How Does The Shooting Sling Actually Work?

I’ve written a lot in the past about rifle slings and how to use them to steady a shooting position.  I’ve touched on why to use them and why not to use them if a supported position is available.  I’ve gone into considerable depth on how to use them.  One thing I haven’t really written about is why the shooting sling works.

I like to watch how people use their slings.  I frequently see people do things that are ineffective, or less effective than they could be.  My response to this has always been to beat the drum of better technique, but I think there is a more fundamental way to approach the problem.

Part of understanding how to use a tool is to comprehend how it functions.  It took a long time for me to even consider this with reference to the rifle sling.  I first thought of the sling as something to buy, as in which one do I want based on who uses it, how it looks, what it’s made out of, price, etc.  Then I thought of the sling as a process.  It’s a rather complicated thing for a new shooter, so I spent a long time processing how to use it, improving my technique, re-evaluating different types of slings based on what I’d learned in the process of becoming a skilled shooter and then an instructor.  When I felt my knowledge in sling shooting had matured, I designed my own sling, and I thought and worked a lot on how to make it better over time.

To really understand how to employ the sling and what it can and can’t do for you, the primary lesson to learn is visible in its structure and function.  Let’s take a look at the sling in use to better understand what exactly it is and what it does.

 

Structure:

 

IMG_7562
RifleCraft RS-2 sling, demo model.  I made it special with a foliage loop portion and coyote tan rear portion so it would be easier to point out exactly what I’m getting at.  This photo, and those that follow, depict the totality of the line of force of the loop sling.  From the forend, and wrapping the arm.  That’s it.

First of all, we need a precise definition of what it is we’re looking at.  I’m not an engineer, so I apologize it you are because I made up my own terminology and definitions.  A loop sling is simply a direct, closed, and isolated connection between the arm and the forend of the rifle.  Direct means that it goes straight in one line from the arm to the forend.  Wrapping the support hand in the sling won’t compromise this attribute, as the hand effectively becomes part of the front connection.  Closed means that the length of the connection is fixed and not subject to change without a deliberate user input.  Isolated means that there are no other related connections that impart forces in any other direction.  Although a connection to a different section of the sling that makes it usable as a carry strap can be, and usually is present at the rear of the loop, it should be slack when the loop is used.  Put another way, the loop is a simple, single line of tension from the arm just below the armpit and the rifle in front of the support hand.

IMG_7566

 

Function:

The function of the loop is directly related to its structure.  What can a line of tension do?  Perhaps this is best revealed by examining what holds a rifle up in absence of the loop sling.  The greatest degree of oversimplification I can make is to say “bones and muscles” hold the rifle up.  Bones are structurally rigid and can’t be removed from the equation unless there is something to set the rifle on or suspend it from.  Obviously the loop sling is not capable of replacing the structure that bones provide.

IMG_7572

It should be apparent at this point that the tension of the sling takes the place of the muscles between the origin and insertion of the loop.  When optimally configured with the support hand wrapped in the sling and front swivel used as a hand stop (as pictured), those muscles include the biceps and all the muscles that control the wrist, hands, and fingers.  Muscles, being subject to fatigue and errors of control and coordination, are major contributors to a shooter’s arc of movement.  Eliminating their necessity and use whenever possible is the mark of a skilled and efficient rifle shooter.

 

Limitations of the Sling:

Recognizing what the loop sling does not do is just as important as knowing what it does.  The simple loop sling has very little ability in assisting, supplementing, or replacing any muscle outside the length of its span.  The little ability is does have in this regard is due to the tension that is imparted toward the interface of the rifle butt in the shoulder.  This is why Jeff Cooper was correct in his adamancy that the benefits of the loop sling could only be fully realized with the support elbow planted, whether that be on the ground, a solid object, the knee, or somewhere else.  If the support elbow is not planted, many muscles are brought into play in order to keep the elbow raised and the posture of the body in the shooting position.  This does not negate the effects of the sling within the length of its span, but it does minimize the significance of those effects to a large degree.

Also, some of the potential benefits of the sling, particularly those involving the muscles governing the hand, are dependent on the use of a handstop when shooting with a loop sling.  Without some kind of handstop the support hand will need to grip the forend.  The location of the support hand will also be subject to potentially (very likely) greater variability.  Consistency is important, so the lack of handstop and the resulting variation in location, coupled with the need for muscular input will likely compromise precision.  Target shooters use purpose built handstops.  The rest of us use our front sling swivels, so the location of the front swivel is another important component of rifle fit

IMG_7574

IMG_7564

In the next installment I will examine the influence of individual sling designs on how the sling functions as a marksmanship aid to enhance precision.

 

Confidence, Part 3: On Demand

The time I spent focusing on shooting from a standing position recently was definitely time well spent.  I have to confess that there was a huge disparity in my level of confidence between dry fire and live fire that was present only in the standing position.  It would not be a great exaggeration to say that I felt like I could hit the head of a pin at 50 yards in dry fire, but I worried about missing a full sheet of paper at the same distance in live fire.  This feeling used to be a lot worse.

