The Coriolis Effect

If you’re worried about how to compensate for the coriolis effect, or the earth turning and throwing off your point of impact, there are a couple of things you can do.  The first would be to destroy your copy of the movie “Shooter”.  Either break the disc, or erase the file, whatever you have to do to get rid of that trash.  And shame on you for thinking the opening sequence was cool.  Don’t take your shooting tips from Marky Mark any more either.  He’d just as soon have a thug take your guns away as he would violently kill someone in a movie with one.


You might as well just get rid of your TV for that matter.  Even watching History Channel specials on sniping probably isn’t going to build up your skill level.  10 minutes of dry fire would be time better spent, not to mention all of the propaganda you’re getting that pretty much borders on mind control…


Next, learn how to shoot better.  99.9% of us have a lot of other shooting related problems to fix before we go on to the minor things like the rotation of the earth.  At the distances where coriolis actually does have an effect, the error from your bad wind call is going to be much more of a factor.  I’ll let you in on a secret: the main reason that this whole Coriolis nonsense was invented in the first place, so you have a cool excuse when you miss.


Finally, learn to prioritize shooting problems.  Coriolis and spin drift should be pretty low.  Finding a steady position, shooting under stress and time constraints, ranging, reading the wind, knowing your load, are things that would be much better uses of your time and mental energy.  


If you still want to learn about coriolis, work on getting your shooting up to speed.  I’ll do the same, and I’ll do a real article on coriolis in a year.  Deal?  OK.

Using the Hasty Sling

Here’s a topic I’m not crazy about.  Some people love it, swear by it, and use it all the time.  I just don’t quite get it.  I’ve used it and liked it, but at this point I think it’s limiting, and generally works against good form.  Now I have you in suspense, at the tip of your seat, wondering what this thing is.  It’s the hasty sling (I know someone must have found the hidden clue and figured it out).


The hasty sling is an attempt to use the rifle sling as a shooting aid to enhance precision, similar in principle to the loop sling.  The difference is that it’s faster to get into than a loop, and offers a different kind of support.  People use this in all kinds of positions, but it’s mostly associated with offhand or standing, where it has the potential to be of the most use.


To get into the hasty sling from a standing position, with offhand as the goal…
I know that you actually take me more seriously because of the scary Halloween mask because you understand that although I may be putting all my substantial credibility on the line, I’m willing to do it to make a serious artistic statement.  Or my sense of humor is a little “off”.

Reach your support arm all the way through the sling:


                         Reaching the arm in… and I want your brain!

Wrap the support hand around the outside of the sling, just like the loop sling:

Assume the offhand position:


     If you think I can actually see anything with this damn mask on, you’d be wrong.

The sling should ride snugly across the top of your chest.  This supports a good deal of the rifle’s weight.  If your rifle weighs a ton, this might be nice for you.  If you plan on using this, you may consider giving the rear sling swivel the same half twist you’d put into a loop sling when installing it on the stud.  This will make the front of the sling ride better on your hand.  I didn’t do that here, and didn’t really notice the difference.


Using the hasty sling seems to settle a lot of the movement down as compared to offhand without using the sling.  I say “seems”, and I mean “seems”.  It settles the initial movement for me, where I’m still settling in.  It locks you to where your NPA is, which is helpful, especially if you aren’t very clear on where it is.  


What I find is that without the sling in offhand, yes, there will be a moment of big movement as I settle in.  Then everything becomes quite still for a moment for just enough time to theoretically break the shot.  Using the hasty sling, there is a constant, albeit small (8-10 MOA), and consistent box-like pattern of movement that just won’t go away.  I know that in dry fire, I feel a lot more relaxed and in control without the sling.  It took a lot of practice to get to that point.  In live fire it’s honestly a wash.


Another reason that I don’t favor using this technique is that it goes against the principles of relaxing and using bone support.  Why would I want to introduce tension into the structure?  You could say that the loop sling induces tension as well, but the difference is it’s tightening up the structure of the position rather than inducing pure muscle tension.  The only good reason I can think of for using the tension offered by the hasty sling is if it were a little windy out,  it would stiffen you up a bit.  If it’s a lot windy out, you need to be in a more stable position.


My final reason for generally disliking the hasty sling is that, although “hasty”, it’s a little slow for most of the time that offhand would likely be employed.  This is because the #1 reason for using offhand is speed.  Greazy, lightin’ fast, snapshootin’ speed, Rock.  Offhand is not optimized for target shooting, and even if it were I still wouldn’t use the hasty sling.  I can’t say it any plainer than that.


There is a second variation of the hasty sling, for those of you who choose to use it.  It’s a faster version of the hasty.  Appleseed calls it the “Hasty Hasty”.  Marketing is not their strong point.  They should call it something flashier, like the “Super Ultra Improved Faster-than-Ever Speedy Hasty Sling™”.


Here’s how to get into the ‘Super Ultra Improved Faster-than-Ever Speedy Hasty Sling™”:

From the starting position:

Without letting go of anything, thrust your support elbow inside the sling’s comfort zone:


Now bring the rifle up while pushing the support elbow down, causing isometric tension:

That’s it.  Have fun, sucker!!!  Just kidding.  Actually that was very mean and I’m sorry.  But not really.

Holding for Elevation, Part II

Yesterday’s post examined using a mil reticle for holdovers.  What if you don’t have a super cool calibrated reticle?  That’s the question I find myself asking, because although I’d like a mil/mil scope on #1, I don’t.  I have a Leupold Vari-X III, 3.5-10×42, circa 2002.  It has a duplex reticle in the second focal plane.  More on focal plane later.


One way to holdover with a duplex would be to learn your trajectory in inches and estimate holding over the correct amount.  This could work for someone who can accurately estimate distance through their scope.  If you know about how big your target is as a reference then this may be doable.  This method is going to depend a lot on luck.


The duplex reticle is not made to use as a precise tool for holdovers.  That doesn’t mean that it can’t be done.  This is where we put the “art” into the rifle shooting.  The duplex reticle has an intersecting pair of thin lines that turn into thicker lines just outside the center of the sight picture.  These distinct features of the reticle give us a measuring stick we can use for holds.  The first task is to determine the amount that our stick measures.


