I look at my ammo stash like my savings account. Both are valuable commodities, so I try not to spend either like the proverbial drunken sailor. When it is time to dip into the stash, I want to make sure that I get my money's worth.
Recently, someone asked me how to get maximum value from minimal time and ammunition spent at the range. The only limit was 20 rounds (one box) of ammo with the requirement to get maximum training value for each round.
Answering the question was a little harder than just coming up with a plan to shoot a box worth of ammo. The scope on the rifle is the first consideration. A standard duplex reticle in a 3-9X variable would have a much different range session than a rifle/optic combination devoted to long-range steel shooting.
Due to the popularity of the 3-9X duplex variable found atop bolt-action hunting rifles, I felt this would be the ideal place to start.
The first round fired should be at a 1-inch dot or square from 100 yards in either the prone or seated bench position. This is commonly referred to as a "cold bore" shot. I use playing cards that have a ¾-inch dot on them and then save the card from each range session. This process allows me to accurately predict where my first shot will go.
Cold bore shots are important because a rifle's point of impact can change as the barrel heats or transitions from clean to dirty, especially from the first shot of the day to the others that may follow.
Barrel material, how the barrel is made and the barrel contour are all contributing factors to how much the first shot will differ from the others. Since a hunter is most interested in the first shot, a cold bore exercise is a great way to start at the range.
The next three rounds are for a group at 100 yards from the prone or seated bench position. This is as much to confirm zero as it is to work on the basics (mostly trigger control) and gain confidence in our shooting ability.
Prone and seated bench positions are beginner positions that eliminate a whole series of variables from the shooting equation. Shooting is easiest from either of these two positions.
The next step is to use a torque wrench to confirm that the rings around the scope are properly tightened, the rings are tight to the base and that the rifle's action screws are also tight. Rifles that ride around in trucks should be checked regularly. Another three-round group is in order after this check to ensure nothing has moved.
As you can see, the first seven rounds amount to a series of checks to ensure that the rifle is performing like we expect. This phase of range time is absolutely essential because rifles do strange things all the time. It doesn't take much jostling to affect the rifle's point of impact, nor does it take much movement before screws start working loose.
With preventative maintenance complete, the remaining ammunition should be devoted to learning how to shoot effectively from field positions.
Formal shooting ranges are the most difficult to train at, but it is still possible. One of my favorite drills is to shoot using a chair as a rifle support. The goal is to learn and practice building shooting positions at various heights.
We should try to get as low as possible (closer to the ground almost always means more stable), but never assume we will always be able to see the target from the prone or sitting positions.
Two of the more common field shooting positions are kneeling and sitting. The worst types of these positions are the unsupported classics used in formal competition. A hunter or rifleman should always try to find support for the rifle.
Kneeling with the rifle across the top of the chair's back replicates using a fence, rock pile or bush of similar height. Place the rifle's forend on the chair and brace the elbow of your firing hand on a raised knee. Fire three rounds at 100 yards.
The next drill uses the chair seat with the shooter sitting on the ground. Rest the rifle across the seat while getting as much support as possible under both elbows. At a minimum, the firing hand's elbow is always the first to get support. Fire three rounds at 100 yards.
I recommend taking the same stuff to the range that we use in the field. The trusty backpack that's on every hunt should also be at every range session. The backpack becomes very useful in helping stabilize field shooting positions.
It can be placed in our lap while sitting to support one or both elbows, greatly stabilizing the rifle. It can also be stuffed between the back of our thigh and the back of our calf when kneeling. This helps stabilize our position enormously.
The next position to work on is standing supported. Any vertical support will do. Place the non-firing hand against the support and rest the rifle on that hand. Fire three rounds at 100 yards.
The final drill is standing unsupported at 50 yards. Start with the rifle as it would be carried in the field, and then bring it up and quickly fire at the target. This drill replicates "snap shooting," which is sometimes necessary in the field.
The last round should be from the prone or from the seated bench at a 1-inch dot. This drill brings the shooter back to the fundamentals and also confirms the rifle's zero. I always like to confirm zero right before putting a rifle away. That way I'm as confident as possible that it'll be zeroed when I need it the next time.
Other than the zero-confirmation positions, all rounds inform the shooter whether or not that position is suitable to actually use in the field. If the shooter can keep all three rounds inside a 4-MOA group, they can be confident they are accurate enough to be effective in the field. Devote time at each range session to dry firing while making subtle changes in position to improve the stability of each.