Constructive Criticism for Appleseed

I wrote the following with the perspective that I think Appleseed is a worthy program and I want it to do better what it already does well.  They do a good job, as I said, especially considering the length of the instruction and the cost, which is negligible.  Obviously my opinion is worth what it costs you, but I have a blog so I might as well use it.  Anyway, I think it does good things and I hope the perspective of someone who has been on the inside, then on the outside, attending an event with a fresh set of eyes, will be of some use.

Before I get into it, I would like to thank the volunteers who donate their time, talent, and energy into helping people become better shooters.  

Here goes.  On one hand I am in the habit recently of taking my time, and taking meticulous notes.  I firmly believed that a round not recorded is a round that has been sent away without a chance to learn from.  So I felt rushed between stages (I used to revel in “condensing” the shooters’ prep time.  Karma?).  On one hand I felt bad for holding things up, on the other I was wondering if folks are really missing out by not filling out data for themselves. I think that a greater emphasis should be placed on target analysis, because I know it’s already a part of the program. 
On the other hand, it’s not a bad thing to be placed outside of one’s comfort zone, and I do appreciate the factor of what Appleseeders call the “time monkey”, which means a lot to cover in a limited time.  So I think there might be room to encourage things like plotting hits and analyzing them, but quickly.

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Stuff I might want to remember later.  A lot of it I had to reconstruct based on photos, targets, and recollections.  The more issues I had to potentially learn from later, the more difficult it was to transcribe after the fact. 

Having been in the program, I can say that there is a lot of emphasis for instructors to convey information in a very specific way.  The analogy I remember being taught is that they want it the same way every time, like McDonald’s.  I don’t know why you would want to choose that as your analogy.  I know there there are important things that they want to be covered, but some of their instructors I have worked with were very talented- capable of something more along the lines of filet mignon.  Why limit them to assembly line burgers?  

Sometimes trying to capture and recreate a certain experience results in staleness.  Sometimes having a checklist causes a focus on completing the checklist rather than facilitating a learning experience.  I am as guilty as anyone as this in my time within the program.  I put a lot of effort into coming up with a plan for my shoots, and a lot of effort into keeping on a timeline.  There were times that I could convey information to a group, but for most of the time I was not a very good coach.  

At the recent shoot I attended everyone was shooting centerfire rifles.  Close to half had .308’s.  Something I have never fully appreciated before was the difference between shooting a rimfire for 2 days and doing the same thing with a centerfire.  It places a much greater burden on the shooter to concentrate to overcome the tendency to flinch.  I really missed out on the opportunity to do ball and dummy and carding the sights.  It’s really the break in pace and the refresher of marksmanship that is really needed to recover the fundamentals.  It would have fit in perfectly after lunch, especially on a 400 yard target.
I used to pride myself on pushing the round counts as high as I could go, especially on Sunday.  I felt that this would give the shooters a more satisfying experience.  Maybe it does, but I can say now that it’s more satisfying to be in maximum control of every round you send out of the tube.  It seemed to me when I was a shoot boss writing programs of instruction for shoots that the higher the round count the better value for the shooters.  I think it would be more effective to try to hold the line between pushing the AQT grind and keeping the marksmanship clean and tight.  If things loosen up, then slow it down, do something else, and bring it back in.  I believe that if you can’t shoot a desirable score at the beginning of the day, repeating the process is unlikely to result in a dramatic improvement.
I have often seen desperate attempts at a mad dash towards the magic rifleman score of 210.  The allure of the patch can be poison to some people.  This is not criticism for Appleseed, just advice for prospective attendees.  If you remove the prospect of a qualifying score from your mind, you have a chance to pay attention to the things that will matter (and not coincidentally boost your score).  For someone with less time behind a rifle, a score of 160 might be a worthy accomplishment.  Don’t get upset over it.  Live with it, understand your reality, and evaluate what you need to do to improve.
The patch is irrelevant.  The irony is that you almost need to earn one to learn that.  That mark is not to signify an end, but a starting place.  I felt like the rifleman patch was like a high school degree.  It’s enough to get a start at what you want to do.  It’s also a good time to start putting what you think is correct to the test, and compare different methods to see what actually works better.  Therein lies the path of the rifleman. 
The answer lies in the question and cannot be grasped.

