Snapshooting Followup

I had already planned on a followup to “The Snapshot” since I wrote it.  I wanted to address multiple targets.  Since my range session was less successful than I had hoped, I ended up going back to basics.  In doing so, I realized that I really only defined snapshooting without getting into the finer points.

Snapshooting, in form, is the offhand position.  Really it’s the essence of the offhand position, because the most convincing reason to use offhand is speed (although tall grass might be a not-so-distant second).  My hope is that someday my offhand accuracy (which I’m sure will come along any day now!) will merge with my snapshooting speed (which I’m sure will come along any day now!) so that there is no difference between the two.  I understand that’s not a realistic goal, but it seems a little boring and self-constraining to set realistic goals.

I have found that my form when snapshooting has some subtle differences than when I’m trying to shoot groups from offhand.  Mainly, my support elbow has a tendency to not be under the rifle quite so much.  It’s not so much that you’d notice, but I don’t feel the stretch in my rotator cuff when I’m snapshooting like I would when shooting groups.  I don’t worry too much about getting the elbow under the rifle.  It’s not like I’m going to be supporting the rifle long enough to worry about muscle fatigue anyway.  It’s more important to be fluid than steady for the snapshot.

I have also noticed that my stance tends to be a bit more aggressive in the snapshot.  I think this comes about due to feeling rushed.  Maybe it’s my carbine technique creeping through.  I’ve been trying to eliminate this tendency, but now that I’ve recognized it I’ll have to consider whether it works better.

The real essence of the snapshot is natural point of aim (NPA).  The main thing I came away with at my last snapshooting range session was that if the sights don’t come up on the target, it’s not going to make it in time.  If you relax and bring up the rifle quickly, it’s probably going to be at or near your NPA.  Here’s the if (and it’s a big if, in case you didn’t notice): things that affect your NPA include but are not limited to: the position of each foot in terms of stance width (elevation) and foot angle (windage), the position of your support hand on the forend, where your elbows are, the position of the butt (the rifle’s, not your’s- but come to think of it, that matters too), the consistency of your cheekweld, the relation of your upper body to lower body (as in, “are you relaxed or twisted?”), and probably more.  If you bring the rifle up once, then change any one of these, the rifle will be pointed in a different spot when you bring it up again.  It’s going to take a lot of practice before you are so consistent that the sights come right up every time.  Now add in being able to set your position up in an instant with your npa perfectly adjusted.  There’s a lot to this business of rifle shooting.

Because NPA is so important, and because while practicing the snapshot you’ll be shouldering the rifle over and over again, it’s a good time to pay attention to it.  I recommend, at first, to very intentionally not care where you’re going to aim.  Just notice where the rifle comes up with your proper form.  Does if come up to that spot consistently (that would be good) or does it drift?  If you notice that your point of aim changes, try to figure out what in your position caused the change.

As you get better, try to predict from a cold start where your NPA will be.  Close your eyes and bring the rifle up.  How close were you?  Keep trying until you’re there.  You can also find your NPA, then adjust your port arms carry so that the muzzle is directly between your dominant eye and the target.  Do it over and over again until you’ve got that position locked in and it makes a handy pointer to find your NPA in a hurry.

As you practice the snapshot, focus on bringing the sight to your eye.  When the sight comes up, you don’t want it bouncing around.  You want to see it come up and stop smoothly at once.  Your eye relief should not require a readjustment.  The reticle should be centered, and you should see the scope’s image with edge to edge clarity through the ocular lens.  If you can’t get that consistently without readjusting, re-evaluate your stance or the rifle’s setup.

Also focus on where the butt lands.  If it doesn’t hit your shoulder perfectly, don’t break a shot, just reset it.  If it hits wrong more than 2 out of 10 times, try slowing down or stopping for a bit.  Most of the unexpected shifts in point of aim from one shot to the next are from the butt not hitting right (elevation shift), or my support elbow being inconsistent (windage shift).

As you continue with countless repetitions, in addition to bringing the sight right up to your eye, getting the butt to land in just the right spot, you’ll be more aware of the stock comb brushing your cheek as it smoothly settles into your cheekweld.  The rifle begins to feel as though it’s moving into its natural spot, integrating seamlessly with your body.  Maybe I’ll write a love story about it.

As I mentioned in “The Snapshot”, it’s a highly perishable skill.  This is something that you really want to practice for at least a few minutes a day to maintain.  The nice thing is that this is one of the more fun and easy dry fire drills to practice.

There is a problem with highly perishable skills.  You’re not likely to have practiced it immediately before you need it.  Think about going hunting.  There are probably some other things to take care of that will dominate your attention.  Also, I don’t know how much dry fire practice will be going on at camp.  The only way I can think of to make the skill less perishable is to practice thousands and thousands of correct repetitions.

I use the metronome to keep track of how my speed is.  When I first started, the beats were: -up, -eye, -press, -bolt.  I later refined it to : -eye, -press, -bolt, because you’re bringing the rifle up to your eye.  If you set the metronome to 120 and can get “eye” and “press” in one beat each, then your doing it in one second.  Add reaction time and you have your snapshot total time.  Remember that you still need a surprise break and not to jerk the trigger to the beat.  It’s a reference point.  Here’s a clip of my shapshot practice with the metronome set at 184 bpm.  That means that the shot is breaking approximately .65 seconds after the movement is initiated.

