Expanding Your Shooting Horizons
One of the great things about shooting as an interest or hobby is that there is no generic activity known as “shooting.” The various activities that fall under the umbrella of “shooting” have something to offer just about anyone, no matter what their interests or background. As a new gun owner, once you’ve mastered gun safety, it’s time to work on your marksmanship, which requires focus, concentration, breath control, and being in the moment. And once you start to develop your skills behind the gun, a wide array of shooting activities opens up for you.
If you’re looking to take gun ownership to the next level by expanding your shooting interests, here are a few activities you may want to consider:
Recreational Target Shooting
There are very few gun owners who don’t want to be skillful with their firearm(s), and there’s no better way to improve your marksmanship than target shooting. Especially if you take an experienced, skilled shooter along to help you with your technique.
Target shooting at your local range with a spotting scope or good pair of binoculars is probably the safest, most efficient way to improve your marksmanship, but if you live in or near a rural or remote area where shooting is allowed, just going out with a friend, or even alone, setting up targets, and putting holes in paper can be an extremely enjoyable way to spend a few hours. Just make sure where you’re shooting is legal and safe and that anyone or anything downrange of you will not be in danger from your shots.
Not sure where there’s a range near you? Check out resources like WHERETOSHOOT.ORG, sponsored by National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF). If you’re looking for an outdoor place to shoot on your own, know that 99 percent of BLM-managed lands are open for hunting, fishing, and recreational shooting. Target shooting is also allowed on national forest or grassland unless restricted.
Hunting has been an activity since the dawn of man, albeit not originally with a gun and certainly not originally for recreation. What was once a necessary skill for survival is now an activity enjoyed by over 15 million Americans, according to 2020 data from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The shooting part of hunting can compose a pretty small part of the overall activity, depending on what it is you’re hunting. There may be much more shooting involved in, say, duck hunting, when migratory fowl are flying fast and furiously, than in hunting deer or elk, which may involve sitting in a blind for hours or hiking through rough terrain for miles before ever firing a single shot. More often than not, hunting can turn out to be taking a hike while carrying a firearm.
But what some may consider a downside of hunting is a huge selling point for true outdoorsmen. Hardcore hunters enjoy the whole experience and the thrill of being outdoors and reconnecting with nature. And there’s no better way to reconnect and recharge than to be in your environment, watching and listening for signs, and forcing yourself to think like an animal. All while being truly in the moment and away from cell phones, computers, and all the noise and distractions of modern-day society.
As a hunter, you are going to want to be skilled with your firearm—both to be successful and respectful to the animal you’re hunting. It’s one thing to take a shot, miss completely, and have your target scurry off to safety. But no real hunter wants to injure an animal and have it escape without being harvested because their shot didn’t find its mark. This is both unfair and unkind to the animal and a lose-lose situation for both the hunter and the hunted.
While gun safety is at the forefront of hunting, this activity requires a whole other set of firearm skills, including things like safely crossing over fences or streams with a firearm, carrying and maneuvering a firearm so as not to threaten other hunters next to you in a field or blind, and being extra certain of your target and what’s beyond it before taking a shot. Courses like the NRA’s Hunter Education, available online for free, can help you learn to be a safer hunter. Finding an experienced hunting mentor is another good way to learn the dos and don’ts of hunting safely. It's also a great way to learn about how, where, what, and when to hunt, which are all things you’re going to need to learn if you ever hope to turn your hunting experience into more than simply hiking through the wilderness while carrying a gun.
There are many helpful hunting organizations and resources out there, including but not limited to Ducks Unlimited, Boone & Crockett, Pheasants Forever, and National Deer Association. Not only are these organizations great sources of knowledge, supporting them helps manage wildlife and preserve shrinking habitat.
Trap & Skeet Shooting
Both of these activities involve a shotgun and moving clay targets, so it’s not something you’re going to be able to do with your new AR-15 rifle or a pistol you’ve just acquired. The primary difference between the two disciplines is that, in trap, flying clay targets move away from the shooter and, in skeet, targets cross each other. Both disciplines station you at multiple locations, so you’re not just shooting the same target and target pattern repeatedly.
If you’re just getting started and want to try one of these activities, you’re likely to have more success with trap, as it’s only one target at a time and you generally have a little more time to line up your shot. Regardless of which one you choose to participate in, the one common denominator is they’re both a whole lot of fun. If you’re a bird hunter, shooting flying clay targets prior to hunting season is practically a must, and one of the best ways to sharpen your skills for taking down real migratory waterfowl and game birds on the wing.
