Ladder Testing, and Getting Whooped by a Kid at a Pirate Shooting Game

My plan is to get to the range more frequently.  I won’t have as high a round count, and I won’t have the longer distances, but I think there is a lot to be said for frequency.  At least I hope there is.  This range trip was five days after the previous one, which is pretty good for me. 

I started the day with a dot drill at 120 yards.  I remembered that I had been high on the last dot drill, so I adjusted down 0.1 mils.  What I did not remember was that I was at 100 before, and at 120 this time: 

Everything was uniformly low and right. 

I was at least consistent.  That would actually have made a nice group.  If I had my zero correctly adjusted I’d have been doing pretty well! 

The next order of business was the ladder test.  I loaded up these test rounds before I ordered the Sierra 155 Palmas and the 3 lbs. of N140.  The idea is that I have no idea what kind of powder I may happen upon in stock somewhere, so I’d better figure out what works with what, and how much of that certain what I might employ most advantageously. 

A ladder test at 120 yards is not bound to yield the most spectacular results.  The idea of a ladder test is to load 1 round of a certain charge, and so on and so forth, until the last charge is somewhere over book max (proceed at ye peril shipmate!!!).  Each round is fired using the same point of aim on a large target board, ideally from at least 200-300 yards.  The point up aim will tend to shift with each round, and by extension each charge weight.  The shift is usually up the target as the charge weight increases.

The end result will usually look like a string going up the target.  There will be clusters of rounds that happen to end up in decent groups.  If these groups come from a sequence of charge weights, it usually indicates the presence of a “node”, which is a small range of charge weights where the rifle and load are more harmonious than the general range of charge weights.  Settling on a load within this range not only means that it will tend to shoot better, but because it is within a small range it will tend to be somewhat forgiving of changes in temperature that can affect the way the powder burns. 

Ladder 1 5-17-11In May of 2011, I shot this ladder with the TRG-42, .338 Lapua from 300 yards.

After the initial test at 300, I would typically do another to home in on the node more precisely.  Because the rounds from within the node grouped pretty well, it helps to move the shooting distance back to cause the rounds to have more dispersion on paper, which makes the results easier to identify. 

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This was a subsequent ladder with the TRG from 520 yards. 

In ladder tests, the horizontal dispersion is usually ignored, as it is thought in this type of testing that the vertical dispersion is the result of changes in muzzle velocity.  In other types of load testing, such as the Optimal Charge Weight (OCW), they take into account both horizontal and vertical.

One thing about ladder testing is that each shot must be identified and marked before the next shot is fired.  If you can’t tell for sure what rounds were which, the test is pointless.  Because of this, it helps to have someone else (that you can boss around, is young, and likes to run) do the numbering.  If this is the nature of your helper, you must make it abundantly clear that each round has to have its own sequential number.  It also helps to have a radio to communicate (micro-manage).  Strict range safety procedures are, of course, essential. 

I ran two ladder tests, both with Nosler 155 grain Custom Competition bullets, which are very similar to the Sierra 155 Palma (2155, which is the older style with the lower ballistic coefficient).  I don’t plan on using these for my primary load, but things are so scarce as far as Bergers and the Sierra 155 Palma (2156, new style, better ballistic coefficient), that my reasoning was to use a bullet of the same weight to home in on the nodes.  Perhaps my assumption that a charge that works well on one match 155 grain bullet will get me close to what works on another is flawed?  I’d be interested to hear what you think. 

Here are the results of the 155 grains with Varget: 

I wrote in the locations of sequential shots on the right side so I could isolate them for size and look at them.  It looks like the tightest group of 3 sequential shots was for shots 7, 8, and 9.  I tend to doubt it with how I have been shooting lately, but this type of thing usually works out. 

I was well over the book value from my Sierra manual.  They also used Federal brass.  What I’m not sure about is whether the case capacity of recent (past couple years) Federal brass is the same as what it used to be.  I have heard that the brass is now less soft and has more capacity than is used to.  All I know is that I did not expect to fire all the rounds.  I expected my bolt to start to be hard to lift about 3 rounds before I fired them all.  There were no signs of high pressure to be found whatsoever.  That said, I don’t plan on pushing things any farther.

Part of bringing someone shooting is making it fun for them too.  I brought along the “Black Death Challenge” target.  It’s a fun type of “know your limits” target.  Young Miss Rifleslinger was skeptical about her chances to be competitive against me (I’m not sure why).  Her experience with this type of rifle is limited.  I offered to shoot it at double her distance, which seemed to appease her. 

I told her, get straight behind the rifle, lift the body up and back down to settle into the bipod, and engage the trigger with the finger at about 90°.  I let her take a few rounds to get zeroed.  I left all the strategery up to her. 

A couple of the rounds were awfully close to touching the black in invalidating all her points, but she barely squeaked by with 15 points.

I moved back and shot the target.  My strategy was to try several targets and try to keep from invalidating any points I had accrued: 

One point was my total.  That’s all I have to say about that. 

Getting ready to leave I let her drive slow in the driveway as a reward.
One point.

Knowing What One is About

During the whole affair, the rebels attacked us in a very scattered, irregular manner, but with perseverance and resolution, nor did they ever dare to form into a regular body. Indeed they knew too well what was proper, to do so. Whoever looks upon them as an irregular mob, will find himself very much mistaken. They have men amongst them who know very well what they are about…

-Brigadier General Hugh Percy (British), quoted after the battle of Lexington and Concord, 1775

I’ve heard the story of April 19, 1775 many times, as told by many different people.  The above quote is one that tends to make an impression, if only because of the reverent tone of the speaker.  I didn’t really know what it meant, but it sounded important.

What I’ve discovered is that sometimes you can be going right along in life along what seems like a totally predicable course, exactly according to plan.  Suddenly, life plops something in your path that was totally unexpected in the form of a hard decision that needs to be made, usually in the form of some crisis or another.  This is when you find out if you know what you are about.

