Request for Assistance: Standing Groups

One of the reasons I started the blog was because when someone on an internet forum would ask the question that I wanted to know, “How big is a decent group in _____ position?” people would throw out a bunch of stuff without explaining things too much or backing it up at all.  In the standing position, which I think is most shooters’ biggest area of insecurity, I read about a lot of 4 MOA shooters in standing (aka offhand).  I’ve learned some things, and I’m not sure about that one.  Maybe a cherry picked (or too favorably remembered) 3 shot group perhaps?

I have shared a lot of groups in the last three and a half years, but one person doesn’t really give an idea of what the shooting community at large is doing.  I still feel somewhat ashamed by the groups that I’ve been shooting, which are in the area of 6.9 MOA on average for 10 shot groups.  I am also curious to hear from shooters who compete in specialized gear, to know what the difference is between their groups with a shooting coat and those without.

If you’d care to send me any info on your standing group sizes I would be very appreciative. Photos with scale (ruler, full shot of standard printer paper, other standard object), distance info, and bullet size would be extremely appreciated.  I don’t put much stock in 3 or 5 round groups but I wouldn’t mind seeing those either.  If you don’t want to be publicly associated with your shot group, I can put it up anonymously.  The easiest way to reach me is via my email at rifleslinger@live.com.

See ya next year!

Standing Target Analysis

I started on an approximately 4” target at 50 yards on 11/8/14.  I wasn’t shooting well, and wanted to have more confidence in my ability to keep all my rounds on target, so I moved forward to 35 yards on 11/15/14.  I made it to the range almost every week, and moved back 5 yards every time, reaching 50 again on 12/15/14.  You will note in my graphs that from 11/15/14, my performance was pretty consistent in terms of angular measurement until 12/15/14, where my ‘target’ position had a bad day.

On 11/30/14 I began testing the target oriented standing technique, shooting one group of that just prior to my normal, more practical version of standing.  In the following graphs, the target version appears as a green line while my normal stance is represented by the blue line.

My first chart measures extreme spread of groups from 11/8/14 to 12/15/14.  The measure is minutes of angle.  I began with two groups of my practical position per shooting day, then on 11/30, when I started integrating the target stance, I did one of each.  That’s why the density of blue data points changes where the green begins.

Standing Progress Chart- Extreme Spread

I shot again on 12/22/14 after I already drew the graph and my practical standing position’s extreme spread was 6.77 MOA, similar to the 12/8/14 group in the graph.  The target standing extreme spread was 5.46 MOA, which is the best I have shot in that position so far, but again, very similar to the 12/8/14 group.

The goal line in the graph is an extreme spread of 6.5 MOA.  That number is related to the scoring area on the Appleseed AQT target that is worth the maximum points.  It’s not a circular target, but the largest area within that area that a circle can be drawn has a diameter of just under 7 MOA.  If I could realize my goal of an average extreme spread of 6.5 with a deviation of a minute or less, I believe that the extra spaces in the 5 ‘ring’, along with an allowance for the width of my bullets where the center of my it is outside the line but the edge of the hole will still touch (about another minute), will allow me to clean the stage with some regularity.

I used extreme spread, considering my goal, it’s a practical way for me to see it in an immediate, practical way.  Either mean radius or C.E.P. will tell me if my shooting is good enough to do that if I know what to look for, but extreme spread will just show me for sure where my worst shots in a 10 shot group are hitting, which is more of an anecdotal, but more visually impacting result.

My second chart measures C.E.P., or circular error probable.  This number is the radius of the circle that would contain 50% of my shots over the long haul under similar conditions to those in which the sample group was fired.  This number will tell me something about the quality of all my shots in the group, and can be used to make more accurate predictions of my shooting.

Standing Progress Chart- CEP

I’m happy that the two charts basically look the same.  It would be expected to see a more erratic graph in the extreme spread chart, which is what the graphs do show, but not much, which I believe shows that the groups are pretty normal and regularly distributed in terms of shot quality.

I ran some averages of my performance numbers.  I settled on a rolling 4 week period to average them so I wouldn’t be held back by groups from so long ago they’re basically irrelevant, but long enough to get a solid idea of where I’m at now.  My goals for the short term are an extreme spread of less than 6.5 MOA, a mean radius of less than 2.2 MOA, and a total deviation of point of impact with respect to point of aim of less than 1 MOA.

In the target position, my average extreme spread was 6.824 MOA.  My average mean radius was 2.055.  Average CEP was 2.049 MOA, but I didn’t set a goal for CEP.  My average POI/POA deviation was 3.101 MOA (I had some major instances of zero error).  I also ran my 86% and 99% circle numbers, and also converted them into distances for the Appleseed Stage 1 5-point scoring area.  My average 86% circle was 6.946 MOA, and the distance that translates for the 5 ‘ring’ is 28.33 yards.  My average 99% circle was 10.419 MOA, and the distance that translates for the 5 ‘ring’ is 18.89 yards.

In the practical position, my average extreme spread was 6.895 MOA.  My average mean radius was 2.365.  Average CEP was 2.256 MOA.  My average POI/POA deviation was 1.30 MOA.  My average 86% circle was 7.646 MOA, and the distance that translates for the 5 ‘ring’ is 25.08 yards.  My average 99% circle was 11.469 MOA, and the distance that translates for the 5 ‘ring’ is 16.72 yards.

