a whitetail offering a standing broadside shot. When the gunbarrel covers the quail, I shoot. As soon as the crosshairs are where I want them, I shoot.

The problem I have when I shoot at paper is that, in trying to squeeze my groups as small as possible, I strain and struggle and grip and relax, and breathe, and hold my breath, and think evil thoughts, and get sweat in my eyes, and become conscious of my own heartbeat, and compose curses aimed at J.M. Browning and Oliver Winchester, and think about all the ways I could miss, and FINALLY pull the trigger. Whew! I can only take so much of that.

Concerning the depression-era shooters: My dad is one of those. He may shoot a shotgun only 20 times a year, but there will be 20 dead things as a result. Shooting clay pigeons to him would make as much sense as setting a pile of dollar bills on fire.


Dr. Ralph:
I respect your opinion and know where you are coming from but I submit that other than ending a life there is not a lot of similiarity in "putting down" a sick horse or a cow and shooting a deer at 200 yards. I realize that I am telling you something that you are well aware of but others might not be so knowledgeable.


If you start your kids off young with hunt'n they have an easier time ending an animals life when they're old enough to hunt. I've seen it happen with my 3 sons and 1 daughter, now I see it with my grandson. If they can take an animals life without hesitation then they will most likely make a better shot.



It is improbable that a hunter that once suffered with an extreme case of buck fever, will ever find themselves totally cool under pressure. They can learn to manage their anxiety with enough experience.

Jim in Mo.

PLEASE don't interperet my response as negative. I was simply relaying a true story about an idiot who thought he was PT Barnum reincarnated.


When I go to the range, I try not to shoot from the bench. Last time at the range I had it to myself - just me and the range personnel. I asked if it would be alright if I took some shots from different positions and since there wasn't anyone else around it was permitted. I shot from normal standing position rotating my stance from shot to shot and did the same while sitting, these types of shots are what I get in the field - seems the deer don't like benches in their woods. I do sight in from the bench, never used shooting sticks, I'm more likely to use a tree than anything else.

Aaron, buddy of mine, is a terrible shot at the range! But put him in the woods and everything changes. I've seen him make some shots that were well beyond my confidence limits.


How about the old time shooter who
could shuck hulls out of a pump
.22 and knock the out of the air?
I think it was the same one who used to draw the Indian heads on a
piece of tin. Concerning those Depression era shooters, again, they were shooting for meat on the table.

Ralph the Rifleman

I must admit that I suffered from recoil "flinch" when I fired my first gun. My father was a practical man, and at a very young age I fired a 12 gauge that I believe set my beginning for flinchitus. Beginning in my early teens, better instruction for shooting was given me by dad's hunting buddies, and they help redeem me from flinch-HELL.
I changed things for my boys, and I feel my mistakes help them to be better shooters. Now, I am a Big Bore rifle nut, and I like the way big guns kick and kill;Both with authority.

Jim in Mo.

Concerning the depression era shooters: When I was a kid after the crops were in there was alot of corn/soybeans left on the ground, corn pickers didn't do the job of the combines of today. So anyway in the fall grandpa and dad would go behind the barn and have all us kids sit beside them. When the blackbirds and starlings would gather to eat they would tell us to yell and clap our hands and when the black cloud of birds came up they would shoot into them with #11 birdshot that grandpa had on hand. We would do that two or three times. Then we'd go out and gather the birds for grandma to pluck and cook-up with home made dumplings.
Later on, me my brothers and brother in laws would go into the same fields and shoot clay birds. Grandpa would just look and shake his head. He just didn't get it.



I believe the fella you're talking about was Ad Topperwein(sp). Those guys were something else. Shooting thousand's of wooden blocks tossed in the air before missing one. One even shot glass balls like Christmas ornaments. He shot them in the dark because they would whistle when they were tossed!
My grandfather lived through the Great Depression. He worked on a road crew that built Hwy 84 between Palestine and Rusk, Texas.
Because all the equipment was still horse drawn, anybody that would stay the weekend and take care of the animals got an extra fifty cents a day. They would bring a brick of .22LR ammo and spend the weekend shooting .22's. He would not show off with a .22, but he was absolutely amazing with his old Remington Target Master single shot! It's in the closet and still shoots amazingly tight groups!