Full Distance Appleseed: Day 2 in Detail

On day 2 we shot we started with a Redcoat target.  One of the instructors gave a stirring Veteran’s Day reminder, and implored us to do our best on the Redcoat.  I started with the 250 yard headshot (simulated by scaling for 25 meters) with my clean cold bore, and proceeded to clean the target.  Instead of shooting groups of three into each target I shot them one at a time and repeated until I had each one shot 3 times.
After a set of squares and a half mile walk (almost) posting targets we got straight on to the full distance AQT’s.  Minds are funny things.  I had sort of a mental template as to how I was going to do and when I would be at my best.  I think this was based on previous shoots and when I got good scores.  I had gotten over most of my familiarization the previous day with the setting and AQT course, who was running it and how.  The only thing I really had left was a desire to shoot what I considered a good AQT, which is enough to keep one slightly on edge.  At least I was fresh and sharp.
I guess I shot the first AQT with the correct mix of deliberateness and drive.  I shot all the prescribed rounds within the allotted time and was able to call the vast majority of them as good hits.  I had discovered during my preparation with the offhand position, or more accurately what I would call “modified offhand”, that a true surprise break was absolutely necessary and needed to be coupled with follow through (maybe I already knew that).  It’s not hard to hold the reticle in the “V” ring for a few seconds at a time, provided you have your natural point of aim.  If, within that window of time, you accomplish a surprise break and follow through, a good hit will ensue.  Pretty basic.  Basic does not always mean easy.
In the rapid fire stages a few more things come into play.  This is what makes Appleseed, well, Appleseed.   My cynical view of the AQT was that it’s really just a test of shooting the AQT.  If you break it down a little more deeply, it exposes one’s level of repeatable accuracy.  Obviously real world targets don’t wait around after the first shot, so why bother with 10 shots?  On one level you’re seeing an aggregate, big picture, level of your skill.  On another level, you’re testing what happens to that skill as forces work to break it down, such as recoil, fatigue, shortness of time, metal pressure, etc…  On yet another level, it’s a test of your ability to consistently index on target such that your natural point of aim is already there. 
Running a bolt gun rapid fire requires concentration and that a plan be followed, and a backup plan in place just in case.  If magazine capacity is in accordance with the course of fire, there is no excuse not to finish with plenty of time to spare.  Breathe while you workthe bolt (the links will be of assistance if you are too slow with that).  Here is a video for the link challenged:
You can’t space out with a bolt gun.  Be sharp as a tack and know exactly where you are in terms of the round count and hits on the target.  Soon you’ll find yourself counting while performing mundane tasks like washing your hands.  Gun toters are, in fact, crazy people.
In the slow fire stage there is a secret.  They tell you what it is during the Saturday AM instruction.  It’s called NATURAL POINT OF AIM (have I mentioned that yet?).  There is more than enough time to verify it for every shot.  Set up on target, close the eyes, breathe, relax completely, and open the eyes.  Where the sights are should be your natural point of aim.  Verify it before every shot and there’s a pretty good chance you will clean stage 4. 
I already posted my targets and scores from the first Sunday full distance AQT.  I was pretty much satisfied right there with what I did, and had all day left to go.  That caused something odd to happen.   

When we started shooting the second AQT, in stage 1 the rifle started coming up fast and landing right on target.  I mean right on the “V” ring.  This was odd because this hadn’t been happening in my dry fire preparation for the shoot.  I have not ever practiced snapshooting with this rifle in the 2.5 months that I have owned it.  I was returning to port arms between each shot as I normally do, but the rifle just started coming up fast, like how my bolt work happens.  

After the rifle popped right to the “V” ring 2-3 times I had the feeling that might be translated like this: “What the heck!”  I started snapshooting the 100 yard target.  This had already been in the back of my mind, but I had figured on chasing high scores all day.  I would say that I was probably over the 1.5 second guideline in my snapshooting, but under 2 seconds for several attempts.  It was kind of like Matthew Quigley snapshooting the bucket, but this was a bit more plausible.  It was pushing the limits of my trigger control in offhand to get that surprise break, but it was worth it.  I only dropped 2 points:

We used our targets for 2 AQT’s.  The first run was clean, so it’s not so hard to see where I dropped points.
The snapshooting got me a little too loose and carefree, or maybe it was more along the lines of  bold and aggressive, so I dropped a lot more points than I should have, 3 points in rapid fire sitting, 2 in rapid fire prone, and 3(*2)=6 in slow fire prone, for a score of 237, which I wasn’t impressed with.  I think the key is knowing when you need to be aggressive, and when you need to be perfectly deliberate.  Most of the time there’s a spectrum between the two where the act of shooting needs to be placed.  Would I snapshoot stage 1 again knowing that I would drop 2 points?  Absolutely.  It was a very unique and interesting experience, in that it was unplanned, spontaneous, and worked so well.
For the 3rdAQT something odd happened again.  I got real serious and intense.  Trying to control stuff too much just never works as well, does it?  I shot the 1st stage and thought I might have cleaned it; it went fine (I really didn’t clean it- onset of the flinch).  I started thinking that this might be my chance for a perfect score.  I started thinking about it during rapid fire sitting.  This is what happened right at that time.  I had a perfect sight picture, the reticle moved, and the shot broke.  OK, not a big deal, recover and move on.  Perfect sight picture, and the reticle goes in a completely different direction, and the shot broke.  Not good.  Let’s get over it.  Perfect sight picture, and the reticle goes crazy again as the shot breaks. 
I made an important decision at that point: I was not going to rush and get bad hits for the sake of time.  I did not come out to blow $$$$$$ on ammo just to waste it.  I did not come out to make myself a worse shooter.  Everything has to be quality.  Making time is good, but not at the expense of getting hits.  With time and correct practice, those good hits will happen faster.  To get to that point the good habits that lead to good hits need to be drilled in, and never deviated from.  This is a very important point: there is no shortcut from doing everything right! 
This began a struggle for me to keep my concentration up while not losing too much time and trying to beat the flinch with proper follow through.  On AQT #3 I scored 231 due to some sloppy hits and only getting 8 rounds off in rapid fire sitting.  I declined more from there, 228, then a 210.
Shooting for a weekend with a .308 will take its toll on the finer points of marksmanship.  Also contributing were my general lack of sleep, averaging 5-6 hours per night, which throws me off a little, and I was behind on my meals and caffeine.  At lunch I didn’t recover too much.  I’m not making an excuse, rather I’m pointing out that everything one does is preparation for a possible event.  All the work on shooting in the world will only do so much if the rest of your life is not also in proper order and discipline.  The “if only” moments show weaknesses that need to be addressed as actively as anything else.
A 210 was about as low as I was willing to go.  I took a break for an AQT and kept up with some data book recording, housekeeping, brass recovery (my brass was landing nicely next to my nest), and dry fire during the course of fire.  More on this later.  I came back to the shoot and managed a 220.

My average score for the full distance AQT on day 2 was 228.  My average full distance AQT for both days combined was also 228 (a couple decimal points lower than the day 2 only average).  My total AQT (full distance and 25 meters) for the weekend was 229.   The only stages I cleaned were standing and slow fire prone, both during the 1st AQT of the day.  At the last Appleseed I attended, in February, I was able to clean standing and sitting several times at 25 meters with a bolt action rimfire.  The only stage I haven’t cleaned so far, ever, is rapid fire prone.  