When I shot my standing groups in June of 2011 in preparation to launch this blog, I almost had a feeling of anxiety about the group I was shooting.  Dry fire had felt so stable, and live fire was feeling almost unimaginably unstable.  I didn’t generally think my ’06 had a lot of recoil, but I picked up a flinch in short order and it was enough to add to the nervousness.

I made a point recently to get to the range almost every week and shoot a few groups from standing.  The regularity of both dry fire and live fire was helpful.  It made the disparity in feeling between the dry fire and live fire stand out that much more.  What I started noticing was that I was not confident in my ability to make the shot on the 4” target from 50 yards, although in dry fire, I could usually break the shot with the sight very near a target the equivalent of about half that size.

I also noticed that the process of breaking a shot during dry fire was almost casual while in live fire I would hover over a sight picture afraid to disturb it by pressing the trigger.  Too long a hold puts a strain on one’s oxygen supply and everything starts to degrade, so generally things only get worse with hesitation.  Some of the problem was that I had to reinforce my follow through to a point where I could extend my fundamentals through the break.  Another part was a lack of awareness of my balance breaking down which I addressed last month.  Those were all contributing problems, but they were not the primary contributors.

To increase my confidence in live fire, I moved closer to the target, up to 35 yards.  All the shots were on target, but the group size was still mediocre.  As I moved back, the angular measurement of my group got smaller.  My confidence was improving, which allowed me to be more aggressive in my firing.

When I got back to 50 yards, I don’t know if it was a psychological hurdle, or that my ability to group was pushing the limits of my target size (probably both), but I had a setback in my angular group size for one group.  It was a good opportunity to observe the phenomenon of my performance choking a bit, and I quickly got back in form.

Why Did I Choke At the Range?  Aim small, miss small.

Here’s what I think was going on.  Calling shots in dry fire is a bit of an interpretive game.  Recently I would pick out a cluster of red berries on a tree outside and dry fire at them.  Many of the clusters were smaller than I’m capable of hitting on demand, but I was pretty happy if I could keep my shots within a certain radius, say a mil, from the center of the intended target (for reference a mil is 3.438 MOA, and the largest radius that will fit inside the 5 point scoring area on the standing portion of the AQT is 3.493 MOA).  However there are no stakes for “hitting or missing” because it’s dry fire.  Therefore I was accepting close misses in large proportions without worrying about it at all because the angular measurement of my total shots appeared to be consistent with a pretty good group size.

Another type of practice I did that had me frustratingly choking at the range was single hits on targets at both the 7 yard and 25 yard lines.  My practice in this venue was time driven.  To improve my times I would also accept a proportion of misses as part of getting faster.  This method of working speed is known as “zero or hero”, as opposed to a reliable “on demand” type practice that is more conservative.

I think that accepting misses in practice created a disparity between my attitude in dry fire and live fire.  In live fire I really don’t want to miss, and there is no credit given for misses, even if they would represent a decent group.  A 50% hit rate is garbage, in my opinion.  Thinking of it in that way made it clear to me that for the type of shooting performance I feel I need to be capable of, the zero or hero methodology is fatally flawed, and at maximum should be carefully employed in very limited doses.

Know Your Limits, Then Push Them

The old adage “aim small, miss small” is not applicable to people who don’t want to miss.  I think it’s actually a recipe for learning to miss.  Showing up to the range and wondering what’s going to happen may be exciting, but it does not foster confidence.  In my experience it caused me to be nervous when my performance was on the edge, even when the stakes were only photos of my groups in the internet.

A better approach is to be well aware of what you are actually capable of, then deliberately train to increase your capabilities incrementally.  It’s similar to using progressive resistance to get stronger.  It would be silly to go through the motion of deadlifting with no weights, then to head to the gym and attempt to do it for real with 500 pounds, just hoping for a good outcome.  A messed up back is something that gets one’s attention in a hurry, but for some reason a bad group is very easily written off as a fluke.

It’s important to be the type of shooter who hits the target.  Starting from a point where hitting the target is a given will train the mind to get hits as a matter of course.  Increasing the distance incrementally after hitting the target is well established will allow the shooter’s capabilities to grow.  He will also be able to discern what type of shots he can and cannot make, which will allow him to make informed decision on ethical shots in the field- with confidence.

 

Confidence, Part 2: The Other Half

Knowing the Objective

In the last article, I introduced the importance of confidence to the rifle shooter, which I defined as follows:

Confidence: A reasonable belief, based on prior measured performance, that there is a likelihood of successfully accomplishing a given task, where the performer has knowledge of the necessary requirements for that task.

I thought it was similar in principle to a quote by Sun Tzu that I have read many times:

“One who knows the enemy and knows himself will not be endangered in a hundred engagements.  One who does not know the enemy but knows himself will sometimes be victorious, sometimes meet with defeat.  One who knows neither the enemy nor himself will invariably be defeated in every engagement.”