I’m still just above my goals for this position, which are intended to provide a level of confidence in scoring 250 on the AQT.  As I seem to be at a plateau, I’m going into ‘maintenance’ mode for this skill so that I can work on something else.  I’ll get to that in a little bit.

Shooting from standing puts just about every aspect of marksmanship to the test.  Beyond that, it takes intimate familiarity with one’s hold, and decision making of sufficient quality to know when it’s right to break the shot.  If you have a delicate constitution, frighten easily, or don’t wish to undergo the excitement of the standing position, I urge you calmly and sincerely to put down your rifle and pick up some knitting needles.

Raw Data from Recent Standing Work

All of the articles on standing earlier in the month presented my thoughts on the subject as I see it at this time.  Something I haven’t really shared much of yet are my results over the time I’ve been focusing on standing.  That’s part of what I do on this blog, so I drew up some graphs and prepared some photos.

I also kept some brief notes of what I was noticing at various times.  You can correlate that to how I was shooting in some cases.

I started on an approximately 4” target at 50 yards on 11/8/14.  I wasn’t shooting well, and wanted to have more confidence in my ability to keep all my rounds on target, so I moved forward to 35 yards on 11/15/14.  I made it to the range almost every week, and moved back 5 yards every time, reaching 50 again on 12/15/14.  You will note in my graphs that from 11/15/14, my performance was pretty consistent in terms of angular measurement until 12/15/14.

On 11/30/14 I began testing a more target oriented standing technique, primarily for purposes of comparison, shooting one group of that just prior to my normal, more practical version of standing.  In the following graphs, the target version appears as a green line while my normal stance is represented by the blue line.

Following are my raw notes and group photos.  I had to edit my notes a bit for language and so someone other than me could understand them even marginally.  The notes towards the end were inserted after the fact:

11-8-14 Standing 1

11-8-14 Standing 2

11/8/14 shooting notes

Dry standing was golden for two weeks prior in dry fire.  Live fire was either a mind&%$#, or my muscles were pre-fatigued and shaky.  Move forward to 30 yards with same target.  Continue weight training for now.  Holding exercises on off days.  I’m looking for 100% hits at 50 yards, but will settle for 30 yards for the moment.

11-11-14

Standing good to go on garage dry-fire target, mirror aim from end of hall.  Move farther back.

11/14/14

After muscles have recuperated recalibration of the position (steadiness) is possible.  Smaller targets work better (aim small miss small).  Hold the forend delicately like a pencil.  Being stronger will be awesome; the LW carbine feels like I could really shoot well with it.

11/15/14

Live fire:

11-15-14 Standing 1

11-15-14 Standing 2
This target was the plateau mover for me.

Moved forward to 35 yards instead of 30.  35 was good.  Follow through is difficult.  Learning to disregard the shot is important.  My shots were very rapid, several shots to one hold.  How much better could I have done lowering the rifle each time?  35 yards, aimed at the top of the white ‘6’ ring on the top of the RifleCraft scoring target.

My extreme spread on that second target confirms what I’m seeing in dry fire- a maximum radial deviation of approximately 1 mil when I don’t let the live fire psych-out get me.  Move back to 40 yards next time.

–How to average my performance to see if I’m meeting my “average performance” goals?–  Probably a rolling average period of 2-4 weeks

11/17/14

Dry fire standing in AM.  Very good.  Better than ever.  Most, if not all, were within a half mil in any direction (1 mil diameter).

11/18—11/23

More intensive weight training has made me shaky most of the time.  It seems that muscle fatigue is the biggest culprit, then it takes a half day or so to re-tune my steadiness and coordination (and followthrough) to regain.  Friday morning felt really good, I would say just over a half mil deviation in any given direction.  Friday evening I went hard with the weights.  By Sunday I felt good but was not very steady.  The rifle is feeling lighter.

On 11/23/14 I practiced dry firing.  I found that getting a good grip with the pistol grip fully seated into my hand really helped.  A command break did not seem to hurt things vs. a slow surprise break, so long as I really had my NPA.

Hold the handguard delicately like a pencil

Don’t use more tension than needed

11/30/14

Live Fire:

11-30-14 Target Standing
Two weeks off had me confused about where my zero was.

11-30-14 Standing;

12/8/14

I didn’t have any practice notes for this period.  The presence of a target position means that I had done my thinking on balance on Friday 12/5 and integrated it into my position.  The posts on balance were effectively my practice notes, although obviously heavily edited. 

Live fire- I took my time.  I had to intentionally slow myself down and lower the gun after no more than two shots.  I think I may have taken three in one hold at one point.  Oops!

Target postion-  I probably spent a full two minutes finding my NPOA.  The firing part was easy.

12-8-14 Target Standing

12-8-14 Standing
While the goal is to have all 10 in the black by at least half a bullet diameter (center in or touching) I also like to know that I’m pushing myself just a little bit, and consider that a good enough target to move back the next time.

12/15/14

My position seemed loose and sucked until I starting putting some hardness and intent into my press and follow through.

12-15-14 Target Standing
The one on the right was shot #1.  The ones on the bottom were also before I started on the hard follow through.  I don’t know about the one on top, if it was prior to the hard follow through or just an anomaly during.  I would like to think it was the former.

12-15-14 Standing
Unfortunately, what looks like a sight zero error was probably not.

12/22/14

I notice that I let a lot of good shot opportunities pass me by while I’m in my hold.  My current learning point is to be ready on the trigger as soon as the gun is up and ready to fire.  If should be taking the first acceptable shot I see.

