loading animation
loading animation enlarged image

Shooting Running Game by Larry Weishuhn

Shooting Running Game, “Prose” and Cons

by Larry Weishuhn

Have you ever shot running game?

I shouldered my Remington .22 rimfire, placed the front bead just in front of the quartering away rabbit’s nose, then pulled the trigger, following through as I would shoot a shotgun. The rabbit died in mid-stride. Moments later my four Beagles arrived on the scene. I reached down, picked up my prize, admired it briefly, said a prayer of thanks, then shoved “supper” into my hunting vest.

Thirty minutes later my Beagles brought another cottontail past me. This one too, I shot with my .22 rimfire as it ran past, placing a single bullet in my quarry’s vitals. My goal reached, two fat and tasty rabbits bagged to provide succulent meat for my bride, two guests and me. I headed home.

What? Shooting running game with a rifle? Really???

There was a time when, that is what I did. I prided myself on my ability to shoot running game, be it rabbits, deer or even antelope. Back then I regularly practiced shooting running game by shooting running jackrabbits and cottontails with .22s, and, where I could safely do so, with my .257 Roberts and .270 Winchester “Deer Rifles”.

During the era of my “growing up”, I had often read articles by Jack O’Connor, Elmer Keith and others about successfully shooting running game. Back then, too it was not uncommon to hunt deer with dogs, and, doing deer drives. On such hunts if one waited for a deer to stop before shooting, chances were you were not going to be pulling the trigger, thus became a “practicing vegetarian”.

Fast forward to my days as wildlife disease specialist. Quite often we were after specific animals, and they were seldom standing still. Out of necessity I continued shooting running animals. And I did so quite frequently.

Then for a while, I hunted almost exclusively with handguns. At that point I essentially quit shooting running game. About that time too, I started doing outdoor television shows which frowned at shooting running game.

Even so, I continued practicing shooting at running animals, but only to be employed if a second or third follow-up shot was needed.

These days here in North America, compared to several years ago, initial running shots are frowned upon, and, for good reason. Hardly anyone today practices shooting running animals, so they are not proficient in placing a bullet in the vitals of running game. For that and other reasons, it is for the most part no longer a good idea to shoot running game.

Interesting how attitudes have changed regarding shooting running game over a generation. Hunter notable, Craig Boddington, in his Safari Press book “SHOTS AT BIG GAME, How to Shoot a Rifle Accurately Under Hunting Conditions” states “John Wootters (long a hunting/gun writer of renown, but also a personal friend and mentor) once said the best thing we could do for America’s game conservation efforts would be to convince hunters that their rifles would not fire unless their intended quarry was standing perfectly still.” In reading Boddington’s prose on the subject, he like others has in the past taken running shots, but he too had practiced for them. He also suggests not taking a running shot for the initial effort, and only shooting at running game after an animal has been hit and is escaping.

One of the people, a friend, with whom I have hunted in Africa, Europe, Asia and here in North America, and someone for whom I have great respect as a hunter, shooter, conservationist and yes too, an educator is Tim Fallon. Fallon heads the FTW Ranch’s Sportsman All-Weather, All Terrain Marksmanship (SAAM) training.

When I questioned Tim about whether or not one should take shots at running game he replied, “You have to take a stand somewhere, and ours here at SAAM is, “It IS the hunter’s job to kill the animals with ONE shot!”. He continued, “With that being said the chances of killing the animal with one shot while running greatly diminishes the chances of doing that by a HUGE factor. Beyond 100 yards the chances are really close to zero unless you’re really good at hitting moving targets with a rifle, and most people are not, not even after training here at the ranch…Will they hit it, most probably, but kill it with one shot, probably not!”

Fallon went on to say, “We do teach moving target shooting at 25, 100 and 150 yards. However, we stress, emphasize and then reemphasize “Never shoot at a moving target on first round shots! Moving targets are only shot at after initially shooting your quarry standing still, as a follow up shot!”

After visiting with Fallon, I asked Corey Mason, Executive Director of DSC (Dallas Safari Club). Corey, a fellow professional wildlife biologist, who has considerable hunting experience both here in North America and abroad about taking running shots. “I agree with Tim Fallon’s practice and philosophy. From a North American perspective (noting the traditions of European driven hunts), I believe that most hunters lack the skills (practice) to proficiently and ethically take running game.”

Corey brought up the European tradition of driven hunts, which presents some interesting questions.  These indeed are accepted ways to hunt “on the continent”. In years past I have on several occasions been involved in driven hunts even here in North America for whitetail and in years past even for mule deer, and certainly for wild hogs.

For this reason, I asked Neil Davies with Hornady ammunition some questions. Neil too, has hunted throughout the world and a fair amount in Europe including on a television show “Wild Boar Fever” which shows how effective one (those trained and practiced in making running shots) are at shooting running game. “I personally killed wild boars out to 100ish meters on driven hunts, BUT I have had proper training. I was sure of my shot and had ample space to be able to take a follow-up shot if necessary. But most of all I was sure of my FIRST shot!”

Neil continues, “In my travels I have found that ethics can be geographical, but the desire to swiftly dispatch an animal is universal and incontrovertible.  In the UK it is fine to shoot animals past 200 meters or however far you want if you’ve been trained to do so, but hunters are not encouraged to take shots at running game. On the continent, shooting beyond 200 meters is considered unethical, but you’re more than welcome to shoot running (driven) game. In fact, driven hunts are the pinnacle of the hunting experience in Europe.”

“Here in the US for most it’s OK to shoot running coyotes or wild hogs regardless of the range. However, we don’t condone shooting at running game animals such as deer and others, at least for the first shot. Personally I’m a big proponent of encouraging folks to keep shooting at a mortally wounded animal until you know it’s dead! So shoot them well and shoot them until they are no longer moving… We owe animals that much!”

“All animals have their own unique will to live. Even a fatal shot does not always anchor them. When they get up, they are almost always moving, running. Follow up shots are then required and for that reason we should all learn to be reasonably proficient at hitting running game. I remember old time coyote hunters in our area practice shooting running game by putting a balloon inside an old tire and then shooting as it rolled down a slope.”

“Personally, I have no issue shooting a running deer under the RIGHT circumstances (range, speed and all other variables being agreeable). (NOTE: Neil Davies shoots a lot and practices regularly at hitting moving targets with a rifle). But, if I had to choose I want the animals I shoot at to be stationary, then will be ready for quick follow up shots. And, I’m also very willing to allow an animal to walk or run out of my sight picture and my life if I do not have a clear shot or feel good about taking the shot!”

Great advice from those with tremendous hunting experience. When it comes to taking running shots go with what the pros suggest, and if you want stories about those who have made unbelievable running shots, leave it to the “prose”!

Photo Credit Larry Weishuhn Outdoors

By continuing to use the site, you are agreeing to our privacy policy.