In modern terms, and with respect to shooting, to “know oneself” is to have a handle on one’s measured performance (preferably with reference to a standard).  What does it mean to “know the enemy”?  The ‘enemy’ in this context is the objective, whether it actually is an enemy, or is a target dimension, distance, and environmental data, or perhaps a known course of fire.

Going into a task blind is like rolling the dice.  No matter how good a shooter is, without knowledge of the problem he is going to solve, he cannot have real confidence.  Feeling confident in such a situation is foolhardy, which I would define as overconfidence.  The only acceptable way to proceed in such a situation is to accept that you don’t know what the outcome will be and do your best, which I would define as uncertainty.

Example: The AQT

I started shooting the Appleseed AQT in 2009.  Of course I showed up with some pretty green rifle skills not knowing how I might do.  I was optimistic not only for a ‘rifleman’ score of 210, but secretly hoping that I might even score a perfect 250.  I ended up with I the high 220s or low 230s.  Between events over the next few years I would do something to get better, and show up hoping to shoot a 250.  It wasn’t until October 2014 that I figured out that I should do something about knowing my objective.

I realize that at any point I could have just pulled out an AQT target and shot it.  The idea of practicing on the AQT just doesn’t appeal to me for some reason.  I understand that specificity in training is theoretically ideal, but the AQT is more of a guilty pleasure, like pizza.  I don’t want it to color my training in such a specific way, and I need my primary diet to consist of meat.  I also think I can get the data I need in ways that will make it more generally applicable to my shooting.

Instead of using my past scores as a barometer of how well prepared I am (was) to shoot a 250, I did some figuring a while back.  I measured the largest radius that would fit inside the 5 ‘ring’ on each stage of the target.  I still think in terms of extreme spread, so I also converted the number to a diameter. The scoring areas are not circular, so I do still have some extra margin for error.  When I cannot be precise I like to be conservative, so I’ll have some extra wiggle room on “the day”.  I converted the measurements to minutes of angle at the correct distance, 25 meters (approximately 27.34 yards).  This allows me to shoot at any distance and relate it to this particular standard.  I even have a section on my spreadsheet that tells me at what distance my ‘standard’ target is equivalent to the size of the 5 ring and the ‘V’ ring for each stage.  This is especially nice because I can be working on pretty much anything and still relate it back to that specific goal.

Whereas I used to ‘hope’ that I might show up and shoot a 250, when I am able to keep my shots within a certain radius with an acceptable amount of deviation (point of aim to point of impact) in each shooting position and time limitation, I will have confidence that I will shoot a 250.  I realize it’s not a guarantee, but it’s a reasonable belief based on prior measured performance, where I have good knowledge of the task at hand.

 

Confidence, Part 1: Understanding

 

Confidence: A reasonable belief, based on prior measured performance, that there is a likelihood of successfully accomplishing a given task, where the performer has knowledge of the necessary requirements for that task.

Overconfidence- an unreasonable or misplaced belief in one’s abilities without a thorough evaluation of one’s skill and/or knowledge of the requirements of the task at hand.

Uncertainty- doubt in one’s ability to perform based on inexperience, lack of knowledge of one’s own abilities, or of the challenge difficulty.

Confidence is an indispensable tool for a rifle shooter.  There are many technical processes involved in firing that need to flow along unimpeded for the shot to be released correctly.  If doubt creeps in the chain of those processes gets disrupted, causing the level of one’s abilities to be upset.  Lack of confidence can therefore cause the shooter to miss a shot he would otherwise be capable of.

On the other hand, overconfidence can cause a shooter to make decisions that can lead to a miss.  Mistaking internet lore as normal reality, conflating 3 round groups or bench groups with realistic hit probabilities in the field, or even thinking that the extreme spread of a 10 round group is indicative of the extremes of one’s limits are just a few ways to fall into the trap of overconfidence.  Having a belief in abilities that one does not possess (credit to Derrick Bartlett for that line) is a sad way to exist.

In my own shooting, up until last year perhaps, I experienced a cycle of overconfidence followed by uncertainty.  Those conditions are both associated with a lack of information.  I do not believe I was alone in this respect, and believe that most rifle shooters are in this cycle as well.  I confused what I wanted to be able to do with what I should  be able to do.  I repeatedly set myself up for failure by expecting a mythical standard, and repeatedly being confronted with what I actually was able to do.  I can tell you that the drive home from the range is a downer when the expectations were set too high on the way into the shooting.

How does one cultivate real confidence to take on a given task?  A quote from Sun Tzu came to mind:

“One who knows the enemy and knows himself will not be endangered in a hundred engagements.  One who does not know the enemy but knows himself will sometimes be victorious, sometimes meet with defeat.  One who knows neither the enemy nor himself will invariably be defeated in every engagement.”