Learn more about trap shooting at Amateur Trapshooting Association’s website. For more information about skeet shooting, check out this website for the National Skeet Shooting Association and National Sporting Clays Association.
According to the NRA, there are over 11,000 NRA-sanctioned shooting tournaments every year. The organization also sponsors over 50 national championships on an annual basis. The types of competition and activities varies from tournament to tournament, but suffice it to say that there’s something for just about everyone, no matter what your skill level, out there.
Currently, one of the fastest-growing shooting sports in the nation is 3-gun, which tests shooters on both speed and accuracy with three types of firearms: rifles, pistols, and shotguns. It’s definitely a challenge, but succeeding at 3-gun means you are skilled in three separate disciplines, which not that many shooters can claim.
Even if you don’t consider yourself a competitive person, shooting in competitions is a great way to meet other people who share your interests, a good way to stay sharp with your firearm(s), gets you outdoors and away from your computer or TV, and is, quite frankly, a whole a lot of fun. And you may be surprised just how competitive you actually are once you start shooting and the adrenaline starts to course through your veins.
Most shooting competitions are broken into skill-level categories so, if you’re a novice, you don’t have to worry about competing against dead-eye professionals. For the vast majority of competitive shooters, the primary objective is to have fun. If you wind up taking a trophy home with you, well, that’s icing on the proverbial cake and incentive to hone your skills even more.
Self- & Home-Defense Training
If you purchased your firearm for self- or home-defense, then taking training isn’t just something to consider; it’s training you should consider mandatory. A gun is a lethal tool, so it’s imperative to take the necessary training that allows you to deploy that tool in a safe and effective way in a self-defense situation, should you ever need to do so.
But just because training is serious business doesn’t mean it isn’t also a lot of fun. Be prepared to meet other friendly folks who share your interests and knowledgeable instructors who are passionate about making you safe and effective in self-defense situations. Just be sure to choose courses taught by knowledgeable, licensed instructors. You don’t want to be taught incorrect or unsafe techniques that could get someone hurt or killed and may need to be un-learned down the road.
The U.S. Concealed Carry Association (USCCA) is a great place to find a reputable self-defense course near you, as well as online courses and other educational resources. There are many other reputable training organizations out there as well; just be sure to do some research on them and their courses—including reading reviews—before signing up.
One of the best ways to find a good trainer or training class is to ask an experienced shooter you trust if they have any recommendations. It may be 2022 and a very digital world, but word-of-mouth recommendations from trusted sources are still worth their weight in gold.
When it comes to firearms, if you haven’t learned it already, you’ll soon figure out that owning just one is rarely enough. Guns are tools, and just like a carpenter may have a framing hammer, a finishing hammer, and a tack hammer in their toolbox, a well-rounded gun owner is likely to own an assortment of rifles, pistols, and shotguns suitable for different applications.
And that’s just collecting various firearms for specific uses. You may want to get into collecting firearms based on type, say, AR-15-style rifles or 1911 pistols. Or you may eventually get into collecting firearms made by your favorite manufacturer, say, (WARNING: SHAMELSS PLUG AHEAD) collecting one each of every firearm model offered by Daniel Defense. Or, dare we even mention it, you may choose to start collecting vintage or even historically significant firearms.
While all of the activities covered in this article have the potential to get expensive, gun collecting has the most potential. It also has the potential to get you in trouble with your spouse if they’re not on board, so you may want to start out slowly so your spouse doesn’t recognize that you’ve amassed a gun collection until it’s too late.
One of the best parts of expanding your shooting activities is the challenge it represents. Learning a new activity or discipline is a way to stay sharp and expand your horizons, no matter what your age.
So, if you’ve been mostly plinking targets in the woods with your new rifle, and a friend invites you to go pheasant hunting with shotguns, take them up on it. Or, if you’ve always wanted to try your hand at shooting sporting clays, head to your local range and give it a try.
Say “yes” to the opportunities and activities that shooting affords. You’ll only become more knowledgeable and a safer, more competent gun owner by expanding your horizons.
Besides, while that new firearm of yours may look great mounted on the wall or in a nice locked display case, guns were made to be shot. So, unleash your firearm’s potential and the shooter within you by getting out there and shooting.