Snapshot Progress

This is one of those skills that I keep chipping away at over time.  My progress may be slow, but it’s progress, which as the opposite of congress, must be a good thing.
The last time I did any substantive testing with my snapshot was on 6/21/11.  I did 12 repetitions, attempting to hit a standard orange clay from 25 yards.  I hit on 7 of the 12 attempts (58% hit ratio).  My average time for all 12 attempts was 1.95 seconds.  The average time for hits was 2.02 seconds.  My fastest time, which was on a hit, was 1.43 seconds, and was the only attempt to succeed in breaking the standard time, set by Col. Cooper, at 1.5 seconds.  My slowest time, a miss, was 2.70 seconds.

On 4/17/12 I hit the range intending to prove that I had it down.  I knew that I was not at my best, having tried to get in “shape” in a week, without getting quite there.  At the range I did 16 reps, trying to do exactly the same thing as before.  I used the same timer, the same person timing me, the same rifle, the same sight and magnification setting, and the same type of target (actually from the same box).  My load has changed.  The current load is 155/~3000.  The old load was 185/2740.  I hit on 9 out of 16 attempts (56% hit ratio, pretty close to last time).  My average time for all 16 attempts was 1.49 seconds.  The average time for hits was 1.57 seconds.  My fastest time, on a miss, was 1.21 seconds.  My fastest hit was 1.39 seconds.  Three of my 16 shots (18.75%) were under the 1.5 second standard.


In the time I’ve been working on this skill since then I’ve made some changes to my technique.  I’ve also put in a lot of time and effort into improving.  Progress has not come easy from the work put in or the changes made.  I realized that when I work the bolt, it feels like it’s pretty slow, and I can hear every click the bolt makes distinctly, but when I watch it on video it seems instantaneous.  I realized that shooting the snapshot on 4/17/12, it felt like I was rushed for time it happened faster than I could register everything.  When watching the snapshot on video what stood out was all the wasted time.  I realized that I need to make the snapshot feel like my bolt technique feels.  That means repetition. 

I have video of every snapshot attempt I made on 4/17/12.  I watched them for whatever I could pick up on and improve.  I noticed that there was a definite lag as I obtained a sight picture.  You can see me bring my cheek down and watch it slowly compress.  In other videos, I noticed a lot of difference in my reaction time to the beep.  In my fastest attempt I pretty much had the rifle in firing position before the beep was over, which I think is at 0.3 seconds.  In some of the shots the rifle moves very quickly and explosively and the muzzle stops cleanly as the final position is realized.  On most of the videos it looks like I’m trying to move quickly while immersed in viscous fluid, and the last three or four inches looks choppy and separate from the rest of the motion.

In the final video I loaded up four rounds and tried to take out four clays.  I only hit the first one.  Any guesses as to why I missed the others?  Trigger control. It was painfully obvious when I didn’t notice I shot my gun dry and the muzzle dipped.

I believe that the muzzle dipping phenomenon is more than a flinch.  I have heard several IPSC grandmasters talk about the difference between the muzzle dipping before and after the shot breaks.  The latter is described as the subconscious execution of recoil control.  In this particular case I did jerk the trigger pretty hard.  Now I’m going to put that out of my mind and think about GOOD TRIGGER CONTROL (which is what you need to do to get better).

I have also noticed that working to improve speed has a tendency to reduce follow through to the point of it not being there.  This really stood out to me with the close range movers.  This is one of those things that I keep going back and forth on… working speed while trying to maintain a semblance of proper form.

Back to the drawing board

On 4/18/12 I started working on how to get an instant sight picture as the rifle comes up.  The conventional wisdom states that you need to bring the rifle up to the eye.  Yes, to a point.  I tried taking it literally, which is how I roll.  Unless I’m going to set the toe of the stock on my shoulder, that ain’t gonna work.  So bringing the head down is a necessity.  The trick is to bring in down right now and not to make it a 1., 2. type of motion.  I think that will shave off another 0.2 to 0.3 seconds.

Another seemingly unrelated skill I’ve been pursuing is flash recognition.  Apparently the human vision system is capable of recognizing images very, very quickly, on the order of 0.001 seconds.  I’m hoping that after working on this visual ability, I can connect a jumper wire from my seeing chunk of brain to my trigger finger chunk of brain and down to the finger itself.  I’ll let you know how that works out later.  I think I can take off another 0.1 to 0.2 just from that part alone.

I’ll let you know how that works out.