The first piece of the puzzle is to know what you are capable of as a shooter.  What you think or hope you can do is not valid data.  A paper target will not lie, but I’ve sure seen that it’s not uncommon for people to interpret what the target tells them in creative ways.  The ego can lead a person to near blindness in order to protect itself.  It’s necessary to fire enough shots to have a valid sample with which other shots taken in similar conditions can be predicted, and then to accept each shot regardless of how badly you wished you hadn’t fired it.

Measuring performance can be difficult, but it’s a step that can’t be skipped.  To make it easier to figure out where to begin, some of the primary variables to take into consideration are time, terrain, and the target.  They are all related, and all will be components of how difficult and demanding the shot will be in the field.

Terrain presents an overall context to the shot and will likely be a decisive factor in determining the shooting position.  That indicates a need to test enough positions to cover the possibilities of height requirements, with and without support.  The amount of time available to fire a shot is inversely proportional with the difficulty of that shot, everything else being equal, so it’s necessary to know what happens to your performance in a time crunch.  The target generally chooses the terrain, sets the time limitations, and its own size finishes off the formula of shot difficulty.  Actually an additional factor is what the target is doing in terms of movement, but to make the matter of measurement one that can be practically carried out we can put it off until later.  For one method of combining these measures, see my October 2014 archives, in which the entire month was a presentation of my position analyses.

Until you are able to accurately and precisely measure your performance you will not, as Sun Tzu says, “know yourself”, and if he is correct, you’ll be subject to defeat in every engagement.  Shooting in a consistent way and measuring it is work. There is no way around that, but work is required to get most worthwhile things done.

2015

2015 looks to have a greater likelihood of stability in my life to actually plan some things and work to accomplishing them in an organized fashion.  Up to this point I have mostly succeeded in making a strong foundation on which to realize some of the things I naively thought I should be able to do a long time ago.

Starting off on the right foot, I decided to come into the year with a good zero.  I made a special trip out to the range to verify last week:

IMG_7620

I am still going to be using a 4” target as the basis for my development for the foreseeable future.  I only really cracked the surface of the implications of a small, fixed sized target, and I want to see what the meat of it looks like.

1. Clean the Appleseed AQT. Due date 4/19/14.

I have recently come a long way to be able to realize goal this with my standing work in the past two months.  At this point I predict that I could clean the standing stage approximately 75% of the time.  I need to get better, but I hit a plateau, and I don’t see laying siege to it in the next few months as a worthy use of my time.  I’m going to cycle off of that intensive work in standing and roll into a maintenance cycle as a tertiary level priority.

At the last Appleseed I went in completely cold and was able to clean stage 3 (rapid prone) every time but one (if memory serves).  That leaves sitting and slow prone work as a second level priority.  I’m going to work on the following other things as primary up to March.

2. Complete the positional analysis work that I started last fall. I don’t see that work as a fixed metric of my ability, but rather a comparative analysis of what the positions do best and how to use them most appropriately. The work I have yet to accomplish there is measuring the speed of each position in attaining one shot from a standard ready position, and to measure the speed of transitioning to different targets.  Due date, February 14th.

3. Partially concurrent with the above goal, I am shifting my AR shooting into improving my abilities in the distance spectrum inside 100 yards. Using the 4” target, combined with the imminence that using a gun in this range of distances brings, make this a particularly challenging workspace.  It is a big weakness right now, and I’ll work on that in the early part of the year, tapering off in March.  By March 1st I would like to be able to pass the DD25 drill in 20 seconds, all hits, on my 4” target.  This is not a hard goal, rather an exploratory one, as I need to figure out what I don’t know yet first.

That will be enough to keep me busy in the short term.  In the long term I am very interested in working moving targets to a level of comfortable familiarity and a known ‘on demand” performance.  I need to figure out a good way to do that.  I’m also interested in getting back into competition, and maybe seeing what 3-Gun is all about.

There are some general improvements in methodology that I think will help me make better progress than I have been.

1. Record my observations more carefully at the time I do my shooting and dry fire work. There have been a lot of times when I had to guess back at the reason something happened a certain way. It’s harder to address a poorly defined problem, so I’m going to be more methodical in recording what I see and feel during shooting.

2. Make more methodical use of drills. This morning someone asked me about drills that I use.  I really couldn’t think of anything off the top of my head.  I tend to work more as a process than as an input/output cycle, but I’m going to try to deliberately come up with ways to address specific aspects of performance and share them.

That’s all I have.  It’s modest, but if I try to plan my entire year it will be a waste of time.  Let’s make it into Spring first.

Assessment of 2014

2014: The year of learning my current limitations and not being upset when I encounter them.

It was a disorganized year.  I came into it with what I thought was a lofty goal, but was more of a vision statement.  In the meantime a bunch of opportunities fell in my lap and I pursued the year’s shooting in sort of a semi-random, inductive fashion that worked out really, really well.

