The SWFA SS 3-15×42

A Significant Improvement Over Its Predecessor


Yes, I’m a little late to the party. My OODA cycle is running a little slow in the area of new gear coming out. Rifle gear is expensive, and I tend to want to work on software rather than hardware, so I’m not always able to keep up.

If there is anything that is difficult to keep up with, it’s rifle optics. They seem to be advancing so rapidly in the last five to ten years that by the time I have sufficient cash to get something that seems worth of releasing said cash, the piece I buy ends up being obsolete.

I’ve been aware of the 3-15×42 since it came out. I had considered upgrading to it from the time I was aware of it. Among the things that held me back were that it would be a pain to sell my scope and it would cost me more money to buy a new one. I worried that there would be something about the scope that I didn’t like. I was turned off by the reticle.

I recently didn’t jive too well with the SWFA SS1-6×24, so I think my expectations of the 3-15×42 were a little low. I was really holding tight to the idea of the plain jane mildot reticle that is in my SWFA SS 3-9×42. I really like the way all four of the large stadia lines bracket the point of aim at low power when the fine lines get a little thin in low light or in the “brush”. To say it succinctly I was skeptical.

The “Specs”

The 3-15×42 is a front focal plane scope with a mil based reticle and 0.1 mil knobs. The tube is 30mm. The scope was initially unveiled in March of 2013 and they began hitting the streets in late April/early May. The scope is made in a different factory than the 3-9×42, which is evidenced by certain easily recognizable attributes, such as the turret design. The 3-15×42 reflects the design of the original SS scopes, such as the fixed 10x.


The Mil-Quad Reticle reticle was, to the best of my recollection, first introduced by SWFA in 2011 with their 5-20×50. The reticle differs from the standard mildot by the inclusion of half-mil hashes, and more significantly by the use of diamond shaped outlines rather than dots that are completely filled in.


The reticle also differs from the older SWFA mildot by the doubling of the length of the mil scale on the bottom stadia, for a total of 10 mils available holdover rather than five. This is the one thing that I really still don’t care for, but after using it I’m not as against it as I was with the concept.

Other details:

The scope is advertised as having 36 mils total travel. Some users report having a bit more, around 40. That should be enough for most applications. It’s way more than I need before my .308 runs out of practical steam (trans sonic).

The magnification ring has a screw in stud that acts as a “cat-tail” lever, to increase the ease and rapidity of magnification adjustment. From the appearance of the device, I did not think it would be of much use.




One minor grip about my 3-9 that I’ve had is the tunneling, which is the shrinking of the apparent image, usually at the lowest power settings. I really don’t like it, although it’s not very prominent on that scope. I was happy to see that with the 3-15 there is no tunneling whatsoever. I’m not really a glass aficionado, but the glass appears at least as clear as the 3-9, which has been more than sufficient for me in the time I’ve been using it, which is two years so far.

The increase in power is a significant advantage over the 3-9. I see 3-15 as an ideal power range. With my 5-20, while I use 20x on some occasions, with a lot of shooting the mirage really kicks in and affects my sight picture. Also, most of my shooting is not farther than 400-500, so while more power isn’t a bad thing, it usually isn’t necessary. For quickier shots in the 25-50 yard range, and for field of view, I really like no more than 3 power for my .308, so I feel that the scope does exactly what I want it to as far as power.

While the appearance of the cattail did not impress me, I found that it made the power significantly easier to adjust. I do worry about it getting loose under extended periods of heavy use, so a light grade thread locker may be appropriate, although I would want to research that a little more before I applied one.

One of the things that impressed me most about the scope was the side focus knob. Yes, I have seen one before, but what I really liked about it was that it adjusts down to 6 meters. I have become accustomed to dry firing on scaled down targets that appear as fuzzy blobs. Actually having a scope that allows a focused sight picture in dry fire is a very welcome development. I believe that must have come about because someone listed to the feedback of a shooter when designing this scope.

I have already mentioned that the outward appearance of the turrets is markedly different than those on the 3-9. The more significant difference is in the adjustments themselves. One minor gripe I have had with the 3-9 is that the lines don’t match up between the turret and the marks on the saddle. They fixed that with the 3-15 (and probably more recent 3-9 scopes as well).