To get a good read on the reticle, we’re actually going to have to measure the distance that it spreads over a known distance.  This can’t be just close, we have to physically tape off the yardage to the target first.  Don’t trust a marker at the range; tape it off at exactly 100 yards (or meters if you’re stuck on the metric system).  Next, you’ll need a target that will allow you to know how big your reticle measures.  What units to use?  You could just go in inches, or you could use what your knob is calibrated in, which I think would make a lot of sense.  You don’t want two different types of data competing for your brain power.  Also if you used inches, the measurement is only valid at the distance you did your measuring at.  MOA or mils, being angular measurements, mean what they mean regardless of distance.


I checked my Leupold Duplex reticle at 100 yards at 3.5 and 10 power magnifications.  I measured the total distance from the bottom of the upper thick stadia line to the top of the lower thick stadia line.  At 10x, the distance was 5.375”.  At 3.5x, the distance was 16.75”.  In MOA this comes out to 5.13 and 16 respectively.  Remember that inches per 100 yards don’t exactly equal minutes of angle that your ballistic software will give you.  MOA equals 1.047, etcetera, etcetera, decimal points ad nauseum… per 100 yards.  Small difference, but why not get it right?  This means that from the intersection of the crosshairs to any thick stadia line, there is 2.57 and 8 MOA distance respectively.


A couple things about the scope…  It says it’s a 3.5-10.  I suspect some rounding of numbers was involved in that labeling decision.  Scopes usually have a round number as the divisor of the magnification range.  For example, 3 (2-6x, 3-9x, 4-12x), 4 (2-8x, 4-16x, 5-20x), 5 (3-18x, 5-25x).  I would guess that my scope is actually something on the order of a 3.333-9.999x.  The other thing is the focal plane, which in this case is the second focal plane.


Second focal plane scopes have been the norm in the U.S. since forever.  American hunters like them because the reticle always appears the same size to the eye, and the reticle’s dimensions are always at (or at least appear to be) the “optimum” size as far as line width.  Because the size of the reticle always appears the same to the shooter, regardless of the zoom, this means that the distance that it subtends changes with the magnification.  


First focal plane scopes have reticles that always subtend the same amount.  This means that if you have, for example, a mildot reticle, a mil equals 1 mils at 10x and at 5x, and for any power the scope can dial, for that matter.  If you watch the reticle while you zoom the scope, you’ll see its size change in accordance with the image size.  The disadvantage is that the reticle can appear very thin and small at low magnification, and quite thick at the maximum magnification setting.  Manufacturers are getting pretty good at designing first focal plane reticles that are effective and usable throughout their entire range, but it’s not something you can take for granted until you try it. 


What I did was plugged my load data into the Berger Bullets Ballistics Program and looked at the data.  I ran out of the 185 grain bullets I’d been using, so I’m in the process of developing a load for the 155 grain Nosler Custom Competition bullet that I had a bunch of lying around.  I wasn’t completely done with load development, but I know that I’m going to end up with a muzzle velocity somewhere around the mid 2900’s.  I plugged in the data as 155 @ 2960 with a G7 BC of .213.  I tweaked the zero range to play with the options for using the reticle.


For my rifle and load, the only zero distance that I would not have to worry about holding under would be the 100 yard zero.  The bullet is actually a tenth of an inch high at 80 yards, but in practical terms that’s insignificant.  The disadvantage of a 100 yard zero is that the bullet is dropping a LOT after about 400 yards.  Also an 100 yard zero for a 30-06 doesn’t take advantage of its trajectory.


What I figured out is that, because the thick to thin line transition is 2.57 MOA at 10x, I might be able to take advantage of this by setting my 100 yard zero at the top thick/thin intersection at that magnification setting.  This puts me at a 253 yard zero with the crosshairs, which is quite good for a general 30-06 zero. 

What about when I’m using the lowest magnification setting?  In that case I would be significantly low if I used the same top thick/thin intersection.  If I just used the crosshair, I would be within a point blank range trajectory range of about 310 yards for an 8” target, which is not too bad if I had to take a quick shot at something.


Still using the 10x setting, the lower thick/thin intersection would correlate to a 360 yard zero.  If I want to stretch out the distance at which I have a definite point of aim at a particular distance, I have to dial my magnification back down, which is counterintuitive and unfortunate, but not completely unreasonable considering what one can actually accomplish with a magnification of 3 or 4.  At 3.5 (or whatever it actually is), the bottom thick/thin intersection is equal to about a 545 yards zero.  I could actually make a small quick reference card for the data book or to attach to the rifle with pictures of the zeros at various range.

I’ve been thinking about making a target with 2 horizontal lines 11.06” apart.  If I was exactly 100 yards from the target, and adjusted the zoom until the top and bottom thick/thin intersections bracketed the times, this would be the exact middle of my scopes adjustment range.  This would give me a third, “medium” option.  If it gets too busy to remember, I can at least write it down for reference.


Let’s say you wanted to know an exact point to aim for a specific distance, say 400 yards.  Check your trajectory table for your drop, in MOA, from your zero to 400 yards.  Mine’s estimated at 4.53.  We can figure this from the 100 yard line.  First we need to convert the MOA number to inches at 100 yards, which is close, but not precisely the same: 4.53 x 1.047 = 4.74.  I just made all the math nerds mad by being inconsistent with my decimal places.  Make a target with horizontal lines that distance apart.  Place the target at 100 yards and put the crosshairs on the top line.  Adjust your zoom until the bottom thick/thin intersection lines up with your bottom line.  Mark your zoom adjustment so you’ll have a reference.  There you go.  


So what I ended up with can be thought of as an enhanced point blank zero.  If nothing else, I still have a workable point blank zero if I forget my holdovers and holdunders.  But in addition, I now have reference points to enhance my precision and extend my usable range to about as far as I should consider firing on game.  This is good.


