State of the American Rifleman

A commenter from the previous post questioned whether America is still a nation of riflemen and if most modern Americans have an aversion to the hard work it takes to become skilled in the use of the rifle. I’ve noticed that what seems to count as marksmanship training these days is to spend money on equipment. I would be interested to know what the ratio is of people with sub-moa rifles to people who can reliably hit a paper plate offhand at 100 yards. It’s a shame to have all that nice gear out there with no one who knows how to use it.

There are probably several societal factors involved in the decline of marksmanship. Marketing dominates over honesty. Actors are elevated over the real people they play. Needs are not understood because wants are so easily fulfilled. Handouts are advertised while hard work is derided. Specialists flourish in the absence of common sense. We have, as a nation, lost our hunger and drive, and lack substance of character. I hear or say on a daily basis that the world is upside down, and I believe that it’s true.

Is it possible that less is better? Was my grandpa any worse off for having just a 30-06? I don’t think he worried too much about brand or style. He was more concerned with taking it in the woods and doing stuff with it. Likewise, our forefathers probably didn’t have the luxury of acquiring a collection. They were too busy working with what they had doing real stuff that needed to be done.

Consider the professionals who use firearms in the course of their day. In fact, consider only the top 1% of those people. Most are issued a standard piece and trained to use it. Is it the specific make or model that makes them so good? I would guess that it’s all the hard work that makes them so good. The piece itself is just a means to an end.

Work is the essence of the acquisition of skill. We are taught from almost the beginning that sugar is pleasant, TV is pleasant, fitting in is pleasant, prizes are pleasant, but work is most decidedly unpleasant (and that old people are stupid and backwards). We all realize on some level that to get good at shooting we will need to work, but I think we put that off while maintaining a holding pattern in “preparation mode”. “How can I get started if I don’t even have the stuff I need to do it with? ” After “stuff” is acquired, we learn that the stuff we have is not good enough. Then we get more and better stuff, and learn that it won’t do for X application. Then new stuff comes out, making the old stuff obsolete. It’s easy to play this game, because so much stuff is available, and honestly, it’s fun to get stuff.

What would you do if you really had to get something done with inadequate resources and your life depended on it? I think that you would find a way to accomplish what you needed to accomplish. We treat our shooting equipment as a plethora of specialized tools, similar to the way we treat information and opinions as worthy only if they are the product of some PhD “expert”.

In the past, a man with common sense was capable of accomplishing all the necessities of life through the application of hard work and common sense. There weren’t a lot of experts, and they didn’t seem to need them. When a person with initiative and common sense meets a new problem, he can generally work his way through it (probably even without Google). When a group of experts get together to solve a problem, they create a blue ribbon panel to discuss it a lot. Then they figure out how to acquire funding to serve their own ends while not solving the problem, and perhaps making it worse.

Working on the fundamentals of marksmanship creates the equivalent of common sense in a shooter. Through this work, the shooter will understand his own strengths and weaknesses. He will learn how to use what he has to full effect, rather than be intimidated that it may not be the best. He will learn to apply the fundamentals in response to unfamiliar situations. He will actually be capable of doing something instead of just impotently possessing things.

I can’t speak as someone who is immune to the problems we face, but hopefully I can take my own advice.  At some point maybe we’ll realize that we’re chasing our tails instead of going after something worthy of pursuit.  Thanks for reading.

What We Take for Granted at the Range

On a typical trip to the range, the typical rifle shooter plans a nice day for the outing. He probably has the luxury of bringing as much gear as he wants. He can find a nice spot, possibly even a bench, and arrange his gear so it’s easy to access. The target is probably stationary, of a known size and shape, at a known distance and in front of a backstop that he very likely doesn’t need to even think about. He can choose his favorite position without having to think about it, or in a competition it may be chosen for him. He can then go through the processes of executing the fundamentals of marksmanship and gun handling. If he misses, he can the data to correct and the target will very likely still be there (the wind has been known to blow one down from time to time).

To sum up the experience of the range shooter, he determines his own course of action, how he prefers to accomplish it, and he sets his own time for accomplishing those things.

A shooter in the field may be engaging in an outwardly similar activity, but there are several important differences. He is limited to the gear he can carry with him. He does not know the time when he will take a shot, or if he will have an opportunity to take one at all. He may have to wait hours to find this out. Unless he is conducting an ambush or a raid, or is sitting in something like a tree stand, he doesn’t know the location that he will be shooting at or where he will shoot from.

The shooter has to be alert enough, and possess sufficient observational skill to detect his target. If the shooter has an opportunity to shoot, he as several quick decisions to make. These decision will be based on snap evaluations of the target, terrain, and conditions. What is the shot difficulty? What positions could the shooter use potentially use to make a shot of this difficulty? What is the best position possible given the terrain?

The conditions need to be evaluated. What is the distance to target? There are several ways of determining range that have different levels of accuracy and require different amounts of time, time and accuracy typically related. Depending on the distance, the shooter may have to estimate wind speed and direction. At longer ranges wind estimation is probably more important than any other factor. After those tasks are complete, he needs to make a very serious decision. Does he have the ability to make this shot?  It takes a lot of skill and experience to even answer this question accurately.  Most shooter hold their skill in too high an estimation to do this.

The shooter needs to perform all the tasks of the range shooter, but does not have the luxury of getting his space perfectly ready, or to lay out his gear for easy accessibility. He has to evaluate his backstop to determine if he can safely fire a shot. After executing the shooting sequence, the then needs to re-evaluate the situation. Does he need to fire another shot? Is there another target? If the answer is yes the entire situation must be re-evaluated.

To sum up the experience of the field shooter, his actions are determined by the target, the terrain, and the conditions. The target determines both the time of day (or night) and the duration of the firing opportunity. All this is difficult enough, but what if the target shoots back?

Range practice can instill a false sense of competence. There are many skill components of shooting that are taken out of play at the range, and most shooters take this for granted. It takes deliberate study, evaluation of one’s skills, and effort in order to build the experience and maintain the ability necessary to accurately judge a situation and take an effective course of action to address it in as little time as possible. This probably won’t happen by watching Shooter again.

Good luck and good shooting. Thanks for reading.

The Complete Guide to Bolt Manipulation, Part 6: Avoiding Problems and Pitfalls

Even when one has sufficient information on a topic and is well on the right track to gaining real proficiency in execution of a skill, problems will still arise that need to be fixed. When the shooter is operating at a higher level, these problems can be extremely difficult to become aware of on one’s own, and finding a knowledgeable partner can also be challenging. I’m going to share some of the things I have had, and in some cases continue to have problems with that I would not have known about unless I was documenting my shooting for the blog.

On maintaining cheekweld.  No, really maintaining cheekweld.

