The Effects of Stress and Pulse Rate on Firing a Shot

Shooting Misconception #1:  Because I can shoot a half minute group from the bench, I can shoot a half minute group from any position.

Shooting Misconception #2: Because I can shoot a half minute group from any position, I can also do so under stress, on a moving target, under time limits, or even while being shot at.

Shooting Misconception #3: I never get tired, out of breath, and I would never even consider being affected by adrenaline.  How I am on the couch in front of the TV (bitchin’ of course!) is how I would be in a gunfight.

It’s easy to fall for any and all of these when all your experience comes from watching TV.  When you go to the range and test out any field position, it can cast a shadow of doubt on your abilities.  When you go into the field, it can cause your freezer to go empty for another year.  When something bad brings a fight to you, it probably isn’t going to go like you have it worked out in your head.  I think it was the 9th time you watched Quigley Down Under that might be the cause of this problem.  I have to admit that “I said I never had much use for one. Never said I didn’t know how to use it,” was a great line.  Tom Selleck was really cool in that movie.  I’m still working on hitting that bucket with a snapshot.

That was a nice diversion.

BAM!!!  Now let’s get back to reality.  Your probably lucky to be shooting 8 MOA from offhand without 1.)a fancy shooting coat, 2.)a full time shooting gig, 3.) natural God given talent, or 4.) a magic rifle (like Quigley’s).  I proved that here for myself.  Have you gotten to the range to see what you can do?

What happens when you are exerted?  When your pulse rate goes up, there are physiological changes that occur that affect your fine motor skill.  Shooting involves fine motor skill, so by extension, increased pulse rate affects shooting.  Just the increased respiratory rate and the wild pumping of the heart can cause your sight to move erratically, and that’s before we add surprise and fear (no, I’m not coming over for dinner).

In a true adrenaline dump brought on by the rapid introduction of a threat to your life, you might poop your pants, urinate right there without first visiting the commode, your legs get weak, hands get shaky, vision goes tunnelly, your hearing may not work right (auditory exclusion), logic and recall become inaccessible, speech becomes difficult,  breathing becomes shallow, all kinds of crazy hormones will be shoved instantly into your system, and your heart rate will SPIKE.  Apparently, according to scientists, this is a clue that this type of response used to work well as a survival mechanism.  Grizzly bears run in fright when you poop yourself and become reduced to a grovelling pile of Jello©.  Maybe not.  I think that the actual idea is that unnecessary weight gets dumped,  the blood goes to the core in case you get gashed open, and the parts of the brain that will slow you down in the thick of it get turned off so you can react like an animal (quickly).

What can you do to mitigate the effects of shooting under stress?  One is to exert yourself prior to shooting in practice to get used to it.  I do this occasionally.  I run 50 yards uprange, then back, grab my rifle, load a single round, and fire a shot.  Rinse and repeat as necessary.  The target time is 1 shot per minute.  It sounds stupidly easy.  Like many other things, it’s harder than it sounds.

When I first started doing this, it was difficult to steady my hands enough to get the sling swivel in the stud and the round loaded into the action.  I found that as I ran to my rifle, if I really started getting control of my breathing and slowing it down, I could still function pretty well.  There’s something called “tactical breathing” that you should look into.

For this outing I chose offhand and rice paddy prone.  I put up a separate target for each, and alternated over the course of 10 shots, creating a 5 shot group for each position.  Why not 10 shot groups?  I didn’t feel like running for 20 minutes while wearing pants in the 85° weather with the sun beating down on me.  Silly me.  I understand that makes me a wimp.  I was also short on ammo which was really the deciding factor, because the 5 vs. 10 shot group issue did create a slight dilemma in my mind (I really like consistency).

I didn’t bring my heart rate monitor this time, but the last time I did this, I was in the 160’s most of the time.  This time I was a little slow.  Usually I use the Remington with a TAB sling.  The USGI sling is slower.  I was also stopping to plot my calls, which I haven’t done on this before.  It took just over 11 minutes to finish 10 shots.

You’d think that upper left shot on target 2 was a wild one.  Actually it was pretty steady and I thought it was an acceptable sight picture (think that feeling rushed had anything to do with it?).  Guess I learned something.  I was surprised that my offhand groups were not affected more.  I guess I can shoot an offhand group under 8 MOA (as long as I shoot a stupid 5 round group).

Just getting the heart rate up won’t duplicate the effects of stress.  Why bother with it then?  Well, primarily I’m hoping that it will help at least enough to allow me to maintain control of my bowels and bladder.  Additionally though, it could likely lessen the severity of the effects and speed up recovery time.  If you are very good at what you are doing, a little stress may actually improve your performance.