With a timer and having to react to the beep, I’m over a second, but less than 1.1 seconds.  Mind you, I don’t care at what the rifle comes up on at this stage, as long as it comes up there consistently and the rifle doesn’t move as the shot breaks.

Trigger control and follow through are very important, as always.  If you place your finger on the trigger as you’re getting you’re sights on target, it will be ready to press as soon as you verify sight picture.  You have to be confident where you’re sights are going to land, so you’re not breaking Rule #3.  Don’t rush the press, but don’t wait around unnecessarily.  You’re going for a hit, not a group.  Conversely, don’t be in such a rush that you leave out the follow through.  The bolt work can wait another quarter of a second.  This gives your subconscious the ok not to move the rifle as the shot breaks.

Speaking of bolt work, this should be integral to your practice of the snapshot.  If you don’t understand why, click the link.

Don’t let your constant practice of the snapshot become boring, or even a chore.  If you hit a speed wall, change the target size, work on form, take a day off, or come up with your own creative way to make it fun (but please share your idea by leaving a comment).  Try using music as your time keeper, or just to get yourself energized.  Find something more interesting to use as a safe dry fire target (remember rule #2).  I like to dry fire at leaves.

I’m going to keep practicing this.  I think it would be a waste of centerfire ammo to test it for time at this point, because I’m just not where I want to be yet.  Stay tuned.

The Kneeling Position- Part 3

Testing:

I mentioned in The Kneeling Position- Part 2 that I had spent some significant time on kneeling earlier in the year.  I felt like I pretty much had it as good as I could reasonably expect, with my 5 shot 2.6 MOA target from the Remmy.  I expected that I would still be shooting about that well.

My first trip to the range proved me wrong.  In part 2 I alluded to the position of the rear (firing side) foot and that it shouldn’t be directly under, but more to the strong side on the glute.  This first trip was before I had that little revelation.  Note that I don’t go to the range and shoot millions of rounds to bring back a fantastic, non-representative group.  Remember, I’m cheap.  There has to be a really good reason for me to want to take a second live fire attempt at something.  Anyway, here’s what I did:

Wow, that was bad!  I shot an offhand group that was better than that about five minutes earlier.  Actually the offhand group was 1/4″ bigger, but 4 were in the black and 7 could be covered by a clay.  The above target was also featured in the recent Loop Sling article.

As mentioned earlier, I made some progress after that range trip.  I went back and set out 3 clays and loaded up the Remmy with 5 shots.  I’m sorry to be using guns other than  #1, but I have a bit more .308 than 30-06 right now.  Each shot hit a clay, then pieces of them (that I was aiming at) after I broke the 3 whole ones.

Switching back to #1 with 10 rounds yielded this:

About 6.5″.  The 4 shots on the left never should have been fired.  My first 5 shots were pretty good.  My focus just wasn’t there for the second mag.  What can I say?  I think the heat probably got to me, which it should not have and is not a defense.  I shot a 10 round group with the Remington that was about an inch better, but I found that less than thrilling, and it reinforced that this group wasn’t a fluke.  It also reinforced that actually hitting objects instead of paper is a little better for me.  Expect a future article about hits versus groups.

The Four Rules’ Inverse

Rules of Readiness

Everyone who has any interest in guns should have Cooper’s 4 rules of firearms safety down cold.  These rules, unlike other rules, are not merely “guidelines” and should never be broken.  If you own a gun, and do not handle it according to these rules, you are a fool.  Moreover, you are a danger to those around you, which is exactly the opposite of what you should be.  If you make a habit if breaking the 4 Rules, some day you are going to make a big mistake.  Hopefully you only hurt your pride.

We can all do better to improve our safety.  If you’re not safe now, obviously get it fixed.  If you already have a good awareness of gun handling, keep working on being safer.  This, like shooting in general, is not something that you learn, check off, and never have to work on again.  This is a process.  It’s something to always work on.  It’s also life and death.

Most gun safety is presented in terms of only safety.  Readiness is usually not a prominent factor in safety literature.  I believe that safety and readiness are not mutually exclusive.  I believe that the sharper our skills, the readier we can be while maintaining a completely safe condition.

I believe that, to some degree, the same 4 Rules that govern the safe use of firearms outline keeping them ready for action.

1.  All Guns Are Always Loaded

When a gun is expected to be used at some future point, it is incumbent on the user to ensure that it will work as expected when the time comes to use it.  With respect to “social guns”, make sure you have it in the proper condition of readiness so that it will not fail you when you need it most.  This condition of readiness should be the same one that you use in training, and you should have several thousand repetitions of dry fire practice with it before you can expect to be able to count on it under stress.  You don’t want to find out that your safety is on by pressing the trigger and getting… nothing!  You don’t want to find out that you don’t have a round in the chamber by hearing a very loud “Click” instead of the “Bang” you were expecting.