Living according to principles can cause those decisions to be somewhat painful and gut wrenching.  It also tends to make the way forward completely clear.  Clear, because having principles means that there is a standard.  At the fork in the path, one way will stand in accordance and one in discordance to the principle.  It is difficult, because the right decision is often the more difficult course of action.

People that don’t live according to principle can be persuaded into going along with almost anything.    The human mind is awesome in its capacity to rationalize anything and everything.  Lawyers make a life study out of turning obvious truths on their heads.  Popular culture and opinion are likewise completely upside down.

In a world that has adopted a sliding scale of right and wrong, it’s easy to be misunderstood by sticking to what is right.  It’s not enough to stick to what seems right, there needs to be constant searching and contemplation to make sure there is actually consistency of action and not just some self-serving rationalization.  Just as we run self-defense “what if?” scenarios, it’s important to keep sharp the ability to apply core principles and beliefs, and to continue to refine our powers of discernment.

When a decision is required in which the only benefit of doing right is knowing you’ll retain your integrity, and there are substantial and significant losses in terms of status and resources, the decision may be obvious, but it is not easy.  This is true even for small things.  The small things provide practice for when the big things come along unexpectedly.

On April 19, 1775 a small group of inhabitants of the town of Lexington, Massachusetts were roused from their slumber and forced to make a decision.  The choice that was safest was to do nothing, allow their property to be forcibly and unlawfully taken by their own military, and allow the unlawful arrest of two of their own.  They were aware, however that the right to property is a natural right, which is intrinsic to being human (also a factor was that the written laws were on their side as well).  That was a fundamental principle that dictated they take the alternate course of action.   

That alternate course of action meant that about 80 of them, regular folks banded together in a militia, were going to stand up to 250 to 300 soldiers in the world’s elite fighting force, who also happened to be their own army.  Predictably, most of the men who stood were mowed down by ball and bayonet.   The result of that decision is also that we are able to live in the freest country in the world.  They were not hesitant to give their lives for their posterity, which is you and I.

There is a full court societal press on right now in an attempt to lure you into giving into the key weaknesses of our human condition- lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride.  Weak people are easy to manipulate.  Most of us have an internal compass to tell us what is right and what is wrong.  The key is to consult it and actually listen when it comes time to decide on important things. 

Transition Day

It finally came time to get to the new (old) range with the new (old) ammo.  At least I’m using the same rifle.  I was expecting the range to be a little cleaner than it used to be now that it’s an exclusive “members only” club with a very nicely made sliding gate.  I suppose it was a little cleaner.  No appliances this time.

The straight maximum distance of the old range was about 520 yards.  If I played with some angles and got a little unorthodox I could have gotten as far as 700-800.  If I had asked for permission I could have gotten out to about 1100.  That’s all moot now.

The straight maximum distance of the new range is about 120 yards.  If I play with some angles and exploit the wording of the rules like a lawyer I can get out to maybe 180.  If I get plum crazy and do stuff that probably wouldn’t pass muster I could get to about 308.

I didn’t have much on the agenda to get done.  I had some of the new ammo and a bit of the old for purposes of comparison.  I had a chrono for curiosity and to feel like I was being “scientific”.

My targets:

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If you guessed that I couldn’t find either of my staple guns, you guessed correctly.

I started with a dot drill.  I really didn’t know what the 175 MatchKings would do in comparison to the 168 grain Federal Gold Medal Match I had been using.  This was not my first time shooting this ammo, but the last time, a couple weeks ago, I was trying to hit a gong at 1130ish and failing miserably (ran out of elevation in the scope).  I would estimate my range was 100 yards, plus or minus 5.  The center dot was the cold bore.

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The old dot drills had 20 and 21 circles and were titled “$$$” and “21”.  I made a new one to reflect the current trends in ammunition availability and cost.

Other than the rifle not being well zeroed for this ammo, the shooting seems like it was at least somewhat consistent.

The next thing was to get a little more distance and set up the chrono.  The rules say to shoot in a “southernly” direction.  I was hoping that west-southwest was sufficiently southernly.  It was safe anyway.

I don’t have a rangefinder, but I used the pallet that the targets were mounted on to mil the range.  A pallet is large enough, 40” wide,  that I should have been within 2 yards or so.  My estimation was 158.

I decided to try a 10 round group.

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I’m not impressed either.  Here’s an image of my 10 bipod group at 100 yards from the Sako 75, 30-06 in October of 2011 as a comparison.

The article says it was 1.6 MOA (I use the correct 1.047” per 100 yards to come up with the number).  I didn’t pull out the dial calipers to measure the group with the 175 MatchKings, but it looks an awful lot like 3”, which at 158 yards is 1.8 MOA.

Here is what the old Federal Gold Medal Match did at the same distance:

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Not impressive either.  It’s not the rifle.  It’s not the ammo.  There are no screws loose on anything on the rifle.  I have gotten worse, and it’s not for lack of practice.  It seems like I’m drifting somehow away from better towards worse.

Here are the numbers that the chrono told me:

                        168 Grain FGMM                   175 Grain SMK Handload 
                        2571                                        2575
                        2560                                        2567
                        2558                                        2539
                        2582                                        2548
                        2555                                        2552
                        2564                                        2565
                        2575                                        2560
                        2553                                        2570
                        2532                                        2559
                        2543                                        2581

Interesting, the average muzzle velocity of the two is only 2 feet per second different, 2557 and 2559 respectively.  My load had a slightly better standard deviation.  The charges in those loads were very carefully weighed by hand, but the method I used to work them up was not very sophisticated.  This was a few years ago, and I just shot groups with different weight powders.  I loaded them in a Dillon with a Dillon full length sizing die and standard seating die.  I made them for my 22” M1A.  They seem to work better than I do.

