The Snapshot

I recently examined the offhand position.  Cooper’s conclusion was that the offhand position was only useful when there was not sufficient time to take a steadier position. It seems like a reasonable conclusion.  Cooper also wrote about the snapshot, which is the logical extension of his thinking on the offhand position.

Cooper defined a snapshot as a hit on a 4″ target from 25 yards in under 1.5 seconds.  He customarily tested the snapshot starting from the port arms position, then moving to offhand at the start signal and firing a shot.  The second part of the test was a hit on a 10″ target from 50 yards in the same time limit.

Cooper wrote that this skill was not likely to be used, but a good thing to have in the toolbox.  It seems to me that regardless of the likelihood that a skill will be needed, the urgency that we must place on its mastery lies in the urgency that we may find ourselves in when the skill is needed.

The snapshot is a reaction to being surprised.  Otherwise you’d set up in a better position, right?  I don’t know what might be surprising you, but if you’re walking around with a rifle, let’s assume it’s not a trivial situation.

We don’t always have the luxury of setting the distance.  That’s the essence of the snapshot- how we can use the rifle when the target has penetrated our “personal space”.  Alternatives to consider might be: a) not being there if we can help it,  b) moving to cover if we’re being shot at,  c) using a weapon better suited to close quarters  d) taking a position that makes us a smaller target.

My initial goal was mainly to add this tool to my belt- at hit on a 4″ (~16 moa) target from “port arms” in 1.5 seconds or less at 25 yards.  As I began working with it I started wondering how fast I could get this.  Sub-one second seems well within the realm of possibility.  Then I considered that maybe a 12 moa target would be better.  At least if I set my sights on a lofty goal I will probably achieve my original one.

Results:

The preceding sentence turned out to be false.  I had a disappointing day at the range.  But as with the offhand range session, having a reality check exposes one to reality.

Going in I knew my snapshooting wasn’t up to snuff.  Maybe 2 weeks earlier, I had good speed and good hits in dry fire.  I was busy with work stuff for about a week, and couldn’t dry fire.  When I got back to it, I was back to square 1.  I borrowed a timer, and found that a 2 second par time was really pushing it, and since I was rushing, my hits were inconsistent.  At least I established a baseline of how I shoot when I’m not in the groove.

First I shot a paper target with a 3″ black at 25 yards.  I got 4 hits out of 10 shots.  Average time: 2.38 seconds.  Average hit time: 2.61 seconds.  Best hit time: 1.91.  2 shots completely went off paper.  Of the 8 that were left the group was about 4.1″.  Pretty horrible.

I had been planning on following up with shooting 4.25″ clays at 36 yards in order to maintain the approximately 12 moa target size.  Taking my dismal performance into account, I decided to stay at 25 and shoot clays.  At this distance it was a 17 moa target.

Out of 12 shots I got 7 hits.  Average time: 1.95 seconds.  Average hit time: 2.02 seconds.  Best hit time: 1.43 seconds.  That was the only hit under Cooper’s 1.5 second definition.  The next closest was 1.63 seconds:

I also kept note of my heart rate to reference for a future topic.  During the first/worst run, my heart rate was in the low 100’s with an average of 112.  During my second run the average was 122.  I was getting more consistent hits while it was in the high 120’s to low 130’s.  I don’t know exactly what to make of that, but maybe it is helpful to be a little “excited”.

The primary thing I learned at this range session is, if I’m attempting a snapshot and the crosshairs don’t immediately come up to the target, the attempt has basically failed.  The other thing that the video showed me is that I was not bringing the sight to my eye, but bringing my head down slightly to meet it.  This hammered home to me the importance of staying relaxed, looking at what I want to shoot, then bringing the rifle and sight up to my visual plane.

The other important thing about snapshooting is that it seems be a very perishable skill.  If you want to keep it quick and accurate, practice it for a few minutes a day.  Keep up the intensity and continue to push the speed.

Overall, I feel that I underestimated the difficulty of this skill.  I will continue to work on it.

Speed

“Slow is smooth and smooth is fast” -Oft cited training adage.

The trouble with cool sounding quotes is that they’re usually not completely true.  Words have specific meanings.

 Ron Avery recently wrote an article picking that quote apart.  I’m going to cover what he said in my own words.

But first, why an article about speed?  We’re talking rifle shooting here, not IPSC, not quickdraw, not tactical carbine shooting.

Speed is a factor in field shooting because:

a.  that cape buffalo/lion/grizzly/active shooter won’t take his time to try to kill you.

b.  tasty game animals don’t like to wait too long to be shot

c.  The longer you “fuss the shot”, the more fatigued you will become and the more
      likely you’ll miss

d.  why be slow when you can do the same thing while being fast?

Choose your answer, but do it quickly!