There was an approximately 7-10 mph wind.  I’m not worried about bullet drift at this range, I’m worried about the steadiness of my hold.  I parked my vehicle next to me to block it, which worked pretty well.  Not exactly practical, I know, but neither is this group shooting in standing.  The sun was also peeking over the vehicle at me, so I put a backpack on top to block it.  Good enough.

The ‘target’ group pretty much went off without a hitch.  I was happy to see a return to the 5.5ish MOA extreme spread from before.  With the ‘practical’ standing group, the third shot, which was the upper left, was a horrible shot and pretty much felt like the end of the world.  It was the third shot from that hold, and my stability was degrading.  I failed to check the status of my balance, and should have just lowered the muzzle and took a few seconds for a break.

12-22-14 Target Standing

12-22-14 Standing

 

In the next installment I’ll smooth up the results and analyze things a bit.

 

Follow Through: The Key to Standing

My understanding of follow through to this point has been somewhat shallow, mostly consisting of what I learned from other people.  I figured that if I was calling my shots and holding the trigger to the rear through recoil I was golden.  Follow through does have to do with seeing the sights, but in my opinion the standard description as described above, or likening it to throwing a ball is insufficient.

While trigger control was not an issue for me in standing practice recently, follow through has turned out to be a huge point of learning.  What I find interesting is that we have different names for these things, which implies (at least to me) that they are separate things.  I find it hard, even in writing about them, to separate trigger control and follow through from one another.  I really see trigger control as the physical component of the firing moment, and follow through as the mental stabilizing force that surrounds that moment.

The ability to concentrate in shooting is pretty limited to one thing.  In standing, that thing pretty much has to be the sight picture (which is another connection in the firing moment that really isn’t separate).  The trigger manipulation needs to be automatic, and done as a result of seeing the right thing in the sight.  If the attention leaves the sight picture to attend to the trigger, the sights will move if it can.  The sight will go from steady and on the target, to off the target in an instant if the mind wanders from watching.

One of the things that hammered this home to me happened repeatedly to me during dry fire.  I’ve been using a super scaled down Appleseed AQT target.  I think it’s scaled down for 7 yards.  I have it in the garage, visible through the window of the kitchen/garage door, and I sight it using a mirror at the end of a hallway, for an apparent distance of about 20 yards.  I noticed repeatedly that I could easily ‘hit’ the big target (Stage 1) from standing- every time, without fail, no problemo. I could also hit the stage 2 targets from standing consistently with no trouble.  When I tried to hit a small portion of the large target, however, I would completely miss the large target.  This was obviously not a problem with mechanics, but thinking about finding an aiming point within a larger target was taking my mind off of something important.

I think that the essence of follow through is a continuous attention to sight picture without regard to trigger break (or anything else for that matter).  No part of the shooting process should interrupt the sight picture, even firing.  I have really only seen it in dry fire and rimfire shooting as far as I can remember, but perhaps with more practice I can build it up like a muscle to handle the 5.56 and later the .308.

In my recent practice I have experienced two separate and distinct ‘flavors’ of follow through.  They could be characterized as soft and hard, or passive and active.  I noticed the passive variety first during dry fire.

Passive Follow Through

Paying attention to follow through during dry fire in standing is like meditation.  In meditation, at first thoughts come in and take over, then over time their magnitude and sense of importance decreases until there is a greater sense of stillness in the mind.  Think of a freshly disturbed puddle, cloudy with mud.  If left alone the mud will settle and the water will become clearer and still.

In dry fire, at first the trigger break comes and is highly disruptive.  It’s the noise and the movement, and the sharpness of the event that creates an apparent break between pre-firing and post-firing.  The break shouldn’t be there, and it leads the shooter to give up on the focus prematurely.

In dry fire, if the sight dips or moves as, or after the shot breaks, follow through was incomplete or non-existent.  The sound, feel, and knowledge of the hammer falling can be enough distraction to break the continuity of follow through.  Seeing what the sight does shows evidence of follow through, or the lack thereof, but seeing alone is only a form of feedback, not the follow through itself.

The degree to which the sight remains motionless in the moment surrounding the trigger break signifies the maturity and completeness of the follow through.  I think that the point of firing can be reduced to near insignificance, and the shooter can be calm and still enough to hear the vibration of the buffer spring as he simply continues to observe his sight picture.  Over time, the stillness and clarity of the sight picture is unaffected, similar to the clarity of the puddle of water, or the presence and awareness of the mind.

Active Follow Through

So there I was at the range working through a target standing group at 50 yards.  The previous week’s group had been the best in a very long time, probably my second best standing group ever, and it didn’t feel like a fluke.  Even the ‘practical’ group was in the six and a half minute range, which is what I’m shooting for in the short term (no pun intended).  I happened to be in a big hurry and really hadn’t planned on even going to the range that day, I just got up and went.  The first shot in this particular group, the sight went completely askew upon firing and I sent the shot way right.  The entire apparatus of the position felt loose and rather uncontrolled.  The second and third shots weren’t any better.  Trying to find that passive Zen state was not doing the job.

As the group progressed I somehow found myself with a hard command trigger break, along with an equally hard expression of will to follow through.  It was like in the movie Dune where you harness your energy and will to the point where it becomes a weapon.  Just don’t disturb the sights.  It worked.  That’s about as well as I can describe it.  Six of the shots where I used that hard follow through ended up in a group of about five MOA.

