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September 08, 2008

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Petzal: Why Americans Can't Shoot

Whenever I’m lucky enough to get back to Africa, I make a point of asking professional hunters who shoots good, who shoots bad, and why. The reason is that these guys get to see more shots fired at game in a single season than most North American guides do in ten, and are likely to know what they’re talking about.
This time, I caught a withering blast from a PH with 20 years’ experience.
“Americans are the worst shots,” he said. “You guys love your benchrests. You spend a fortune to come out here with me and you never practice offhand, off kneeling, or with shooting sticks. You’re afraid of your rifles and you never even check to see that they’ll cycle properly.”

“What are the major flaws in shooting technique that you see?”, I asked.

“You look around your scopes when you try to aim, and you yank the trigger.”

On another occasion, I asked another PH what he thought and he agreed with the above, but he added: “On the other hand, a good American rifle shot is better than anyone else.”


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Amen, in a way...at least the younger generation is that way...I guess that they "just don't have time", to shoot and practice...or don't want to! Amounts to the same thing. My generation grew up with the woods and hunting, we learned to shoot two ways: on our feet and with open sights, and add to that: accurately! But hunting accuracy is not bench rest, like the man says...and it's not just relying on your gun to close the distance, but it's how to close in and shoot quick enough to get the jump, that counts for more than the bench rest ability!

Give them some MOVING target practice, and I'll guarantee you they'll be the best, along with the rest!


Not guilty on the cycling charge. I have cycled too often - deserving a "quiet dammit" on more than one occasion. But - I'm guilty on the scope charge - double checking what's beyond the target (as if my eyes were better than the scope). I call it caution - others might consider it needless hesitation.

The second PH deserves a medal for diplomacy. I imagine that blunt criticism of Americans with the disposable income to throw at a safari is not a sustainable business practice. Some day I hope to afford the pleasure of being subjected to such a withering blast.


Does hauling back on a trigger with conviction qualify as "yanking"?


Only time I use a "rest" is to check the zero of a gun. (For "rest" read tree, spare tire on the hood, rolled up rifle case, etc.) The actual practice is at best with elbows on a table, most is standing.
I was also taught to aim above my target and slowly drop down firing as the sights hit the spot you want to hit, works for target or game as no man can hold perfectly still and on target standing. Conversely aiming below and raising up seems to work almost as well, depending on situation of the shot, mostly hunting with open sights as you don't block out your target this way.
BTW this is how the US Army taught my Dad to shoot, back in WWII, dunno if they have changed the way of aiming since but it still works for me.


The vast majority of American hunters/shooters couldn't hit the broad side of a barn @ 100 yards offhand, yet we set our guns up (even slug guns and muzzleloaders) with scopes the size of the hubble telescope (just in case) we need to shoot @ a deer on Mars.



Well, as a younger shooter, I find it more and more difficult to practice. The two ranges I used to go to were closed because subdivisions were constructed nearby. Now I have to drive 2 hours to go shoot and when I get there I have to contend with most if not all the benches being occupied by hobby target shooters with their AR-15's and M1's. When I was a kid, my dad and I used to just drive out in the woods and set up a target on a tree. Also, I feel that too many young hunters are being given scoped rifles in the .270 to .30-06 and up caliber as their first gun. This makes them recoil shy and scope dependent. I was lucky to have started on a .22LR with iron sights, but I see 15 year old kids with 7mm Magnums at the range with 12X scopes on them and I hunt in the southeast. Where did all the iron sighted Winchester 94's go?

Lastly, lets face it. A good number of hutners that go to Africa are the newly rich and newly hunting and they have more money than sense and haven't even shot a squirrel let alone a cape buffalo.


As a long time PH in Alaska I would have to agree with both of the African PH's comments. I also know that, many, if not the majority of clients come from the asphalt generation and are two to four generations removed from the land. Also, for many, a two week hunting trip may consitute the major part of their time spent with their guns. Obviously, the reason the PHs get the 'big bucks' is not because of their hunting ability, but rather the need to, every now and then, save the clients back end!