The adjustments are also much more positive on the 3-15. At first I thought the clicks were a little too audible. As I used it the adjustments didn’t bother me. They were very easy to use. The real enlightenment hit when I remounted the 3-9. The adjustments have always been ‘adequate’, but I felt like the world had turned to mush after becoming accustomed to the 3-15. I didn’t feel nearly as sure of where my knob was when I put the old scope back on.

I did begin a box test. The design was an expanded box in increments of 5 mils, going out to a total of 15 mils in each direction to make a set of squares within a larger square. In retrospect a better way to test the adjustments is by using a calibrated target and fixing the scope so that it can be tested visually without relying on shots hitting paper, as in the Precision Rifle Blog scope testing protocol.

Things were going fine in the box test. I was marveling at that the lines were matching up on this scope. I’m serious, I was really enjoying that. Then, after about 15 rounds into the test, it stopped happening. Right after that it stopped adjusting. The three small allen screws that hold the turret to the mechanism underneath had loosened and allowed the turret to spin freely. Because I live in a time crunch, that really marked the premature end of my box test.

I spoke with ILya, the donor of the test scope, about the way the turret is fastened. The 3-9, which uses one large allen keyed adjustment at the top of the turret, is undoubtedly more secure, but the design does not allow for the same tactile quality of adjustment. I have had the turret slip on the IOR 2.5-10 as well, and I believe it has happened on the Razor as well. The screws are so small that I have always been wary of stripping or damaging them. ILya mentioned that getting it just a bit tighter, and applying some clear nail polish may be enough insurance against the turret slipping.

The reticle was probably the aspect of the scope that I had been most skeptical about. Using it really turned my attitude on it around. I had basically accepted that reticles designed to be in the front focal plane had to be thicker. The problem with front focal plane reticles is that they appear to get smaller as the magnification is dialed down (they actually retain the same dimension in accordance with the image). At low power if the reticle is too thin it is not very usable. That set the mold for front focal plane reticles up until very recently.

What SWFA has pioneered with front focal plane reticles is using different parts of the reticle to do different things. In this case, the crosshair portion of the reticle is thinner than is traditionally used on a front focal plane reticle. They get around it being too thin at low power by using very thick lines on the outside of the reticle that are only visible at the edge of the sight picture at higher magnifications.  The larger parts act as guides to draw the eye in to acquiring the fine crosshair intersection.

I would have preferred to have the thicker lines on all four sides, but they chose to eliminate the bottom line in favor of providing the extra 5 mils of holdover. What you end up with at low power is kind of an inverted German #4 type arrangement. I did not think I could get used to having a sight picture that looks like it’s upside down, but I was able to get used to it fairly quickly. I found that it seems to make the reticle perfectly usable in more dense environments. I did not conduct extensive tests measuring my ability to engage close targets with a timer or anything. It just seemed like it would work fine.

IMG_6686At 3x “in the brush”.  The crosshairs are more visible actually looking through the scope.

The finer crosshair portion, coupled with the extra magnification available, makes the scope much better to use at distance than the 3-9. I also did appreciate the diamonds, in that they are much less obstructive than a dot. Coming into the test I was biased against the diamonds as I thought they were gimmicky, so I think it’s significant that they won me over.


Through the scope at 15x close15x close reticle detail.

Through the scope at 15x
15x through the scope.

At 9x at the same point of aim as the above photo.  There is a lot less detail in this photo. Having the extra magnification available is really an asset for precise aiming in my opinion.


The scope exceeded my expectations. It won me over, despite my significant skepticism. I think that the 3-15 marks an upgrade over the 3-9 in almost every way I was able to observe. There’s more power, no tunneling, the feel and sureness of the adjustments is miles ahead, the reticle is better for precision although it may give up just a little in low light or dense brush to the 3-9 mildot. The method of securing the turret in the 3-9 is stronger, but there seem to be ways of mitigating that with the 3-15.
IMG_7137I made a big ding in the objective of my 3-9.  It has definitely stood up to some abuse.  It isn’t good, but it is easier to decide whether or not to get a sunshade if I can’t thread it on.

