Drawing Useful Conclusions from Recent Practice

In the past 2 weeks I have gone shooting 3 times. I did the Winded Redneck Challenge, one day of an Appleseed, and shot 5 10 round groups (and a cold bore) from a few different positions. If there was a common thread, it’s that my positional shooting under time stress was not as precise I want it to be. That’s not the important thing to take away. What is important is finding a way to effectively address the issues at hand.

My initial knee jerk reaction was that I need to dry fire more in positions. That’s not a good enough plan. My standard dry fire regimen includes a lot of positional work. I’m only just recently back to actually doing that, but I know what it will accomplish. Even at my best up to this point, which is a bit better than I am now, it would not be up to the standard I expect from myself.

The reason my standard dry fire plan would be insufficient is the lack of specificity. Normally I just take a few minutes and work on holding still and pressing the trigger. Basically I work the fundamentals.

To form a specific plan, I need to address a specific problem. The common theme I have seen lately is that in the small time I have allotted to do my shooting, I’m too rushed to get even close enough to my natural point of aim to shoot well. Even if my target is moving, being close to my NPA should reduce the erratic movement I see in my sights.

When I was in the mid-level supported position in the “Time Stress Rapid” mode, and I saw the sight move from being centered for several seconds, to 3” left, precisely as I pressed the trigger, that told me what I needed to know. Sometimes at the moment just prior to the shot breaking, things relax and settle to the natural point of aim. At least that is part of the theory of natural point of aim for sub-groups within a single shot group, and it seems to me that it is the case. I also remember having just heard my 20 second timer going off and thinking, “I’m getting behind my time”. Normally what I would have done would be to take 15 or 20 more seconds to adjust. The issue I’m training to address is, what if you don’t have any more time?

I know when I practice certain positions a lot I get a better feel for my natural point of aim index.  When I am “in shooting shape” I can usually plop down and get pretty close to lining it up without a lot of effort. What is the most time effective way to get that skill back?

One skill that I practiced ad nauseum a while back, and can still count on to work, is indexing my pistol draw fairly quickly. I think that practicing positions in the same manner as practicing draws would effect a similar result. So instead of plopping down into position and taking the time to adjust, I should get up and do it again, adjusting based on my results from the previous attempt. Just like practicing draws (and snapshooting), I’ll work for smoothness and correct movement first, then start timing my progress. I hope my knees can take it.

Establishing My Baseline

Part of getting where I want to be is knowing where I’m starting from. I didn’t do much shooting during the summer. Time makes the memories more impressive. A hypothetical 7 inch, 5 shot, 300 yard group, with one flier and the others clustered into 4 inches, will in time be remembered as a 3″ group unless it’s recorded and revisited periodically. In other words, the longer the hiatus the greater I was, which of course gets carried into the present.

Over the years my outlook on shooting performance has gotten more realistic. That comes from learning to disregard 90% of the claims I hear. When truth is what you want, you learn that humans must be geared, well, to put it nicely, exaggerate. I used to expect great things of myself and get disappointed. Now I wait and see what I can actually do, skip the disappointment, and see what I can do to get better.

As part of my search for a measure of realistic performance, I decided to put some requirements on how I shoot groups. What I used to do was to take the 10 best shots I could in as much time as I needed. I never went to the extreme of putting the rifle down for each shot, or cleaned in between shots or anything like that, but there was no sense of urgency.

The methodology has to be defined in terms of the goal, so let me restate the goal.

Develop the ability to hit an uncooperative moving target, no greater than 4” in diameter, inside of 200 yards at known or unknown distance, on demand, regardless of terrain, conditions, stress, tiredness, fatigue, or time constraints.

Goal deadline: 5/1/14

Apparently taking my time is not an option anymore. I should be thinking about worst case scenario performances. However, I’m looking to establish a baseline, and worst case scenario is not a baseline. What I decided to do was to come up with well defined ways to work in some of the qualifiers in the goal statement. Here is what I came up with:

Chart

This was a draft that I never even saved to the computer, but I decided to use it for my last range trip (it went like this: “I am going to the range and don’t know what to do.  Uh, here is a chart.  I’ll do that”). My idea was to pick a few boxes at random and fill them with group sizes in MOA. I’m back with 10 shot groups, and I want to limit myself to 40-60 rounds per session. Each session includes a recorded cold bore, a 10 shot follow up group, and a 10 shot group at the end to re-verify that the system is still “on”. I could probably use 5 shot groups for purposes of verification, but I got paranoid that I was letting myself slack with the 5 round groups earlier in the year.

The agenda for this day turned out to be two from the “Time Stress Rapid” column- rice paddy prone and mid-level support, and one from the “Time Stress Exerted” column, bipod prone. For the mid level support, I used a shooting bench at the range that is 33” tall. It was too tall for me to use reverse kneeling, so I went double kneeling, leaned into the support, and rested the rifle on a soft bag that slips over the bipod legs.

I’ll skip the details of my cold bore. The 10 shot group was not great, 1.86” or 1.78 MOA. It turns out to be pretty consistent. The rifle is starting to go downhill a bit, but at least it’s consistent. As I said before, a previous 10 shot group with the bipod was 0.8 MOA, not even trying. What I saw with this group was the first three shots into one ragged hole, just below the bullseye, then holes began to appear to the left, about an inch away. After that it just got worse, as groups are wont to do when you keep putting bullets through them.

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11-6-13 10 Rounds Slow Fire

As a reference, this is what the rifle’s 10 shot group looked like in 2011:

 

Best 10 Shot Gropu

The next group was the first of my diagnostic groups. I used the mid level support in the “Time Stress Rapid” configuration. As you can see from the chart, time stress rapid gives me 20 seconds to load loose rounds into the rifle, and another 60 seconds to fire 10 rounds. I used a repeating countdown timer set at 20 seconds as a reference for how I was doing time-wise. This rifle has a hinged floorplate and holds 4 rounds.