If you expect that the gun should be loaded, you should put the same amount of care into verifying that it is loaded as you would verifying that it is clear.  If in any doubt, check it.  Learn to check it in complete darkness by feel.  Be aware of any potential dangers involving deactivating your safety with a live round in the chamber (remember Rule #2!!!).

Use ammunition of a known and appropriate quality.  Know the characteristics of your ammunition- what the zero is, what your holdovers/comeups are, what the approximate maximum effective range is, have an idea of the terminal ballistics, etc…  Have an appropriate amount of spare ammunition.

2.  Do Not Let The Muzzle Cover Anything You Are Not Willing To Destroy

Should you find yourself in a situation in which something needs to be shot, get your muzzle on it and prepare to fire.  Don’t let hesitation get you killed.

3.  Keep your finger off the trigger until the sights are on the target.

When you acquire a sight picture on something that needs to be shot, get to shooting it.  Don’t let yourself get a good sight picture without beginning to break a shot.

If you are practiced to the point where you are confident that you are shouldering the rifle to break a shot, as in a snapshot, the sight picture is going to be where you want it, and you are utterly familiar with your rifle’s trigger, it is not imprudent to place your finger on the trigger as the butt is settled into the pocket.  Press when you confirm the sight picture.

4.  Know your target, the backstop, and beyond.

I once saw closed circuit TV footage of a gunfight in a clothing store.  A clerk and a bad guy had a somewhat protracted (10-15 seconds) gunfight at a distance of about 5 yards.  There was a clothing rack between them.  I would guess that even a pistol bullet would go right through a rack of clothing.  Apparently these fellows did not.  They played the peek-a-boo game, alternately popping up on opposite sides of the rack and getting a quick shot off over it.

This demonstrates that just because something is visually obstructed, it is not necessarily obstructed to the path of your bullet.  This can be used to your advantage if you are familiar with the terminal ballistics of your particular round.  Not that this does not remove your responsibility that you know exactly what you are shooting at, and what the round will do after it passes through the target.

There.  You can now be completely ready while being completely safe.

Book Review: Art of the Rifle by Col. John Dean "Jeff" Cooper

-Overview
            -Hardcover
            -97 pages
            -Copious amount of black and white photographs.

-Table of Contents:
            -The Queen
            -Why?
            -The Instrument
            -Gun Handling
            -Sighting and Aiming
            -Trajectory
            -The Firing Positions
            -The Rest Positions
            -The Hand and the finger
            -The Eye
            -The Shooting Sling
            -Breathing
            -The Snapshot
            -Wind
            -Moving Targets
            -Zeroing
            -Reloading and Readiness
            -The Mind of the Rifleman
            -The Mystique of the One-Shot Kill
            -Testing and Evaluation of Marksmanship

I first bought this book about 10 years ago when I started to really get into guns.  Obviously it had an impact on me since I named by blog by the same title.

Cooper was a very competent writer.  He had the ability to be extremely concise.  I guess that’s how you fit 20 chapters into 97 pages and still make it good enough to keep ’em coming back 10 years later.  He was also very opinionated.  On one hand, hearing someone’s opinion can be a waste of time.  In cases in which you are hearing an expert opinion informed by years of experience in several different fields of the subject matter, opinions are golden.  Facts are easy; things just to be memorized.  Opinions can convey wisdom.  That what this book does.  Not everyone may agree that his concept of the “Scout Rifle” is everything it’s cracked up to be (I’ve never tried one), but he makes an interesting case.

Another thing that is of great value in the book is not exactly what information is conveyed, but that you get an idea of how he thought.  His approach to shooting was one of open ended inquiry.  Even as old and accomplished as he was, it doesn’t seem to me that he had an inflexible mind at all.  I think that was why he focused on field marksmanship, it’s open ended and unpredictable.  You just have to be ready to take the challenge as it comes.  Not a refinement of procedure, but instead using skill and problem solving.

I find that as I reread the book, new things catch my eye.  Maybe I didn’t get the significance before, or now that I have more experience I can relate.  The book continues to unfold as you grow in your shooting.

When I was new to shooting the book was of great help in learning things like positions, basic marksmanship principles, and a lot of context.  Most importantly, it framed my approach to shooting.  Now when I read it, different details stand out.  I continue to learn.  Shooting continues to be an adventure.

If you’re a shooter, this is a no brainer addition to the library, even for a cheapskate like me.

The Spiral Staircase of Learning

Rifle shooting is a vast subject.  Even with the limited skill set that I’m pursuing, there are a daunting number of things to work on.  Sometimes when I work on a skill, progress is easy and rewarding.  Other times it’s like hitting a brick wall.

I believe that in learning, the mind has to be ready to take in and process the information before it’s received.  There has to be something already in place to connect the new information with.  You could say that it needs to be primed.  Too much trying to learn is inefficient.  We have a limited amount of time in our lives with which to work, and the amount is uncertain.  We just can’t afford to squander our resources.

Since shooting is one of those things that one can never really master, we need to keep working at it.  Since there are a lot of facets to shooting, we need to have variety in our practice.  Since it’s easy to hit a wall with one part of shooting, we can move on and come back to it later.