I find it surprising that they only charge $100 more for the 3-15 over the 3-9. While I consider the 3-9 to be robust enough for hard use, I don’t have enough time or any abuse to speak of with the 3-15 to know that for sure. The extra magnification really seemed, to my eyes, to offer a significant boost in total performance. For the money, this scope is very hard to beat. Without considering money, the scope is quite good.


Scope Testing…

…(not mine this time)

Got tired of writing about myself for this month of filler ‘fluff’ pieces. Before I get back to meat and potatoes type stuff, I thought I’d talk about someone else for a change. I’ll probably get one more post in this month, in reference to the SWFA SS 3-15×42. Starting in October, I’ll be back to covering actual shooting on the rifle, more in line with the roots of the blog.

I usually don’t talk about other blogs, but I wanted to comment on the Precision Rifle Blog high end tactical scope test. I associate scope testing primarily with ILya, as he represents the gold standard in rifle glass evaluations.  This was a different approach which I think deserves mention.

Having done my own test, which was much smaller in scale in different in scope, I know how much work goes into not only the testing, but transforming numbers from a spreadsheet that hurts the head to look at to something that a casual reader can look at and easily understand. My test was a huge undertaking for me, and I only tested five scopes. I can only imagine the time, organization, and work that went into evaluating 18 scopes.

There were a few things about Cal’s test that really stood out to me. Most shooters use a box test to check the accuracy of their turrets, which means that the rifle and ammo dispersion creates a lower confidence level in the precision of the measurement. Cal used a calibrated target with the scope locked into a solid mount. He mentioned that he didn’t come up with that method, but it shows that he really took some time in figuring out the best way he could to measure what he was trying to get at.

The other things that stood out to me were that he didn’t depend on the manufacturer’s claims with respect to magnification, but found a way to test them each, and therefore could check what the actual zoom ratio was. It turned out that in some cases there were significant discrepancies even in scopes that cost several thousand dollars.

It can be difficult to speak frankly about a scope that a manufacturer was kind enough to send a sample for testing. In the early stages of my own test I found myself wanting to soften any potential negatives as much as I could. I had to make a concerted effort to show no mercy on the things that bothered me even a little bit. I really appreciate that Cal was able speak so frankly in his evaluations as well.

I noticed some discussions of his Cal’s evaluations online that were pretty dismissive. It’s true that sample sizes of one (he had one sample of most of the scopes tested) are unlikely to be as reliable in indicating the stated result as would a larger sample size. It’s pretty easy to be critical from the comfort of a chair. It’s easy to ignore that fact that this is not his job, and that regardless of how reliable the results are, they really are pretty useful and informative, even if only from learning about his methodology of measuring and quantifying the scopes’ characteristics.

Cal said that he put in over 400 hours in the entire process, and that’s easily believable. When I compare what Cal did versus what I might make the mistake of paying for in a magazine like “Recoil”, it’s pretty amazing that there are people out there who put stuff out there for free just because they were curious about something, decided to make a thorough examination of the matter, and had the ability and willingness to share.

I don’t know Cal.  We have no “mutual blog plugging” agreement.  I have no man crush on him.  I just like to recognize good work.

That’s all.  Thanks for reading.

Then and Now: What’s Changed- #9 Working to Keep an Open Mind

When I was very young I had a very open mind and therefore could take information in very readily.  With age, experience, more knowledge, and with the realization that many people are just full of crap, it’s become a necessity to be discriminating in my sources of information.  There have been many times in the last few years that I pulled my perspective back from a situation I was in, receiving information from someone I should be listening to, and saw that I was being outright hard-headed.  That is a very strange experience because I see myself as an open-minded person.

Conversely, something happens as a person gains expertise (I’ll speak in the 3rd person to draw the attention away from myself- just humor me).  It’s a rewarding feeling to have the hard work “pay” off and to have some credibility.  Like many good things, it draws the ego into it slowly over time.  When things are gradual it’s easier to take things too far.  In this case this hypothetical person will move a little too far along the spectrum of confidence in his own knowledge and ability, edging into “know-it-all” territory.

Sometimes there are good reasons to ignore what a person says.  Other times there is not, but habit or ego makes a person hard headed.  It’s a good way to stall learning and get stuck in a swamp of stagnation.