The mid-level support was from double kneeling.  The support was 33″, too tall for me to use my firing side knee to support my firing side elbow, which I think is generally preferable.  In the photos below I re-created the technique I used, with the exception that the support is 34″.  The surface was smooth, so neither a bipod nor bag would have held it’s spot very well, so I used my hand to brace myself against the support.  In dry fire, taking my time, this works very well.  I aim at an insulator on a power pole at 240 and see a “hit” every time.

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To handle the recoil most effectively, the shoulders are square (not bladed) the hips are in front of the knees and the shoulders in front of the hips.  The support hand supports the forward lean and also grasps the sling to keep the rifle from sliding forward on the support. 

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Using the bipod would require a different body position due to height.  It would also depend on the uniformity of the surface.  The bag is kind of a nicety.  I could have also used my fist to grasp the sling/swivel/stud interface, a la the Hawkins position, but it would have unsquared my shoulders slightly.  The bag would also work in the event I couldn’t use my bipod and was using my support hand for something else.

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The bag’s strap slides over the bipod legs and are trapped shut underneath them.

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When the bipod is open, the width of the legs traps the strap in.

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The can is there for scale.  The bag is there to sell you one.  Your probably scoffing at all that added weight on the rifle.

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2.28…

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…ounces!!! 

I found out a lot of things with this group. I learned that it’s difficult to get the first shot off within 20 seconds. It seems to actually take 23-25 seconds. Even then, the time stress is sure on me, so I’m counting the shots. Something else that I found out was that I can get off the four rounds in about 20 seconds. If you do the math that means the time is not very generous.

Because of that time crunch, I see things happen in my scope that I’m not used to seeing, and the groups are also larger than I remember shooting before. The first shot started out with a centered sight picture, and banked hard left as I pressed the trigger. While I know some group degradation is to be expected because of the increased difficulty of compressed time, if feels like I have taken a step backwards. That is a good thing, because my subconscious will want to maintain the status quo and will cause me to bump up my performance.

The group stats are pictured below.  Adding to that is for a 4″ target at 100 yards (half of my goal distance), my hit ratio was 70%.  The zero offset is inline with what I saw for the prone shooting, requiring 0.1 up and 0.1 to in this case 0.2 right.

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11-6-13 Mid-Level Support TSR

Rice paddy prone, the next position I tested, has been a puzzle for me. It’s great in dry fire, as in spectacularly good. In live fire it tends to be erratic, and not just a little bit.  Also, regardless of my ability to shoot groups at any given time, this seems to be a position in which I can “hit stuff’, even difficult shots when I have something to shoot at, not that you would know that by looking at the following target.  The hit ratio on a 4” target at 100 yards was 40%.

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11-6-13 Rice Paddy Prone TSR

The next lucky winner was the bipod prone row in the Time Stress Exerted column. That’s a minute of jumping jacks, 20 good pushups, then loading my rifle and firing a shot within 20 seconds (or just a hair more on this day), then firing the full 10 shot group in under a minute. The hit ratio on a 4″ stationary target at 100 yards was 100%, although the low shot was close.  I disposed of the original target, but I believe it was completely inside a 4″ circle.

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11-6-13 Bipod Prone TSE

Finally it was time to re-verify while taking my time.

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11-6-13 Bipod Prone Slow Fire Recheck

It was quite similar to my first 10 shot group of the day, but better. The shapes were even similar. The groups were centered in almost exactly the same spot, indicating the need for a zero adjustment. I overlayed both of them onto one fresh target and plotted the hits from each to create a 20 round composite group. Here it is:

11-6-13 Bipod Prone 20 round group composite cropped

It was about 7% larger than the larger of the 2 10 round groups.

I have drawn some conclusions from these groups that I will address in the next article.

Tip of the Day

On the rear of the Harris bipod there is a provision for attaching a sling swivel (if you mounted your bipod backwards it would be on the front- a good time to turn it around would be now). Although it’s there, and being there it seems like it must be an acceptable location to mount a sling, there are a couple significant disadvantages to using it.

The first big disadvantage occurs when using the sling to carry the rifle muzzle up. The best place to carry a rifle is in the hands, but sometimes we end up using the sling. Normally in “American carry” (muzzle up on strong side) the weight of the rifle is distributed over the length of the sling that is on the shoulder. When the Harris bipod is used as a sling stud, a large part of that weight is borne by a small piece of aluminum pressing into your shoulder.

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When mounted conventionally on a swivel stud, the sling carries the weight.  The bipod does contact the body, but it’s incidental and not supporting the weight.  In fact, I had never realized before that it touches.

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When the sling is mounted on the Harris stud, the bipod becomes a major point of contact that bears a significant portion of the rifle’s weight.  After a few minutes or more, that will hurt.

 The second disadvantage occurs when you need to use your sling as a shooting aid. A normal forward mounting point, which is typically a swivel stud mounted in the stock or a flush cup, keeps the sling mounted close to the stock. This sling-to-stock junction can be used as a handstop, which makes for consistency (good consistency makes for greater opportunities for precision and accuracy).

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The sling/swivel/stud handstop.

The Harris bipod, being shaped like a brick, does not make for a comfortable handstop.

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Just being in position leaves a dent.  Firing the rifle would leave a bruise and build a flinch.

Other than being useful as a handstop, the sling being closer to the stock also allows the sling to trap the support hand under it when slung up. As I point out here, this allows the support hand to relax instead of having to grip the forend, it increases the perception of stability, and it affects the leverage of the sling favorably. This is only true when wrapping the support hand, which I recommend (click the ling, read, try both ways and see for yourself).

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The hand wrapped and trapped.  No gripping pressure is necessary due to the sling gripping for you.

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Rather than the hand being wrapped, a small amount of sideways pressure is put onto the arm.