I think what the quote up top is intended to convey is that speed without smoothness is counterproductive.  So what they could say is, “Don’t go so fast until you have the technique down better.”

We’re not concerned with slowness here, are we?  So let’s start by doing this:
Slow is smooth and smooth is fast”  But that’s not necessarily true either.  Smoothness does not automatically equate to speed.  Smoothness is characterized by ease and lightness of movement, but has nothing to do with speed on its own.

Speed must be consciously applied and increased.  To develop smooth speed, there must be a gradual progression of speed under the cover of smoothness.  At times, the smoothness must be challenged to bring in the speed.

After pondering the question of speed I identified several components: efficiency, smoothness, quickness, lightness.  Efficiency is easily understood, but not always so simple to embody.  It usually takes a different point of view to identify inefficiency, but a video camera or mirror can also help.  An even more low tech way to naturally shed inefficiency is our old three friends: repetition, repetition, and repetition.  If you’ve done much volume reloading, I’m sure that there have been times when you realized if you moved your bullet tray a few inches, a second or two was saved in the process.  These epiphanies usually happen after we’ve pulled the reloading handle a few hundred times.  Don’t be afraid to put in some dry fire time with your rifle.

I believe that smoothness needs to be consciously cultivated.  There seems to be such a thing as practicing too slow- the movements will get choppy and unnatural.  Be mindful of one movement leading to the next.  If you’re moving efficiently it should begin to feel very natural.  Mount the rifle, carefully and smoothly placing the butt in the shoulder pocket, while placing the comb of the stock into your cheek, forming the all-important cheek weld, while also ensuring perfect eye relief (or sight alignment if irons are your thing).  Attain a sight picture, allow your breathing to pause at its natural point, and press the trigger.  Follow through and work the bolt while breathing.  Make certain that you maintain your cheekweld and visual connection to the target as you work the bolt.  Be ready for a follow up shot. Everything should be smooth and efficient- as perfect as you can get it.

Quickness is not the same as fast.  With quickness there is no rush.  We’re not trying to force a fast movement.  We’re just doing a correct movement in less time.  This is where lightness comes in.  We don’t want a lot of tension in our movements.  It makes them less precise, less sensitive, and slower.  In the end, what you’re doing should feel easy.  That means you’re getting good.

Another way to increase speed is to use a shot timer.  I used one extensively, a PACT club timer, until I broke it (my fault, not the timer’s).  The disadvantage of a timer is that it only tells you when to start and when to stop.  There are no cues in the middle to keep your time on track.  This led me to work speed like I would do it on the guitar, with a metronome.

If you’re not familiar with a metronome it’s just a device that clicks at a rate measured in beats per minute (BPM).  You can break down each part of a skill and assign it a click, or if you’re musically inclined, a note value.  The best metronome for firearms skill practice would be an inexpensive quartz model like this.  I had a 9 volt battery last about 15 years in one.  The range and choices of BPM rates are odd; this goes back to old school mechanical metronome settings.  I made a chart converting BPM into seconds for half beats, and 1, 2, 3, and four beats.
Here’s a picture of my chart:

If you’d like a copy, shoot me an email.

Bolt Manipulation in the Offhand Position

Since were talking Offhand, and I run a bolt gun, it seems prudent to have a discussion on bolt manipulation.  Bolt action rifles have a special kind of elegance.  Another plus is that you don’t have to sit there waiting on the gas system to finish cycling (you’re going to have to get used to my sense of humor to recognize when I’m not being serious).

Not too many people are any good at running a bolt gun.  Maybe I just don’t run in the right circles, but you have to really spend some time on the internet to find anything impressive.  My real life experience has never brought me to a bolt guru.  I’m still working on getting good.  I consider myself “kind of okay” at present, right on the edge of acceptable.

My goal is to run my bolt such that I will not be at a disadvantage to a wussy semi auto shooter (again, I joke, please forgive).

In my carefully considered opinion, part of a bolt gunner’s follow through is cycling the bolt while maintaining visual contact with the target.  Why?

                                    -Basic Truth #1: You know you want to keep a round in the
                                                              chamber at all times (don’t try to fool yourself).

                                   -Basic Truth #2: Your ability to hit the target is dependent to
                                                              your ability to see the target.

                                    -Basic Truth #3: Sometimes one well aimed shot just isn’t enough.

In regard to #1, it’s an ideal.  It’s not possible to achieve, unless you never fired a round.  With practice, however, we can ensure that the chamber isn’t empty for more than 0.3-0.5 seconds.  #2 is self explanatory, but has to be paired with #3 for either of them to mean anything in context.  What they mean together, is that to achieve a follow up shot, should it be necessary, is that you are not going to squander precious time by doing something foolish like breaking your cheekweld or losing your eye relief while satisfying #1.

