I got let out of my cage for a week and got to see some other people shooting. I was not able to participate, but the setting was a competition in which the participants were put under a significant amount of physical exertion, time stress, and artificial constraints designed to make the shooting more difficult. On day 1 rear bags were outlawed. On day 2 bipods were added to the list of contraband.
One course of fire allowed 4 minutes to fire five rounds at a distance of 100 yards from each of the following positions: sitting, kneeling, squatting, and standing. The target for each position was approximately 8” (if memory serves), with each position having a separate target. The rub was that each competitor had to do 20 pushups prior to each position (total of 80 pushups), and that the rifle and magazines had to be empty prior to each position. The competitors’ score was added to that of their partner (I didn’t have a partner so was not eligible for entry) for a total. For a shot to count as a hit it had to be completely within the scoring border. Anything touching the line, even if mostly in, was counted as a miss. I like that scoring system.
I saw some really interesting things. A tiny minority used slings for stability. Most didn’t seem to understand the principles of a solid position without using some kind of rest. One pair of shooters brought rucks to the line to use as supports and one of them went to the extreme of wearing it backwards to rest the rifle on in standing. I also saw a new fangled sitting position of some kind in which the heel of one foot was rested on the ground, the heel of the second foot was rested on the ball of the bottom foot, and the rifle on the ball of the second foot. It’s one of those things that make you go… huh?
To sum up what I saw in that shooting stage, which presented a fairly straightforward shooting problem in the context of moderate time stress, and moderate to high physical stress, many of the shooters did not have adequate exposure to the fundamentals of rifle marksmanship. Many also did not have sufficient practice in gun handling under any but the most favorable conditions. Because of this, they were left to make an attempt to come up with something that would work on the spot. Most, if not all, of these stopgap techniques were less successful than standard marksmanship techniques with 10 minutes of daily dryfire to support them would have been.
What came to my mind was the saying I have heard, that I’ll have to paraphrase, that there aren’t advanced techniques, just the fundamentals understood sufficiently well to be applied in advanced contexts (and under stress). Even in a context in which the shooter is forced into a position that doesn’t remotely resemble what I would call an “orthodox” position, the principles are really the same.
I don’t want to sound disparaging to the other shooters, if not just for my own sake, but it seems like information that should be universally understood to rifle shooters is becoming exceedingly rare. I also don’t want to sound like the Appleseed spokesperson, but all of these people could have benefited from one weekend at an Appleseed.
Personally, I would choose the most stable position I could get, and an orthodox unsupported position using a sling is just about last on my list (right ahead of the same position without a sling), but you can’t take for granted that there will always be a support when you need one. It’s a sad situation that most of these people had slings that they could have used to greatly increase their scores in this particular stage, but very few used them, or were adept (or familiar?) with using a sling for support.
My belief is that in the real world, there is probably an extremely limited context for a refined style of “standard” positional rifle shooting. A commenter on the blog told me quite a while back that it’s likely that the point of diminishing returns on that type of practice comes fairly quickly, and it’s more of something to maintain rather than to refine to the nth degree. That sounds like a reasonable position to me. The key to that is that to maintain it, it must be learned to begin with.
What is not unique to rifle shooting is that most of the time in order to learn a discipline one has to put in some hard work that may not be super exciting. When someone skips the crawling and walking stages in order to get to the running part right off the bat, he leaves huge gaps in his capabilities that are relatively easily exposed when someone other than himself is setting the context. At the range, when we set the agenda and the tempo of our own shooting, it can be too easy never to leave the comfort zone.
It was torture not getting to compete in this event. That kind of shooting is my bread and butter. What I found out later is that I was a little too weak on pushups, and that after 3 sets of 20 I was running out of gas (pathetic, I know). I also picked up a little problem in my shoulder that I need to let heal for a bit. The adrenaline probably would have given me a little extra gas in the tank, but it still would have been a stretch. Still, since sitting, kneeling, and squatting all allow the support elbow to be planted, muscular exhaustion isn’t a big deal, until it comes to offhand.
At the end I didn’t know whether to feel good about knowing what I know and having the skills that I have, or to feel bad for a large percentage of shooters who should have known but did not. It was hard to do either when I was coming from the safe position of an observer. It was a good motivator to really sharpen up my fitness and skill so that next time I can unleash myself.