This is another one of those things in life that requires balance.  It’s not worthwhile to listen to every “source” of information, but when the real deal presents itself, it behooves one to perk up the ears and listen carefully.  If balance is good, shooting is good, life is good- everything is good.  If balance is bad, better just pack up and go home.

Then and Now: What’s Changed- #8 The Price of Hard Data

I think it’s amazing that when I started the blog I didn’t really even know what to expect, performance-wise, from my shooting. I really hadn’t taken the time to shoot static groups of sufficient sample size (number of shots in the group) to know how I shot until those first fateful offhand groups in July of 2011 where I showed the world that I wasn’t afraid to put up realistically sized (euphemism for amazing huge) groups. Maybe starting with offhand wasn’t such a great idea either.

My ability to analyze my shooting at that time was extremely primitive. Like everyone else, I was only looking at the two worst shots in my group. I was doing ten shot groups because it seemed like the right thing to do, but I didn’t really understand the relation of sample size to what my capabilities were. That was part of what the blog was really for in the beginning, but there was so much data in the targets that I wasn’t seeing.

In the past year my curiosity in analyzing my shooting has grown. I realized that knowing about how big my worst shots in a 5 or 10 shot group was really wasn’t telling me what I want to know. I want to be able to predict the probability of a hit from a given position at a given distance. That was really the tough part of the goal that I set for myself (and am overdue in evaluating), which was to be able to hit a 4” target inside 200 yards on demand regardless of conditions, terrain, stress, exertion, or if the target doesn’t want me to shoot it. How do I evaluate, from a shot group, if I can make a hit on demand?

The scope testing project I did over the spring and summer also tested my ability to evaluate my own shooting, but forced me to integrate different measures of performance into the total analysis to give me an idea of how easily I was able to do different things with different scopes. I had to figure out ways to pull out and separate accuracy from precision, and how time factored into each of those things as well. Then I had to try to figure out how to present the data so it could it could be understood.

What I’ve learned is that it’s a ton of work to really get a handle on aspects of shooting performance, and I’m not to the point yet where I’m utilizing my data to make predictions about my ability to hit on demand. I’ve also learned that my pageviews plummet when I get into stats.  I mentioned recently how I’ve been learning more lately about statistical analysis of shot groups from resources like John Simpson’s “Sniper’s Notebook” and the Ballistipedia website. I’m hoping that through some collaborative work with Jeff Block, who created the On Target TDS program, some easier ways to get at meaningful and useful data will come to light. I need to point out that I’m not a business partner with Jeff, and having nothing to gain from plugging his program, other than hopefully other people learning more about their shooting.

The point of all this number crunching is to predict with a reasonable degree of confidence, “Can I make this shot? Should I take it? Is it the ethical thing to do? Is it the safe thing to do? What are my chances of actually hitting my target, and what odds am I willing to risk under the circumstances?” The answers need to be known ahead of time, and what it should boil down to is a quick “shoot” or “don’t shoot”. Next month, when the blog goes back to “normal” mode and I start posting actual shooting results, hopefully I’ll be able to do that with my own shooting. Maybe my work can help you figure that out too.

Then and Now: What’s Changed- #7 Beyond Marksmanship

This is one of those topics that people want to misinterpret as me saying that fundamentals aren’t necessary and that I think being a mall ninja is “deadlier”. We all know that if one sheathes themselves in 5.11 tactical gear, no harm can come to them, and their enemies will be dispatched without a conscious attempt being made, so I don’t even need to say that.  Okay, perhaps “beyond” is not the best choice of words, because the fundamentals never cease being important, but the title sounds catchy and I can dance to it.

I recall hearing someone say something to the effect of “if someone wants to shoot at me they’re gonna have trouble getting inside of 400 yards”. This was a person who was an accomplished known distance shooter with the loop sling in the primary orthodox positions, but who maybe hadn’t considered that folks trying to shoot him may not act according to his plan. I also have frequently heard shooters decry the type of training that the Army has gone to and criticizing that they abandoned the more formal marksmanship type stuff.

The common point of those two ideas is that they both assume that marksmanship by itself translates to effectiveness in the field.  It’s easy to fall into that line of thinking after becoming somewhat decent at rifle marksmanship.  I used to say the same things until John Simpson called me out on it (he studies the history of U.S. military marksmanship compulsively).

