Follow Through

Follow through is a crucial, but often overlooked element of marksmanship.  It’s the mental component of breaking the shot without disturbing the sights.  I realize that I just did an article about concentration, and another indulgently long one on trigger control, but follow through is special, combines elements of both, and warrants its own discussion.  Separating all these elements into different concepts should not lead you to believe that they are actually separate from each other.  They are all part of the same thing, and there’s a good bit of crossover.

To give you an idea of why follow through is so important, let’s consider what happens in the absence of follow through.  You might have that perfect sight picture, and be in the process of what feels like a perfect compressed surprise break when you see the sights move as you’re pressing the trigger and boom, you call a bad shot.  Why does this happen?  Because we’re all slightly mental (okay, not just slightly).

 

Follow through means the difference between knowing where the shot went and not knowing.  It means the difference between calling the shot, and wondering what happened.  Wondering what happened won’t help you recover that miss, or improve for the next shot.  Essentially, follow through is what holds all the other elements of marksmanship together long enough for the bullet to make it out of the barrel.

Follow through has been defined primarily by the ability to call the shot.  This is certainly important.  If you see where the sight was at the time the shot broke, it means that at least you’re paying attention.  Calling the shot also gives you good information and instant feedback.  This is important, but if you see the sight move at the moment the shot breaks, calling the shot ain’t going to fix it, are it?  Therefore we can infer from this that the ability to call the shot does not equate to follow through all by itself.

  

 

I asked a good friend who happens to be a great rifle shot if he had any insights on follow through.  He said that he thinks of it as trying to keep the sights on target through to the end of the recoil cycle.  That would mean that you’re intentionally applying your will to keep the sights on target even if you know the rifle is going to hit you with recoil.  The will is the important thing here.

 

I like to think of follow through similarly to what you do when you throw a ball or Frisbee.  If you think of your will guiding the projectile to its target it just seems to magically go in just the right spot.  Your mind doesn’t let go of the ball/Frisbee until it reaches your partner’s hand.  You also need to realize that although a bullet moves very fast, it is not instantaneous.  It’s not even as fast as a beam of light.  That means that you need to hold all of your concentration and physical form until after all of the sound and fury subside.

 

I wrote about the surprise trigger break in the trigger control article.  It’s a good way to learn trigger control.  The thing is though, you being so smart, you’re going to figure out pretty much the exact point that your trigger will break with enough practice whether you realize it or not.  There might even be a time when you need to break a shot at a specific moment.  What then?

 

There comes a time in every rifleman’s life when he just has to accept the fact that recoil is going to happen.  When you come to the realization that you’re going to focus through and make your shot, recoil be damned, you’re following through.  For a real rifleman, this is about every aspect of your life, not just shooting.  If you take on an important task, work through the discomfort and backlash until you’ve done it right.  

 

Follow through can come about by just being “in the moment”, giving your attention to the process of what you’re doing, and not paying attention to yourself of your “feelings”, or you can get a little aggressive and know you’re going to fight through it.  Like working through fear, when you realize that the shot you’re making is more important than your feelings, you’re starting to get it.  Get it? 

Prone Results

What a Difference a Rifle Makes

Shooting

 

Here’s what I did in June with #1, my Sako 75, 30-06 during load testing:

 

I apologize for it only being a five shot group, but I didn’t shoot this for an article, just load testing.  What we have is a 1.3 MOA group with some vertical dispersion.  The vertical you see is not the load, which has a standard deviation of 10.3, and it’s not me.  The rifle is showing indications of needing to be bedded.  When I can afford the materials, I’ll write an article about pillar bedding and use #1 as a test case.  I consider this group to be indicative of the maximum precision that I’m capable of getting out of the rifle at this point.

 

Because #1 is not as accurate as I’d like it to be, I made an exception to my general rule of only using it to shoot the targets I post here.  What follows are photos of targets I shot with the Remington 700 that I also shoot frequently.  Here are the details on that particular rifle: blueprinted action with old style “Walker” trigger, 26” .308 Krieger barrel (I’m not positive of the barrel contour, but it’s “heavy”), custom reamed chamber for Federal Gold Medal 168 SMK load, pillar bedded McMillan stock, IOR 2.5-10×42 FFP with mil reticle and mil turrets. 

Bipod Prone:

 

On my first day at the range I shot this group from the Remington 700:

 

That’s 0.8 MOA from 100 yards.  I would like to do better; this shows that I need to become more consistent, with more finely tuned fundamentals, and have better concentration.  I think the rifle is capable of 0.4 – 0.5 MOA with the ammo I’m using.

 

I shot just over 100 rounds that day from the Remington.  About 40% was group shooting.  Most were 10 shot groups and sub minute.  A lot were just searching for NPA.  On about 10 shots total, I could see my impacts with no significant movement of the crosshairs.  For five glorious shots in a row my reticle held firm on a small bush on the berm.  I tried to repeat this but was not able to.

 

I tried the same thing with #1.  Here’s what I got:

What you have here is two separate five round mags with a trip downrange in between coming in at 1.6 MOA.  What I think is happening is vertical stringing that gets worse as you go.  Maybe heat, but I’m still looking forward to pillar bedding it as soon as I can afford the materials.

Now for unsupported prone with the loop sling:

 

I decided to use the Remington again, because I had a sneaking suspicion that I could outshoot my 5 shot bipod Sako 75 group using a sling.  Here’s what happened:

 

That’s 10 rounds from military prone with a loop sling coming in at 1.3 MOA.  I can live with that for now.  The point of aim and sight settings are the same as the bipod prone group above.  My face is closer with the sling, and the eye relief is too close.  I even got a kiss from the ocular on my forehead, but not as bad as with the beating I took during the cross leg sitting group.  What improper eye relief does is change the relationship between POA/POI.  I now can record in my DATA BOOK (the all caps means I’m yelling at you.  Sorry, I’ll write an article next month to explain further), that I need to come right .2 and down about .1 and try again to verify.

 


I didn’t take my time and I didn’t try to hurry, about a shot every 10 seconds with a pause in the middle to top of the rifle.  My range partner for the day made a remark that I was shooting fast.  I didn’t feel like it.  

Here’s the Sako 75 group from unsupported prone:

 


That comes in at 2.4 MOA. Note that it looks exactly like an expanded version of the Sako’s bipod group.  There was no break between the two mags this time. Someone was waiting to use the range, which was the same situation with the unsupported Remington group. I think I like the Remington group better. 
    
There you have it. Not bad, but with plenty of room for improvement. Overall, working on this is of lower priority to me than the positions like offhand, where I last shot at around 8-9 MOA groups.

 
What really hit home after this article was a difference the rifle makes in prone. If I could get a 10 shot, sub MOA bipod prone group out of the Sako, I would be satisfied with it (I think). I’ll try to do that in the future, and of course I’ll post an article about it here.

I have to confess that in bipod prone, I’m still not quite getting how to set my NPOA.  When I get it worked out, I’ll be sure to share that as well.




Bipod Prone

There are some shooters that see a bipod and think, “Bipod?  I don’ need no steenking bipod!”  There are other shooters that in the absence of a bipod think, “No bipod?  How do I shoot the thing?”  Let’s move beyond both biases and examine the use of the bipod objectively.