You remember that proper bolt work must occur without disturbing the position of the head, and even without breaking cheekweld. These factors should be trained to remain completely unaffected by working the bolt. What’s not so obvious is actually detecting the movement. There are two sources of this movement that I have noticed. The first is obvious to the shooter in most cases, which is actively taking the head up to look downrange or dodging the bolt. I’ll call this “active movement”, as although it’s incorrect, the shooter forms an intention to do it and manifests that intention.

The second source of unwanted head movement is difficult to detect without watching video or having a partner (except you’ll think they’re lying) to expose it for you. This movement occurs when the body must contort somehow to allow the hand to work the bolt. Consider unsupported prone with the sling. The firing side elbow holds up part of the body’s weight. To reach the bolt it’s often necessary to move the elbow. To move the elbow something else needs to take the weight that the elbow was just supporting. Back muscles are good for this. Contraction of the back muscles has a tendency to cause the neck muscles to contract sympathetically, which will move the head back, and away from the scope.

The following video shows an example of unintentional disruption of the cheekweld during bolt manipulation:

I assure you that in all the practice I did slung up in prone working the bolt leading up to that almost 2 year old video, I did not notice that I was breaking my cheekweld.  In fact, my perception was just the opposite, and I believed I was maintaining a sight picture. After I knew the movement was there it was apparent to me, but it took a detached perspective for me to realize it.

How do you fix such a thing? Just stop doing it would be the simplest answer. Easier said than done, but so is everything worth doing, except for working a bolt apparently (for all these articles so far, I have 10 pages, single spaced [even between paragraphs], 11 size font).

Don’t miss!

I already touched on correcting the problem of missing the bolt knob during the initial approach to it. Exaggerate and pause the moment of correct contact before proceeding with the movement. This needn’t be done every time, from here to eternity, but it works very well for establishing “muscle memory” and to freshen up the technique occasionally.

Maintaining proper focus.

It’s a given that the eyes should continue to be directed through the sights downrange during bolt manipulation. At least I think it is. I’ll think on it and correct myself if I find merit to doing otherwise. Proceeding on the assumption that it is correct, I noticed recently that my eyes might not be staying true.

I ended up with a hundred or so pictures of different stages of me in various stages of performing four or five bolt cycles. This was a continuous (full auto) press of the shutter button, and contained all the time between cycles. Out of each cycle I would typically get three photos, and I had to combine photos for different cycles to produce a meaningful photo montage for Part 3 of this series. For the most part my eye remained looking through the scope, but I noticed several photos in which my eye would look away, sometimes to the bolt knob, other times somewhere else.

There might be a few explanations for this. The eye naturally moves constantly collecting information for the brain to form an image, even though the person doesn’t perceive it. So it could be that I’m gathering information to form a more complete picture of my surroundings at little or no detriment to my picture through the scope.

It could also be that I’m distracted by something. I was in the process of demonstrating a particular technique for photographs that I was aware would later be open to public view from at least a quarter dozen loyal readers (and why do I still work my day job?). It might have cause me to focus in on it more than normal, which coincidentally, probably made the technique worse than when I’m actually shooting.  Because I was not exactly “in the zone” I was probably more susceptible to distraction, of which there are typically a high concentration in my house.

Another explanation is that I simply have not adequately trained my eyes to continue looking through the sights as I’m working the bolt. Observation requires force of will. Cycling the bolt represents a break in the firing sequence. The finger comes of the trigger, the position might be shifted for the hand to reach, a breath is taken in, and perhaps the focus is relaxed. It’s likely that the will would be relaxed along with everything else.  My guess is that this explanation is the likeliest, and I should endeavor to train specifically to address it.

A sticky subject…

Lastly, I would like to address stuck bolts. A crux of this heated debate (okay, probably an overstatement.  It is a heated debate between the voices in my head though) on bolt technique centers around the power to overcome a stuck bolt. Critics of my technique may say that reliability is compromised because I’m relying on weaker muscles to perform the movement, and that only by actually grabbing the bolt and allowing larger muscles to engage in the movement, can the technique be expected to overcome any unexpected difficulties involving, perhaps, a stuck case.

I will concede that grabbing the bolt knob, a la “grip it and rip it”, allows for muscles of the arm and shoulder to be more easily brought into play. The question then becomes, “Does having larger muscles involved actually increase the likelihood that a stuck bolt will be overcome without any delay in the movement?” This needs to be examined.

First, imagine a 12 oz. paper cup on a table. It is filled nearly to the top with carbonated, caramel-colored liquid. Then imagine walking to the table and picking up the cup. Then imagine that for whatever reason, the cup weighs 25 lbs. Do you think that you would have picked it up smoothly without any interruption in the motion, or any liquid spilled. I don’t think so, regardless of whether you were sitting a grasping it with one hand, or standing a using two hands. This is because your brain has an expectation of what the cup will weigh, and automatically adjusts the amount of force is inputted to the action. Likewise, your bolt has the same level of resistance probably more than 99 out of 100 times in live fire. In dry fire it’s probably more like 999 out of 1000. If you do sufficient dry fire, your brain is probably pretty well programmed. I think it is likely that regardless of the technique used, in the event of a stuck case there is likely to be an interruption in the technique, and a transition to something involving more brute force.

Secondly, there is a range of how stuck a case gets, from a bit more resistance than normal, as in, where you end the ladder test and back off the charge, to the other end in which something is very wrong in the chamber and the bolt just isn’t going to open for you. Where along the spectrum is the most likely scenario to be encountered by the shooter? Probably the hot weather scenario in which the normal load generates a bit more pressure than normal, or maybe in the rain, in which moisture in the muzzle causes a similar increase in pressure. Assuming the load is generally safe, these will cause the bolt resistance to increase to perhaps double the normal resistance, but nothing that will preclude the normal technique from working.

If the bolt is really stuck it isn’t going to matter which technique is used. What’s more important in that scenario is that the shooter recognize it quickly and get back into action if possible, or to a safe place, or get the rifle to someone that can fix it if that’s possible.

This completes my treatise on bolt work. You probably were starting to think it would never end. That makes 11 full pages, single spaced, of 11 size font for the total of parts 1 through 6. I believe that is proof that fast, smooth, reliable bolt work is easier done than said. Thank you very much for reading.

 

 

The Complete Guide to Bolt Manipulation, Part 5: Advice and Practice Tips

I covered technique in Parts 3 and 4. Knowing the correct motions is helpful, but it doesn’t necessarily translate to instant competency. Of course, persistent, deliberate, and purposeful repetition is what really develops competency. Repetition also imparts both knowledge and experience. What I would like to try to do in this article is pass on some of the knowledge and experience that I have gained through my own repetition. Hopefully this will offer you a shortcut in comparison to the path that I worked through.

What else is there to learn in other than pure technique? Let’s approach this from a new shooter’s perspective. New shooters tend to baby the actions of their firearms, whether that is manifested by working a pistol slide slowly and softly or gingerly working a bolt. New shooters tend to form themselves around the gun rather than using natural posture and movements (this tends to be true in most physical disciplines) and handling the rifle in a way that brings it into harmony with those elements.  So other than pure technique, there is a way and an attitude in handling firearms.