It turns out that the military didn’t just make up its mind to change for no reason. They actually have a rather large pool of people to study (whooda thunkit?). I hope that my synopsis is not too wildly inaccurate, but here goes. The problem really wasn’t the formal marksmanship, but the formal style marksmanship really didn’t turn out to be a panacea either.

A long time ago, they found out that even after extensive marksmanship training, folks couldn’t hit targets in a non-range, simulated “battlefield” type environment (partially obscured humanoid targets, unknown distance, non-range type terrain, etc.) any better than people with no training in marksmanship. What did help people hit targets was actually practice in related skills, with a big emphasis on range estimation and target detection.

In the old days (I think post WWI), they used to follow up the marksmanship block of instruction with something called “Musketry and Combat Practice Firing”. This is part of what made that generation so effective with their rifles. At some point, some muckety-muck type (or a qual-obsessed marksmanship crank) figured out that all that silly target detection range estimation junk didn’t do anything for qualification scores and eliminated it. Then some other white lab coat types had to figure out why folks couldn’t hit anything anymore under battlefield conditions (I believe that study culminated in the Trainfire program). There’s kind of a cycle in place.  It always seems great to bean counters to save time and money by eliminating something that doesn’t seem important in a field they know next to nothing about.

I do believe in the necessity of marksmanship as a component of effective field work, but I don’t think it, by itself, puts the rubber on the road. Estimating the range within the danger space of the round and correctly compensating for it,  using positions that optimize the advantage of cover, making use of support when it is handy, detecting targets, etc., aren’t tacticool optional operator (I still don’t get that- don’t they just answer phones?) skills. There are simply a number of skills outside the realm of pure marksmanship that are necessary to put a bullet on target. If you consider that real life can occur outside of flat, non-uniform terrain in unpredictable conditions, and that targets can appear at distances other than numbers rounded off by hundreds, then these truths are self-evident.

And don’t forget to wear the proper tactical clothing at all times!!!  You think anybody wants a roundhouse kick to the face while I’m wearing these bad boys (American flag parachute pants)?  Forget about it!

Then and Now: What’s Changed- #6 The Gun Will Be There When I Get Back To It

When I was little I had a book called “The Giving Tree”. It was kind of annoying because the tree really loved this boy, who grew up and ended up chopping it down. The point was that even though the boy had to leave all the time, the tree would still be there for him when he came back, and it would still love him just as much. Maybe if the tree had a gun he wouldn’t have cut it down, but that’s beside the point.

Practice, training, the idea of constant improvement, should all act as constant drivers within us. It’s important to always keep growing and improving in some way. The alternative is unacceptable. This is my basic default attitude.

Life, being full of irony and of the unexpected as it is, makes it difficult to stick to any plan. What could be a life of constant improvement and mammoth expenditures of copper jacketed nuggets of pure love, is instead an actual life, which has far fewer Ferraris and way less silver pistols in shoulder holsters than I would like. But it’s real, and real is good (most of the time).

The times in life when I couldn’t stick to my practice schedule used to really get me down. It was like being in a constant “RED ALERT”. There was this little meter in the back of my head, and it was just sitting idle, because I wasn’t working with my rifle.

That’s happened a few times. What I’ve realized in the last year or two is that even if I can’t do a serious amount of shooting for a couple of months, I do have the ability to work off the rust fairly quickly. I think taking a little break can be productive. The important thing is not to give into the idea of giving up just because things didn’t go according to plan.

Life needs balance. Consider these movie quotes: “When you can hit and move without breakin’ the string you’ll have balance. You’ll be a very dangerous person.”

“First learn balance. Balance good, karate good, everything good. Balance bad, might as well pack up, go home.”

If I can say it in a quote from a blockbuster movie from the 70’s or 80’s, is there any way I could possibly be wrong?  (Just don’t answer.  I’m basking in my own glory here.)


Then and Now: What’s Changed- #5 The Increased Importance of Functionality

My first gun was a 1911. I loved it for many reasons, as 1911s have many great attributes. Some of the reasons I really liked it were that it was made in the U.S., where it should be made, it was a design that was almost 100 years old at that time, and both the design and build quality had an air of quality and class about them. It just made it feel like more of a real gun to me.