Bottom line: Bolt work must be automatic.  It must be efficient, and you need to keep your head planted and your eyes on target.  Follow through is complete when you are ready to break a second shot.

Another consideration is reliability.  You are more connected with the rifle system than with a semi, and bear more responsibility for reliable function.  A wimpy bolt cycle could jam up the works pretty good.  If you don’t get it all the way back, you may not get the spent case out before the bolt face is trying to grab a fresh round, and, bam!, you caused a double feed!!!  So don’t be coy when you grab that bolt.  It won’t break.  If it does then it deserved to.  Put a little verve into it!

Techniques:Notice that the article title is “Bolt Manipulation in the Offhand Position”.  The amount of reach you have changes depending on the position.  As I go over different positions that require a new explanation of bolt technique, I’ll do that.  Some of the videos of other shooters I reference are just talking about bolt technique in general.Here is a good video to start with on bolt manipulation.  It is by John McQuay, who is a former Marine Scout Sniper and owner of a tactical gear business, 8541 Tactical.  Check out his Tactical Ammo Burritos.  He references three techniques in the video.  What follows will refer back to them.  There will be an 80 question multiple choice exam, plus 2 essay questions at the end.  PAY ATTENTION :

What is referred to in the video as “grip it and rip it” is very fast.  I converted to it briefly after seeing this video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NgYBZ__NxFE

The shooter in that video has, in my opinion, very fast bolt work.  I found that, in unsupported positions, that bolt technique was so quick and violent that it broke my visual contact with the target.  Maybe I didn’t practice it enough.  I ended up going back to my old technique, which is somewhat similar to the second method in the first video link.

Here are 2 videos followed by a detailed description of what I do:

Side View

Rear View

It begins with my index finger rising from the trigger and catching the bolt knob from beneath.  The firing hand is basically still in the shape of the firing grip with the trigger finger indexed.

The hand rises, causing the fingers to push the bolt up.  The thumb assists with this by pushing against where I rest it on the rear of the pistol grip.

As the bolt nears the top, the arc of the bending wrist is starting to head rearward.

The wrist bends upward to finish the rearward travel of the bolt.  It’s hard to tell in the picture, but the hand is almost vertical.  Note the thumb is close to the bolt knob, preparing to take over bolt control.

When the bolt hits the end of its rearward travel, the hand begins to move forward, bringing the thumb to the bolt knob.  The knob is between the thumb, index, and middle fingers.

The next phase is driven mostly by movement of the forearm moving everything forward.  You might let the wrist flex rearward to have a little more “snap” in reserve for the end.

Once the bolt can no longer move forward, the wrist snaps down, locking the bolt closed.

The firing hand then resumes its grip, trigger finger indexed, mind alert and assessing the situation.

It should feel as though the wrist is accomplishing most of the work through “springiness”.  The movement is like a smaller version of casting a fishing rod.  Another way to think about is like a whipping motion.  It’s all in the wrist.

Another way to think about the movement is like an arc, with the axis of movement at the wrist.   Use mostly wrist movement, especially to lift and lower the bolt, supplemented by a little forearm motion to move the bolt forward and back.  The way I’m describing the movement is, of course, step by step.  You will need to start slowly, but avoid the feeling of doing it by the numbers.  Each phase of the movement should flow into the next.  That’s why it helpful to think of it like an arc.  Keep it smooth.  You do not want the feeling of 1. Up,  2. Back,  3. Forward,  4. Down.

Something I have found that helps quite a bit is to apply pressure against the stock with the cheekweld to assist with leverage against the bolt and to keep the appropriate contact between cheek and stock.

When I work the bolt it doesn’t feel as quick as it looks when I watch the clip.  It feels easy, but I feel like I’m not moving quickly.  It gives me hope that there’s still some room for me to get faster.

My technique with the Remington is not quite as quick, probably adding another third of the time it takes on the Sako.  The bolt is just not as slick, and of course the bolt lift is 90° instead of the Sako’s 60°.

The third method is really super quick, especially getting from the trigger to the bolt, and vice-versa.  Here is John O. Ågotnes, apparently a very accomplished shooter, who uses that technique:

I love that shooter’s technique.  The split time is just under a second per shot, on average.  The disadvantage is that with a normal rifle, the firing hand is no longer free to pull the butt into the shoulder.  That shooter has enough sling tension so that he doesn’t need to pull at all.  Also notice that he moves his head slightly when he retracts the bolt.  That’s not preferable, but it’s better than hitting yourself in the cheek with the bolt shroud (if your a wuss).  Another thing to point out is that if you’re shooting with a sling like he is, you may not be able to reach forward far enough to use that technique.  There’s another bolt technique that I’ll cover later when we start slinging up.