What’s not so good is that I’m only making use of about half of my cartridge’s maximum effective range.  A second potential problem is remembering to hold over/under.  About the first 21 rounds I fired with this type of zero were a little off because I forgot to hold under.  With a little time and dry fire, I’m starting to think of the reticle as more of a “continuum”.

I have only guesses as to how to compensate for the part of the cartridges trajectory that really demands the most precision (farther than 600 yards).  There’s a lot of fun and challenge in stretching our cartridge’s legs a bit.  If only from a training standpoint, long range shooting has the potential for a lot of benefit.  I’m still planning for a mil/mil scope sometime in the future.  Stay tuned.

Holding for Elevation, Part I

Last month we discussed trajectory.  We understand that the bullet only crosses our line of sight (crosshairs or front sight) at one or two points during its flight.  We can’t always shoot from the exact range of our rifle’s zero.  There are three options for dealing with this that I can think of:


     Option 1:  Use a point blank range zero, as discussed in the trajectory article.

     Option 2:  Adjust your sighting system to be zeroed at the distance that you’re 
                     presently shooting at.  


     Option 3:  Compensate for the variance of actual shooting distace to zero distance by
                     holding your sight over or under your target to align the bullet’s trajectory to
                     hit the target.

The point blank zero concept is practical for some applications, especially hunting.  It’s fast and simple.  You do your thinking beforehand and just shoot when it comes time.  The catch is that you’d better stay within the maximum point blank range.  That means that if you want clean, ethical kills on game your range estimation skills had better be good under pressure.  A major drawback with this approach is if you would like to have the ability to take a more precise shot on occasion, you’re kind of stuck with hoping to get lucky.


Adjusting your sights (aka “dialing”) is theoretically the most precise way to adjust the rifle’s trajectory for a change in distance.  This allows you to use your normal sight picture the way that the sighting system was intended to be used.  The primary disadvantage is that this is slower than either of the other options.  If the initiative is yours, than you might have time to adjust your elevation knob.  If the target is one of opportunity, you will be unlikely to have time to be cranking your knob.  


If you have a hunting scope, you probably have a capped turret, which you would have to take even more time to remove.  Under some of these capped turrets is a dial that takes a coin or a screwdriver to adjust.  Obviously, this type of adjustment is meant to be left alone in the field.  This eliminates dialing for practical purposes for users of those scopes.


This leaves holding.  The main thing with this technique is that you have to really have your trajectory down to the point where you don’t even need to think about it.  This is going to take a lot of shooting to get right.  Depending on what equipment you have and what your zero is, you’ll probably have to use holdovers for distances very close (before your bullet’s initial intersection with the sight) and then beyond your zero range.  For distances between your initial intersection and your zero range, you’ll have to hold under.  This is going to be confusing unless you have done it in practice a lot.


The easiest way to use elevation holds is with a calibrated reticle.  There are some that are supposed to be pre-calibrated to match a specific load.  It’s a cool idea, if you don’t mind being stuck with that exact load.  If you use a different load, or you have a different muzzle velocity, it could still work for the most part.  It just seems like an inflexible, and likely inexact approach to holding.  Reticles calibrated for loads tend to work best within about 500 yards. 


A much better way, and the optimum way in my opinion, would be to use a reticle calibrated in mils or moa, preferably with the scope adjustment knobs matching the reticle (mil reticle/mil knobs, or moa reticle/moa knobs).  This way you can know the precise hold for any load.


Here’s an example of how this might work.  Let’s say you use a 100 yard zero, and you find your target at 330 yards (you know this because you studied the crap out of the Google map for your AO).  Either by memory or by a reference card you know that your comeup is 1.5 mils for that range and zero.  Since your scope has a mil reticle and mil knobs (LUCKY!!!), you could either dial 1.5 mils up, or holdover 1.5 mils.  Because you’re in a hurry, you choose to holdover.  If you use a mildot reticle, you’d just hold over so that your point of aim is exactly between the first two dots on the vertical line under your crosshairs.  New reticle designs have hash marks, long hashes for full mils and shorter for half mils.  That would mean that you’d have an exact intersection to aim at, and precision would not likely suffer.  Press trigger, bang, hit… uh, that was pretty cool.

Even with a mildot reticle, reading it to the nearest tenth of a mil is not that hard.  You need to be able to read your reticle to at least that level of accuracy to range with it.  A good place to get some practice reading a mil or moa reticle is with the Shooter Ready long range shooting simulation.  This program is a lot of fun to work with and will get your reticle ranging skills up to par.  You can also practice using holdovers once you determine the range to target.


I hope this illustrates the advantages of the matching reticle and knobs, which in my opinion are huge, and increase the capabilities of your shooting system beyond the scope of this article.  As far as holdovers are concerned, the advantages of this system are that you have exact reference points for any range within your maximum effective range, especially with some of the mil reticles with 15 mils of holdover markings (this is equivalent to 51.5 minutes, and would be plenty to over 1000 yards for my modest 30-06 load, and out past where my load goes subsonic.  The advantages outside of the scope of this article include, but aren’t necessarily limited to, range finding, holding for wind, and engaging moving targets.

The Hawkins Position

I have to confess that I don’t know where, when, or how this position came about.  I will throw out a wild guess and say that some dude named Hawkins must have been involved.  What is it?  Funny you should ask, I was just about to tell you.

The Hawkins position is a variation of supported prone.  The unique thing about this position is that it is markedly lower than other variations of the prone position.  That’s the main thing to remember.
The Hawkins position can be made to work in two ways.  The first is if you are just behind a small rise that you can set the forend on.



The support fist grasps the front sling swivel firmly.  This does two things.  First, it acts as a stable interface between your rifle and the surface beneath.  Secondly, and very importantly, it is the only thing that absorbs the recoil of this position.  Because of this, the support side elbow MUST BE LOCKED!  I wouldn’t want you to get a black eye, so remember THE SUPPORT SIDE ELBOW MUST BE LOCKED!

            Might be a good time to remind you to LOCK OUT THE ELBOW.