Many modern rifles come with two front swivel studs. I suggest making use of the rear of the two studs for mounting your sling (duh). Two of my rifles have accessory rails, one an Anschutz and one a Freeland. This affords me a good opportunity to mount a swivel stud behind the bipod. If you rifle is not conveniently equipped with a mounting spot for a sling and a bipod, and you are inclined to use a bipod, I suggest installing an extra mounting point. Don’t give in to substandard mounting options just because they’re there.

Letting Go of the Formula

One of my boys turned 10 so I took him to an Appleseed on his birthday. I had already shown him basic positions, he has shot with a sling, and I feel comfortable turning him loose with a BB gun, but that’s about it. I figured that he needed some intensive shooting practice, as well as some other people to reinforce what I had been telling him about shooting a rifle. I also shot a bit as well.

His rifle was a 10/22 with the stock cut to an appropriate length of pull for a short person. It has the standard Ruger 8 lb trigger with 3 or 4 stages for safety. I replaced the excellent factory “buckhorn” sights (sacasm? Yes) with tech sights, which is an aperture rear with a front sight post at a matching height.

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It was difficult to bring myself to cut this fine piece of wood, but I used a precision tool befitting of wood this fancy, a skillsaw.

What’s nice about him, even at that age, is that I could just tell him what to do and be reasonably confident that he would do it and be safe. Over the course of the day he went from shooting patterns to shooting a few groups that looked like groups. Not bad. He could use a better trigger and a stock pad to make the cheekweld consistent.

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The sling was part of the birthday gifts.

As for my shooting, my Appleseed experience was significantly more challenging than I have come to expect from that venue. I shot a lot of decent groups on the sighter square targets with no time limits. Toward the end of the day we shot one full AQT, and my score was 199. I think this is the first time I have not shot over a 210 on an AQT, well, maybe ever. What went wrong?

It’s not so much that something went wrong. I have something of a formula for the AQT. My best score was 246 in November of 2012. I’ve used a bolt action on these since May of 2009 and typically have no problem making the time limits, as most of my bolt guns have detachable magazines. I use cross ankle sitting as my standard Appleseed sitting position, which has always worked well for me- almost as well as prone.

Lately I have been determined to leave my comfort zone. I decided to use kneeling and rice paddy prone instead of my standard cross ankle sitting. This change could have probably resulted in 5-10 dropped points on its own.

Another wrench in the works is that my “standard” rifle is at the gunsmith’s. I’m using a Remington 700 with a hinged floorplate. It’s not a liability for any kind of realistic shooting one might use if for, but a 4+1 capacity with no quick way to top if off completely isn’t exactly a dream come true for Appleseed. I have used this rifle to score a 213 on a full distance AQT in the past, but on that occasion I had persuaded the shoot boss to allow me to start the rapid fire stages with rounds in the mag and bolt back. Even then I was rushed, resulting in what is a low score for me. 

On this occasion I decided not to ask to put round in the mag prior to the “Fire” command, as it would be better to challenge myself and single load all the rounds, starting with an empty rifle. I already know how to run my bolt, so it would be a cop out to just stay in my comfort zone because it makes me feel good. It’s pretty hard to get 10 quality shots fired in 55 seconds single loading all of them.

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I tried something else that was not as easy as I would normally treat myself. My rifles are zeroed at 100 yards. These AQTs were shot at 25 meters. The sight correction was 0.8 mils. Last time when I was obsessed with a high score, I tried holding over for one shot group, then decided to dial after my group was clearly not as good as the “control” group in which I dialed the correction. This time I held over for the entire day. I got real familiar with the space between 0.5 and 1.0 mils. This cost me some good hits in stage 2 of the AQT as my hold was botched in my rush.

Why hold instead of dial? I don’t see touching my elevation knobs with a target that close. Distance usually equals time, and 25 meters is not a lot of distance, which means the luxury of sufficient time to dial probably won’t be an option. On a realistic size target, a hold probably wouldn’t be necessary at that distance either (the offset is just under an inch at this distance with my rifle), but since I was shooting reduced size targets, and it would matter as far as score was concerned, I needed to do what I could to get good hits.

Not keeping up on my shooting during the summer cost me some in terms of both shooting skill and how well I’m adapted to the physical positions. I’ve been having some rotator cuff issues that just seemed to be getting better. Getting the elbow under the rifle in positional shooting puts a mighty stretch on that part of the shoulder. At first I thought I was messing up my healing process, but I recalled that as I was learning these positions I had the same stretching sensation.

Because normally I’m so conservative with using only the tried and true methods that have always worked for me at Appleseed, and this time I was taking more risks to leave my comfort zone, I felt like my shooting was on the edge a lot of the time. It was like grabbing a nicely tailored coat that you expect to be perfectly comfortable and finding out that it fits a little weird. Then with a little movement the seams start to feel like they might give. It felt like the seams of my shooting technique were definitely under strain, that I was constantly outside what was comfortable and just slightly beyond my capabilities given the requirements of the stages. There was only once, I think during rapid prone, when I really started pushing the tempo and it felt like the whole thing was starting to click in terms of knowing my hold over and breaking the shot at just the right time and place.

I had a few technical difficulties that had nothing to do with the particular rifle or being rusty. I was wearing a hoodie and the drawstrings got caught in the bolt as I was closing it a couple times. Probably better to remove them. The sling was from another rifle and I had to let out some adjustment. The problem was I had cut it at the right length for the other rifle and there wasn’t enough length left to keep it secured, so it came loose once. As it was, it was too tight in prone, which made bolt manipulation and single loading a challenge in that position.

I did improve a bit over the course of the day. At first I had a point of impact shift from my normal zero due to a parallax issue from the unsupported position shifting my eye a bit. I started really paying attention to my scope image and my shots started to center up.

I also noticed something pretty early on in the day that I don’t remember seeing a lot of lately. I saw my sights through recoil. I didn’t see the bullet hole appear or anything, because recoil affects unsupported positions too much, but I could definitely see the scope movement during recoil and a clear image of my reticle. That was nice.