The bipod is not something that should be relied on as a crutch.  It’s important to be able to utilize normal, traditional marksmanship skills in case the bipod breaks or there’s no opportunity to use it (think snapshot or really tall grass).  We should be able to move on and function well even if the rifle we happen to pick up has no bipod.

On the other hand, the bipod is a useful tool for getting steady to take a shot that matters.  With the Remington 700 I sometimes shoot, I can get 0.4″ groups at a 100 yards with the bipod, while my unsupported prone with the same rifle is just over a minute, maybe 1.2″ at 100 yards.  If you were being held at gunpoint, with your captor preparing to fire, and there was a friendly going to take him out, would you prefer that your helper have a bipod and be 2 or 3 times as precise, or are bipods still for sissies?  If you said that bipods are still for sissies, I’m afraid that you’re too divorced from reality to survive past this afternoon.

I hear people complain that using a bipod means you can’t get your NPA, because the damn thing bounces all over the place upon firing.  If that’s happening to you, you’re doing it wrong.  How would you like to do better than call your shot?  How about seeing your shot impact?  For that to happen you need to start doing it right.  Let’s make that happen.

In every other position I’ve shown you, the body is offset from the angle of the barrel.  This is because your support hand has to reach the forend to support the rifle in all of those positions.  In bipod prone, you don’t need the support hand on the forend at all.  That frees up a lot of room for you to position the body in a way to best absorb the recoil, which in this case is in a straight line.  This is crucial point #1 for using a bipod in the prone position: “POSITION THE BODY STRAIGHT BACK FROM THE RIFLE.”  This has an effect on a lot of other factors in your position.  We’ll get to that later.


I’m not exactly straight back, am I.  Needs more work!

There’s another crucial element in getting the bipod prone position right.  Even if you’re straight back, the bipod may still bounce.  To fully eliminate that bounce, there’s a second step that needs to be taken: “LOAD THE BIPOD.”  What does this mean?  It means that you’re going to put a bit of forward pressure onto the bipod.  Don’t go crazy and press so hard that it breaks.  Try it this way: get into position (straight back, of course), then lift your upper body just a bit while keeping the butt in contact with your shoulder.  Now relax back down.  You should feel your bipod flex forward slightly as you do this.  Now when your rifle recoils, it will just give you a little push before your weight puts it right back where it started.  Don’t overdo it; we’re looking for essentially “dead” weight to push the rifle back, not muscles (think “consistency”).  Because you’re straight back, there’s no muzzle rise.

What if it still bounces?  Did you forget to check your NPA?  I have a confession to make.  I have a hard time getting the rifle not to bounce, but here’s something I’ve found that sometimes works.  I know from a lot of position work that if the sights end up somewhere other than the target right after the rifle is fired, that new spot is usually at my NPA.  It works exactly the same way with the bipod.  The key to learning this is not to really care where the aiming point is, provided that it’s safe of course.

Here’s a fictional story with an analogy that may help:  One day as I was relaxing, sipping mojitos, smoking a nice Dominican, and reading Hayek’s Road to Serfdom, Mrs. Rifleslinger was outside painting the house.  She told me that before she climbs the ladder to paint the high spots, she gives the ladder a jolt to test it and see where it settles.  She said that the spot where it settles is its steady spot, and it’s probably OK to climb it.  This is just like NPA with the bipod (or without, for that matter).  The spot where it “settles” after firing a shot is usually your NPA.  This is assuming that the recoil didn’t totally disturb your position.  (5/3/12 note: with a bit more experience and knowledge under my belt, I think this theory is completely wrong and backwards.  The recoil will expliot the weakness in the position and make it weaker- as I described in the following paragraph.  I like the story so l left it in –RS).

The above method for locating your NPA doesn’t always work.  Consider that the interface between the stock and your body to be a joint between two parts.  The rifle pushes on the joint when it fires.  If the joint is straight, the force from the recoil will not cause it to bend.  If it is bent, even just ever so slightly bent, the bend will increase in the direction that it’s already bent.  That means if the rifle bounces toward your support side, you were already bent that way to begin with.  You might need to go the other way until you get the feeling that your angled the other way.  In the picture above I sure felt straight back, but I wasn’t.  That could be the source of my inconsistency.

Being straight back affects some other things about your position.  If you get straight back and put the rifle butt in the same place you put it for sling supported positions, you’re going to find that your head is in an extremely uncomfortable position.  You’re going to have to bring the rifle butt closer to the center of your chest, which you may find poses a problem.  Your collarbone is right there.  What I found that works well is to put the heel of the stock (that’s the top) just below the collarbone, at the top of the pectoralis major.  It’ll hurt after a long day at the range, but generally it’s not too bad.

Another difference between positions that utilize the bipod and those which don’t is what we do with the support hand.  In traditional positions, your support hand needs to be on the forend to support the weight of the rifle.  Since the bipod completely supports the front end of the rifle, putting the support hand up there isn’t going to do a thing for you, so DON’T PUT IT THERE.  A more useful place for it to go is under the stock just forward of the toe of the stock (the toe is the bottom of the butt- strange definition huh?).

There are a number of ways to can employ your support hand to provide a more stable platform for the rear of the stock.  Probably the most stable is a rear bag. This is a small fabric sac filled with sand, rice, beans, or poly beads.  Poly beads seem to be the best in different weather conditions.

There are a few different sizes and shapes of rear bags, but the most prevalent seem to be cylindrical and rectangular.  Here’s a good comparison of some rear bags.  You could also make your own with an old BDU and something to fill it with.

 

Homemade rear bags.  The strap on the rectangular one is to put the hand through, and either can be used to run the rear of the sling through to leave it while you carry the rifle.

The bag is placed under the stock and can be manipulated to get your elevation just right.  POA too low, just give the bag a squeeze.

Besides a bag, you could grab your sling where it attaches at the stock.  If you have a TAB Gear sling the rear portion is triple thick- thick enough to support the weight of the rifle and allow you to better control the elevation without a rear bag.

IMG_4837

No sling?  Just use your fist.

Get straight back from the rifle.  Steady the rear of the rifle with your support hand.  Load the bipod.  Breathe and relax.  Fire a shot.  Did the scope reticle or sights move off of your original aiming point?  If not, you’re good.  If yes, fire another shot from where the sights landed after the shot.  You’ll probably actually see the impact and end up right back on the same spot.  Do a lot more firing from this position and form a kinesthetic memory (aka muscle memory) so next time you can reproduce it more quickly .  This is what I’m going to do before continuing the article.  For me, it will be a few weeks.  For you, I’ll speed it up and post my cumulative prone results tomorrow.

Finally I need to say that I learned what I know about bipod shooting from the Sniper’s Hide Forum.  It’s run by an instructor from a school in Texas called Rifles Only, and they seem to be on the cutting edge on precision rifle technique.  I would like to go there, but it’s out of my price range.  They also offer online training, which seems worth it, but is still out of my meager price range.  A word of caution, the forum is full of good info, but they don’t appreciate it when people go there and ask questions that could easily be answered by using their search engine, or questions like “What’s the best sniper rifle to use from a mile on a zombie through a loophole when civilization breaks down” (these are generally known as “stupid questions”.  Apparently they do exist.).  My advice would be to inform yourself first by reading the entire forum.  It will take a few days, but you’ll learn a lot.  Then fill out your profile.  They like that.  Good luck.

