Jim Wilson, a retired Texas sheriff and lifelong hunter, has been writing for gun and hunting magazines for the past 25 years.

Every serious hunter wants to improve his or her ability to take home a real trophy. While luck often plays a hand in any successful hunt, no one likes to rely on chance. Here are some tips on ways to improve your ability as both a shooter and a hunter.

1. Don’t lower the rifle

Over the years I have asked many hunting guides what is the most common mistake they see hunters make. Almost without exception, they’ve told me that it is a hunter taking a shot and then lowering the rifle to see if that shot was successful. Often, if the animal is wounded or if the shot was a clean miss, the quarry gets away before the hunter can chamber another round, raise the rifle, and fire an accurate second shot.

The way to avoid this is to learn to run the rifle from the shoulder. Take your shot, pause for the microsecond of follow through, cycle the action, and get your aim back on target without ever taking the rifle from the shoulder. This technique reduces the time it takes to deliver subsequent shots.

Similarly, a hunter should learn to reload a rifle without looking at it. Eyes should be focused on the intended target and the manipulation and preparation of the firearm should only be seen in peripheral vision.

One of the best ways to practice these skills is through dry-fire practice sessions at home. Make sure that your rifle is unloaded and that there is no ammunition nearby. Dummy rounds for most rifles are available from Brownells and will add to the realism of these practice sessions. Practicing 5 to 10 minutes a day during the months leading up to your hunt will pay great dividends when that trophy steps into the open.

2. Do practice shooting from realistic hunting positions

Once you know that your rifle is properly sighted in, you should have no further use for a shooting bench. Instead, practice shooting from various field positions: standing, kneeling, sitting, and prone. Even though you will soon find that you do your best shooting from one of the positions, you really should practice them all, because terrain and other obstacles often dictate the actual position from which you’ll shoot at game. Practice until you’re getting good, consistent hits on target.

A good practice technique is to start from the standing position with your rifle slung on your shoulder. At the start signal, unsling your rifle and move smoothly into one of the various positions. All during this exercise, your eyes should be focused on the target, and the transition to a field position should be smooth and natural. Smoothness and quickness take a lot of practice. This is another exercise that improves through dry-fire practice at home.

3. Do know your maximum effective range

Many hunters can quote chapter and verse about the ballistics and effective range of their favorite hunting caliber—but many do not know what their own personal effective range is. Simply put, it is the farthest range at which you can consistently hit the vital zone of a target. It doesn’t matter what you may have done once, when Lady Luck was smiling on you, but what you can do every time, not from the shooting bench but from field positions.

One of the best ways to test this effective range is to use a paper plate as the target. The shooter should determine the farthest distance that he can keep all of his hits on that plate from each of the field positions. And, of course, as you practice, you may extend your effective range.

4. Do get in good hunting shape

We’ve all heard that exercise directly improves the quality of life. I guarantee you that it will improve the quality and the success of your hunt.

Being out of breath and struggling with fatigue reduces your ability to control your breathing, and thus your ability to deliver an accurate shot. You need to be able to hold that rifle at the ready while you wait for that trophy buck to take one more step out into the open, regardless of how long that might take. It would be nice if we all could get out and run a few miles every day and then bench-press several hundred pounds, but it’s not necessary. A regular program of aggressive walking and light exercise will pay dividends.

None of our hunting seasons are as long as we would like them to be. And we rarely have a chance to get our sights on a real trophy animal. Following these tips will help you be as ready as you can possibly be when that wonderful moment occurs. Good hunting!