Here is another shooter from the world of YouTube, who while faster, is not as smooth or accurate:

His split times seem to be at just under a half second.  While I did say that he’s not as smooth or accurate, I do appreciate what he’s doing, in that he’ll get smoother with practice, and that he did state that he wasn’t trying for accuracy.  Should you be so unlucky to find yourself with multiple targets at close quarters and a bolt gun in your hand, hopefully you will have this technique down.  It’s not a minute of angle technique, but probably minute of man.

To sum up, bolt work must be automatic.  It must be smooth.  It must be quick.  It must be hard.  Yes, still talking about rifles.

I’ll leave the final word to Col. Cooper.  “Bolt work must be vigorous.  Show it no mercy!” (Art of the Rifle, 19)

Find a method that works for you.  Take it to the range and report back.6/19/12 note:After about a year’s worth of work, I have improved to being what I consider “kind of okay”, right on the edge of acceptable.  Here’s a video of the current state of my technique with slow motion added:

 

 

The Offhand Position- Part 3

Range results, Day 1:

Ever just have a bad day at the range?  Me neither, but during this outing I was really disappointed in my shooting.

There are only 9 shots on the paper out of 10 fired at a distance of 100 yards.  The ones that are on the paper form a “pattern” approximately 8.6″ big.  My hold felt shaky and my trigger press became a trigger mash.  I wanted a little too badly to do well and I ended up rushing myself a bit.

Obviously this did not meet my goal.

Range results, Day 2:

Well at least I’m consistent.  My group turned out to be approximately 8.6″.  The largest spread was left to right.  At least this time I was able to measure all 10 shots.  I actually called all of the shots on the paper, with the top cluster in the top third of the page.  I must have picked up a flinch during the string.  I know there was a flinch afterward, because I dry fired between live fire strings.  I’m still disappointed, but at least I know where I’m really at.  That’s really important.

My hold actually felt a little better than the previous outing, and a little more familiar to what it feels like in dry fire.  There’s still a mental difference (“oh boy, there’s a real round in the chamber this time”).

Something that was interesting was after firing the above group I put a clay out.  One shot, one dead clay:

I reconstructed it.  It appears as though I hit it in the upper right corner:

I decided to put a couple more clays out.  My way of thinking is, one could be luck.  Two could be coincidence.  But three is somewhat meaningful.  So another shot, another dead clay.  I chambered the next round and…  high left- the two hits in a row must have been coincidence.  I chambered another round and… left.  I chambered another and… another dead clay.  60% hit ratio.

To sum it all up, I put in a lot of practice, and it looks like I’m about an 8-9 moa shooter in the offhand position. I don’t consider that a very good return on my investment.  I might be a little better with clays, probably because of the solemn vow I took to seek them out and destroy them.  I will definitely revisit the offhand position to try to get the groups down.  Also, I need to man up and stop flinching.  Maybe some Highpower Silhouette is in order.

I realize that my performance isn’t doing anything to build my credibility for anyone to want to read the blog.  I think part of the reason the groups look so bad is that no one is willing to post groups that look like what I’ve posted.  I’m hoping that my bad performance will pave the way for you to get your rifle off the bench and see what happens.  I’m really stretching for a positive here, I know.

My advise would be, if you shoot better than me, don’t take my advise.  Give me some advise.  If you shoot worse, then maybe this article can help you.  Either way, share your results.

Addendum:

After writing all this I was going through some old targets and found this:

                                  9 Shots- Approximately 5.4″
I shot that on 7/5/10 with the Remington 700 on stage 1 of the “Advanced AQT” Appleseed target from the offhand position at 100 yards (same distance as all the previously posted targets).  The actual time limit should have been 2 minutes, but I spaced it and thought it was 55 seconds.  I gave myself 20 extra seconds as a handicap due to the hinged floorplate bolt action for a total of 75 seconds.  I only got 9 shots off out of 10.

I checked my notes from that time period.  It said that I had been practicing my hold by alternating days with a heavy rifle (Sako TRG-42, ~16 lbs) for strength, and a very light rifle (Savage Mk. II) for steadiness.  This would have been on alternating days, with the heavy rifle on workout days.  I was also practicing my hold with a kettlebell (basically a 35 lb. cast iron cannonball with an oval shaped handle cast into the top).

This target begs the question: did my shooting get that much worse over time?  I firmly believe that my capacity for accurate offhand shooting is actually the best it has ever been after all my recent practice.  So what made the difference?  I don’t think the superior accuracy of the Remington was the dominant factor here.  I believe it was the greater recoil of the Sako over the Remington.

The Remington, with a 26″ Kreiger barrel, shoots a 168 grain bullet at about 2720 feet per second.  The Sako, with a 22.875″ factory barrel, shoots a 185 grain bullet at about the same speed.  The Remington weighs 15.5 pounds.  The Sako weighs 8.4.  It takes a long day of shooting with the Remington to induce a flinch.  Apparently it doesn’t take long with the Sako.  Guess I’ll have to work on that.