If I had done only one of the following, the year would have been a win:

  • Learn in depth about shot groups and zeroing
  • Medium term test of approximately $10000 worth of high end optics in a unique way that taught me what I actually needed in a close to mid-range scope.
  • Learning how to statistically analyze my shooting to get at least an indication of what my limitations are.
  • Finally experience the “AHA!” moment of how extreme spread is not nearly as useful as some of the other measures, that in this modernized world are extremely easy to obtain.
  • Gained a deeper understanding of what follow through is. I think this will make a huge difference in not only offhand, but every position.

I realized that my ‘goal’ was not something that was sufficiently measureable to actually attain.  What I did instead was orient myself to where my performance actually was, which is actually a significant accomplishment, and is really a prerequisite for any effective goal setting and achievement.

In 2014 3040 rounds were fired through the Noveske.  A good deal of that was in scope testing and load testing.  Approximately 500 rounds were spent at an Appleseed.  I would guess that I dedicated 300 rounds or so solely to standing practice.  I didn’t do any real rapid fire stuff with it, as I didn’t want to shoot out the barrel.  I’m removing that limitation this year.

I received my upgraded FN PBR-XP from the gunsmith in April.  Since then, I’ve fired a modest 795 rounds through it in 2014.  That tube still has a lot of life in it.

I don’t know how many rounds I’ve fired through other guns, probably a thousand pistol and a couple thousand through my beater AR.  I would guess 300-500 through the Remington 700, which is getting a new Bartlein right now.

Best Articles:

I literally cannot believe that no one commented on my fake Trigger Aficionado cover.  I put at least 20 minutes into making that thing:

trigger aficionado

Things I could have done better on:

In my enthusiasm for collecting and analyzing data, I included a lot raw data and notes in my blog.  I wrote approximately 102,967 words over the course of 106 blog posts, even with taking most of March and all of April off.  That’s approximately ten articles a month with an average of 971 words per article.  That’s too long for easy reading, so I made it too hard to convey my points over the year, which caused you to either strain unnecessarily to find them or to miss them.  I’m sorry.

Not related to shooting, I moved twice.  I can’t say that I recommend it.  It caused a lot of stress and I had to put a lot of things on the backburner.

I wish that I had conducted my testing of loaned gear in a timely manner.  It was probably annoying to be on the other end of that, and I wish that I had been more timely and held up on my end of things better.

In the next article I’ll make some plans for my improvement in the next year.

 

Request for Assistance: Standing Groups

One of the reasons I started the blog was because when someone on an internet forum would ask the question that I wanted to know, “How big is a decent group in _____ position?” people would throw out a bunch of stuff without explaining things too much or backing it up at all.  In the standing position, which I think is most shooters’ biggest area of insecurity, I read about a lot of 4 MOA shooters in standing (aka offhand).  I’ve learned some things, and I’m not sure about that one.  Maybe a cherry picked (or too favorably remembered) 3 shot group perhaps?

I have shared a lot of groups in the last three and a half years, but one person doesn’t really give an idea of what the shooting community at large is doing.  I still feel somewhat ashamed by the groups that I’ve been shooting, which are in the area of 6.9 MOA on average for 10 shot groups.  I am also curious to hear from shooters who compete in specialized gear, to know what the difference is between their groups with a shooting coat and those without.

If you’d care to send me any info on your standing group sizes I would be very appreciative. Photos with scale (ruler, full shot of standard printer paper, other standard object), distance info, and bullet size would be extremely appreciated.  I don’t put much stock in 3 or 5 round groups but I wouldn’t mind seeing those either.  If you don’t want to be publicly associated with your shot group, I can put it up anonymously.  The easiest way to reach me is via my email at rifleslinger@live.com.

See ya next year!

Standing Target Analysis

I started on an approximately 4” target at 50 yards on 11/8/14.  I wasn’t shooting well, and wanted to have more confidence in my ability to keep all my rounds on target, so I moved forward to 35 yards on 11/15/14.  I made it to the range almost every week, and moved back 5 yards every time, reaching 50 again on 12/15/14.  You will note in my graphs that from 11/15/14, my performance was pretty consistent in terms of angular measurement until 12/15/14, where my ‘target’ position had a bad day.

On 11/30/14 I began testing the target oriented standing technique, shooting one group of that just prior to my normal, more practical version of standing.  In the following graphs, the target version appears as a green line while my normal stance is represented by the blue line.

My first chart measures extreme spread of groups from 11/8/14 to 12/15/14.  The measure is minutes of angle.  I began with two groups of my practical position per shooting day, then on 11/30, when I started integrating the target stance, I did one of each.  That’s why the density of blue data points changes where the green begins.

Standing Progress Chart- Extreme Spread

I shot again on 12/22/14 after I already drew the graph and my practical standing position’s extreme spread was 6.77 MOA, similar to the 12/8/14 group in the graph.  The target standing extreme spread was 5.46 MOA, which is the best I have shot in that position so far, but again, very similar to the 12/8/14 group.

