“In philosophy, a razor is a device which allows one to shave away unlikely explanations for a phenomenon.” (from Wikipedia)
I’ve been willfully ignoring cheekweld for as long as I’ve been shooting rifles. It’s one of those things that I knew intellectually that I should have improved upon, but I just kept saying to myself, “What I’m doing seems to be working well enough.” Have you ever said anything like that to yourself? That thought is a huge impediment to learning.
I am really surprised to find out I’ve been willfully resisting the improvement of my shooting, because I don’t think of myself as an obstinate person. Since I’ve been putting up everything I can perceive about my shooting up for personal re-examination, cheekweld finally stood out as something huge that I needed to take care of. It just goes to show that perception of self is not always accurate.
What are we looking for with regard to cheekweld? We want the rifle to fit such that when you place your cheek on the stock and relax your neck and head, you are looking through the center of your sighting system. My preference for my cheek placement on the stock is that the bottom of my cheekbone sits on the comb of the stock. Ideally, you should be able to close your eyes, place your cheek comfortably, relax your head like you’re going to sleep on the rifle, then open your eyes and see perfect sight alignment.
Why is cheekweld so important? It has to do with parallax. Parallax can be illustrated by trying to read an analog speedometer from the passenger seat of a car. Because the seat position is so far out of alignment from where the speedometer was intended to be read, you’re seeing the speedometer needle over a slightly slower number than it is read from the driver’s seat. If you were able to look at the needle from outside the driver’s window, you’d see the needle over a slightly faster number. The difference in both instances would likely be only 2-3 mph.
With a rifle sighting system, whether it be open sights, aperture sights, or a scope, your head position must be consistent. If it is not, you may see the same perfect sight alignment and you may obtain a perfect sight picture, but you will get erratic results. It will be frustrating because the source of the inaccuracy may not be readily identifiable.
Why did it take me so long to get my cheekweld right? What was my resistance based on? I think that my “reasoning” is probably pretty common. Hunting rifle stocks are not made to fit well. This is, of course, not advertised in the gun rag ads or articles (longer ads). So none of us really have it in our heads that our expensive rifles are going to need a bunch of adjustment right out of the box.
You can’t really blame the manufacturers for not making a perfect fit, because rifle fit is highly variable from person to person. Cheekweld is especially variable. I’ve noticed that I prefer a higher comb than most other people. You can’t expect a $600 rifle to fit perfectly like a bespoke rifle, yet we still just pull them out of the box, mount a scope, and call it good. Even my Sako, which cost about $1100 in 2002, doesn’t fit perfectly (or even close).
What I was doing was more of a jaw weld than a cheek weld. Most of my rifles fit me this way. That being the case, I think I took it as a matter of course that I just had to fit myself to the rifle. I have always prided myself on making due with what I had to a certain degree (note the word pride). I figured if I just brought my eye to the place where the sights lined up, how bad could it be? This brings to light the following: Many of our actions are based on deeply held, yet incorrect, assumptions that are not readily apparent to ourselves. Closer to the root of the matter, the adherence to these assumptions is more likely a matter of convenience, or resistance to change, than of actual belief. This is evidenced by the fact that we continue in the assumption, although we may readily admit that our assumption is not true. Let this be known as The Good’nuff Law of Laziness.
As an interesting side note, those of you who have read my articles on shooting positions may remember that I’ve had a persistent issue with vertical stringing while shooting with my Sako 75.
The most flagrant example of vertical stringing from December 2011- “Benchrest Kneeling” from 140 yards. Note that the horizontal dispersion appears to be about 1.5”, which is barely over 1 MOA. Also notice the vertical dispersion is just over 4”, which in the article I said was about 2.9 MOA.
Imagine what would happen if everyone was aware of this principle. Not just rifle shooters, but everyone. Seriously, ponder that for a moment.
My load’s SD appears to be within an acceptable range, so I pretty much ruled that out. I’ve read in forums that thin barrels of good quality shoot better than conventional wisdom would have you believe. I’ve also read that Sakos shoot a lot better after bedding, explains why that has been my primary theory.