The 1911 set a precedent for me in what I liked about my rifles. Carbon steel and wood- good. Plastic and aluminum- BAD!!! (that should read like Phip Hartman playing Frankenstein saying “FIRE BAD”). That’s why when I started the blog the Sako 75 just seemed to be right. My other bolt action rifle experience at that time was with a Remington 700. Let’s just say that there might be some disparity in the fit, finish and feel between the two.

I never really stopped liking the Sako, but about the time that I pillar bedded it I realized that it just wasn’t going to do what I wanted it to do. It was not going to be as precise a rifle as I wanted. It was not going to be as durable as I wanted (I discovered a broken bolt stop pin upon disassembly), and the sight mounting and stock options really limited what I could get in the end.

In the Model 70 I found a rifle that would do everything I wanted for half as much money. It was really the perfect rifle for me at the time. I’ve had it for two years now. It’s had a new barrel and an upgraded stock, but everything else is the same and it just works for me. The metal work may not be as pretty, but I haven’t managed to break anything on it yet.

A few months after I switched rifles, I decided that a Glock would make more sense for me than a 1911 for what I carry. I love the feel of wood and steel, but the Glock works. It’s lighter, which I appreciate in a full size carry gun. I like the increased capacity and the thing just works. I don’t worry about scratching it and I don’t worry about it rusting. I don’t have to fit extractors as a hobby (which I used to love but don’t have the time for anymore), and I don’t have to play the aftermarket parts game, which has no end.

I have also revisited the AR as a rifleman’s rifle and find it to be quite a useful and satisfying gun. The longer, smooth, rounded keymod handguard make the ergonomics fall into place, and a good barrel is really the icing on the cake. In the early days of the blog, if it wasn’t a bolt action it wasn’t a rifle. That’s a little silly.

What all this points to is that the need for function and practicality has largely displaced the appreciation of aesthetics and the emotional baggage that people put into inanimate objects. I believe that is an improvement. Improvement is good.

Thanks for reading.

Then and Now: What Changed- #4 Bogged Down

Yesterday I talked about how finding better ways to measure and analyze my groups has been a significant improvement over how I had been approaching these things in the past.  There has also been a downside.  Sometimes it seems as though I spend more time analyzing things instead of shooting.

Early this year I went a little crazy with the pains I went to get my zero on the Remington as absolutely perfect as I possibly could.  I found that even a 10 shot group wouldn’t quite do the trick, and ended up superimposing 6 10-shot groups before I was happy.  It was a time consuming process, but sometimes I have to go to great lengths to satisfy my strange curiosities about shooting.

After On Target TDS came along I began uploading a photo and/or scan of every target I shot into the computer and measuring it.  Sometimes just playing with a new toy can override the purpose that it was obtained for.  I began to devise new ways of measuring and new things to measure.

A little later in the year, the AR seemed to dominate my attention.  I think that the scope test I just finished with was one of the best things I’ve ever done, and it was a huge learning experience.  It was also a ton of work.  I think that the time I spent shooting was almost insignificant in comparison to the time I spent planning, preparing, setting up, recording, analyzing, and writing about the shooting.

During that time, I made the decision to delay evaluating my progress in meeting my last short term goal because the opportunities that came along were too good to pass up.  It’s rare that I get $10,000 worth of scopes sent to test out, and I don’t regret it.  It does, however, concern me that I’ve delayed my stated goal several months so far.

So my pursuit “practical riflery” has been less practical than I would like, which is a huge irony for me since I have had a range outside my back door for the last 8 months.  That is coming to an end, which hopefully will coincide with my rifle practice becoming more practical.

Then and Now: What’s Changed- #3 Measuring Groups

Some of the more substantial changes came along this year when I started to look for better ways to evaluate my performance. One of the most significant things happened was being introduced to On Target TDS. I had already been using the free version of On Target to measure my groups. My friend at U.S. Optics got me in contact with Jeff Block, the person who wrote the On Target program. I spoke with Jeff a few times about his premium program, On Target TDS (Target Data System). He wanted some input from me on how to improve it, and actually incorporated some of my suggestions, one of them being the feature that I’ve been using to make composite target composed of shots from different target and shooting sessions.

