Figuring out how to get in shape for off-hand shooting doesn’t take expensive equipment.
I’ll just come out and say it before we get started here: I’m not a big fan of exercise. This is not to say that I have a problem with sweat — I’d just prefer that it was the product of work instead of exercise.
When I build up a sweat chasing elk or splitting wood or even cussing at a truck engine, I get something tangible for the labor.
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When it comes to pure exercise, the kind you engage in at a health club, for instance, I generally feel like a gerbil on a wheel.
That having been said, there are some legitimate reasons to engage in certain types of exercise. One of these reasons is to improve your off-hand shooting abilities. The simple fact of the matter is that the human body, standing upright, makes for a pretty darn lousy shooting platform.
The only way to improve the situation is by working on the various parts of the body that cause this deficiency and even a died-in-the-wool anti-exercise guy like me has to bow to this reality.
Having been forced to admit this to myself I’ve taken the liberty of assembling a list of various exercises that will aid the shooter in improving their off-hand accuracy.
Running on an Incline
The equipment for this exercise is fairly easy to come by. All you need is a hill or a long set of stairs. Running uphill and downhill is a great way to build up the muscles in your legs that you use when you’re out hunting. It’s also a great cardio exercise so that you’re not out of breath when you get to the top of a hill. It’s important to remember that if you’re shooting off-hand you’re doing it because you’re in a hurry. If you had more time you’d get down prone or find a rest. If you’re out of breath when the big buck runs out and the front sight of your rifle is bouncing around you’re not going to hit much. Running up and down builds up the specific muscles you need for mountain climbing and allows you to fit in a better work out quicker. It also requires a lot of concentration to make sure you don’t misstep, which helps avoid the usual mind-numbing boredom I associate with jogging. If I had my druthers I’d never go running again, but even an admittedly shiftless person like me doesn’t have the time to take a ten mile hike every day. In the real world we need to sneak in our exercise where we can get it.
Is there anything more ridiculous than pushups? Who, other than a stumble drunk or a glass-jawed boxer, needs to pick themselves up off the floor dozens of times a day? Yes, pushups are silly, but they’re also a pretty good way to build up the muscles in your arms. When you shoot off-hand your arms have to do the work that sandbags and a bench usually do at the shooting range. With an eight pound rifle hanging out in front of you this is a pretty big job. If you want your sights to swing around less you’re going to have to build up the muscles in your arms. The nice thing about pushups is that you’re only working with your own body weight so it’s harder to wrench something, as can often happen when the uninitiated play with free weights or dumbbells. I’m not suggesting that you keep after it until you look like a Navy Seal, but doing some pushups every other day or so will make a big difference in how steady you are shooting off-hand and you’ll notice the difference quickly.
To do this exercise you simply lay face down on the floor and then raise yourself up on your elbows and toes. That’s it — you just hang out on your toes and elbows like a plank. This might sound easy, but after about 30 seconds you start to feel a strange twitching in your back and abdominal muscles. After 45 seconds stuff starts to burn a little and by the time two minutes has passed there should be a nice glaze of sweat on your forehead and a great deal of shaking in your muscles. This weird little exercise doesn’t take much time, but it does a great job of building up the muscles in your back, abs and thighs. These muscles form the foundation of everything you need to be solid when you’re shooting off-hand. If you can hold a plank position you can hold a standing position much longer and be surprisingly steady while you’re doing it. Aside from looking a little odd, the plank is a great near-zero impact exercise that gives shockingly quick results.
The Speed Bag
You don’t see many speed bags outside of boxing gyms, but you can buy one and the hardware to hang it up in just about any sporting goods store. A speed bag will generally only run about $50, but it’s a treasure trove of usefulness to the off-hand shooter. As its name implies, this bouncy little leather bag is meant to increase a boxer’s speed, but it also teaches you to use your hands for different purposes at the same time. When you shoot off-hand you aim with the hand on the forearm and squeeze the trigger with the opposite hand. This trick, like chew gum and tap dancing, can be sharpened with a speed bag. Naturally, a speed bag also teaches you to hold your arms up for extended periods of time, which makes for a steadier off-hand stance. Add in the fluidity of motion you pick up and a speed bag is the off-hand shooter’s best friend.
Plain Old Practice
Of course, if you want to get better at something you have to practice that specific activity. If you want to be a better off-hand shot it’s imperative that you get off the bench and start practicing your off-hand shooting. It might be pretty ugly to start with, but stick with it. The off-hand stance is probably the hardest shooting position to master and will, in all likelihood, be the least accurate position in your arsenal, but it’s also the most useful in the hunting fields. Out in the woods or prairie you’ll have to deal with flighty animals, tall grass, brush, thick timber and a hundred other obstacles to either prone or kneeling shots. Over the years I probably would have missed out on two-thirds of the game I’ve taken if I wasn’t confident in my off-hand shooting abilities. If you put in the time, energy and effort to improve your off-hand shooting you’ll bring home more meat for the freezer and find a whole new set of opportunities opened up to you while you’re out hunting.