 

Trajectory

I’ve mentioned before that I’m trying to round out the absolute fundamentals this month.  One thing I’ve totally neglected thus far is an in-depth discussion of sighting and aiming.  I have given it a lot of thought and I just don’t feel like doing it.  My choice of what to write has been biased towards what I’m doing with the equipment I have.  Since I use a scope, I don’t think it warrants an entire article to say, “Put your eye in the spot where you get a full edge-to-edge picture through your ocular lens and put the crosshairs on the target.”

I have the most intelligent readership in the United States.  How do I know this?  My daily readership accounts for 0.00000018% of the US population.  I can safely deduce that the people who want to read what I write are the smartest in any population.  We, therefore, represent the absolute tip of the spear in terms of intelligence and discernment.  Therefore I have elected to dispense with telling you to align your sights, get a good sight picture and focus on your front sight.  If you can’t handle that, email me and I’ll put the second half of the preceding sentence as a standalone article entitled “Using Your Sights”.

In place of an article on sighting and aiming, we’ll cover trajectory.  You’ll get a lot more out of it anyway.  Read on, if you think you can handle it.

____________________________________________________

 

Trajectory can be thought of as akin to voodoo for the budding rifleman.  We’re aware on some level that the bullet doesn’t exactly hit at the same point of aim/point of impact at 600 yards as it does at 100 yards.  What seems like some sort of magic is that the more experienced rifleman can adjust for that difference.

When it comes down to it, bullet drop is pretty easy to predict with some basic data.  The science is apparently quite “mature” for this type of thing.  So let’s unravel a tiny bit of it here.

After you fire your bullet at your target, the bullet drops as it travels forward.  If you were to align your rifle with the barrel parallel to the ground and fire a round, while at pecisely the same time dropping a bullet from the same height, the two bullets would hit the ground at the same time.  Something we do to cheat this is to fire the bullet at a slight upward angle, so that the time of flight and distance covered by the bullet can be increased.  The angle varies based on how far we want the bullet to go.

 

When we zero our rifle, we adjust the rifle’s sighting system, which is our line of sight, in a way that causes us to angle our barrel, which is the bullet’s line of departure, just enough so that our bullet will intersect with our line of sight at a specific point.  The bullet may, in fact, cross our line of sight twice.  Because our sights are mounted above the bore, the bullet needs to rise to make it to the line of sight.  This first intersection is called the “initial intersection” or “double I” or “II”.  The bullet will likely keep rising slightly, then fall, crossing our line of sight again at our zero distance.  Ironically, the farther the zero distance, the closer the initial intersection will be.  This is because the compensation in the rifle’s sight has to be more drastic to cause the line of departure to point up at a greater angle.

In the case of a bullet, the amount that it drops isn’t much for the first couple hundred yards, but as the atmospheric drag slows it down, it drops more and more as it travels farther.  Because the science of flying projectiles has been worked out so much, it’s easy to figure out how much it will drop.  To do this you need 1.)  Access to a ballistics program  2.)  The ballistic coefficient of your bullet  3.)  Your muzzle velocity.

Let’s use my original D46 load as an example.  I like to use the Berger Bullets Ballistics Program to get me in the ball park with my comeups.  It’s free and it seems to be right on for me so far.  JBM Ballistics also offers free calculations online.  Lapua provides a G7  ballistic coefficient for the 185 grain D46 FMJ match bullet of .254.  I’ve chrono’d the load and have determined that the average muzzle velocity of the round is 2724 fps.  Below is a copy of what the Berger program gave me.  I had to input the data in that you see in bold print.  The program gave me everything else.  You can choose inches, minute of angle (MOA), or milliradians (mils) for the output.  I chose MOA for this article to keep it simple for those of you that are familiar with it.  I prefer mils:

+—————————– Program Inputs ———————————+
|                                                                              |
+—- Bullet Inputs —–+—-Atmosphere Inputs —-+——-Sight Inputs ——+
| Caliber: 0.308 inches         | Temperature:  70 degrees           | Sight Height:1.53 inches |
| Weight: 185 grains             | Pressure: 27.20 inHg                   | Zero Range: 100 yards   |
| G7 BC: 0.254 lb/in^2          | Humidity:  50 %                             | Look Angle:   0 degrees  |
| G7 Form Factor: 1.097       | Density: 0.06776 lb/ft^3 |                          |
| MZL Velocity:  2724 fps    | Wind Speed: 10 mph       |                          |
|                        | Wind Direction: 3 O’clock|                          |
+————————+————————–+————————–+
+—————————– Program Output ———————————+
       Range    Velocity    Energy     Trajectory         TOF          Drift
      (yards)     (fps)     (ft-lb)               (MOA)         (sec)          (MOA)
           0      2724        3048             0.00         0.0000         0.00
         25      2683        2958             -2.62         0.0277        -0.14
        100      2563        2699            0.00         0.1135        -0.57
        200      2408        2383          -1.80         0.2342        -1.18
        300      2259        2096          -4.31         0.3629        -1.82
        400      2115        1837          -7.19         0.5001        -2.51
        500      1976        1603         -10.41         0.6469        -3.24
        600      1841        1393         -13.97         0.8041        -4.02
        700      1712        1203         -17.92         0.9731        -4.86

        800      1586        1033         -22.30         1.1552        -5.77

 

The “Trajectory” column (italicized) lists the amount that the bullet is above or below the line of sight in MOA.  A minus sign indicates that the bullet is below the line of sight.  This means that you would add this much elevation to your sight to zero at that distance.  This is what is known as a “comeup”.  Notice that the comeup for 25 yards is only a quarter minute different from the comeup at 225.  The comeup for 19 yards (not shown) is identical in this case for the 300 yard comeup.  You would want to verify this in real life before trying it for real, but it would very likely work provided your input data was good.

This load, given the data, would lose its supersonic-ness at around 1200 yards.  The more legitimate phrase for this is “trans-sonic barrier”.  The range at which the bullet enters the trans-sonic barrier is generally considered to be its practical effective range, because crossing the trans-sonic barrier can cause the bullet to lose some of its predicable flight qualities.  My comeup at 1200 yards is projected as 45.68.  I would round that to the nearest quarter and make it 45.75.  Dial that in at 1200 on a windless day (yeah right), aim dead on, fire, and 2.0517 seconds later watch for the bullet strike somewhere in the general vicinity of (maybe even on) the target.

What I would do is verify the data by shooting at some of the distances.  Then I would make a card and put it in my data book, and maybe attach a simplified version to my stock for quick reference.  I hope this demystifies the drop aspect a little bit.

 

     Homemade trajectory quick reference (in mils) on the stock.