I think Ryan is going down the right track with the caliber of rifles being used. Most (all) can't shoot a magnum rifle as well as a non magnum. Any gun producing more than about 18 ft lb is uncomfortable to shoot. That puts the .30-06 about the most tolerable caliber most can consistently shoot. I have a couple magnums and I shoot them only when I need too. I'll stick to my .30-06 or lesser for everything. I was talking to the guy behind the gun counter at bass pro a few weeks ago. He said 90% of the centerfire rifles they are selling are magnums, mostly the WSM (a fad in my humble opinion). This is in St. Louis, MO. besides an occasional black bear near Arkansas, the whitetail deer is the primary game for these rifles. I can't believe hunters would use a magnum rifle for deer...amazing.


Caveat: I suppose a .240 or .257 weatherby magnum would not be overgun for deer, I still wouldn't shoot them as a .25-06 or .270 can shoot almost as flat.


Guilty as charged. But until recently, I made it to the range so infrequently that when I did go, I wanted to make sure I was printing decent groups--so I used a bench rest. It was only when I got to go often enough that I got bored with the bench rest that I started practicing offhand, etc...

Now keeping that in mind, think about all the people you know that hunt, and think about the one time in any given year they'll actually go to a range (...in October, causing a mile-long line). They're not going to be concerned with getting a respectable group off their knee. From a bench, they're going to lob some lead downrange until their shoulder hurts (10 rounds or so) and if they hit within 4 inches of the X, "that thing is DIALED in", and they're good to go. Of course if it doesn't go that well, their rifle/scope/rings/mounts/ammo is obviously defective and off to Cabela's they go to give someone a piece of their mind. I'm really not making this stuff up, I just saw it again this weekend.

Dave, these State of the Hunting Community posts are a bit depressing.

Scott in Ohio

I found Zermoid's comments about his method very interesting (e.g. "slowly drop down the sights and fire when you reach the spot you want to hit" Never tried that but it seems to make some sense. Anyone else have experience with this method or another that works for them off-hand?


Jay, as for your gun counter comment, its far worse. I just recently had to talk a guy out of buying his kid a semi-auto .223 for deer. The guy at the counter tried to tell him it was a good deer round and that he needed a repeater "in case the deer was running". I showed him to the .243s Another time, the guy working the counter at XXXX Sporting Goods told someone that they needed a 7mm Mag or a .300 Win Mag to hunt in North Florida. Our deer here average about the size of a large dog and 40 yards of clearing is considered a pasture. Yes, you may get an open shot on a powerline and we do have the occasional big buck, but to see the guy tell someone that a .270 "wouldn't put em down fast enough" was ridiculous. I personally shoot a 7mm-08, which is perfect for moderate velocity close shot bullet integrity etc., but to see people who need guidance or who are just getting in to shooting being told that a .270 is too small for whitetail is absurd. Jack O'Conner should rise from his grave and beat that guy's a**


Scott, I have tried Zermoid's method with guns, bows, etc. It seemed to work fine as long as I remembered to squeeze the trigger. The problem is that with that method, I had the tendency to punch the trigger in anticipation of the moment when the sights crossed the plane of the target spot. What works better for me is the "aim small, miss small" method. I begin squeezing the trigger slowly as soon as I get the sights on a small piece of the target, and follow through regardless of whether they are exactly on the spot or just hovering around it. The more you do this, the more your muscles develop to holding that position and the less movement you get (smaller and more accurate groups). If I can't get the shot off in 8-10 seconds, I stop squeezing, let down, and start over.

The other thing that has been good for my accuracy has been to use a relatively heavy rifle. It just doesn't move as easily.


Shooting a LOT is still the key. And get away from the bench once you have the right load. In Africa, I too, asked my PH who shot the best. He said the Americans generally shot better than others. I killed everything up to Kudu, Gemsbuck, Zebra and Hartebeest with my .308 Win. Nothing needed to be tracked and none were lost. Let all the air out of any animal on earth and they die. The only reason for the big kickers is if they might eat or stomp you. Then you better have hundreds of rounds of fast and stressful shooting of that MAGnum under your belt before you go dancing with M'bogo.


Dave, you Carmichael, Boddington, et al are to blame for this...

