Snapshooting Followup

I had already planned on a followup to “The Snapshot” since I wrote it.  I wanted to address multiple targets.  Since my range session was less successful than I had hoped, I ended up going back to basics.  In doing so, I realized that I really only defined snapshooting without getting into the finer points.

Snapshooting, in form, is the offhand position.  Really it’s the essence of the offhand position, because the most convincing reason to use offhand is speed (although tall grass might be a not-so-distant second).  My hope is that someday my offhand accuracy (which I’m sure will come along any day now!) will merge with my snapshooting speed (which I’m sure will come along any day now!) so that there is no difference between the two.  I understand that’s not a realistic goal, but it seems a little boring and self-constraining to set realistic goals.

I have found that my form when snapshooting has some subtle differences than when I’m trying to shoot groups from offhand.  Mainly, my support elbow has a tendency to not be under the rifle quite so much.  It’s not so much that you’d notice, but I don’t feel the stretch in my rotator cuff when I’m snapshooting like I would when shooting groups.  I don’t worry too much about getting the elbow under the rifle.  It’s not like I’m going to be supporting the rifle long enough to worry about muscle fatigue anyway.  It’s more important to be fluid than steady for the snapshot.

I have also noticed that my stance tends to be a bit more aggressive in the snapshot.  I think this comes about due to feeling rushed.  Maybe it’s my carbine technique creeping through.  I’ve been trying to eliminate this tendency, but now that I’ve recognized it I’ll have to consider whether it works better.

The real essence of the snapshot is natural point of aim (NPA).  The main thing I came away with at my last snapshooting range session was that if the sights don’t come up on the target, it’s not going to make it in time.  If you relax and bring up the rifle quickly, it’s probably going to be at or near your NPA.  Here’s the if (and it’s a big if, in case you didn’t notice): things that affect your NPA include but are not limited to: the position of each foot in terms of stance width (elevation) and foot angle (windage), the position of your support hand on the forend, where your elbows are, the position of the butt (the rifle’s, not your’s- but come to think of it, that matters too), the consistency of your cheekweld, the relation of your upper body to lower body (as in, “are you relaxed or twisted?”), and probably more.  If you bring the rifle up once, then change any one of these, the rifle will be pointed in a different spot when you bring it up again.  It’s going to take a lot of practice before you are so consistent that the sights come right up every time.  Now add in being able to set your position up in an instant with your npa perfectly adjusted.  There’s a lot to this business of rifle shooting.

Because NPA is so important, and because while practicing the snapshot you’ll be shouldering the rifle over and over again, it’s a good time to pay attention to it.  I recommend, at first, to very intentionally not care where you’re going to aim.  Just notice where the rifle comes up with your proper form.  Does if come up to that spot consistently (that would be good) or does it drift?  If you notice that your point of aim changes, try to figure out what in your position caused the change.

As you get better, try to predict from a cold start where your NPA will be.  Close your eyes and bring the rifle up.  How close were you?  Keep trying until you’re there.  You can also find your NPA, then adjust your port arms carry so that the muzzle is directly between your dominant eye and the target.  Do it over and over again until you’ve got that position locked in and it makes a handy pointer to find your NPA in a hurry.

As you practice the snapshot, focus on bringing the sight to your eye.  When the sight comes up, you don’t want it bouncing around.  You want to see it come up and stop smoothly at once.  Your eye relief should not require a readjustment.  The reticle should be centered, and you should see the scope’s image with edge to edge clarity through the ocular lens.  If you can’t get that consistently without readjusting, re-evaluate your stance or the rifle’s setup.

Also focus on where the butt lands.  If it doesn’t hit your shoulder perfectly, don’t break a shot, just reset it.  If it hits wrong more than 2 out of 10 times, try slowing down or stopping for a bit.  Most of the unexpected shifts in point of aim from one shot to the next are from the butt not hitting right (elevation shift), or my support elbow being inconsistent (windage shift).

As you continue with countless repetitions, in addition to bringing the sight right up to your eye, getting the butt to land in just the right spot, you’ll be more aware of the stock comb brushing your cheek as it smoothly settles into your cheekweld.  The rifle begins to feel as though it’s moving into its natural spot, integrating seamlessly with your body.  Maybe I’ll write a love story about it.

As I mentioned in “The Snapshot”, it’s a highly perishable skill.  This is something that you really want to practice for at least a few minutes a day to maintain.  The nice thing is that this is one of the more fun and easy dry fire drills to practice.

There is a problem with highly perishable skills.  You’re not likely to have practiced it immediately before you need it.  Think about going hunting.  There are probably some other things to take care of that will dominate your attention.  Also, I don’t know how much dry fire practice will be going on at camp.  The only way I can think of to make the skill less perishable is to practice thousands and thousands of correct repetitions.

I use the metronome to keep track of how my speed is.  When I first started, the beats were: -up, -eye, -press, -bolt.  I later refined it to : -eye, -press, -bolt, because you’re bringing the rifle up to your eye.  If you set the metronome to 120 and can get “eye” and “press” in one beat each, then your doing it in one second.  Add reaction time and you have your snapshot total time.  Remember that you still need a surprise break and not to jerk the trigger to the beat.  It’s a reference point.  Here’s a clip of my shapshot practice with the metronome set at 184 bpm.  That means that the shot is breaking approximately .65 seconds after the movement is initiated.

With a timer and having to react to the beep, I’m over a second, but less than 1.1 seconds.  Mind you, I don’t care at what the rifle comes up on at this stage, as long as it comes up there consistently and the rifle doesn’t move as the shot breaks.

Trigger control and follow through are very important, as always.  If you place your finger on the trigger as you’re getting you’re sights on target, it will be ready to press as soon as you verify sight picture.  You have to be confident where you’re sights are going to land, so you’re not breaking Rule #3.  Don’t rush the press, but don’t wait around unnecessarily.  You’re going for a hit, not a group.  Conversely, don’t be in such a rush that you leave out the follow through.  The bolt work can wait another quarter of a second.  This gives your subconscious the ok not to move the rifle as the shot breaks.

Speaking of bolt work, this should be integral to your practice of the snapshot.  If you don’t understand why, click the link.

Don’t let your constant practice of the snapshot become boring, or even a chore.  If you hit a speed wall, change the target size, work on form, take a day off, or come up with your own creative way to make it fun (but please share your idea by leaving a comment).  Try using music as your time keeper, or just to get yourself energized.  Find something more interesting to use as a safe dry fire target (remember rule #2).  I like to dry fire at leaves.

I’m going to keep practicing this.  I think it would be a waste of centerfire ammo to test it for time at this point, because I’m just not where I want to be yet.  Stay tuned.

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