Which method of follow through is better?  I don’t know yet.  It could just be situational.  I almost feel guilty for writing about stuff that I don’t feel like I really have a solid handle on yet, but then I remember that it’s a blog about my exploration into shooting.

What about trapping the trigger to the rear?

This goes back to the way I first formally learned follow through in Appleseed: take a mental snapshot of the sight picture and trap the trigger to the rear.  When it comes down to what I believe is true follow through, I don’t think it matters what the trigger does as long as it doesn’t disturb the hold or the sight picture, and doesn’t take any conscious mental processing to accomplish.  I do think that trapping the trigger to the rear can be thought of as a “best practice” in terms of marksmanship.  I think that it just got tagged onto follow through because of the order of the firing sequence and the need for brevity in the program of instruction.

The other thing I like to do is throw up pictures about all my groups, and maybe some graphs as well to chart my progress.  That will have to wait until next time.  I hope you tune in.

Process Re-examination: Trigger Control in the Standing Position

First of all, Merry Christmas.

Moving right along…

This article marks the transition from form, or structure, with regard to the standing position, to the functional part of the skill.  I look to trigger control as one of the most important fundamentals in rifle shooting, or any shooting for that matter.  The more I learn about shooting, the higher my estimation goes up as to the importance of effectively actuating the trigger.  There is so much more to go wrong with the standing position compared to all others that trigger control can’t help but be very important.

I started this emphasis on the standing position soon after I did my article on the command break.  Because of that, my trigger control, and just as importantly my confidence in my trigger control was at its highest.  I’m not one to leave well enough alone, so I saw this phase of exploration as an opportunity to boost my game.

One thing I’ve learned about learning is to hit the problem from different angles.  Bludgeoning a skill from one angle mercilessly tends to wear me out before I break through significant ground.  For instance, I found when hammering and picking rock to finish (start?) my old reloading room, some rocks are just too hard to take on from only one angle, but once you find the weak spot the whole thing starts to give and it will be out in no time.  Insights come from unexpected angles.  Skill retention and transfer, I’ve learned, tend to be more substantial when skills are worked in bursts with variety.

Another interest of mine is getting better with the gun I have with me all the time, which is the Glock 17.  Most everyone I know, even Glock shooters, will say that the trigger just isn’t as good as a 1911 trigger.  I’m beginning to think otherwise.  The slight roll to the Glock trigger seems more conducive to a real surprise break than the crisp glass rod of a good 1911.  The movement is smooth and continuous with the Glock, rather than interrupted.

My trigger technique has always involved staging it.  Basically I’ve always taken up the slack as a preparatory stage, then got really super serious for the important part where I pressed it for real.  I happened to be reading on Pistol Forum one day.  The 20 page threads on every subject used to turn me off, but then I found out that they really like to delve into detail there, so it makes for interesting reading.  There are also some really excellent shooters there.

The post that caught my attention was on Glock trigger manipulation.  On the second page, a guy who goes by “givo08” had this to say:

I frequently put our shooters on a trigger press graph, where they press a Glock trigger that has a sensor in it which plots a line on a computer screen for trigger finger force on the Y axis and time on the X axis. When you press straight through the trigger with constantly increasing pressure, it looks like a smooth and fairly straight diagonal line up until the trigger breaks. When you prep the trigger, you see a diagonal line, and then it flattens out because the force is held constant, and then you see a spike when you press through the break point. This spike is never consistent from one trigger press to the next, especially when you put shooters on a timer and have them try to draw and shoot under a par time. You get a good visual representation of what they do to the trigger with varying levels of par time. The shooters who press straight through the trigger from start to finish usually show a similar trigger graph regardless of the time compression, although they may press through the trigger faster with a faster par time, the graph still shows an straight increasing force line until the trigger breaks.

I did some dry fire experimentation with the Glock and found that pressing straight through seemed to work for me.  The Noveske trigger is quite different from the Glock, the first and second stages being much more distinct.  I found that staging the Noveske trigger seems to work best, but after all the work with the Glock, I am much more confident being more aggressive with it, seeing no detrimental effects in the sight picture.  Having an aggressive trigger technique can be a real asset.  By aggressive, I mean just to get on that thing with confidence and go.

The common advice in standing is to accept your wobble zone and squeeze.  My position is a little different than what target shooters and most other shooters use.  The movement I experience in standing is qualitatively different than the standard positions.  Having the support hand farther forward, while it does rob me of mechanical leverage, also reduces the movement I impart to the gun (think about what leverage is and it makes sense).  Also think of what a long sight radius does in comparison with a short one.  It seems to be more forgiving of apparent error.

Instead of seeing constant motion in a random fashion, or even a figure eight or another semi controlled manner, I see a slightly bigger movement overall, but it’s slower, sort of a lazy meander.  The sight will move as I settle in, then I can actually bring it to rest when I see what I like, and keep it there for maybe two to five seconds before it moves again.  When I see what I like, I press.

I had always felt to a small degree like I was wrong to take this approach because it goes against the conventional wisdom.  I happened to be reading through a target shooting book that focuses on small bore disciplines called “The New Position Rifle Shooting: A Text for Shooters and Coaches” by Frank T. Hanenkrat.  In the standing chapter on page 192 I read the following: “The only correct way to fire from the standing position is to hold the rifle still and pull the trigger without disturbing the hold.  A dependable score cannot be fired by pulling the trigger as the rifle drifts across the 10 ring, for the changing recoil and muzzle jump incurred by such a technique will cause wide shots even if the shooter can time the trigger pull to coincide with the coming together of the 10-ring and the drifting point of aim.”  It was reassuring to find some support for what I had been doing, although I have a feeling that he didn’t have my position in mind when he wrote that.