The goal line in the graph is an extreme spread of 6.5 MOA.  That number is related to the scoring area on the Appleseed AQT target that is worth the maximum points.  It’s not a circular target, but the largest area within that area that a circle can be drawn has a diameter of just under 7 MOA.  If I could realize my goal of an average extreme spread of 6.5 with a deviation of a minute or less, I believe that the extra spaces in the 5 ‘ring’, along with an allowance for the width of my bullets where the center of my it is outside the line but the edge of the hole will still touch (about another minute), will allow me to clean the stage with some regularity.

I used extreme spread, considering my goal, it’s a practical way for me to see it in an immediate, practical way.  Either mean radius or C.E.P. will tell me if my shooting is good enough to do that if I know what to look for, but extreme spread will just show me for sure where my worst shots in a 10 shot group are hitting, which is more of an anecdotal, but more visually impacting result.

My second chart measures C.E.P., or circular error probable.  This number is the radius of the circle that would contain 50% of my shots over the long haul under similar conditions to those in which the sample group was fired.  This number will tell me something about the quality of all my shots in the group, and can be used to make more accurate predictions of my shooting.

Standing Progress Chart- CEP

I’m happy that the two charts basically look the same.  It would be expected to see a more erratic graph in the extreme spread chart, which is what the graphs do show, but not much, which I believe shows that the groups are pretty normal and regularly distributed in terms of shot quality.

I ran some averages of my performance numbers.  I settled on a rolling 4 week period to average them so I wouldn’t be held back by groups from so long ago they’re basically irrelevant, but long enough to get a solid idea of where I’m at now.  My goals for the short term are an extreme spread of less than 6.5 MOA, a mean radius of less than 2.2 MOA, and a total deviation of point of impact with respect to point of aim of less than 1 MOA.

In the target position, my average extreme spread was 6.824 MOA.  My average mean radius was 2.055.  Average CEP was 2.049 MOA, but I didn’t set a goal for CEP.  My average POI/POA deviation was 3.101 MOA (I had some major instances of zero error).  I also ran my 86% and 99% circle numbers, and also converted them into distances for the Appleseed Stage 1 5-point scoring area.  My average 86% circle was 6.946 MOA, and the distance that translates for the 5 ‘ring’ is 28.33 yards.  My average 99% circle was 10.419 MOA, and the distance that translates for the 5 ‘ring’ is 18.89 yards.

In the practical position, my average extreme spread was 6.895 MOA.  My average mean radius was 2.365.  Average CEP was 2.256 MOA.  My average POI/POA deviation was 1.30 MOA.  My average 86% circle was 7.646 MOA, and the distance that translates for the 5 ‘ring’ is 25.08 yards.  My average 99% circle was 11.469 MOA, and the distance that translates for the 5 ‘ring’ is 16.72 yards.

I’m still just above my goals for this position, which are intended to provide a level of confidence in scoring 250 on the AQT.  As I seem to be at a plateau, I’m going into ‘maintenance’ mode for this skill so that I can work on something else.  I’ll get to that in a little bit.

Shooting from standing puts just about every aspect of marksmanship to the test.  Beyond that, it takes intimate familiarity with one’s hold, and decision making of sufficient quality to know when it’s right to break the shot.  If you have a delicate constitution, frighten easily, or don’t wish to undergo the excitement of the standing position, I urge you calmly and sincerely to put down your rifle and pick up some knitting needles.

Raw Data from Recent Standing Work

All of the articles on standing earlier in the month presented my thoughts on the subject as I see it at this time.  Something I haven’t really shared much of yet are my results over the time I’ve been focusing on standing.  That’s part of what I do on this blog, so I drew up some graphs and prepared some photos.

I also kept some brief notes of what I was noticing at various times.  You can correlate that to how I was shooting in some cases.

I started on an approximately 4” target at 50 yards on 11/8/14.  I wasn’t shooting well, and wanted to have more confidence in my ability to keep all my rounds on target, so I moved forward to 35 yards on 11/15/14.  I made it to the range almost every week, and moved back 5 yards every time, reaching 50 again on 12/15/14.  You will note in my graphs that from 11/15/14, my performance was pretty consistent in terms of angular measurement until 12/15/14.

On 11/30/14 I began testing a more target oriented standing technique, primarily for purposes of comparison, shooting one group of that just prior to my normal, more practical version of standing.  In the following graphs, the target version appears as a green line while my normal stance is represented by the blue line.

Following are my raw notes and group photos.  I had to edit my notes a bit for language and so someone other than me could understand them even marginally.  The notes towards the end were inserted after the fact:

11-8-14 Standing 1

11-8-14 Standing 2

11/8/14 shooting notes

Dry standing was golden for two weeks prior in dry fire.  Live fire was either a mind&%$#, or my muscles were pre-fatigued and shaky.  Move forward to 30 yards with same target.  Continue weight training for now.  Holding exercises on off days.  I’m looking for 100% hits at 50 yards, but will settle for 30 yards for the moment.

