“On Demand” Performance

I remember my first USPSA match.  I used my wife’s Browning Hi-Power.  I took enough time and got mostly A hits, except for the B’s I got on a stage that required headshots at 15 or 20ish yards (but the rounds were grouped nicely just to the left).  I clearly remember one of the more experienced competitors advising me that I was shooting too slowly if I was shooting all A’s, and that I should push my speed up to the point where maybe 2 out of 10 shots were C’s.  It was good advice at the time, as I was very slow.

After a while playing the action pistol game, pushing my performance a bit became second nature to me.  I don’t think it’s odd to have a couple shots that are outside the A zone on a USPSA target, or something similar if I’m using a different target.

In some applications, missing brings with it harsher penalties than a point deduction.  On the other end of the spectrum from USPSA, in a defensive shooting, every round will be accounted for and must be articulated.  Missing the target and hitting a bystander would be disastrous.  That context necessitates a change in aiming philosophy.

I recently had a two day rifle/pistol course that served as sort of a ‘refresher’ class for me to really knock the rust off of my close range skills.  In the drills we shot, in order to get a score we were not allowed to miss the primary scoring ring, usually the size of an A zone (body or head, depending on the drill).  Near the end of the first day I shot a drill, which I think was some derivative of the 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 drill, and I had a miss.  NO SCORE FOR ME!  (Soup Nazi voice).  I had to wait my turn to shoot it again, and I figured that I would have to see all my hits in order to get them.

I shot the drill again and I controlled my pace just to the point that I knew each shot had an acceptable sight picture.  My cadence felt much slower.  I would guess that my splits were in the 0.3 range rather than the 0.2 neighborhood that I usually can stay in, so it wasn’t as slow as I perceived it as I was shooting it.

The difference between those two runs illustrated for me the difference between training for a game and training for ‘actual’ shooting.  I could have told you before that yes, of course I understood that there are times when I need to slow down and get my hits.  The problem has been that unless the context was drastically different, such as a drill requiring the utmost accuracy with no time limit, I have tended to let the speed carry me away to the edge of my limits and beyond.

Requiring all hits as a prerequisite to receive a score on a drill brought me to a place where I think I know how to run my shots at an appropriate speed without letting myself be carried away by the ipsick rush.  I believe this is the heart of all those catchy sayings about not being able to miss fast enough to win and accuracy being final and all that.  Go as fast as you want, but don’t have any misses (overriding first priority).  That’s how it’s done.

The difference between “on demand” performance and the “ipsick rush” style shooting is that what you can do cold and clean versus shooting a drill 20 times and cherry picking a really good run.  A guarantee versus a maybe.  One is for real and one is for fun.  One is an end and one is a means.  You can figure it out.

X15 Barrel

One thing I just got done that I had been working on for a while is getting a new barrel on my Noveske.  The Noveske barrel, despite their reputation, just never was as precise as I wanted for the vision I have for the X15 (it’s what I call my AR as I experiment with it).  I also have to concede the possibility that I could just suck as far as precision shooting goes.

Although I kept meticulous records of my round count for the first 3000 rounds or so of the Noveske barrel, I have to guesstimate that I probably have a total of 3500 rounds through it.  I figure the barrel still has a significant amount of life in it, so I will probably put it on a close range blaster at a later time.

The new barrel is a Compass Lake Engineering ‘Recon’ barrel, which is a 16.1” barrel with a mid-length gas system made from a Douglas 1-8 blank.  I picked the CLE chamber instead of the Wylde, based on a conversation with Bunny at CLE.  Not having shot it yet, I worry about having compromised reliability for the sake of potentially better precision, but I’ll find out as I go.  I got one of Compass Lake’s gas blocks, which is a set screw style instead of pinned.  Again, it may not be as reliable, so the experimental designation is going to stick on this rifle for the time being.  Also, I opted to get a bolt matched to the barrel.  It may not have been necessary, but the only thing it can hurt is my wallet.  I think when Frank matches the barrel to the bolt he says a secret incantation to get some extra mojo in it.

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The smudge came from me.  I apologize for not having my good camera on hand to properly document this for you.  

It took several months before I got enough time to think about installing the barrel.  When I finally did I found out that my friend’s upper vice block wouldn’t fit my Vltor MUR upper that came on my Noveske upper.  I had to spend about $40 on a DPMS vice block that fits on the inside of the upper.  I also needed a special crow’s foot wrench to fit the Noveske NSR barrel nut.

The installation itself was pretty uneventful.  Never having done one before, I got some assistance from a meticulous friend who has done a few barrel installs.  I can say with the utmost confidence that the handguard is as perfectly indexed to the upper receiver as is possible.  As I received the upper from Noveske I could see some mis-alignment.  No more.

IMG_8459The receiver extension will never, ever be this clean again.  I’m happy with the alignment of the M4 cuts.

I have a couple thousand Sierra 69 grain SMKs that I got from pulling them from a bad batch of Gold Medal Match several years back (a 69 grain bullet at 3400 feet per second is not a good thing).  I really want these bullets to work in this AR so I can actually use them up.  The Noveske barrel never shot them well.