Toward the end of this practice period working on standing, I noticed that there was a significant lag in being prepared to fire after I brought the rifle up.  I sometimes missed an opportunity to fire during an acceptable sight picture due to not being ready on the trigger, whether that was due to still staging it or just not being mentally engaged.

I decided that I should never miss an opportunity to take a good shot in my sight picture due to lack of preparedness.  I had to deliberately “turn on” mentally while bringing the rifle up, making sure I’m prepared a moment sooner than I had been, so that if I brought up the rifle into an acceptable sight picture I’ll be ready to take the shot in that instant.  Part of knowing what a good sight picture is involves being able to feel if it’s actually going to be on target through the trigger press, or if it’s a more transitory appearance of the sights on the target.  So part of the cue that I’m looking for in an acceptable sight picture is kinesthetic.

Trigger control has turned out to be a non-issue in my range work in standing these previous weeks.  Being a non-issue is the ideal state for trigger control because it has to be done automatically and without paying any attention to it.  The reason for that is follow through, and follow through is coming up next time.

Book Review: The 10/22 Companion: How to Operate, Troubleshoot, Maintain and Improve Your Ruger 10/22

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I recently came across an interesting book.  I’ve always liked the 10/22 rifle.  It’s handy, usually reliable and accurate, and they’re so customizable you can really have any rifle you want in a 10/22.  For a long time I thought it would be cool to have a target version with no Ruger parts in it at all, just high quality aftermarket stuff.  The idea of a tack driving rimfire rifle really just appeals to me.

Bob Newton wrote a book about 10/22’s that seems to have come about purely because he has handled and worked on so many in his time as a marksmanship instructor.  I have had a taste of what Bob has been experiencing for years.  People show up for training with all manner of rifles.  You see people bring them to the line in the box never having been fired by them.  You see people bringing rifles that might have been handed down to them and not cleaned or lubed since a full can’s worth of WD40  went into it 30 years ago.  So I think Bob has learned a lot about how and why these guns work.

Here is the book description from the website:

62 pages with 101 photographs. Printed on high-quality, 28 lb. paper with color cover on glossy, heavy cardstock.
Print edition has grayscale photos on the pages.
Ebook edition has full-color photos throughout.
Large 8.5 x 11 format makes it easy to see the details in the photos.Comb bound to lie flat on your bench.

 

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There doesn’t seem to be information in this book that can’t be found on the web if you want to do the research yourself.  What’s nice about the book though is that it’s organized and all in one place.  The other thing that is nice is that you don’t have to wade through trying to figure out which poster in some forum is full of crap and just sounds like he knows what he’s talking about.  I know that Bob knows his stuff.

I used to bring my Kuhnhausen books on the 1911 and the M1/M14 with me everywhere to browse through them and try to learn something new about the gunsmithing, operation, parts, etc.  Bob’s book isn’t set up like those.  There aren’t any fancy blueprints or dimensional drawings.  He also differs from Kuhnhausen in that you can actually find the information you’re looking for and apply it readily.  I have to admit that sometimes I prefer the overly dense, technical, and difficult to use format of the Kuhnhausen books.  I don’t know why, maybe I like to work harder than I need to.  Having said that, Bob’s format is much more user friendly.

If you own a 10/22 or are interested in getting one and shooting one I think this is a worthwhile investment for your knowledge base.  Not only is it important to know how to keep the rifle running, but making sure that it’s set up to work the way you want it to work will also be very useful.  If you just want a gun to have and keep in the closet and will probably never shoot, you may not need it, but you may as well have the book in the closet too, just in case.

 

Structural Refinement: Balance in the Standing Position, Part 4

My previous article dealt with my adaptation of what I saw as the essential elements of balance and stability to my standing position with the equipment that I have to work with.  In that article, the only consideration was putting each bullet as near the center of the target as possible, and the position I ended up with reflected that.

Accuracy being the sole criteria means that there are a lot of other practical things that are ignored.  I’ve said before that in a practical context I see standing as an emergency position.  That implies that, for my needs at least, there are other considerations in addition to maximizing accuracy.  It’s possible, perhaps even likely, that some of these considerations may even outweigh the need to be as precise as possible.  These include, but are not necessarily limited to speed of getting on target, recoil control (speed of follow up shots), mobility (ease and speed of getting in and out of position from moving).

One of the reasons I originally modified my standing position in early 2012 was to increase the rapid ‘pointability’ of my position.  To that end I abandoned the “must have the support elbow under the rifle” theme and moved my support hand forward on the handguard and the elbow outboard.  I literally point my support hand index finger to my target.  It helps.

Offhand 026
From the original standing article in 2011. 

IMG_7527
As I do it now.

Having the hand forward also seems to effectively give me a wider margin for error in that pointing, like a wide sight radius would.  Moving the support hand forward robbed me of leverage in my hold.  However, reducing leverage means that my movement is translated to the rifle less than the position with better leverage.

In terms of recoil control having the buttstock lower in the shoulder is helpful.  Being a little more squared up to the target and having the support hand farther forward also help as well.  Getting the support hand high in relation to the barrel will also maximize recoil control.