 

Ballistic Coefficient

One thing I’ve been mentioning that you may not have heard of is “ballistic coefficient” (or BC).  This is simply a number that describes how well the bullet flies through the air.  The higher the BC, the better the bullet flies, while a low BC bullet is more effected by drag.  Higher BC bullets look sleeker, and you can almost eyeball 2 different bullets and predict which one will fly better.  BC is related to sectional density, and usually longer bullets have higher BC’s than shorter ones.  This means that high BC bullets are heavy for their caliber.

BC is determined by using one of several different “standard projectiles” to provide a comparison for your bullet, which is where the number comes from.  The most common standard projectiles used to describe rifle bullets are the G1 and the G7.  The G1 is the older standard, and is the most common.  The G1 standard projectile looks like an artillery projectile.  If you look up your bullet’s BC, and it doesn’t specify which standard it uses, assume it’s the G1.  In the past few years, Bryan Litz, who is Berger’s ballistician, has demonstrated that the G7 standard projectile provides better data for rifle bullets.  Why?  The short answer is that the G7 standard projectile is shaped more like a modern rifle bullet.  A G7 will be a smaller number than a G1 for the same bullet, usually about half.

Why do you need to care about BC?  It makes a difference what kind of performance you can get.  Remember that my load for the 185 D46 has a G7 BC of .254.  Let’s say I rebarreled my 30-06 to 6.5-06 (the 30-06 cartridge necked down to 6.5mm).  For some reason, there are a lot of high BC bullets in 6.5mm.  Let’s say I found a 140 grain 6.5mm bullet with a G7 BC of .320 (that’s really high, but not unheard of for a 6.5).  Let’s also say that I got it going at 3000 fps, which I think would be a hot load but possible.  Remember that my 30-06 load went trans-sonic at about 1200 yards with 528 ft./lbs of energy.  The 6.5 would go trans-sonic at around 1740 yards!!!  A mile is 1760 yards.  Granted it would only have about the energy of a 9mm at the muzzle (390 ft./lbs), but I wouldn’t want to get hit by it.

A possibly more significant benefit for long range shooting is that a higher BC also means that the bullet is less effected by crosswind.  This means that you’re more likely to hit what your aiming at.  Pretty cool, huh?

What BC doesn’t tell you is how well the bullet is actually constructed.  A better made bullet will typically be more accurate.  High BC bullets, however, tend to have a lot of work put into them, so they are typically well made.  The other thing you can’t infer from a bullet’s BC is what it will do when it hits the target.  Terminal ballistics is a whole ‘nuther animal which I may or may not cover in the future.

Now that we can predict how the bullet will drop, how do we deal with it?  There are basically 2 options: holding and dialing.  Holding means that you’re simply placing your sights on a position other than on the target with the assumption that your point of aim (POA) no longer corresponds with your point of impact (POI).  In terms of bullet drop, the common term for holding off is “Tennessee Elevation”, who is the illegitimate half- brother to the fellow we all know as “Kentucky Windage”.  Dialing means that you’re adjusting your sight mechanism to effectively change your zero so that you can still aim POA/POI.  Holding is generally faster, dialing is generally more precise.  I’ll discuss the how-to’s of holding and dialing in a future article.  I’m already at 4 pages single spaced, which is already too much for one article.

Point Blank Range

One final thing I want to hit on is the concept of “point blank range” (I know you don’t have a problem thinking of PBR as something other than Pabst Blue Ribbon).  Point blank range in the common parlance usually means “really close”.  This is of course wrong, as the 99.99999982% of the people in the US who don’t read my blog usually are.  What PBR really means the maximum range that you can aim POA/POI and still be able to hit a given target.  PBR is determined by a few different things, namely the size of your target, and your bullet’s trajectory.

Here’s how you figure out PBR:  figure out how large your target is. Chuck Hawks tells us that the “vital zone circle” for a medium sized deer is 10″-11″.  Let’s be extra conservative and call it 8″.  Plug your info into one of the ballistics programs.  Set the output as inches.  Check out the results.  Since we’re talking about an 8″ circle, we don’t want to be more than 4″ high or low.  That means you can’t just set your zero at 600 yards and expect to hit everything up to 600, because you’ll be over 30″ high from 280 yards to 370 yards, and over 4″ high between 30 yards and 590 yards.  Not very useful.

What turns out to be the best zero in this instance, given the above criteria, is a 260 yard zero.  This puts me 3.95″ high at 140-150 yards and 4″ low at about 307 yards.  We can call 300 yards our maximum PBR for this load and target size.  If we change the criteria by dropping our standards and calling the target size 10″, then a zero at 285 yards will get us out to 337 yards.

To illustrate what a “flatter shooting” cartridge will do for us, consider the hypothetical 6.5-06 load I referenced above.  For an 8″ target, a zero setting of 290 yards will get us out to 343 yards.  If we increase our target size to 10″, a zero setting of 319 yards (yes I understand it’s a little ridiculous) will get you out to 377 yards with no adjustment or holdover.  A faster cartridge might extend the PBR a bit but there are other tradeoffs.

So if you are hunting big game and don’t want to fool with your sights or hold over, you will have to accept a practical limitation of shooting from less than 300-350 yards and embrace the PBR concept.  If you want to shoot farther than that, become a master of trajectory.  Know exactly what you’re bullet drop is, and your next limitation becomes your cartridge’s terminal ballistics.

Note that everything I’ve written concerning PBR has assumed perfect accuracy and precision from you and your system.  At 300 yards, the 8″ target is about 2.6 MOA.  At 200 it’s 3.8, and at 100  it’s 7.6.  At 300 in the cross leg sitting position, my group was about 2.4 MOA (7.6″), so using PBR I’d have a guaranteed hit, right?  No.  My group size of 7.6″ has to be added in with the distance my trajectory is already off from my line of sight.

If I was at the bottom of my “wobble area” in sitting, my shot at 300 yards would theoretically land 3.8″ (that’s half of my known group size) low.  Look at the trajectory diagram again.  At 300 yards, I’m already at the bottom of the trajectory, 4″ below my crosshairs.  Add in the wobble factor, and that makes me 3.8″ below the vital zone.  Between 85 yards and 245 yards, given my known group size, I could be just over 2″ high.  Think of it as “tolerance stacking” applied to field shooting.

What this tells me is that you need to know what you can hit, from what position, and from what distance with your zero before you go making assumptions.  The more attractive option, in my opinion, would be to know your holdovers well enough to do them under stress.

If you want to learn more about external ballistics, which is what this article was trying to be about, I highly recommend you buy and read Bryan’s book, Applied Ballistics for Long Range Shooting.  In fact, I recommend you buy my copy of the 1st edition at full price, so I can buy the 2nd edition.  I’ll throw in a dummy round as a bonus!!!

 

Golden Mags

At least you’d think they were made of gold by looking at the price.  I’m not even going to consider disclosing how much they cost.  If you really want to know, go shopping for some.  Then send them to me because you enjoy reading my articles so much.  Or just buy a Sako rifle.  Actually, that works a lot better in terms of justifying expensive purchases to the wife.  “What’s wrong Dear?  I bought a matching set for each of us?  Where are you going?  What’s the suitcase for?” 

