We were on hand recently when a teenager on her first hunt killed her first deer — one shot low behind a front shoulder, the place where deer hunters aim if they have a broadside or angled view of a deer.

The girl’s dad insisted she practice shooting before the hunt although she had shot a gun previously. She took aim at the target and put a shot into the black. She did it a second and a third time, and she was declared ready for the hunt.

The lesson here is easy to comprehend. You learn how to use a tool by using it. A gun — rifle, shotgun or pistol — is a tool. Shooting teaches a person how to use this tool.

Now, how many of us practice shooting? Hands up. How many? Yeah, not many. Just a few.

Some of us have been shooting guns for years and years, and that is good. But if there is a recent gap in that "years and years," we may be as much in need of some practice shooting as the kid just starting out.

Arkansas deer hunters come in all sizes and shapes. Some are folks who actually do a little practice shooting — the familiar three shots at a paper plate in camp the day before deer season opens. Hit the plate, and we are "sighted in."

Just as numerous at the paper plate shooters and maybe even more numerous are the hunters who go to their stands without having fired a single shot since last deer season. "I know how to shoot. It’s like riding a bicycle. You don’t forget how to do it."

Yeah, but you are out of practice. A good time to get back into practice is right now, meaning the off-season for gun deer hunters. Get out and do some target shooting, weather permitting, of course. Regain that feeling of confidence in using a rifle. Then do some more later in the year and even more in the days just before next deer season.

Today’s deer hunters like to use telescopic sights, and for good reason. They improve shooting. They also take practice in getting the target into view before squeezing the trigger. We are advocates of shooting plenty and this usually means popping away at a target with a .22. The shooting with the gun and ammo to be used for deer hunting can come later. The work with a .22 gives the shooter practice in getting the rifle up, aiming it and firing. Use a scope to hunt with? Use it in practice shooting also.

A downside to telescopic sights on rifles is that they can be bumped. This often means they are no longer "sighted in," and more practice shooting is needed. With open or "iron" sights, a bump usually does not knock them out of line unless it is a hard bump.

Shooting instructors start beginners with open sights. The beginner learns what a correct sight picture is — the bead of the front sight nestle low into the V notch of the rear sight. This comes along with learning to squeeze, not pull, the trigger. Military shooting instructors teach taking a breath, not necessarily a deep one, letting half of the breath out then squeezing the trigger. Good — but this tends to be overlooked when a deer shows up.

Just handling a rifle has benefits in this learning a tool regimen. Practice getting the gun from its rest, like in your lap, up to the shoulder and sighting a target. You can do this over and over at home — after you check to see if the gun is unloaded.