My #1 Gun

My current go-to rifle is a Sako 75 Hunter, chambered in 30-06.  I bought the rifle new in 2002 after selling a Colt Delta Elite (Noooooo!!!), and getting my tax refund.  Atop it sits a 3.5-10×42 Leupold Vari-X 3.

The overall impression the rifle gives is that it is made of quality materials, machined very cleanly, and finished to an impressive degree, especially considering some of the crap that is on the market today.  Instead of a short vs. long action type setup, Sako has five different action sizes, so that the receiver is a better fit to the cartridge.  The 30-06 action is labeled “IV” (that means “4” for those educated in public schools).

The bolt has 3 locking lugs, which makes for a shorter, 60° bolt lift.  It’s made very well, very precisely, and it’s smoooooth.  Really smooth.  It’s a total joy to behold.  It’s a push feed system (go ahead and scoff, you controlled round feed snobs 🙂  )

The trigger has no take up and minimal overtravel.  It’s the proverbial glass rod, breaking right at about 3 pounds.  The trigger is serrated, and not as wide as the Remington 700 trigger, which has always reminded me of a nasty, long fingernail.

The feeding system is a 5 round staggered column detachable box magazine.  It’s very well made (of steel, no less).  It clicks nicely into place and feeds smoothly and unfailingly.  It’s well long enough to allow the bullet I’m currently using to be seated into the lands.  It’s also expensive, meaning I only have 1 at the moment.  Yes, I understand that kind of defeats the purpose of a detachable mag.

The rifle just sat for a while.  I was pursuing semi-auto interests and pistols.  Somewhere along the line I fell in love with bolt guns.  After shooting a few of them, I came to the conclusion that the best one is the one I had all along.

I also shoot a Remington 700 frequently.  That rifle has been blueprinted, pillar bedded, has a McMillan stock, and shoots sub-half moa (maybe there is a more elegant wording I could have used).  The Sako hasn’t beat it’s accuracy, but at this point it’s not configured to.  Comparing the actions only, the Rem is like a Ford Focus, while the Sako is like some nice car I can’t afford to even know enough about.  The Rem action, having been trued, is smooth, but the Sako is the definition of precision butter when cycled.  I just lost you here, huh?

Here’s a good way to convey the Sako’s superiority over the Remington: the bottom metal.  The stock bottom metal on a 700 feels like it’s made from tin melted down from woks confiscated from Chinese peasants and cast immediately into the bottom metal at a government factory staffed by blind workers (forced child labor, no less) with severed limbs.  The Sako’s bottom metal is steel, and I think it’s milled into shape by magic elves.  There.

                                                             Made by elves

Sako has ceased production of this beauty in favor of a newer model, the 85, which is similar in most respects, but has a slightly different feeding system.  They market it as a quasi-controlled round feed.  I don’t understand that, one would think that it’s either controlled round feed or not, but I don’t really care as long as it feeds.  If push feed works for USMC Scout Snipers, it’s probably adequate for most shooters.  Sako also screwed up the magazine system in my opinion.  It now requires that the magazine be pushed in before it can be removed.  The other downside of the 85 is an unnecessary key-locking system which, to be fair, was introduced in the middle of the production of the 75.  I was lucky enough to not need a key to start my rifle.

I put a USGI surplus cotton web sling on the rifle.  I would like something nicer, like a TAB, Tactical Intervention, or Mountain Shooter, but they’re expensive.  I would rather not have metal sling hardware of the USGI sling that close to my #1, but I already had the sling and it will gett’r done.

The complete system weighs in at approximately 8.4 lbs.  Too heavy for some, too light for others.  Pretty good for me.

There isn’t a lot to complain about, but I wish the grip was a tad more vertical, and just a bit closer to the trigger (I have small hands and smell like cabbage).  I could also live with a bit heavier barrel, but not much heavier.  The receiver also uses a proprietary dovetail system for sight mounting, which in theory is cool, but in practice is pretty limiting.  Someday I may upgrade to a McMillan or Manners composite stock.  I would also like to upgrade the scope to something with a front focal plane mil reticle with 0.1 mil knob adjustments.  I already have a 20 moa base waiting…

The other major issue with it has been the accuracy.  These things are supposed to be sub-minute guns.  What used to happen was that the first shot would be about 3 moa high, then they would all be touching.  After pulling my hair out for a while, I acquired a torque wrench.  Soon after I discovered that there was about 3 inch lbs. of torque on the action screws.  I tightened them up to 30 inch lbs (would have gone to 65, but not with a wood stock).  The cold bore is no longer so high, but I’m not getting spectacular accuracy either.