Because we’re trying to stay low the butt of the rifle just sits on the ground in this position.  You can’t get your shoulder that low, so your armpit goes over the stock.  Everything else is as normal.  For minor elevation changes, adjust the tension in your fist.  For gross elevation changes, use a different position.


                                        Hawkins- very low profile.


                                         Not Hawkins- not as low.


If you’re not on a rise, and you still really want to be low, you’ll have to dig the rifle butt into the dirt. Grab the front swivel and lock out that arm. I really mean lock it, not just straighten it.  Theoretically, in this version of the Hawkins the dirt should absorb the recoil, and you might not need to lock out the arm.  I wouldn’t trust the dirt in the picture. 

To get into Hawkins on level ground, dig your butt into the dirt.  The rifle butt actually, but nice try.




Hawkins- very low.  The rock that I dug the butt into the ground with is just at my right side.

Not Hawkins- not as low.  Notice how angry I got when I wasn’t as low.

The disadvantage of the Hawkins position over the other prone positions is primarily that lateral movement is much more difficult.  Gross elevation changes are likewise pretty much out of the question.  You’ll also have a bit harder time getting back on target.  It’s somewhat more ackward that a more conventional prone position.  Cheekweld and eye relief are highly compromised, but not so much to make you any less accurate than unsupported prone using the sling.

I shot a 10 shot group from 100 yards.

2.6 inches, about 2.5 MOA.  This is pretty much exactly what I did with this rifle from unsupported prone using the sling.

If you really, really, really need to get low, this is the one for you.  Otherwise, the compromises are unnecessary.  Good luck, be safe, and have fun.



The Rifle Data Book

Do you ever feel like your practice is not as productive as it could be?  Do you ever forget what sight settings you used for a specific range, or specific position, or specific weather conditions?  Do you notice that your zero changes throughout the year, and wonder if there might be a pattern there?  Do you ever wish that you had an easy to use and portable reference to record your progress?  If you answered “Yes!!!” to any of these questions, you should use a data book.

The data book is a NECESSARY tool for you to get the most out of your training time.  If you just go out to the range without a plan and send lead downrange doing whatever you feel like doing (probably what you do every time), you’re WASTING AMMO (that’s got to be some kind of sin or something).  The data book, if used correctly can not only make your ammo expenditure worthwhile, it can make every shot meaningful.

What’s in a data book?  Well, I’ve bought a couple, so I can tell you.  I started out with one from Storm Tactical that I bought from Triad Tactical with a kit that included a multicam data book cover, a couple of Rite in the Rain pens, a Mildot Master (get one!), and a special sniper drawing template that I probably could have done without.  If I remember correctly, the whole thing cost about $100.  This was a couple years ago, and the dollar ain’t what it used to be, so I’m guessing it all costs more now.

Included with the Storm data book is a CD with a bunch of really cool printable targets.  These are about all I use now. 

I got my data book in a 6-hole mini binderformat  with Rite in the Rain paper.  Within the pages, there is a table for you to fill in your ballistic data, a round count log, reference pages to explain things like MOA, milliradians, several common mil-reticles, how to estimate range with a mil reticle, a page to plot your holdover and wind hold info, sample wind drift data for a few common rounds, wind estimation techniques and drift data, metric conversions, a few pages on engaging movers, and uphill and downhill shooting.  Then there are the pages you’ll actually use: the data sheets.

The data sheets are what you fill in when you shoot.  On the Storm, you fill in the location, date, time, temp/, density altitude, humidity, barometric pressure, distance to target, position, rate of fire, sling/support, ammunition, light/wind conditions, plot your call for each shot, then fill in the target with your hits.  The plot sheets are made to match the targets on the disk they give you, and are made to be refilled by purchasing more of them.  There are also sheets for moving targets and a range card and field sketch page.

                          Typical Storm Tactical page.

When it came time to buy a data book for a different rifle, I thought I’d try the other major player in the data book arena, the Impact Data Book.  It wasn’t that I didn’t like the Storm, I was just curious.  The Impact is appreciably larger, which I don’t like as much.  They do make one that is smaller than the Storm, but I kind of think that the Storm is the “right” size.  The Impact that I bought also wasn’t the Rite in the Rain type, but just cardstock.  I made an error when it was purchased, so my fault, but already I was biased against it.

Size comparison: top- Storm sized multicam data book cover (yes I know multicam is soo last year), middle- Storm Tactical sized (standard 6 hole loose leaf) binder, right- Impact standard size book (the crayon markings are super secret tactical style). 

The Impact has something I think is really useful, a personal data sheet.  This is where you record certain data, like your pace count in different types of terrain, the size of various body parts, like your arm’s length, index finger, boot length, and other handy field expedient measuring devices. 
The Impact Personal Data Sheet.  Yes the data is covered.  Did you really expect me to give up my biometric data that easily?


The Impact also has a handy object size reference chart.  This is useful if you’re using a reticle to range with (you have to know the size of the object you’re looking at to range it).  Other than that, the Impact has a bunch of standard type reference cards, very similar to the Storm Tactical.

The data sheets that came with my Impact book depicted a square target, a circular target, a humanoid shaped target, and a blank page to fill in your own target.  In this respect, I thought that the Storm book was better thought out.  The Impact did come with a TON of pages though.  Overall, I think that the page layouts on the Impact are more attractive to the eye, and the layout of information for you to fill in is better thought out.

After having both I realized that both had some attributes that I liked, and both had a lot of information that didn’t apply to me or was unnecessary.  I think that the 6 hole binder format using Rite in the Rain paper is the way to go.  I like having a reference chart with some information about the shooter and the rifle system is also helpful.  I thought that it was unnecessary to have dimensions 4 different reticles that I didn’t have.

After considering the matter thoroughly, I decided to make my own data book.  I ordered the 6-hole Rite in the Rain paper and a binder from them.  It appears to be identical to what Storm uses.  The paper is the tan loose leaf paper for laser printers.  The binder actually has some measurement conversions on it, although the data book cover gets in the way of these. 

What’s nice about making your own book is that you get everything you want, nothing you don’t, and refill pages are easy and inexpensive.  Also, instead of filling in a sheet of handwritten trajectory data, you make a card and print it out.  It’s easier to read and looks nicer.  I also was able to find pictures of my various reticles, and make custom pages with the reticle dimensions and ranging equations.