Vintage Port


In my last post I mentioned having to re-appropriate some ammo for the FN “blog rifle”.  I had a bunch of ammo loaded into mags and bandoleers for the M14 family (non-NFA).  That had 175 grain Sierra MatchKings, which I needed for the bolt gun.  To make sure that there was something ready to go for the M14’s I broke into some old surplus stuff, which realistically is probably as good as I need for the iron beasts.

Do I think the M14 is obsolete in this day and age?  Probably, if only for parts cost, availability, and ease of repair.  Do I think it will work and get the job done?  Probably for “general purpose” type stuff.

It was just as well that I purged the match stuff from the bandoleers.  I had been pilfering it since perhaps 2009 or so.  They were not in a well regulated state.

Initially I broke out 1 battle pack of the Portuguese surplus, circa ????.  I enlisted some neighborhood street urchins from inside the house to assist with the loading.


I quickly realized that I would need another battle pack.  The Port has always reminded me of MRE packaging, as if there should be a bunch of densely packed, dry, and broken crackers within.  I suppose they are crackers of a sort.


The Port was quickly exhausted.  I located some old M80, perhaps 80 rounds, that someone gave me because they were a little dirty (“Oh yeah, those are filthy.  You don’t want to shoot those.  You’ll probably explode.  I’ll take them.  I know just how to dispose of them properly”).  Instantly gone.  Then I got into the more recent vintage of Lithuanian surplus that I had.  First one, then two battle packs.

The Lithuanian looks nice and is reloadable.  The Port, however, has always shot great (better for me than the pretty stuff).


Each bandoleer has to have a spoon with the trademark safety pin.


Two 5-round strippers are loaded into each cardboard.  6 cardboards per bandoleer.  Greedy little hands to load them.

From chaos:


To lovely order:

His and hers M14’s and a little bit of ammo.  This photo has been brought to you by RifleCraft… conspiring to make you buy slings since 1947, or was it 1913???

I got 300 rounds per 5.56 ammo can.  I apologize for the lack of continuity with the ammo and cans.  If it really bothers anyone I apologize.  I promise that my 5.56 is loaded into 5.56 ammo cans at exactly 840 rounds in stripper clips per can (but sadly, I lack the bandoleers).


Minor, But Significant Changes

I effected a slight change in the context of my shooting that I need not divulge the specifics of.  The effects of that change that matter for the purpose of the blog are twofold.  My large supply of Federal Gold Medal Match 168 grain ammunition is gone.  Also, the range that I had been using with the easy 500 yards and the possibilities to reach to 800-1000 is mostly off limits.  Those changes put me out of commission for a short period.

The first thing I had to attend to was the ammo situation.  I’m not completely without .308 ammo.  Most of it is surplus fodder for battle rifles.  What I did have that was a step up was a few hundred rounds of loads I had made on the Dillon for my M1A.  R-P brass, Winchester primers, 175 MatchKings over some IMR 4064.  These were loaded into M14 mags and bandoleers.  I removed them and re-appropriated them for use in the FN.  What has yet to be determined is how they shoot out of it.  I hate to have to start pulling bullets.


The next thing was to work on obtaining more ammo.  I shot over 1000 rounds from August to December 2012 in my newly acquired rifle.  I think the increased volume helped my shooting some.  It would be nice not to be rationing ammo through whenever it stops being so scarce, which could be never.

I went to the Powder Valley site and saw that there wasn’t much to be had.  I was hoping for some Amaxes or Bergers.  I was lucky enough to find some of the “new” style Sierra 155 Palma bullets (2156).  I popped 500 of them into the cart.  Looking at powders, I was not able to find much other than Vihtavuori, which is fine with me.  Not wanting to take more than the 30 seconds it takes for things to go out of stock, I used my quick “Startpage-foo”, and found out that N140 seemed to be what might work.  7000/45 = 155.55555.  500/155.5555555 = 3.21 lbs. of powder to load those 500 rounds.

500 match bullets and 3 lbs. of powder ain’t cheap.  Normally you want to see what else might be needed to max out that hazmat ticket.  Then comes the very, very diplomatic conversation with the wife, started at just the perfect opening, perhaps left to digest slowly until the idea becomes palatable.  Not these days.  This was more of a lucky happenstance that she was in a good mood.  BAM! Ordered.  Now I just get to hope that it will arrive this year.  I feel like I already need to start planning the next batch.

Luckily, I have been saving brass.  I have enough to wear out the barrel, 20 pieces.  Yep, only 100 more rounds to go until that .308 barrel is fried and I’ll need a custom tube (right guys, wink).  Actually I have a few gallons of brass.  I also seemed to have a bit more cash to prepare during the last big run during the last big election, so I’m still OK on primers.

I think that for those of us who failed to hoard appropriately, the name of the game is going to be making due with whatever components we can find.  Who knows what load I’ll be using the next time.  What is going to be crucial is that I have the ability to work well with what I can get.

As far as a place to shoot, it’s back to the old, public range that I complained about here.  Since then they have put a lock on the gate and require a membership fee.  Fine by me, so long as I can have a bit of time to get stuff done without having to prop my target up on someone’s shot up appliances.

An Interview with Peter Lessler, Part 2

RS:  I know you’re an avid hunter. Have you ever trained with an emphasis on fighting?

PL: I’ve never taken formal training in that regard. As a military history buff, and as someone who thinks an ability to defend myself in dangerous situations is important, I’ve sort of sniffed around the edges of it. I probably wouldn’t fit in well with the current close-quarters-battle crowd, since I don’t own an AR-15, nor all that cool expensive Molle kit. My rifle of preference for battle doesn’t even use detachable magazines (gasp!). Hint: it goes “PING” every eight shots. I do take it out from time to time on CQB drills, but not as often as I should. I do like its steel buttplate and its bayonet too. If you are going to train for fighting, you are training for killing, pure and simple. You are doing yourself a disservice if you ignore skull-crushing and belly-spearing in your training. An attitude that embraces such nasty things is more important than equipment. And yes, I occasionally do bayonet drill too (badly).

