On my first trip to the new range about a month ago I shot using a “non-designated” firing lane that takes up two sections of the range in order to get a bit more distance. I decided that it was more trouble than it was worth. It really was, because I dropped a magazine for my rifle (1 of 2) out there.
It took me 2 to 3 weeks for me to notice the magazine was missing, because so much other stuff was going on. A spare mag costs about $45, so I was really set on finding it and had no idea where it was. Finding it became an obsession. I thought it had to be in my rifle bag so I emptied it completely. Being empty, it’s pretty clear that nothing is in it, but I kept checking. Repeatedly. Obsessively. I did the same thing with my backpack, my sling making office/factory area, the living room, etc…
Eventually I did find the mag by doing a 2 person line search with a 6 year old (i.e. looked for it randomly with no help) after correlating the time I lost it with the time I was shooting at an odd spot at the range that I had not returned to since.
The important part of the story is the obsessive/compulsiveness that I picked up as a result. That’s what lead me, while checking my gun room for the 5th or 6th time, to reading the insert that came with my Atlas bipod that had the sentence fragment reading, “Engraving away from muzzle.” The next step was figuring out that my bipod had been mounted backwards for about 7 months. Maybe I had inadvertently stumbled onto the missing clue that was affecting my accuracy. Time to go to the range and finally be victorious!!!
I got a little bit ahead of the session there. The experiments of the day were:
-3 round cold bore “warm up” group
-5 rounds with bipod on correctly
-5 rounds with boards set up to eliminate panning of the bipod and to provide a
-5 rounds with the butt moved from the shoulder pocket proper
towards the center approximately 1.5” to 2”
Obviously the bipod orientation did nothing for me. That Atlas looks pretty much the same from either direction, since the legs can be set in four positions, unlike a Harris where the folding makes it really obvious. I did think that it felt like it “loaded” better when it was on right.
I keep noticing something I can do different, then thinking it will be the one thing that puts all the pieces together in the right order and makes it all “good”. I really don’t think that’s the case anymore.
The next experiment came from a minor gripe I’ve had about the Atlas, which stems from its “panning” (side to side rotation capability). It seems that it’s difficult to get the Atlas to set perpendicular to the axis of the bore. Even if the rifle is set up that way, the bipod tends to move unevenly on a non-uniform surface, which is to say practically all “real life” surfaces, upon firing. This was a lot worse when I shot a lot in gravel, which allowed the bipod to shift through it a lot more than dirt and grass. The gravel also would allow one side of the bipod to sink in more than the other. The combination of these conditions would often put the bipod at the full deviation of both its panning and tilting functions. It seemed like a support that would stop in one direction and allow free movement in the other could be detrimental to precision.
To eliminate the panning and tilting I brought a 1”x4” board, a small piece of plywood, a type of antique protractor, and some tent stakes.
I set the protractor arm to 0°, sighted down the arm from my firing position to the target with the 1”x4” flush with the bottom edge of the protractor. Then I held it in that position with the plywood under it and slightly protruding out towards me.
This contraption provided a uniform surface for the bipod to sit on and to be loaded against. I had thought that it would keep the scope on target through recoil, but it did not do that at all. The results on paper were encouraging:
Something else I had been wondering about was whether it would help to bring the rifle more inline to my center. When a started shooting scoped rifles a lot a few years ago I tended to keep the butt a few inches in from my shoulder pocket. This did not help my precision:
Part 4 of my Precision Experimentation
For those of you who are puzzled about the titles this month I recently listened to a free audio recording of Moby Dick. It’s very slow by modern standards, but by about half way in it becomes very compelling. At this point in my story, I haven’t battled the whale, but a far off spout in the distance makes me think I have seen it.