I have a few pounds of N540, a pound of Varget, and about two thirds a keg of 844 pulldown to play with.  Varget and N540 both sound about right for a 69 grain bullet, and since I have enough of the 540 to play around with a bit, I started there.  I learned somewhere that between 24 and 25 grains should do the trick, so I loaded a few test loads in between there to play with.

At the range, I loaded all my test loads in a single magazine so I could test them round robin style.  That means that each subsequent round I fire is a different load on a different target.  I load mine in the magazine such that I shoot the lightest charged round first, each subsequent round being a heavier charge until I cycle back to the light round on the light target again.  I do this so that the conditions of each group will be as similar as I can make them to each other group in the test.  The downside is that it seems as though I end up with larger groups than if I fire them one at a time, but absolute size isn’t as critical in this step as a valid comparison between charge weights.

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What I found most interesting, although of no real consequence, is that I didn’t have to touch the scope’s adjustment.  I started at 25 yards, figuring on 1.2-1.4 mils of offset at that distance for a 100 yard zero.  I started with two rounds, figuring that for what the barrel is, and the distance, that it would be enough to make further gross adjustments.  Turns out I didn’t need to.

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I moved to 100 and fired the remainder of the 10 rounds I had allocated for zeroing.  I found out that my reticle covered that small bull on that target, so I had to replace the load testing targets with my standard target with the 4 MOA circle at 100.  I tested five rounds of 24.0, 24.5, and 25.0 grains of N540.  That could be construed as less than the bare minimum, but I just wanted an idea of what seemed to work.  So far the 24.5 grain load seems to work in my rifle:

69 SMK 24.5 N540Sub half MOA.  Must mean that I did my part.  Whether that means it’s “sub MOA all day long if I do my part”, I’m not sure.  I did my best to ensure that the photo is as close to actual size as possible on my screen.  

As I mentioned, I didn’t have to touch my knobs to get this point of impact.  In fact, I went to adjust my zero to get it closer, and with my scope’s funky 0.2 mil adjustments I can’t get my point of impact any closer than that.  Why they use a 0.2 mil adjustment is beyond me.  It’s a stupid idea for a capped turret that is more than likely just going to be zeroed and left alone.  If the point is to get a good zero, which incidentally will be the basis for all further holds to compensate for trajectory and wind, why not enable the user to get a better zero?

So my current feeling is that the rifle is probably capable of shooting how I want it to.  A mean radius of 0.191 MOA is very good (better than I’ve shot in a long time).  The Noveske barrel never shot that well.  How well that small initial sample predicts the future performance is unclear.  There have been no malfunctions of any kind so far.  Predicting the future performance of the nut behind the trigger may be well nigh impossible.

Chasing That Last 1% of Performance…

…From the 50th Percentile.

We all have to deal with finite amounts of time and resources to allocate to those things that we deem worthy.  It would make sense then that it should be a priority to invest those limited commodities as wisely as possible.  We want the most bang for the buck.

From what I’ve seen and from personal experience, when it comes to improving the ability to use a rifle to hit things with bullets, people tend to use their time, effort, and money unwisely.  I have wasted plenty myself.

The basic problem is a failure to consider return on investment.  How much are you getting for what you put in?  I have been willing to invest a lot of time and effort into improving my shooting.  Think of the Soviet Union and their military budget.  That has been me.  I rarely considered the cost of my input.  If I thought it might be possible that I could squeeze anything more out of my performance I was willing to make the sacrifice.

That approach could make sense for a certain segment of shooters, namely those who represent the top shooters.  The one little issue with that is that’s not going to be appropriate for most of the shooters out there.  By definition, for there to be top shooters, the rest of us have to be worse than them to a greater or lesser degree.

I have always had the problem of wanting everything to be right, all at once.  I just don’t like the idea that I could be doing it wrong.  The reason that’s a problem is because not all things are of equal importance.  Some of the things we fuss over may not make a difference at all, except in terms of the preferences of different internet forums or communities.

In most disciplines and in most products there is a “sweet spot” in which value is maximized.  Take rifles, for instance.  A $1000 dollar rifle may be twice as good quality wise as a $500 rifle, but a $5000 rifle will not likely be five times as good as the $1000 rifle.  It’s just minor details, quality control, finish work that looks nice, maybe better options, etc.  The way that many of us approach our practice is like putting in the $5000, and not even getting the basic functional product, but only the minor details.  Those minor details don’t translate to increased function without a foundation to place them on, and it only makes sense to put in that extra work if you’re good enough to appreciate the difference.  Think about it this way- if you still have room to improve your follow through and trigger control, is weighing cases and neck turning a wise investment of time?

I’ve come to the conclusion that most of us can get the greatest value and satisfaction from our shooting relative to what we put in by making modest expenditures of time, effort, and money in the areas that have the greatest effect on final performance.  In fact, I believe that expending too much time and effort in an inefficient manner can reduce performance and is likely to reduce one’s level of satisfaction with the outcome.  I think that it would lower one’s satisfaction even if performance is maintained or even slightly increased, due to the paltry return on investment.  I’m not going to make suggestions with what you do with your money.  Check with your spouse on that one.

I think the most bang for the buck areas of practice are standing, trigger control up to the command break, getting control of balance in all positions, and shot timing.