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Target Acquisition

By Mark Thompson

May 2013


Editor's Note

Thompson Long Range is a long range shooting school and rifle combination company started by Mark Thompson. Mark has 25 years plus of experience shooting long range and teaching the basics of what it takes to be accurate at long range.

They take great pride in their shooting system, which has not changed from the very beginning. This rifle and scope combination was researched extensively and done right from the start. There are several long range schools and rifle companies that have come and gone, and we have watched them struggle with the same things Thompson learned to avoid years ago. For these reasons they have stayed as an Endorsed Company, and we have asked them to write a few articles with things they have seen many hunters struggle with over the years.

—Huntin' Fool Staff


sighting a target

One of the great things about us here at Thompson Long Range is that we teach and help people put their own long range rifle together. They understand it from start to finish, and they take it to the range and prove it. While at the range it’s our chance to see their habits that may be detrimental in a hunting situation.

This article is going to be geared toward one of the things that I see as a serious issue — target acquisition. Over 90% of hunters have a hard time acquiring the target in the scope. It is a huge time consumer just off the bench, and we have seen the negative results in the field. There are a few things that will help you on the bench and in the field to find your target quickly and efficiently.

A general scenario is spotting an animal across the canyon while looking through binoculars or a spotting scope. Often times this animal is hard to see with the naked eye. Start by picking a landmark close to the animal that you can identify without using binoculars. Then, when you set the rifle on the ground, line it up precisely in the direction of your target or animal. When you get down behind the rifle look over the top and again make sure you are pointed in the direction of your target. As you come down behind the scope you will only need to move up and down to find your target. By eliminating the left to right motion you will save yourself considerable time and frustration.

Your eye relief should have already been resolved when you mounted the scope. This means you personally have a set point on the stock that you cheek up to each time so you have a clear picture through the scope. Once you have the rifle pointed in the right direction, get down behind the gun and be sure to cheek up as you normally do so you have a clear picture in the scope. I often see the gun get pointed in the right direction, but then the shooter gets behind the gun, and with his/her cheek away from the stock, they start moving their head back and forth while moving the gun forth and back. The head and eye are moving up and down, and the gun is moving down and up. They wobble all over and totally lose the site picture. Once again, point the rifle in the right direction, get down behind the rifle, look over the top of the scope to confirm you are pointed in the right direction, then cheek up tight in your normal position on the stock. The motion of the rifle and your head should be in sync in an up and down motion to lock onto your target. Whenever you cheek up to the rifle, the rifle and you become connected and should move together.

aiming tips

I have always said that too much magnification can be a bad thing. Too much magnification will hinder your ability to locate your target. Whenever we increase magnification we reduce our field of view. A good example of this is that I prefer to have a lower power binocular with a broad field of view while hunting coyotes. This makes it far easier to detect movement versus using a high powered binocular with a narrow field of view. If you are using a 20 power scope, the odds of you finding the target quickly are not nearly as good as if you were at 5 power. You do have the option of reaching up and turning the power down, but that is one more movement that takes time. We use a 14 power scope for this very reason. We recommend our clients practice at picking a target with the naked eye, then throw the rifle to your cheek and find that target quickly. A simple way to improve your ability is to keep the rifle in a convenient location and practice daily, starting at low power and advancing to high power.

Now a quick recap. When you first set the gun down point it as close as possible to the direction of your target. As you get behind the gun look over the top of the scope and confirm you are still pointed in the right direction, cheek up to the scope in your normal position for a clear field of view, and then simply move up and down with the rifle to find your target.

As I mentioned earlier target acquisition is the number one issue for all clients who have come through our course. Even with all the years and experience that I have in the field, I too have experienced trouble. The last thing any of us want to hear from the guide is, “Too late, your trophy just went over the ridge.” If you will take the time to practice using the techniques I have suggested here, you can increase your odds substantially.

cheek up to the rifle