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Practice makes perfectly OK

There are few hunters that I envy. Content with the options I have close to home for the limited species I pursue each fall with the time I can muster, I enjoy the success and adventures of my friends and relish hearing their stories from far off places or lucky tag draws when we meet up for a reunion around a summer campfire or when hunched over a set of ice holes in the winter following the season. Even complete strangers who email me out of the blue with their tales light up my screen with text as I scramble to get every word in and their stories of success set my imagination ablaze with ideas of western trips or adventures to the far north that I’ll never take. In their amazing success, I find joy.

There is one hunter that I do envy, however, and that is the one seemingly born with an innate ability to hit anything he or she sees in the field. I’ve watched as a buddy blasted offhand a sprinting buck at 300 yards in the fading light of the opening day of deer season to fill his tag in mind-blowing fashion. My jaw has dropped as a friend tripled on roosters in the time it took the rest of the hunting party to shout out the first syllable of the birds’ identification in the field. For these gentlemen, and a handful of others for which my admiration and admitted jealousy are frequently shared, who through either their genetic makeup or the years spent from age 2 on up plinking cans in the back yard and rabbits on the back 40, are always on the mark. Admittedly, those who grew up with a .22 in their hands have a distinct advantage over a non-traditional hunter like me that didn’t pick up a gun until the same age as the caliber of rimfire rifle that likely replaced a baby rattle in their cribs.

To make up for it though, I’ve practiced and planned to make the most of each season, and where my envy ends for those with the knack for knocking down a bird on the wing or a deer on the run, my efforts this time in the summer pick up, just about every year. This has meant time behind a trap thrower, whether in an old gravel pit or behind a green brick house at the local gun club. It has consisted of sweating out warm midsummer evenings in the backyard, wiping my brow and swiping at buzzing mosquitos while zipping arrows into a foam block. It’s been jumping from public cement table gun ranges and those makeshift ones in friends’ pastures to sight in a rifle and recheck my reticle before the season begins, and then setting up in a way where I know I can make a shot at a deer that comes into my chosen ethical range in November. Through these efforts, I’ve at least disguised some of my success as a result of some small level competence, but certainly not connaturality.

Now, there are times I amaze myself and start to think that I’ve tapped into some well of unknown talent that resides deep within the hunter-gatherer portion of my brain. I’ve dropped pairs of pheasants where I seemingly point off to the side at the second bird with eyes closed, squeeze the trigger and the dog brings it back. I’ve managed to sort through a flock of fleeing sharptails to pick out the two that I’ve needed to finish off a limit and dropped the top and bottom bird with a near-instinctive feel as I moved through the blur of gray and white feathers. However, I’m quickly reminded by a series of misses (and often the process of overthinking that comes with them) that it is by no means an instinctive process for me.

Rather my success comes from time behind a target, and no matter who you are or how great your God-given skill levels might be, we call can benefit from extra time at the range. As Tim Tebow once said, “hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.” That’s why, during this homestretch of summer as we barrel toward fall and the first opening days of hunting, now is the time to hone those skills that make the great shooters incredible and the OK shooters like me just good enough to pass off their abilities as, once in a while, something more than the result a lot of spent shells and hours of practice … in our outdoors.

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