Thanks to the nice folks at Helicopter Tours of Texas, I can now scratch “shoot guns out of a helicopter” off my bucket list. And in two weeks I’ll be scratching off the next item, “shoot machine guns out of a helicopter” as well, thanks to HeliBacon out near Houston. So as I’m preparing for my second go-round poking the muzzle of a gun out of a Robinson, I figured I’d review my notes and share the three most important tips that helped me actually hit targets on the ground from a moving chopper . . .
1. Get your ass outside
The interior of a helicopter, especially the smaller ones, is extremely cramped. There’s barely enough room for you and your gun, let alone enough space to maneuver your rifle and get off a good shot. If you want to have your sights on the target for more than a split second, you’re going to need to leave the comfort of your seat and make your way as far out of the helicopter as you’re comfortable leaning.
When I made my runs in the helicopter in this particular model of Robinson, I found that the most comfortable position was actually to have one foot on the skid and less than a full cheek on the seat. Naturally you’ll want to use the seat belt to keep you from tumbling to your death. But being mostly outside gave me an excellent view of the ground and allowed me to swing the rifle almost to the point where it was aiming straight ahead as we flew.
2. Don’t Lead — Follow
Physics is awesome, but sometimes the practical application can make your head hurt.
Normally, when you’re shooting a moving target such as a deer or a pig, you need to lead it. The idea is that it will take a split second for the bullet to reach the target, so you want to aim in such a way that the target will run into the bullet’s path just as the bullet arrives. It’s one of the tougher things to learn to do in shooting, but when you have more than one round at your disposal the ability to “bracket” a target (shooting one round behind where you think the proper lead should be, one round at the proper lead, and one round ahead) almost guarantees a hit. Almost.
The issue with shooting out of a helicopter is that in most cases you are moving faster than your target, especially if you’re shooting at a stationary target. So instead of needing to aim such that your target runs into your bullet, you need to aim such that your bullet runs into your target. In other words, you need to aim for a spot on the near side of your target instead of the far side.
For me, when I was making my runs on some stationary steel targets, I found that when we were flying left to right across the set I needed to aim about a foot to the left of the steel plate to hit it. It took some practice to do, but eventually I was singing steel like a champ.
3. Be Polite: Brass Catchers and Silencers
When you’re shooting on the ground or from a car, you don’t have to worry too much about where your spent brass is landing or about annoying the driver. But when you’re thirty feet in the air and speeding along at thirty miles an hour, one stray piece of brass under the rudder pedals or an unexpected muzzle blast in the pilot’s face can mean the difference between “that was awesome” and “oh the humanity.”
Brass catchers are cheap and readily available, and will keep your spent brass from finding their way into the mechanical parts of the complicated flying machine in which you are sitting. According to the guys at Helicopter Tours of Texas, the best brass catchers for this purpose are the kind that mount to the flat top rail of an AR-15, such as this one from Brownells.
Silencers not only allow you to communicate with the other people in the helicopter, but they keep the noise and the muzzle blast from your gun from annoying the pilot. Flying at treetop level takes some skill and concentration, and a face full of exhaust gasses from your gun or even just the report might be enough to break their concentration and return you to the ground a little faster than anticipated. Don’t take the chance — muzzle your muzzle.