I apologize if the following descriptions are too ethereal or too analogy based. The problem is similar to that of trying to describe to you what an orange tastes like. I can’t be sure that you’re receiving what I intend to convey unless you actually taste one, but I can probably give you some idea of what to expect.

Don’t let the rifle intimidate you into operating it weakly.

Think of bolt work like punching someone who needs to be punched. If you’re under 25 you might have learned in public school that punching another person is wrong under any circumstances and you should probably go find a quilting blog instead (that was just a joke and not meant to offend serious quilters- you wouldn’t have taken it up if you were too much of a wuss to take a joke, right?). To effectively punch someone, you need to disregard the external borders of their body and the resistance it offers. You don’t punch their body, you punch into or through their body (I think optimal penetration for a punch is approximately 4” depending on the puncher’s build, so “into” is probably more technically accurate). This is one of those simple mental adjustments that makes the punch much more powerful.

The bolt will offer some resistance to being cycled. It only moves in the same boring rectangular motions. This often intimidates shooters into letting it bully them into weak bolt work. Well, you know what to do with a bully. Find the proper authorities and report it! Oh wait, that was for my quilting blog. You make a homemade knife, shank them, then break off the handle. Whoops, that was for my “prison yard living” blog (what can I say, I have many interests and areas of expertise). Let’s just say don’t let the bolt back you down. Not any more. Not this time!!! (cue song: “Holding Out for a Hero”).

Getting back on point, take a look at what the correct motion looks like and practice it in the air. It doesn’t have to be perfect, you just want to get the idea of a smooth, whip-like motion. In fact, I would recommend not trying to get the details right, just sort of an “air guitar” version. Watch the full speed bolt work video and play along in the air without your rifle.

When you think you’re getting the feel of the correct motion, come back to your rifle and try to incorporate that feeling. Don’t let the resistance of cocking the striker alter what you’re doing. Just go through it. The same goes for stripping the next round from the magazine. The rifle was designed to be worked with sufficient force to overcome the resistance offered by it. Remember the words of Jeff Cooper: “Bolt work must be vigorous. Show it no mercy!” (Art of the Rifle, 19).

Use sufficient movement to operate the system- no more, no less.

I apologize if this point is confusing after I just basically told you “Mercy is for the weak. Here, in the streets, in competition: A man confronts you, he is the enemy. An enemy deserves no mercy.”  Oh wait, that was my karate instructor back in Reseda.  No…, no, I remember now.  That was actually a movie.  I make that mistake all the time.

I just got done telling you not to baby your rifle. In the previous point I was referring to speed and appropriate force.  I this point I am talking about the distance of the movement. There is such a thing as too much.  In the punching analogy, too much is where you hyperextend your elbow which could injure you, or overextend your technique, which could create an opening for your opponent.  I wonder if too much movement was a contributing factor to the breaking of the bolt stop pin in my Sako.

There is a right amount of movement. Since you will be operating the bolt with power you need to make sure you don’t batter the mechanism. There will be times when you use too much movement and other times when you use too little. The point is to continue searching for that “right” amount.

The kinesthetic cue for changing the direction of bolt movement is the mechanical limit of the bolt travel. That needs to be felt before the direction of the bolt is changed, or else the rifle is likely to be short stroked. That is a hard and fast requirement. Remember also that while it needs to be felt, it doesn’t need to be hammered through. Don’t have the feeling of pulling your bolt rearward out of the action when working it, just have the feeling of working it correctly.  Walk the fine line of correct action and decline not, neither to the right hand nor to the left.

Work with your breathing.

Correct breathing is a key component of marksmanship. The rifle should be fired at the bottom of the breath. Working the bolt is not a part of marksmanship, but rather it is part of gun handling. Remember that what we’re looking for is efficiency. Remember also that you can walk and chew bubble gum at the same time. Why go to all the trouble of learning a lightning fast bolt throw if you still have to take the extra time to breathe afterward? That would be foolish. Inhaling during the bolt cycle is the number one thing you can do to speed up your actual split times. I have given this advice to a brand new shooter who showed up to an Appleseed with a bolt action rimfire. He made Rifleman. This is such a no brainer, but not too many people catch onto it.

To build correct technique, find the cues and exaggerate them.

Learning pistol reloads was frustrating. It was more frustrating after I saw how quickly the better shooters could get it done. One thing I learned that put me on track was that it really helped to pause just long enough to see the magazine’s orientation in relation to the magwell. It is counter-intuitive that pausing will increase your speed. It’s not the pause itself that helped, it’s that I learned to see what I needed to see.

There have been many instances in my thousands of repetitions of bolt cycles in which I have missed the bolt knob. It has been a low percentage, but it’s troubling. Recently, this problem was exacerbated by the change in ergonomics that came with the new stock. When I set myself on correcting the problem, somehow a connection formed in my mind, and I thought to pause to make sure I arrived at proper hand to bolt contact before continuing on with the bolt stoke. It helped immeasurably.

Don’t continue with the movement until everything is placed correctly.

Like a pistol draw, putting the correct part of the hand on the bolt knob prior to movement will ensure that the total movement is correct and flows into the next thing. Moving before correct contact made will set the shooter up for a botched cycling. I read of review recently of a Bob Vogel pistol class in which he made the point that rushing a draw before establishing a proper grip might save a small amount of time in the draw itself, but would result in a slower and less accurate overall stage performance. The same goes for the relative microcosm of bolt work.

The two phases in which proper contact must be established are on the initial approach of the hand to the bolt after follow through but prior to unlocking, and just after ejection at the transition of the bolt body from rearward to forward. On the first one, make sure that the fingers properly contact the bolt to ensure sufficient lift will be available. On the second, make sure that the thumb to bolt contact occurs sufficiently near to the base of the thumb to avoid losing contact with the bolt knob, which would send the bolt flying forward uncontrolled.

Please note that many of these points relate to practice. In real life there are times just to power through and get it done without concern for perfection.

On the relationship between smoothness and speed.

Before seeking speed one must acquire an abundance of smoothness. First of all, smoothness usually results in speed, but to really get faster sometimes smoothness needs to be momentarily compromised to a degree. I believe there is a correct range of proportion for maintaining smoothness vs. pushing speed. An obscure analogy would be a comparison to the game of Go. Acquire sufficient territory (smoothness) before capturing enemy pieces (speed). I’m sure everyone reading this will rush to learn the game of Go now. It’s actually an interesting game of strategy. I like it because I can still crush everyone in the house at it. No one else likes it because such pleasure in mercilessly crushing them. I’ll throw out a number for those of you who foolishly disregard the game of Go. Let’s call it 85% smoothness and 20% speed (you think I’m going to waste my time on good math for non Go players?).

If that paragraph was not sufficient for you, I wrote an article that gets at the same topic.  Click me.