Think of these skills not as things that have been visited, learned/acquired, and done with/checked off like rungs of a ladder that don’t need to be revisited, but like a spiral staircase.  You keep coming back around to things, but the level you visit them at keeps getting higher.

The Loop Sling

Gun stuff 010

In the picture of my rifle above, there is a green strip of fabric attached to it.  That’s a rifle sling.  A sling may serve at least two purposes I can think of: 1.)  To carry the rifle with, 2.) To use as a shooting aid.  This article will focus on the use of the shooting sling to aid in accurate shooting.

The shooting sling is attached to the support arm and keeps a firm connection between the forend sling swivel and the arm above the bicep.  It helps support the weight of the rifle in a manner such that your body can relax into a steadier position.  There are two primary ways to use the shooting sling: 1.) Loop sling, 2.) Hasty sling.  I will focus on the loop sling.

There are a few types of slings that double as carry straps and loop slings.  The oldest I’m aware of is the 1907 sling.  Turner Saddlery is probably the most well known maker of the 1907, but Les Tam appears to make them at a very high standard of quality as well.  The advantage of the 1907 sling is that it is very comfortable, and its stability is good.  It’s also easy and repeatable to adjust for length.  The disadvantage is that the leather is not the most impervious material, and it is somewhat slow to reconfigure the sling from a carry strap to a shooting sling and vice versa.  6/14/12 note: If properly configured the 1907 sling can be quite quick to transition from carry to shooting sling.  Please see my article on the 1907 sling in three parts (especially part 3).  –RS

Another variety of sling is the USGI web sling.  Of these, there are two primary types: 1.) Cotton, 2.) Nylon.  The cotton is easier to work with, in my opinion, because it’s not as slick and has less propensity to stretch.  The nylon will not rot when exposed to moisture as will the cotton.  The advantages of the web sling are that it’s probably the easiest to adjust for length, is simple to use, and it generally works well once in position.  The disadvantages are that the adjustment is infinite rather than clearly set like the 1907’s.  If you want to have repeatable settings, you need to mark the sling somehow.  The hardware is metal.  Therefore it can rust, can be noisy (especially if the quick release clip is used), and will be more prone to scratch your rifle or stock.  The web sling is also less comfortable due to both the materials, 1.25″ webbing, and the design.  The loop constricts like a slip knot, which can cause you to lose circulation faster than with other slings.

There are several companies making very high quality nylon slings with their own unique designs and features.  These slings seem to be made of similar materials, namely 1.5″ nylon and plastic hardware.  Some offer metal hardware as an option.  I believe the first was the Tactical Intervention.  I haven’t used them, but they appear to be worth checking out.

The TAB Gear sling is similar to the Tactical Intervention, but the design appears to be a little more straightforward.  It’s much more comfortable than as USGI web sling.  It’s almost, but not quite as comfortable as a 1907.  It’s way faster to loop up with for a couple of reasons: 1.) You don’t need to disconnect the rear swivel from the rifle, 2.) All that is needed to loop up is to turn the sling a half turn, put your arm in, and close the plastic slider to your arm.  The disadvantage is that it’s not made to be easily adjustable on the fly.  That’s because it’s not a competition type of sling.  You set it and forget it.  It’s a compromise, but not a bad one.  I can still benefit from this sling in prone, sitting, kneeling, squatting, etc…  It feels a little loose in sitting, but it works.  The other thing about the TAB is that, for my purposes, I think it has too many buckles.  There are three sections of the sling, with a buckle in between each section.  Luckily they offer the sling without buckles.  This is what I would like to have on #1.

The Mountain Shooter sling is the latest I have seen on the market.  It appears to be simple and easy to use.  It appears to have the least amount of hardware of all the slings mentioned, which I like.  I’d like to try one.

Disclaimer: this paragraph is biased. A year after writing this I came up with my own slings and now sell them. I think they’re better because they’re faster, more comfortable, and simpler to use in general than the above. More info can be found here: RifleCraft

I’ll discuss using a USGI sling first, since that’s what’s on my rifle.  The free length of the sling can easily be adjusted for your mode of carry by adjusting the slider.

Sling 001
The slider is open and ready to adjust for sling length in carry or shooting configurations.

To use as a shooting sling, disconnect the sling from the rear stud.  The sling was designed to use a steel quick release clip for use with stocks with the swivels permanently mounted to the stock, as in the Garand and M14.  For stocks with other mounting attachments, simply disassemble the sling and put your attachment of choice.  I use a Blackhawk quick release swivel, because it was cheap, made in the U.S. of A, and seems to be of higher quality than the Chinese Uncle Mike’s.

Sling 002

Now that your sling is free, find the loop by pulling from the CENTER (not the end) of the rear buckle.

Sling 003 Inked
Get your loop from the nice green area, not the evil red area!

 

Free up enough of the sling to form a loop big enough to fit your support arm bicep in (I had to get a custom made extra long sling to have enough material for that).

Sling 004

Wait, I didn’t tell you to put your arm in yet!  You have to give the sling a half twist (as in 180°).  Which direction?  Righty tighty, lefty loosey.  That means if you shoot right handed, half twist clockwise as viewed from the top.  Reverse that for lefties.

Sling 005
Note the half twist.