Since sitting in front of the TV on the couch isn’t going to help, next month we’ll introduce “The Rifleman’s Physical Training”.  Stay tuned.

Rice Paddy Prone (aka Squatting)

The squatting position is not necessarily an orthodox shooting position.  I don’t think you’ll see it as a leg of a rifle competition (not that I would know).  I’m including it in my overview of orthodox positions because I think it should be in every rifleman’s repertoire.

Offhand is fast.  Prone is accurate.  Sitting is pretty accurate- generally not as accurate as prone, but not fast.  Kneeling is pretty fast, but not very accurate.  Squatting may represent the golden mean.  As screwed up as that sentence may read out of context, I think it’s true.

Essentially what the squatting position does is fix what is wrong with the kneeling position; it supports the firing side elbow.  It boosts stability significantly without slowing things down appreciably, if at all.

To assume rice paddy prone from facing squarely to the target, angle your firing side away from the target 30°-45°, feet about shoulder with apart.  Basically the same ready position to get into offhand or kneeling.

 

Now, keeping your heels and the soles of your feet in firm contact with terra firma, drop to a squatting position (hence the name of the position).

 

Next, place the flat of both arms on their appropriate knees (that means don’t cross them) and fire if necessary.

I find that the easiest way to orient the upper body in relation to the lower is simply to place the flat of both arms on the knees.  Really not much to it.  This is very similar to open leg sitting in that respect.  I would rather you click than I type, so if you’d like an elaboration, read or re-read that article.

One problem that I have with rice paddy prone is that is does a number on my knees to practice it for any length of time.  This pertains mostly to dry fire.  I really don’t have a problem shooting groups in this position.  A field shot would be no problem.  The main thing to work out is where your NPA is going to land.  Just watch your knees while you figure that out.

To change your NPA in squatting for windage you can move your lead foot in the direction you would like the muzzle to go.  For micro windage changes, you can rotate your lead foot in the direction you want the muzzle to go.  Changes can be made in the same (but opposite) manner with your rear foot, HOWEVER, the changes you make with your rear leg may not have as much, or any effect.  This is due to a thing called flexibility.  Opening your firing side may not cause your support side to move.  The structural bias is to the support side, because again, we aren’t a bipod.  Your support arm sits on you support leg and is directly under the rifle.  That’s why moving the support side foot will move your NPA and moving your firing side foot may move your NPA.  Mystery solved.

To adjust for elevation, follow the rules for offhand.  You can always use the old moving the hand on the forend trick: farther away lowers your NPA, closer raises it.  The other way is to adjust the width of your feet: wider is higher, closer is lower.

Some people complain that it knocks them on their duff to fire a rifle from the squatting position.  Unless you’ve got a dinosaur gun, there’s some other problem if your falling down.  If you’re my “challenged” reader, just keep working, or email me and we’ll get you some “special” attention.

I tested this position for you from 300 yards like I did with the sitting positions.

 

This equal about 3.6 MOA.  I would rather see the group without the 2 outliers on the right.  Guess I’ll need to practice a bit.

In comparison to the collective sitting positions, I think squatting has the potential to be just as accurate.  There is an inherent volatility in the position that causes things like the 2 shots on the right to happen.  I think that could be overcome with some serious practice.  In terms of speed, it’s just faster.  There are fewer steps, so I don’t think that there’s a way to make sitting as fast, assuming the shooter worked at both positions.

Natural Point of Aim

There’s a little known method that you can use to improve your accuracy by a huge margin.  It’s one of those tricks that really separates the experts from the dilettantes.  If you’re the perceptive type, you probably noticed the title of the article, and have already figured out what the trick is.  Good job!  If you overlooked the title and guessed “heat seeking bullets”, well, it was a good try.

Natural point of aim (NPA- this is not a rap group, it stands for natural point of aim) is the spot that a shooting position, correctly assumed, will direct the shot to go when the shooter is completely relaxed.  It is your relaxed body aiming the rifle.  If the position is not altered, and the shooter directed each shot was directed towards the natural point of aim, each shot would go to precisely the same spot, even if the shooter’s eyes were closed.  Whether you believe in NPA or not, when you take up a shooting position, it is there.  It’s not a skill to learn necessarily, but a state that you need to learn to recognize, locate, and trust.

What most people do is get into a shooting position, notice that the sights aren’t aligned on target, and use the arms to move the sights into position.  That brings the muscles into play and compromises the structural integrity of the position.

The shooting position has one spot it wants to point at.  That spot will not change unless the position itself is adjusted.  The position should only be adjusted in its entirety.  Perhaps it would be more illustrative to say the position is “reset” and not merely adjusted.

