The truth is very few of us do as much shooting as we should. I suspect even fewer among us do enough of the right kind of shooting to really prepare us for shots we will encounter in the field. These are busy times; even under the best of circumstances it’s difficult to budget range time. Many of us have challenges getting access to good ranges and few among us have ready access to the right ranges, with targets marching out to the actual distances we might need to shoot at game. There is no easy solution! Over time, experience helps, but field shooting experience takes years to acquire. Hey, we are all going to miss now and again, but I’m certain the only way to consistently shoot well afield is to practice regularly from field shooting positions at a variety of distances.
Combining busy schedules with range access, this may be extremely difficult for many of us, but one alternative is to cram for the exam! Every now and then—and definitely not as often as I should—I like to get a tune-up with good coaches. These days there are numerous shooting schools scattered around the country and I’m sure most are very good. I can’t speak for them because for many years my answer has been “SAAM” — Sportman’s All-Weather, All-Terrain Marksmanship courses at Tim Fallon’s FTW Ranch in the Texas Hill Country. FTW stands for “Fallon Trophy Whitetail,” 12,000 acres of rugged breaks and canyons above the Nueces River, festooned with some 32 ranges. Most use steel targets at short, medium and very long distances, but there are also extremely realistic dangerous game ranges and moving targets. The ranges are shared by a wide variety of wildlife: Naturally, good whitetails, but also the most common exotics such as aoudad, axis deer, blackbuck and fallow and sika deer; and less common exotics including markhor, Nubian ibex, hog deer and various varieties of sheep. Courses include Precision and Safari, and there are various hunt packages that can be combined with range time.
The instructors are excellent; mostly veterans with sniper and special operations credentials. The ranges are awesome, but what I like best about SAAM is the instruction is practical. The philosophy is to make students more proficient hunters, expanding our confidence in a variety of field shooting positions and increasing our shooting distances, but also making us cognizant of our limitations. SAAM is not allied with any specific firearms, optic or ammunition manufacturer. They won’t try to sell you anything; instead they will show you “a way”—or several ways—to take a position and make a shot. Instruction starts in the classroom and moves quickly to the range. Aside from establishing zero, most shooting is from field positions rather than the bench—and there will be a lot of shooting! The four-day Precision Course calls for about 240 rounds concentrating on engaging targets from 100 to 500 yards.
So, having “been there and done that,” why keep going back? Partly for the ranges and also for the instruction! I have ready access to ranges. When I’m home, I shoot at least a couple times a week, but I don’t access to ranges like SAAM. Even though I’ve done a lot of shooting for a half-century, it’s amazing how little bad habits can suddenly creep up. One of the things SAAM instructors pay careful attention to is trigger control. A couple of years ago my friend and one of of SAAM’s founders, retired SEAL Doug (“Dog”) Pritchard, caught me with bad follow-through, flicking my finger off the trigger as the shot went. I have no idea how that popped up—I know better—but by watching my trigger finger Doug caught it immediately and we cured it.
No matter what our level of experience or expertise, we can all benefit from good instruction! At SAAM it’s unthinkable that any of us will know everything! Instruction continues to evolve, and on my most recent trip there, October 2018, I picked up several new pointers. For instance, in mountain hunting there’s almost always a spotting scope on a tripod, but I’d never thought about using the tripod as a shooting aid from a sitting or kneeling position, so I added that to my little bag of tricks for getting steady! And even if you’re especially blessed and do know everything, there’s nothing wrong with a good review on great ranges with skilled instructors!
As always, timing is everything. I wish I could have gone to SAAM before my September hunt in Mongolia. Okay, I muddled through, no missed shots, but the most ideal time to cram for an important exam is just before you take the test. At this session in October there were a couple of guys preparing for Marco Polo hunts, which is really perfect timing. Coni Brooks of Barnes Bullets was there with daughters Jessica and Chandra and grandson Dillon Patey, as were Sue Skold and husband, Steve, our SCI President-Elect. Sue won a combination hunting/shooting package at last year’s SCIF raffle, generously donated by SAAM’s Tim Fallon. Despite torrential rains that flooded the Nueces River, we all had a great time. I can’t speak for anyone else, but, as I always do at SAAM, I came away more confident and better prepared for my next shot in the field—wherever it might be.–Craig Boddington