“Dad, I want to hunt kudu. ” Those words were spoken from my oldest daughter, Grace, approximately four years ago. My reply, “Okay, I’ll take you to Africa when you graduate from high school!” At the time, I wasn't exactly sure how I would make it happen, but when you are lucky enough to have one of your kids want to hunt with you, you know you'll find a way. Things fell into place early this past spring when my friend Jim Wilson told me he was planning a plains game safari with friends to South Africa to hunt with Fort Richmond Safaris…and that Grace and I were welcome to join.
First order of business was selecting a rifle for Grace to hunt with and the good folks at Mossberg provided the perfect option with their Patriot Super Bantam Scoped Combo. Complete with a variable 3X9 scope, Muddy Girl pink camo stock, and chambered in mild-recoiling 7mm-08 Remington, the rifle proved to be a perfect fit.
Our next step was to get Grace thoroughly familiar and comfortable with the rifle. I wanted every aspect of gun handling and function to come as second nature to her so that when it came time for the shot on game she could focus on the task at hand, operating her rifle and preparing for the shot with muscle memory in fluid, rehearsed motions. Along with time at the range there is no better way of becoming adept with a firearm than extensive dry-fire practice. This affords the shooter repetitive function of the weapon, enabling them to operate it with what will become effortless proficiency.
We started in the back yard by having Grace take aim on small objects: prickly pear cactus pads, rocks, marks on the trees, birds, etc. Her goal, to concentrate on the target, gently squeeze the trigger, and run the bolt. I wanted her to focus on the target, inhale, and squeeze the trigger while exhaling, all the while maintaining visual through the scope after the trigger broke. “Focus, breath, squeeze, follow through,” became our motto.
Once Grace was comfortable with the trigger and general handling of her rifle we began to incorporate the use of shooting sticks from the standing, kneeling and sitting positions. We went through the same drills off the sticks, picking out various targets, going to the sticks with the rifle, taking careful aim, dry-firing and running the bolt. At times I would tell her to fire again; other times I would have her engage the safety or make the rifle completely safe by dropping the magazine, clearing the action, and visually and physically verifying that her rifle was clear and safe. Safety can never be over-stressed, no matter what level of proficiency the shooter possesses.
Our next advance in dry-firing involved pictures of live animals. I printed pictures of some of the animals we intended to hunt on 8.5 X 11 paper, namely kudu and zebra, and taped them on a cardboard box. With the scope turned down to 3X these make excellent dry-fire targets for the backyard, simulating the game we hoped to take at reasonable distances. I also bought a copy of Kevin “Doctari” Robertson's The Perfect Shot: Mini Edition for Africa for Grace to examine the recommended shot placement on African game. Since the vitals are low and forward on those animals it was decided that if at all possible she would hold her vertical crosshair in line with the front leg and horizontal at half to one third of the depth of the animal's body. This is the hold she practiced on the animal targets and our PH, Mark Mackenzie, affirmed the same instruction when we arrived in Africa.
While Grace has hunted both whitetail and mule deer with me since she was 10 years old, with the exception of the .223, she has not done much centerfire rifle shooting from the bench. Even though the Patriot has an excellent recoil pad, I was a bit concerned that shooting from that position might generate enough felt recoil to cause her to become apprehensive about shooting her new gun. With that in mind I decided to do the initial sighting-in and planned to have her do the bulk of her live-fire practice from field positions off of shooting sticks in the same fashion as the dry-fire practice we had been doing.
For the hunting ammunition for Grace's 7mm-08 Remington I chose Nosler Trophy Grade ammo with the 140-gr. AccuBond bullet. I decided to go with the tough AccuBond bullet particularly for the bigger antelope species we intended to hunt. This ammunition proved to be both extremely accurate and deadly. Once sighted in for the Nosler ammunition I tried Hornady's American Whitetail ammo in order to have a less expensive practice option. Their 139 grain InterLock bullet was equally accurate and shot close to the original sight-in of the Nosler ammo.
Grace and I took up live-fire exercises in the same form as our dry-fire scenarios had been. At 50 to 75 yards I would call the shots she was to take on the 6-inch steel plates located at the local shooting range. On my command I would set up the sticks, much like I anticipated our PH would do, and she would carry out the shot. “Shoot the third one from the left.” Once she had placed her rifle on the sticks and squeezed off the shot I would give another command to reload, re-engage or make clear, just as we had practiced in the back yard. When I felt she was comfortable with those actions I would have her move to another location between shots, keeping the bolt “up” on her rifle for safety. Those commands went something like this: “Shoot the second target from the right, reload, keep the bolt up.” I would take the sticks and move to a new location with her following right beside me, muzzle up or down-range, set up the sticks and call out the next target for her to shoot.
From the standing sticks, which are nothing more than two sotol stalks I have tied together, we moved to the kneeling and sitting positions. For these we used a store-bought shooting stick, the Primos Hunting Trigger Stick Gen 2. Grace really liked the trigger adjustment function on these and insisted we stuff them in my rifle case for the hunt. We went through all the same drills from the kneeling and sitting positions. In the end I believe Grace's confidence in herself and her rifle were at an all-time high and she proved just that when the time came for shots on game in Africa!
Did all this practice pay off? Keep an eye out for Part II, tomorrow, when the author and his daughter head to Africa!