Follow through is a crucial, but often overlooked element of marksmanship. It’s the mental component of breaking the shot without disturbing the sights. I realize that I just did an article about concentration, and another indulgently long one on trigger control, but follow through is special, combines elements of both, and warrants its own discussion. Separating all these elements into different concepts should not lead you to believe that they are actually separate from each other. They are all part of the same thing, and there’s a good bit of crossover.
To give you an idea of why follow through is so important, let’s consider what happens in the absence of follow through. You might have that perfect sight picture, and be in the process of what feels like a perfect compressed surprise break when you see the sights move as you’re pressing the trigger and boom, you call a bad shot. Why does this happen? Because we’re all slightly mental (okay, not just slightly).
Follow through means the difference between knowing where the shot went and not knowing. It means the difference between calling the shot, and wondering what happened. Wondering what happened won’t help you recover that miss, or improve for the next shot. Essentially, follow through is what holds all the other elements of marksmanship together long enough for the bullet to make it out of the barrel.
Follow through has been defined primarily by the ability to call the shot. This is certainly important. If you see where the sight was at the time the shot broke, it means that at least you’re paying attention. Calling the shot also gives you good information and instant feedback. This is important, but if you see the sight move at the moment the shot breaks, calling the shot ain’t going to fix it, are it? Therefore we can infer from this that the ability to call the shot does not equate to follow through all by itself.
I asked a good friend who happens to be a great rifle shot if he had any insights on follow through. He said that he thinks of it as trying to keep the sights on target through to the end of the recoil cycle. That would mean that you’re intentionally applying your will to keep the sights on target even if you know the rifle is going to hit you with recoil. The will is the important thing here.
I like to think of follow through similarly to what you do when you throw a ball or Frisbee. If you think of your will guiding the projectile to its target it just seems to magically go in just the right spot. Your mind doesn’t let go of the ball/Frisbee until it reaches your partner’s hand. You also need to realize that although a bullet moves very fast, it is not instantaneous. It’s not even as fast as a beam of light. That means that you need to hold all of your concentration and physical form until after all of the sound and fury subside.
I wrote about the surprise trigger break in the trigger control article. It’s a good way to learn trigger control. The thing is though, you being so smart, you’re going to figure out pretty much the exact point that your trigger will break with enough practice whether you realize it or not. There might even be a time when you need to break a shot at a specific moment. What then?
There comes a time in every rifleman’s life when he just has to accept the fact that recoil is going to happen. When you come to the realization that you’re going to focus through and make your shot, recoil be damned, you’re following through. For a real rifleman, this is about every aspect of your life, not just shooting. If you take on an important task, work through the discomfort and backlash until you’ve done it right.
Follow through can come about by just being “in the moment”, giving your attention to the process of what you’re doing, and not paying attention to yourself of your “feelings”, or you can get a little aggressive and know you’re going to fight through it. Like working through fear, when you realize that the shot you’re making is more important than your feelings, you’re starting to get it. Get it?