Jim in MO.
No negativity detected by your statements plus I understand why people find the story difficult to believe as I felt exactly the same way when I heard about this guy. Then I saw him shoot. He has about 60 guns that I know of with most medium to high quality. I have never seen a cleaning rod or a bottle of Hoppe's in his house. I once asked him about his bore cleaning procedures since the exterior of most of his Smiths, Colts, Mausers, Remingtons, etc. looked worn and rough. I don't have any he replied, I don't clean bores, I just keep shooting. I didn't even want to look up one of his barrels...



They're out there.
Just like the UFO's and aliens. LOL!
I've know a couple of people that had the same uncanny knack! It blows the mind, especially since as hard as I've tried, I can't even come close!

I have had the opportunity, probably three or four, to take game with "snap" shots, each deadly as a mamba! If I could only figure out how to convert that to day to day hunting!
Oh, well!



I would have more luck shooting into the air and then throwing a coin at the bullet.

Del in KS

Any of you Oklahoma gents ever hear of Nowata? Pronounced like no water. Not sure about spelling. That's where my friend Bill grew up hunting anything they could eat. He's 65 and enjoying retirement these days. Bill currently owns the best German Shorthair I have ever hunted over. Go Jayhawks.


Del in KS: Nowata is in the Northeastern part of our fair state. As a sidebar, there is a Lottawata Road near Lake Eufaula. From one extreme to the other, I guess.


I will talk with David when he gets back from Arizona in a few weeks. By then the weather here should be nice. We'll try to do a better video of him shooting vegetables, nuts, berries, eggs, coins, and sand pebbles with various weaponry. Maybe I can get my kid to put it on YouTube for you guys to see. I promise no tricks...

Jack Ryan

Being a good shooter on paper doesn't make one a bad shot in the field.

Not shooting in the field makes a person a bad shot in the field.

They shoot on the range all year and think they can do the same thing on a moving deer at 100 yards they do on a paper plate from a bench at 100 yards and they have probably never even "proven" the attempt on the range.

In the field most people couldn't even guess a hundred yards with in 5 seconds of when you ask them but they think they can snap a gun up and pull the trigger quick as a white tail flag ducks in the bush.


jim in mo, the trick to shooting any thing thrownup in the air is to shoot when the object has reached it height, stops momentary,before starting back down....

Black Rifle Addict

Dave, you bring up an important issue here, as does one of the comments made here on the blog.
I think some people just make better hunters. Call it karma, natural ability, or whatever makes sense to you. A friend of ours, a depression baby, used to say if his daddy gave him 3-4 rounds to hunt with he better come home with 3-4 heads of game!
Target shooting during the depression was a luxury!


I shot a bb gun from the earliest I can remember, and loved shooting bugs, mostly crickets, we had alot of them! Never really enjoyed putting holes in paper, no challenge there. Even now I usually spend almost no time at the range, go out before hunting season to check the zero of the rifles and that's about it other than occasional handgun practice. But if I see a legal deer it's a dead deer.
My oldest daughter shoots pretty good on targets but her first deer had the crap scared out of it and that's about all, at under 50 yds, she later said she "forgot to aim". So I'm guessing it isn't genetic.


Thanks, Bubba,
Ad Topperwein was the man I was trying to think of. The old Luke's Music Store in Ardmore, OK
had one of his Indian head drawings on display for a good number of years. Reading his bio, I learned that he fired an '03 Winchester .22 Auto, and hit the ejected hull! Amazing!
Another gifted shot that
came out of Oklahoma was the great Dan Combs of the OK Highway Patrol. He shot every thing from fruit to marbles out of the air with a .30-'06, and could draw and fire and put two .38 Specials (wax bullets) through a styrofoam cup dropped from waist level before it hit the ground. He was also a wizard with a Thompson sub, and a 1911 A1. I was privilaged to have a running aquaintance with Dan while he worked at a gunshop in Midwest City, OK that regretably went out of business.


Bill Jordan(?) of Texas Border Patrol fame was known for the same type revolver magic. He would start with something like a watermelon. Toss it up and draw and shoot it before it hit the ground. Before the demo was over, he was shooting two or three asprins!
He "wrote", I think, "No Second Place Winner!"(?) about handling his six gun! The story goes the only man he ever killed was a fellow BP agent. Seems he was practicing his fast draw in his office, dropped his gun and it went off, going through a wall and killing the guy in the next office!
True? I don't know, it's just what I've heard!


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