                                   Homemade data book load info.

Custom reticle reference page: Leupold USMC style mildot.  Some of the reference info here, like the wind equations, need to be “streamlined” and updated a bit.
                           Custom reticle reference page: Vortex EBR-2.

I included another type of trajectory page that I use to ensure the round has proper clearance from intervening objects to make it to the target.  This page is done using only mils.  You are probably aware that at closer ranges your rounds strike well below your point of aim.  What this chart tells you is that you need over 4.9 mils of clearance to make it over that rock that is 7 yards in front of you if your zero is set at 200 yards.  This is for my rifle and my load.

I also made a page that has my holds for elevation, wind, and a 3 mph target using a picture of my reticle.  I did a bunch of math to make a mover lead chart.  I made data pages for the targets that I actually use the most.  I also made a cold bore shot log and rifle maintenance log.  Rounding it out are a round count page, and a field sketch and range card page.  On the cover is a picture of my actual rifle.
                My standard homemade data sheet for my favorite type of target. 

                                Data sheet for the “Dog” style target.
                                         Moving target data sheet.
  Cold bore shot log.  Yes, I know it’s scary bad.  Things have gotten better since then.
Custom Personal Data Sheet.  Too bad I had to blank it out, because it’s typed in and looks so clean and nice.
                                Custom cover page.  Recognize my rifle?

Making my own book was a lot of work.  I spent a lot of time with Word getting the pages just right, and making them fit on the pages properly.  I spent a lot of time making the target pictures look right, and making them usable for plotting calls and hits.  I spent a lot of time configuring the pages so that I got exactly the data that I wanted in the order that I wanted it.  I also put a lot of work into making the pages look good.  I think that the end product is very good.

What’s satisfying about a data book is that you probably remember a specific shooting outing, and want to remember the details of the zero you used, the temperature, your shooting position or support, your ammo, or your group size.  This happened to me recently when I was looking for my best kneeling group target.  I couldn’t find the target at the time, but I found it in my data book!

A data book will give you the best return on every shot fired.  Every shot will give you a useful piece of data, if you use it correctly.  Don’t keep wasting ammo every time, running yourself through the same drills, and not getting anywhere.  A data book is one of the best investments you can make in your shooting.  Go get one!

Book Review: The Hunting Rifle, by Townsend Whelen

Throughout all my life a large and increasing number of red blooded Americans have been striving to make us a “Nation of Riflemen.”  We have succeeded.  May we ever remain thus, for the privilege to bear, and the ability to use weapons is the greatest guarantee of Liberty.


-Townsend Whelen, from the Introduction to The Hunting Rifle
In the course of my preparation of the article, The Townsend Whelen Challenge, I became curious to learn more about his thoughts on rifle shooting.  I found a copy of his book, The Hunting Rifle, at my local library.
Much like my blog, until you read it you probably aren’t going to be aware of how totally authoritative and knowledgeable the author was (that was meant to sound arrogant for a slight comedic effect).  The cover is a little odd, and like a lot of library books from 1948, there’s no dust jacket.  This is a second edition from 1948; the 1st edition was printed in 1940.


I feel a need to establish a connection with the riflemen of the past.  I don’t always expect to be wowed with technical information, especially concerning equipment.  What usually seems more valuable is perspective.  These men were from a more practical age where guns were just part of what you did.  They also seemed to be more literate, which is refreshing.


To get on with it, here are some details:
Table of contents:




              1.  Elementary Ballistics.  Safety Precautions
              2.  Basic Design and Principles
              3.  Types and Models
              4.  Barrels and Breech Actions
              5.  Stocks
              6.  Iron Sights
              7.  Telescope Sights
              8.  Cartridges
              9.  Hand Loaded Ammunition
            10.  Killing Power
            11.  Custom Rifles and Wildcat Cartridges
            12.  Binoculars, Spotting Scopes, and Accessories
1.     Rifle Marksmanship
2.    The Essentials
3.    The Prone Position
4.    Aiming
5.    Trigger Squeeze and Coordination
6.    The Rifle Range
7.    Sight Adjustment
8.    Slow Fire
9.    The Sitting, Kneeling, and Standing Positions
10.  Snap Shooting and Rapid Fire
11.  Trajectory
12.  Wind Allowance
13.  In the Game Fields
14.  Cleaning and Care of Rifles 
What was odd about reading this book for me was that I expected Part I to be outdated and uninteresting, and Part II to be some sort of mind-blowing epiphany.  What I found was to a large extent the opposite of what I expected, but that, for the most part, the entire book was like a warm, fuzzy, super comfortable experience for me.  It was just pleasant to read a book from someone who was knowledgeable, super-authoritative in the field, genuinely interested, a good writer, and just had a genuine love of shooting.


What was mainly different from what I’m used to is that it wasn’t like a marketing blitz that you’d get from a gun rag.  It was like sitting on a porch with someone who just knows everything and having a cup of coffee and taking it all in.  He had no master to please other than sharing his opinion because it was valid.


From reading Part I, I found that things haven’t really changed all that much.  The Winchester Model 70 and the Mauser 98 are still the best rifles around.  We have a lot more choices in cartridges now, and we now have a lot of semi autos.  Scopes are bigger and mounted a lot higher.  Range finders are cheap and portable.  That’s about how far we’ve come in 60 years.  A bit of the elegance and class is gone nowadays.  Other than that, what was true then is still true now.  


Whelen made a point that I thought was interesting, that the hunting rifle in those days was a military rifle perfected to be the best that it could be.  It’s not the same today.  A lot of us are still using a design that saw its pinnacle in 1898.  We’re not driven by innovation and doing whatever we can to improve our equipment so much anymore.  Today we’re more driven by what the companies want to market to us.  In those days, evidently, the big companies had to keep up with the demand being set by gun “cranks”, as Whelen called them, to produce a high quality product competing with what shooters were having custom built.  I think that the community of shooters today is more dependent on having our choices given out to us without really giving any input, or much thought, for that matter.  Sporting guns have been mired down by tradition on one hand, but also degraded by decreasing the cost of production.


