Revision

I didn’t intend to publish the previous post.  I wrote it a week or two ago and just kept pushing back the scheduled publish date, and it finally just went out.  I’ve been rethinking it, and I don’t think distinguishing between medium range marksmanship style shooting and medium range field shooting is a valid one.  I’m leaning towards considering only how the bullet hits the target, how large the target is, and how long it takes to hit it.

Thanks to Karl and Federalist for helping me to come to that conclusion.

 

On Standards: Medium Range General Marksmanship

I’ll start with what I’m most comfortable with.  I didn’t invent this wheel, but I’ve ridden on it a bunch, hit the curb with it a time or two, and adjusted the spokes to true it up.  Okay, I have to acknowledge that I’ve taken the analogy way too far.  Suffice it to say that I’m familiar with it.

I think of this spectrum of rifle shooting as a generally 100 to 500 yard distance, although that can be adjusted shorter or longer depending on target, perhaps terrain, and maybe some other circumstances.  Time is typically a concern at this distance, the range not being so distant that the shooter is undetectable by sight, sound, or smell, but hopefully we can rule out touch and taste.  This is also within the lethal range of most small arms, so the ‘social’ marksman has to consider the two way effect as well.

The ‘general’ aspect of this skill spectrum connotes a “pure marksmanship” type of shooting.  It’s to be a test of shooting and gun handling under time.  This is more of a sterile test of skill, rather than an emphasis of interaction with the shooter’s immediate environment.  We can leave out considerations of movement, cover, concealment, and use of what is available externally for support.  In my mind this also means that we leave out what cannot be carried, accessed, and employed in a practical manner by a shooter in the field.

This spectrum of rifle shooting is, in my opinion, nearly adequately addressed by the Appleseed AQT, but with a few caveats.  Before I discuss which caveats and why, I feel like I should discuss my qualifications to make this discussion.

I’ve been shooting “Rifleman” scores on AQTs since day 1 of my first Appleseed.  I’ve been shooting scores in the 230s since my first shoot way back in aught-niner.  At my last shoot my scores on all the AQTs I shot were day 1: 246, 247, day 2: 247, 243, 229 (full distance), 244 (full distance), average score = 242.667 using 55 grain FMJ handloads.  Overall, I feel that I can say without reservation that I am ‘good’ in this niche of shooting, and that is coming from a person who is extremely self-critical.  I don’t know if you have to be good to define what good is, but it helps.

Also, I am not advocating here that Appleseed needs to change their scoring system or how they do things.  This is purely a discussion of modifying the AQT for a more general test of abilities.

The first caveat I would make for using the AQT as a means for evaluating a shooter in the medium range, general marksmanship spectrum is that I don’t believe that the shooter should have the luxury of preparation beyond that of having a loaded rifle at the ready.  That would necessarily exclude the luxury finding one’s natural point of aim prior to the command to begin.  It would also rule out having the sling on the arm, and the shooter allowed to be ‘set’ in position (as is allowed by Appleseed in stages 1 and 4).  I think that a standard ready position, probably standing in a relaxed position, should be mandated for the test to be more meaningful.  As mentioned above, equipment would be limited to what the shooter can carry and use in the field.  Gamers gonna game, game, game, game, game, so if you have to make them walk 5 miles to shoot (walk it off, walk it off), so be it (and remember, no prep time!).

The second modification I would make is that I would allow for the shooter to address each stage in a ‘freestyle’ manner.  If you have a bipod you can use it.  If you want to ‘monopod’ using the magazine, do it.  If you want to utilize stackfoot sitting, have at it.  Kneeling or squatting would be permissible instead of sitting.  Perhaps Hawkins instead of prone is your thing.  The limitation would be that a position of “like height” to the intended position be used (this is to simulate dealing with obstructive intermediate terrain, so it’s important).  Why freestyle?  If the shooter is able to deal with the problem of terrain, he connects bullet with target, and does so in the permitted time, do we care exactly how the bullet got there?  Results are paramount.  Methods are secondary.