One of the reasons it’s hard to take risks at an event like this is because a high score equates to bragging rights. It was kind of nice to have a rifle with such a disadvantageous capacity because I already had an excuse for a substandard score. Why not just let it all hang out? For the final Redcoat target I did something I hadn’t done before. I shot it from sitting. I did use my tried and true crossed ankle sitting position and cleaned it. It actually looked better than my initial redcoat target that I shot in prone.  I began both of the redcoats with the rectangle and worked my way up the target.  On my first one (on the left) I had some help from a 10 year old rimfire shooter.

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I would have liked to have substituted sitting for prone all day long, but I didn’t want to be doing something completely out of synch with the course of instruction. It seems like it would have been rude, especially considering how much work the all-volunteer instructor corps puts into the program. There were 2 guys running the entire shoot, which is a lot of work.

I had a good day shooting with my boy, even if I didn’t get to show off really high scores.

Book Review- Snipercraft: Laying the Groundwork for a Career as a Sniper, by John C. Simpson

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Softcover
5.5”x8.5”
112 Pages

Chapters:

1.) Marksmanship Fundamentals
2.) Positions
3.) The Minute of Angle
4.) Reading Your Scope Knobs
5.) Live-Fire Practice
Appendix 1: Rifle Maintenance
Appendix 2: Ballistics

First of all, you may be wondering who John Simpson is, and how I ended up buying his book. During my time off from the blog I spent more time than usual reading and researching about shooting and rifle work in general. One of the tangents I explored was sniping. There’s no shortage of books on sniping, but most of it turns out to be regurgitated military manuals or made up fluff. When you get down to the meat of the subject, the people who have been in the community working and training, a name that comes up repeatedly is John Simpson.

John started out his career as a sniper in the Army, and taught his first military sniper school course in 1985. He taught his first law enforcement sniper class in 1986. He continues to teach snipers and to write about sniping and marksmanship. My impression is that a good deal of the current doctrine employed by snipers is in some measure related to John’s efforts.

I had the pleasure of meeting John during a trip recently and can tell you that I don’t recall ever having met anyone with a more encyclopedic knowledge of rifle shooting, especially when it comes to the history of it. One of his sayings, to paraphrase, is if you want to learn a new idea read an old book. He was also the author of a phrase I ended up borrowing for my goal statement, the phrase being “non-cooperative targets” (things that exercise their own will to avoid cooperating in your efforts to shoot them). The nice thing about talking to John is that the most minor question will trigger an avalanche of knowledge. I’m not much of a talker so I appreciate people who can easily carry on an interesting conversation with just the right kind of prodding. If you ever have the opportunity to talk to John, my advice is to have a notebook handy.

John’s other obvious niche is that of a walking BS detector. I don’t think he necessarily has to try to do this, but from what I can tell he’s the type of person who listens and reads with some kind of filter that gets triggered, and he seems to feel compelled to bring questionable assertions or claims out under the light of reason, and will mercilessly destroy (figuratively, I think) those that don’t pass the BS test. He has another book, Sniper’s Notebook, that is a little hard to get your hands on, but is in large part an effort to challenge a lot of the junk science that gets thrown around as shooting gospel. I was able to procure a copy of that book, and it reinforced some things for me so much as to spur me to the direction I am on now. That book was pretty huge for me.

The current item of examination is John’s latest book, Snipercraft. The book came about due to the wide range of marksmanship experience levels of police snipers showing up to John’s classes for their initial sniper training. Some of them show up with newly issued rifles and not much of a clue how to use the things. Snipercraft was written to bring these folks up to speed so they can spend their training time learning to actually do the work they need to do instead of getting stuck on prerequisite type knowledge.

Why another marksmanship book when others, such as Pete’s excellent Shooter’s Guide to Rifle Marksmanship are already available? The difference between the books begins with the purpose behind them. While Pete is an experienced hunter and competitor, John’s experience is in sniping. The form of the books follows their intended function. A lot of the material is the same, as shooting positions tend to be pretty much standardized at this point.

The differences in John’s book are in the details, and are purpose driven. The act of pressing the trigger is described differently than most other books on marksmanship, and the reason behind that difference is explained. As a side note, John is probably the most well-informed living person on a practice called flash recognition (you could think of it as high speed seeing). He knows a lot about how vision works, the point here being that he explains why it’s a bad idea to close one’s eyes when checking natural point of aim, and how to do it instead.

The scope of the book is well-defined. This is not a rifle shooting bible type book along the lines of Jack O’Connor or Townsend Whelen. The intent is to get someone ready for sniper school, and that is what it does rather efficiently. Instead of long, flowery descriptions of minor points on technique (like I might write), the descriptions are simple and to the point, using bullet points when appropriate. The technical information in the book is precisely and accurately described. He’s been teaching long enough to know exactly what a person needs to know before advanced training begins.

If you would like a look into the nuts and bolts of marksmanship as it’s taught to snipers, I suggest you get a copy. It’s only available through Paladin Press. After shipping it cost me about $20.

Cut by a Razor

If you look back at the last year of the blog, it stands out from the previous writing and shooting. I really got stuck on something that’s not very practical. I developed an obsession with my grouping, which seemed to be getting worse and worse (both the groups and the obsession). Most every shot was fired from prone with a bipod using a rear bag. I could have chosen to pursue something more practical when my efforts to shoot one hole groups didn’t pan out, but I didn’t. I just kept chasing something that never seemed to get any closer.

I see other people’s tight groups all the time on the internet. I’m a decent shooter. I’ve even shot a few of the sub-half minute groups myself. It really bugged me that for some reason I couldn’t do it with my rifle.