To get your speed really going, practice a related skill under time stress.

I have had the most success making my bolt work quick and smooth while working on snapshooting under time stress, specifically when using a metronome or when practicing dry fire snapshots on live critters. Once you have put a few thousand reps into specifically practicing mechanics, take your mind off them and you will likely see a dramatic improvement. The will to accomplish a purpose often trumps the desire for refinement.

This leads to the following point: to be operate correctly at appropriate speed, bolt work needs to be outside the purview of the conscious mind.

As I said before, there really is no substitute for repetition. Work hard. I hope that this article has helped you to work smart, which hopefully will hasten your development. Thanks again for reading.

I have one last installment ready for next time.  Yes I am serious.

 

 

 

The Complete Guide to Bolt Manipulation, Part 4: Delving into Finer Points

In Part 3 I demonstrated the major elements of my bolt technique. In this article I would like to try to fill in the empty spaces on the finer points.

I need to clarify some definitions of terms to keep this discussion from getting confusing. The bolt cycle, not the technique that is used to work it, but just the motion that the bolt needs to complete its function, consists of four phases. The simplest way to express them is “up, back, forward, down”, however those words don’t convey quite as much meaning when they are expressed individually without the full sequence. Likewise, the words “opening” and “closing” could easily be taken to mean more than one phase of the cycle. To avoid that type of confusion, here is the terminology I will use for the four parts of the cycle: unlocking, clearing, chambering, and locking.

On another terminology note, I use the words “bolt knob” to describe the roundish part at the end of the entire bolt handle, and the words “bolt handle” to describe the straight part that originates at the bolt body itself and terminates at the bolt knob.

The most important points to the technique are the instances in which a transition is made from one mode to another, such as firing to cycling the bolt, or from one direction of the bolt to another. Specifically, the critical points are the initial approach to the bolt just after completion of follow through and the point just after clearing as the bolt is at the extreme rear limit of its travel, and the hand transitions to propulsion of the chambering phase.

The best point of contact for my hand to unlock my bolt is between the two knuckles of my index finger, near the center knuckle. It’s important that the point of contact not be too far forward, because as the bolt knob is raised the hand doesn’t move forward with it. This means that the point of contact on the hand will shift forward on the finger as the bolt is unlocked. If it starts too far forward you might run out of room. If I start too far back, I find that my index finger doesn’t have the strength to unlock the bolt without being deflected down, which would be a wasted movement.

IMG_3447
Intended point of contact for the unlocking phase highlighted in blue.

3
You can see that upon completion of unlocking the point of contact has moved forward on the finger.

In order to have sufficient leverage to complete the chambering and locking phases firmly and speedily, the thumb must contact the bolt knob below, and near the second knuckle. The reason is similar to that in the unlocking phase. As the bolt travels forward in the loading phase, the point of contact on your thumb will shift slightly forward. If you run out of room you’ll send the bolt slamming forward as you completely lose contact with it, and your control of it.

IMG_3448
Intended point of contact for the chambering phase highlighted in blue.

Keep the hand relaxed. Don’t grasp the knob.

A minute amount of wrist rotation, pronation in the locking phase, assists in positive operation of the bolt. I estimate that I rotate approximately 15º-20º at the beginning of the locking phase.

Lubrication

I need to touch briefly on lubrication. I learned with my Sako 75 to keep a thin coat of grease on the shiny spots of the bolt. I was using only Brian Enos’ Slide Glide at that time. After I got my FN, a co-worker of the tinkering type was playing around with some common, off the shelf lubricants that are used in firearms, and came up with something I call Sam’s Secret Sauce. It’s actually a 50-50 mix of Ballistol and Lanolin (it’s an oily substance from sheep’s wool, also a component of Ed’s Red). Sam’s is a grease at normal room temperature, but will begin to liquify if you hold it for a few minutes. Now I put a thin coat of Sam’s over the Slide Glide. It’s slick! I can tell a difference. I keep it wiped off and freshly lubed as a matter of habit.

Remember to get the lugs and the camming surface for cocking of the striker.

Bolt Knob Size

This is as good a place as any to drift into a discussion of the size and shape of the bolt handle and knob. I have to admit that I’ve gone back on forth on the subject of oversized bolt knobs. In fact, I’ve done it over the brief time between two sequential articles. I think I am narrowing my idea of what is best. The question with knob size is one of reliability, speed, and efficiency. That makes this at least a three dimensional tightrope to walk.

The standard size knob has worked reasonably well. Some minor issues I’ve run into on a small minority of my bolt cycles have been missing the bolt knob on approach to unlocking and pinching my thumb on the ocular lens of the scope during chambering. At least one of these was exacerbated upon switching to the new stock, that being missing the knob, and perhaps the hitting the scope as well. Following are photos of what I think are the points of contact I use on the bolt knob and handle.

IMG_3449
There isn’t much margin for error.

IMG_3454
For the most part, this is plenty of bolt to hang onto during chambering and locking.  It could be just slightly larger.  The thumb can easily clear it after locking is complete and the hand begins to reacquire the firing grip.

The oversized bolt knobs come with their own issues. I have one on my TRG. Unlocking is never an issue. Witness the more than generous size of the contact surface on the knob:

IMG_3457
More than enough room.  Way more than enough.


Where the issue comes in is upon completion of locking. When it’s time to re-acquire the firing grip there turns out to be a bit of a speed hump:

IMG_3458
In order to return to a firing grip after locking, the thumb must either be extended open, or the hand must come out to clear the knob.

It’s not a huge deal, but it’s not ideal. I’m not knocking the maker of the knob (Charlie) at all. He does absolutely astounding work, and would have made anything I asked of him. This is what I picked out. The threads (the knob threads onto the handle) were cut so well as to make it feel like they were on ball bearings and the two surfaces mated up perfectly. When a teenage girl (not me, Young Miss Rifleslinger) is impressed by threads, that means that something common was done uncommonly well. He also helped me out of a horrible bind (TRG: The Untold Story [a horror movie]), was a complete gentleman in the truest sense of the word, and charged what I consider to be very little considering what he produces.

In the following photo, the two bolt knobs were compared while lined up to the best of my ability while taking my own photos while holding the parts at arms length after being awake for over 24 hours (at the moment I’m on about 26 [another tale of horror]).

IMG_3459

The next picture is the same one with the points of unlocking (blue) and locking (red) highlighted.

Points of Contact

You can see that the standard knob is barely adequate, while the oversize knob has a lot of extra real-estate.  

The following photo has some pre-school level drawing in an attempt to illustrate what I think would be a better bolt knob:

Re-Drawn knob
If you were wondering what my day job is, you can now safely eliminate any of those that require talent, skill, or brains.

The curved area that transitions from the bolt handle to the fat part of the bolt knob would be a very useful place to put the index finger for unlocking, but the standard knob has it too close to the bolt body. If you look carefully you may be able to see that I set it back a bit.