19 thoughts on “Snapshot Progress

  1. Okay- Bolt Manipulation you are fast
    I think target is too small and your trying for to much precision -double target size
    basic question if you look at target close eyes and throw up rifle-what are you looking at? what does this say about gun fit ,Position of hands ?
    A related question what happens with an AR where things like cheekweld and other refinements are a moot point
    You do rack that bolt

    • Hi Rawhider,

      Glad to see you. I hope you recovered completely from your flooding.

      I’ll try a paper plate or balloon at 25 and see what happens. The reason I can’t let the 4″ target at 25 go is because that’s how Jeff Cooper defined it. It’s not so much out of hero worship or even because he was good and he said so, but it’s one of those rare times where I have a standard to compare to and against.

      When I close my eyes and throw up the rifle, then open them after the motion is completely done, I will see a good image through the scope, usually with the target somewhere close to the crosshairs.

      What was interesting to me was that I knew that there was a gap in time between shouldering the rifle and getting the scope image, but I didn’t realize until watching the video just how pronounced and obvious the lag was for getting my cheekweld established. I went home and thought it out like this: “I could probably just bring the rifle up and get my cheekweld at the same time.” I had the wife check for that time lag the old way vs. the new way. She said there was an obvious difference. Very profound, I know. My mom says I’m real smart.

      In fact, watching videos of myself shooting has shown me all kinds of instances in which I’m wasting time with wasted movement. It really gave me some insight as to why really good shooters do so well while seeming so effortless. Then it really gave me hope that I could just practice to fix a little thing here, a little thing there, and really come out a better shooter.

      So in response to your last part, are you talking about a rifle with which you can get a sight picture easily and quickly without too much effort or precision, such as with a 1x optic?

      I think that the target size with a snapshot, even the one I used that you said was too small (~17 moa), is so big that inconsistent cheekweld is very likely a moot point. So I guess what I would think is that it would be a lot faster than a conventional scope. Is that kind of what you were getting at?

      Good “seeing” you.

  2. Good observations all around, I saw pretty much what you did on the video (slow cheek weld). I ran the video so many times I apologize if it made your shoulder sore. Nice bolt flick though, I’m guessing about 3/4 second!

    The muzzle push down before/during the shot is a flinch of the shoulder buck variety. If it happens after it is what Cooper named a “post-ignition push”.

    The eye can indeed catch an image very fast. Doing a Bill drill with your pistol is a good way to train in that jumper wire between eye, brain, and trigger finger you mentioned. When you are doing sub-.20 splits while fully seeing and recognizing your sight picture/recoil/recovery/sight picture cycle you are getting it.

    • Hi Pete,

      My shoulder didn’t get sore. I think I must be pretty tough, ’cause I didn’t even notice.

      After I was done with all this speed work, I didn’t care whether it was a flinch/buck or a “post ignition push” (the man had a nice way with words). I pretty much knew that I was going to work on follow through or I was going to have trouble hitting stuff. It’s like sharpening a knife, you gotta hone both sides of the blade to make a keen edge. Work the speed, work the precision and hope they meet in the middle somewhere where and when they need to.

      I used to work Bill drills pretty regularly with the pistol. What is also neat is with a carbine, when if you get the position right you can let her rip for several rounds and just watch the sight continuously stay just about in the same exact spot. I think that Brian Enos advocated what he called a “continuous sight picture”. That would be good follow through indeed.

    • The Bill Drill is all about continuous sight picture, and learning to not only keep track of it, but evaluate each post-recoil-recovery sight picture individually and correct it if necessary as part of the “stream of consciousness” continuous flow.

      You can do this at ridiculous speeds, like a correction taking .03 to .04 second (yes hundredths not tenths). According to my shot timer, that is the difference between a recognized correct sight picture recovery and instant trigger pull, and a recognized incorrect sight picture recovery and instant correction and trigger pull. Back when I was in my prime as a pistol shooter (~1000 years ago) I could run Bill Drills with a .22 rimfire with my good recovery splits running .14-.16 and my correction splits running .17-18, seeing every bit of the continuous sight picture, evaluating each recovery, and correcting when necessary. So there. 😉

      So train on weed-hopper, there is still hope for you, despite what everyone else here says….:-P

  3. Have to agree with Pete on the flinch thing, it’s just about impossible to jerk the trigger hard enough to move the gun like that. It usually comes from trying to make the gun go off right NOW!, and then anticipating the recoil. Anyway, looks like good progress has been made, and I’m glad to see you’re back at it. BTW, I have a new sling for you to try out – if you still have my email addy, send me your mailing address and I’ll get a copy out to you in a few weeks.