Thirdly, I don’t believe that attaining a score of 210 is adequate to define a great shooter in this niche of shooting.  I have seen some mediocre shots score a 210.  I think that 225 is getting closer.  225 is 90% of 250, which if we’re going to be arbitrary, is at least a nice round number, an A-.  I would not consider a score of 225 acceptable for myself.  I could plop right down, right now and shoot a score better than that cold.  And that would be my final requirement- that the shooter can do it on demand, utterly cold, without any preparation or coaching beforehand.  Also make that a clean score with no “30 cal rule” (seriously, if you were to scale up the reduced ‘400’ yard target to actual size, a .22 hold would be close to 4″).  Under those conditions, a score of 225 is actually pretty good.  I would consider that person a good shot within that realm of shooting.

If you read carefully above you may have noticed that I said the AQT nearly adequately addresses this niche of rifle shooting.  The only real possible deficiency I’ve been able to think of so far is that I could conceivably bomb stage 1 (standing) and still come out with a decent score.  One way to deal with that would be to say that no stage can have less than 43 or 44 points.  I haven’t really crunched the numbers, I just threw that out there.

What I actually like better is having a reference of group size according to position.  It’s pretty easy for me to throw numbers out that I would consider decent for myself (not the crazy numbers I would have expected early on, but those that I might expect on an average day).  I’ll just throw out some numbers for 10 shot groups in MOA.

Prone, unsupported with sling: 1.75 MOA
Sitting, unsupported with sling: 2.75 MOA
Kneeling, unsupported with sling: 5 MOA
Standing, unsupported: 6.5 MOA

I would consider those good, but not great numbers.

Ballistic Lock Picking

Warning: I never condone my own behavior, so don’t take the following as advice.

My wife has this sweet vintage 1948 utility trailer that she loves hauling stuff around in.  It was her grandpa’s, and now it’s all her’s.  She was raised in the ‘hood (a crime ridden neighborhood), so she’s constantly paranoid about this sweet trailer getting stolen.  Therefore it HAS TO HAVE A LOCK ON IT AT ALL TIMES!  We were pulling a load of our kids’ bikes on a dusty logging road.  The dust was too much for the lock, and it jammed the mechanism.  I tried cleaning it to no avail.  The next day when I got home the trailer was still locked to the Expedition and the key was broken off in the lock.  Someone tried brute force.  That’s not good with brass keys.

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Normally you’d think bolt cutters would be the thing to use.  The lock wasn’t going to budge under them, and there wasn’t room to cut it.  The chain is all original to the trailer, man, and you can’t go and cut something as cherry as that.

I decided that a .308 round might do the trick.  My wife was concerned about fragmentation, and that’s a good thing to be concerned about.  She might have been worried about the tires we just bought for it the previous week that cost $1000.  I’m not exactly sure.  Mostly I hear that “wha-wha-wha-wha” sound that Charlie Brown’s teacher makes when she talks about stuff like that.

I chose a bonded 168 grain bullet, as my experience has been that it really holds together and keeps driving forward.  Not just a little bit either.  That thing will just keep on trucking right through all kinds of stuff.  Don’t ask me about my testing, just rest assured that it’s been extensive.

I parked the Expedition in a gravel pit and presented it so the lock would be broadside.  My distance was 37 yards.  My hold was a half mil.  I tried for the cylinder itself, missing only slightly.

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It was definitely looser after that first shot, but it was still on.  No signs of damage or concerns with fragmentation at that point, so we decided to proceed.  It looked like there was still a portion of the mechanism to the right that needed to go, so I aimed slightly right.

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Obviously that did the trick, and the chain was left completely undamaged, as was the rest of the vehicle, and of course the sweet vintage trailer.

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The lock made a nice necklace for my 17 year-old daughter.  It’s a nice conversation-ender piece when boys want to talk to her (but probably only in my imagination).

 

 

A Special Treat

Things that are easy, convenient, and work well don’t come along very often.  Things that are worthwhile usually aren’t easy, you have to break your damn back to get anywhere in life, blah, blah, blah.  When I find something to the contrary, that is to say, efficiently effective, I’ll take it.  Yes, I found something good during all my crazy experimentation, group measuring and staticizing (made that word up).

I’ll have to refresh your memory, so let’s do some recapping.  In January I did a series of articles on the loop sling and how it works.  I followed that up by analyzing how well it works in comparison to no sling at all in a few positions.  Then I took a look at the hasty sling, even though I don’t like it, to give it a fair chance (and I’m still not a fan).  About the last thing I did was to put up an introductory article about the potential for the cross body carry (what folks tend to call ‘tactical’) sling to be used as a marksmanship aid.  I’ve had my analysis done since then, so the demo photos and shots of groups are old.  That’s where we’re picking things up.