I continued with my precision experiments today. After my experiment with left handed shooting I started processing what I had seen, and what the results on paper were. To refresh your memory, I had seen a blurry reticle with my left eye that sometimes looked like 2 vertical stadia right next to each other. The group I shot was this:
It got me thinking about reticle focus, mostly during my thinking time in the bathroom. Then I asked Ilya a question about parallax (via email, not in the bathroom), and he also happened to mention reticle focus. So I refocused my ocular, which was probably a good idea. All this sewing and typing is not great for the eyes.
One thing that was apparent to me is that I really have a difficult time focusing the reticle. It’s hard to make it blurry. My eyes focus on it too quickly. I did like I was supposed to, and put it in the blank, overcast sky, but really had a hard time getting it to look out of focus at all through its entire range. There were a couple of bad spots, but it was really not easily apparent. I was still not satisfied it was “on” after setting it and looking at some distant stuff, so I loosened the retaining nut and did it again.
Another thing I noticed was that when the retaining nut is loose, the reticle and scope image move a great deal with any small movement of the ocular. This got me wondering, “How firmly had the nut been fastened before?” I know that I did not make a point of getting it as tight as possible.
I ended up looking at a yield sign approximately 900 yards away through the scope at 9x. I got the adjustment to where both the sign and the reticle were focused at the same time. It is probably not the right way, but it was the only way I could tell a difference that seemed more than fleeting.
On to the range. I always look for cars as I approach, because being precociously crotchety I tend to avoid human contact if at all possible. If it is inevitable, then I have to steel myself for some small talk. My scan for cars was disrupted by two smouldering piles near the target area. Then I confirmed no cars. Good!
The piles of garbage that Mark suggested I truck out to get in good with the range brass were mostly gone, being burnt up. Getting out of my car to unlock the gate, I took in the smell of the burning piles, which smelled exactly like safe and sane Chinese fireworks. Nice, it reminded me of nearly blown off fingers and bottle rocket wars. Luckily the wind was blowing the smoke away from causing any obstruction to my target pallet. This target pallet was not as sturdily braced as the previous one, and my 15 round aggregate group had been removed. Oh well.
First comes the 3 round cold bore. I was not especially comforted:
Next I shot the 5 round group using the same methodology that I used for the control group, because changing the ocular focus means that I have changed something worth isolating:
That was not impressive either. Sometimes I think that after a loose nut is tightened, there has to be some “seating in” shots to get everything where it wants to end up.
The next thing I tested came at the recommendation of a friend who goes by AKJaeger as a commenter here. Let’s just say that he knows his stuff. It was his experience with a Model 70 that the bolt knob popping up slightly had a deleterious effect on his precision. This popping up is evident on my rifle during dry fire. He said that he had this fixed by Shawn Carlock and the rifle shot very well after that. He showed me that lifting the bolt handle almost imperceptibly after closing it would greatly lessen the its movement during dry fire. It really didn’t pop up, it just moved a bit.
For the next five rounds I gently moved my bolt knob up after closing it the smallest amount I could move it:
1.03” < 1.047”, hence 1.03” = sub MOA. A welcome development.
This was the first time that the second experimental group of the day was better than the first. This is comforting from the perspective that my rifle is perhaps not affected too much by getting warm. I’m wondering how much of this was the refocused ocular.
I could tell after firing that group that the bolt movement had not been isolated as an experimental variable very well. I could feel that my entire shooting process was running more smoothly. Why? I don’t know, but I felt more there.
I know that one of the ways to reinforce a good performance is to do more of it. I did not have a fresh target up, and there was not really anything that stood out on the target that would give me a pinpoint indicator to shoot at. I did not want to get up and go downrange, because I was in the magic moment. I aimed at the “re-control” target in a spot where the printed words below the target seemed somewhat dense. Here’s the entire target:
Once I had a bullet hole to aim at, the next three rounds seemed to follow right into it. That’s the 4 rounds on the lower left, group size 0.47”.