Consider this plastic soldier:

How would you adjust his point of aim?  The easiest way is simply to move the entire figure.  Trying to move only the rifle will likely result in either no change, or it will spring back.  If you came to the same conclusion, then you are getting it.  If not, I’m starting to lose hope.  First heat seeking bullets, then this?  I’ve worked with some difficult students before, but this is a little ridiculous.

Stop thinking of yourself as a person with various joints and consider that you are whatever position you are shooting from.  That position is very similar to the plastic soldier, in that, if you want to change your point of aim you’re going to have to move the whole thing.

The basic way to check your NPA is to get into your shooting position of choice to the point where you guess that you are aligned on target.  Now 1.) close your eyes 2.) take a breath 3.) relax completely 4.)  when you reach your respiratory pause, open your eyes.  Your sights should now be aligned on your NPA.

If you’re new to the concept of NPA, you’re probably thinking that there’s too much work involved.  In the beginning, it is time consuming.  There’s nothing I can do to sugarcoat that for you; it does involve work and patience.  If all you want to do is rapidly send lead downrange, you don’t need to worry about it (and get off my blog!!!- or read and learn).  The upside is that it doesn’t really take long before you get a feel for where it’s going to be, and if you aren’t quite there, it’s really simple and quick to adjust it.

Offhand:

To adjust your NPA in offhand, consider your support side foot to be your anchor and pivot point.  To adjust made gross adjustments to your NPA right, move your firing side foot in the opposite direction of where you would like your muzzle to move; to move your muzzle right, move your firing side foot left, and vice versa.

To make small windage adjustments, you can also pivot either of your feet.  To move your NPA right, pivot your right toes to the right.  To move your NPA to the left, pivot your left foot toes to the left.  Think of opening your body in either direction to move your NPA in that direction.  This works for minor changes in NPA for any position.

To adjust your elevation, use your firing side foot.  Widening your stance will make your NPA higher.  A narrower stance will lower your NPA.  The position of your support hand will also change your NPA.  I use the feet for minor adjustments in the basically horizontal plane.  I use my support hand if the target is more drastically off center.  Farther out on the forend lowers the NPA, closer raises it.

Because where you put your hands on the stock affects NPA, it’s important to be consistent.  I have a spot where my left hand goes every time, that is unless the target is up or down, then I may move it.  Otherwise, be consistent.

Kneeling:

Since you’re sitting on your firing side foot, it’s going to be easier to move your support leg (the Appleseed folks just had a sudden urge to correct me 🙂 ).  You can just wiggle that support foot towards where you want the rifle to point, or bounce it for that matter.  To make minor corrections, you can rotate the support side foot a bit but this could compromise your steadiness.  I say could, but you should see for yourself.

To adjust for elevation, you can move the support hand forward (NPA will lower) or rearward (higher NPA).  You can also make the stance shorter (higher NPA) or longer (lower NPA).  Finally, you could use low kneeling to shoot high and high kneeling to shoot low.

Sitting:

For open leg sitting, pivot on your bottom for left/right adjustments.  Move the feet towards where you want the rifle to point.  To adjust for elevation, move your feet forward and backward.

Cross ankle sitting is similar to open leg for left/right adjustments; move the feet towards where you want the rifle to point.  It won’t be as easy to move them, so bounce them or “throw” them.  If you try to adjust this by using your elbow as a pivot point, you’re going to find that all your weight is on your rear and it’s not “bouncing” anywhere.  Just move your feet.

If you get into the crossed ankle position, and you find that your rifle points at the ground, your upper body needs to bend forward (and down) more.  You can make small adjustments by moving the support hand like you would in any other position, and even smaller adjustments by moving the feet backward or forward (but use this sparingly).

In the cross legged sitting position, use your support elbow as the pivot point and bounce your bottom in the direction opposite of your desired NPA shift.  Or be a rebel and scooch your feet.   For elevation adjustments, move your support hand, or experiment with moving your feet to force your knees up or down.

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For positions I haven’t covered yet, I’ll be sure to describe some possibilities for moving NPA.

If I only get across one thing about adjusting NPA it would be this: It’s not rocket science, and there’s always more than just one way to do it.  Moving any part of your body will change your NPA in some form or fashion.  Notice what happens and experiment.  Eventually you’ll just feel your way into the correct change without thinking about it. 

The other side of the coin is that if you move any part of your body, it will change your NPA (yes I repeated that sentence again, but for effect).  That’s a very important point to understand because if you get lazy and let something drift during a string of fire, you’re no longer on target.  As humans, we have a tendency toward movement.  Intentional stillness is an important skill to cultivate, especially when it comes to shooting.  This is what your will is for.

