Then and Now: What’s Changed

I’ve been writing on this blog for over three years now. My original intention in writing it was to investigate aspects of rifle shooting that I couldn’t find elsewhere in sufficient depth. The process quickly demanded that I broaden and deepen my base of knowledge and experience.

A few weeks ago I got bored and started looking over some of my old articles. While reading over things, I started noticing things that have changed since then. Some of it involved knowledge, others had to do with attitude, and just a few points involved technique. I thought it would be a nice change of pace after several months of measuring things, filling in cells on a complicated spreadsheet, and drawing graphs, to spend some time describing how three years of public (mostly) learning and investigation has changed my take on rifle shooting.

This will be a month long series of short, random descriptions of how certain aspects of my total approach to riflery has changed.

#1: “Book Knowledge, Rote Memorization, and Conventional Wisdom vs. Actual Knowledge and Ability”

I have seen this blog described elsewhere something like this: “A rifle newbie chronicles his journey into becoming a rifleman.” That’s not accurate. I was already a fairly decent shot when I started the blog, and my rifle shooting resume, were I to share it, was already pretty solid at that point. My knowledge base was, by most standards, pretty well rounded in most areas and more than that in some.

A big difference between then and now was that a much larger measure of the knowledge that I possessed back then consisted of things I had learned from someone else, be that a book, a class, a forum, magazine, etc… To make it simple, I’ll just refer to this collectively as “book knowledge”. There were also a lot of things I had a basic proficiency in had not been tested against an alternative method.

Specific knowledge learned by rote tends to encourage a dogmatic adherence in the absence of testing or serious examination. Red flags for this include speaking with absolute certainty, a “one best way” mentality, ad hominem attacks or mockery of people with differing opinions, dismissal of people with differing opinions as “closed minded”, and an unrealistic assessment of one’s own abilities. This can actually be a difficult trap to avoid, as it strokes the ego.

Learning that has not been applied or tested belongs in the “I’m not an authority on it” category. I tend to be a lot more careful now about what I say regarding things that I don’t have first hand knowledge on in the realm of shooting. Reading back with a perspective of having done and seen a lot more, I don’t think I was in over my head by much, but it’s still embarrassing to see it.

A lot of conventional wisdom, when tested or investigated in depth, turns out to be junk. Things like “20 degrees of temperature change affects a bullet’s point of impact by 1 MOA” or “humidity increases resistance to a bullet’s flight” have been taken as gospel because they were printed in a military sniper manual (and re-printed, and re-printed). Some of it is situational, such as the first point (hint: what is true for a cartridge at 1000 yards may not apply at 300). Some of it is just wrong, like the second point.

Book knowledge” is like a seed. It may or may not grow into mature functional knowledge and ability. It takes cultivation for that to occur, and cultivation for a shooter means taking it to the range. Since I started the blog I have done a bit of that.