Hunter Education: The Case for Hunting Rifle Shooting Competitions
Whenever the need for and concept of young hunter education programmes is considered the driving motivation must always be: "Why take the trouble?"
One reason to take the trouble is because there always will be forces actively at work to teach the youngster all the incorrect or even blatantly wrong ethics, principles, processes, planning, procedures and skills. One day he WILL get into a position where he instinctively will put the incorrect size, weight and design bullet onto the wrong place on the outside of an animal.
Google is a dangerous classroom for young hunters. It starts by teaching blatantly wrong facts of anatomy and we know that assertive graphics clearly carry a lot of value for even "experienced" hunters. My own experiences as a guide in Colorado testifies to this. One can only wonder who posted the following as training or edification material, and from which knowledge base. My times spent in the butcheries in Meeker, Rifle and Maybell, Colorado, looking at carcasses with multiple bullet holes confirm that the majority of hunters religiously apply these. (I added comments to the photos):
How formal hunter education started in South Africa
About 40 years ago a marketing effort towards lighter and faster bullets started in South Africa and the related fashion about "flat shooting" cartridges were evident in gun shops. Very soon land owners started complaining about how hours' wasted in tracking of wounded animals have become a regular occurrence - something which used to be virtually unheard of.
At the time we had a very popular shooting sport engaged in by all the thousands of districts (counties in the US) based on the "Shooting Commandos" system we had where every man over the age of 17 years was encouraged to do marksmanship training. Everyone who signed up received a free Lee Enfield No.4 Mk.1 rifle and 1,000rds of ammunition every year for training. There would be competitions every month between various Commandos with twice yearly provincial competitions. Rapid bolt action was required to shoot the section of five 8" gongs at unknown distances from 80 - 250 yards in 20 seconds from prone and the five gongs at 120 yards off-hand, standing. That .303 Brit was by far the most popular for these competitions.
At these shoots land owners began lamenting the new lightweight bullet craze - and because it is impossible to convince an adult to change his ways it was decided to start a young hunter education programme. Shooting groups from a bench has never been a cultural pastime with my people. Our sons only start shooting full calibre (7 mm and .30") rifles once he can carry it on a morning's hunt and can shoot it off-hand. The decision was made to start similar competitions designed for hunting rifles with scopes. Shooting would be at life size images of real game at unknown distances not further than 400 yards. The reason for the 400 yards distance was to impress on the young hunter how risky it is to be 100% sure of a killing shot on any animal further than 250 yards.
The youth days of course were also attended by their parents, and the sport has since grown into the most popular practical hunting rifle shooting discipline in the world. In excess of 50,000 hunters in South Africa are members of formal clubs, the umbrella provincial, national associations, and the International Hunting Rifle Shooting Association.
The required standards for even entering Provincial Shoots are very high. Here are some targets:
I added the coloured spots to generally show the scoring positions. On the actual targets thin lines are used so the shooter can not see them through his scope - the hunter must know the anatomy of every animal. Brain shots score 30.1 points. When there is a tie between shooters the number of brain shots are counted and that will determine the winner.
Targets are set at unknown distances from 90 yards to 400 yards. Only bona fide hunting rifles are allowed, larger than 6mm calibre, and maximum 14x scopes with no range finding equipment allowed - hunters must estimate the range.
Closer than 110 yards only off-hand shooting is allowed - otherwise supplied makeshift or natural rests are to be used - and some ranges are prone with no rest at all - no bipods allowed. Here is a target of a red hartebeest - like the gemsbok above, typically a Kalahari dweller and shot at 200-300 yards in nature. These two will always be between 280-400 yards on the ranges at the competitions:
An important hunter ethics edification objective is to show that hunter skill and not expensive equipment shoots the best scores. Neither does a light bullet at high muzzle velocity do better in windy conditions and mirage and long distance than does a 180gr bullet from a 30-06 - in fact quite the opposite.
While hunter skill wins the competitions the popular cartridges reflect their popularity in the field as well:
.308W (150gr) / 30-06 (165gr) / 7x64 (160gr) / 7mm Rem Mag (170gr) / 7x57 (160 gr) / .25-06 (117gr).
There is so little debate out here about different cartridges (because all really are the same in practice) that at the award ceremonies the winners are named and their scores - and the calibres of rifles used are not even mentioned.
Look at the relative size of the centre of the heart on the hartebeest. The difficulty level teaches perfect range estimation, perfect aim, perfect breath control and perfect let-off for every shot.
On registering at a competition two sighting shots are allowed at a 200 yard range and then scopes with range adjustment turrets are locked by the range safety officers. Maximum rifle total weight allowed is 13lbs.