    • SLG,

      “Just about impossible”. For some people maybe. I’m lookin’ for the weight room. Anybody know where the weight room is? Lookin’ for the weight room.

      Okay, probably anticipating recoil.

  4. At what power are you setting your scope? Can you mount the rifle with both eyes open and find the target as soon as you shoulder the rifle?

    • The scope power is 3.5x. It seems like it’s still pretty usable for relatively quick work at closer ranges.

      Both eyes open- yes.

      Find the target as soon as I shoulder it- I can. I don’t know if you followed my conversation with Pete above, but I noticed that I was a little delayed on the cheek weld without realizing it. Fixing it was just a matter of realizing it and a bit of practice.

  5. I was thinking out load,in a way ,because this subject/skill fascinates me and I have long marveled at those who seemingly could get off a shot as soon as the rifle hit their shoulder,now I often observed that that type weren’t so shiny when precision was called for, I have always been a deliberate shot and breaking the habit of everything having to be right before tripping the trigger is tough- So I ask myself is there a specific combinations of rifle /sight that facilitate this endeavor.Of course the holy grail and higher road is the one you have chosen a major caliber/load versatile sight a combination for all seasons and reasons,
    but alas I must trundle to the range revisit and sort out some things – I didn’t realize there was going to be homework

  6. Rawhider,

    The secret is in the gun mount to your shoulder. If you do that correctly everything else falls into place. Having a low power scope (or just iron sights) helps also as you have a large field of view to capture the target.
    If you can mount the gun in alignment to the target and get that cheekweld set correctly instantly for good sight picture, you will be “on” right away.

  7. Pete is right about the consistency thing. I found through a lot of practice and trial and error a certain spot where the butt just feels right in the shoulder. I mention calibration a lot in my snapshot articles, in terms of ensuring that your gun points right in according to where you think it’s indexed. To ensure that your calibration is on, the butt position has to be consistent.

    I covered a lot of info in this article http://artoftherifle.blogspot.com/2012/02/snapshot-rockin-bolt-gun-like-carbine.html
    which I think may be the best thing I’ve ever put out, and I’m pretty sure that no one has read the whole thing carefully, because I haven’t gotten any comments on ninjas (actually I did once, but it was profane and I had to delete it).

    After the mount is complete, it comes down to speed of your sight acquisition, which should be basically instantaneous, your decision to fire, which is something that can be trained to be very fast, and then your trigger press, which is a tightrope between not fast enough and not precise enough.

    Snapshooting is, in my opinion, and from my current, limited set of experience, one of, if not the most difficult skills for a rifleman to master. I was behind on my comma quota, but that last sentence, and this one, as well, fixed that.

    Rawhider, could you shoot me an email when you get a chance?

    • Rifleslinger (and Commentators), I’m finding all this very interesting but it is all just WAY too hard (only a ninja can sneak up on another ninja)

      ….. Damned trigger control

    • Boys, ninjas can be deleted with snapshots.
      But keep it a secret, we don’t want them to find out.

      The snapshot is the rifle equivalent of the fast-draw with a handgun. Useful to learn, if you jump a buck at 20 yards, or a you-know-what jumps out of a puff of smoke with a katana.

      Jonno, if you want to learn trigger control on a rifle, learn to shoot a semi-auto pistol accurately at quarter-second intervals while seeing your sights the whole time (see Bill Drill stuff above). Rifle trigger work is easy after that….

    • Thanks Pete, I’ll get on it – sounds like a piece of cake 😉

      Seriously though, I do have some further questions on this which may be somewhat off topic. I’ll email Rifleslinger in the hope that he will be kind enough to pass on the message.

      cheers, jonno

  8. Rawrider, in the first comment, asked how this related to using a AR since cheekweld didn’t matter. Doesn’t cheekweld matter when shooting an AR? I’ve never shot one but it would seem to me the principles would be the same?

    • Yes, you are correct. It will nearly always matter some, and the principles do not change from rifle to rifle.

      There are times when parallax (the problem), and perfect cheekweld (the solution) may not matter enough to change things appreciably. This close up, fast shooting is a good example. The target I was shooting was 17 MOA. I don’t know what the parallax caused due to imperfect cheekweld is, but it is likely negligible. Sure, it is possible that it could be part of what causes a miss, but there are likely bigger culprits that contribute to misses in this scenario.

      I initially thought that Rawhider was speaking in reference to an Eotech (which I tend to associate with AR’s). These are supposed to be “parallax free” within a certain range of distances. I’m wondering now if he’s saying that the ergonomics are so bad for him that it’s a “moot point”.

      That was a perceptive comment. Thank you.

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