I began the month with the admission that not only had I not accomplished my previously set goal, I had gone approximately 6 months in which I didn’t even address it satisfactorily. Not only that, but in the interim I had learned that it wasn’t a realistic goal. To refresh your memory, the goal, set on November 1st 2013 read as follows:
–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.
I explained the problems with the goal here, and also what my plans were to remedy the situation. What I got myself into involved testing a total of ten different shooting positions using ten shot groups shot in three different conditions for each position: slow fire (approximately 30 seconds per shot), time stress (timed, starting with a completely unloaded rifle and magazines), and time stress exerted (same as time stress, but with a minute of jumping jacks and 20 pushups just prior to the timer activation).
Unlike many of the groups that I have posted on the blog, I really didn’t do any special dry fire practice in any of the positions tested. The shots were fired from a “cold shooter” context. This body of work essentially depicts my baseline for these positions.
Precision and Accuracy
I applied a statistical analysis to each shot group that would model a general quantifier for the precision of each shot group over what would theoretically be a larger population of shots than the samples of 10 that I used. I think of it as trying to get at that mythical group that I could shoot if I could fire enough rounds wear the barrel out with the same lot of ammunition, the same sight setting, at the same target without having to worry about the barrel heating up, getting dirty, or me getting fatigued. The group would have a certain size. That group can’t be perfectly predicted, but the stats can tell me how large a circle 99% of my shots would fit into at a given distance with some degree of confidence.
My goal involved a 4” target. I set up two charts for “effective distances”, in yards, with that target in mind. One chart sets the probability at 86% and the other at 99%. Here they are:
My actual performance in hitting the 4″ target is nowhere near my goal. It was humbling to see the results on a stationary target. It is much better to be informed than to be ignorant and to believe in capabilities that one does not actually possess.
Most shooters (including me prior to these tests) base their assessment of their own capabilities on shots they have made in the past. What this has taught me is that one hit on a target does not equate to the capability to do it on demand. One hit can be lucky or mis-representative of the shooter’s capabilities as a whole. Shots near the center of a rifle system’s grouping potential will be more common than the outliers (some call them fliers), but the key is that you don’t get to pick the next shot in the group (Credit to Mr. Simpson)
I also kept track of time during both the portions of the testing in which time stress was a factor. Prior to the tests I had impressions of what made a shooting position fast. I thought that if I could get into a position quickly, it made the position fast.
Analyzing the times from these tests, I realized that there is a lot more to speed than just getting into position. For the time of an acceptable shot, steadiness is a big factor. The ability to manipulate the rifle within the position and return quickly to the target is important for a follow up shot, especially with a manually operated rifle. Some positions require that more care be taken to find the natural point of aim. That slows down a position’s first shot. Some positions are inordinately affected by exertion, and are slowed down by that. My recorded times, and my impressions from the shooting, allowed me to get an idea of how each position performs in reference to the above circumstances.
What I was not able to get an idea of in this test is the ability to assume a position and fire a shot from a “standard position of readiness”. I would like to test the positions again for this with my gear as I would actually carry it instead of what I did in this test, which was from an artificial state of unreadiness meant to induce stress for the time to accomplish a series of complex fine motor skills (removing ammo from packaging and loading the magazines and rifle).
The three processes I recorded for time were 1.) the time from the timer beep to the first shot, 2.) the split times for shots that weren’t preceded by loading the rifle, and 3.) the total time from the beep to the last shot.
Here are the rankings and times, in seconds, for those:
The time to get the first shot was obviously influenced by how simple it was to assume the shooting position. Less obviously, but perhaps more significantly, it was also heavily influenced by how picky the position was in terms of finding the natural point of aim. That’s why you see the four unsupported positions that I used the loop sling as a shooting aid in last place.
The primary reason you don’t see bipod prone on the list is that it was the first position I shot with and, instead of loading both magazines prior to the first shot, I loaded one, shot one, loaded the second and shot it. Essentially the testing protocol was not the same, and it’s therefore not a valid comparator. The other reason is that it had an advantage that the others did not- the rifle was already pointed in at the target. Looking at the times it would have easily been first.
Split times equate to the speed of follow up shots, which in this case were fired at the same location as the first shot. My longstanding belief had been that split times with a bolt action were largely a function of how quickly the bolt could be operated. I had what you might call an obsession with bolt work until the summer of 2013 until I got to where I figured I was decent enough at it. Although access to work the bolt is a factor in split times, it turns out that split times are determined more by the ability to quickly obtain an acceptable sight picture immediately after firing a shot. Some positions suffered under exertion in this measure because the sight picture was too erratic. Some positions suffered because it wasn’t as easy to operate the bolt.
When you see an unsupported position performing well, it’s because I was locked into position via sling tension, which brings the rifle back to the target and provides a nice resistance to the force of the bolt work. Most of those position also offer good access to the bolt. When you see an unsupported position doing poorly, it was either too picky about the natural point of aim or was more affected by exertion than the others.
When you see a supported position doing well, it’s because the support allowed me to easily get on target without fuss, and there was adequate support to work the bolt. Where you see them doing poorly it’s because there was less support in the rifle to resist the bolt work, or in the case of supported standing with vertical support, the position was not very steady.
I think that the total is a good idea of the overall time performance of the position, with the exception of that I lack the times of that first shot from an actual realistic position of readiness. Think of this as a general “ease of use” rating.
The Broad Takeaways (Advice to myself)
First of all, the following should become a maxim: If you can get support, use it!
Open leg sitting was 51% as precise as supported sitting. Cross ankle sitting was 50% as precise as supported sitting. Unsupported kneeling was 43% as precise as supported reverse kneeling. Unsupported standing was 40% as precise as my worst supported standing, and only 13% as precise as my best supported standing position!!!
Supported positions were also faster across the board for first shots than their unsupported counterparts with the notable exception of standing, which is probably best considered an ‘emergency’ position. I will work on nailing down start times from a ready position in the near future.
Follow up shots on a target in the same location were faster with sling supported positions in general. Another test for follow up shots on targets in different locations is also to follow.
If support is not available, getting inside of 100 yards should be a priority. If the shot is critical, try to get closer to 60 if the terrain will allow for a sitting position. If an unsupported kneeling or standing position is necessary, try to get to 20-30 yards away. If you haven’t considered that movement is perhaps more essential than shooting skill, I recommend that you stop and ponder it for 9 seconds before continuing.
I’ve already said it, but these distances are for a stationary target that is highly visible and does not require any interpretation of where it actually is, like an animal vital zone might. Moving targets would change the entire scenario, and real targets in applied riflery tend to move. The good news is that they sometimes stop between their movements. Real targets also tend to dictate the time interval available to make a shot, and in these tests I did not use a command break.
Figuring all this out was actually pretty easy. It probably took an extra 10-15 minutes per position following my range day to get the numbers after I created the spreadsheets to do the math for me. Drawing the graphs and writing it up took more time than shooting it, but I make the choice to do that for some stupid reason. What I got out of this was a lot more than what I put in, and I hope that responsible shooters will give it a try. Enjoy (or not).