I was also thinking of shooting tight groups as sort of a prerequisite for doing other stuff that was more interesting. How am I going to get feedback on my wind reading if I can’t ensure that the bullet is even going to go where I tell it to? How am I going to hit a 2 MOA target at 600 yards in a complex wind pattern if I can’t shoot a 2 MOA group at 100 yards in a predictable wind pattern? It’s a very sequential development of skill, and it became somewhat of an obsession to “fix” whatever was keeping me from shooting well.

One quirk about me is that I tend to blame myself first whenever there is a problem. I’ve seen a lot of shooters that couldn’t shoot, and when confronted with evidence to that effect, would immediately resort to messing with equipment. This scenario is what led me to come up with what I called “Rifleslinger’s Razor”, which says, “Do not blame equipment for deficiencies in performance that could otherwise be explained by faulty technique.” I certainly did not want to become that shooter, so the overriding tendency is to blame myself instead of my equipment.

Another one of my quirks is that I have always thought it’s possible to make due with lesser equipment if the skill level is worked hard enough to overcome the deficiency. It’s really cool to show up with an average piece of equipment and by virtue of skill overcome those with better equipment and lesser skill. Then after the fact it always strokes the ego to talk about those fools with the high dollar equipment that don’t know how to use it (despite the obvious fact that talking trash is never a way to improve one’s own game). That didn’t always happen, but it’s easy enough to pick out the things you want to remember and disregard the things you don’t.

Being more accurate as a shooter than your rifle is capable of is a very frustrating thing. The bad part is, I was convinced that I was getting worse.  Way back in 2011, when I was just getting started as a blogger, I went through my prone results and proved that I was more accurate than my Sako 75.  I was still shooting 10 shot groups for the blog back then, and I was able to beat the Sako’s 1.6 MOA bipod and rear bag group by using a shooting sling in unsupported prone with the Remington and shooting a 1.3 MOA group. A third group using the Remington with a bipod and bag was a modestly accurate 0.8 MOA ten shot group. All of these groups were fired in less than a minute. Knowing that the Sako was obviously not as intrinsically accurate as I was did not help my confidence in that system, but at least I was able to figure out that it wasn’t me.


A 10 shot bipod group with my old blog rifle, a Sako 75 30-06.  Approximately 1.6 MOA.  The pace was approximately 10 seconds per round.  I knew that I was more accurate than this rifle was capable of shooting.


A 10 shot group using the accurized Remington 700, shot from unsupported prone using a sling.  1.3 MOA.  Quite a bit better than the above bipod group from the Sako, and shaped like a normally distributed group.

 


The use of a bipod for support with the Remington shrinks the group even further.  It’s about half the size of the equivalent group from the Sako, fired on the same day by the same person (me).

I had learned a lot in the year and a half that passed from the time I shot those groups. I don’t know why I thought I had gotten so much worse.  I think it was just the gradual changes slowly over time and I got used to seeing what I was seeing.  Sometimes I would see the FN print 2 or 3 shots right on top of each other, then it would throw something completely wild.  How could it be something fundamental, like a bad barrel, if it would put 2 or 3 right on top of each other?

Here’s how I got to that point from the beginning.  Here’s the very first group I shot with the FN:

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I wrote off the “flier” as some sort of component seating phenomenon- 1st Stage of denial.

Here is a good representation of what kind of groups I got shooting from bipod prone over the next 9 months or so with the rifle.  The captions aren’t intended to be sane, but are meant to convey what I might have been thinking at the time:

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OK.  Not great, but I can live with that.

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What did I do?

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12 shots at 100, returning to zero three times from waaayyy out there.  That’s actually pretty respectable.

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Same thing, same day, on a different spot on the target.  Wouldn’t have been too bad except for that one.  I shot a lot of rounds that day.  It could have been me.

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Must have been me, huh?

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“Sure, it’s a little big, but that’s 10 shots and I’m sure the fliers must have been me.”  Maybe it just seemed big after I’d been shooting 5 shot groups for a while.  Compare it to the 10 shots from the Sako 75 that I thought were horrible just a year or so earlier.

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10 rounds FGMM, 158 yards.  “Was it the wind or something?”  Actually 158 is a lot farther than just 100…” (uh, not really).

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A mental disorder has now firmly set in, and the beginning of a failed series of experiments intended to figure out just what I was doing wrong!!!

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Someone else on the trigger.  I guess it wasn’t a trigger control issue.

1
Wow!  That was great, except for that one that I messed up.

2- 1point24 inches
Wow!  That was great except for those 2 that I messed up.

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I don’t know how I might have rationalized this.  But looking back on shooting at the Sportsman’s challenge and some of the “tricky wind conditions” makes me wonder about how tricky that wind really was.

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Taking a fresh position for every shot.  I guess it wasn’t caused by some recoil induced position degradation.

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Wow!  She loves me!

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She loves me not.  It went like this, the four shots on the left were four shots of an intended 5 shot group.  One of the shots on the right was the 5th.  I decided to shoot that stray bullet hole and basically did.  That will pretty much throw you for a loop.

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She loves me!

4-16-13 168 TAP 0point97
Maybe I could live with this…

4-17-13 1point12
I think I’ve cured it.  Sub moa from 126 yards!!!

4-17-13 1point69
Oh CRAP!!!

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Deja vu all over again, with a new stock this time.

The last experiment I tried was ball and dummy.  Every time I shot for the next couple months, it included ball and dummy.  Guess what.  I did not see anything that would lead me to believe I could be causing any of the extreme deviation in the above photos.  Just about every time I clicked on a dummy in the chamber it was rock solid.  This finally got me to admit that it might not be me.  Sometimes it’s alright to admit that your equipment is not up to snuff. I think one of the main reasons I didn’t want to admit it is that I had been dreading the cost of fixing it.  In the end it’s just what needs to be done.