After waiting forever to get them from Brownells at a cheaper price than I could find anywhere else, I finally got too worried that Sako would finally completely discontinue mags for the 75.  The Brownells gun tech just told me to call Midwest Gun Works.  Instead I just ordered them online.  They shipped fast and I can now make use of the detachable mag instead of just having a cool system I can’t make use of.  Again, Sako, I know you’re listening: “JUST PUT A SECOND MAG IN THE RIFLE BOX BEFORE YOU SHIP IT.  THEN RAISE THE PRICE OF THE RIFLE A LITTLE BIT.  IT WILL SAVE US FROM HAVING TO GET ANNOYED AT YOU BY SEARCHING THE FOUR CORNERS OF THE EARTH!!! 

Here’s a picture of five mags joyously dancing in a circle:

Thank you for putting up with this shameless lack of actual content.

Concentration

Really you got to have a good head on your shoulders to be able to absorb everything that’s going on around you… and to bring your skills up to the utmost…I call it getting in my bubble.  Nothing but pure, absolute, utter concentration on the job you’re doing at the time, which is what I did when I was sniping.  I learned when I was competing.

Pay attention to detail; details being what you have to do to produce that one, well-aimed shot…  Do it as much as you can, and put all your mind and body into it, into your training.  Don’t just go out to be training.  Be quality training- quality, quality, quality. 

Pay attention to detail.  Pay attention to detail.  Train, train, train, train.  You have to make each and every shot the best one there is…  You are not area shooting.  You are pin-point precision, surgical shooting.  You have to be very good.  One spot you’re gonna hit, and that’s all. 

-GySgt Carlos Norman Hathcock II

I probably don’t need to add anything, but I wouldn’t feel like I did my job unless I added my own explanation.  The more I experience as a rifle shooter, the more I understand that it’s a game of concentration.  The target turns out to simply be a gauge of how well you can focus the power of your mind to perform a task to perfection without allowing distraction, uncertainty, ignorance, forgetfulness, overconfidence, sloppiness, pain, hunger, thirst, or any other number of detractions interfere with what you are doing. 

On one hand, shooting is a process of learning how to do a number of things well.  Getting a steady position, compensating for trajectory, reading and doping the wind, breathing, and pressing the trigger come to mind in this category.  These are the skills you are trying to bring to bear. 

On the other hand, shooting is a process of exclusion.  You need to be able to put anything that’s unnecessary out of your mind.  It needs to be completely out of your experience.  There’s a saying I’ve read that comes to mind.  I tried to find it so I could credit the author, but I couldn’t.  I’ll try to the best of my memory to reproduce it: “At the range, you don’t feel hungry, thirsty, hot, cold, or tired.  The minute you prepare to fire, your total concentration is on the job you’re doing.” 

At a certain level, the target is more than an indicator of skill; the target is a mirror that reflects your character.  It has no choice but to give you a brutally honest assessment of your skill, your lack of skill, and more importantly your ability to concentrate on what you’re doing.  You can ignore what your target is telling you, but do so at your peril. 

So how do we get better at this game of concentration?  I suggest that when you’re shooting, be aware of thoughts or feelings that detract from your ability to shoot well.  If you detect any while you’re in the process of shooting, cease feeding them with your energy and focus on your task.  If you note them afterwards, make a note of it in your data book or journal.  Then resolve to notice it earlier next time and to solve that problem before it has a chance to show on your target. 

Anyone who has studied public speaking will know that one strategy that is recommended to get over one’s fear of speaking in public is to focus on the content, rather than all of the things that make it scary.  If you have passion about the content, it will channel your focus and energy away from the fear, especially once you get started.   

Fear is a normal and natural impulse.  Catering to, or indulging in fear is purely selfish when it detracts from your ability to complete a task.  Fear, as well as all the other distractions you may encounter, are simply things that need to be managed.  Then you keep working.  This is what I tell Mrs. Rifleslinger when she is afraid to get up on the 40′ ladder and finish painting the house, and could you grab me another beer on your way back out?  

 I’m using fear as an example for any thought or emotion that distracts you from completing the task at hand to the best of your ability.  The method for overcoming them could be similar, or not.  

If you’ve been shooting long enough, you’ve probably had the experience of being “in the zone”.  It’s a state of being in which you’re not too calm (bored or tired) and not too excited.  It’s exactly the opposite of feeling “off” or like you’re in over your head. 

Different activities have different “zones” of optimum performance for each person.  You need to learn how to replicate your zone, so that you’re perfectly dialed in, can pay attention to each detail that matters, and exclude the things that are extraneous or that detract from your performance.  You can use a word, a phrase, positive imagery, some routine that primes the pump.  Just find something that works.  If you ever have to take an important shot, I hope that Carlos will be proud up in Heaven.

The Rimfire Trainer

It would be nice if centerfire ammo was cheap and plentiful.  It would also be nice if they didn’t kick so hard.  Wish in one hand…

Since we rifle shooters need to be adaptable, our forefathers created the .22 LR round.  Not only is the .22 fun to plink with, it also has several advantages for honing your skills with a rifle. 

First of all, .22 ammo is cheap.  Even if you’re a snob and want match ammo, it’s way less expensive than centerfire ammo.  That means you get to shoot more. 

Secondly, recoil is negligible.  You don’t have to worry about flinch.  You’ll be able to see everything that happens during the firing of the shot.  Also, shooting with the lower recoil will help to ingrain good habits instead of flinching. 

Another benefit of the .22 as a training round is its effective range.  This is a little counterintuitive, because the .22’s isn’t known for being much of a long range round.  That’s why it’s such a good training round.  “Long range” depends on the effective range of the cartridge.  Long range for a .308 might be 800 yards.  Long range for a .338 Lapua Mag might be 1800 yards.  Not everyone has access to an 1800 yard range. 

Long range for a .22 is probably about 300 yards.  Most shooters can find a place to shoot a .22 with a little effort.  Your wind doping skills are going to have to get pretty darn good if you want to shoot the .22 at 300, which will be of great benefit. 

There are several good .22 rifles out there.  Since I shoot a Sako 75, you’d expect me to use a Sako Quad as a trainer, right?  I would love to, but if you’ve been reading enough to know I use a Sako 75, you are also probably aware that I’m cheap.  If anyone out there cares enough about the consistency of my rifle training to send me a Sako Quad, let me know and I’ll let you know where to send it. 

Three .22 rifles come to mind as good trainers.  The first is the most expensive of the three that I’m going to cover, the Sako Quad.  Sako makes great rifles.  It has a reputation as a superbly accurate rifle.  Sakos also have great triggers and the workmanship is top notch.  I’m sure they’re worth it if you can afford it. 

Next on the list would be the CZ 452.  These look like real rifles with great workmanship and, like the Sako, have a reputation for great accuracy.  The action is nice and smooth.  The triggers don’t have such a great reputation, but I think there is an aftermarket solution. 

Last is the rifle that I have, the Savage Mk II.  I have a heavy barrel version with match aperture sights.  Like the others, the Savage’s reputation for accuracy is very good.  Mine has the Savage Accutrigger, which is fine with just a hint of “roll through”.  The difference with my rifle is that the stock feels like a flimsy piece of garbage.  I don’t know of an aftermarket stock that would be enough of an improvement to change it out.  This is not the case with the Sako or the CZ, both of which can be upgraded with a Manners stock. 