The good things about my shooting were that there were several times when I was looking at a perfect sight picture and the shot just broke.  It was like experiencing a modern day Zen in the Art of Archery.  To reach that point I really had to invest some effort into my trigger finger.  My rifle will not accept a half-hearted attempt, it wants to be worked correctly every time.  

Another thing that was successful for me was a subject I have been harping on lately:  Consistency.   Safety, sling, sights, position, index…  things seemed to be working in accordance with universal laws of shooting.  I was setting and resetting my sights by feel and by memory every time, except for Sunday after the brief amount of 25 meter work.  

Let me sum up my thoughts on the full distance Appleseed.  Several years ago I read of Appleseed in Fred’s columns in Shotgun News.  It was an exciting concept and I couldn’t wait to try it.  The full distance shoots are much closer to what I had pictured in my mind when I was reading those columns.

One of the best things about attending an Appleseed are the people you get to meet, both shooters and instructors.  If there weren’t so much shooting to do, these are the people that you’d want to sit around talking with.  Good stuff.

Full Distance Appleseed: Day 1 in Detail

I haven’t really discussed the full experience of the full distance Appleseed yet.  They call it “known distance”, which it is, but 25 meters is also a “known distance”.  “Actual distance” would probably be the most accurate descriptor, since the words “full distance” give the impression of being at maximum range, but “full distance sounds catchier.  Sorry for that, I have a habit of thinking about words a little bit.

A bit about the shooting niche that Appleseed fulfills.  I consider it reasonable intermediate distance (100-500 yards) marksmanship on targets that can be seen with the naked eye.  It’s not a bad niche to learn.  They also are one of the best at teaching the use of the sling, so I heartily applaud their efforts in that arena.  I don’t believe it is preparation for combat, and I don’t believe that it can result in a complete rifleman without a course of study in shooting at close range with an emphasis on getting fast hits.  In a weekend for less than $100, it’s pretty hard to be that critical for what you do get. 

This shoot did not quite follow the format of a normal Appleseed.  In my mental game plan leading up to the shoot I had kind of prepared for Saturday being slow due to lots of instruction and relatively low round count, like a normal Appleseed.  Because this was a full distance shoot, and all shooters were required to have shot a score of 210 or better on the AQT, they were able to condense the instruction somewhat, which was good.  I could have gone without it altogether, but I’m real special (Mom says so).  I had kind of been looking for more opportunity to get myself really “dialed in”, but after shooting one sheet of squares I don’t think I would have benefitted any more from doing any more warm up shooting.  So we went off the map of Appleseed, which was appropriate considering we all could shoot pretty well already. 
We shot a pair of “greencoat” targets in a way that made it a quasi AQT.  This was just to get us warmed up for transitions from standing to sitting.  I don’t believe that the time limits were in full effect.  We then shot the first and only 25 meter AQT.  I shot a 240.  I know I could have done better, but mentally I wasn’t ready to put in a great performance that early in the day.  It wasn’t in my pre-conceived game plan, although I don’t know what difference the timing makes.
After that we went directly to lunch and a bit of history, followed by a trajectory lesson.  Next was shooting 2 five round groups at 100, 200, 300, and 400 yards.  I found that I needed less elevation correction than I *should* have.
I noticed something extremely odd and uncanny during this dope acquisition portion of the day.  Let me show you what 2 sequential targets at 200 looked like:
Target 2 was shot on top of target 1 after it was marked.  Notice how the groups, both shot from prone at 200 yards, are eerily identical.  It scares me.  I think that hand feeding round five gave my sling an opportunity to slip.  It’s a problem that can be overcome, but I needed to learn it was an issue first.
We managed to get in one full distance AQT on day one, just before dusk enveloped us.  I had discovered a problem with magazine 2.  The floorplate developed a tendency to slide forward, which stopped the magazine from inserting.  This cost me time on stage 2, causing me to not get the 10th round off.  During stage 3, I was seeing a bit of mirage which just messed with my tired mind a bit and I shot it slowly, only getting off 8 rounds.  I dropped 3 points on stage 1 and 2 points on stage 4.  We only shot 10 rounds on stage 4, which doubles the score for that stage, and therefore doubles the loss of points as well.  I ended with a 224 for that AQT (sorry Larry, I had been mistaken about it being 222). 

I was concerned about getting my comeups in for each stage, having shot a lot of 25 meter AQT’s.  I was so concerned that I asked the instructors to remind the shooters to do this during the preparation period.  I think that by asking it created a mental reminder for me to always check my sight setting before each course of fire.  I even remembered to reset them back to zero every time but one.  Consistency is very important.

I went home, cleaned the rifle completely, and inspected my problem mag.  The sheet metal floorplate was too flat.  It depends on a bit of springy-steel floorplate tension to keep it in place.  A bit of careful squeezing in the vice yielded… absolutely no results.  That steel is well heat treated.  A bit of excessive squeezing in the vice worked.  I don’t think the floorplate will ever come off again, even if I want it to.  I’ll be cleaning mags from the top from now on.

Rifle stuff repacked for the return trip, I winded down with a beer and got to sleep too late.