This 5 shot group was fired from 100 yards during load testing using a bipod and rear bag.  This is the best the rifle and I have been able to do so far.

Even with the accuracy being lackluster at the moment, there’s just something about this rifle.  I like the action a lot.  It has a lot of promise.  I know that “only accurate rifles are interesting”, but I’d like to see where this journey takes me.  If it leads to a bedding job or a new barrel, so be it.  It’s the only bolt gun I own at the moment that doesn’t weigh over 15 lbs.

I was just able to begin hand loading for this rifle after borrowing some dies.  Redding dies are in the cards, eventually, but they’re expensive (see a pattern emerging?- yes I have a decent job, but the monthly budget seems to run out before the gun category comes up).  The load I’m working up seems to be heading in the direction of a Lapua D46 FMJ 185 grain match bullet in Winchester brass over Vihtavouri N150 and a Winchester standard rifle primer seated for a ~.008 jump into the rifling with a muzzle velocity of approximately 2725 fps.

The Offhand Position- Part 2

Improving:

My baseline was probably a 5 shot, 10 moa group.  Just a wild guess.  My previous best had been a 10 shot group about 6 moa from 25 yards (1.5″) with a Savage MKII bolt action .22 long rifle repeater from 25 yards in May of 2009.  Good enough to clean stage 1 of the Appleseed AQT, but not super great, and not repeatable for me.  I started out with a pretty much orthodox offhand technique as described in Offhand- Part 1.  There’s been enough time since then for me to go downhill a bit.

My goal is to reliably (90%  ???) shoot 4 moa from offhand.  My #1 gun at the moment is my Sako 75 bolt action in 30-06 with a 3.5-10×42 Leupold Vari-X 3.  I’ve had this rifle for a while, but haven’t shot it much until recently.  I probably had fewer than 100 rounds through it in 9 years.  I’ve had a lot of problems with the cold bore shot being high.  That seems to be over with, but it’s still not as accurate as it probably should be.

For an accuracy reference, here’s several targets from my last load testing.  I was testing 3 different powder charges, 10 rounds per powder charge.  Each target has 5 rounds, meaning each load got 2 targets.  I used a bipod and rear bag from prone.  I ended up choosing the load that was shot on targets numbered 2 and 5.  This, disappointingly enough, is about the best I can get the rifle to shoot.  When the targets only had 3 rounds on them, they still looked alright.  I think my next step will be to pillar bed the stock.

                      This is a reference group to give an idea of how the rifle shoots.

To get better I posted a dry fire target in a super-re-enforced location 🙂 .  The target, which I made myself, presents a series of 5 targets for use at 10 yards on an 8.5×11 sheet of paper.  Largest is 13.25 moa, smallest is 1.5 moa.  If you’d like a PDF of the dry fire target, email me.

I started with a game I called “10 out of 10”.  I started at about 5 yards using a target that’s 3 moa at 10 yards.  That makes it 6 moa at 5 yards.  I worked until I could hit it every time.  Then I took a step back.  If I didn’t get 10 in a row, I moved closer to the target.  I have no TV, so this keeps me from sitting on the couch, getting fat, being useless, and pretending to watch TV (TV equivalent of dry fire?).

Here’s what I learned doing that:

            -I get less horizontal movement if I let my right elbow drop a little (GASP!!!), and
              I pull the butt into my shoulder firmly, but not crazy forceful-like.

            -I couldn’t hold the rifle to a 6 moa hold, but I could press the trigger while the
              crosshairs were on during an approximate 2 second window.

            -I had previously been using a hasty sling technique.  What I found is that the
              tension made my hold less predictable.  Letting my position settle into bone
              support made the hold much steadier.  When I say settling into bone support,
              it’s a conscious decision to let the position “settle”.  Think of a heavy wedge
              settling into an crevice.  I’m going to have to see what the wind does to my
              position before I completely abandon the hasty sling.

In the beginning, the butt didn’t always move directly to its proper location in my shoulder.  About 40% of the time I would have to fix it.  Same for cheekweld and eye-relief.  Also, I wasn’t all that great at determining where my natural point of aim (NPA) would be.  I found out (again 🙁  ) that it’s a lot more rewarding to spend 10-20 seconds confirming NPA rather than five minutes reinforcing misses.  Otherwise for some weird reason (yes, sarcasm) my hit ratio went way down.

The point of getting 10 hits in a row before moving back is to build in a confidence that I will not miss.  It keeps things positive, and clearly defines my current capabilities.  I’m to the point where I know that my shot calls are pretty much where the bullet is hitting.

I worked “10 out of 10” for about 2-3 weeks, anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour or more a day until I felt like I hit a wall (probably at 4-5 moa).  Then I decided to work on snap shooting (future article).  After 2 weeks of practicing snap shooting my rifle pops right into its spot.  Mounting the rifle was slow and unsure in the beginning.  Now it is smooth, light, solid, and sure.  I’m also much better at predicting NPA.  The times when I pull right up onto target from a cold start is maybe 40%.  My hold has improved.  Now on a 3 moa target it looks like it did on the 6 moa target.