You tout sub minute groups as selling points of rifles. Never mind the fact that few if any folks out there can shoot such groups in field conditions off hand. You promise laser like trajectories from the likes of "Laz" and your other friends.
Now let us throw in the precision accuracy of all the new and improved, new and improved bullets out there...

The new generation belives what they read and digest from their Ipods. If that is all they see and hear then it must be what they need!

Shooting from the bench "IS" practice... why would they want to ruin such wonderful grouping by shooting off hand... after all it takes time and effort to shoot from all those old, archaic positions...

And by the way, if they are buying the best, why not hire the best PH. It is after all, the duty of the PH to make sure they don't miss... isn't it...

Clay Cooper

Why Americans Can't Shoot?

What Mr. David Petzal found out is to be a factual statement!

And you range monkeys got the audacity to give me a rash of crap! My 9 year old Grandson Alex and I are avid watchers of The Outdoor Channel and VS and boy does he know how to pick out the pinheads especially last week when Ol’Jim Zumbo was spotting for a hunter shooting an African Kudo. Shot it right thru the hind quarters, good shot says Jim!
Saturday night I watched a Gentleman who used a Military 1 ¼ perfectly in prone position to take a Cow Elk at 300 yards. Now that’s my friends is good shooting by GOD!

So what’s the best rifle to use? Three questions you should find out is, what’s the maximum distance you can hit a pie plate and 2nd question what is the largest cartridge you can do so with and 3rd what cartridge is suited best for the environment that isn’t overkill?

Dr. Ralph

I think it's our culture. These days there are so few places to shoot that children learn at the range on sandbags. Throw them out in the woods and they can't hit the broad side of a barn with a Gatling gun... Fortunately I learned in the woods with iron sights off hand. Sparrows were my main quarry at the farm with a single shot Savage .22/.410. The deer don't stand a chance now, even if they're moving at a steady clip.


God help us if we start a debate on calibers and bullets...........

Shoot what you want and what you shoot good. Hell, you can kill an animal with a swiftly thrown rock if you want or a blowgun for all I care or a .500 T-Rex magnum if its what you like. This is America after all. Just don't buy into the fact that a .300 weatherby shoots 0.1 inches flatter than a .257 Roberts at 300 yards and tell me its "a more accurate round" and expect me not to smile.

The problem with kids getting their hunting info from TV and magazines instead of grandpa and dad is that the shows and mags are sponsored by Federal, Sako, Remington, Weatherby etc. and they all showcase the latest super duper item such as magical scent locker supreme camo for $4000 dollars and super excellent magi-bullet with 7 chambered varied expansion and outer space metal poly bonding technology. Yet, some geezer somewhere in a red plaid shirt, overalls stained with tobacco juice and chicken blood and a 60 year old rusted .35 whelen w iron sights, smoking a cigarette is coming from downwind, hiding behind a tree and filling his freezer with venison using "gasp" round nose core lokt without pretty plastic tips.

This makes Dave's job difficult. But, really, I can't pity Dave for his job......Mine sucks


Ryan made a lot of good points.

Although unsure what the PH meant by "looking around scopes when trying to aim"?

Is he talking about someone who cant get his scope on the target?
If he is thats just someone who doesnt hunt much.

Field Dress

It's a different generation of hunter. Too many fathers are working more than spending time with their children. I hear more about the cost and type of gun than stories in the field. I'm with dickgun's post on the asphalt generation...not enough time in the woods.


The sad fact is that shooting spaces are far harder to find now a days. Between travel time, work, and higher ranges and gas costs, I can't shoot as much as I'd like. You always need a few shots off the bench to confirm your rifle is doing what it's supposed to be doing before you go the unsupported shots. But that can eat up valuable time, especially if you're handloading and need to shoot off the bench to find what load your rifle likes best.

I've found that 'snapping in' at home with snap caps is a good solution to limited range time. I find a nice picture of a deer/elk/bear/other in Field & Stream and tack it up on a far wall. In go the dummy rounds, breathe, relax, aim, sight picture, slow steady squeeze...click. Personally, I think it helps avoid flinching too because you don't eat recoil with each shot. Come game day, you're not anticipating any recoil because your body isn't used to the gun kicking when you squeeze the trigger. Worked well for me while I was stuck at Fort Knox and getting ready for a trip to Africa. Surely luck was involved, but I still came home with one spent casing for each head of game.