Doing Right in the Face of Dire Consequence

This article is an interlude in my series of articles of my experience with the Appleseed full distance shoot.  It is not a normal type of post for this blog, but I think it is important and can’t really be separated from the subject matter.
Anyone who has been to an Appleseed knows that a big part of the program is the true story of what happened in the Massachusetts colony on April 19, 1775.  I was involved with Appleseed for about a year and a half (this was well before I started the blog) and was a full red hat instructor within 8 months of my first shoot, so I know the story pretty well.  Thinking about it again, I could not help but compare the story with current events.
Leading up to the full distance shoot we had an election.  The results of the election, I believe, are a clear indicator that we are in dark times. 
There are a lot of parallels between what is going on these days and what was going on in the colonies leading up to the Revolutionary War and the American Revolution.  The war and the Revolution are different things.  The former was a war between governments that had a clear ending point.  The latter was something that happened in people’s hearts and was never meant to end.  The general parallels to my way of thinking are governments that are A.) overtaxing elements of the population to pay for lavish spending and to finance drawn out military expenditures, B.)  overreaching for control over the population, and C.) not obeying the limitations on government action as established in foundational documents that establish the law of the land.
“To take from one, because it is thought that his own industry and that of his fathers has acquired too much, in order to spare to others, who, or whose fathers have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association, “the guarantee to every one of a free exercise of his industry, & the fruits acquired by it.’”
-Thomas Jefferson
In addition to the obvious parallels between then and now, there is a gross disparity.  There were significant numbers of the population who were willing to publicly call out their government, despite that fact that they could not count on protection to speak freely.  There were a good number of people who were aware of what the law was, and aware of what was going on politically.  There were a significant number of people who were willing to risk the loss of all their property, and of their lives, simply to do the right thing.
“Stand your ground. Don’t fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here.”
-John Parker (at Lexington Green, April 19, 1775)
These were people who thought things out in a logical manner, “God granted us the right to life liberty and property, that the King does not have the right to revoke”.  When the British, their countrymen (they were all British then) came to confiscate their property without warrants, they resisted. 
The question before the human race is, whether the God of nature shall govern the world by his own laws, or whether priests and kings shall rule it by fictitious miracles.
-John Adams
Today it is very common to act out of expediency.  What is so different now from then?  Probably not as much as we might imagine.  I would think that it has always been human nature to act out of expediency.  Many of them did back then.  But many others did not. 
Timid men prefer the calm of despotism to the tempestuous sea of Liberty.
– Thomas Jefferson
The people that founded our country acted out on principle.  I imagine that they were as frightened as I would be in the same situation, but something caused them to act in a way that was contrary to their survival in many cases, so that their posterity, us, would be able to live free.  This has continued throughout the history of America.  We had time to ponder this on the Sunday of the shoot, which was Veteran’s day.
“Posterity! You will never know how much it cost the present Generation to preserve your Freedom! I hope you will make good use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in Heaven, that I ever took half the Pains to preserve it.”
-John Adams
Every generation has continued to squander, little by little, the freedom that our fathers, grandfathers, and forefathers have bestowed on us.  The line has slipped back, little by little, throughout the generations.  A republic cannot continue to exist without active participation of the people.  We have a lot of “stuff”, but are very low at the moment on true substance.
Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people.
-John Adams
I thought that people were beginning to wake up, but it seems that a majority of Americans voted for socialism.  These are people who can’t act on principle, because they don’t understand what they believe in.  “Give me a screen, a pharmaceutical (or street drug), and chemicals made to look like abundant food, and I won’t care what else you do to me.”  A republic will become twisted and diseased if the people, through lack of morals and courage, become twisted and diseased.
Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.
-John Adams
I don’t know what it will take for me to understand the courage that our forefathers mustered to secure our freedom.  I fear that it may come to a point within my lifetime that I will find out.
“If you love wealth more than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, depart from us in peace. We ask not your counsel nor your arms. 
Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you. 
May your chains rest lightly upon you and may posterity forget that you were our countrymen.”

– Samuel Adams

My Approach to Preparing for the Appleseed Full Distance AQT

I approached my preparation for shooting the full distance AQT with the idea that the one thing that the AQT is a test of is the ability to shoot the AQT.  Cynical?  Yes, but pretty much accurate.  Actually, I made a list in my notebook of what I thought I would need to have down.  It read as follows (verbatim):
The AQT is a game that tests certain things, most of which is shooting the AQT.  Also:
            -Loading and reloading
            -The use of NPA
            -Bolt work while breathing
            -Index repeatability (the ability to find immediate NPA)
            -Marksmanship fundamentals
            -Slinging up
            -Quickness of intermediary movement
            -Compressed trigger squeeze
I started my thinking and preparation about 20 days prior to the shoot.  The first day consisted of about 20 minutes of dry fire in offhand and sitting, with about 2-3 minutes of prone.  I continued the dry fire in about the same amount or greater daily leading up to the shoot.  I started to consider how to manage my reloads to handle the 10 round rapid fire stages with my 2 four round mags. 
I decided by day 2 that it would be best to load a four round mag, fire all four, leave the mag in, and hand feed one while maintaining position.  Then I would change mags and repeat the process.  The rationale went something like this: keep things the same as much as I can and have a backup plan.  If for all the shooting I do during the AQT I shoot four, load one and repeat, it makes it much simpler to execute all the courses of fire in the same manner since they are all 10 round stages.  If I mess up and reload mag 2 before I hand feed cartridge 5, big deal, I’ll just hand feed 2 rounds at the end.
Also on day 2 I started practice with dummy rounds to get the feel of cycling and hand feeding.  Dry fire can be deceptively easy, so I wanted to make sure I was burning in the feel of handling ammo.  The important thing about practicing with dummies is to be doubly vigilant about keeping live ammo well away from the dry fire area.
During that first week of preparation I went to the range.  I had to limit my time during my range visits because I can’t very well live there, so I limited my posting of targets to just enough to get my cold bore data.  For the rest I used a steel target, taking headshots on the 6”x6.5” head from offhand at 100 yards and sitting at 200 yards.  This was a drill I repeated on a couple subsequent trips to the range.  I was pretty regularly averaging about 13/20 headshots from standing and 14-15 from sitting.