One other thing I found that troubles me: I think my hold is better with my support elbow not exactly under the rifle, but slightly to the support side.  Yes, I understand why this shouldn’t be the case.  But since the idea has presented itself through a good deal of practice, it would be stupid to dismiss it without a trial.  I may present this in the future.

Range results to follow in the exciting finale entitled “The Offhand Position- Part 3”!!!

Why the Rifle?

Isn’t Our Society Past That Stuff?
So here we have a blog full of stuff about shooting a rifle.  Just why is that?  Aren’t there better things to do like stare into an iPhone screen while walking down the street or watching commercials on TV featuring various pills for “enhancement”?  The answer to the last question is clearly no.

So why learn to master the rifle, outside of the competitive arena?  I’m sure you can bring your deer down without getting into all the details, so there must be some other point in becoming a really good shot.

Let’s examine the second amendment to the Bill of Rights:

 “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

What does that do for us?  You will probably answer “It enumerates our God given right to keep and bear arms”.  Correct.  I believe there’s more to it.

Have you ever heard the phrase, “With rights come responsibilities”?  In our generation we have put a lot of focus on rights, but very little on responsibilities.  Do you think that it’s a coincidence that we’ve gotten this far off course while ignoring our responsibilities?

So what might our responsibilities be concerning our right to keep and bear arms?  Read the 2nd Amendment again.  Got it yet?  No?  Maybe it’s because of late the 2nd amendment has been divided into a prefatory clause (the first part) and operative clause.  Groups like the NRA tend to dismiss the prefatory clause as just something to provide context.  We’ve been concerned with “What’s in it for us?”

Read the 2nd Amendment again, but concentrate on the assumed vestigial “prefatory clause”.  It’s telling you in plain English that a well regulated militia is necessary to the security of a free state.  It’s not optional, or “if you’re into that kind of thing”.  No, it’s necessary- as in: can’t do without.

If we’ve established that a well regulated militia is necessary, the next thing to determine is who is going to take on this task.  It’s always nice when a government “Certified Expert” takes over something that the rest of us would rather not do.  Then we can breath a collective sigh of relief and go back to our smartphones (Orwellian for “dumbing you down”).  But it’s not that easy.  The framers intended for all able bodied men to be ready to bear arms to protect the country.  Sure, you can always shirk your responsibility, but at least now you can feel guilty at the same time.  Or you could own a rifle, be skillful in its use, and be ready should your country need you.

There is an urban legend that during WWII, Japanese Admiral and Commander in Chief Isoroku Yamamoto said, “ You cannot invade the mainland United States. There would be a rifle behind every blade of grass.”  Whether or not he actually said it, a country populated by people who are skilled in the use of the rifle would be a deterrent indeed.  At the present moment, the US population at large does not constitute much of a deterrent, unless the ability to walk while staring into a smartphone screen makes one formidable.

I’m not saying that you should up and join the local bunch of camo wearing anti govt. fellas and plot to take down the man.  Absolutely not.  Anyone rushing to arms at this point is missing the point by a huge margin.  But we can be ready without being loony about it.

Another way to put that is: Instead of trying to be a badass and increase machismo, ask the question, “Is my country a little safer because I am ready?”
Maybe you think all that constitution stuff is hooey.  Then what about learning to shoot to protect yourself?  That’s what the cops are for, right?  Wrong.  No one owes you anything.  Nothing in this moment guarantees anything in the next.  Better to take responsibility for your own welfare and protection.

If you want to take your chances, that’s fine.  If it’s your life, then it’s your prerogative.  That’s fair.  But do you have a family?  Then you have a duty to defend them.  You should be asking, “Are those around me a little safer because I am there?  Is my community a little safer because I am there?”

Maybe you think that owning a rifle and being able to shoot a small group off the bench makes you good to go.  Have you shot it in the field, or even from a position you might be realistically likely to use in the field?  Do you have the things you need to take care of your rifle, and the accessories necessary to field it?  Do you have enough ammo “just in case”?

If you have done these things, are you continuing to improve?  My favorite reason to practice with my rifle is because it’s interesting and challenging.  There’s so much to learn, and so many facets to explore that mastering the thing is hopeless, but maybe I can get really good at some aspect of the thing.  I hope.

There are a lot of other things you may choose to occupy your time with.  Of all the things you could choose to do, why choose the rifle?  On the anniversary of our independence, consider this: rifle shooting has an intimate connection with the founding of our country.  If it wasn’t for our forefathers being better shots than the British, you might be reading this with a silly accent.