The two curved lines that are in the middle of the knob represent an extra band of knurling. I would leave the original one where it is in the photo. I would like just a little more aggressive texture than the factory knurling.

I didn’t make it any fatter than the original, although girth does increase efficiency. I just don’t know that I want too much of a departure from the original. The extra length is, I think, just enough to provide a bit more margin for error on the approach to unlocking, but not so much as to be an impediment in clearing the knob after locking.

Incidentally, take a look at this photo:

Bolt Comparison

The shiny bolt on the bottom is Pacific Tool & Gauge’s new one piece Winchester bolt. The handle is threaded to accept standard aftermarket knobs, or custom ones like the one Charlie made for my TRG. The top bolt body is mine. You can see by the seamless juxtaposition that I posses great talent, skill, and brains. I did my best to match up the angles and apparent sizes so they would be as equal as I could get them. Something in the angle prevented me from getting it perfect, but it’s very close.

Here’s a closer look at the handles and knobs:

Knob and Handle Comparison

The PCT knob is very close to being ideal, but I think it’s still a bit too long and I don’t like the smooth, straight ramp from the handle to the fat part of the knob. What I do like about the entire bolt is that it’s one piece, like the pre-64’s were, and that Pacific Tool and Gauge makes pretty much the best stuff (from what I hear). I also get tired of looking at off-center primer strikes and every round I have ever shot out of it has ended up with cratered primers. I’m guessing the firing pin hole on my bolt is slightly oversized?

Believe it or not, I have more to say about bolt work. To be continued…

 

The Complete Guide to Bolt Manipulation, Part 3: Technique

I promised pictures for this installment. I have some, but not as many as I had hoped. My schedule is tighter than I would like, and I also had some issues with lighting and a rookie cameragirl. I was hoping for at least two views of stills and video, but I only have one of each. At least they are from different angles. I also wanted a live fire video, but I haven’t had the opportunity to get to the range in the last few days. I will add more media as I get the chance.

I have posted still frames of my bolt work before. In the past I would stop and pose for each frame. The problem with this is that when moving the bolt slow, I can only attempt to approximate the movement I actually use under actual speed. I found out that I had inadvertently been misrepresenting the technique I use, which hasn’t changed much over time or over rifles. What I have this year that I didn’t have before is a camera that takes several photos per second. This allows me to work the bolt at actual speed and still get some photos. I still run into the issue of not being able to get full detail of any one bolt cycle (the camera takes approximately 5 frames per second). I usually get three photos of each cycling. What I did was compile photos from several bolt cyclings and compile a photo montage that provides a decent representation.

Before I move on to a specific description of the technique I use, I need to discuss the application of some of the things I touched on in Part 1 and Part 2 of this series.

I discussed using natural, arc-like movements. Let’s take a look at how that might work when using a bolt that has a narrowly constrained, rectangular movement. The following photo represents the three possible extreme positions of the bolt.

 

Bolt Path- Resized

 

The blue line in the photo represents an approximation of the movement of the hand that I think should be taken. How can that be reconciled with the constraints of the mechanism itself? I think that the reason it’s possible is that the body parts in contact with and around the bolt have a bit of give that allows the bolt to find its own path to some degree. The why is not so important as the fact that it works well. The takeaway is that what I think is the most efficient movement is an arcing, whip-like movement.

The following video shows two bolt cycles at both full speed and 1/8 speed. I apologize for the lack of editing to make the video more time efficient, entertaining, “not horrible”, or “at all worth watching”. Maybe that’s because I’m not a “professional photographer”. I’m not what you would call “smart”. I don’t “shower every day”. I live in a “van down by the river”. Sorry. Video:

 

 

A bit more detail can be seen in the photos.  Note that I post the photo then discuss what’s going on below it (just so you know which picture I’m talking about):

 

1

At this point the trigger has been pressed and the striker has fallen. The hand remains in the firing position until follow through is complete.

2

The hand has just made contact with the bolt knob via moving directly to it. The thumb remains in the same place it was during firing for leverage and a fixed point of reference. The specific location of the thumb placement will vary depending on you and your rifle, but mine is part way on the stock, part way on the receiver tang.  This is also a kinesthetic anchor point for my technique, or one of the focal points I pay attention to

3

The bolt is completely unlocked at this point, and the knob is at the extreme limit of height. I believe that the thumb is still in place at its anchor point at this time.

4

The bolt knob has started moving to the rear, evidently due to the contraction of fingers and movement of the hand to the rear. The thumb at this point has left its anchor point, which keeps it from getting juiced like a grape.  

5

Continuing to the rear, I think that the elbow and shoulder to a lesser degree come into play.

6

The bolt is at the rear limit of travel. This is the point of transition. Note that the hand is flexed rearward, in preparation to “crack the whip” forward.

7

Moving forward now. It’s difficult to see but the point of contact, hand to knob, is at the thumb between the two knuckles, nearer to the base. Although it appears as though the hand is closed around the knob, it is open, and no effort is being made to keep it either open or shut.

8;

The bolt has moved a bit more forward at this point. The only real difference in the body position is that the wrist has straightened out.

9

Now it really appears as though the hand is closed, but it is still open. It is probably tense, due to the need to gain sufficient leverage to close the bolt. Thumb position is key here. I believe that it needs to be right on top of the bolt knob to prevent slippage or loss of leverage. Also note the slight rotation of the wrist towards pronation. This gives a boost to the movement, adding extra snap without requiring a faster movement through space.  The wrist has also completely straightened out from its cocked back position, indicating that booster stage has delivered its complete payload.

10

The bolt is now either at, or more likely near, completion of locking.

11

Upon the receipt of the kinesthetic cue that the bolt is completely locked, the hand begins a smooth transition back to firing position.  I really slow things down at this point in preparation for a smooth, safe stop.  Note that my trigger finger is seeking to return to the trigger, where it was at the initiation of this motion. I think this is normal, seems to be “industry standard” and is my default. I have not considered whether it violates rule 3 or whether it is, in fact, safe. I have not yet caused an inadvertent discharge through the employment of this technique, but that does not mean that it’s safe.

12

The hand is now back in firing position, and the cycle is complete (cue music from Lion King soundtrack: Circle of Life Death- perhaps a Weird Al style remake?). The trigger finger does get set gingerly back to the trigger.

I hope that I’m getting close to a technique that has the four components of efficiency, reliability, smoothness, and utilizing natural movements. I want to make clear that I don’t consider any of this to be the final word. I’m still working on it, and I don’t think it’s perfect. A month ago I was missing the bolt knob more often than not due to the new stock changing the ergonomics of the rifle. I have been faster with this rifle, and to be frank I am still in the process of rebuilding the technique.

As for efficiency, from the slo-mo, it looks like it’s not bad, but that my hand moves unnecessarily to the outside as it approaches the knob. I also think there might be a slightly excessive gap between my thumb and forefinger at the transition between opening and closing the bolt, when it is stationary at the extreme rear limit of travel.