Kneeling

I’ll give up the punchline first: the cross body sling and the kneeling position are like chocolate and peanut butter.  They go together like they were meant for each other.  Some other positions with the cross body sling stabilization were potentially useful in certain ways, others were okay, and several were just not good at all.

Why does the cross body sling stabilize so well in the kneeling position?  The broad answer is that it presents a happy confluence of factors.  I’ll show you how.

Remember that the conventional loop sling, which we’ll consider as our gold standard of sling support, works to take the place of all the muscles within its span.  Here are some photo reference reminders:

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Hopefully that conveyed the point that the taut span of webbing from the arm to the front of the hand, coupled with the structure of the bones and connective tissue of the hand, arm, and shoulder, allow for a much greater degree of relaxation in the position, especially when the support elbow can be rested on a stable surface.  It also allows for a freakishly consistent return to a finite natural point of aim because unlike a muscle, it’s a strap that ain’t goan stretch.

Let’s begin our examination of this cross body carry sling as used to support our position in kneeling.

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A few things come to mind.  I shaved the beard quite a while ago.  Pity.  If I ever buy beer again I’m probably going to get carded.  Next, when am I ever going to learn about that strong side foot making me shaky when it’s planted too near to the center of my gravity?  Also, I’ve lost about 20 lbs of fat since that picture was taken (I carried it pretty well, but I was riding at about 25%).  Don’t worry, I decided to keep the muscle and to keep getting stronger.

So from what you know about the loop sling, you should be able to tell that in the above photo the cross body sling, having been tightened to a snug setting, is supporting the rifle in an extremely similar manner.  The straight line of the sling from below the armpit to the support hand looks strikingly similar to that of the loop sling.  The primary difference is that the origin of the sling is on the butt swivel, and that the back has to support the sling tension, rather than just the support arm.

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The reason that this support works so well in kneeling is likely because of two things.  In kneeling, the back is nearly vertical.  This gives the sling something to hang on to.  Other positions tend to lean the torso forward, which causes the sling to ride up to the neck and lose the tension it needs.  The second factor is that the support elbow can be planted on the support side knee.  Like I said, a happy confluence of factors.

The feeling of the cross body carry support was very similar to the loop sling.  You may be able to see in the photo above that my support arm kept the sling from sliding up my back toward my neck.  That did contribute to some discomfort (achiness) in my shoulder area for a while after.  That’s not normal, but for shooting test targets and getting my photo taken by an eight-year-old, I spent some serious time in position.

The most pleasing part was the target.  I had comparisons to my performance with the loop sling and without a sling.  To ensure that I could record all my shots (i.e., not miss the target completely), I shot from 50 yards.  The pace was neither slow, nor rapid, but at my natural pace (which tends more toward the rapid, but I wasn’t in a hurry).  The black primary bull presents an 8 MOA (just a hair over 4″) target at 50 yards.

Kneeling, no sling:

Kneeling No Sling

Kneeling, loop sling:

Kneeling Loop Sling

Kneeling, cross body carry support:

Kneeling Tactical Sling

Interestingly, the loop sling group was narrow and tall, while the cross body supported group was short and wider.  Overall however, you can see that the cross body carry sling won this round.  I don’t think it’s a definitive indication that the cross body carry sling is more stable than the loop sling, but I will take it as an indication that performance between the two is sure darn close.

Given the relatively comparable precision of the loop sling and the cross body sling in the kneeling position, you have to consider the time necessary to utilize the support.  The loop sling can be fast, given a practical sling (or it can be unbearably slow, as is the case with the USGI web sling).  If you figure it takes about 3-4 seconds to go from port arms to a slung kneeling position with a Ching sling or RS-1, it’s not really an apples to apples comparison to go from carry mode in cross body to a stabilized kneeling position:

 

Incidentally, within the last week I finally got my RS-3, which is the sling in the video above, up for sale here.  I’ll say no more about it for now.  If you want to see why the written word is my preferred mode of communication, there’s a video at the link.