 

Sling 006
Shove that arm in deep!

 

Slow down!  I didn’t tell you to put your support arm on the forend, did I?  First you have to bring the support hand around the outside of the sling.  When you do put your hand on the forend, it should be trapped between the sling and the stock.  I usually put my support hand just behind the swivel.  If you did everything right the sling should wrap nicely around your hand.  If it’s twisted over your hand, you’re doing it wrong.

7/18/13 note:  I think the loop my be a tad low on my arm in all the following pictures. I’ve lived and learned a little since then.  The sling should be completely above the bicep/tricep, on the border of armpit country (but don’t cross over the neutral zone, lest your sling be stinky).

Sling 007

Sling 009

Sling 010

Now that you’re looped up, let’s try this baby out.  Use a position in which the support arm has something under it to hold its weight (basically anything but offhand or standing).  When you’re in position, the sling should be taut enough that you have to push the butt forward to get it to go in your shoulder (quit that, I meant the rifle butt- I’m really sorry if this joke is getting old, but I have the maturity level of a 12 year old).  You should also be able to let go with both hands without the rifle leaving position.  If you break your stock or lose your arm due to lack of circulation, it is probably too tight, but a highpower shooter may disagree.  They keep them tight- maybe a good reason to try it like that.  You may also get a cool nickname like “Lefty” after the arm is gone.

Sling 011- face blocked
Push the butt (hehe) forward to mount (hehe) the rifle.

 

Sling 012- face blocked
Ready to fire.

 

I also made a demo video for those of you who are unable to learn from printed words or photographs (probably went to public school like me) :

I went super slow in the video.  It took me 34 seconds to loop up like that.  It takes about half that for me at a brisk pace with the the length pre-adjusted.  If it needs adjusted, add about 5-10 seconds, depending on how far out of adjustment it is.  I know you could get it faster if you practiced.  I haven’t worked on it for speed recently.

As you try different positions, you’ll notice that the sling needs to be adjusted for length/tightness.  If you use it enough with a given rifle, you’ll probably just know where it needs to be.  That’s how I was with my trusty 10/22 (I could certainly trust it to malfunction periodically) after an Appleseed.  #1 has about a 14.5″ length of pull (to be changed in the upcoming months), so it’s very different.

I’m not going to cover the 1907 sling, unless someone request specifically that I do.  I configure mine different than the standard way.  I use the method described in Jim Owens’ book, Leather Sling and Shooting Positions.  I tried the normal way, and I tried it his way.  I thought his way worked a little better.  I recommend that you buy his book to learn more about the 1907 sling.

Sling 014 face blocked
Gratuitous painted battle rifle with 1907 sling.  It’s a pity I have to cover my face; the irons really bring out my angry eyes.

 

To loop up with a TAB sling, locate the loop, which is near the forend.  Give it the half twist, shove in your arm, pull down the plastic slider, take a position (make sure the hand is trapped under the sling), and commence firing if appropriate.

Using a sling is a good way to learn the concept of natural point of aim.  The sling allows you to relax completely because it supports the weight of the rifle.  Because you’re completely relaxed, the rifle will always return to the same point of aim after every shot.  It just goes where the structure of the position leads it to go.  Once you stop “muscling” the rifle you will get very consistent results.  If the rifle is not pointed in the exact direction you want it to, just move your entire position.  The sling is a tool that can improve your precision by probably 50%.  I think that the better you get at shooting, the less difference it makes.

I shot these on the same day, one right after the other.  It was before I figured out not to have my foot directly under me in kneeling.  The sling helped quite a bit:

Sling 6-20-11 High Kneeling no sling
Crappy group, from 100 yards, high kneeling, no sling.

 

Sling 6-20-11 Low Kneeling with sling
Marginal group, from 100 yards, low kneeling, with sling.

 

Even taking into consideration how much a boost in accuracy the sling affords, its debatable how useful the sling actually is in the field.  I’ve already touched on the fleeting nature of real world rifle targets.  There’s also the random and unpredictable nature of the times when the targets may be firing at you.  I’m not sure if you’re going to want to stop and sling up.  Maybe if you were expecting a contact you could sling up in preparation.   This is what Cooper recommended in Art of the Rifle.  He indicated that he had used the loop sling many times on hunts.

For me, the jury is still out on whether the sling is a good field shooting aid.  I do consider it a tool that every rifleman should have on the belt.  I would appreciate any thoughts you may have on the matter.

5/22/12 Note:  I have since converted to a Ching Sling and believe that this design handily removes any question of the sling being fast enough for field use.  See same article for my ratings of the various slings I have tried  –RS

 

2/2/13 Note:  I wanted something that would be as fast a the Ching Sling, but would not require the 3rd stud.  I designed my own sling, which is a new and fairly unique design.  More details can be found on it here.

 

Shooting School Review: The Appleseed Project

I would like to attend and review shooting schools periodically.  Being that the ones I want to go to cost a whole lot, it probably won’t happen (if I haven’t cemented my reputation as a cheapskate by now then you’re not paying attention).  I’ll start with one that I attended some time ago: Appleseed.  If you’re unfamiliar with the program, the Wikipedia entry is also helpful.  There is a shooting component and a history component.  I’m focusing on the shooting for this article.