I did not wait the 30 seconds in between shots, but I did not rush. The average time interval was probably about 10 seconds. I did not raise the bolt knob at all- just worked it briskly. I had five rounds loaded. The 5th went hard right, which opened up the 5 round group to 2.08”. That’s called keeping me humble. To prove that I still had my mojo working, I used that bullet hole as the point of aim for round six, which landed right on top of it, making a new 2 round group of 0.24”, which turned a slight defeat into a fabulous victory. The human mind is a mysterious thing. I have more complexity than a 50 year-old Cuban cigar.
It seems reasonable to do some work on the fundamentals on a regular, and not too infrequent basis. Offhand is one of those things that generally seems under-emphasized, as if shooters are paying reparations for the days when offhand was the thing. I do a lot of dry fire in offhand, but why not spend a few rounds a week to keep the live fire honest.
Sometimes wanting to do well interferes with one’s ability to do well. This is one of those mind games I play. Pete has chided me often enough that I decided to finally, perhaps, “click” into the superficial layer of an insight of good offhand shooting.
Something that I have done pretty consistently in the past, especially since I started the blog, is to really be concerned how well I shoot. The pictures are going up on the internet, so I don’t want to look like a duffer (but still I post them… should I be rethinking that? [joking]). It has sometimes added a layer of self-consciousness to my shooting. Offhand, being something I probably don’t shoot enough, except for infrequent “testing”, has been among the worst of my self-conscious shooting practices.
A notable exception to this is when I have other things to think about, or is it too much to do to think at all? At the full distance Appleseed, I shot a few clean scores in stage 1, one of them with 7 of the ten in the X ring, which is about 4”.
Something about that is an added layer of stress that involves making times, making sure the target is yours, getting clean reloads (a 10 round string with two 4 round mags involves some foresight), remove some of the burden from worrying about how well you will do. This brings to mind a question I had asked Pete, “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?”
Applying logic and control to some processes can be counterproductive. I suppose that’s why the highest level of the “Four Stages of Competence” is unconscious competence. Reaching that level requires intimate familiarity with the skill. I do a lot of dryfire in offhand, which should transfer directly to live fire. The wrench in the works is self-doubt.
I began to shoot a five round group. It has often seemed that when I shoot offhand in live fire the reticle moves more than it does when I dry fire. I think that the real difference is that I care what it does more. I may also be trying to hurry my way along into a great result rather than just enjoying myself.
What I found worked well at the Appleseed was to watch the reticle move around, and when it was nearest the X ring, to begin to apply the compress surprise break. That’s what I did for the first three rounds of the group, which did not hit my intended 4” circle.
I stopped for a moment and considered the method and the result. Then I thought back to something that commenter “RF” posted back when he was posting as “Anonymous” (I’m happy he severed his affiliation with the dastardly “Anonymous” group). Anyway, here’s one of his many insightful quotes:
“Our problem is that it is not logical to allow the rifle to discharge at just any random time. Regardless of this logical disconnect, this is in fact the key to getting the part of the brain that moves the tongue to control the trigger for us.
Sure, there will be wild shots with nothing in control when this mysterious brain function does not take over but we can train the brain to provide the correct behavior.
Instead of pulling the shot and flinching just before the rifle fires, we can train it to coordinate the moving sight picture with the trigger pull and give us those “lucky shots” on a fairly consistent basis. Yes, I said instead of flinching, it comes from the same part of the brain! Most of us are already using this part of the brain to shoot and only need some simple training to change the behavior from flinch to what we so greatly desire.
I have found that this part of the brain can not tell right from wrong. It does perceive pain and emotion. Fortunately there is no need to go the pain route if we control the emotions.
Do not react to bad shots! Remember it can not tell good from bad but does respond to emotion, any emotion, good or bad. Do not get mad or stressed about bad shots because that encourages this part of the brain to give you more of them! Ignore them! On the other hand, enjoy every good shot. Be happy about them, let yourself celebrate every one of them. Reinforce the good performance and ignore the bad.”
