Breathing for the Rifle Shooter

Today we’re going to learn how to breathe.  Good thing too, because you kind of need to do that to survive.  Actually I’m going to discuss how to breathe to achieve your best accuracy while shooting your rifle.

You might wonder why it matters how you breathe while you’re shooting.  Hopefully you understand by now that consistency is very important for precise shooting.  This also applies to the way your lungs support your position.  You might have noticed that when you’re in position and you breathe, your sights move up and down.  This is evidence that the amount of breath in your lungs affects the elevation of your point of impact.  Coincidentally (or maybe not so coincidentally), inconsistent breathing typically manifests itself on the target as vertical dispersion (stringing).


A simulated target from an imaginary shooter with inconsistent imaginary breathing.

Another factor that’s affected by your breathing is how much oxygen is in your system.  Obviously, you want to be at your best when you break the shot.  That means that your vision should be at its best, your trigger finger at its most tactile, and your mind in a state of calm concentration.  Holding your breath will not facilitate this ideal state of being your’re looking for.  In fact, the longer you hold your breath, the worse it will get.  Generally the accepted window of time from inhaling to your vision beginning to degrade from reduced oxygen is five to seven seconds.

Based on what I’ve written so far, you can likely infer that what you’re looking for is a consistent volume of air in the lungs and an ample supply of oxygen in your system.  You can accomplish this by firing during the natural respiratory pause.  Let me explain what that means.  Your diaphragm is the muscle that is responsible for your lungs taking in air.  This muscle is located in the area of your solar plexus (where your ribs meet below the sternum).

When the diaphragm contracts, it causes your lungs to expand and take in air.  When it relaxes, the natural elasticity of the body causes the lungs to expel the air.  No pushing or tension is needed to get that air out.  This is your natural respiratory pause.  Some air will still be in the lungs, unless you contract your abdomen to push it out.  If you listen to someone’s breathing while they sleep (I recommend that you do NOT try this with a stranger- ask me how I know!) you should get a good illustration of what the natural respiratory pause is.

Let’s apply this to shooting.  Say you’re in the prone position.  You’ve slung up, gotten your position just right, found your NPA and you’re ready to fire.  Inhale.  You’re reticle should drop.  Now relax and let your breath escape naturally until it stops on its own.  The reticle should rise.  If your NPA is truly on, your reticle should rise and stop exactly on your target.  You should now break the shot within 3-5 seconds.  If you go longer than that, take another breath and start over.  If you wait too long, you’re likely to have trouble focusing your vision, you’ll feel panicky and rushed, and your trigger finger may not perform its duty as well as you’d like.

Now you know the proper method of breathing for optimum accuracy.  What if you are in more of a hurry and the demand for accuracy is less pressing?  Then just do what you need to do that will work to get the job done in the time allotted.  This is rifle shooting, not dogma.  One method may not apply to all situations.  Just use your head.

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