RS:  Have there been any particular rifles that seemed to rise above the rest for you? What was it about them that endeared you to them?

PL: Of course!
Hhmm…mid-20th century rimfire target rifles. Remington 513T’s, Winchester 75’s, and the marvelous old Winchester 52. These were the rifles on which I cut my teeth as a teenager, accurate and with excellent triggers. Great training rifles. Got a real soft spot for them. Wish I’d bought some years ago.

I’m partial to Mauser 98 sporters. Very elegant, everything you need in a hunting rifle, nothing you don’t. Pure class.

The Winchester 94…short, light, handy, Western, and often underrated. Especially with a ghost-ring rear peep sight and a bold square front post sight.

The mighty M1 Garand. A real shooter’s rifle. Great sights, excellent balance, and a trigger that can be made quite servicable. Soaked with history. Reaches far, hits hard, and means business, even when out of ammo (see my above comment about steel buttplates and bayonets).

RS:  You’ve trained with Col. Cooper. I’m extremely jealous. Was there anything about that experience that you could tell at the time was unique from a qualitative standpoint?

PL: The theme of the Colonel’s General Rifle class was: A first-round hit on the lethal zone of a big game animal, from a field expedient position, at unknown distance, under time pressure. There is your target, hit it NOW! No shooting bench, no shooting sticks, no laser rangefinder, but a speed-loop sling (back then, the Ching of course), and your speed into a good, appropriate, workable position. Taking your marksmanship skills and techniques and applying them in a practical hunting field situation, where seconds count. No fiddling around. This was something of an eye-opener for me, having been used to the formal and stylized bullseye courses. This non-specialized, practical form of field shooting has become my favorite style.

The Colonel was not a man to brook fools and nonsense, and was mainly interested in the pursuit of excellence. No fluff in that class, no excuses for falling on your face! Know your rifle, its ammo, sights, and trajectory, know how to judge range to 300 yards with your eye, know how to use a loop sling, know how to get a steady position quick, plus know how to properly fire an accurate shot in minimal time. The Colonel was a stern taskmaster, and of course there was nothing frivolous in the course. It was here that I learned the rifle bounce and rifle ten drills. Everything was geared to efficient, real-world, practical success.

We finished the class with two drills: a paper target drill of five 25 yard 1.5 second snapshots to the head of an IPSC target and five more at 50 yards to the body A-zone; and a man-against-man  round-robin shoot-off on steel targets at about 65 and 170 yards. Hit your two targets before the other guy hits his. If you are beaten twice, you’re out of it. A fun adrenaline-pumper – how well can you do with “buck fever?”. I managed to come in second on the shoot-off, and was the only student to clean the paper target. It hangs on the wall of my reloading room with the Colonel’s signature on it. Coincidentally, next to another signed one with .45 holes in it from his General Pistol 250 class.

I managed to earn the “Expert” rated certificate here, one of four handed out in this class of about 24 shooters. All in all very worthwhile.

RS:  What is your favorite type of field marksmanship? Could you discuss the inherent challenges?

PL: I’m a generalist. Seen too many shooters who are good at one specialization, but unable to do much else. I’ve shot my share of prairie dogs from a benchrest with a .22-250, but prefer stalking squirrels in the woods with a .22. Anything that involves a slick, light rifle whose only attachment is a loop sling (I don’t own a bipod, nor shooting sticks). This involves detecting your target, making a judgment on whether/how I can make the shot from the point of detection, making any necessary movements/stalking to get a yes-I-can answer, picking and hitting a suitable shooting position (both the location from which to take the shot, and the actual sitting/prone/offhand/whatever position), and making the hit, all in the least amount of time possible. Live targets seldom wait around, impatiently glancing at their wristwatches, for you to get yourself sorted out and shoot them. Don’t waste a second.

You have to be able to judge the range, know your trajectory and zero, know the target’s desired hit zone, know how accurate you are from each shooting position, know if the wind requires compensating and how to do it, and be able to fire an accurate shot. If it’s a competition or your target is a trophy buck, you need to be able to control your nerves, buck fever, etc., and make correct decisions. Different size targets at different distances give your organic fire-control-computer (brain, not some battery-operated gadget) a workout. This gives you good judgment and confidence. These are skills that are applicable across the board.

RS:  Do you think that the excitement that comes with a real life field shot can simplify the processes that can seem complicated during learning and training?  To say it another way, given sufficient prior work, does the subconscious tend to take over and do a better job?

PL: “Sufficient prior work” is really the key. The subconscious only takes over with sufficient programming. And it will do a better job, but only if programmed correctly – ‘perfect practice makes perfect’. “Excitement” can also be buck fever or similar, which will ruin you if you don’t know how to control your emotions and settle yourself down to that “cold, unemotional shooting machine”.

RS:  What has been the most useful shooting position to you in the field?

PL: Absolutely the sitting position. I believe it does more things well under more circumstances than any other. High enough to get over low obstacles, steady enough to shoot two minutes of angle or even less when mastered, adaptable to tilted terrain, and fairly quick to get into/out of if you are limber and fit. I used the crossed-ankle position in highpower, and use the open-leg position for field shooting. The latter is a little less steady but far more adaptable to uneven ground, and gives me a better natural point of aim. And as far as steadiness, with care (and practice!) I can usually shoot two minutes of angle or less from it.

RS:  How has training in other disciplines affected your ability with a rifle?