What I decided was to stop trying to control the trigger. Time to move into Zen in the Art of Archery territory. I just held the rifle up with my finger on the trigger for the final 2 shots. Guess what happened…
6.52”. The last 2 rounds, in which I let the shots be released at random, were the ones in the black.
Thanks guys. I may be a little slow, but I do listen.
During today’s shooting I wanted to try a couple odd things to see what, if any, effect they had on my downrange precision. The testing protocols were the same as my control group, same target, same distance, same time interval between rounds, same loading protocol, same scope magnification, and the same 3 round warm up group, which actually turned out to be a decent group:
0.74”. This is the type of group that a normal person might post on the internet… that one in a hundred that actually looks alright. An easier way to do it would be to crop out all the fliers.
I was expecting that third round to go farther astray, but it only went a little south.
The next group was left handed. A few years ago I had some strange experiences in which I was shooting some half minute groups left handed and not so well on the right. One thing I do have problems with is that the reticle is not focused and I see 2 vertical stadia lines sometimes, which may explain this:
1.31”. The vertical spread is about 0.75”
As a quick aside, and a short detour in the continuation of the lesson in posting good internet groups, take the above group. I cropped it and resized it again. Note that it was a 5 round group, but cropping out the left rounds yields this:
Further cropping will increase the impressiveness:
You’ll outdo all the other internet posters by saying that you shot 5 rounds at the target. This would be more effective by homing in on a stray flier of a 10 round group. You might need more resolution for that. My camera has 18 megapixels. Back to our scheduled programming…
The last thing I wanted to try for the day was to get up from the rifle and rebuild my position every time after firing a shot. I dry fired a few times to get my routine down, so that my feet were in the same spot every time, and I could basically fall forward into the waiting and loaded rifle within the 30 seconds between each round that I needed. I thought that this would ensure that my position was not being altered by the recoil.
1.79”. I’m not proud of it.
I’m still working my way down the list. For a refresher on the results so far, here you go:
Control group: 1.41”
Assisted trigger: 1.67”
Bag instead of bipod: 1.24”
Sling support: 2.97” (I’m throwing this out as a
Alternate sling support: 1.34”
Left handed: 1.31”
One thing I’m noticing is that each of the 2nd tests of the day are worse than the first. During the next trip I will repeat one of them to see if it dramatically affects the results.
I hadn’t realized how dreary winter was until the birds came back. I was doing my normal dry fire routine, which typically consists of snapshots at power transformers at 200-300 yards, prominent rocks, boulders, fencepost caps, leaves, etc… I am basically looking for targets in the 12-16 MOA range (as judged by the naked eye) for snapshooting and things in the 4-8 MOA range for really testing my offhand. Suddenly I realized there was movement. I may have been more excited than my dog that the birds were back (probably not).
What a way to start the morning! Birds make you look for target indicators, e.g. shine, movement, their shape. They are small and move quickly. They don’t stay put for very long. They blend into a background once they land.
A huge benefit of this type of practice is that it’s an ideal exercise for the eyes. The eyes are constantly moving, changing focus, and motivated to provide the maximum acuity. This is the opposite of what I’m doing right now (typing with a screen in front of my face).
Another benefit of dry birding is that it motivates several key facets of effective field shooting. You have to be quick. You have to get hits. Those are 2 factors that would seem at odds, and practicing with live critters teaches the instinctive balance of those things.
“Tower, this is Ghost Rider requesting a flyby.”
“Negative Ghost Rider. The pattern is full.”
Maverick flies by.
Tower controller spills his bird seed. Curses.
Here is the game I have adopted: I try for three successive head shots on a single bird before it leaves. The first shot has to be a hit (call your shots). This applies on birds out to perhaps a maximum distance of 20 yards, although I will try to do it every time. If a head shot is not practicable, 3 body shots will suffice as well. This more inclusive approach increases the available targets to perhaps 50 yards (these are small birds, not crows or magpies).