11-11-14

Standing good to go on garage dry-fire target, mirror aim from end of hall.  Move farther back.

11/14/14

After muscles have recuperated recalibration of the position (steadiness) is possible.  Smaller targets work better (aim small miss small).  Hold the forend delicately like a pencil.  Being stronger will be awesome; the LW carbine feels like I could really shoot well with it.

11/15/14

Live fire:

11-15-14 Standing 1

11-15-14 Standing 2
This target was the plateau mover for me.

Moved forward to 35 yards instead of 30.  35 was good.  Follow through is difficult.  Learning to disregard the shot is important.  My shots were very rapid, several shots to one hold.  How much better could I have done lowering the rifle each time?  35 yards, aimed at the top of the white ‘6’ ring on the top of the RifleCraft scoring target.

My extreme spread on that second target confirms what I’m seeing in dry fire- a maximum radial deviation of approximately 1 mil when I don’t let the live fire psych-out get me.  Move back to 40 yards next time.

–How to average my performance to see if I’m meeting my “average performance” goals?–  Probably a rolling average period of 2-4 weeks

11/17/14

Dry fire standing in AM.  Very good.  Better than ever.  Most, if not all, were within a half mil in any direction (1 mil diameter).

11/18—11/23

More intensive weight training has made me shaky most of the time.  It seems that muscle fatigue is the biggest culprit, then it takes a half day or so to re-tune my steadiness and coordination (and followthrough) to regain.  Friday morning felt really good, I would say just over a half mil deviation in any given direction.  Friday evening I went hard with the weights.  By Sunday I felt good but was not very steady.  The rifle is feeling lighter.

On 11/23/14 I practiced dry firing.  I found that getting a good grip with the pistol grip fully seated into my hand really helped.  A command break did not seem to hurt things vs. a slow surprise break, so long as I really had my NPA.

Hold the handguard delicately like a pencil

Don’t use more tension than needed

11/30/14

Live Fire:

11-30-14 Target Standing
Two weeks off had me confused about where my zero was.

11-30-14 Standing;

12/8/14

I didn’t have any practice notes for this period.  The presence of a target position means that I had done my thinking on balance on Friday 12/5 and integrated it into my position.  The posts on balance were effectively my practice notes, although obviously heavily edited. 

Live fire- I took my time.  I had to intentionally slow myself down and lower the gun after no more than two shots.  I think I may have taken three in one hold at one point.  Oops!

Target postion-  I probably spent a full two minutes finding my NPOA.  The firing part was easy.

12-8-14 Target Standing

12-8-14 Standing
While the goal is to have all 10 in the black by at least half a bullet diameter (center in or touching) I also like to know that I’m pushing myself just a little bit, and consider that a good enough target to move back the next time.

12/15/14

My position seemed loose and sucked until I starting putting some hardness and intent into my press and follow through.

12-15-14 Target Standing
The one on the right was shot #1.  The ones on the bottom were also before I started on the hard follow through.  I don’t know about the one on top, if it was prior to the hard follow through or just an anomaly during.  I would like to think it was the former.

12-15-14 Standing
Unfortunately, what looks like a sight zero error was probably not.

12/22/14

I notice that I let a lot of good shot opportunities pass me by while I’m in my hold.  My current learning point is to be ready on the trigger as soon as the gun is up and ready to fire.  If should be taking the first acceptable shot I see.

There was an approximately 7-10 mph wind.  I’m not worried about bullet drift at this range, I’m worried about the steadiness of my hold.  I parked my vehicle next to me to block it, which worked pretty well.  Not exactly practical, I know, but neither is this group shooting in standing.  The sun was also peeking over the vehicle at me, so I put a backpack on top to block it.  Good enough.

The ‘target’ group pretty much went off without a hitch.  I was happy to see a return to the 5.5ish MOA extreme spread from before.  With the ‘practical’ standing group, the third shot, which was the upper left, was a horrible shot and pretty much felt like the end of the world.  It was the third shot from that hold, and my stability was degrading.  I failed to check the status of my balance, and should have just lowered the muzzle and took a few seconds for a break.

12-22-14 Target Standing

12-22-14 Standing

 

In the next installment I’ll smooth up the results and analyze things a bit.

 

Follow Through: The Key to Standing

My understanding of follow through to this point has been somewhat shallow, mostly consisting of what I learned from other people.  I figured that if I was calling my shots and holding the trigger to the rear through recoil I was golden.  Follow through does have to do with seeing the sights, but in my opinion the standard description as described above, or likening it to throwing a ball is insufficient.

While trigger control was not an issue for me in standing practice recently, follow through has turned out to be a huge point of learning.  What I find interesting is that we have different names for these things, which implies (at least to me) that they are separate things.  I find it hard, even in writing about them, to separate trigger control and follow through from one another.  I really see trigger control as the physical component of the firing moment, and follow through as the mental stabilizing force that surrounds that moment.