The key to getting NPA to work for you is to never skip the step of checking it.  Trust me, you’ll start missing if you try to shortcut it.  Learn it, love it, live it.

Cross Legged Sitting

I believe that cross legged is the most popular option for sitting.  Among the military folks I know, they seem to favor cross legged.  Cross legged position works really well with a rifle that has a vertical pistol grip.  That may explain why the military shooters like this position.  If you recall from my offhand article, it is a theory of mine that the vertical grips encourage the firing side elbow to drop.  This makes it easy to plant that elbow down in front of the knee.  With a more traditional style of stock, it can be a bit more difficult to get the elbow planted.

The big advantage to the cross legged position is that it is very comfortable and stable if you can get into it right.  The big disadvantage is that it’s not always readily possible to get into it right.  That can be quite a disadvantage.

Sometimes, it just takes persistence and time to find the right way into the position.  One thing that I’ve found that really matters is which leg gets crossed in front of the other.  The support side leg should go around/in front of the firing side leg.  Another helpful tip is to orient the support side arm how you want it, then try to find a way to mate it to your support side knee.  Next, find a reasonable place to plant your firing side elbow/flat of arm.  Just remember to keep the point of the elbow off of the point of the knee.

Let’s get into the cross legged sitting position from standing.

First, cross your support side foot in front of your firing side foot.  Yes, it matters which leg goes in front.

Next, drop to the ground into a cross legged position.  If you’re old enough, you probably call this “Indian style”.  If your younger, you probably call it “criss-cross applesauce”.

Now, place your elbows appropriately and commence firing if necessary…

One thing to avoid is using muscle to keep your knees up to your elbows.  If you need to raise your knees, bring the points of contact of the lower legs (where they cross) farther down towards the ankles.  This uses your weight with the leverage and friction of the position to raise your knees.  It might hurt a little (hint: try it with boots rather than shoes).  Another point would be to bend at the waist as much as you can.  Lower is more stable.

It took me a while before I could get into what felt like a decent cross legged position with the Sako 75.  I’ve gotten there easy with an AR carbine; I shot about 200 rounds in cross legged with a loop sling from my tailgate at a steel target at 300 yards.  When it got too dark to see the target I finally had to stop.  That was really fun.  AR’s have ergonomics that naturally lend themselves to use with the cross legged sitting position.  The more vertical pistol grip naturally brings the elbow down to the knee.  The compactness of the position brings the nose to the charging handle.  The higher than normal sights fit very well with the position.

I went to the range and awkwardly got into position.  My eye relief was really close.  I could tell I was going to get whacked, but since it was for posterity, what could I do?  During the first five shots, I got whacked a few and on some I didn’t.  On shot six, I got nailed, and I nailed the bull (dead center call- slightly low in reality).  Lots of blood flowing now, but hey, posterity right?  Shot 9 opened the wound a little further.  By shot ten I had this:

I’ve never been much of a fan of this position, except with AR’s.  After losing a fight with my scope, and shooting a group that pleasantly surprised me, I’ll say that if I needed to take a shot that begged for the characteristics of this stance for whatever reason I would use it and take the hit, but only if no other position would do the job as well.

In comparison to open leg and crossed ankle, this position is slow and awkward for me.  It’s a lot harder to locate NPA.  This probably had a lot to do with the eye relief.  Maybe taking the time to find it made this string a little more successful than the more comfortable positions.  Also, the eye relief with this position is just horrible if you have your scope set up for any other positions, like offhand.  About 2/3 of my ocular lens is shaded in this position.

Performance Evaluation: Hits vs. Groups

So far I have posted a number of my shooting results in the format of 10 shot groups.  I chose to use groups because it’s somewhat of a universal standard in the shooting world.  I chose to use 10 shot groups because I didn’t want to be a wuss and use a 5 shot group, or even a (GASP!) 3 shot group.  Using 10 shot groups has been humbling.  It has also been expensive.  The real question is: Is group shooting relevant?

There are 2 ways to gauge how well our shots are landing: accuracy and precision.  Accuracy is the measure of how well we are hitting the target.  Precision measures how small the group is, regardless of its location on the target.  Ideally, we would have a good showing with both of these measures.

Since I made field shooting the focus of this inquiry, it follows that accuracy is the more important criteria to test.  So why have I been shooting groups?  It seems like a group of a larger sample will be more indicative of what I am able to do consistently than just a hit on a clay or a steel target.  It also gives a snapshot of what my ability to hold looks like, regardless of how well my rifle is zeroed at that particular range.  It also serves to establish a baseline of my precision, something I can objectively refer back to see if I have improved.