My other grip with the Savage is the sights.  They’re nice to look through.  My problem is that they don’t seem to be very sturdy.  The windage knob is also prone to be accidentally turned while cycling the bolt.  Even with those negatives, it’s pretty hard to beat the Savage for the price.

    Here’s my Savage MkII.  It’s cheap, so I just store it in a super tomato cage. 

Ideally I would like to train with the .22 with a ratio of 10 .22 rounds fired per every centerfire round, and a ratio of 10-1 dryfire to .22 round.  That makes for a lot of practice, a lot of time, and a lot of skills and good habits being reinforced. 

PT for the Rifleman

Last month I wrote about the effects of stress and increased heart rate on rifle shooting, and how those effects can be lessened by being in better physical shape.  I thought that I would share my own approach and thoughts on what type of physical conditioning is helpful for the rifleman.  Note that what works for me may not work for everybody.  This is my way of saying:

 Always consult a qualified medical professional before beginning any nutritional program or exercise program. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read in “Art of the Rifle.” Any content or information provided by “Art of the Rifle” is for informational and educational purposes only and any use thereof is solely at your own risk. “Art of the Rifle” bears no responsibility thereof.

The information contained herein is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment in any manner. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding any medical condition. All information contained in “Art of the Rifle” including but not limited to text, graphics, images, information, third party information and/or advice, food, recipes, exercises, diets, psychology, websites, links, including but not limited to any content by employees, consultants or writers and contributors, and or any other material contained herein are for informational and educational purposes only.

By entering the “Art of the Rifle” website, the reader and/or viewer does hereby acknowledge that it is your sole responsibility to review this Disclaimer and any other disclaimer or waiver.

That was a pretty dang good disclaimer for a simple rifle shooter, huh?

My personal emphasis is on being in decent “all around” shape with an emphasis on being ready to, for lack of a better word, fight.  I want to have a good, functional balance of speed, stamina, strength, and flexibility.  I don’t care about looks, anything too sport specific, or living until I’m 120.  I want to be able to go from sitting in a car listening to the radio relaxing to jumping out, sprinting for a minute, grappling for a minute, then hitting a distant target with my bolt gun.  The basic idea is to maintain a state of readiness for whatever I might have to deal with.

I don’t mean to imply that I’m in super athletic shape.  I do what I can, and I know that if I have to push it for real, I’m not going to keel over or drop out.  The point is to push oneself frequently in a manner that will improve over your current condition and capability.

My menu of exercise favors the cheap, free, inventive, and primitive.  It may include, but is not limited to:

            -Running
            -Pushups (wide, narrow, normal, plyometric, etc…)
            -Situps
            -Crunches
            -Leg lifts
            -Flutter kicks
            -Squat thrusts (burpees)
            -Pullups
            -Kettlebell
            -Skipping rope
            -Punching, kicking, striking, etc…
            -Holding exercises with the rifle or other weight
            -Lunges
           
The core of what I usually do is running, pushups, pullups, and situps.  I might substitute a similar workout just to keep it interesting.  My runs are on the short side, usually 1.5 miles, and usually involve hills or stairs.  Sometimes I do half miles instead.  Sometimes I carry weight, either in my hands or on my back.  Often I’ll do wind sprints with 20 on/40off.  An alternate workout that is a little shorter is kettlebell alternating with skipping rope.  I also use some primitive Okinawan implements on occasion.

IMG_4865 Resized

                        This is about enough stuff to cover the basics for me.

I’m going to cover some of these exercises in more depth later.  This is just an introduction.

Trigger Control

Note to the (highly intelligent) reader:

What follows is an insanely long article.  I considered breaking it up into parts, but I was just too lazy.  Proceed at your own risk.

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Note to the (less intelligent) reader:

There’s lots of pictures!!!

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One of the most critical elements to firing precisely and accurately is correct trigger control.  If your hold was rock steady and your sight picture perfect, a buggered up trigger jerk would ruin the whole thing (what a cool name for a band: “Buggered Up Trigger Jerk”!!!).  On the other hand, good trigger control can make your shooting look good if some of the other components are still “works in progress”.

What are the components of good trigger control?  Essentially the trigger needs to be actuated without disturbing the sight picture.  To do this, the trigger needs to be pressed 1.)  Smoothly, 2.)  Straight to the rear, and 3.)  Without moving any other part of the firearm. 

Let’s start with the placement of the finger on the trigger.  This placement is so crucial that I use it to determine how every other part of my firing side arm gets placed.  I like the center of the pad of my index finger to be on the trigger in most situations.   

There are some great shooters who use the tip of the finger to contact the trigger.  The tip of the finger does make for a more tactile interaction between finger and trigger, which generally is good.  It also increases the perceived weight of the trigger.  It also seems slower to me.  These are tradeoffs that you’ll have to consider.   

I would generally not consider using any part of my trigger finger behind the center of the pad to press the trigger unless I was not strong enough to actuate the trigger without straining using my normal technique.  Obviously, you get more leverage to pull by using the joint.  If you think about it, the joint, being somewhat like a hook, isn’t really capable of “pressing”, but can only pull.  It’s a subtle difference (I’ll explain more later).  Looking at the way the finger works, it would seem that the center of the pad is the best way to ensure that the trigger moves straight back. 

Here’s how the position of the trigger finger influences your ability to press the trigger straight back.  Hold your trigger finger up.  Now flex and extend it.  The movement describes an arc.  Where we place that arc will determine which way the trigger is moved.  If the trigger finger is not in far enough, the trigger press will be at the top of the arc, causing the trigger to be moved toward your support side.  In the following photos my right index finger is the trigger finger, while my left simulates the trigger:

 

If your finger is too far in, the trigger press will be near the bottom of the arc, which will pull the rifle toward your firing side:

 

IMG_4849

The correct placement will put the portion of the arc of movement that is the most straight to the rear at the trigger break:

 

If you now move your finger in front of you and simulate the motion of using the tip of your finger, you’ll notice that the movement of the distal interphalangeal joints (the joints between the most distant three sections of finger bones) is minimized and the primary movement comes from the “popping knuckle” (metacarpalphalangeal joint) and allows for a pretty nice straight back motion.

 

Please note the important difference between this and the first photo (finger not in far enough) and the above photo of a tip trigger press, in that although in both cases the tip of the finger is touching the trigger, the position of the hand in the tip trigger press is farther forward. 

There’s another crucial element to the placement of the trigger finger.  It must not cause any other part of the rifle to move (because that would be detrimental to your precision and accuracy).  The means to this end is that the only part of the rifle that your trigger finger touches is the trigger.  If your finger is touching the stock, it will likely be inducing sideways movement at exactly the wrong time- when it’s too late for you to correct it.  Don’t just assume that you’re doing it right; you need to be deliberate and purposeful if you want to get it right, so check it and fix it if necessary.

 

IMG_4853
See the entire trigger finger in contact with the stock? This is called “Draggin’ Wood”, and is BAD!!!

IMG_4855
Now the rest of the finger is well clear of the stock, and that’s good. Yes, I see that the camera is focused on the ocular lens cover instead of my finger. Thanks for pointing that out. Guess I’ll stick to my day job!