I called up the gunsmith that did the work on the Remington that I used to shoot two of the groups at the top of the article.  I was asking about getting the rifle bedded, trued, and some trigger work done.  I thought this would help if the barrel was maybe still alright.  He said sure.  Then he started describing what a barrel will look like when it goes bad.  He said something like this, “You might see 3 or 4 shots grouping real nicely, then you’ll shoot another, and it will be way off.  You start wondering if you’re doing something wrong.”  I wondered to myself if he’d been standing over my shoulder the entire time.

I took the rifle in and he slugged the muzzle end.  The bore was not concentric and the smallest part was 0.309.  Too bad I couldn’t afford a new barrel.  I hope to provide more uplifting information when the rifle gets back to me.

 

Natural Ability, Hard Work, Frustration, and Genius

The assignment was to come up with a 7 word description of myself and I completed it in the title. Thanks for reading.

Actually, while I was traveling on a road trip recently I tuned into a radio show about people that won something called the “Genius Award”. The show also had someone that studied people that were considered exceptional in their respective fields, which was fascinating. The gist of what they concluded was that being a prodigy does not necessarily mean that the person will rise to the top of his field.

What they determined was that for a person to become exceptional in a given field, he has to be willing to almost constantly go beyond the limits of his comfort zone. Leaving the comfort zone means that he will often fail, and will not feel within himself or seem to others that he is adept at what he is doing. That would be frustrating and constantly humbling. This means that how a person deals with failure is one of the key determinants of whether he will develop exceptional ability. Something else that was generally necessary was daily practice, usually for hours.

This researcher suggested that parents not tell their kids that they are smart. She said that if a child thinks he is of above average skills or intelligence, they will expect not to fail. This child, rather than taking a risk in trying something new, will be more likely to avoid failure, and therefore would not be a person of initiative. Whether or not this is how it actually plays out, I thought it was very interesting.

As an alternative, she suggested that when the child fails or hits a dead end, the parent say something to the effect of, “How interesting. What are you going to do with that?” The idea is to develop curiosity and problem solving.

What I was pleased about was that leaving the range I’m often disappointed in how well I do, but that I keep going back. That means I’m probably working outside my comfort zone, but can deal with that well enough to persist. Where I’m really lacking is in sufficient practice and work to move my level of competency significantly for the better. That would be a pretty important thing to change, if change for the better is a priority.

There have been times when I was concerned that I was putting too much work and not enough fun into my rifle shooting. Upon reflection, I think that “fun”, being transitory, is less important that happiness or satisfaction in one’s life. Knowing that I worked hard and did my best, even outside my comfort zone would make me happy.

The (Accelerated) Redneck (Physical) Challenge

After my brief furlough and getting to see some folks shoot a deceptively simple course of fire I really wanted to see how I would do at the same thing. Here it is for those who haven’t read my last article:

4 minutes to fire five rounds at a distance of 100 yards from each of the following positions: sitting, kneeling, squatting, and standing. The target for each position was approximately 8” (if memory serves), with each position having a separate target. The rub was that each competitor had to do 20 pushups prior to each position (total of 80 pushups), and that the rifle and magazines had to be empty prior to each position.

I didn’t have the cool targets from the competition, which consisted of a life size photo of two humans with scoring areas on the chest and head (ahhhhh!!!!!!!!!). As the scoring areas were approximately 8”, I was going to use paper plates. When I was looking through what kind of targets I happened to have on hand, I noticed the Redneck Challenge targets, which is meant to be a 4 MOA target at 100 yards, so it’s a scoring circle approximately 4.2” in diameter. Being a glutton for difficult rifle shooting, I thought they would be perfect for putting myself through the same course of fire with a scoring area half as big. It also fits in better with my goal of being able to hit a 4” target on demand.

Incidentally, the standard Redneck Challenge consists of 4 positions, 5 rounds per position in a limited amount of time. It’s actually a ton of time, 10 minutes, which will push someone who doesn’t know what they don’t know. So what I shot on this day was like the Redneck Challenge, with the prone “gimme” position omitted, substituted with rice paddy prone, in 40% of the allotted time, with 80 pushups added and no rounds loaded prior to starting. I decided to single load, instead of taking time loading them into the magazine each time.

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I need to clean up my form a bit.

Adding physical and time stress always makes what is normally easy into something less predictable. I might be a 2 MOA shooting in sitting at this point if I got my NPA and had a few seconds per shot. As it was only 2 of my shots from the seated position were good enough to score. In this position I should be able to easily fire all them inside the circle. Undoubtedly this is an issue of being able (or not being able) to quickly index my position according to my natural point of aim. If I had been using the 8” target all of the shots would have been good. After I shot my first position I only had 2:24 minutes left of my original 4:00. That’s too slow.

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Sitting rapid 10-30-13
The five obvious rounds are from the sitting position.  The round at the top of the target was an errant round from the adjacent target for rice paddy prone.

 

In kneeling I had some technical difficulties that I had not encountered before. The bolt would not go forward. I thought the round was hung up so I dropped the floorplate, which didn’t solve the problem. It turned out to be that my scope’s ocular mounted, non-locking focus had turned, and my scope cap along with it. It was blocking the forward movement of my bolt. That probably cost me 20 seconds or so. I completed the kneeling course of fire in time, then ran out of time during the subsequent pushups. I decided to continue because I just love pushups and shooting is okay too.  Actually; the basis of my decision was that quitting is not acceptable. The score on the kneeling target was 2 hits. If the target would have been the 8” target I would have gotten 2 additional hits. My total score before running out of time would have been 90, which would have been pretty good in comparison to the field of individual scores (halving the official team scores).

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The brass is in the air near my left hand.  It appears that my right hand moved quickly and instinctively to the butt of the rifle for some reason.  Why?  I don’t know, and it doesn’t make sense.  I should have a fresh round in my hand by that time, unless that was the last round of the string.  Cleaning that up will probably save me a minute or so over the entire course of fire.

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I thought this picture was cool. 