In Part II I was expecting a lot.  I was a bit disappointed.  The tone reminded me a little bit of the narrator in the Goofy (Disney character) “how to” cartoons.  They were big on “science” back then.  I’m not saying it was bad or incorrect; I was probably hoping for a lot.  There is a lot of good advice to the hunter.  The chapter “In the Game Fields” was full of sound advice.


When I got to the part about trajectory, I was a little nervous because I had just written my trajectory article.  I was worried that I was going to get blown away, or that I would realize I had gone awry, or left something critical out.  What I found was that it seemed a lot more complicated back then, and that you had to do a lot more guesswork and conjecture to get to roughly the same place.


In comparison to Cooper, I think that Whelen was more of a real deal genuine rifle guy.  I’m not trying to disparage Cooper, I just think that there was more substance here, where Cooper wrote a much more general outline.  I would like to read some of Whelen’s other work.  I recommend this book, if you can find a copy to read.


The final thing I want to leave you with is the last paragraph of the book’s introduction.  It’s the quote at the top of the article.  Here it is again:


Throughout all my life a large and increasing number of red blooded Americans have been striving to make us a “Nation of Riflemen.”  We have succeeded.  May we ever remain thus, for the privilege to bear, and the ability to use weapons is the greatest guarantee of Liberty.
It makes me a little sad to think about it.  I’m not so sure they had succeeded, because look at us now.  If they had succeeded, would his generation, and the one that followed, have led us to where we are now?  I don’t think so.  It doesn’t make me sad so much that Townie might have got it wrong; it’s that the work he and the other great riflemen of his day, and before his day, was squandered.  It’s up to us to ensure that their efforts were not in vain.

Using Cover and Concealment

I don’t intend for this to be a substitute for training.  It’s on the internet, for crying out loud, so take it for what it cost you.  Do your own research and get some quality training.  Also, I’m assuming you’ll only use this knowledge for good, and not evil.


I’ve mentioned cover several times in past articles.  I think this is an important topic to understand even for people who don’t train to fight with firearms.  Think of it like putting on a seatbelt, you just never know when something bad is going to happen.

Let’s define the terms.  Cover is defined as something that will stop a bullet.  Which bullet?  I don’t know.  There’s not a practical type of improvised cover that will stop anything someone might be shooting at you, but some options are better than others.

Concealment is anything that will hide you, whether it is a curtain, a bush, a ghillie suit, or whatever.  The idea is that it’s hard to hit something that you can’t see.  Concealment by itself is not as good as cover, but it’s better than nothing.

Note that a surface can function as both cover and concealment.  If your cover has a solid shape and color, and no part of you is sticking out of it, it probably also functions as concealment.  Exceptions to this might be bullet resistant glass, or something too small to completely conceal you.  Concealment, on the other hand, seems that it is rarely cover.  That’s important to remember, and will rightly cause you to feel less secure.

Let’s consider your home.  Most of us feel like our houses are our castles, and a somewhat impervious barrier to harm from outside.  Most of us live in “stick built” homes made out of a concrete foundation, a skeleton built from studs, siding on the outside, drywall on the inside, and some insulation in the middle.  A bullet fired from the outside of your home to the inside will likely pass right through with enough energy left over to cause serious injury.  We should assume that the bullet wouldn’t strike a stud.  The doors are likewise not likely to stop a bullet.

What parts of our houses can be used as cover?  A water heater could be a good choice.  I once dumped 20 full auto rounds into a water heater from an FN FAL (the effin’ FAL).  That was fun, and yes, they did go through it.  The refrigerator is iffy; it really depends on what’s being shot at you.  Is there a chance for you to put the foundation between you and your threat?  That would be pretty good.  If you have several layers of thick, solid wood furniture, that would be better than nothing.  A bathtub might stop a round or two, but I wouldn’t really consider it a great fighting position.  Do you have a lot of books?  They’re very dense and would work surprisingly well.

       Books do a decent job at stopping bullets, and they make you smarter.

Let’s venture outside the house.  What are there usually a lot of?  Cars.  You’d think that something made of several pieces of sheet metal would be pretty good.  Not really.  The place on a car that will work is generally the engine compartment.  That’s a nice, thick, solid hunk of metal.  It’s just not very big.  The classic position to use for cover is to get behind a front tire with the engine directly in between you and your threat.  Tires and wheels are the next best thing to the engine, and to use both things together is about the best you can do.

If you’re in a car, get out of it unless you can get away or run over the problem.  If you have a threat directly in front of you while you’re driving try to run it over.  If you aren’t sure, but have to stop and a potential threat is in front of you, angle the car slightly to the left and turn the wheel hard left, so that when you exit the car (which you should do quickly) the engine is between you and the threat and your front left tire blocks your feet.

Let’s look at what else we can find.  Concrete walls, retaining walls, concrete pillars, concrete bases for parking lot lamps, large rocks, ditches, large trees, etc…  You have to be creative and aware of what’s around you.  Occasionally, take something to the range to see what works.

You couldn’t ask for much more than a handy retaining wall when you need a nice piece of cover.

Great big trees will stop a lot.  Small trees are hard to get behind and don’t stop as much.

What else can we use for cover if we can’t find something ideal?  How about a curb?  It’s not much, but it’s sure better than nothing.  You need to be very creative about finding a position that will maximize such small cover.

When you walk around, start looking at your surroundings from a cover standpoint.  You should always be aware where your next point of cover is and how you’re going to get there.  You’ll start to think creatively about using things that you used to just take for granted.

Now that we know what cover is and we’re actively identifying it as a matter of being awake, how do we use it?  Obviously you want to minimize your exposure to your threat.  Let’s say we have a four foot tall, 12” thick concrete wall in front of us with a walkway opening to our left.  Four feet makes it just about right to lay the rifle on top of it for improvised support, no?  No.  You’re going to be exposing your upper body from the chest up.  You’re giving up a lot of stuff you really need to keep working by doing that.