As for reliability, I think it’s very good. It could be better. I want to discuss that in a future article. It could be worse. I want to discuss that in a future article.

Smoothness is a cultivated attribute, rather than one intrinsic to the technique. I’m getting there and still working on it.

I think the movements I’m utilizing are very natural and flow very well into one another. This comes from repetition. The technique refines itself with work.

As for speed, which as I have stated, is a bi-product instead of an attribute of the technique, I think that any bolt cycle that takes less than one second beginning at the hand in a firing position, and ending in exactly the same position is sufficiently fast. I think a half second would be ideal, but probably not worth pursuing as a goal in and of itself. When there are so many other things to practice, it’s just not worth over-refining this. Also, to be completely realistic, any application for which one might choose a bolt gun over a semi-auto does not likely require a high rate of fire. This is my admission that I have been a little silly to spend so much time on bolt technique.  I have two excuses, I enjoy it, and to provide for the education of others.

I don’t advocate trying to micro-tune the portions of your body, e.g., individual joints, that move during your bolt technique based on my photos or video.  I don’t think it would work.  Although I went into detail as to what parts of the hand and arm were moving and when they were moving, I never think about it during the technique.  I hope that there are cues here that you can use to find your way, but in the end you have to practice and get a feel for it yourself.  I can point the way, but I can’t take you where you are going.  My advice is to find a good technique, get smooth, and just let the speed come with time.

In the next installment I will cover more specifics and an “internal” discussion on how to make the bolt work stronger and smoother.

The Complete Guide to Bolt Manipulation, Part 2: Specific Theory

In applying the general requirements to bolt work as outlined in Part 1, there are some considerations to be made even before illustrating any specific technique. In my case, I have tried several ways of working the bolt, each time thinking it was possible that the technique de jour could end up being the best. What I am saying is that my level of inherent irrational bias towards any particular technique is comparatively low. While I would like to say that I arrived at my current technique through rational application of principles, that is not the case. Instead, the best I can do is to explain what principles seem to underlie the superiority of the technique that works the best.

Why grasp when a fixed, linear movement of a known direction is all that is required?

If you put a bolt action rifle in the hands of any human who was unfamiliar with the operation of a rifle and told them to operate the bolt, they would, in all likelihood, begin by grasping the knob between the thumb and at least one finger, most likely the index finger. I think that is the reason that the “grip it and rip it” method is popular. It lends itself to the primal urge to grab things. Note that this is not always the correct impulse, as new shooters also tend to automatically place their fingers on the trigger until training the impulse away.

When you push a car, do you need to grab the bumper? No, a flat hand against the rear of the vehicle will do. That’s because the intended direction of the vehicle, from the perspective of the pusher, is forward, and the job of the pusher is only to push. Is working a bolt so different? It only moves in one direction at a time, and that direction is limited by the constraints of the mechanism. Grabbing serves no purpose over pushing with an appropriate surface of the hand for whichever direction is necessary. Grabbing, in fact, is inefficient.

If grabbing will increase reliability it is worth entertaining. The question that comes to mind in that case is, “Is there a way to match the reliability of grabbing in manner that’s more efficient?”

On maintaining a fixed point of reference to increase reliability.

When the bolt work occurs quickly, it happens so quickly that it’s very difficult to track the movement in real time. When it happens best, the most one can register from it is a sensation of how it feels, which is often not very indicative of what actually happens. When things happen that quickly, the odds of everything moving to precisely the right spot depend heavily on how many correct repetitions of the movement have already been performed. There is something else that can make the movements more reliably accurate. That thing is having a trained service animal with you. Wait, wrong blog. That thing is keeping part of the hand attached to a fixed location until good contact with the correct part of the bolt is made.

When I played lead guitar in a metal band in the 90’s, I used the technique of maintaining a fixed reference point. Thrash metal is fast, frequently in excess of 200 beats per minute in tempo. Sixteenth notes are the norm, which equates to 800 notes per minute, sometimes faster. When you factor in crossing strings at that speed it really helped me to keep my 3rd and 4th fingers of my right hand (picking hand) touching the guitar when I played.

In bolt work, I use my thumb as that fixed anchor as a point of reference. I place it on the rear of the pistol grip, just behind the receiver tang. This, I hope, also keeps it neutral if there should be any unintended contraction of the hand during the trigger press. Because the thumb is now a reference point, it makes sense that care should be taken to ensure that it consistently is accurately placed in the same spot every time.

Side trip… I continue to discover how demanding shooting a rifle is in terms on consistency and repeatability. Any of the shooting sports at a high enough level demand an insane amount of consistent precision, but I think that the rifle inherently demands more than any other. The rifle stretches out one’s effective range beyond that of the pistol or shotgun. You have one projectile with which to hit the target. Every detail matters. Back to your regularly scheduled programming…

On the benefit of a fulcrum.

There can be some resistance to the movement of the bolt, particularly in the cocking phase of the movement. With most rifles, cocking occurs during the unlocking phase of the bolt, which is the first movement of the bolt knob, when it is lifted up. Primary extraction also occurs during this motion, which is when the bolt has the most leverage on the case and moves it slightly to the rear. The difficulty of the upward movement also depends on the strength of the firing pin spring, the overall design of the bolt (60º lift vs. 90º lift, the angle of the camming surface, etc…), and whether the case is stuck in the chamber at all.

Sufficient force must be developed to overcome the resistance of the bolt. Using the thumb as a fulcrum with which to brace the rest of the hand’s movement can be very helpful, much more so than allowing the hand to operate freely out in space.  Another benefit of bracing the thumb against the stock while initiating bolt movement is that both the action and reaction are put into the rifle, and largely cancel each other out instead of imparting movement to the rifle as a whole.  In other words, the upward movement of the bolt won’t affect your sight picture as much because the downward pressure of thumb to rifle negates the movement of the rifle to a large degree.

Find the sweet spots of the hand to contact the bolt knob.

The best spot of the hand to contact the bolt knob depends on the shooter and the rifle. One thing to keep in mind is that closer seems to be stronger, meaning that using a part of the finger closer to the hand seems to be more powerful and less prone to the technique failing in some way. On the other hand, getting closer probably means inducing more movement during the technique, which can compromise efficiency. Finding the sweet spot means striking a balance between efficiency and power.

It’s clear that bolt manipulation, like life in general, is a mix of competing and equally compelling interests that need to be correctly balanced to promote proper function and harmony.

In the next installment there is a much greater likelihood that there will be pictures so the Reddit reader can get an inkling of what’s going on.  Thanks for reading.

The Complete Guide to Bolt Manipulation, Part 1: Fundamental Principles

Parts 1 and 2 were written to be one article, but 1500 words was too long for everyone except you (you were always the smart one, everyone else, not so much).