Some typical score sheets
An array of six ranges are laid out with some having maybe 10 targets all at the same unknown distance where a row of 10 shooters shoot at the same time (each five shots at his own target), and other ranges having 5 different targets at differing distances where shooters take turns to engage all five targets. Five shots are fired at each of the six ranges, so a potential full score is 5x30 = 150 points per range x 6 ranges = 900 points. An 0.1 score is added for every brain shot in case of a draw so the shooter with the most brain shots is declared the winner. Target distances are unknown between 90 yards and 400 yards. From 250 yards and further the shooter typically can not see his bullet holes.
Here are results of the Top Ten at one 2016 Provincial Shoot where 90 shooters competed (count the brain shots!):
1. Pieter van der Westhuizen 150.5 150.0 150.5 150.5 120.0 150.0 871.5
2. Ed Robertson 135.4 150.0 150.5 150.5 130.0 150.0 866.4
3. Christo Delport 150.5 120.0 150.5 150.5 130.0 150.0 851.5
4. Anton Roets 135.0 150.0 140.4 150.5 120.0 150.0 845.9
5. Rupert Dedekind 150.5 150.0 150.5 140.0 95.0 150.0 836.0
6. Johan Wessels 120.4 150.0 150.5 140.4 150.5 120.0 831.8
7. Phillip Hattingh 150.5 150.0 150.5 130.3 85.0 150.0 816.3
8. Jacques Du Plooy 150.5 120.0 150.5 150.5 90.0 150.0 811.5
9. Revo Van Zyl 150.5 90.0 150.5 140.0 125.0 150.0 806.0
10. Thinus Burger 105.0 150.0 150.5 140.4 100.0 150.0 795.9
No doubt all are very skilled shooters. # 10 was only 76 points behind the champion. The most brain shots (18) were shot by # 6. To put the scores in perspective: If the winner shot a 100% human ability with 871.5 points look at the 50% score shot by shooter # 72:
72. Jaco van den Berg 95.0 0.0 110.3 100.0 90.0 60.0 455.3
Also: 50% of shooters at that provincial competition had an average score of 580.9 which is 67% of the human possible ability. This shows the success of the hunter education programme if half of the hunters in only one province can shoot an above average score at such a demanding standard. What this also means is that only 17 of the 90 contestants at this shoot were below the 50% level. Further perspective is lent by the scores of the 5 bottom contestants (all were visitors):
86. 60.0 35.0 -30.0 55.0 60.0 87.0 235.0
87. 55.0 -15.0 115.0 30.0 88.0 43.0 230.0
88. -30.0 30.0 115.2 0.0 20.0 30.0 165.2
89. 55.0 0.0 35.0 -75.0 25.0 90.0 130.0
90. -15.0 0.0 60.0 90.0 -30.0 0.0 105.0
On a national scale the figure is much higher: countrywide the scores of 50% of all shooters' yearly average is at 83% of the 100% human ability. THAT really shows the success of this competition in having developed hunters' shooting skills.
In the International competitions the shooting skills growth by foreign shooters is evident after every World Championship Shoot. After the 2016 Championships there were 6 shooters from Sweden, 3 from Czech and 1 from Denmark amongst the top 50. At the first World Championship event in 2012 there was only one shooter from Sweden in this group. Apart from South Africa and Namibia the countries partaking bring teams from Sweden, Czech, Australia, Denmark, Finland - and individuals from England, Germany and Italy form an international team. 125 shooters attend the World event.
This type competition no doubt is the best there is for hunter shooting skills. Even more important - it affirms the knowledge and way of life for the hunter to grow the self discipline to get himself into THAT position where he will have full knowledge and confidence that his shot WILL be a sure and quick killer, and to not just pull the trigger and hope for the best and not care whether it is a miss or a non-killing placement because there are lots of deer to practice on. I have seen hunters in Colorado being ecstatic for merely HITTING his mule deer (in the rump). The fact that it took me half a day to track it, another shot by the hunter into the stomach as EVERY HUNTER believed in "centre mass" aiming, was of no concern to him.
This is hunter education talk and nothing else. We owe it to the grand animals we hunt and the future generations of hunters who will have to field increasing attacks on the ethics of hunting. We must not within our means allow any reason for criticism against our hunting culture. Shooters expend endless effort to get hunting rifles below 1 MOA accuracy - darn it, why not make use of that sub-MOA accuracy and put the bullet into the animal's heart for an immediate kill?
Shooting groups of little holes from a bench and a lead sled or whatever into paper, each time the shooter goes to a rifle range is a waste of time and ammunition. There is zero skills growth in that.