Most shooters instinctively understand the significance of group size.  That’s how gunrags sell stuff- by posting the results of 3 round groups.  Soon they’ll be down to one shot groups and everyone will want a .17HMR.

To use accuracy as a measure rather than precision, a couple of different methods come to mind.  One would be a point system like what Highpower uses.  The closer to the center, the better.  A more practical system in my mind would be an IPSC style system.  What’s the difference?

The circular ringed target, the “dog” target, and any other type of target I can think of encourages the best hold possible on a single shape.  That’s not a bad thing, but it’s not necessarily a practical goal for practical shooting (by practical I’m not inferring you need an IPSC open gun and a holster that looks like it’s made of dental floss- I mean the dictionary definition).

In practical terms, you want to get a hit on your target as quickly as possible.  In IPSC, who cares if you hit the dead center of the “A” zone?  A hit on the edge is worth the same amount of points.  A perfect sight picture is no more valuable than an acceptable sight picture.  Imagine your target is a bird.  How long is it going to sit and wait for your perfect shot?  If you can get a good shot in a significantly shorter time, wouldn’t that be better than the bird flying away?

I’m not going to pretend that I’ve discovered a way to objectively evaluate hits.  I would imagine that something like IPSC or silhouette would be perfectly valid.  Percentage of hits on steel under time (rifle Steel Challenge anyone?) also seems like a good way to go.

I still find group shooting useful.  I think it shows what size of target one could reasonably expect to hit over a number of shots.  I won’t stop posting groups any time soon, but as I make record of my abilities, testing hits will be more useful.

Bolt Manipulation in Sling Supported Positions

If you haven’t read my previous article about bolt work, I recommend that you do so.  The difference between the technique I described there and the one I will outline here is how easily you can reach the bolt knob.  In my case I can reach the bolt knob easily in some positions, such as offhand, kneeling, and prone with the bipod.  In other positions, especially when using a loop sling, I can’t get my hand forward far enough without breaking my natural point of aim to cycle the bolt using the aforementioned bolt technique.

If your rifle is perfectly set up, you may not need to read this.  In my case, my length of pull is a little on the long side, so in certain positions I have trouble reaching the knob (the bolt knob of the rifle).  I should clarify- I could reach it, but I’d have to move my elbow, causing my NPA to be compromised.  I don’t want that to happen. Here’s the fix:

The technique begins just like the other technique; the index finger catches the bolt from below, raises it, and pulls it to the rear.  This is the point where the technique changes.  The thumb is not able to grasp the knob without breaking NPA.  Instead, rotate your hand around the knob and push the bolt closed with your index and middle fingers.

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The bolt knob is a handy place to index your trigger finger while assessing whether another shot is needed.  Remember Rule #3.

This technique takes just under a second for me, about twice as long as my other technique.  Although this technique is slower, it only seems to be needed in positions you might take when you have more time (distance = time).

Videos for my fellow public educated folk:

There are a couple of nice things about this technique.  One is that it’s very similar to my other technique.  There’s really no “training scars” or ingrained habits to break when switching back and forth.  The thumb either can reach and you use the primary technique, or it can’t, and you use the alternate technique.  The other nice thing about the alternate technique described here is that it’s more of a gross motor technique.  Fine motor skills, like grasping, tend to break down under stress.

Something I’ve noticed is that when I’m dry firing, I tend to be conservative with my reach.  I’ll assume that I have to resort to this technique, then in live fire I end up using the faster technique just because I’m a little more aggressive.  It’s not something I think about; probably the last thing you want to have to think about when shooting is your bolt technique.  Better to work it out in dry fire.

Another option is to keep your firing side elbow planted, and lean towards your firing side with your upper body.  This will increase your reach to the bolt (or your charging handle if you shoot a semi), allowing you to use the normal technique.  Relax again and as long as no part of your body moved, shifted, or slid, you should be back on NPA.  I did it this way for a long time.  Townsend Whelen, great rifleman, was a proponent of this technique.  At this point in my shooting life, if I cant reach I would use the alternate technique described in the photos and videos.

Crossed Ankle Sitting

Crossed ankle has been my sitting position of choice when the hits really count.  My ability to actually get into cross legged sitting tends to be unreliable.  While open legged is comfortable, it doesn’t seem as stable to me.  Crossed ankle seems to get the job done pretty reliably.

The problem with crossed ankle sitting is that it seldom seems to be taught correctly.  Even in Cooper’s book, it just isn’t right.  I usually see it presented (incorrectly) as sort of a cross between open leg sitting and cross leg sitting.  The common error is too short and too high of a position, and the legs being muscled up to meet the elbows.  This relies on your adductor muscles to support your stance, then you need a special massage like Al Gore.  For a really detailed and sound description, I recommend Jim Owens’ book Leather Sling and Shooting Positions.  Or your could just keep reading and I’ll do my best.

