There is a general rule in shooting: the closer your body is to the ground, the more accurate you will be. Basically, if you kneel, you have a better chance of being accurate than if you are standing; if you go prone, even better. However, there are some times when prone and kneeling positions are out of the question. You may have a bull jump to his feet 100 yards in front of you in thick brush that you can only see over if you stand. He may give you 3 seconds to acquire a sight picture, and then bolt… No time to do anything other than raise, aim, and shoot. But here is the million dollar question: Could you make that shot if you needed to?
Most people couldn’t for two reasons: (1) they have never practiced that shot, and (2) they haven’t trained their body to be prepared to make that shot. Let’s be frank… you have no business doing that which you have never practiced and trained for. Just like how you wouldn’t take a 400 yard shot without practicing it extensively (at least you better not!), you also shouldn’t take a shot from a position you have never practiced. I have taken 4 animals (2 elk and 2 deer) from an off-hand position between 50 and 100 yards. I practiced it, trained for it, and was comfortable with it. The key to making an ethical shot is taking a shot with which you are confident that you can put the bullet where you want it. That may mean shooting from a kneel with shooting sticks with the animal stopped, broadside, and only 100 yards away if that is all you practiced. However, with the right practice and training, you can be confident taking a shot from a prone, kneeling, seated, or off-hand position.
Training is Essential
The muscles involved in a standing, off-hand shooting position may surprise you… They are all involved. This is why it is a difficult position to shoot from: all of your muscles must be controlled and conditioned. Your arms, shoulder, and chest hold the weight of the rifle, but your back, core, and legs provide the sturdy base from which you are shooting (When you just finished hiking 3 miles through the hills, that base might be a bit shaky if you didn’t train before your hunt). It is important to incorporate slow, controlled lifts such as front shoulder raises, front squats, upright rows, etc. that involve multiple muscle groups while implementing a slow negative rep range (the lowering of the weight). This will help you build the steady, balanced endurance needed for holding a 7-8 lb rifle in front of your torso.
Cardio is also essential. It is difficult to steady a sight picture when you are breathing like a wildebeest that just finished running from a cheetah. Get your heart and lungs into shape and you will be more capable of making that shot when it counts.
Practice is Key
Again, you have no business taking a shot you have not practiced, repeatedly. With this in mind, spend some time shooting off-hand each time you are out practicing. Start out shooting at 25 yards until you can group your shots within an inch. Then, once you are comfortable, move the target out to 100 yards. This is when things get interesting. You might not be the best shot right away, but keep at it. As you practice and get better, your confidence will grow and you will be more capable of taking that close range, off-hand shot. Even if you never need to do it on a hunt, being able to shoot off-hand will definitely raise your confidence when shooting from more stable positions, so it’s a win-win.
Just make sure you always take a shot that you are confident and comfortable with. An iffy shot seldom turns out well. Do the humane, ethical thing and practice so that when it count, the result is a deadly shot exactly where you wanted it.