This is great practice for bolt work as well. Practicing bolt work for its own sake is so ineffective as to be counterproductive. It’s like the millipede trying to think about how to walk faster. Thoughts get in the way. Getting instant feedback in a motivated way is, on the other hand, quite effective. When it’s just a necessity and not an end in-and-of-itself, the subconscious will take care of the improvement. On that note, I am happy to say that I have made up all of the bolt speed that I lost when switching from the Sako 75 to the FN. I might be faster, but I’m not sure. The thing just goes.
This reinforces what I already knew. The best way to get good at something is to make it fun. It should be fun in the first place, but being creative and open to what’s available will keep it fresh. The bird feeder in the photos is not mine, but I sure want one now.
“I’ll chase him round Good Hope, and round the Horn, and round the Norway Maelstrom, and round perdition’s flames before I give him up. And this is what ye have shipped for, men! to chase that white whale on both sides of land, and over all sides of earth, till he spouts black blood and rolls fin out.”
Like Ahab, I am chasing an elusive quarry and find myself unable to let it go. I keep expecting that one day I’ll get down in prone with the bipod and I will finally begin shooting those magical “sub moa” groups I hunger for. I’ve tweaked small aspects of my technique and have fired countless groups and dot drills, all without achieving the desired effect. What’s more, I’ve noticed that my ability has gotten worse.
I decided that the most effective way to deal with this problem is to be methodical about it. This type of approach has been very helpful in the past. One of the last things I did as an Appleseed instructor, and probably the most worthwhile thing, was to help my daughter make Rifleman a few years back. This was her 3rdor 4th shoot and I don’t believe she had really improved as a shooter up to that point.
On day 1 there had been no improvement and quite possibly some deterioration. On the way home I went into deep thinking mode. I decided that yelling “BY THE NUMBERS” as I walked by was not having the desired effect. She was not failing- it was I who was failing her as an instructor. I decided that she would not improve if neither she nor I could tell why she was not getting better. On Sunday I decided that I was not going to walk the firing line and doll out tender morsels of shooting advice. I was going to troubleshoot with my daughter until it clicked.
We tried left side and right side (she is cross dominant but is stubborn about shooting right handed). We tried me working the trigger with her shooting. We tried a lot of things. Then we tried a scope. Several of those things made a difference. I don’t remember which, if any one, was the most significant, but she made Rifleman by that afternoon.
I decided that I needed to coach myself in a more methodical manner, instead of yelling at myself, “STRAIGHT BACK! LOAD THE BIPOD!” (I get weird looks at the range, but they tend to stop immediately and leave when they realize I’m looking back at them through the back of my head). I sat down and made a list of things that could possibly detract from my precision. Here is what I wrote:
-Scope parallax/inconsistent cheekweld
-Bipod itself inducing mechanical inconsistency
-Position breaking down
-Bolt handle position
-Rear bag flinch
-Bipod over/under loaded
-Single loading vs. magazine loading
-Hot chamber affecting powder burn
-My rifle has a bad problem
-SLG has suggested that the stock is junk and that a new one would
probably result in the single biggest improvement I could make.
I decided to break this way down and begin to test these things individually. I decided that I would use 5 round groups as a method for comparison. I also decided that I would remove the cold bore round from the equation, which would leave me free to test more than one thing in a single shooting session.
Day 1 was to include a three round group including the cold bore, a control group, and a partner activated trigger press group. I placed the bull’s-eye of each target 36” from the ground. The scope was set to 9x. There was very little wind, approximately 1-3 mph from approximately 5 o’clock. I also finally took the 0.2 mils out of my zero to center it up a bit better.
I found something interesting during the cold bore group.
I was being quite careful and deliberate without fussing the shot. Breathing was methodical, trigger press straight to the rear, good sight picture, surprise break. I’m willing to take responsibility for my bad shooting, but I know I did not do that. Perhaps I have been too willing to take responsibility. That was really weird.