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Results of standing at 100.  The body shots were not counted in my tally of hits.
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Results of sitting at 200, combined with the hits from 100.
During the second week I started thinking about the time limits.  Actually it would be more accurate to say that I started worrying about the time limits.  This was not due to any previous experience with the AQT, because I have always had a pretty easy time, even with a bolt action.  The difference was this guns peculiarities and that it was a centerfire.  Even in the standing stage, which is 10 shots in 2 minutes I went over time in my first try with headshots at the range.
I started working to make times in dry fire and was consistently too slow.  I just kept working at it.  By the 3rd week of preparation I had an idea that I could probably make the times, but it was still dicey.  My initial setup into position was starting to get cleaner and closer to my actual natural point of aim.  I was getting smoother with the bolt cycling and gun handling.
Incidentally, some people who have a hard time making AQT times with the bolt action are not taking advantage of combining the bolt cycle and the breath cycle.  Breathe while you cycle the bolt and you won’t waste any time, provided you cycle the bolt quickly enough.
At 3 days out I printed out a reduced AQT target and began working at the numbers of shots on each target and gaming a sequence to handle it.  For a while I had the idea that I would work right to left and take one shot at each target at a time, reload and start over from the right, then hand feed the last two rounds starting from the right again.  Too complicated.  Eventually it turned out to be a moot point, because we only shot one 25 meter AQT, and the full distance only has 1 target to shoot at (no transitions).
Things I didn’t worry about: comeups and wind.  Not that I’m a master, but 400 yards isn’t really that far.  I’ve had that rifle out to 1150 yards or so and it worked better than I expected, considering I was doing what a “smart device” was telling me to do.  I’ve also worked several shoots at that range in the past and was familiar with the wind pattern.  It’s in a canyon that the range sits in lengthwise.  The wind typically funnels gently downrange, with maybe a slight 5:30 bias.  At the shoot there was virtually no wind to speak of anyway.
I made sure that my gear was all packed and squared away several days before the event, and that I put it away packed after practice so I wouldn’t have to worry compulsively as to whether I forgot something (still worried while en route to the shoot).  
The night before I got to sleep between 2300 and 0000 and got up at 0509.  About the same before day 2.  Each day I had a clean rifle and clean bore.  I made sure not to eat too much and to consume my normal amount of caffiene (one coffee after breakfast and one late morning to noonish).

I had a lot more to think about after actually shooting it again.  I’ll get to that in a few days.

Appleseed: Shooting the Full Distance AQT

I recently had the pleasure of attending a full distance Appleseed shoot.  I have some history with the program from before I started this blog.  I wanted to go back and see how my skills fared with the specific challenges that the AQT course presents.  The process of preparing for the shoot was interesting, and the experience itself provoked a lot of thoughts that I think are worth sharing.

I had a few specific goals for this shoot:
     -I wanted to shoot a clean AQT.
     -I wanted to be able to make the rapid fire times with the equipment I have,
      which is my FN PBRXP  .308 controlled round feed and 2 four round mags.
     -I wanted a venue to conduct proof of concept tests on a few things:

      my modified offhand position, my sling, using holdovers for elevation corrections
      at intermediate distances (out to 500), and all the stuff I’ve been typing about on this
      blog for the last year and a half.

Normally I cover shoots like this in chronological order.  This time I’m going to give you the “results” first and then explain details.

On my first full distance AQT on day 2 I scored a 246/250.  That was my highest score of the weekend, and my highest score ever for that matter.

Stage 1, Offhand, 100 yards:  Clean


Stage 2, Rapid Fire Sitting, 200 yards, 55 seconds:

Video credit to David Foucachon.  Thank you!49/50


Stage 3, Rapid Fire Prone, 300 yards, 65 seconds:  47/50


Stage 4, Slow Fire Prone, 400 yards, Clean


While I did not clean the course, I’m happy with what I did, as I believe it was the best performance I had in my relative to my current abilities and level of preparation.

I was satisfied that the modified offhand stance that I use is not only faster for my snapshooting, but is sufficiently accurate for most purposes that offhand may be of use for.  I even did not get yelled at to get my elbow under the rifle and my chicken wing up, or to use my sling.  I had forewarned the instructor cadre that I was going to be testing out crackpot theories, but that it was an informed decision.

My sling design works.  It’s something I came up with based on my experiences using every type of shooting sling known to mankind.  I ran prototype #5 for two solid days of shooting.  It’s a purty sling in A-TACS camo printed webbing.  It was a success.  Let me tell you something about it:

            -It’s not a glorified hasty sling.
            -It’s a full loop.

            -It fits onto a regular rifle with 2 sling studs.

I did not begin any shooting stage looped up, but used the sling in all except standing.  Anyone who has shot an AQT should understand the significance of that.

I was able to make the times even on rapid fire stages, looping up while getting into position, even with the added difficulty of a bolt gun and having to hand feed 2 rounds.  I believe this proved my sling’s viability as a way to use a loop sling in the field.

It was not necessarily easy to make all the times with my equipment.  I did encounter some glitches in my gear that I had to address.  That’s one of the nice things about shooting an Appleseed.  It will give your gear a good shakedown.

I did not end up using holdovers, as they proved less precise, and in the final equation I was gunning for score.  I’ll have to put it back in my “bag of crackpot theories” for the time being.

As far as what I’ve been writing about for the last year and a half, I think it’s working for me.  I can say that I have improved.  While the difference may not have resulted in a clean score, it was significant.

I have a lot to say about this subject, so I’ll try to put it out in chunks that fit together in the next few days.

