He came up from the gorse-choked river at a decent trot, obviously disturbed but not overly alarmed by my son Harry’s noise or scent from downstream. His dappled red coat glistened and a set of large, bladed antlers were held regally high. I took a nanosecond to admire this wonderful animal before the rifle came to my shoulder and, indelibly etched in my mind, is the ease with which he was swiftly covering the ground, perfection in motion. He was side-on and roughly 80 yards from me as the cross-hairs tracked him – a perfect moving target. But I didn’t fire.
I was willing him to stop and look back at the river to afford me the surest of killing shots but he didn’t, the stag trotting over the skyline and disappearing from my life. I sat down shaking and shattered – my lack of shooting ability having blown it – so I determined there and then I’d teach myself to reliably and confidently hit a moving target with a centrefire rifle.
I’d known for a long time it was a shooting weakness which needed addressing. I’d enjoyed some success on sprinting deer and pigs when the range was below 25 yards using the swing-through from behind shotgun method ‑ the rifle fired as the cross-hairs were flung past the chest, pure gun speed accounting for the correct lead. In fact I can close my eyes and still revisit vividly a Flinders Island pig in the 1990s dashing flat-out across a vehicle track – the only opening in the massive sea of long tussocky grass – and that rifle shot using shotgun technique remains one of my fondest hunting memories.
But the system was unreliable past short distances so I needed to develop a sustained lead methodical system for longer ranges and, most importantly, a means to practise it. I settled on a few concepts in my approach to achieving this.
- Deer and pigs would be my main targets with almost all shots being from the offhand position. As I was relatively confident of taking offhand killing shots on these animals when stationary out to 100 yards I set this distance as maximum, together with a mid-range of 60 yards, for my moving target practice.
- All my practice would be with the .222 Remington – cheap to shoot, no recoil, little barrel wear, with reloads at 3000fps. The leads and sight pictures established would then automatically be suitable for my 7mm at similar velocity for the real thing.
- To keep it simple three animal speeds of walk, trot and gallop were chosen. I took my kelpie alongside the motorbike in all three and recorded his speed for each on the assumption a good sheepdog, pig and deer would record roughly the same velocity.
Next as always came the dilemma. How to create a moving target platform capable of constant practice that could be engaged at ranges out to 100 yards and speeds of up to 60km/hr. I’d previously used rolling tyres and a target running on downhill wires without success and more recently drones had been investigated but rejected.
Then my lightbulb moment: What about a radio-controlled car or truck towing a target on a trailer? I thought it was a good idea and after its first run I knew it was more than that – I’d solved the problem. It was totally safe, repeatable, effortless, transportable, set-up time measured in minutes and not too expensive if shared between a few mates. We settled on a second-hand petrol model with a good frame and suspension and split the $600 cost between myself and two nephews.
Fully capable on an uneven paddock of speeds easily exceeding 60km/hr while towing the trailer, it’s easy to drive with its single controller (electric remote-control cars another good option). Our target frame is mounted on a light trailer towed behind the vehicle, eliminating any chance of a vehicle hit. After a few trial runs we found we had to extend the trailer’s wheelbase as, on windy days, the corflute target had a tendency to catch the wind and tip the trailer (provision to add weights for extra stability in wind has also been made).
One problem we did encounter was establishing the actual speed of the target, something we solved with the loan of a speed gun then marking throttle settings on the hand controller. In its present form as a moving target platform the system is unbelievably good and readers will be able to fine-tune the idea to their specific needs – I only wish I could claim royalties on remote-control cars which might be sold for this purpose now the idea has been ‘outed’.
And so to our shooting thus far. It’s a work in progress – but at least I can go to work. The sustained lead method involves putting a predetermined lead on the target, swinging with it while maintaining this lead and firing the shot with the gun still following through after the trigger release. To obtain this programmed lead for 60 and 100 yards – and the speeds of walk, trot and gallop – we aimed at the corflute target’s leading vertical edge and measured the distance behind this edge of the ‘group’ that formed. I use ‘group’ loosely here as they were far from it and we realised straight away how difficult consistent running target shooting is.
With the aid of a lead-calculating app alongside our practical calculations from the targets, we established our required leads measured in inches for sustained lead shooting out to 100 yards. However in practical terms when actually shooting, we find it easier to measure this lead in terms of visualised animal body lengths or part thereof. Knowing the actual length of deer/pigs we allow for one quarter, half or full body length (our corflute target helps in that it’s roughly one full body length). It’s a simple and uncomplicated system, a bit like the concept of ‘holdover’ where body depth is used as a reference for bullet drop in long-range shooting.
Now if I could just stop my nephews having fun with the mover doing wheelies and burnouts, all I need now is practise, practise, practise – and keep wearing out that .222.