Like the other sitting positions, you’ll be on your rear (duh!!!).  Unlike the other positions, you’ll be more square to the target.  I would estimate about half the normal angle will work, at least it seems like it.  Straighten your legs in front of you with your knees locked.

Now bend your knees until you can rotate your feet outward making them flat.

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Now cross your support side ankle over your firing side ankle (yes is does matter which one goes over which).

Now that you’ve got your lower body set, let’s get the upper body into position.  You should know by now where the flat of your support arm is.  What you need to learn now is where the corresponding flat of the support leg is.  Find the point of your knee, then work down to where the doctor tests your reflexes.  Now go to the inside about 20-30° and down about the width of your hand.  There is a nice big, flat, bony depression, like a lake bed.  The flat of your arm fits nicely in that depression.

The blue circle indicates the approximate location of the “flat of the leg”.  I realize now that I should have used an “X” to mark the spot.

You might look down at your legs and think that it’s a mighty long way to fit the flat of the arm to the flat of the leg.  It does seem like that.  I’m not a flexible person (a long way from being able to touch my toes).  This actually works in my favor.  If you think your body can take it, to get there just take a big lunge forward with the upper body and stick your elbow where it goes.  If you can get it there, you’ll probably find that the elasticity of your hamstring and back muscles holds everything together nicely.

Your firing side elbow can either go in front of your knee, or you can plant it just behind the knobby section of muscle that is above and to the inside of your knee.

You’ll notice that this probably looks different than the way you’ve been shown crossed ankle sitting.  I think that’s because people who don’t use it have been teaching it because it’s required.  It’s a longer stance than any of the other sitting positions, which gives it more natural structural resistance to recoil.  It also means that if you do this position properly, it’s probably very low, almost as low as prone.

You may complain at first after contorting your way into the crossed ankle sitting position, “Rifleslinger, my rifle is pointed at the ground.”  This is normal for beginners, and means that you didn’t lunge far enough.  Get that upper body bent forward and down!

If you followed along with my description and got into position (of course you did, ’cause you’re obviously really smart ‘n stuff), the process of getting into position probably didn’t happen too fast.  Let’s speed it up a bit by falling into place.

              Standing, ready to move into the sitting position…

 
Green Dragon wards off while Crane Monk sinks and M14 stock is bridled in a 1907 sling… is kung fu talk for fall down and keep a hand ready to catch yourself.

                     I’ve fallen and I can’t get up… until I shoot something.

                          Cross the support side ankle over the firing side ankle.

          Strong hand on rifle butt and prepare to launch the upper body forward.

                         Land the flat of the arm on the flat of the leg.

                          Get a grip and prepare to commence firing.

 
      Crossed Ankle Sitting as viewed from above.  Note the angle of feet to muzzle.

Here’s what happened for me from 300 yards:

That equals 3.4 MOA.  Not bad, not great.  I expected a smaller group, but I’m learning slowly to deal with disappointment (and reality).

After using all three positions this month, I like this one a lot for its steadiness.  Although I shot better using the cross legged sitting position (upcoming article), this one is a lot faster and easier for me to use.  I also just had a better range day when I shot cross legged.  Cross ankle also works well with scopes, because your eye is not mashed into the ocular lens; I can actually get the correct eye relief for my scope with this position.  If I needed a sitting position on level ground, crossed ankle would be my first choice.

Ball and Dummy

I’ve complained before about my wimpy tendency to flinch from my anemic 30-06, 185 gr., 2724 fps load from my 8.4 lb. rifle.  I’m still working on eliminating the flinch.  One method that helps very much is called “Ball and Dummy”.  No, this does not involve me and a ball.

What ball and dummy entails is tricking the shooter, whether that be yourself of a partner.  In my case, no one wants to hang out with me, and I’m easily fooled, even by myself, so I mostly do this alone.  I learned about this from an Appleseed shoot, to give credit where it’s due.

To sum ball and dummy up, it involves interspersing dummy rounds and live rounds during a string of fire.  The shooter should not know beforehand whether there’s a dummy or a live round in the chamber.  Ideally, to start out with, give a live round to induce the flinch.  A rimfire may not induce a flinch, so this is probably more applicable with centerfire cartridges.  After the first live round, go heavier on the dummies until the flinching and blinking goes away.  Then reintroduce live rounds.  If a flinch reappears, go back to dummies.

