A Brief Furlough

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.

11 thoughts on “A Brief Furlough

  1. Endorsing the concepts taught at Appleseed is not the same as being a spokesman for it. 90% or more of the shooters I know could benefit greatly from a couple of weekends learning the basic skill set in order to be minimally competent with their rifles. As your experience showed, there are still a lot of people trying to build the structure of their skills without an adequate foundation. Once one has a pretty good grasp of the basic techniques, and can hit the target, they can go on to advancing their skills as they see fit. Sadly though, it seems that there is still a majority of shooters that haven’t grasped the premise that only hits count.

    • Proponents of every method seem to have their strengths and weaknesses, but I think that you’re right.

      I really think the key is to keep growing as a person and as a shooter. One of the things that led me away from Appleseed was that I felt pressure to be a company man as far as technique and shooting philosophy when my own experience was sometimes telling me something slightly different. Is it a great program? Yes. The key is to understand exactly what it is and what it is not, and to be fair they tell you that it’s not combat training. I don’t think that many understand the gap between being great with marksmanship skills and being a fully functional rifleman.

      In my opinion, every shooter that shoots a qualifying Rifleman score for the first time, right after getting “patched” should be told that it’s the equivalent of a high school diploma. Is someone just out of high school qualified as he is to do any job? No, it’s just a bare minimum starting point, and in some cases it below the minimum required. To be ready to do a job there’s still training to be done. To be good at any job will take time and experience. Rifle shooting is no different. What’s scary is how many shooters don’t have that minimum standard.

      Larry, this is not aimed at you. I just wanted to be clear to anyone else who might be reading.

  2. Rifleslinger unleashed! Now there’s a scary thought! I hope you don’t bite, or chase cars (especially parked ones..)!!

    What you saw was probably a representative snapshot in microcosm of the average rifle shooter these days.

    An Appleseed weekend, reading all your blog, and reading my rifle book would be a big help, no doubt!

  3. I never take anything personal on the net. Too many complexities in the art of communication. I think we are saying the same thing.

  4. Nice timing, I needed to read this before going to the YMCA, and I don’t do pushups unless I were leading the training. Which is not to worry about. In the US Army, the basics of rifle marksmanship are taught, then put away for annual qualification, more rounds spent poorly in suppressive fires than I like to groan about. But they have lots and lots of bullets, until you need just a few well aimed ones, and who around here can fire a well aimed shot? One day I will have to talk seriously to a Marine about their marksmanship training and its retention, they still march better than the other uniformed services.

    Nice thing about being so old, no one expects the physical effort from me, and I get to buy my own ammunition and set up my personal standards of Earl.

    I am with you Larry, half my best comments and thoughts continuously rattle about my head long after my fingers have typed something else on the screen… so nothing on the net should ever be personal – except words of praise? Yeah.

    • Lots and lots of bullets would be a good thing, except wasting them is not.

      I read today that the only existing lead smelter in the US is shutting down due to EPA regs that just got way tighter. Who needs to ban guns when ammo can be made prohibitively expensive? And it just seemed like it was getting better.

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