The Application of Attention: Dispersed tho’ Adhering

After spending a good deal of my life in an attempt to optimize my consciousness to action, I have “gotten” a small nugget of it.  I have read, studied, and practiced a good deal attempting to catch a bit of the zen idea of being “fully present in the moment”.  This seems to be easiest to experience in a physical practice where things happen very quickly.  It’s more difficult in the normal course of the day, and extremely challenging when sitting completely still.
I had been misapplying the concept of being fully “present” by trying to control too much.  Say I’m running late for work.  I need to get ready quickly.  I don’t know how many times in my life I’ve tied my shoes, but hopefully enough to have it down.  My working theory for years has been that if I need to get something done quickly, efficiently, and properly, that I should focus all my attention to fully control it.  I thought it was just being in a hurry that caused me to become “fumbly” at times such as these.  I should have remembered what happened to the millipede when he stopped to think about answering the question, “How do you coordinate all those legs together when you walk?”  At that point our friend the millipede found himself frozen still, unable to move a leg.
I have had a lot to think about lately due to big plans and a lot to learn and execute quickly.  This has put me in a cerebral type thinking mode in the course of my normal day.  In this thought-heavy mode I notice that sometimes I have no idea why I just walked into a room, which decreases my productivity hugely. 
I had to begin forcing myself to pay attention to what I was doing in a more neutral way.  This is when I noticed the difference between paying attention (not daydreaming or lost in thought) and trying to exert control of every facet of action.  Just being aware of my thought pattern, and letting it subside during times when I need to be effective, has made a huge improvement over my prior practice of “hyper-attentiveness”. 
Being aware without exerting constant conscious control allows you to perform things naturally as you’ve practiced through repetition.  It allows you to match your action to your environment.  It allows you to adapt to errors in a manner that flows with the course of events, rather than stumbling or getting stuck.
Again, the quote comes to mind, “Let your opponent mold his own defeat while you are free to be molded.” –Peter Ralson.
I might be wasting my keystrokes on this topic, because words are inadequate to convey things like this.  I’m interested to hear your thoughts. 

The “Enoka” Reflex, “Indexing”, and Traditional Bolt Action Rifles

If you begin to spend any time around people who are good with guns, you will notice that it’s almost universal that when handling a firearm that they are not pointing at a target, the trigger finger is pointed straight along the firearm and is kept outside the trigger guard.  This is known as “indexing”.  This is, of course, leaps and bounds ahead of the days when most people let the trigger finger rest instinctively on the trigger at almost all times.
Sometimes a method is developed for a specific application or platform and is adopted for use across a wide variety of platforms and applications.  Sometimes this happens when the technique is passed on to people who have not thought out the problem as deeply as the originator and carry the outside form on without fully understanding the implications on the purpose.
Why do we index?  It’s because there have been times when folks actuated the trigger on a properly functioning firearm when they didn’t intend to.  How does this happen?  There are probably a number of ways, but there has been some study on involuntary muscle contractions that has a lot to do with our current doctrine.
Dr. Roger Enoka did a study and wrote a paper entitled “Involuntary Muscle Contractions and the Unintentional Discharge of a Firearm”.  This paper did not predate indexing but is used as a justification of the practice.  One of the foundational tenets of the paper is that moving one part of the body intentionally will involve other parts of the body.  Another is “the position of the hand while standing depends on the relative orientation of all the body segments located between the hand and the feet (Scholz, Schöner, & Latash, 1999). Due to this anatomical coupling, displacement of any intervening body segment will cause the hand to move”.  Something like a loss of balance while carrying a firearm in a manner in which the trigger can be accessed could result in a gripping motion unintentionally being applied to the trigger.
A second reason that inadvertent force could be applied to the trigger is if the index finger left hand is contracting forcefully for some reason, a sympathetic contraction in the right hand is very likely to occur.  A third reason is that the finger could contract unintentionally if the person is startled.
Enoka noted the practice of indexing:
“…to place the index finger outside the trigger guard and along the barrel of the gun until a decision has been made to discharge the weapon…  Due to the organization of the muscles that control finger movements, however, this is not a fail-safe procedure. The fingers are controlled by a combination of small muscles in the hand and larger muscles in the forearm. To hold a handgun in a firing position, a person will use the hand muscles and the muscles on the front of the forearm (palm side) to grip the gun and a small muscle on the back of the forearm to keep the finger extended alongside the barrel. If events evoke involuntary contractions that cause the person to grip the gun more tightly, the force exerted by these muscles could overwhelm the action of the relatively small muscle that is used to keep the index finger straight alongside the barrel of the gun. Furthermore, it is difficult even with voluntary contractions to perform a movement with a single finger that does not influence the forces exerted by other fingers (Kilbreath & Gandevia, 1994; Kilbreath, Gorman, Raymond, & Gandevia, 2002; Li, Danion, Latash, Li, & Zatsiorsky, 2001). As a consequence of these effects, the index finger could be forced to join the gripping action and it could even slip inside the trigger guard and depress the trigger(Emphasis added –RS)
The rest of the paper discussed ways to re-train the involuntary contractions to lessen the likelihood that the trigger finger would involuntarily activate the trigger, but I would like to dwell on the practice of indexing, particularly in relation to traditional bolt action rifles.
First of all, in contrast to a pistol, which is much more likely to be carried securely in a holster, and drawn shortly before anticipated use, the rifle has to be carried, either via a sling or in the hands.  Carrying the rifle in the hands is preferable, because it offers more control over the weapon in general, and also renders it useful more readily.  There are degrees as to how ready of a condition we need when carrying the rifle, and they vary much more than a pistol, because as I said, the pistol is typically in a holster unless needed.  There are often times when carrying the rifle is more a function of transporting it than of readiness for immediate contact.
Secondly, the ergonomics of the traditional rifle are much different than of a pistol, or even a modern rifle with a mostly vertical pistol grip.  What’s the difference?  With a vertical pistol grip, it’s a lot more natural to keep the firing arm in a position that keeps the muzzle down when the arm is relaxed.  Low ready or the sul position both work well for weapons with vertical pistol grips.  