I found the cross body support useless in prone and in sitting.  There was a bit of support in squatting, but not so hot.  It does do something in standing and I’ll probably get to that sometime relatively soon.  It’s still nice to have a loop sling as a tool on the belt, and I think it’s definitely a necessity to have just in case, but for kneeling the cross body carry support is most definitely the way to go.

Timing

I wrote this in February or March, prior to going on break.  The really good parts I just added to it right now. 

This article will pertain to target shooting, where you have the luxury of making your shot on your time.

I’m getting to the point in my standing position where I’m almost happy with my level of precision.  Scary.  I’m sure the last MOA will be the toughest to shave off.

I think that if a relatively decent shooter were to look through my sight picture in the standing position and experience what my hold looks like, he would not believe that my average extreme spread for a 10 shot standing group is in the 5.5 to 7 minute range.  The limit of my hold is much larger than that.

The reason that I can group much better than my hold is that there is a moment where the hold steadies up, where all systems are go, and all that needs to be done is to press the trigger before the moment is gone.  After I spent a lot of time in the standing position, I realized that the skill of timing the shot release was allowing me to get easier results in other positions as well.  Any position that is not perfectly steady will show smaller groups if the shooter is able to time the release of the shot.

The ability to effectively time the shot depends on a few things.  The shooter must be able to control the trigger sufficiently well to allow for a very narrow window of time- probably a half second or less.  The shooter must be aware of his cycle of movement.  The shooter must have the patience and discipline to accept only the right moment and not one that is only ‘close’.  The sights resting briefly on the target is not the same thing as the sights crossing over it.  The shooter must also have a level of attention and readiness to fire that is always at the ready to recognize the right moment and seize it immediately.

Knowing Your Rhythm

The only way to get a feel for your personal cycle of movement is to do a lot of firing.  I do a lot of dry firing but in my case I needed live fire to really learn to take advantage of my cycle of movement.  I think for me it had to do with making live fire standing practice a routine thing so it didn’t feel so much like a test.  Dry fire probably set the skill, but it didn’t transfer directly to live fire without some work.

My own cycle of movement begins with a rather wide arc.  I usually take one breath after bringing the rifle up.  A second after I reach my natural respiratory pause, things usually begin to settle.  I don’t see figure eights, just sort of a happy meandering sort of movement.  If my position is properly balanced I will feel a sense of steady calmness about my position.  If my center of gravity is outside of my feet I will feel a sense of slight panic and urgency to quickly get the shot off.  If everything is as it should be I will only have a moment before things begin to break down.  For the most part I only get one optimum cycle each time I bring the rifle up, although sometimes I get two good shots before lowering it.

Knowing Your Hold

One of the things that has seemed to help my development in the standing position is using an appropriate sized target, or in my case an appropriate distance from my target.  Using a huge target is obviously a waste of time unless you just need an ego boost.  Using a target that is too small imparts a feeling of futility that results in reckless decision making when it comes to breaking a shot.  If there is already very little hope of hitting the target, the shooter is more likely to just to say, “Screw it,” and let a shot fly.

Using a target that is difficult, but potentially hittable 90% to 100% of time with a little luck or perseverance will allow for the shooter to relax and practice good decision making.  When I was working standing hard last December, I realized that my confidence was lacking at the 50 yard line with my 4” target.  It was on the day that I moved forward to 35 yards that my groups went from 10.590 MOA extreme spread to 6.775 MOA extreme spread.  Since then I haven’t gone back above 7.5 MOA in my ‘practical’ standing position, which is my normal one, and lately have been regularly between 5.5 and 6.5 MOA.

With that difficult to hit, but attainable target size, the shooter will be forced to pay attention to his movement cycle and make good decisions.  There are times when I’ll see what looks like the real window for firing, but I can tell if I’m really on top of things that it’s going to be too transitory to break a quality shot.  Great shots usually don’t come about when the muzzle is moving away from the target.  Only with experience will you know the difference.

Seize the Moment

You should have the feeling of a predator ready to pounce, but only when the time is right.  If you work enough on your hold, such as with holding exercises, you may become too accustomed to watching your sight without the intention to do anything about it when it is on target.  Sometimes the right time is only long enough to recognize it and fire and not one bit longer.  That’s not the time to be watching passively at your sight while your attention is on your balance or your breath.