In 2009 I decided to give Appleseed a try.  I signed up myself and Mrs. Rifleslinger.  It cost me about $70 for the entire shoot, which is all day Saturday and Sunday (women shot free at that time- I don’t know if that’s still the case).  Prior to the shoot, for several months in fact, I researched what to expect, worked on positions, made sure my equipment was squared away (rifles, sights, slings, extra mags, plenty of ammo, etc…).  I fitted my new Ruger 10/22 with Tech Sights, which are aperture, aka “peep”, sights.

We travelled about 180 miles to get to the range.  The safety briefing started around 0900.  We then shot a target used to show what the shooter’s baseline level of accuracy is.  Then they covered prone position, use of the loop sling, the “six steps of firing the shot”, and natural point of aim in the morning.  The topics were covered well and concisely.  Between each instruction point we shot a group or 2 of 5 shots on 1″ squares.

All of the firing was done from 25 meters.  I suppose this cuts down on walking to the targets and back.  Speaking of walking to the targets, the instructors would often yell “Quickly, quickly, quickly” if we were doing anything other than shooting or instruction.  There was not a lot of time to stand around looking at cows in the adjacent pasture, which repeatedly drew the wandering attention of Mrs. Rifleslinger.

During lunch, which we ate at the range, they covered some history.  After lunch, they went over sitting and offhand.  At maybe 1530 or 1600 we started shooting the AQT, which is the target which is shot for score.  A score of 210 or above out of a possible 250 will get you a Rifleman patch.  I got a score of 213 on the first or second target and was presented the patch in a very nice way.  No one else got one on the first day, so it was a bit embarrassing.

I woke up Sunday morning with no way to hold my head that didn’t hurt.  And the beer I had for breakfast wasn’t bad, so I had one more for dessert.  Oh wait, that’s a country song.  No beer for breakfast that day, but I was sore and had a headache from being in prone so much the previous day.  Also, I was sunburned, because it was hot and I forgot something important.  We had to run to the store and get staples for the staple gun, because the previous day, I was “that guy”, the one slowing things down due to running out of staples.  So bring sunscreen and a loaded staple gun.

After a second safety briefing, we did some drills to work out some bugs.  We did “carding the sights” and “ball and dummy” with a partner.  This was a nice way to ease through the soreness.  It was also helpful to get down natural point of aim and getting rid of the flinching and/or blinking.  After that we pretty much shot a lot of rounds, maybe 300-400 on AQT’s.  2 or 3 other attendees got their Rifleman patch out of maybe 30 shooters.

Pros

If you aren’t familiar with using a sling, or it’s been a while, or you’re doing it wrong or something, you’ll get really familiar with using it at an Appleseed.  In fact, after an Appleseed, you’ll notice a lot of people who don’t know that the sling can be used as a shooting aid, and a lot of people who don’t know how to use the sling properly.

I came away with a pretty darn solid understanding of natural point of aim.  I already knew what it was, but I can say that I understood it well after the shoot.  If you fire a shot and your sight jumps right back on target, you got it.  If it goes anywhere else you don’t.  They show you how to get there.

They cover positions and techniques fairly completely, but if you’re looking at cows you’ll miss it, ’cause they do it fast.  I recommend doing some study in advance to get the most out of it.

You’ll have a much better idea of how your equipment functions after the shoot, because you’ll be putting it through its paces in whatever weather happens to show up.  I recommend putting some thought and consideration into  your equipment prior to the shoot.  Maybe even take your rifle out of the box and put some rounds through it!  There appeared to be people who didn’t consider doing even that.

Cons

The intended scope of the course is, by design, somewhat limited.  The target market is, I think, basically the average American who needs to learn to shoot.  If you took the instruction to its logical conclusion, you’d end up with a good knowledge of how to employ a battle rifle using orthodox shooting positions and a sling to get hits on 4 MOA targets.  Some subjects have to be oversimplified or glossed over due to the fact that the course is highly condensed.  Example: the only prone taught is “Olympic Prone”, which works for some, but may not fit everybody.

There is also no reference to how to employ the rifle.  All you get is marksmanship, so don’t go there expecting any insights on field usage.  You’ll learn to sling up, but there won’t likely be any mention of the viability of the shooting sling as a field technique.

I think that the primary weakness of Appleseed, from a purely shooting-centric perspective, is that there’s nothing beyond the 210 score qualification level of “Rifleman”.  You get there and you’re as good as you need to be.  Not in my opinion.  It’s a good start; like a black belt in martial arts.  Now you have some basics down well enough to begin a serious inquiry of the thing.  Instead of encouraging you to further your skill development, you get the impression that you’re “done” and they recruit you to instruct.

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Overall I would recommend Appleseed.  Even an experienced shooter is likely to come away with something.  I would highly recommend it if you’re rusty or unfamiliar with using a sling or the concept of natural point of aim.  The only person I wouldn’t recommend it to is someone who has mastered position shooting with a sling, doesn’t like American heritage, or meeting really cool people.  The history presentations are also very inspiring.

I don’t know if they’re “Saving a Country”, but they’re doing good stuff.