PL: Actually, I can’t think of too much cross-over. Shooting a handgun in IPSC/USPSA practical competition well enough to get into the middle ranks will give you a fascinating exposure to subconscious high-speed mental/physical processing, but the only place I can think of where it applies to rifle shooting is perhaps close and fast CQB with an AR-15 in .223. This probably does  some good for your front sight focus, follow through, and concentration, though I think the majority of rifle shooting is done at the conscious and deliberate level, rather than the subconscious reflexive level.

RS:  You reference Zen a lot in your comments. Is this indicative of formal training?

PL: Through martial arts, yes. Mostly from reading some of the concepts, and experiencing some of them a little through karate training in my younger years. A clear, empty mind and properly programmed reflexes can do amazing things. I believe the more excess clutter in your head, the worse you will perform. Good shooting is a very minimalist activity. Learn to perform it that way.

RS:  One of the things you speak on frequently is proper shooting mindset. Would you care to give a synopsis of what you think it is?

PL: I had a mind once, but I lost it. And now I’m much better off. Oh wait…

Mindset covers a lot. Your self-image as a rifle shooter. How seriously you take your skill. How much time you devote to practice. What kind of practice you do. How well you know your rifle and its performance envelope. How well you know your strengths and weaknesses in every aspect of the marksmanship skill set. How well and quickly you can achieve a mental “firing solution” for a given target size, distance, and environmental conditions. How correct your decisions are. How well you can control your emotions and clear your mind of irrelevancies. Confidence vs. self-doubt. And probably some more things as well. The mind drives everything. If it has the wrong focus, well….

RS:  Writing a book is obviously a lengthy and detailed process. How did the process of writing the book enhance your own skills?

PL: Want to really understand something? Then try to explain it to someone.

I can perform “this”, but how? How/why does “this” work? Why does “that” not work?  Hmmm. “I just do it, no idea of how it works.” That won’t fly in a how-to book, will it?

I spent lots of time analyzing just what I did in every aspect, and how and why it worked for me. I asked around of a few folks as to what they did and how. I looked at things that didn’t work, and figured out why. I read books and watched training videos. You have to go back to first principles. Rifle shooting is neither difficult nor complicated, but you have to know and understand certain things to be competent. All those things are pretty much already figured out somewhere, by someone. Some things I didn’t know, and others I performed without knowing much how/why about them.

I tried to explain not only what to do and how, but why, and also some why-nots. I found myself with some holes in my knowledge and rough edges on my performance. I had to re-evaluate some things and come up with methods of improvement, and the how/why of same. Having to explain the nitty-gritty of every detail for the book made me much more knowledgeable.

Now if only I got out and actually practiced once in a while…

RS:  What do you see in the future for your rifle shooting?  Are there any as-yet unmet goals that you would like to take on?  Even if you don’t have grandiose plans, what do you think would be the logical next step for someone with your skills and level of experience?

PL:  Me, I’m on the downhill slide right now. Very little recent practice or even dry-fire, and things won’t get better soon due to my recent move. I was a much better shot six or eight years ago, because I shot frequently. My goal is to get myself back to my former peak level. Fuzzy eyes and stiffening body won’t help. Beyond that, I’d like to get holes-in-paper proof data for one of my sporters out to 600 yards and play with that for a while. I may never get back into any form of competition or Appleseeding if I have to keep working weekends for the foreseeable future, so grandiose plans are out. Just working up some better loads for certain rifles and getting out to the range as much as my schedule and funds allow.

An Interview with Peter Lessler, Part 1

I sat down (at my computer) for a (virtual) conversation with Peter Lesser, who frequently comments on the blog under the moniker “Colorado Pete”.  He has a new rifle shooting book due out next month (see sidebar ad on the right), and I thought it would be interesting to know more about his thoughts on shooting.

RS:  Would you be willing to explain the processes in your life and in your shooting experience that brought you to the point where you are now in your skill with the rifle?

PL: Simply, a life-long love of rifle shooting. I was fascinated with firearms as a child, and when I reached my early teens I began reading everything I could about guns and shooting. I went through the BB/pellet gun phase that many boys do. In high school I  joined the school smallbore rifle team and also the local NRA junior smallbore rifle shooting club. I got my first real learning experiences there and loved every bit of it. In later years I got back into bullseye competition in NRA highpower rifle shooting, using an M1 rifle in service rifle category, and took a training class from Col. Jeff Cooper, whose writings I’d discovered at age 15. If you love it, you’ll pursue it. I found I loved helping others to shoot better as much as I loved shooting, so that led the way towards becoming an Project Appleseed rifle marksmanship instructor, which in turn made me a better shooter.

RS:  I spent a couple years with Appleseed as well.  For me it was akin to going to high school.  I was still a relatively fresh shooter and it really rounded out the basics.  You came into Appleseed with what I assume was a pretty mature set of skills.  With that perspective, how well do you think the program teaches the fundamentals of riflecraft?

PL:  They teach it much better than I was doing before I went there! The only thing I would add is to teach the surprise break on the trigger and more of ‘how’ the loop sling works to hold up the rifle (both of which I do when I give that part of the instruction). I think Appleseed is the best, cheapest, and fastest rifle instruction I’ve ever seen. The regular shoots are limited by the 2-day schedule, but their Rifleman Boot Camp goes far beyond that, and I think it is extremely worthwhile either way.

RS: Do you think newly minted Riflemen are aware of how much more there is to learn?  It really seems as though there’s a fork in the road at that point, given that our time is finite: stay roughly at that level and teach, or continue trying to further one’s development as a shooter.

PL:  If their only rifle exposure is Appleseed, they may have no idea what else there is out there. On the other hand, if they read a lot about rifle shooting, or have shooting buddies engaging in competition, then they may have a pretty good idea of the various paths to follow from there.

RS:  What have been your most memorable and formative learning experiences in riflecraft?

PL:  Four steps: 1) The smallbore (.22 rimfire) bullseye shooting as a teen. Tremendous fun. That gave me a basic though incomplete grounding and showed me I could actually shoot well within the boundaries of that activity. In 1975 at the high school team state championship, I shot a perfect score to become the individual state champion – the only time I was ever top dog (it’s been all downhill since!).

