Targets in motion

Red Deer (Cervus elaphus)

On the continent – for instance, in Germany, Denmark and France to name but a few – shooting at running game is the norm and, in my experience, some of these hunters can, unbelievably, shoot more accurately at a running animal than one that is static.

There is no doubt that shooting running game is a discipline in its own right and needs considerable levels of skill to be competent.

In this country we pride ourselves on our humane approach to culling animals, usually waiting for our quarry to stand still and hopefully present a  perfectly broadside shot.

For many years, especially before I had witnessed or tried it for myself, my view on shooting large driven quarry was probably rather narrow-minded and, to some degree, misguided.

From quite an early age I learned to shoot running rabbits with an air rifle and later a rimfire.

My view was that if I wounded a rabbit it really didn’t matter too much, but I certainly would not risk shooting at a deer and not killing it outright.

In hindsight, I am not very proud of that school of thought. Did the rabbit deserve any more to be potted at with a higher degree of a poor shot just because he is labelled as vermin? Probably not.

The flip side is that, with the experience I have gained, if I have a client that wounds a deer by taking a leg out, I can take the rifle from him and have a good chance of stopping it, even if it’s running flat out.

Thus, I have saved myself from several protracted follow-ups and said deer from needless suffering.

I do have a fair degree of competence, but when I am culling in this country I will never shoot at a running deer – though I do nail my fair share of foxes on the move – we are a small country and I don’t believe it’s necessary, other than in exceptional circumstances.

On your marks: Moving targets present a whole new set of challenges

On your marks: Moving targets present a whole new set of challenges

If you want to practise shooting running quarry you have a few options. There may be other places in the country, but the running deer and running boar at Bisley are ideal and in a superb place to practise.

From memory, the boar is 50 metres and the deer 100 metres. They are on rails and the system is fairly sophisticated as they now have a computerised target system.

About 20 years ago, I had the opportunity to take a driven boar hunt in Poland at sensible money. I got a team of six people together, three would be using rifles and the others shotguns with Brenneke slugs. Back then I didn’t even know about Bisley, so I had to get these guys up to speed with shooting a moving target.

I have stalking rights on a large piece of downland which has a huge bank, no footpaths and Salisbury Plain behind.

I got a carpenter friend to construct an eight-foot long by four-foot wide simple sledge. On top, he fixed an old door.

We slapped a piece of wallpaper onto the board, drew a target, and voila, a moving target method was born. Now all we needed was my Land Rover with a length of rope to tow the sledge.

We decided that for safety reasons the rope had to be 200 metres long. We had a safety briefing and drove two fencing stakes into the ground 80 metres apart.

This was the safe shooting window. I could not stress enough that rifles had to be disciplined and safe, with all persons watching for walkers and other civilians.

We started 50 metres from the target and, unbelievably, at 20mph a few could not hit the door. However, it was incredible to see everyone improve as we met every Sunday morning for four months.

Deer drive: Red, roe and fallow doe driven hunts challenge even the experienced shooter

Deer drive: Red, roe and fallow doe driven hunts challenge even the experienced shooter

By the time we had finished, everyone was competent enough to put a shot on a bucket at 50 metres at a target moving at a varied speed of between 15 and 30mph. We all gave a good account of ourselves in Poland, each shooting a number of boar.

The truly amazing thing that I still cannot really get my head round was this: Despite the speed at which a rifle bullet moves, say from a 30-06 if you’re at 100 yards and your target is moving at 25mph, you need to shoot about two feet in front of it, making sure to swing the rifle through as you would a shotgun when bird shooting.

With a Brenneke, your maximum accurate range is 30 to 60 metres.

The key to accurate driven shooting is to know where on the body to shoot at given distances and speeds and, more importantly, to be able to judge speed, as every target will come from a different speed and angle.

However, it goes without saying that, regardless of speed, the target is coming straight at you, aim straight at it.

One other point worth mentioning is that the range on an average driven shoot is likely to be a maximum of 70 metres, but it may possibly be  only half of that.

A variable scope, or one with very weak magnification, is the key to enabling you to pick up your target quickly and accurately.

I nearly always wind any scope back to 4x, however many guns on the continent will go as far as using 2x, or even 1×1 or open sights.

Zoom out: Reduce your scope magnification for close-range running boar

Zoom out: Reduce your scope magnification for close-range running boar

The new straight-pull rifles are in a class of their own for driven shooting. You can reload so quickly that this can mean the difference between getting one shot off with a bolt action or two with a straight pull.

Driven boar hunts are probably some of the most exciting sport to be had within the reach of most of us.

They often hunt roe, red and fallow does on driven hunts on the continent, but these take a higher degree of skill as the running motion of deer is far more erratic than that of wild boar.

I think that all deerstalking guides should have the ability to shoot a running deer when the necessity arises, but it’s a shame that we don’t have more opportunities to practise in the UK.

Finally, you never know when the ability to shoot a running target will pay dividends. Last autumn at the Bisley Live Show they had a running deer and running boar competition.

I think it was £10 for ‘have a go’ on each and £20 to enter the competition. There was a .22 CZ prize for the running boar each day and a new Blaser R8 as the overall prize on the running deer.

The mate I went with said, ‘You’re ok at shooting running stuff, you should enter these competitions.’ My response was that, as so many keepers, stalkers and so on would be there, I was not going to waste £40 with no chance of winning, but I would pay £20 for fun in the less serious  ‘have a go’ version.

Double dividends: Mark’s skill at moving targets won him a Blaser R8 and a CZ Thumbhole

Double dividends: Mark’s skill at moving targets won him a Blaser R8 and a CZ Thumbhole

I stood in the queue and shot at the running boar. After shooting, the guy organising it said that the score was pretty good and might have won the .22 if I had entered the competition.

I then went on the running deer and got the same response from the chap in charge of the running deer competition. This played on my mind as we browsed the various stalls at the show.

At lunchtime I announced to my pal that maybe I would invest £40 and enter the competitions.

I went back and entered the running boar and deer competitions and did a bit better than I had previously.

The next morning I got a call from the organiser to advise me that I had won not only the Blaser R8 but also a CZ Thumbhole .22.

Practising over the years paid me a dividend I could not have dreamed of.

My advice to others is to give it a go – you never know when it will come in handy to be able to shoot a moving target.

Mark Brackstone

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