The Kneeling Position- Part 2

Picking right up from Part 1, there are some subtleties that will help with accuracy in the kneeling position.  Relaxing the support hand is one.

The rifle should just be resting on the “lifeline”.

                             It’s the lifeline, so I made it green, like Mother Earth…

      …which inexplicably caused an M14 stock to appear and the lighting to change.

Remember that it’s a platform and not a death grip.  I was once taught a Mexican food analogy that may help.  You want your support hand like a taco, not a burrito or tostada.  A burrito wraps around, a tostada is perfectly flat.  The taco is more like a “V” shape, giving the forend something to settle into.  If someone were to grab your support hand fingers, they should be relaxed, maybe even loose.  You do, however, need to keep them clear of the barrel.

Another point to emphasize is really letting the position settle.  Feel everything sink into place and come into balance.  Kneeling is an inherently “tipsy” position, so you have to have your balance.  Get a feel for exactly where on the foot you’re the most stable.  Get your support arm situated so that the knee is balanced between the tendons that lead from the elbow to the triceps.

For everything to work correctly, it’s imperative to find and use your natural point of aim.  Once you have your natural point of aim, the only thing left to do is relax and press the trigger.  Next month I’ll have a more in depth article explaining it.  To sum it up, NPA is the place where your relaxed body aims the rifle.  Get into position and aim where it feels the most natural.  Then close your eyes, take a deep breath and relax completely.  Open your eyes.  Your rifle will probably be pointing at a different spot than before.  The new spot is your natural point of aim.  Not just the general direction, but the specific spot.

Dry fire practice will help immensely with your kneeling position.  Be kind to your knees and don’t overdo it.  If you use the variation of kneeling in which the ball of the foot is in contact with the ground, prolonged practice of the kneeling position will be hard on your footwear.  Unless you want your right toe pointing up constantly like an elf (if you make bottom metal for Sako it’s probably OK), consider taking off your shoes for the bulk of your dry fire practice.

I spent a lot of time early in the year working on kneeling.  Here’s my data book page for my best target so far:

Sako 75 002

Here’s a close up of the actual target:

I shot this with the Remington 700 that I have referenced previously.  The details are in the data book (above), but there was no sling used.  The group is approximately 2.6″ with all shots at least touching the diamond.  Notice that the group is wider than it is tall, which is characteristic of kneeling, due to the firing elbow being unsupported.

When I began working on the position again recently, I just couldn’t get it stable.  My NPA was also really high and I couldn’t figure it out.  Today I popped down into position and it just seemed to click.  Maybe it’s because I did kettlebell yesterday, and I’m a little stiff, but I ended up spreading out my contact points (aka “feet”) with the ground a bit.  I had previously been putting my firing side heel pretty much right on my tailbone, trying to balance the upper body directly over the foot.

It doesn’t even sound stable, so I’m not sure how I didn’t catch that.  I moved the foot a little towards my strong side (right for me), right on the glute.  After spreading out a bit, the center of gravity settles down between the points of contact.

This also had the effect of making my NPA a bit more horizontal.

I would love to shoot a 10 shot group with the Sako that’s as small or smaller as the above 5 shot group.  Considering that the Remington can shoot .4 MOA groups and the Sako shoots 1.3 MOA groups at best, kicks a whole lot more, and 10 round groups don’t usually end up as small as 5 round groups, that’s going to be hard.

Find out in the exciting finale: The Kneeling Position- Part 3!!!

The Mind of the Warrior

Rifle shooting is similar to martial arts.  We work to acquire a skill that gives us a certain power.  In the context we usually associate the skill with, it is pleasant, fun, rewarding, and innocuous.  Most of us do it because it’s fun, and continues to be challenging.

In the context of martial arts, the power is acknowledged explicitly.  Generally a lot of humility and restraint is built into the learning process as tradition.  In shooting, the power is not generally addressed explicitly, but the same type of humility and restraint is generally modeled and cultivated in the process of learning.  Shooters and martial artists have a lot in common.

The ability to use a rifle effectively expands a person’s ability to use force, to exert power, significantly.  That’s a bit of an understatement.  With that tool on the belt, we need to ask ourselves, “What do I stand for?  How do I responsibly use this power?”  If we don’t do some reflection on those things, it’s possible that we won’t be grounded in principle if circumstances cause us to be emotionally aroused (think fight or flight response).

Hopefully, no one who reads this will say, “I stand for evil!”  If you happen to fall into that category, please don’t visit my blog anymore, and I can’t be your friend anymore either.  Sorry.

So what do we stand for?

Do we stand for intimidation?  Do we stand for protecting the weak and innocent among us?  Do we stand for bullying people to make a political statement?  Do we stand for the idea that sacrifice for a cause greater than ourselves can still be noble?  Do we stand for disproportionate force applied just because we can?  Or do we stand for force as a last resort?

Chotuku Kyan was a major karate player in Okinawa in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  He was physically a tiny man, but well regarded as being able to handle himself.  He had a saying I think is pretty cool: “This fist is like a treasure that should be hidden in the sleeve.”  I think I understand what he was saying, so bear with me.