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Comfy, relaxed, and natural.
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Awkward and tense. 

The traditional shape of the rifle’s pistol grip has been more horizontal, especially the farther back in history you go.  It seems like pistol grips as of late developed more of a downward curve in the grip that leads from horizontal to vertical.  Vertical grips place the hand in a very favorable position in relation to the trigger.  Horizontal grips, in my opinion, make rifles handier when you’re not shooting, but carrying.  Port arms carry allows both arms to be relaxed and puts the muzzle in what is usually a safe direction.  It’s easy to move with, even run with, and it’s fast to get the rifle up into action via the snapshot.  With a vertical pistol grip, port arms carry just doesn’t work as well unless you completely remove your hand from the pistol grip and place it on the stock.  That’s why you just don’t see it as much anymore, especially as AR’s are becoming the gun of choice. 

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Comfy, relaxed, and natural.
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Awkward and tense. 
For as long as I have owned and used guns, I have indexed as a matter of personal discipline regardless of the gun type.  What I have been noticing lately with bolt action rifles that have a horizontal grip (lever guns) or a curved pistol grip is that indexing puts the tip of my trigger finger at the bottom forward edge of the trigger guard.  If I contracted my trigger finger it would go into the trigger guard and apply pressure to the trigger.  Yes, I am indexed, but I think I’ve figured out at long last that although I am taking the form of a safe behavior when indexing in the manner, I am not actually fulfilling the safety function.

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BOOM! (if the safety is off or fails).
What seems like a better and simpler method when carrying or handling in a rifle with more traditional ergonomics is to simply wrap all of my fingers, including the trigger finger, around the pistol grip when the rifle is being carried.   

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The fingers have no way of unintentionally contracting into the trigger guard.

This leaves nothing that can be accidentally contracted into the trigger guard.  There is a huge disadvantage to this technique: it doesn’t look like you are indexing and being safe, plus doesn’t look at all TACTICAL. 

Moving from port arms to a firing position happens pretty fast, and it seems easy and natural to move the hand from this:

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to this, as the hand moves to the vertical portion of the grip to fire:

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Also note that once the hand is on the vertical portion of the grip in the firing position, indexing in the normal manner becomes much more viable as a safe technique:

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Lastly, remember that nothing is foolproof.  Despite the great pains that I’m sure you will take to prevent an unintentional discharge, it can still happen.  That’s where Rule #2 comes in: Never Let the Muzzle Cover Anything You Are Not Willing to Destroy.
Carry on.

Consistency of Action in Gunhandling

The old saying is “consistency is accuracy”.  Phrases that get repeated a lot mostly turn out to be lies perpetrated by the progressives/socialists/mainstream media/popular culture (of death).  Phrases shut off your brain because you hear them often enough, assume they must be true, and your logic circuits shut down.  So let’s break the saying down and start from scratch and tackle just one aspect of it for today.
If you really want to hit your target, the thing you want is your system working without any surprises.  You don’t want to snap the rifle up for a quick shot and find your scope on its maximum setting, causing you to have a narrow field of view so you can’t find your target.  You don’t want to start breaking a shot on a live target and find that your safety is on.  You don’t want to work your bolt and find that you fouled up your technique and caused a malfunction.  Any one of those might also cause a moment of confusion that interrupts your decision making process. 
The method to avoid nasty surprises in the heat of action is through consistency of action.  You want to be meticulous about operating and resetting your gear in a predictable way that will flow logically into the next action.  Remember what Gunny Hathcock had to say:
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. 
When you read the Gunny’s words you have to stop and reflect for a minute.  If you forgot to do that I recommend to read them again.
Let’s tacking this whole consistency thing?  How do you store your rifle for short term storage?  I keep my rifle in a ready to shoot condition (except for the ammo), so when I pull it out of the case it’s good to go, or at least I mostly do (I’m not perfect, bug surprise).  Bipod locking nut slack, magazine in, scope power set at 3.5X, zero set at 100 yards, safety in the safe and locked position (fully to the rear), completely empty.  My handmade (by me) sling is always ready to be used as a shooting aid or to shoulder the rifle.  The rifle is stored in the case so that the optic is up when the case is carried.
There are times when have been careless and have placed the rifle in the case with the scope turned up to 9x, the safety off, or the magazine out of the rifle.  It’s usually not a big deal, until you need to use it again.  Even if it’s just in practice, the extra moment when you have to bring the rifle back down to reset the scope power is wasted time  (maybe I could waste less time by not bringing it down.   Hmm…).  Since I don’t exist in an action movie, I have never needed to shoot my rifle in a moment’s notice.  Mostly I’m just disappointed in myself when I find that my rifle isn’t in the condition I expected, but what if I am suddenly thrust into a big adventure lasting 90 minutes where I get to crash a lot of cars and shoot a lot of rounds while never reloading?
It seems appropriate that a rifle system should be handled in a very predictable way.  You want to be able to focus on the shooting problem.  The gear should not present unexpected distractions.  Distractions will not help you make a hit.  Self- induced distractions are especially egregious because they could have been prevented with some forethought and will be stacked on top of whatever distractions the outside world has ready to throw at you.
I think that mental checklists need to be trained in.  What they are specifically doesn’t really matter, as long as they make sense to you and follow a logical sequence that flows- one thing into the next.  You can divide it up into before the shot, during, and after the shooting.  Things that need to be managed are magazines, ammo, safeties, optics- meaning elevation, windage, parallax, scope covers, anything that can be adjusted on your rifle- buttstock, bipod, sling, bolt, etc…
The rifle needs to be used in a deliberate way.  Let’s look at the safety for instance.  Mine has 3 positions, fire (forward), safe with bolt unlocked (middle, 90°), and safe with bolt locked (rear).  My default position is all the way back, fully safe and locked.  If I’m not unloading, loading, checking the chamber, in the process of firing a shot, or fulfilling some other purpose that would necessitate bolt movement, the safety stays to the rear.  The only reason to use the middle position is for loading, unloading, checking the chamber, or perhaps just checking out the action for fun,  and the only way I do any of those things is with the safety in the middle position.  The only time the safety goes forward is when firing (or dry firing), and every time I intend to fire the safety goes forward.  This is what I mean by planned, logical, and deliberate action. 
Considering my rifle’s starting condition, to take a shot I need to:
            -take care of hearing and eye protection
            -verify that the rifle is in its proper ready configuration (no surprises)
            -remove the empty magazine and place a loaded magazine in
            -put the safety in the center position
            -chamber a round
            -reset the safety to the rear position
            -determine the range to target and shot difficulty
            -take an appropriate position
            -deploy the bipod if necessary
            -set the elevation or use a holdover
            -set the windage or hold
            -adjust the parallax if applicable
            -remove/open the scope caps (actually I don’t have any yet)
            -set the safety to the “fire” position
            -press the trigger
            -work the bolt while maintaining visual contact to target
That list does not cover every eventuality and every item may not be in the most efficient order.  Those are simply the things that need to be done.  Perhaps even a double check on conditions, the round in the chamber, or scope settings would be in order at some point.  It looks like a lot of stuff, which would seem to make it all the more important to have an efficient routine that accomplishes it all in the least amount of time possible. 