What’s nice about this drill is that it gives the shooter instant feedback on what is happening with the rifle at the moment the shot breaks.  This doesn’t happen with dry fire, because you don’t expect there to be any recoil.  There are several variations of what is generically termed flinching; these are flinching, jerking, bucking, and blinking.  Some people throw their shoulders forward to counter the recoil.  This is called “bucking” and will cause the shots to go toward the support side.  Some people pull their shoulders away from the rifle butt.  This is a true flinch, and causes the shot to go toward the firing side.  Jerking is exercising poor trigger control, and will probably result in horizontal stringing.  Blinking detracts from your follow through, and is usually associated with one or more of the others mentioned above.

If you are at the range, pointed in on a target, with a live round very likely in your chamber, you are likely to see things that don’t happen in dry fire when the trigger breaks.  If you’re lucky enough to have a partner with you, they will probably see more than you do.

I made a set of dummies to practice with.  I had to seat the bullets a little deep so that they would “live eject” (ejecting a case with the bullet still in it) rather than get stuck.  I learned at the aforementioned Appleseed that drywall screw anchors work perfectly as .22lr dummies.  I have also done this drill where there are no actual dummies, but the partner either chambers a round or pretends to.  I can feel and hear the difference, so that doesn’t fool me.

                                                   My Dummies!

When I’m alone I just grab one live round with four dummies, mix them up while keeping my eyes busy with something else (something else means looking from my lost brass, all the time, every time), and loading my 5 round mag.  If I had more than one mag, I would just load them and mix them up, but my mags are on backorder with Brownells.  If you work at Brownells, howzabout speeding that order up, huh?

This is a drill to come back to periodically.  You’ll get a lot of visual input that’s very useful.  Good luck, and may the force be with you.

System Updates

The basic premise of the blog started as one shooter, one rifle, and one load starting in the known then adapting to whatever seemed to come up.  One thing that I’ve discovered is that it isn’t necessarily cost effective to burn up hundreds of Lapua D46 match bullets per month.  For that matter, there are a lot of bullets and powder combinations that I haven’t tried.  I really just picked the D46 kind of arbitrarily because Germán Salazar likes it.  I’m going to do some pricing and experimentation.  Let’s just say I haven’t found my one load yet and move on.  I’m sure you’ll get over it.  I have a small quantity of Sierra 190 grain MatchKings, and 1000 155 grain Custom Comp bullets.  Those will work better with the powder I have on hand anyway while I do some research on new loads.  This will also ease up on recoil, although it really hasn’t been bothering me lately.

Another thing I’ll probably do a little more of is practice with the Remington 700 .308.  I just have more ammo available for it.  Maybe then I can actually do some more live fire practice.  Speaking of more ammo, I’m going to use the .22 more as well.  When I post results, I’ll still use the Sako.  You won’t even really know the difference.

Speaking of the Sako, I lightened the trigger to about 2.5 lbs.  It’s easily adjustable, so why not?  I may go down to 2, and I really can’t see any reason not to.  For some reason I just stopped at 2.5.

If you remember my original post about my Sako, I only have one mag for it, which is stupid.  Sako makes great rifles, but they nail you on the accessories.  Sako, it would be really classy if you threw in an extra mag, even if it meant raising the price.  I’ve been throwing money at Brownells trying to pick up some spare mags.  It’s not been working so far.  The stainless version has been discontinued, and the blued version is perennially out of stock.  I have some on backorder (money throwing incident #1).  Meanwhile, using the rifle schematic, I located the components for the mags in stock and bought some.  The components cost about $20 more per mag than just buying a mag.  Here are the components:

Do you see anything missing?  Of course you do!  They apparently don’t sell the floorplates!!!  The schematic could lead one to believe that the floorplates are included with the mag bodies because there’s no separate floorplate in the picture.  Apparently in Beretta’s world, you don’t need a complete magazine.  They’ll just sell you enough parts to make you go crazy (or maybe switch to a Winchester???!!!).

I spent about 20 minutes on the phone with Brownells today, mostly on hold.  I think the tech got tired of me, but he kept asking if I’d looked here, there, webpage over there, and I tell you I’VE BEEN TO THE END OF THE INTERNET LOOKING FOR THESE THINGS!!!  He finally just told me to ask Midwest Gun Works.

Aside from gear, this month I’m covering the seated position, which is comprised of three variations.  I’ll also be covering rice paddy prone (aka squatting).  Instead of breaking up each position into multiple part articles, as I have done so far, I’m just going to hit each one in a single article and move on.  I’m sure your starting to get it, and I don’t need to repeat myself (except for the guy sitting by the door waiting for the bell to ring, but he’s probably not going to get it no matter what).  We’ll also be covering ball and dummy, natural point of aim, the effects of stress and pulse rate on firing a shot, and hits vs. groups in evaluating performance.  This is a pretty dense month, information-wise.