The ability to concentrate in shooting is pretty limited to one thing.  In standing, that thing pretty much has to be the sight picture (which is another connection in the firing moment that really isn’t separate).  The trigger manipulation needs to be automatic, and done as a result of seeing the right thing in the sight.  If the attention leaves the sight picture to attend to the trigger, the sights will move if it can.  The sight will go from steady and on the target, to off the target in an instant if the mind wanders from watching.

One of the things that hammered this home to me happened repeatedly to me during dry fire.  I’ve been using a super scaled down Appleseed AQT target.  I think it’s scaled down for 7 yards.  I have it in the garage, visible through the window of the kitchen/garage door, and I sight it using a mirror at the end of a hallway, for an apparent distance of about 20 yards.  I noticed repeatedly that I could easily ‘hit’ the big target (Stage 1) from standing- every time, without fail, no problemo. I could also hit the stage 2 targets from standing consistently with no trouble.  When I tried to hit a small portion of the large target, however, I would completely miss the large target.  This was obviously not a problem with mechanics, but thinking about finding an aiming point within a larger target was taking my mind off of something important.

I think that the essence of follow through is a continuous attention to sight picture without regard to trigger break (or anything else for that matter).  No part of the shooting process should interrupt the sight picture, even firing.  I have really only seen it in dry fire and rimfire shooting as far as I can remember, but perhaps with more practice I can build it up like a muscle to handle the 5.56 and later the .308.

In my recent practice I have experienced two separate and distinct ‘flavors’ of follow through.  They could be characterized as soft and hard, or passive and active.  I noticed the passive variety first during dry fire.

Passive Follow Through

Paying attention to follow through during dry fire in standing is like meditation.  In meditation, at first thoughts come in and take over, then over time their magnitude and sense of importance decreases until there is a greater sense of stillness in the mind.  Think of a freshly disturbed puddle, cloudy with mud.  If left alone the mud will settle and the water will become clearer and still.

In dry fire, at first the trigger break comes and is highly disruptive.  It’s the noise and the movement, and the sharpness of the event that creates an apparent break between pre-firing and post-firing.  The break shouldn’t be there, and it leads the shooter to give up on the focus prematurely.

In dry fire, if the sight dips or moves as, or after the shot breaks, follow through was incomplete or non-existent.  The sound, feel, and knowledge of the hammer falling can be enough distraction to break the continuity of follow through.  Seeing what the sight does shows evidence of follow through, or the lack thereof, but seeing alone is only a form of feedback, not the follow through itself.

The degree to which the sight remains motionless in the moment surrounding the trigger break signifies the maturity and completeness of the follow through.  I think that the point of firing can be reduced to near insignificance, and the shooter can be calm and still enough to hear the vibration of the buffer spring as he simply continues to observe his sight picture.  Over time, the stillness and clarity of the sight picture is unaffected, similar to the clarity of the puddle of water, or the presence and awareness of the mind.

Active Follow Through

So there I was at the range working through a target standing group at 50 yards.  The previous week’s group had been the best in a very long time, probably my second best standing group ever, and it didn’t feel like a fluke.  Even the ‘practical’ group was in the six and a half minute range, which is what I’m shooting for in the short term (no pun intended).  I happened to be in a big hurry and really hadn’t planned on even going to the range that day, I just got up and went.  The first shot in this particular group, the sight went completely askew upon firing and I sent the shot way right.  The entire apparatus of the position felt loose and rather uncontrolled.  The second and third shots weren’t any better.  Trying to find that passive Zen state was not doing the job.

As the group progressed I somehow found myself with a hard command trigger break, along with an equally hard expression of will to follow through.  It was like in the movie Dune where you harness your energy and will to the point where it becomes a weapon.  Just don’t disturb the sights.  It worked.  That’s about as well as I can describe it.  Six of the shots where I used that hard follow through ended up in a group of about five MOA.

Which method of follow through is better?  I don’t know yet.  It could just be situational.  I almost feel guilty for writing about stuff that I don’t feel like I really have a solid handle on yet, but then I remember that it’s a blog about my exploration into shooting.

What about trapping the trigger to the rear?

This goes back to the way I first formally learned follow through in Appleseed: take a mental snapshot of the sight picture and trap the trigger to the rear.  When it comes down to what I believe is true follow through, I don’t think it matters what the trigger does as long as it doesn’t disturb the hold or the sight picture, and doesn’t take any conscious mental processing to accomplish.  I do think that trapping the trigger to the rear can be thought of as a “best practice” in terms of marksmanship.  I think that it just got tagged onto follow through because of the order of the firing sequence and the need for brevity in the program of instruction.

The other thing I like to do is throw up pictures about all my groups, and maybe some graphs as well to chart my progress.  That will have to wait until next time.  I hope you tune in.