When the sight is up, and you’re about the business of firing, your trigger finger should just be waiting for work like that homeless guy who uses newspaper to clean your windshield while you’re stopped at the intersection of Sunset and San Vincente.  You don’t really want him touching your car, but you have to admire his work ethic.  The sight resting on the target is like a Mercedes stuck at a fresh red light (it’s your cue that it’s GO TIME).  The trigger under your finger with the slack taken up is like the LA Times Opinion section in your hand, ready to wipe down that windshield, except unlike the LA Times hopefully it doesn’t completely suck.  Get after that windshield!  There might be a dollar in your immediate future, and a 40 of Mickey’s in your hand very soon!

That was so impressive I think I just have to leave it right there.  This isn’t the time for me to thank your for reading.  You should be thanking me now, shouldn’t you?

How to Define a Great Rifle Shooter?

First of all, yes I seem to be back writing.  It wasn’t a given.  I don’t know how much I’m going to do, how often, etc…  If it’s a win for both you and me then I will do it.  If one of us isn’t getting anything out of it, I probably won’t.  Since I don’t make money from the blog, it has to be worth my time in other ways.  Sometimes churning away at picky experiments is not worth it.  I’ll give out some updates on me later, and I do have unfinished (or simply undocumented) work from before I took my break, but first things first.

Part of a larger project I’m working on has me thinking about how to get close to one’s potential as a rifle shooter.  I suppose that has really been the point all along, but I don’t think we can have realistic hopes to reach a destination without defining where it is.  The last year has been a big leap for me as a shooter, and it has changed the way I look at the journey of the rifleman, both in front and behind me.

Looking behind me, it’s clear that I didn’t really know where I was going, and it was hard to recognize the path.  In hindsight I can see it more clearly, and recalling the route that I’ve taken shows that I probably spent as much time wandering off on side journeys instead of keeping to the most direct route to where I am now.  Some bushwhacking isn’t harmful, but maybe I could have saved some time and maybe more than just a little money if I’d been more efficient.  That’s the problem with being your own teacher.

Part of what is missing in the orienteering tools that the average do-it-yourself is a standard of excellence to act as a beacon to guide him along his path.  This started gnawing at me sometime last year.  Really, it’s been longer than that, and it was part of the reason I started this blog.

Other fields have standards.  Hobbies have standards.  Competitive bodies have standards.  So why do we lack them?

One could argue that we do have standards.  There are some, and there are even some good ones that address certain aspects of shooting.  I’m familiar with some professional standards, but the problem is that they tend to ensure that the candidate is practically guaranteed to prove his suitability for the position, rather than to actually test it.  What we lack is a comprehensive set of standards for excellence in the many facets of rifle shooting.

Part of the difficulty lies in the diverse applications of the rifle.  Excellence can really only be defined in terms of how effectively it accomplishes a given task.  No single standard can be reasonably expected to provide an adequate measure of every application.  So the logical first step is figuring out what types of skills we need to have yardsticks for.  Here are those that come to mind, just off the top of my head:

  • Close range, high speed.
  • Medium range, time sensitive, general marksmanship. I’ll arbitrarily define medium range as 100-500, though other variables could alter that.  This would be Appleseed’s realm of specialty, using non-scaled targets at full distance.
  • Medium range field shooting, e.g. the Cooper standards.
  • Surgical shooting- small targets in conditions and/or distances that don’t require complex accounting for trajectory or environmentals.
  • Precision shooting in the environment- up to long range, which I’ll arbitrarily define as 1000 yards, possibly extreme long range, >1000 yards.

I believe that any standards devised with the intention to measure the above, or any other modes of rifle shooting, should include the requisite rifle handling skills (loading, reloading, clearance) that would be reasonably expected in that venue.

Another thing to consider is the value of versatility.  Can a specialist really be considered a great rifle shooter?  In my mind, the answer is no.  Can someone who is only a generalist?  I don’t think so, but I’m interested in hearing what you have to say.

Normally, when I have written something and published it on the blog here, I have the entire series of articles ahead of it all done.  At least if not done, I know what I want to say, or what I want to look into.  This time that is not the case.  I’m open to feedback.  In fact, I probably can’t get through this without some feedback from shooters who have already attained some level of excellence in some of the niches of rifle shooting I outlined above.  Since this site is used as a free resource for a lot of budding riflemen and riflewomen, any help you provide could become very useful for others.

As always, thanks for reading.