Other than that, no major changes.  Lots of dryfire, and the bolt just keeps getting smoother.  I did switch to SLIP 2000 EWL for gun oil.  That stuff is slick!  I coat the bolt, then wipe it down prior to greasing the lugs.  The Sako action just feels like glass.

Open Leg Sitting

This variation of the sitting position is probably the most user friendly to the beginner, and also probably the most useful in the field.  The reason I think it may be the most useful is that it affords more ability to adjust the elevation than the cross legged or cross ankle positions.  This makes it more adaptable to hilly or mountainous terrain than most other shooting positions.  Inversely, it seems to me that in general, this position is less precise on flat terrain than cross legged or crossed ankle.

To assume the open leg sitting position from facing square to your target, turn towards your firing hand side approximately 30°-45°.  Now sit.  Good dog.  Keep your feet, with soles planted firmly on the ground, somewhat apart from each other.  To start with on level ground, keep your feet at a distance that puts your knees at about mid chest level.

If you can’t keep the soles of your feet on the ground, just do your best.  If your sitting on a decline, you should have no problem.  Likewise, if your aiming at something higher up, say, on a hill, it should be pretty easy.  The problem may come in if you’re on level ground shooting with your muzzle relatively level.  It takes some flexibility.

                     This position naturally lends itself to shooting at high targets.

Open leg seated also works very well for shooting from a downward sloping surface.  Yes I created a privacy barrier to make this a family friendly photo.

The best way to fine tune the location of your feet, and by extension, knees, is to figure out first where you want your hands, elbows, and by extension, your muzzle to go, and then place your feet and knees where they will be most supportive.  Remember, you are looking for the structure of your position rather than your muscles to be doing the work.  Se up your position so that gravity actually helps settle and steady everything into place, keeping your muzzle steady.

Your support side elbow should be as close to directly under the rifle as you can get it.  When you relax and inhale your muzzle will drop with your inhalation.  Does it drop at an angle, or straight down, then straight back up as you exhale?  If it drops at an angle, the position of your elbow is very likely not properly supporting the rifle.

Speaking of elbows, you should remember from my article on the kneeling position that you will not be placing the point of your elbow on the ball of the knee.  Placing the flat of your arm on your knee is workable.  In this case, placing the flat of your arm in direct contact with the flat area just below your knee may be much better.  It depends a lot on how you can contort your body.

   Remember that the flat of your arm is what sits on your knee, not the elbow.

Arrange your firing side foot, knee, and elbow so that everything on that side is well supported.  Don’t try too much to make both sides symmetrical.  Your not trying to be a bipod.  Your support hand under the rifle is what primarily supports the weight of the rifle and keeps it steady.  The job of your firing side is to actuate the trigger.  I would begin at the end again (it’s one of the seven habits of highly effective people).  Place your trigger finger where you want it, such that the only part of the rifle that it touches is the trigger, and the only part of your finger in contact with the rifle is the pad or tip of the finger.  Place everything else such that nothing else that you have arranged so far gets messed up.  Wasn’t that easy?

To adjust your elevation, you can move your feet forward or backward.  You can also move your support hand forward or backward.  To adjust your windage, move your feet in whatever direction you want your muzzle to go.

To get a baseline level of precision available to me using open legged sitting, I decided to choose a location that would favor this position; I sat on a small knoll.  It was even grassy.

I shot from 300 yards.  Here’s what happened:

One of my shots missed the entire board.  It went left due to me bucking (anticipating recoil by pushing my shoulder forward as the shot broke pushing the shot left).  I wasn’t too pleased with this, as I know that my hold in this position is better than that.  So I did it again from the same spot:

The recoil didn’t bother me during this session, despite what happened during the cross leg sitting string of fire, which you’ll see on the morning of September 20th if my schedule goes to plan (if it doesn’t I know there will be millions of disappointed readers).  My group could have been better, but this is what I did so I’m stuck with it until next time.  3.5 MOA is acceptable to me, but I’m not thrilled.

My impression of this position after using it, along with the other orthodox variations of the sitting positions for a month, is that the things that make it useful as a field position make it somewhat difficult to use as a target position, which is essentially what I was doing.  There’s a lot more room in this position for variation in the height at which one can aim.  That seems to make it more difficult to get it just right.  Because the position feels comfortable and natural, it’s also “looser” and less “locked in”.  There seems to be a lot more natural tendency for the rifle to move side to side, and it’s harder to locate a fixed NPA.  A lot of this will improve with more work.