Something to keep in mind is whether or not the routine that works for you on your system will work for you on a buddy’s system.  Recently I talked about my rifle being a controlled round feed, and how it was neat to be able to do a press check without closing the bolt completely.  Then I figured out that this could get me into trouble on a push feed.  Since then the bolt gets closed completely prior to a press check.

Post shooting from that location/condition, all of it needs to be undone, and the rifle returned to a starting position as a matter of course before moving on, even if it’s just in between strings of fire.  You don’t want to get to the next shot, who knows how far in the future, and find that your rifle is not set to zero, but to 3.7, or is it 8.7, or maybe 13.7?  Which turn is the turret on?  Can you recall what your last distance was?  Is this really the time to be doing that?  Would it have been easier to turn it back immediately post shot?  Of course it would have.  That would have taken maybe 10 seconds at the time, but figuring it out later will take a lot longer, and possibly at a time when you are feeling rushed.  After figuring out your windage, you’ll be in even more of a panic to find your windage knob exactly halfway through its range of travel.  Was that 2.5 left or right?  Hmm…

Finally, remember that the tendency is to become complacent as familiarity and skill accrue.  There is only 2.5-3 lbs. of pressure required before a bullet exits your muzzle, wherever it happens to be pointing.  If part of your skill set involves constantly improving your gunhandling to become more purposeful, deliberate, and deliberately safe, you will not be a liability to everyone around you.

Work out what things you need to do.  Figure out an order that will most efficiently accomplish them.  Train your mind and body to work through them smoothly and efficiently.  Be methodical.  Remember what Carlos said: “Pay attention to detail”!

Recognizing Little Problems Before They Become Lingering Problems

I stuck with the Sako 75 as my one and only rifle for a year before “suddenly discovering” that it wasn’t accurate enough for what I wanted to do with it.  This actually made for what was for me a somewhat profound life lesson that I can see now also pertains to my day job.  I knew all along that the Sako wasn’t doing what I wanted it to do.
To refresh your memory, or perhaps you’re a new reader, the Sako has a wild cold bore shot, doesn’t really hold up to my expectations of precision even after the cold bore, and has a proprietary scope mounting system that wasn’t going to make it easy on getting what I wanted.    None of those things surprised me in the slightest.  There was no sudden epiphany.  The cold bore, especially, was evident before I could really shoot.
What was an epiphany was that the problem was not going to somehow change or go away, and that the things I do like about the rifle didn’t somehow overshadow its deficiencies.  The problems were not temporary issues that could be “fixed” with some minor correction, such as pillar bedding or a magic action screw torque setting.
Some problems can be dismissed for a while.  “Sure, it shoots a wild cold bore, but darn that action is soooo smooth and the box mag is nice, and cold bore shots aren’t really that important are they, and golly, I’m sure the problem will go away somehow once I figure it out, or maybe it’s just me.”  There comes a point where denial becomes ineffective. 
How would things have been different for my marksmanship development if I wasn’t fighting those problems for so long?  I’ll never know now.  I won’t call the time wasted, but I sure could have been learning about things that were overshadowed by the simple fact of a gun that was a lemon.
To apply that train of thought to my current rifle, the FN PBR-XP, it still is not as precise as I would like.  That is basically a reality of my current financial situation.  The problem has not bothered me too much, because the cold bore isn’t super crazy like the Sako, the scope mounting system leaves nothing to be desired, and the rifle’s overall configuration is pleasing to me, and honestly I need more work on precision myself.  My plan is to shoot the crap out of the rifle so that A.)  I can build my skill to the degree where the accuracy really is unacceptable, and B). the barrel is shot out within a reasonable amount of time, hopefully to be concurrent with point “A”. 
What I’m trying to convey is that if you have a nagging feeling that things aren’t right, don’t ignore it.  Address it before you feel committed or somehow “locked” into staying the course.  You might save a lot of lost time, not just with your shooting gear but with your life.