Kneeling rapid 10-31-13

Squatting went fine, except I threw one low just of paper. 2 proper hits, and 2 on the “if it were 8”” standard.

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Rice Paddy Prone Rapid 10-31-13

Standing wasn’t bad at all after 80 pushups. I got 3 good hits, and the other 2 would have scored on the 8” target. Actually, I got more hits in standing than in any of the other positions. Weird. My total time was 7:24.

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Offhand Rapid 10-31-13

I would have been a lot quicker if I had my gear squared away. Fishing for rounds every time slowed me down by quite a bit (but not nearly enough to account for 3 minutes). The pushups take 17 seconds for the first 2 sets, then a little longer after. The rest is just speeding up the “meat” of the shooting. Anyway, it’s a baseline.

I notice a shift in point of impact sometimes in positional shooting. My scope is set up as sort of a compromise so that I can use different positions and it works, although it’s not optimized for any particular position. It’s biased a little towards supported positions, since that’s what I would use as a first choice.  What that means is that in some positions, usually unsupported with the sling, I get some shading from improper eye relief.  You can see that the groups weren’t that well centered.  I found out later while doing some more intensive positional work, that I could address this by paying more attention to my scope image.

A good lesson to take away from this is although I didn’t get all my shots off under the allotted 4 minutes, the hits that I did get in time counted toward a score that was on par with the top few shooters at the event I attended. There’s no point in pushing faster than one can hit with some degree of success. I think that it’s true that you can’t miss fast enough to win.

First, for the “what if” scores. For the standard Redneck Challenge I would not have run out of time, but only hits in the black counted. My score would have been 9 (my score shooting the regular Redneck Challenge in July of 2012 was 8.  My best score is 12). For the course of fire with the 8” targets in 4:00, as I already said, my score would have been 90, since the scoring at that shoot was worth 10 points. As it is, as I set up the course, my score is 40, since I ran out of time after 2 targets. As I like to say, at least there’s room for improvement!

A Brief Furlough

I got let out of my cage for a week and got to see some other people shooting. I was not able to participate, but the setting was a competition in which the participants were put under a significant amount of physical exertion, time stress, and artificial constraints designed to make the shooting more difficult. On day 1 rear bags were outlawed. On day 2 bipods were added to the list of contraband.

One course of fire allowed 4 minutes to fire five rounds at a distance of 100 yards from each of the following positions: sitting, kneeling, squatting, and standing. The target for each position was approximately 8” (if memory serves), with each position having a separate target. The rub was that each competitor had to do 20 pushups prior to each position (total of 80 pushups), and that the rifle and magazines had to be empty prior to each position. The competitors’ score was added to that of their partner (I didn’t have a partner so was not eligible for entry) for a total. For a shot to count as a hit it had to be completely within the scoring border. Anything touching the line, even if mostly in, was counted as a miss. I like that scoring system.

I saw some really interesting things. A tiny minority used slings for stability. Most didn’t seem to understand the principles of a solid position without using some kind of rest. One pair of shooters brought rucks to the line to use as supports and one of them went to the extreme of wearing it backwards to rest the rifle on in standing. I also saw a new fangled sitting position of some kind in which the heel of one foot was rested on the ground, the heel of the second foot was rested on the ball of the bottom foot, and the rifle on the ball of the second foot. It’s one of those things that make you go… huh?

To sum up what I saw in that shooting stage, which presented a fairly straightforward shooting problem in the context of moderate time stress, and moderate to high physical stress, many of the shooters did not have adequate exposure to the fundamentals of rifle marksmanship. Many also did not have sufficient practice in gun handling under any but the most favorable conditions. Because of this, they were left to make an attempt to come up with something that would work on the spot. Most, if not all, of these stopgap techniques were less successful than standard marksmanship techniques with 10 minutes of daily dryfire to support them would have been.

What came to my mind was the saying I have heard, that I’ll have to paraphrase, that there aren’t advanced techniques, just the fundamentals understood sufficiently well to be applied in advanced contexts (and under stress). Even in a context in which the shooter is forced into a position that doesn’t remotely resemble what I would call an “orthodox” position, the principles are really the same.

I don’t want to sound disparaging to the other shooters, if not just for my own sake, but it seems like information that should be universally understood to rifle shooters is becoming exceedingly rare. I also don’t want to sound like the Appleseed spokesperson, but all of these people could have benefited from one weekend at an Appleseed.

Personally, I would choose the most stable position I could get, and an orthodox unsupported position using a sling is just about last on my list (right ahead of the same position without a sling), but you can’t take for granted that there will always be a support when you need one. It’s a sad situation that most of these people had slings that they could have used to greatly increase their scores in this particular stage, but very few used them, or were adept (or familiar?) with using a sling for support.

My belief is that in the real world, there is probably an extremely limited context for a refined style of “standard” positional rifle shooting. A commenter on the blog told me quite a while back that it’s likely that the point of diminishing returns on that type of practice comes fairly quickly, and it’s more of something to maintain rather than to refine to the nth degree. That sounds like a reasonable position to me. The key to that is that to maintain it, it must be learned to begin with.

What is not unique to rifle shooting is that most of the time in order to learn a discipline one has to put in some hard work that may not be super exciting. When someone skips the crawling and walking stages in order to get to the running part right off the bat, he leaves huge gaps in his capabilities that are relatively easily exposed when someone other than himself is setting the context. At the range, when we set the agenda and the tempo of our own shooting, it can be too easy never to leave the comfort zone.

It was torture not getting to compete in this event. That kind of shooting is my bread and butter. What I found out later is that I was a little too weak on pushups, and that after 3 sets of 20 I was running out of gas (pathetic, I know). I also picked up a little problem in my shoulder that I need to let heal for a bit. The adrenaline probably would have given me a little extra gas in the tank, but it still would have been a stretch. Still, since sitting, kneeling, and squatting all allow the support elbow to be planted, muscular exhaustion isn’t a big deal, until it comes to offhand.