During my 5 shot control group I tried to put a consistent 30 seconds between each shot, chambering each round immediately after the previous one was fired. I did the best I could. The results were consistent with my experience with this rifle from a bipod at 100 yards.
The next 5 rounds used the same position. I had not gotten up from the previous 5. I had a partner activate the trigger. She used her index finger on the trigger and the thumb behind the triggerguard in a pinching motion with both finger and thumb straight. During several dry fire runs I did not see the reticle move from the target. During live fire I maintained the same position. To ensure I was in a consistent place in my breathing cycle I vocalized my exhalations so she would know when I was at respiratory pause. I maintained a laser-like focus of my reticle on the bull’s-eye while waiting for the shot to break.
This type of drill would theoretically rule out both trigger jerk and any type of flinch response. The results were slightly different in character, but not in overall quality from the control group. This group was actually larger.
More experimentation to follow…
I took the opportunity to sneak away to the range and shoot a few rounds. I hadn’t been up off the bipod a while and thought I should give it a try. The idea was to shoot just a few rounds while keeping up the frequency of the range trips.
The day’s weather hadn’t been too bad. Somehow when I got to the range there was sleet falling, but still not too bad. By the time I made it to the target area it was starting to pick up. I decided to do a cold bore shot, a separate 4 round group, and to shoot the 20 round Redneck Challenge. This is the course of fire I first shot last 4th of July at my friend Larry’s place.
The course of fire consists of 5 rounds from 4 positions, standing, kneeling, sitting, and prone (with sling, no bipods allowed [actually he does allow them, but doesn’t encourage them]). The target is a 4 MOA circle, approximatey 4.2” at 100 yards. Larry’s target was actually 4″, but I’m a stickler for that extra 0.047″ per hundred yards. A hit on the circle is 1 point. A miss is 0. The time limit is 10 minutes.
I made a couple changes in the way I did shot the course. I used a separate target for each position, so I could see what my status of my skill level in that position was. I made one shot in each position before transitioning to the next position and repeated the sequence 5 times. The normal way is to shoot 5 rounds in each position at a time. I wanted to get more practice getting in position and firing one meaningful shot. The last change I made was to rice paddy prone (squatting) for the kneeling position. Col. Cooper would have backed me up there, I’m sure (that’s an appeal to authority, instead of saying why the position is better, I just quote a shooting legend).
It was cold and windy, so much so that my assistant decided to wuss out and wait in the truck. 6 year olds… By the time I made it to the firing line the wind was moving me. It was 13-15 with gusts at 18-20 from about 5 o’clock. A five o’clock wind isn’t going to do much to the bullet’s flight at 100 yards, but it sure can do a lot to a position, especially standing. Rice paddy prone was also affected significantly.
I began with bipod shooting. Cold bore:
It will probably take posting this on the internet for me to fix my zero.
I basically know what happened with the high right shot. The one to the left looks like a trigger issue. The other two make a nice group.
In offhand the rifle was being blown so that my point of aim was drifting left completely off the target board. The sleet was coming in sideways at this point. I was lucky to get the one hit that I did:
Rice paddy prone was likewise quite unstable, but I should have gotten more hits than I did:
Sitting was fine. I should not have missed that high shot. The higher one was a stray from standing.
Prone was also fine. It could have been tighter, but my focus was on the big circle instead of the little one for the first couple shots.
My final score was 12. I believe I tied the record (at least as it was conveyed to me in July; it might have been broken since then). Not bad for the conditions. My score from July with the Sako 75 in perfect weather (closer to 90° Fahrenheit rather than 90° sleet) was 8.
I’d like to try offhand again when the weather is better. My original goal for offhand from the time I started the blog was “to reliably (90% ???) shoot 4 moa from offhand”. I actually think I’m more than halfway to meeting my goal in comparison to where I started.