In the middle of the summer, hunting season might seem like it’s still a long ways away, but this is the perfect time to prepare for success in the fall.
Hunting season isn’t as far away as one might think: There are hunts in a handful of elk zones that kick off as early as Aug. 1 (primarily antlerless elk hunts that take place on or within one mile of private agricultural lands), and many archery-only pronghorn controlled hunts begin on Aug. 15. Dove, forest grouse, red squirrel, cottontail rabbit and snowshoe hare seasons follow close behind, and by then, we’re into fall.
Whether you’re planning on participating in some of these upcoming early hunts, or just counting down the days to the general rifle deer season, Idaho Fish and Game encourages hunters to dust off their firearms or bows and visit their local shooting or archery ranges to get dialed in for hunting season. Not only is practice shooting important for future success, it is also important for ethics of the sport.
"By taking the time to prepare and become a better marksman is a hallmark of an ethical hunter," said Brenda Beckley, hunter education coordinator. "And the better marksman you become, the better your chances for success.”
Depending on where in Idaho you live, there may be a Fish and Game owned shooting range and/or archery range near you. For folks in southwest Idaho, there is Black’s Creek Public Shooting Range, the Boise River WMA Archery Range, and the Garden Valley Public Shooting Range. New this year in southwest Idaho is the Nampa Public Shooting Range, which has an indoor and outdoor archery range, as well as an indoor airgun range. In the Panhandle, there is Farragut Public Shooting Range, which also includes a one-mile walk-through archery range. Several Idaho state parks, in cooperation with Fish and Game, have archery ranges with life-sized, three-dimensional targets that mimic big game animals.
There are many other shooting ranges located around the state, some of which Fish and Game has partnered with through the Shooting Range Development Grant program. This program provides funds to assist organizations or agencies to establish, upgrade, expand or otherwise improve public firearms and archery ranges in Idaho.
Visit http://wheretoshoot.org for a more comprehensive list of shooting ranges in Idaho. This state-by-state shooting range directory lists contact information, facilities available, maps and more for each range. Calling before you go is highly recommended, as hours of operation, services or shooting opportunities may change. If you’ve never been to a public shooting range, here is a beginner’s guide to get you started.
Pre-season prep tips
Rifles: For rifle hunters, many shooting experts recommend setting your initial target at 25 yards to make sure that you hit the paper. After shooting at that distance, move your target out to 100 yards or more to finish the sighting in process.
Consistent accuracy is the ultimate goal when practicing shooting skills, so it’s very important that hunters determine their effective shooting range and practice at all distances out to that maximum. It’s also important that they practice from a variety of shooting positions, and not just from a bench.
“We stress in our hunter education courses that all hunters have an ethical obligation to know their personal limits and be prepared,” Beckley said. “Practicing often, at a variety of distances and from a number of different shooting positions, will help hunters prepare for a variety of situations they may encounter in the field.”
Shooters should try to replicate the conditions they are likely to encounter in the field as closely as possible, so consider doing some exercise to get your heart rate elevated and your lungs working harder during your practice session. Practicing under this kind of stress will help you perform better in the field.
According to Beckley, it is also very important for hunters who have others sight in their rifle to shoot it themselves before hunting season, as it may not shoot as accurately for them. In addition, hunters should always use the same ammunition for hunting as they did when sighting in their rifle.
Shotguns: When it comes to preparation for wing shooting, hunters should focus on practicing certain shots and angles that they may find difficult. Make sure you use the choke and shell combination you plan to use for the hunting season.
Patterning a shotgun before the season is a fairly common practice with turkey hunters, but it’s something upland and migratory bird hunters should consider, too. Knowing your pattern density at given distances can help you determine your effective range, and give you a good idea of how your shotgun performs with a particular choke and shell combination. Every shotgun is different, and your shotgun will likely perform differently if you change either of those variables.
Bows: Start by visiting your local bow shop and get your bow tuned up, especially if you haven’t shot much or at all since last fall. After that, it’s time to get your body back into shooting shape and practice at known and unknown distances. Archery ranges with life-sized, 3-D targets are good place to practice your shooting and estimating distance in a field setting.
Fish and Game has ranges at its Boise River Wildlife Management Area and Farragut Shooting Range. You can also find archery ranges at some Idaho State Parks, including Hells Gate near Lewiston, Castle Rock near Albion and Dworshak near Orofino.
Remember that most ranges will not allow you to shoot broadheads, and they usually shoot differently than field tips, so you will need to resight in your bow when you make the switch.