There was some stuff laying around from Halloween, and I’m still searching for a good dignified look.  Or have I found it?

So let’s take it from the side.  The opening’s to our left, so we’re good to go just moving to our left and firing back without making any other adjustments right?  Not unless you shoot left handed.  Taking it right handed means that you’re exposing your entire head and most of your upper body.  Sound familiar?  The only advantage with that over shooting over the top is that you’re a smaller target and harder to see.

There’s more of me outside cover than before, but it would appear less so if viewed from a distance.  The camera angle from above makes me appear as a larger target.

Now let’s try it left handed.  You need to expose your left arm and shoulder, and your left eye to shoot back.  That’s much better than either of the other options.  But how good are you at shooting from either side?  Me too.  Looks like we just found something else to work on (and you knew this was coming: a future article on off-side shooting).


Now that we have our cover and good position, why are you so close to it?  If you have a nice big piece of cover, move back from it.  Why?  Let’s look at it from the perspective of your size as a target.  Farther is better.  When there’s just a small piece of you visible, moving back is going to make the difference in your size as a target more dramatic.

What else does moving back get you?  You sure don’t want your muzzle sticking out into an unknown threat area, where someone you don’t know is there could grab it and disarm you.  What if your cover is marginal at stopping the incoming rounds?  You want to give the bullets a better chance to miss you as the cover surface alters their flight paths.  The other benefit of being back from cover is that it just gives you more room to work in terms of weapons handing and movement.

Being close means your muzzle is poking around a blind corner, you have less room for manipulating your rifle, and you’re a larger target than necessary.  Also, this is not cover, but was the best I could do to simulate it under short notice.


Way farther back.  Plenty of room, and much smaller to see.  Covered just as well (if this were cover).

Every shooting position has a shape, and a profile of cover that will work well with it.  I decree this profile the “cover profile”.  Think of the cover profile as the height and width of your shooting stance.  Every shooting position has a distinct cover profile.  I’ll be hitting on cover profile with each new position I cover.  You should look at a piece of cover, quickly evaluate its shape, and pick a position that matches it to maximize your stability while making the best use of your cover.

Start to think about cover.  Start to recognize it.  Get some training.  That is all.

PT for the Rifleman: Roadwork

I put a disclaimer on last month’s article, PT for the Rifleman.  If you need to read it, feel free to go back and take a look.  To sum it up: “Don’t do anything to hurt or kill yourself!”

I think that the base of my personal fitness is running.I don’t like to run for distance, because, essentially, I don’t like to run.  What I don’t mind so much is running shorter distances with more variation in scenery, and mixing in some hills or stairs.  The mainstay of my run is the 1.5 mile run with about a third of it being hills.  Actually, pretty much the first third is all up hill.  Then the second third is downhill, with the last part being level, with near zero net change in elevation.

Try stairs. You’ll have a new sense of what pain is. Afterward you’ll feel a new sense of accomplishment.

This main run I see as keeping my body able to function at an increased heart rate for a decent amount of time.  During the run I try to maintain my ability to process information and to be observant about my surroundings.  This is usually one of the first things to go when the heart rate goes up.  Perception just goes inward to the pain unless you make a concerted effort to bring it back out.

I try to notice animals before they notice me and move.  I try to note interesting and noteworthy geographic landmarks.I think like a fleeing fugitive and observe good hiding spots.  I think like a sniper and look for good overwatch positions.  I try to evaluate and prioritize possible “threat areas”.  Basically I just do what everybody does when they are out for a nice walk.

Sometimes on odd days I’ll do a half mile instead.I look at the half mile as the most realistic type of running I might actually have to do in an emergency.  It’s fast and intense.  About the first half is anaerobic, then it all catches up and you really feel your breath begin to become labored, until by the end everything burns and the air is pumping in and out so fast it makes a horrendous shrieking noise.  I can’t believe how well I can sell this exercise stuff!

Another variation to work into your running mix is to run sideways or backwards occasionally, or run circles around your hopelessly slow running partner (seriously, it’s really hard to find an evenly matched person to run with).  Then occasionally stop for a much needed pushup break.For the pushup break, maybe find a nice curb or rock to prop your feet up on.

Putting the Work in Roadwork

Now I’m just going to make it ugly.  Find a set of new running partners.

They look so nice and non-threatening.It’s really incredible what a pair of 5 lb. rocks can do to your strength, heart rate, and stamina.I ended up with rocks, because running with my rifle wouldn’t go over too well around here.  I worked my up to 7-8 pound rocks.  I know you’re probably tempted to go out and buy a special set of weights to run with.  I think that rocks are better because 1.) they’re free, and 2.) the irregular shape makes them harder to hang on to, which will make your grip stronger 3.) people will wonder what the hell you’re doing and look at you like you’re an idiot, which will help develop humility and build character, and 4.) you’re armed with a deadly weapon, just in case.

Here’s another twist: if you drop a rock, get down and do pushups on your rocks.  Prepare to be brutalized, but it’s not as hard as kettlebell work!  Be careful of rocks if you have lower back issues.

Speaking of running with rifles, this is where AR’s really aren’t the best.The most natural and neutral way to hold a rifle when running is port arms (dominant hand on pistol grip, non-dominant hand on forend or handguard, butt at roughly hip level, muzzle at shoulder or eye level.  An AR forces the run to low ready unless you grip somewhere other than the grip.  Low ready isn’t a very comfortable running position for any length of time.

If rocks aren’t providing enough demoralization to satisfy your masochism, put some weight on your body.  I use my Grand River Tactical hydration pack with a full 100 oz. Camelbak and some other goodies.  It’s not as hard as the rocks, not by a long shot, but it’s good.  Just be careful, because adding all this stuff can be hard on the body.  Let sanity kick in every once in a while.

I’m not a running authority, but I can tell you that you should invest in a good pair of shoes.  Mine were about the most expensive pair that I looked at, but they made a huge difference.  I used to basically “slap” my whole foot down on the ground, and my heel was striking pretty hard.  I had a lot of pain, especially shin splints from running, but eventually powered through (that may not be the best strategy for dealing with pain).  The new shoes really fit my feet better, but more importantly, I think they taught me to be more light on my feet, and more “forward” on my feet as well.

