Having secured my firearms, it was time to become proficient at using them.
The closest club to my home was accepting memberships, so I joined them. The club required members to join the NRA, so I did that as well. (I encourage anyone who’s interested in hunting or shooting to join the NRA; look for an article on this later.) Both membership fees were nominal.
My goal was to become as good as possible with the rifle, and at least capable with the revolver. The reasoning was that the revolver would only come out in emergencies, whereas the rifle would be my primary gun for the actual hunt.
Once I got the Ruger SRH Alaskan, I acquired some Cor-Bon ammunition (in both .454 Casull and .45 Colt) and headed to the range. Bear in mind that the only handgun experience I had at this point was shooting my father’s old Smith & Wesson pre-model 28. And the heaviest ammunition I’d shot in that were relatively light .357s. This in no way prepared me for the Alaskan’s huge recoil.
My first attempts with the Alaskan were two-handed, from a standing position at 25 yards. Even though I began with the lighter .45 Colt loads, they were still much more potent than anything I’d ever experienced. I’m pretty sure my first few shots missed the target paper entirely, and I have a distinct memory of the recoil pushing my arms to a near-vertical position after firing. I could tell that this gun was going to take some practice. After using up a box of the .45s, I was ready to try the .454 Casull ammo. Or so I thought. Again, my first few shots missed the target entirely, and the gun was pushing me all around the range.
I eventually became decent with this gun, but it took a lot — let me repeat, a LOT — of shooting to do so. In the first year I owned this gun, I probably shot a little over 1200 rounds through it, and it was towards the end of this that I became reasonably capable with the gun. The lesson to be learned here should be clear: when making a blind purchase, have a good idea of what you’re getting into. It turned out OK for me, since I was able to spend a lot of practice time with the Alaskan, but…please keep this in mind.
Shortly after I got the Alaskan, I got my Sako in 7mm Remington Magnum, and topped it with a wonderful Sako VX-L scope, a necessary addition as the Sako had no sights. As was the case with the Alaskan, my prior rifle experience (my father’s old Remington 513T in .22) in no way prepared me for this high-powered cartridge. I thought, however, that my experience with the Alaskan would help. Once again, I was incorrect. I distinctly remember my first shot with the Sako, and how surprised I was that it hit my shoulder so hard. The good news was that I became a reasonably good shot with the rifle much faster than I did with the revolver, and this is likely due to the fact that my choice in rifle cartridge was much “saner” than was my choice for the revolver.
After a few months of shooting practice with my new hunting guns, I felt that I was, at long last, ready to hit the field.