To make the stance more compatible with the demands of quickly transitioning to and from movement, the less it deviates from a normal standing or walking posture the better.  In contrast with the almost 90° offset of the target oriented position, a position square to the target would be ideal from the standpoint of mobility.

There’s no way that I’m aware of to maximize every one of the above criteria simultaneously.  It’s probably always going to be a balancing act.  The nice thing is that the better I get the less I give up by conceding in one of those areas.  I hope that if I need to take a really quick shot, and maximize the speed and recoil control, the thing that sends the hard core Weaver pistoleros into isosceles when the adrenaline spikes will square me off and lower my stance.  It’s essentially the same stance, just along a different spectrum.

In comparison to the position I used in the last article, the more practical position compromises my balance to some degree and involves more muscular input.  It also gets me on target quickly without the need for adjustment, while the target position requires a rather careful checking and rechecking of my natural point of aim.  Shooting at my best, my groups in the ‘practical’ version of standing is about an MOA wider in extreme spread than the ‘target’ version.

The modifications I made to improve the accuracy of this position were to make my upper body straighter and less aggressive in posture.  I also lengthened my stance a bit.  These changes widened my base and brought my center of gravity back to a point that is more stable and sustainable, thought it still drifts forward from time to time.

 

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What had me off balance a few weeks back.

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What I did to correct my balance.

 

That pretty much covers the structural pieces of the standing position that I have examined and re-worked in the last month and a half.  The next couple articles will go into the examination of the process of shooting from standing as I have seen it in recent weeks.

 

Structural Refinement: Balance in the Standing Position, Part 3

The last article took a look at how balance in the standing position is manifested when only the goals of accuracy and precision are considered, and when the equipment is similarly tailored toward those goals.  Curious as I am as to how all that fancy competition equipment would affect my shooting performance, it would be cost prohibitive to me considering what my shooting goals are.  It was of practical necessity for me to adapt the techniques to my equipment.

I spent some time considering the points I made in the previous article when working at the most stable and balanced stance I could muster.  I tried to keep my posture simple; as close to a natural standing posture as possible.  My natural point of aim determined the width of my stance in this case, which is not the case for my ‘practical’ standing position.

I ended up moving my adjustable buttstock for this position one click adjustment shorter than I had been using before in order to bring the rifle’s center of gravity slightly nearer to my own.  It was the shortest I could maintain my correct eye relief with the scope.  It did change the rifle’s point of balance no more than approximately ¼” forward, but moved the rifle rearward approximately 5/8”, for a small net center of gravity movement closer to me.

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I apologize for the inauthenticity of my Mao outfit.  I am working on the proper coat and hat, then I will prioritize on the pants and shoes.  The reason I’m a bit off level is that the photographer is 8 years old (meaning the camera is actually what is off level).

You can see that my head was as straight up as I could keep it.  This meant bringing the rifle much higher than I consider practicable for any circumstances other than relaxed target shooting.  A palm rest isn’t practical for me, but a 20 round magazine is a handy place to set the rifle in my hand.  Also note how little of the stock is seated in my shoulder.  It’s just enough to have any at all.

Although you can see I have a sling on my rifle (prototype of the RS-3, which should be coming soon), it’s slack and has no discernible effect on my position.  This position is based on optimizing balance.  I’m as free of tension in my body as I can be, so adding sling tension was not on the menu today.

I tried to keep my arms as close to my center of gravity as was practicable.  The firing arm was raised to account for the grip angle and wrist comfort.  The support arm was resting on my torso, supporting most of the rifle’s weight.

I was helping my son the same day with his position.  He was also my photographer.  This was the first time I had explained standing to him.  He came rather naturally into this position, after I explained to him about us being bipeds, how we balance, that the rifle has a balance point, and how the balance points of him and the rifle needed to be brought together.  He doesn’t have to worry about recoil yet, so I skipped the part about pulling the rifle to the shoulder.  This is what a 10/22 with a chopped stock looks like with an 8 year old:

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He got 8 out of 10 hits on a large piece of steel at 25 yards, and 3 of 3 hits on water jugs at 7 yards, all with the excellent multi-stage 9 pound Ruger stock trigger.

Working on standing for accuracy and precision was something I should have done a long time ago.  I must have thought I was too cool to take some high fallutin’ target shootin’ stance.  It may not be of practical use to employ in a field setting, but it’s of great practical use to understand how to shoot better.  There is really no benefit to be had from a superior attitude.  The only real way to learn is to constantly be looking for a way to improve.

In the next article I will try to take all that I’ve been learning about balance and put it into my own, more practical position.  Stay tuned.

Structural Refinement: Balance in the Standing Position, Part 2

This article will outline my thoughts on balance as it relates to the standing position with the only one goal in mind: putting each bullet near the center of the target as possible.  This approach is impractical for field purposes in that it does not have a practical need to consider the requirement of speedy bullet delivery (“HOT AND FRESH BULLETS!  GET YER HOT AND FRESH BULLETS!!!).

I finally figured out that it might be important to consider accuracy and precision before making changes to accommodate competing performance demands.  That would have been a logical progression to have taken from the beginning before bringing practical considerations into the mix.  Unfortunately, choices in the real world of learning rifle shooting are seldom presented logically, and it’s usually up to the novice to choose his own path to follow.