2) NRA Highpower bullseye forced me to really buckle down and study position shooting principles. This was probably the biggest learning experience of all. Shooting from standing at 200 yards and prone with sling at 600 yards with iron sights, among other things, really puts you to the test. Holes in targets don’t lie.

3) Col. Jeff Cooper’s General Rifle 270 class. I had already earned expert rating in highpower bullseye before attending, and thought I knew my stuff, but this class put those skills to work in a more practical, field-oriented way quite different from the more regimented, formalized routine of bullseye. It was a fascinating eye-opener.

4) Becoming an Appleseed instructor. If you want to really know something, try teaching it to a variety of different people. This has made me a much more organized and efficient teacher, as well as giving me experience with a wide range of individual differences and issues students have in learning to shoot.

RS: That’s an interesting sequence.  What it looks like upon casual observation is that you started out with a discipline that is rather carefully controlled and precise.  In you next two stages you introduced a bit more “noise”, by which I mean that there were more factors to influence the shot, whether internal or external.  This leads to the type of shooting that I think of as “the art of the rifle”.  The problems become more complex and the number of potential solutions to a problem really make it interesting.  What are some of the best ways to gain proficiency and to keep oneself sharp in this type of “general” shooting?

PL: First, range practice with strict attention to fundamentals on paper targets from various positions and various known distances without time pressure, to confirm the shooter’s skill. You absolutely must know every detail of every strength and weakness you have. Self-knowledge makes for correct decisions.

Second, practice on targets at unknown distances against the clock, starting from the standing ready position. A buddy helps here, to run the clock, and perhaps call out which of several available targets at different distances to hit. This takes target selection control away from the shooter and puts it into his surroundings, just like the real world. It also takes away from the shooter the temptation to dawdle. The clock adds another external pressure that most casual shooters never seem to practice with.

Third, go hunting. A lot. Small game seasons last a lot longer than big game. Applying a .22 rifle against rabbits and squirrels with a .22, if possible in your area, will pose a surprising array of challenges to solve.

RS: Are there any avenues you had wanted to explore that for whatever reason you could not?  Are there any that, in retrospect, you think would have been of significant value to your abilities as a rifleman?

PL:  I wouldn’t have minded exploring the longer-range aspects a bit, but either I never had the interest when I had the money for the specialized equipment, or, I never had the money when I had the little bit of interest. That goes for either a scoped ‘tactical’ sort of rifle or full-blown NRA long-range bullseye, like Palma competition.

RS:  Do you have an overriding context that best fits your approach to shooting?

PL:  First, fundamentals are everything. A highpower master shooter once quoted to me what a champion shooter told him: “Good shooting is good execution of the fundamentals. Great shooting is great execution of the fundamentals.” It is critical that a student of marksmanship take this to heart. Fancy equipment or looking cool won’t do it for you.
Second, I shoot to have fun. I am not a particularly competitive personality; I competed to have fun, to learn to be better, and to gauge where I stood against some folks who were better and more competitive than myself. If it’s not fun, you won’t do it, or think about it, or want to learn and improve. Also, every person has a motivation for doing something like this. Being able to shoot well is a skill that is important to me, for my particular reasons. Your reasons may vary.

RS: What about context in terms of application?  I get the feeling that you don’t have much interest in either CQB, or extreme long range.  Do you think that the terrain that you hunt in, or the animals you hunt, for example, steered you toward certain style of shooting, unconsciously or consciously?  Or did you develop your shooting and seek an application that you knew you would excel in?

PL: As you say, the type of critter and terrain I hunt guided my pursuit of style. I am at heart a rifle hunter and bullseye multi-position shooter. The skill sets developed in the latter apply well to the former activity. Stand-up CQB or long-range prone over a bipod simply don’t exist in my favorite practical activities. Not that I dislike them or think anything is wrong with them, I just don’t do them as a matter of interest, except for very occasionally the former with an M1, and some prairie dog popping from a portable bench.

RS: You mentioned the problem of people thinking that fancy equipment is equivalent to learning.  It seems to me that this problem is rampant, and is not limited to the shooting sports.  Has this always been a problem in your opinion?

PL: All the way back to Og thinking he’s better and cooler than Ug, because Og has a bigger rock or wooden club than Ug. I am convinced it’s a ‘guy thing’ ingrained in our genes.

RS: Are there any trends in shooting right now that don’t make sense to you, or that you think are a waste of time to a shooter’s development?

PL: Two things: the equipment race, and jumping into the ‘deep end’ of any application before rigorous work is done to really perfect the fundamentals. Again, the guy with the high-dollar rig on the bench shooting little groups, who really needs to attend three Appleseeds in close succession, because at the first one he’d barely stay on the paper from unsupported prone, or who would totally fail at a rifle bounce.

The Story of the RifleCraft RS-2 Sling

This particular RS2 sling has been through several muddy shooting sessions, a few cow pies, a creek, a bunch of bushes, rain, snow, slush and probably some other stuff.  Have I mentioned that tan is a great color?  Your sling will not come pre-worn.

When I began the plan of selling slings, I was hoping to keep the price for a sling with swivels at or under $30.  Once I started making them I realized that time and materials made that unrealistic.  It just took a lot more of both than I had anticipated to make an RS1.

The RS1 went through a number of evolutions before release.  The very first one I made, which was sewn by hand, did not have the reinforcement at the base of the loop to keep the loop wide open.  I used that sling for quite a while.  It was a very simple, effective design and it worked well for me.  It was my uncertainty as to whether I could loop up with the sling quickly enough to make the rapid fire times at an Appleseed (starting un-looped, which is not required but a challenge I thought was worthy) that led me to come up with the reinforced version to guarantee the speed I needed.