Now that we’ve gotten the placement of our trigger fingers correct, there’s another step to check to ensure that our trigger manipulation is not moving the rifle.  The trigger finger needs to move completely independently of the rest of the firing hand.  There cannot be any sympathetic movement of the other fingers or the thumb as the trigger finger presses the trigger.  I believe that a pistol is easier to learn this aspect of trigger control with, because the firing hand is the primary interface with that weapon; if your grip changes it will show up bigtime.

The way you grip the pistol grip with your firing hand can affect your ability to keep the trigger press independent.  Moving your thumb to the same side as the rest of your fingers can reduce its tendency to oppose the trigger finger.

Another option for thumb placement is on the rear of the pistol grip, directly behind the trigger.  Although this thumb position is not guaranteed to neutralize the thumb’s ability to oppose the trigger finger, if it’s straight behind the trigger finger at least the direction of opposition is neutral.

A final consideration before we even think about firing is the actual trigger press.  I use the word “press” because that word evokes a finer, more tactile motion than do the words “pull” or “squeeze”, both of which subconsciously suggest to you to use more muscle groups than you should be.  Semantics aside, the trigger should be actuated by pressing it straight to the rear.  This is a little more tricky to get right than you might think.

Pull Squeeze Press
Pulling, squeezing, and pressing.  Words have specific meanings, and suggest specific things to your subconscious.  Which one do you think best lends itself to precision?

A good way to learn to press the trigger straight to the rear is to get into a firing position and get a sight picture.  Press the trigger and hold it to the rear.  Don’t release it until we’re completely done here.  Notice what happened with your sight picture when you pressed the trigger.  Now push your trigger finger toward your support side while maintaining contact with the trigger.  This should cause your sights to move in that direction.  Now pull your trigger finger toward your support side, still in contact with the trigger.  Your sights moved in that direction.  Now move your trigger back and forth in a slow left and right oscillation.  Gradually reduce the oscillation until finally you cannot visually perceive any movement of the sights.  Now relax and consciously burn that kinesthetic information into your brain, body, and nervous system.  Now you can release the trigger, repeat, and do some careful dry fire to reinforce your learning.

Now you have the basic structural elements of trigger control.  Let’s cover the technique of actually pressing it.  Most triggers have some slack to take up before the sear/striker interface is within the feel of your finger.  Sometimes this “take up” is part of the trigger design.  In these cases the trigger would be a 2-stage trigger, with the take up or slack being the 1st stage.  In other cases, like a standard AR trigger or a 1911, the tolerances are a little more “forgiving” and there’s just some play in the system.  This take up should prime the sensitivity of your finger.  You shouldn’t be using much force, just enough, and be smooth.  If you have a good single stage trigger like my Sako 75, there won’t be any perceptible take up.  You have to know ahead of time to be ready for the imminent trigger break.

When there’s no more take up left in your trigger, and your intention is still to fire the weapon, continue pressing, adding additional pressure smoothly until the shot breaks.  The key here is to be smooth.  You don’t need to immediately send 13 lbs. of pressure to the trigger if your trigger breaks at 2 lbs.  The idea is to start at nothing and gradually increase the pressure until the shot breaks.

Ideally it should come as a surprise to you when the gun fires.  This is called a “surprise break”.  The reason for the surprise break is that it’s very difficult to suppress the body’s natural tendency to flinch when it know that something loud and painful is imminent.  The surprise break ensures that it doesn’t know exactly when to flinch, which allows your body to remain still as the bullet exits.  To achieve a surprise break, apply pressure to the trigger gradually so that the trigger will break within a window of time that is fairly short, but not specifically defined.  Think 3-5 seconds.

After the shot breaks continue to press the trigger to the rear.  This is part of what is called “follow through”.  I hear a lot that releasing the trigger early disturbs the rifle as the bullet is still in the barrel.  I don’t believe this because of the speed that the bullet is traveling at, but I believe that the failure to manifest the intent to hold the trigger back can lead to an erratic trigger press.  Either way, the effect is that your shot goes wild.  So be steady with the press, and hold the trigger to the rear after the shot goes.  Hold it long enough to see the recoil cycle has completed.

If you’re using a semi-auto, keep your finger in contact to the trigger unless you have accomplished your mission and are completely finished with your string of fire.  Keep the trigger finger in contact, and release the trigger just enough to let it reset.  You should hear a click which is the resetting of the trigger mechanism.  Then you can take up the slack, if any, and press again, if necessary.  Letting the finger off the trigger, especially in a jerky manner, is called “booger flicking” (yes vulgar, I know; I didn’t name it) and is not conducive to shooting precisely.

As you gain the ability to press the trigger smoothly, you’ll want to decrease the time it takes you to do so.  You can smoothly actuate the trigger in under a second.  This is called a “compressed surprise break”.  The idea is that you still don’t know when the trigger is going to break, but the window of time is smaller.  In reducing the time that you’re pressing the trigger, YOU CANNOT COMPROMISE YOUR SMOOTHNESS!!!

There are a few analogies that may help your mental imagery of how this a faster trigger technique can be just as smooth.  The first is that the trigger break is like moving a bowling ball from a height to the ground.  Simply dropping the ball on the ground would be analogous to jerking the trigger like you did before I saved you by writing this article (that was pretty nice of me, huh?).  Rolling the ball down a very gentle slope would be like a nice, smooth trigger press.  There’s not an impact, but the ball makes it down smoothly over a period of several seconds.  What if we increased the slope?  The ball would travel more quickly, but still not have an impact.  This is your compressed surprise break.

Another analogy is that pressing the trigger is similar to releasing the clutch on a manual transmission car.  Think way back to last month when you were learning how to drive.  How many times did you kill it by letting the clutch out too fast?  That’s like jerking the trigger.  Soon you learned to let the clutch out ridiculously slowly, which ensured that the car didn’t die.  If you did it smooth, then the car didn’t jerk.  This was a “surprise” because you finally managed not to stall the car (like a “surprise break”, okay not funny, sorry).  Later, when you started driving like an idiot teenager, you learned that you could let the clutch out faster, and if everything was working smoothly together, the car wouldn’t die.  It’s not a perfect analogy, because the car is more forgiving for lack of smoothness than a rifle.  Maybe we can say that your driving test examiner has a full cup of hot coffee.

Now that you know how to operate a trigger, let’s talk about what a good trigger feels like.  The classic description is that of a glass rod breaking.  There are also common adjectives, like crisp and clean.  The idea is that you don’t want there to be any movement of the trigger that is perceptible to you until the rifle just fires.  Perceptible movement occurs when the sear engagement surface can be felt as it disengages, and is known as “creep”.  Creep feels like a bunch of false starts before the big “bang”.  Creep gets into your subconscious and tells it to get ready for an imminent bang and accompanying recoil.  That means that creep is BAD!  The most important quality of a good trigger is that it be creep free regardless of its weight.  A light, creepy trigger is not a good trigger.

There is a type of creep that some shooters don’t mind.  Creep that is steady and smooth, though still perceptible as movement, results in what is called a “roll through” trigger.  In a rifle it feels like a light, short, double action revolver type feel.  The reason that this type of creep is not that bad is that it still doesn’t tell you when to flinch.  My M1A has a trigger like this and I shoot fine with it.