I looked to smallbore and air rifle shooting for examples of form.  There are undoubtedly some idiosyncrasies that stem from the specialized gear used in those disciplines.  For example, I’ve never used a shooting coat, and I don’t know how it influences the technique.  I’m sure that all of the gear influences how they shoot to some degree, but I see these disciplines as the pinnacle of refinement of the standing position as optimized for precision.  Here are some points I picked up:

Head:

The head is a disproportionally heavy piece of equipment and its location at the top of the body doesn’t help make it any easier to balance.  The easiest way to balance the head is to keep it upright as with a normal standing position.  A significant part of our equilibrium is also in the ears, so keeping it upright and steady is optimal.  This is the reason that when you were taught to shoot a rifle in standing you were taught to bring the sight up to your eye instead of vice versa.  I think that adding the ‘why’ to the ‘how’ would make for a much more persuasive argument to the beginner that would likely result in better skill retention, transfer (adaptation of skill to settings different than the training environment), and future improvement.

Bringing the rifle up so that the sight is brought to the eye when using a ‘normal’ rifle (not one designed for target shooting) means that the shooter may only end up with a portion of the toe of the stock in his shoulder pocket.  Target rifles have a means of adjusting the drop at heel so the butt can be fully seated while keeping the head erect and the cheekweld at its optimum.  Another way of accomplishing nearly the same thing is what David Tubb did with his “chin gun” (a very, very high scope mount and the chin in contact with the comb), although that design also had the effect of lowering the rifle in relation to the shooter.

Emmons_Standing
U.S. shooter Matt Emmons in standing.  Note that his head is almost fully erect.  Also note the adjustment hardware on the stock, how it’s adjusted, and the amount of the butt that is in his shoulder even after all that adjustment.

Feet:

The starting point for a standing position seems to be to place the feet facing approximately 90° in relation to the target and approximately shoulder width apart.  Body types and rifles vary, so there is a likelihood that the shooter will need to vary their feet from this starting point.  I’ve found that some very proficient shooters have what seems to me to be an abnormally wide stance, but if it can work for you it’s likely to be more stable.

Length of Pull:

Altering the rifle’s length of pull changes the relationship between the shooter’s center of gravity and that of the rifle.  Shortening the length of pull reduces weight to the rear, and therefore moves the rifle’s balance point slightly forward.  When the shorter length of pull is brought to the shooter’s shoulder, it has the effect of moving the rifle’s balance point closer to the shooter, and this effect outweighs the alteration in the rifle’s balance point.  As with strength, closer being stronger and farther being weaker, getting the rifle’s balance point as close as possible will improve the shooter’s ability to balance with the rifle.

Firing Arm:

As far as balance is concerned, the closer the arms to the body the easier the balance.  The firing arm would be best tucked down, but the pistol grip will largely determine the angle of the arm.  The more vertical the grip the lower the firing arm will be.  The chicken wing (high firing side elbow) is largely a relic from the days of the musket.

Support Arm:

Keeping the support arm close to the body will make balance more sure and will maximize the strength that one has to support the rifle.  Here is where the criticisms I have gotten about my technique have merit.  I have never maximized the position of my left arm and hand in reference to balance.

The position I used early on, body erect facing nearly 90° to the target, head moderately erect, elbow under the rifle approximately a fist’s width from the body, i.e. the ‘standard’ offhand position, was maximized for form but not for function.  Learning by rote, or “by the numbers” has a way of doing that.  That position involves a lot of shoulder holding the rifle, as does my current standing position.  This, and the position I currently use, are qualitatively different than a position that maximizes balance and support of the rifle.

Any instability in the support arm will move the rifle, and by extension the center of gravity.  This will cause the rest of the body move in order to compensate for the change in balance.  Each adjustment will put movement into the rifle.  I probably don’t need to tell you that this will decrease precision of shots from the rifle.

To best position the support arm to do its assigned task (none other than for which it’s named), target rifles often use a palm rest, which adds some distance from the support hand itself to the lines of departure and sight (barrel and sight respectively).  This allows the arm to rest against the ribs, or in some cases (particularly with ladies) on the hip.  Some shooters jut their hip toward the support elbow, but any deviation from the body’s neutral posture will have some disadvantage to weight against what it does for you.  The weight of the rifle through the support hand and arm, to the body, and into the body’s weight is often perceived by shooters as a “line of support” from the rifle directly into the leading foot.

Qinan Zhu
Chinese shooter Qinan Zhu in standing.  Note the straightness of his body and the line of support from the rifle to his foot.

The Eyes:

Stand on one foot and balance for a while.  It’s not too difficult.  Now, keeping that balance, close your eyes.  It’s much more difficult.  Balancing with the rifle pointed in is one thing.  Obtaining a sight picture effectively removes some of the reference points that you’d be using for your subconscious equilibrium adjustments.  Looking through a scope will make that worse than with irons.

Due to the negative effect of taking a sight picture on the ability to maintain static equilibrium, it adds to the complexity of the firing sequence.  For me it goes something like this: balance self, balance rifle and self, sight picture, press (automatic while maintaining attention on sight picture), sight picture.  If the balance happens to go, everything goes with it, just like when my karate teacher, Mr. Miyagi, shook that damn boat and I fell into the water.  The window of time before the balance degrades and affects the hold stability seems to be three to seven seconds.  I think that will improve as I pay attention to it.