At the end I didn’t know whether to feel good about knowing what I know and having the skills that I have, or to feel bad for a large percentage of shooters who should have known but did not. It was hard to do either when I was coming from the safe position of an observer. It was a good motivator to really sharpen up my fitness and skill so that next time I can unleash myself.

Beginning (Again) With the End in Mind

When the ideas and topics stop flowing, rather than force myself to write about things I’m not all that interested in, I take a break from the blog. I had really been spinning my rifle-shootin’ wheels, so I decided to take the opportunity to take a step back from the busy-ness of shooting for blogging, to take in some information rather than just putting it out, to decompress a bit, and to consider the main question: Why?

When I started the blog I had at least a vague sense of purpose. During the life of the blog, some life circumstances changed, some personal shooting preferences and interests changed, and I learned some things. Something about the way I was going about my pursuit of excellence in riflery had gone stale, but I didn’t know what to eliminate and what to replace it with.

One of the things I had struggled with was context. It’s easy to make a vague goal of some kind of improvement in an avocation for its own sake, but it’s not very motivating. You might as well just say, “I want to be really good.” Ideally that, and the love of the pursuit itself, should be motivation enough. In reality, for me at least, sometimes it falls short. What seems to bridge the gap is a purpose or calling that brings with it a burden of responsibility. Without going into personal detail, I think my contextual footing is back to being pretty solid.

Context alone does not equate to purpose. If Mozart had been content merely to write music, he didn’t need to put so much into it. What made him different was that he had something tangible to bring out of himself. He had a fire inside to bring the sounds from within to paper, and into the hands of musicians to bring it to life, or at least that’s how I imagine it. How could I be wrong? I’ve seen Amadeus at least half a dozen times.

I put some thought and imagination into forming a vision of what kind of shooter I wanted to become. One thing I have learned is that grandiose visions have a way of being too far out there towards the unattainable. I decided to start with something rather concrete, useful for what I need, very likely within my capabilities, and something that I would be sufficiently motivated to accomplish.

Primary short term goal.

Develop the ability to hit an uncooperative moving target, no greater than 4” in diameter, inside of 200 yards at known or unknown distance, on demand, regardless of terrain, conditions, stress, tiredness, fatigue, or time constraints.

Goal deadline: 5/1/14

I was tempted to add “regardless of shooting position”, but 2 MOA is just not realistic on even a cooperative stationary target from offhand or kneeling at this point. The intent is that if an ideal position is not available, I should be able to find one that will allow me to get the hit I need. If, in the event that terrain or circumstances create a shooting problem that I don’t have the skill to solve, the other side of the coin would be that I am sufficiently aware of my limits to know when not to shoot.

This primary goal sentence may seem like a very modest goal upon cursory reading. 2 minutes of angle should be no big deal these days. 2 minutes on a stationary paper target from supported prone or a bench, calculated from a 3 or 5 shot group really isn’t a big deal with modern equipment. The other qualifiers in the sentence are what make the goal actually quite difficult. Paper is generally a stationary, always stationery :), rather boring and cooperative thing to shoot at. It’s great when a diagnostic tool is needed, but it’s far from uncooperative. That makes it unrealistic, and it may, in the words of someone I respect greatly, give the shooter a belief in abilities he doesn’t have.

Uncooperative” means the target has a will and does not want to be shot. Since the blog was started in the spirit of “field shooting”, whatever field you operate in, I think it’s clear that the rifle is being used to kill a live target. Live things tend to have a will to stay that way. I can’t count on the target standing stationary for the time it takes me to take my Mrs. Butterworth sweet time and make everything perfect. The target dictates the time and terrain.

On demand” means that a “called flier” (or just a clean miss) equates to failure, and that even my worst shot in a 100 shot group should be a hit. “Conditions” may mean rain, snow, darkness, sub-zero temperatures, or sweltering heat. “Stress” may simply mean buck fever, or it may mean a life is on the line. “Tiredness” may mean not having slept in a day or two, or more. “Fatigue” may mean that a great deal of energy was expended just prior to the need to take a shot. “Time constraints” may simply mean a fleeting target, or it could mean that something bad will happen without ballistic intervention.

Along with the marksmanship type goals, I need to clean up my gun handling skills. I had really been dialed in and on the right track about this time last year. What it comes down to is consistently doing what makes sense and is safe over and over again until it’s actually difficult to violate established protocols, like keeping the safety rearward unless loading, unloading, or firing, keeping the scope caps shut unless observing or acquiring a target, keeping the finger off the trigger unless there’s an intention to fire, etc. I’m not horrible right at this moment, but I need to hone the edge a bit (or maybe just use a strop).

My level of fitness is another thing that needs to be ramped up. This year has been a time for getting back on track. I have managed to bring myself back to a level of fitness that is average for me (when I work out regularly) over the last 5 years or so. Now I need to add some extra intensity to provide my body what it needs to bounce back after exertion and perform fine motor skills under stress sufficient to accomplish specific goals.

Other than performance goals, there are other things that I intend to improve upon. A big one is documentation. Up until February or so I had a very accurate round count for my rifle. At this point I could be plus or minus 200 rounds. I had considered the blog to be adequate documentation of my round count, comeups and windage corrections, and level of skill/limitations. I came to find out that sometimes everything I need to know isn’t necessarily there.

I’ve neglected my data book. I would like to say, for example, “I recall being able to shoot a four minute group from kneeling in favorable weather conditions… oh yes, it was actually a 4.3 MOA 10 shot group.” I intend to review my data book templates, and to put them up on the Riflecraft website, along with covers and complete kits.

I still have a great interest in shooting long range, and will pursue that when the opportunity arises. For the time being though, I will have my work cut out for me.

By the way, my rifle is still at the gunsmith’s. In the meantime I’ll be using an accurized Remington 700 (Remmy) that long time readers of the blog may recognize.