Shortly after the Appleseed was done I started making RS1 slings to sell.  During that time, I needed a sling on a personal rifle.  It’s funny that before I started making slings to sell, I thought that when I did I would have a set of slings in each color for each rifle.  I also thought I could give out slings like  the government gives out other peoples’ money  It’s kind of like when I graduated college I thought that once I got a “real job” I could afford anything I wanted (that’s not the case for you pre-college graduate folks).  So, needing a sling and not wanting to compromise my investment, I made something that was easier and cheaper to make without sacrificing build quality or strength.  I went back to something that I knew worked, which was the original, non-reinforced sling that I had designed.  I found out (again) that I liked it fine.

The RS2 shares many of the attributes of the RS1 sling.  In fact, it shares all of them except for the loop reinforcement.  The design is extremely simple.  There are no buckles at all in the loop section that will dig into the support hand.  The loop is large and completely unobstructed for its entire section.  The length adjustment for the loop is just under the arm, but positioned outside the loop so that it does not touch the shooting arm.  The sling is adjustable for overall length and that adjustment does not affect the shooting loop at all.

The differences in the slings is that the shooting loop on the RS2 sling goes flat like a normal sling when pulled taut in carry mode, while the RS1 will always remain somewhat open.  The RS2 is a bit slower to loop up with, but not as much as you might think.  It can still be looped up while maintaining the firing hand on the pistol grip in most cases.  It is likelier to snag on clothing than the RS1, but there is a technique to mitigate this snagging.

I have a hard time deciding which of the slings I like better.  The RS1 has the clear advantage of speed over the RS2.  The advantage might be a little less than a half second, or it might be as much as 2 seconds, depending on the clothing of the user.

On the other hand, the RS2 sling is lower profile.  It doesn’t look like anything more than a simple carry strap, but was designed expressly to be used as a practical loop sling, equally up to the task of carrying the rifle or being used as a loop sling.  I have always like things that don’t have the appearance of being anything special but have a lot “under the hood”.  I don’t know why, that’s just me.  That makes the RS2 sling seem like a good fit for me.

The other obvious short term advantage of the RS2 is the price.  It takes a little less material and a little less time to make one.

The sling that I chose would depend entirely on how important it was to be able to use the sling and whether a 2 second difference would be significant.

I’m very happy to offer a choice of slings, and one that costs a little less to my fellow frugal folk.  You can order an RS2 in the sling shop.

Coming Soon: Shooter’s Guide to Rifle Marksmanship, by Peter Lessler

Pete has been a frequent commenter on my site since almost the beginning.  I have learned a lot from his comments.  It’s my privilege to support his new book, which is to be released on April 10th of this year.

Pete was kind enough to give me a preview of the book.  The writing is very clear and complete.  Coming soon will be an interview with Pete and a review of his book.

For now, here is a preview of the table of contents:



Rifle Section:

Chapter 1: What Are We Trying to Accomplish?
  I. Define the Task to Define the Training
 II. Define the Requirements of Success
     A. Define the Equipment Performance Requirements
     B. Define the Knowledge Requirements
     C. Define the Personal Performance Requirements

III. Orient our Thinking and Training to Achieve Success

Chapter 2: Rifles and Cartridges
  I. For Those New to the Topic:
     A. Overview of Rifle types
     B. Overview of Cartridge Power Classes and Their Uses

Chapter 3: The Mind of the Rifle Shooter
   I. How to Think About Rifle Shooting
     A. The Correct Mindset for Success
     B. Knowing the Potential Capabilities of Rifle & Shooter
     C. How to Think While Practicing
     D. How to Think in the Field at the Moment of Truth
     E. Developing the Mental “Fire Control Computer”
  II. What Does it Mean to be a Rifle Shooter & Owner?

Chapter 4: Sighting and Aiming
   I. Determining Eye Dominance
  II. Concept of Minute of Angle
     A. Definition and Importance
     B. How to Use it to Advantage
 III. The Cheek Weld
IV. The Gun Mount
V. Iron Sights
    A. Open Iron Sights
        1. Sight Alignment
        2. Sight Picture
    B. Aperture Iron Sights
        1. Sight Alignment
        2. The Cheek Weld, Again
        3. The Ghost Ring
        4. Sight Picture
    C. Ranging a Target with Front Sight
VI. Scopes
    A. Positioning
    B. Eyepiece Focus
    C. Eye Alignment & Parallax
    D. The Duplex Reticle: Rangefinding and Holdover
    E. Power vs. Field of View
VII. Calling the Shot
VIII. What Your Sights can Teach You
IX. The Golden Rule of Sight Use

Chapter 5: Trajectory and Exterior Ballistics
   I. Define and Describe Trajectory
  II. Define “Zero”
     A. Getting a Zero for Your Purpose
         1. Target-Size-Based Point Blank Zero
         2. Velocity-Based Zero
 III. Ballistic Coefficient

Chapter 6: Trigger Management
   I. The Mental Issues
  II. The Physical Issues
  III. The Surprise Break
  IV. Concentration
  III. Breath Coordination
      A. Natural Respiratory Pause
  IV. Follow Through
      A. Trigger Follow Through
      B. Manual Action Follow Through
      C. Shooter Follow Through

Chapter 7: Position Shooting Principles
I. Definition of Principles
II. The Loop Sling
III. Natural Point of Aim
IV. Putting it all Together
V. Rapid Fire: Rifleman’s Cadence
V. Adapting Range Technique to the Field

Chapter 8: The Shooting Loop Sling
   I. Description
      A. What it Does
      B. How it Works
      C. The Hasty Sling
      D. The Hasty-Hasty Sling
      E. The Different Loop Types and How to Use Them
           1. The GI M1907 Leather
           2. The GI Cotton Web
           3. The Two-Piece Target Cuff
           4. The Ching
   II. Making Your Own Ching Sling