As far as weight, it’s largely a matter of personal preference.  I think that an exceptionally hard trigger pull (maybe > 12 lbs) will make it very difficult to keep from moving the rifle while actuating the trigger.  If you play a shooting game, it may dictate the minimum weight, and being a gamer you’ll probably pay a lot of money to make sure that it’s right at the minimum.  Otherwise, a good range is probably 2-4 lbs. for a rifle.  It’s hard to go wrong with a nice 3 lb. trigger as long as you’re used to it.  If you’re used to a double action revolver and firing a 3 lb. trigger for the first time, it may be too light.  Be careful.  Remember Rule #3: Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target and you’re ready to fire.

As important as trigger control is, I don’t think it’s always a good idea to think about it when firing.  You should do a lot of work (tons) on it in dry fire, and some in live fire, but I think it can be distracting and ultimately detract from your shooting focus.  More on this later.

Thank you for enduring this painfully long, but incredibly insightful article on trigger control.  If you have any pearls of wisdom that I did not cover, feel free to comment.

 

Olympic Prone

As military prone represents the old standard, it seems like Olympic prone is currently the most commonly used variant of the prone position.  I have some theories about this that I haven’t heard or read anywhere else, so of course they’re crackpot theories. Read on, if you dare…

I started with military prone after reading everyone’s favorite book, Art of the Rifle.  Col. Cooper presents both variations of prone along with a statement that in his experience as a trainer, preference for one position falls generally at about 50/50%.  I don’t remember if I tried both, but I probably did and picked military prone.  I have no formal training in this position.

Later, I got some instruction that heavily favored Olympic prone at the total exclusion of military prone.  I completely switched over to Olympic.  I used Olympic prone for about a year, and shot decently well with it.  Later I got curious and compared my shooting with the two positions.  There wasn’t much difference, but I shot a little better with military prone, and it’s way, way, WAY more comfortable for me.

Olympic prone is marketed as being better than military prone because it gets your stomach off the ground and allows you to breathe easier.  It also allows you to get your elbow farther under the rifle.  It is also claimed that the drawn up leg absorbs recoil.  The question that needs to be asked in response to these purported benefits is: “Do I need these ‘benefits’?  Will they help or hinder my performance?”  Let’s examine this question.

I stated in the article on military prone that it “tends to work well for people who don’t have too much in the way of a “beer gut” and are relatively flexible in the rotator cuff and hip”.  I stumbled on to this secret formula for choosing which position to use after a ton of research- personally, anecdotally, watching and coaching other shooters, and it was another topic that took me to the end of the internet.  I know it’s hard to believe, but before I came up with this little blog here, you actually would have had to do your own research!!!  Luckily now you can just take my word for it.

In my personal shooting and spending a long time with Olympic prone, I discovered that there were certain attributes that were detrimental or of no benefit at all for me.  These are the same things that other people find helpful.  This is going to come as a shock, but not everyone has the same body type.  Furthermore, and just as shocking, different body types present different challenges and issues.  That’s why I encourage you to never just take someone’s word for it, even mine.  I also want you to know that I’m 100% consistent, and would never contradict myself.

The first benefit that wasn’t for me was getting my belly off the ground to make it easier to breathe.  I may not have washboard abs, but neither do I really have much in the way of a beer gut.  I don’t have any problems breathing with my belly and the ground.  The much touted “heartbeat” problem, which is apparently exacerbated by the pulse undulating through the belly causing the sights to move all over, doesn’t really cause a problem for me.  Admittedly, I see my sights or reticle bounce.  The movement is about a half minute.  This is within my ability to hold.  Therefore I consider it a non-issue.

In order to get the belly off the ground in Olympic prone, the firing side leg is drawn up towards the firing hand.  This is supposed to use the natural tension of your groin/hip area muscles and tendons to then roll your body up  towards your support side.  I happen to be somewhat flexible in that area (butterfly stretch anyone?), so drawing my leg up didn’t cause the roll to happen.  I had to make it happen artificially, which induced tension in the position to force the position to “look right”, because as we all know, function follows form (wait a minute…).  Forcing myself up like that causes me a lot of pain in my hip.

The other “benefit” of Olympic prone is that the roll puts your support elbow naturally further under the rifle.  There are a lot of people who have trouble getting that elbow under far enough, so this is of benefit to them.  In my case, I had done a lot of work getting the elbow under the rifle in military prone.  In Olympic prone, my elbow would easily go past the rifle, with stretch to spare.  This extra stretch, coupled with a relaxed position, caused my NPA to slowly fall down and left.  I could just watch it travel.  On the other hand, I get a pretty nice, solid, lockup with military prone.

Now we come to another theory of mine.  Why did Olympic prone become more prevalent than military prone.  Could it be that we, as a nation, have gotten more lazy and sedentary in the last 50-60 years?  I think this is a possibility (rifleman’s PT anyone?).

I’m not saying that Olympic prone isn’t right for anyone, I’m trying to illustrate why it isn’t right for everyone.  But if you’re going to do this, let’s do it right (I’ve said this before, but I also highly recommend Jim Owens’ book Leather Sling and Shooting Positions):

Lie on your stomach (maybe without rifle to begin with would be safer). Extend your left arm such that the flat of your support arm contacts the ground in front of you. With both legs straight behind you, bring the knee of your firing side leg up as far as it will go. Now bring it back down to about 1/3 to 1/2 way forward.  The lower part of your firing side leg (the one that’s “cocked” up) should be about parallel to the bore line.  The support side leg should be in pretty much a straight line with the spine:

Raising the firing side leg should raise that side of your torso up off the ground.  We’re looking to get the torso at an angle of about 45°.  This will give some room to your beer gut so you can breathe.

Because your body is at an angle you have two different ways you can get your heels down. Remember from the military prone article, you don’t want your heels sticking up, because they will move with the recoil impulse. Remember from the natural point of aim article that moving parts of your position cause inconsistencies, and that’s BAD!!!


B-A-D!!!Your options are: support side heel in, or support side heel out.

Because the rest of the stance is rotated at about a 45° angle, I think it’s more natural to keep the toes pointed in and the heel pointing out. This will put both of your heels and toes pointing in the same direction. Some people have difficulties moving certain ways, so I’ll leave it to you to choose what works best for you. I know that’s a radical approach, but we’ll try it.

Rolling the body probably put your support elbow farther under the rifle (or closer if you’re not very flexible). Try to get it as close to directly under as possible.


The elbow way too far under the rifle and the bulging vein in the forehead are clues that Military Prone may work better for you.

I’m assuming that you’re starting out without a rifle. Place your firing hand thumb on the bottom of the boniest part of your cheekbone (this is known as a spotweld, as opposed to a cheekweld in which the cheek contacts the stock). While keeping your thumb in place, plant your firing side elbow on the ground. You should be in about the correct position.

 Ready to rock, except that I seem to have forgotten something important, like say, a barreled action.

As a side note: the pictures this month depict the shooter not using a sling.  The sling is of great benefit to accuracy and precision in both the military and Olympic prone positions if you have the time to use it.