I’m not saying you should go right out and run, but I know I feel better when I get out and exert myself a little bit, and I’m a little more prepared to deal with sudden stress than I would be without the exercise.
Good luck.

Introduction to Improvised Support in Rifle Shooting

A common way for folks who are good field shots, but not so great with targets, to improve their shooting is to cheat.  In shooting it’s a good thing to use your wits to gain an advantage.  Some shooters cheat at the range by placing their rifles in rests.  This is not as handy when you’re covering ground on foot in the woods, so other shooters cheat by being perceptive and inventive with the materials available to them in the environment.

Using available material or terrain to your advantage by making your rifle more stable is called using improvised support.  Generally the improvised support is used to replace the support hand under the forend, which is generally the weakest link in our position.  Sometimes the support hand and improvised support are used in concert. One of the basic categories of improvised support is a vertical surface used to steady the support hand.  This helps greatly when standing.  The support hand is used as an interface with the supporting surface and the forend of the rifle, somewhat like the hand that supports a pool cue.  Take care to ensure that nothing touches the barrel.

Right hand shooting, right side of support.  This combination maximizes your cover or concealment.

Right hand shooting, left side of support.  This will expose more of you as a target, if that’s what someone has in mind for you.

Generally the palm of the support hand is placed on the surface and the fingers or thumb support the rifle, depending on whether you’re shooting around or across the support.  By this I mean, if your support is to the support side (the left side for a right handed shooter), and your muzzle is to your firing side (muzzle to the right of the support for a right handed shooter) you’re shooting “around”.  If the supporting surface is to your firing side, and the muzzle crosses above your support arm or hand, then you’re shooting to the “across” of the support. If you need to be using cover, you should only shoot around the support.  This is because shooting around minimizes your exposure to the threat.  Shooting across exposes your non-dominant side unnecessarily.  This means you need to be able to shoot ambidextrously if you take your cover seriously.

Overhead view of a stick figure exposing himself by shooting right handed from the left side of his cover.

Overhead view of a shooter taking it left handed to maximize his cover.

A variation of using vertical support is hanging onto the rifle sling near the forward stud, and letting the rifle dangle from it against the support hand.  This seems to work well for heaver rifles.

Right handed, right side of support.  It’s hard to tell in the picture, but I’m grasping the sling in my support hand, which supports the weight of the rifle.

Right handed, left side of support.

Another form of improvised support is using something under the forend.  This could be a large rock, a lump of dirt, a car hood or truck bed, downed tree trunk, a table, the top of a rise, the edge of a foxhole, a curb, etc…  Your job is to make sure your rifle has something soft to sit on.  If you have a bipod and can use it, great.  For this article, I’ll assume that you can’t for whatever reason.  Another great item is a pack.  The challenge with a pack, although not nearly an insurmountable one, is to find a nice soft spot for your forend to sink into and not slide off of.

Pack used as support.  The dark mark on the pack is from actually firing a gun off of it.  Ahhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!

Another tried and true interface between stock and support is the fist.  The best way is to grab your sling firmly near the forward stud so there’s no play between your fist and the forend.  This would be great on the curb, truck bed, or car hood.  Speaking of car hoods and the like, this will put a lot of your profile into high visibility and out of cover.  A bumper might be a better choice.  Just something to consider.

Make sure you take up all the slack possible.  I recommend de-horning your swivel and/or wearing gloves.

An alternative to the fist is the web of your hand between the thumb and index finger.  Try it both ways, or other ones you hear of or invent, and find out what works best for you.

I have never used this.  I would prefer using the fist.  Just the way I’ve always done it.

Yet another great interface between the support and stock is the crook of the support arm.  This would work well if your support is somewhat elevated to about face level.

If you shoot an AR, the 30 round mag may preclude some of the lower methods I’ve described.  It’s a good reason to have a spare 20 rounder or 2 with you.  I don’t recommend using the mag as a monopod.  It can mess with the function (it shouldn’t, but AR’s have been known to do things that they shouldn’t).  I also think that there’s more stable ways to shoot, but if you try it and it works for you, good. 

An important element of any good shooting position to keep in mind is not to let anything touch the barrel.  That’s bad.  Going along with this, remember the soft to hard, hard to soft principle.  Don’t plop your forend down on a rock, because the recoil is going to cause the rifle to move unpredictably, and the contact may affect how the shot flies out of the barrel. 

Something else to consider when utilizing support is that you need to be able to manipulate the gun.  Don’t position yourself in a way that obstructs your access to changing mags, accessing your sighting system, working your bolt, etc…  You don’t want to find out that you can’t keep yourself in the fight when it’s too late. 

There are other ways shooters use improvised support, like shooting sticks.  I haven’t used shooting sticks, but will probably acquaint myself with some and write about it.  I’d be glad to hear of any clever and inventive uses of improvised support you may have.  Email me pics of your targets too. 

My example of using support was standing at the driver’s side of a small truck, using the rear of the cab as support with my support hand holding the sling, just like this:


Overhead sketch:

Note that the above diagram does not depict good use of the vehicle for cover.  It just happened to be the only thing I had handy at the range to use as a standing level improvise support.

Here’s the target I shot:


About 6.1” at 100 yards, or 5.8 MOA.  Notice that most of the size comes from horizontal dispersion.  The vertical is about the same as I get from prone with a sling.  I think that illustrates how well the use of artificial support works.

If I had been a little more patient and focused, I could have taken maybe 2 more inches off the side to side.  What I noticed is that the side to side movement would make this position beneficial for tracking moving targets.  When positions have inherent directional instability, it usually works to work with it and control it rather than trying to eliminate it.  At any rate, this is significantly better than what I do from offhand with no support.

I hope this gets your mental juices flowing to take advantage of what’s available.  It would be incredibly boring to do all your shooting from a bench, plus it’s heavy to take with you everwhere you might want to go.  Thanks for reading.