Jeff also told me about Ballistipedia. We’d been talking about statistics, and how to integrate his program into something that would run more powerful statistical analyses. I was not able to figure out how to make that happen, but the Ballistipedia site had some information about different statistics, and advantages and disadvantages. This was finally the “aha” moment for me that measuring group size using extreme spread wasn’t telling me very much about my total performance.

What’s strange is that I had already been introduced to other ways of measuring, and was aware of mean radius. I’d known about that for quite a while and just ignored it. John Simpson’s book (Sniper’s Notebook), which I’d gotten in 2013, discussed that and other statistical measures, such as CEP (Circular Error Probable), the 99% circle, radial standard deviation, and probably others. Sometimes it just takes one thing to finally click things into place. In this case, it was a description in Ballistipedia of the difference between invariant measures (Mean Radius, CEP, Variance, Standard Deviation) and range statistics (extreme spread, diagonal, figure of merit, covering circle radius). A big difference between the two is that invariant measures “do not vary with group size. I.e., taking more shots tightens their confidence interval but doesn’t change their expected value,” while range statistics “increase with group size. They are more commonly used because they are easier to calculate. But they are statistically far weaker because they virtually ignore inner data points.” (Quoted from the page at Ballistipedia linked above.)

Last spring and summer I went through an obsession about my precision. My rifle would almost be sub-minute for a few shots and then one would just go crazy. It makes a person go through a quasi-bipolar emotional cycle with the rifle. Using extreme spread as a group measure exacerbates this, as it only measures the worst shots. Statistically speaking, the very worst shots are less likely, so you might see a decent group or two before things go completely haywire, which for me made me start thinking I’d finally fixed my shooting problem (which turned out to be a rifle problem), before having my hopes smashed against the rocks with a wild shot.

When using what Ballistipedia describes as an invariant measure, the outlier really won’t affect the numbers that much. It’s just part of the total performance. Additionally, it’s easier to spot small differences in performance over the long term, for example, between the 155 grain Amax and the 168 grain Match King.

Since I’ve been primarily using mean radius to evaluate my performance, I’m much more practical and even keeled in evaluating my shooting. Realizing that “dispersion happens” has really removed most of the emotional baggage that I still see most shooters dealing with. I feel sorry for them, but it’s hard to get people to realize sometimes how something just a little different can change how they think and feel about things. Sometimes, just a little different perspective from which to view things can make the picture so much more clear.

Then and Now: What’s Changed. #2 By the Numbers?

In any discipline the fundamentals are of extreme importance. They are the foundation of whatever structure will be eventually built. I have spent a lot of time working on the fundamentals of rifle shooting. I realized at some point that I do better if I don’t think about them as much as I used to.

I probably spent a lot of time learning to walk early in life. There were probably times when I had to revisit walking, such as after I broke my femur, or maybe as I grew. Walking is a foundation for a lot of other activities. Yet despite its importance, I think I walk better and more naturally when I don’t think about it. Not only do I walk better if I don’t think about it, but walking usually isn’t an activity done for its own sake. It usually underlies some other activity. Whatever that activity might be, I’m certain that thinking about walking would detract from one’s effectiveness in it.

Walking is not perfectly analogous to rifle shooting. Trigger control and sight picture aren’t hard wired into us. I have to spend time in dry fire to keep my trigger press clean and effective. But the analogy does basically hold true to most of rifle shooting. When I am firing at a target, it generally seems counterproductive to put my attention on my trigger finger, or on any particular at all for that matter. At some level I just have to let things happen.

It almost seems counter-intuitive to put all that time and attention into something so I can forget about it later. It’s difficult to simply let go after all that prior emphasis. It wasn’t really all that long ago that someone was yelling at me, “BY THE NUMBERS!” as I shot from the prone position. That, by the way, is not a great teaching tool (and I have done it myself).

Part of what experience brings is discernment to distinguish one thing from another. Initial learning is different than practice. Practice can be distinguished from training. All of them are different than application. When a target is downrange, it’s not the time to be thinking about the fundamentals. Rather, it’s the time to embody the fundamentals while not thinking about them at all.

We practice and we train so we can forget and act.