Looking at the state of the art for precision standing was fascinating to me.  It is a substantively rich topic to research if you understand the principles that they are trying to achieve.  The next article will briefly outline my attempt at realizing those principles with more standard gear.

If you’d like to learn more about standing in competition, I found an interesting and well-written blog about only that.  The following link will start you in an appropriate spot: airrifleshooting

Structural Refinement: Balance in the Standing Position, Part 1

My recent work in improving my standing position has revealed to me the importance of balance to its grouping potential.  It has also become apparent to me that balance is a major, if not primary factor in the established methods of utilizing the standing position for shooting.  I do not know if the major players in the evolution of the standing position explicitly acknowledged the importance of balance to the position that most shooters use today, but it was of extreme importance regardless.

In this article I’m going to discuss the concept of balance from a theoretical perspective.  The next article will investigate the ideal standing position from the standpoint of fulfilling only one goal: putting each bullet near the center of the target as possible.  I want to do this without making consideration for speed or the possible necessity for mobility prior to or after the need to fire a shot from standing.  This is a way for me to approach the problem from a completely different angle, which can provide a boost in one’s understanding of it.

It’s strange how the process of revelation occurs in skill acquisition.  It begins so subtly that it’s only possible to recognize in hindsight that it was there, like the voice of a spouse during a gripping TV show.  Over time and effort, the message becomes more obvious as it is repeated or is increased in magnitude, but often isn’t recognized as significant (“Quiet Honey, this is the really good part”).  Part of becoming a better learner (and more attentive spouse) is to recognize the potential for significant learning at the first whisper of revelation.

Here is how the importance of balance was revealed to me:

One of my “for fun” goals is to clean the Appleseed AQT.  I’ve maxed my points in Stage 1, the standing position, many times, but I haven’t been able to do it on demand.  I’m working to change that.  Because I’ve determined to work with one type of standing position that is oriented towards speed (support hand forward on the handguard, yada, yada, yada), rather than have a brace of different standing positions to choose from, it means that I’m at a disadvantage in terms of precision.  Ironically, that disadvantage has worked to make certain things more obvious to me.

The first whisper of the importance of balance was the increase in my visible arc of movement over the time I remained in position.  I was practicing holding exercises, which involve holding a sight picture for a period of time after the shot breaks, in this case a minute.  Not only did the movement become larger, but it was very sudden and erratic in terms of when it would occur.  The most prominent manifestation was a large and rapid dip of the sight, followed by an almost equally rapid return to the previous elevation.  The obvious culprit for movement in standing is muscle fatigue, and that is a factor, but it was not a consistent one for me.  At times I noticed from the time I got into position that I just wasn’t as steady as I normally should have been.  Other times I’ve been able to shoot rather well under fatigue.

After the passage of time and the continuation of regular practice, I noticed that at the times my movement was most erratic, my weight was too far forward in my feet.  Even with my weight centered in the balls of my feet I still feel mostly in balance, but when I noticed it going into my toes it typically required a muscular correction.

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I drew the crude outline of feet.  The red cross indicates the center of gravity of my shooting position prior to my investigation into balance.  It’s just far forward enough to cause stability problems and frequent muscular corrections.

 

As bipeds we are constantly adjusting our bodies to maintain balance.  It’s so automatic that it can be hard to notice, but it is a constant balancing act to remain upright.  Balancing means moving body parts or simply contracting muscles to adjust the body’s center of gravity.  The body’s center of gravity is not a static place, but is dependent on the location of each part.

With only two points of support (feet), the most neutral and stable place for the center of gravity is centered directly and precisely between them in terms of distance, and directly on the imaginary line that runs from one foot to the other foot.

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The width of the stance also affects stability.  In the direction that the feet are widened stability is increased with width.  The height of the center of gravity also affects stability, lower being more stable than higher.

The above paragraph would seem to imply that widening the feet and bending the knees to become more stable would be optimal.  Unfortunately the shooter also needs to avoid muscle fatigue like the plague.  In the traditional standing position, the width of the feet is also tied to one’s natural point of aim, so it can’t just be set arbitrarily.  Again we find ourselves balancing competing needs.  A normal standing posture with the feet about shoulder width apart is probably the best starting point to compromise those needs.

Standing steadily with the center of gravity between feet that are shoulder width apart is easy.  Holding a rifle complicates things by changing the location of the center of gravity.  A rifle’s center of gravity varies according to the attributes of a rifle, but most rifles balance near the magazine or near the front of the receiver.

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That is the approximately location of the center of gravity of my rifle as it is configured at the moment.  The pictured rifle is the same model as mine, but I have an SWFA SS 3-9×42 on it and an Atlas bipod.

The key to integrating a rifle into a balanced standing posture is to ensure that the rifle’s center of gravity is placed so a plumb line hung from the rifle at its balance point would fall as nearly as practicable to the center of a straight line between the feet.  It is also ideal that the rifle’s center of gravity be coordinated with the shooter’s center of gravity, resulting in an advantageous total center of gravity.  This total center of gravity will likely be nearer to the shooter’s lead foot.

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The black line represents a rifle.  The dotted red cross represents the rifle’s center of gravity.  The unbroken red cross represents the total center of gravity of the shooting position.

 

I hope this has helped you to a better fundamental understanding about balance and equilibrium, and how holding a rifle influences one’s normal standing posture.  The next article will look at practical application to accomplish only one goal: to place each bullet as near the center of the target as possible.  I hope you will join me.