Now get out there and celebrate the founding of our country by shooting your rifle!

The Offhand Position- Part 1

The point of this blog is to take concepts to the range and test them.  The goal is to figure out what our baseline is, work to improve, then find a measureable way to define our improvement.

There are known methods.  There are dogmas.  There is folk wisdom as applied to rifle shooting.  But will you really know what works best for you until you test and compare methods?

It’s not a bad thing to adopt a method.  You have to start down a road and take it to its logical conclusion.  When you then arrive at your “destination” and preach your method to anyone who will listen (and some who won’t), you just might have reached the point where you are no longer learning, nor open to improvements in your shooting.  So, again, the point is to keep the mind open just enough to realize that we might have been wrong all this time, and that change may benefit out shooting.  Then again, you might pit your method against another, and find that you’ve been right all along.

Rifle shooting, in the beginning, can be taught from a template- “Put this elbow here, grip like this, apply pressure like so, etc…”  A person can get pretty good with just the standard techniques.  Then it seems like the progress slows way down.  You have to figure out how your body works best with your rifle, your sighting system, and the demands of your environment.

The shooter’s environment will dictate the shooting position he will use in the field.  It seems to me that the better the rifleman, the less he will be attached to controlling what position he uses.  The environment he’s in will be the best and primary determinant of his action.  The best shooter will do this without conscious thought.

I’m starting out the blog with the orthodox positions.  I want to begin with the basics, then work toward the more practical.  Even as we lose the orthodox, we will retain the fundamentals.

Why might we choose to shoot offhand when it’s one of the least stable positions?  It’s fast- as in, critters don’t just stand there waiting to be shot.  What about terrain?  If your view of the target is obstructed from any position other than standing, that’s what you’re stuck with.  I can’t think of another great reason.  “Because it’s there”, you might say.  Good enough reason to work on it, I suppose.

Let’s lay down a definition of offhand, starting from the most basic, generic, and most widely accepted.  It’s done from a standing position, but standing and offhand are not synonymous.  Standing is a fancy looking, convoluted target shooting position where the thumb of the support hand rests under, and in contact with the trigger guard, and the pads of the fingers support the rifle around where the mag would be.  Offhand is how normal (American) folks shoot when they are standing up.

 

Offhand 026-resized

   Offhand- side view

 

Offhand 029- resized

Offhand- front view

To start out, the feet are about shoulder width apart.  We are not trying to impress Larry Craig here with our wide stance.  Too wide a stance will cause your natural point of aim to be too high.  The toes will point about 90 degrees from the target toward your firing hand side.  I like the weight to fall about 70% on the balls of my feet.  The knees are not bent, but not locked.

 

Offhand 030- resized

Larry Craig style offhand- especially bad in public restrooms.

 

The support hand cradles the fore end of the rifle in the palm.  Try not to over grip, as this may induce horizontal movement.  Ideally the fingers should be relaxed, possibly loose.  Think “platform” rather than “grip”.  The catch is that you’ll have to apply some pressure to keep the butt to your shoulder and your cheekweld held fast as you work the bolt (unless you can’t handle a bolt gun).  Note that you need not apply this pressure while firing.  The only job of the support hand while firing is to support the weight of the rifle.

The support elbow is directly under the rifle.  This does not mean to put your support elbow as far to the opposite shoulder as it will go.  You may have too much flexibility or not enough.  If you’re not flexible enough, keep practicing and it may come in time.  Look in a mirror to get it right.  Getting the elbow under keeps your arm muscles from having to do more than their fair share.  Although in offhand the muscles are doing quite a bit, we’re still looking to settle into a “bone support” type of steadiness.

The firing hand grips the pistol grip and actuates the trigger.  The specific location of the firing hand should be determined by where you can get the center of the pad of the trigger finger on the trigger, and no other part of your trigger finger touching the gun (commonly referred to as “dragging wood”).

The head should be basically kept erect, and the rifle brought up to your line of sight.  The cheek should have a consistent place on the stock.  Minor variations in cheekweld will result in frustrating shifts in your bullets’ point of impact.

It has long been maintained that the elbow of the firing arm should be at least horizontal, maybe higher (sometimes called “chicken winging).  This approach may work well with a musket, a trapdoor 45-70, a 1903A3, a Garand, or even an M14.  Try this with an AR, and your wrist will be bent at an awkward angle.  I believe that a vertical pistol grip naturally encourages the elbow to drop, and a more horizontal grip encourages the elbow to rise.

 

Offhand bent wrist- resized

Raising the elbow into a “chicken wing” with a vertical grip causes the wrist to be bent at an awkward angle.

Offhand straight wrist- resized
With a vertical pistol grip, allowing the elbow to drop can make things more comfortable and solid.

In part 2 we’ll discuss getting better results downrange.

To be continued…