Its my soapbox day. This is my last post, for awhile, but to touch on the comment by Field Dress about the lack of stories in the field......The fact is, there are no more stories in the field. I'd love to see a writer talk about a day of hunting (such as the article a while back on deer dogging in Georgia), but most "hunters" can't relate these days. A modern hunting story would go like this.....

"First, I dressed in my $3567 worth of fine scent locked camoflage and drove my 60,000 dollar truck to our private hunting camp I pay $4000 a year for. Then I put a n orange vest over my camo. I stopped and admired how cool I looked in the mirror.......We then got in the golf cart and utilized out heated seats and rode down the cart path to the wooden air conditioned/heated shooting house. We waited for thirty minutes until the feeders turned on. Then when the pet deer walked out, we sat there talking about which one had the best antlers. We knew several of them by name. I then used my 12x scope and shooting bipod to shoot the 12 point trophy in the a** with my .338 Weatherby Mag. since I can't shoot worth a damn. Then I high fived my buddy over the animal, never stopping to pay respect for it giving its life. I then posed for a picture and had the creature mounted and processed for me. We made it back to the cabin by 9:00 for latte. I then waited for the writer from field and stream to stop by and write an article on my hunting prowess and our deer camp and how we "manage" our bucks. What a hunt!"

Dr. Ralph

Sad Ryan, but probably more true than not when professional jounalists (isn't that what Al Gore called himself when he went to Nam) venture out of the concrete jungle looking for a story... not exactly what real hunters face is it?

Hey Dave, how about a link to that "other blog" F&S has. You know, the only real fishing site.

Clay Cooper

Dr. Ralph
You’re so right about saying you think it's our culture it isn’t funny. I grew up with a Father who enjoyed hunting and competition shooting which exposed me to both worlds. I remember one day Dad was practicing with the Davis Monthan AFB AAA Skeet Team. One of the member’s sons hit one of the clay’s just before his dad squeezed off with a 45 cal 230 grain cast from the low house with a wrist rocket. We all got a chuckle out of it besides; they all knew we were taking shots too! Dad’s favorite skeet and trap gun was a Winchester Model 12 with a full choke.
Getting back to David’s Blog here, there is deference for those who grew up with BB guns in the back yard to shooting rodents with pellet guns and 22's at dumps to those like myself shooting deer rifles for yodel dogs and jack rabbits while other used 22’s. I wished I had all the cash back equivalent worth in today’s cost of all those 30-06 130grain loads I burned up every weekend! It wasn’t anything to shoot 200 rounds every weekend.
If you want to shoot with sticks and such, that’s your choice of marksmanship. There are those may require it do to health reasons or the ability to hold it up such a youngster. If you really want to be a good shot, get you a Military 1 ¼ inch leather sling and learn the use of the ling the way NRA High Power Shooters do it. When you’re shooting off a stick or any other way remember this. If you must force to aim right, you will shoot left, force up and left will cause you to shoot low and right and so forth. Close your eyes, swing left then right then back to position and open your eyes and If you’re off. Move your body to naturally be at that point of aim.

As on fellow shooter put it,
Keep the barrel hot and the “X” Ring full of holes!


I guess I can relate to both the old ways and to today's ways people take hunting. I was taught to shoot with open sights with a .22 LR. Started deer hunting with a 30-30 model 94 my first two years of hunting. Then moved up to 30-06 with scope. As a kid I never taught to shoot from sand bags. It was always laying down, sitting, using your knees as a rest for your elbows, and to stand and shoot with no rest.
Today, as a grown up, I did buy a 7mm WSM. I still don't shoot from sand bags, and I like the modern ammo. One bad thing is, is that I don't get out to shoot as much as I like anymore because of time, money, and no place to go with out traveling some distance to shoot. Then nearest range from me was closed down because of some envirmentalists said it was causing to much lead polution.

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