Over the last several years, one of the main focus points of my considerable mental powers (I have many, many, many admirable traits, the greatest of which is likely my considerable humility) is bolt work. This emphasis is probably due to coming from a background heavy in Appleseed and shooting AQTs. Time is a premium there, and a bolt gunner is at a disadvantage. I thought it would be neat to use a bolt gun without being at a disadvantage.

I’ve covered bolt work before, so why do it again? Basically the reason is that I understand what I’m doing better, and I think I’m a more betterer writer than I was then. Let’s get down to it.

There are several ways of working a bolt. I used to take the stance that none were really better than any of the others, and a person just needed to pick the one they liked and get good at it. Well, people can do what they like, and people of skill are impressive to watch regardless of the particular technique, but I’ve gotten to the point where I definitely think that the method I currently use is better.


Rationale:

There are some requirements that I think are necessary to produce optimum bolt technique. I believe that all of the following components are necessary to make it the best it can be. If one is missing, it can be still be very good, but I want the best I can get. The necessary major components, in no particular order, are 1.) efficiency, 2.) reliability, 3.) smoothness, and 4.) utilizing the natural movements of the body’s joints. Notice that I didn’t mention speed. Speed is simply a bi-product of correct technique correctly practiced.

1.) Efficiency

Wasted movement is wasted time. Efficiency means using the shortest path from point A to point B. Additionally, the fewest number of moving parts, and the smallest amount of effort that can be expected to produce reliable results should be used.

2.) Reliability

Stuff should work, not only machines, but the people who run them. I would be very interested to see a comparison of rifle malfunctions, round for round, of manual repeaters versus semi-autos. I have no data other than my own observations, but I would guess that the semi auto wins round for round.  Semi autos appear to malfunction more frequently, but they tend to put a lot more rounds downrange. When the bolt gun has a malfunction, the most likely cause is the operator, although there has never been a shortage of people who alter perfectly functioning rifles to make them something drastically other than what they were intended for.

The important thing is to make reliability a consideration when determining or evaluating your technique.  Is it conducive to working every time under normal operating conditions?  What if something goes wrong?  It’s important to note that reliability and efficiency can run counter to each other, because reliability often means redundancy often means redundancy.

3.) Smoothness

Smoothness, more often than not, is a bi-product of practice, but some movements inherently lend themselves more to smoothness than others. What I think makes the difference in terms of bolt work is mechanical advantage and the ability to smoothly increase the level of force and acceleration without upsetting any of the other elements of marksmanship or inducing other unnecessary movement. This is similar to a compressed surprise break being infinitely smoother than mashing the trigger down in a hurry.

4.) Natural Movement

Pick a joint, flex and extend it, and observe the movement. Hopefully what you see is an arc. That’s how most of the joints in the body that I can think of right now move. We have the ability to produce straight motions of body parts through complicated compound motions of several joints together, but I believe that these are inherently more difficult and work against the way human bodies are designed in comparison to using arc-like movements.

Another requirement for proper bolt technique that seems so obvious that I almost forgot to mention it is that while the bolt is worked, the rifle’s butt needs to stay planted in the shoulder, the cheek on the stock, and the eye still trying to look through the scope.  Nothing moves from where it was when the rifle was fired, unless the bolt throw is so long that you will cause serious injury to yourself by maintaining cheekweld.

Those are the general technical requirements of good bolt work as I see it. I believe that a technique that operates in accordance with those principles will, with practice, be fast and strong.

The next installment will bring a bit more specificity to the discussion.  Stay tuned…

Dynamic Natural Point of Aim Adjustment

High Speed Low Drag Abbreviation: DNP’AA (rhymes with ümpa lümpa)(It even looks like a Klingon word- COULD IT GET ANY COOLER!!!???)

Serious mode- On

In an early article I discussed what natural point of aim is and how it’s adjusted. To recap, natural point of aim can be thought of as where the rifle naturally points in any given position when the body is relaxed as much as it can be, given the characteristics of that position. Natural point of aim is much steadier than if the rifle were simply muscled to the desired point of aim without adjusting the body. Therefore, it follows that to adjust the point of aim, it’s necessary to move the body instead of simply taking the expedient course of moving the rifle using the arms/upper body.

When I first learned about natural point of aim and how to move it, it was taught in a very simplistic manner, e.g., “to move the rifle this way, scoot the hips the opposite way”. Additionally, the method of adjusting the natural point of aim suggested the input of a single input of adjustment that would result in a certain proportional change. Basically, the idea is to adjust by trial and error until the desired point of aim is achieved.

One of the reasons that the trial and error method of adjustment is advocated is because there is supposed to be a built-in check following a natural point of aim adjustment. Close the eyes, breathe, relax completely, open the eyes, and check. If the point of aim is not exactly at the desired spot, repeat the process until it is. This ensures that the body is indeed relaxed to the fullest degree possible and that one is actually seeing the natural point of aim. This is especially important to instill the degree of relaxation that is necessary, which is difficult to convey otherwise, especially to those new to the practice of natural point of aim.

The trial and error method is necessary when initially setting up in position, and making gross adjustments to natural point of aim, but this method does have its limitations. It requires a conscious and deliberate disengagement from the target area to make the adjustment. It places a barrier between action and observation of the effect. It assumes a fixed, static target. These limitations suggest that there is something missing if natural point of aim is to be applied in a field setting in which observation is important and targets aren’t static.

Experience has taught me that an understanding of natural point of aim, a will to maintain it, and a willingness to let it adjust itself intuitively, result in a method of dynamic adjustment. To get to this point the hard and fast prerequisite is that one understands natural point of aim in a practical sense and has completely overcome the tendency to muscle the rifle. If there is any doubt as to either of these, it’s best to stick to the trial and error method.

In order to make dynamic changes to natural point of aim, one must understand intuitively what happens to natural point of aim when any part of the body is moved, particularly those parts of the body from the hips down. The upper body should not be used to effect changes in the point of aim. You must know what will happen when a foot or a knee is moved or shifted. Learning this takes some trial and error in and of itself, but instead of disengaging the attention from the sight picture while making the movement, watch it as it happens.

Take for example the crossed ankle sitting position. A point of aim change can be effected by moving the bottom foot, which is in contact with the ground (in my case this is my right foot). I find that by keeping my toes fixed as a pivot point and moving my heel forward and back, I can change the point of aim down and up respectively.

IMG_3002
Foot in neutral position, muzzle level.

IMG_3001
Bottom heel slid forward, muzzle drops.

IMG_3003
Bottom heel slid back, muzzle rises.

I find that by fixing my heel to the ground and pivoting my toes, the primary change in point of aim is left and right. In this way I can alter the point of aim up and down approximately two degrees (120 minutes, about 10 feet at 100 yards), and about a degree and a half left and right. This number comes from roughly estimating by the dimensions of my dry fire target at 10 yards. I would have to really work at it to make it smooth and predictable, but the potential is there and I definitely feel like I’m not muscling the rifle to effect this change.