Kyan was a man who put a lot of time (a lifetime), sweat, blood (literally), pain, etc… to learn how to throw a devastating punch.  The young karate guys used to go pick fights to test their skill, so he’d “been there, done that.”  All that work resulted in the ability to punch that he was probably pretty pleased with.  As he got older, though, he realized what he really had in his hands.  People can end up dying when punched in real life, especially in late 19th century Okinawa.  Most sane humans (our number are dwindling people!) suffer mentally after harming another human.  He’s not going to squander his punch on some punk.  He’s guarding it jealously, hoping to never dispense it unless its really necessary.  It’s not just that he doesn’t want to use it.  When you have a treasure, you want to conceal it.

This is a good illustration of the concept of “force as a last resort”.  If we’re paying any attention, we should be able to see a bad situation coming.  That gives us the option of not being there if we don’t need to be.  What if we do need to be there?  What are the other options?  Diffusing a tense situation with conversation?  Maybe taking a momentary loss of face to let the other party feel like they won really makes us the better person.

There’s another illustration in martial arts that gets at it in another angle.  The story is that a brand new black belt, after receiving his belt, will climb onto his roof, and shout out his accomplishment for all to hear.  The master will simply go quietly about his business.  This is known as “good work done in secret”.

One thing I have noticed about the really tough people I have met is that they have all been exceedingly police, humble, willing to help, and unassuming.  They are also capable of great restraint and show real character.  They’d rather help someone else shine and get the limelight than to be in it.  It’s unusual for them to get visibly angry.  When it happens, it’s subtle, but it really causes you to wonder what’s going to come of it.

People that attempt to exude “badassness” might be physically capable in some instances, but when it comes down to it they still have a complex.  Most of them that I have encountered in a shooting context really couldn’t shoot.  It takes too much energy trying to be the “Big Alpha Dog”.

So my point is, know what principles you stand for.  Really spend some time thinking it out.  Embody the ethical code of the warrior, whether it be chivalry, bushido, or whatever.  They’re all very similar.

Understand what the real consequences of the use of a firearm are.  Also understand that if you talk tough, and your bluff is called, you may reap those consequences, whether as the giver or the receiver.  Having a lot of horsepower under the hood can be a good thing, but without a driver who has good judgment (your moral code), and good brakes (your restraint), there is nothing to stop all that horsepower from mowing down pedestrians.

The Kneeling Position- Part 1

Continuing with a review of orthodox shooting positions, we come now to the kneeling position.  In terms of stability, it is generally considered to be the least stable with the exception of the offhand position.  In terms of speed, it is probably second only to offhand.  Yes, there is a consistent pattern there.

More Stable = Slower

Faster = Less Stable

The kneeling position is a good field position in my opinion.  It is quick to assume, quick to exit, it gives the shooter a smaller visual signature, allows for getting behind cover if necessary, and is a great improvement in precision over offhand with little increase in time.

The reason we get more stability with kneeling over offhand is that the supporting elbow is supported by the support side knee.  The reason that kneeling is less stable than other positions is that the firing side elbow is still unsupported, as in offhand.  This makes the shots fairly stable vertically, but generally more erratic horizontally.  This instability can be mitigated to a great degree by dry fire practice.

Because the support arm is, well, supported, this makes the loop sling an option.  If you’re unfamiliar with using a shooting sling, there will be an upcoming article.  For this article, we’ll just do it unsupported, which seems to me more consistent with the probable use of this position in a more “time sensitive” situation.

To assume the kneeling position from a standing position, angle the firing side away from the target as in offhand, approximately 70°– 90°.

                                           Contact @ 12 o’clock

                                    Angle the body away from the target

Bring the butt of the rifle to the shoulder, as in offhand.  While doing so, begin to drop your body by bending your knees, and bring your firing side foot so that your buttocks will be sitting on it when it completes its drop.  By the time you have the rifle up, you should be sitting on your foot.

Your support side elbow should be just in front of the support side knee.  The point of contact is “flat of the arm” to knee.

The “flat of the arm” is located just above the elbow on the back of the arm.

                The “Flat of the Arm” is approximately located within the red box.

Avoid putting the point of the elbow on the point of the knee, as this is not stable (about as stable as a ball sitting on a ball).

                                      Don’t do this.  It’s not stable.

There are a couple of different ways to orient the firing side foot.  The first is to have the toes bent up, the ball of the food in contact with the ground, and the buttocks on the heel.  We’ll call this “High Kneeling”.

The second method is to keep the foot straight and the outside edge of the foot in contact with the ground, and the buttocks on the inside of the foot.  We’ll call this “Low Kneeling”.

 

High kneeling is faster.  Low kneeling is regarded by some to be more stable.  Some people have limited flexibility and can only do it one way.  I can use both, but generally favor high kneeling.  It’s quicker, and they seem to me to have about the same level of precision.

With low knelling, because your bottom is lower, your point of aim will be higher unless you do something to get your support side knee lower.

You can lower your point of aim by extending your support side foot forward.  Sliding the support hand forward will also lower the point of aim, though not as much.

In the upcoming article, “The Kneeling Position- Part 2”, we’ll fine tune things a bit.