Chapter 9: The Prone Position
   I. Analysis
      A. Steady Hold Factors
      B. Adjusting Natural Point of Aim
      C. Standing to Position
  II. What to Avoid
  III. Using a Field Expedient Rest

Chapter 10: The Sitting Position
  I. Analysis
    A. Open-Leg
    B. Crossed-Leg
    C. Crossed-Ankle
    D. Steady Hold Factors
    E. Adjusting Natural Point of Aim
    F. Standing to Position
  II. What to Avoid
  III. Using a Field Expedient Rest

Chapter 11: The Kneeling and Squatting Positions
    I. Analysis
       A. Steady Hold Factors
       B. Adjusting Natural Point of Aim
       C. Standing to Position
  III. What to Avoid
  IV. Using a Field Expedient Rest

Chapter 12: The Standing Position
   I. Analysis
      A. Target Stance
      B. Trapshooter Stance
      C. Erect Stance
      D. Steady Hold Factors
      E. Adjusting Natural Point of Aim
  II. The Snapshot
  III. Using a Field Expedient Rest
  IV. What to Avoid

Chapter 13: Bipods, Sticks, and Field Rests
    I. How to use each in conjunction with proper position skills

Chapter 14: Terminal Ballistics
    I. Desired Bullet Behavior
   II. Differing Bullet Types and Construction

Chapter 15: Dealing with Wind
    I. The Problem of Wind
   II. How to Read Wind Speed and Direction
  III. How to Judge its Effects Under Differing Conditions
  IV. How to Compensate with Hold-Off or Sight Adjustment

Chapter 16: The Ethical Long Range Hunter
    I. What is “Long Range?”
   II. The Challenges Encountered
  III. Why it Presents an Ethical Issue
  IV. How to Decide Where You Draw the Line

Chapter 17: Practice Drills
     I. How to Think About Practicing
    II. What to Practice First
  III. Six Steps to the Shot
  IV. Dry Fire Practice
   V. Live Fire Practice
  VI. The Mind Game
 VII. Specific Practice Drills
VIII. Self-Diagnosis 1: The Talking Rifle
  IX. Self-Diagnosis 2: The Talking Target
   X. Speed
  XI. Performance Standards to Achieve
  XII. Standing to Hitting
XIII. Keeping the Rifle in Action
XIV. Types of Targets
XV. Combination Drills

Chapter 18: Competition and Professional Training
    I. Professional Training Courses
   II. Competition Types
      A. Formal
      B. Informal
  III. The Benefits to You


Using the RifleCraft RS1 Sling

Since I introduced the RS1 sling last December I have sent out over 160 of them.  In that time I have not released any further information about it, mostly because I was trying to get caught up with orders.  I thought it was time to put out some more details on it.

I have received a lot of questions as to how the sling is set up and adjusted, and if it can be adjusted at all.  Both the loop and the overall length can be adjusted.  I send them out with both the loop and the overall length set long so it can fit a wide variety of rifles and shooters.  When I put one on my rifle, I need to cut a bit off of each end, just to make it fit my rifle.  All the webbing ends are burnt prior to construction, so after cutting they’ll need to be re-burnt.

Setting the rough loop length:

Pull webbing from the center of the metal slide to shorten the loop section.  A general reference to get your loop length in the ballpark is to make the end of the loop even with somewhere in the area of the trigger and pistol grip.  For a more detailed treatise on setting the loop length, see this post.

Eyeballing the Loop Length
Shortening the loop.

Slack after setting the loop length:

Loop Slack
I designed the sling so that it would have no loose ends hanging out.  This helps both in terms of form and function.  Before cutting the slack off the sling there are a couple things to consider.  First, you won’t be able to add material back on in the event that you should cut it too short.  I recommend taking a few days of trial and error to make sure you have it where you want it.  Second, the keeper that covers the loose end is made to fit over the stiff, four ply section section of webbing.

Where I cut the slack off:

Cutting and Burning 2
If you want to be able to use the sling on multiple rifles that have different lengths to the forward swivel/stud, you will need to set it for the longest one and tuck the slack back into the keeper.

The end will need to be burned to keep it from fraying.  If you don’t have a hot cutter, use one of these:

Cutting and Burning 3
I strongly advocate using a half twist in the sling setup (click the link for explanation).  It helps work things out correctly when wrapping the support hand.  It also helps orient the loop in an ideal position to receive the arm:

Putting in the half twist for a right handed shooter:

Half Twist

One thing that I haven’t shown much of yet is how to use the RS1.  It’s so simple that it seemed as though I didn’t need to.

Holding the rifle by the pistol grip, release the support hand and thrust it through the open loop:

A trick that helps minimize the drag of clothing on the loop is to move the arm laterally in relation to the loop during insertion.  My theory in coming up with this is that sliding lengthwise along the webbing won’t predispose it to rolling or displacement, instead allowing the arm to slip through.  As I slide the part of my arm beneath the elbow through the loop, I move the arm toward the swivel.

At the elbow, I reverse direction and move it down, which also traps the loop high on the arm.
I used the rapid shutter mode thingy on the camera to capture the following sequence.  The advertised rate of speed is 5 photos per second.  There were 19 photos in the sequence, which depicts transitioning from standing at port arms, unslung, to the rice paddy prone position slung up.  By that math it took just under 4 seconds to reach a “ready to fire” position, just over 2 seconds from start to looped up and support hand wrapped.  Excuse me if I look silly in some of the photos.  It’s a throwback to my guitar days.

Clench support fist to convert this to a close quarters technique
I realize this looks stupid…
This looks like some weird crane technique in neko ashi dachi.
Contest: Name this Tai Chi pose.

What a shame.  My Glock is exposed.  Now everyone knows I’m carrying.


If there are glaring omissions in my explanation, don’t hesitate to ask for clarification.
Thanks for reading.