The following photos depict changing the windage of the point of aim by rotating the bottom foot around an axis at roughly the center of the sole of the foot. The apparent change appears smaller in the photos than it actually is.

Dynamic Natural Point of Aim Adjustment- Sitting, Windage

In the kneeling position, a rather smooth change in windage can be made by pivoting the lead foot. In rice paddy prone, this is also the case. Additionally, in rice paddy prone an elevation change can be made by pivoting on the ball of the rear foot.

The following photo montage demonstrates using the lead foot to make a change in point of aim. The center photo is a neutral position. Notice that the rather minor change in the lead foot causes a significant shift in the horizontal muzzle direction.

Dynamic Natural Point of Aim Adjustment- Kneeling

The last series of photos depicts a rice paddy prone, which I prefer to kneeling. The right foot is rotated outward to move the muzzle down, and inward to move it up. The center photo is the neutral position for me.

Dynamic Natural Point of Aim Adjustment- Rice Paddy Prone- Elevation

This is not something that I’ve really explored in depth. It’s really something that I have just noticed I do in a limited manner to effect minor adjustments in point of aim. I feel that there are possibly more ways to employ this technique with moving targets.

This type of adjustment is probably not as conducive to precise shooting as would making what I have referred to as a trial and error change. There probably is a “one most stable” version of any given position for any given shooter in any given terrain. As with most things however, it is nice to know how to balance compromises to best fit the situation. In this case, there may be times when maintaining sight of the target or quickly engaging it well might be preferable to taking one’s time to engage it perfectly. This is simply a tool to practice and have in the tool box should you need to make an adjustment on the fly to engage a fleeting target without losing it in your scope or sights.

 

Revisiting the Cross Legged Sitting Position

I was doing some dry fire in cross ankle sitting when for some reason I thought to try the cross legged sitting position. I’m not going to explain what they are in this article, so feel free to click the links. I might have been looking at the vertical pistol grip on my new stock, which in my past experience has made the cross legged position viable. I’m having to recalibrate my shooting technique to a degree in order to learn the new stock, so it makes sense to re-evaluate the sitting position, which is one of the most useful positions there is. Prone is nice when you can get it, but sometimes, maybe most times, terrain makes it unworkable.  Sitting is the next best choice if the shooter faces a lack of artificial support for the rifle.

With a traditional pistol grip, to say that the cross legged position feels awkward is a gross understatement. The firing side wrist has to be bent at an extremely weird angle to make the connection from the elbow to the firing hand. This compromises the firmness of the grip and the ability to isolate the trigger finger from the rest of the hand.

There is also an issue of eye relief. Both cross leg and cross ankle bring the eye very close to the ocular lens of the scope. They are both better suited to rifles with iron sights, since irons don’t pose the problem of socking you in the eye if you get too close.

I can usually work with the cross ankle position so that the worst I’ll get is enough contact from the ocular to know that it touched. By contrast, the last time I tested out the cross legged position, which was with the Sako 75, after 10 shots there was blood freely flowing from just above my right eyebrow.

The one thing that ran contrary to my expectations when I put the positions up against each other, head to head, which was almost two years ago, was that the cross legged position, awkward wrist, bloody forehead and all, was clearly the more accurate position. I wouldn’t call it a definitive test, as my cross ankle is capable of being very good, and when I tested it I turned out a lackluster performance.

The first obstacle in evaluating cross legged sitting was to spend some time working out a decent position with my rifle. The specific challenges to overcome the awkwardness are figuring out where to put the elbows, the point at which the legs cross, the angle of the body to the target, getting the rifle to naturally point correctly to a horizontal elevation, and ensuring a safe eye relief. All of these things are typically a mess when starting out with a new position, and sitting in any of its forms is probably the trickiest.

The initial puzzle was just getting the position to feel and work right. Sometimes I could drop right in and the position would seem to work, other times the rifle would point high, have significant outboard cant, and my eye would practically be touching the ocular lens. I also noticed that I found it very difficult to relax completely, even when the position did seem to work for the most part. When it felt like I did relax I would notice a moment later that my lower body was still trying to hold everything up. My adductor muscles (where Al Gore got sore) kept wanting to tense up. Relaxing would mess up my point of aim again.

I had to make a distinction between the way I would normally sit cross legged, which is normal and comfortable, versus a rifle shooting position, which are never comfortable, at least at first. I had already figured out some time ago that when shooting in cross leg, the support side foot needs to be in front. On this occasion, what really needed changing, at least for starters, was the width of my crossed legs. When I sit down for comfort, my legs cross fairly close to the ankles and the thighs are as low as they can be. I cannot see the sole of my left foot normally when I sit cross legged:

 

IMG_2975

 

When I sit in a shooting position, I need to squeeze the thighs together to make it work for a couple reasons. In this position I can see the sole of my foot just barely stick out from under my thigh:

 

IMG_2976

 

The first problem this solved was that my elbows were too far apart, and I was not able to plant them both. That is now fixed. Being able to plant them allows me to relax completely, which is crucial.  The problem was that my normal, non-shooting cross leg position had the knees too far apart to plant my elbows:

IMG_2969
The width measurement, ~25.5″, can be seen in the upper left corner of the photo.

The key to getting both of those elbows down was compressing the sitting position so that the knees are closer:

IMG_2970
Not quite 22″.  Significantly narrower.

The other problem that it fixed is that I was not able to get the muzzle to point horizontally. Squeezing the position together caused the firing side knee to raise up just enough to lower the point of aim.

Comfortable non-shooting cross leg sitting:

IMG_2973

Less comfortable shooting position:
IMG_2974

The gap between my leg and foot exists because the crossing point of my lower legs acts as a fulcrum. Moving that point lower just causes the knee to sit higher.  This is what makes the position less comfortable, because the weight is concentrated on a smaller area, which is just about where the top of my boot would be if I were wearing full size boots.

The point of aim in the wider, more comfortable position based on my normal, non-shooting cross leg position is slightly higher than horizontal:

IMG_2979

The newer, less comfortable position puts my point of aim horizontal:

IMG_2980

The angle of position to muzzle direction looks like this:

IMG_2983

I had to play with where I planted my arms. I had started out putting the flat of my support arm directly over the largest part of the knee. That left my right arm still floating somewhat. What I ended up doing was moving the flat of the arm to what I have called the flat of the leg, which is just below the knee and to the inside.

The next thing I noticed was that once I got in position and felt relaxed there was a significant wobble that would not go away. At first I thought I was not in my natural point of aim, but checking it did not cure the wobble. I checked my crossed ankle sitting and noticed that I could see it there as well. Everything felt “settled” but the wobble was still there. I induced it (increased it) on purpose, which is often helpful to see what’s going on, and noticed that my sling was just a bit too loose. I tightened it up by about a half inch. That cut the wobble down, but did not completely eliminate it.

My goal is to do some real comparisons this month between cross leg and cross ankle using several criteria that I can measure. I’ll explain more later. Thanks for reading.