Rites of passage dot the path to becoming a true Texan—riding a horse, having your picture taken with Big Tex—but few are as iconic as learning to fire a rifle. Although there are a variety of types, beginners often train with a .22-caliber. “That’s because there’s minimal recoil, and the gun and its shells are relatively inexpensive,” says Terry Erwin, the Austin-based hunter education coordinator for Texas Parks and Wildlife. When you use any firearm, always be cautious: Point the muzzle in a safe direction, treat the rifle as if it were loaded at all times, and set up an adequate backstop behind your target (bullets can travel up to a mile and a half).
• Wear ear and eye protection. The blast from a .22 can reach 130 decibels, and in rare cases the gun can misfire.
• Place the butt of the rifle in the pocket between your shoulder and collarbone. Comfortably hold the body of the rifle with your nondominant hand.
• Position your body at a 45-degree angle to the target. Plant your feet roughly shoulder-width apart.
• Put your finger on the trigger only when you are ready to fire. Take a breath, let it about halfway out, hold it, and then gently squeeze—don’t slap—the trigger.
• Erwin advises beginners to load and shoot single bullets (instead of a magazine). To load a bolt action, raise the bolt, then pull it back as far as it will go, place a bullet into the chamber, slide the bolt forward, and lock it.
• To aim, adjust the firearm so the front sight (a straight piece of metal at the end of the barrel) falls in the V of the rear sight (a smaller piece of metal with a notch in the middle). Line up the front sight just below the spot you are aiming at.
• Because .22’s are short-range rifles, Erwin recommends standing at a maximum distance of 75 yards from the target, but beginners should start between 25 and 30 yards away.