The Effects of Stress and Pulse Rate on Firing a Shot

Shooting Misconception #1:  Because I can shoot a half minute group from the bench, I can shoot a half minute group from any position.

Shooting Misconception #2: Because I can shoot a half minute group from any position, I can also do so under stress, on a moving target, under time limits, or even while being shot at.

Shooting Misconception #3: I never get tired, out of breath, and I would never even consider being affected by adrenaline.  How I am on the couch in front of the TV (bitchin’ of course!) is how I would be in a gunfight.

It’s easy to fall for any and all of these when all your experience comes from watching TV.  When you go to the range and test out any field position, it can cast a shadow of doubt on your abilities.  When you go into the field, it can cause your freezer to go empty for another year.  When something bad brings a fight to you, it probably isn’t going to go like you have it worked out in your head.  I think it was the 9th time you watched Quigley Down Under that might be the cause of this problem.  I have to admit that “I said I never had much use for one. Never said I didn’t know how to use it,” was a great line.  Tom Selleck was really cool in that movie.  I’m still working on hitting that bucket with a snapshot.

That was a nice diversion.

BAM!!!  Now let’s get back to reality.  Your probably lucky to be shooting 8 MOA from offhand without 1.)a fancy shooting coat, 2.)a full time shooting gig, 3.) natural God given talent, or 4.) a magic rifle (like Quigley’s).  I proved that here for myself.  Have you gotten to the range to see what you can do?

What happens when you are exerted?  When your pulse rate goes up, there are physiological changes that occur that affect your fine motor skill.  Shooting involves fine motor skill, so by extension, increased pulse rate affects shooting.  Just the increased respiratory rate and the wild pumping of the heart can cause your sight to move erratically, and that’s before we add surprise and fear (no, I’m not coming over for dinner).

In a true adrenaline dump brought on by the rapid introduction of a threat to your life, you might poop your pants, urinate right there without first visiting the commode, your legs get weak, hands get shaky, vision goes tunnelly, your hearing may not work right (auditory exclusion), logic and recall become inaccessible, speech becomes difficult,  breathing becomes shallow, all kinds of crazy hormones will be shoved instantly into your system, and your heart rate will SPIKE.  Apparently, according to scientists, this is a clue that this type of response used to work well as a survival mechanism.  Grizzly bears run in fright when you poop yourself and become reduced to a grovelling pile of Jello©.  Maybe not.  I think that the actual idea is that unnecessary weight gets dumped,  the blood goes to the core in case you get gashed open, and the parts of the brain that will slow you down in the thick of it get turned off so you can react like an animal (quickly).

What can you do to mitigate the effects of shooting under stress?  One is to exert yourself prior to shooting in practice to get used to it.  I do this occasionally.  I run 50 yards uprange, then back, grab my rifle, load a single round, and fire a shot.  Rinse and repeat as necessary.  The target time is 1 shot per minute.  It sounds stupidly easy.  Like many other things, it’s harder than it sounds.

When I first started doing this, it was difficult to steady my hands enough to get the sling swivel in the stud and the round loaded into the action.  I found that as I ran to my rifle, if I really started getting control of my breathing and slowing it down, I could still function pretty well.  There’s something called “tactical breathing” that you should look into.

For this outing I chose offhand and rice paddy prone.  I put up a separate target for each, and alternated over the course of 10 shots, creating a 5 shot group for each position.  Why not 10 shot groups?  I didn’t feel like running for 20 minutes while wearing pants in the 85° weather with the sun beating down on me.  Silly me.  I understand that makes me a wimp.  I was also short on ammo which was really the deciding factor, because the 5 vs. 10 shot group issue did create a slight dilemma in my mind (I really like consistency).

I didn’t bring my heart rate monitor this time, but the last time I did this, I was in the 160’s most of the time.  This time I was a little slow.  Usually I use the Remington with a TAB sling.  The USGI sling is slower.  I was also stopping to plot my calls, which I haven’t done on this before.  It took just over 11 minutes to finish 10 shots.

You’d think that upper left shot on target 2 was a wild one.  Actually it was pretty steady and I thought it was an acceptable sight picture (think that feeling rushed had anything to do with it?).  Guess I learned something.  I was surprised that my offhand groups were not affected more.  I guess I can shoot an offhand group under 8 MOA (as long as I shoot a stupid 5 round group).

Just getting the heart rate up won’t duplicate the effects of stress.  Why bother with it then?  Well, primarily I’m hoping that it will help at least enough to allow me to maintain control of my bowels and bladder.  Additionally though, it could likely lessen the severity of the effects and speed up recovery time.  If you are very good at what you are doing, a little stress may actually improve your performance.

Since sitting in front of the TV on the couch isn’t going to help, next month we’ll introduce “The Rifleman’s Physical Training”.  Stay tuned.

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