The Snapshot: Rockin’ the Bolt Gun Like a Carbine

This is something that I’ve been wanting to do for a while.  A series of emails/comments with Colorado Pete about arm placement during the snapshot prompted me to finally give it a try.  The preliminary results in dryfire are extremely promising.


I have viewed rifle shooting and carbine shooting as mutually exclusive, distinctive disciplines.  While I still believe they are distinctive and different, they don’t need to be mutually exclusive.  What I finally decided to do is to try out the carbine shooting stance and try it out with a rifle.


One thing that has kept me from really wanting to try this is the non-adjustable length of pull.  The technique as taught by Magpul Dynamics, which is how I’ve been running carbines for a couple years, uses the collapsible stock on a short setting.  The length of pull on #1 is quite long.  Recently I saw a clip of Jerry Miculek demonstrating his rifle shooting stance from his practical rifle DVD, which has some aspects what is taught by Magpul while retaining a more bladed, rifle-like stance and a more upright posture.


Something I have also found helpful is the use of pointing the support finger, in-line with the barrel, to my target.  My dad learned this in Vietnam, although what they learned was completely unsighted.  The Magpul technique is easily adaptable to this.  I decided to give this a try with the rifle.  


This technique makes a handguard seem like a really good idea.  Note that the new breed of sniper rifles are equipped with handguards again.  Coincidence?  Probably.  Because barrels get hot, and it’s generally not a good idea to touch them, this isn’t going to work:

I don’t think it’s a good idea to lay the thumb across an exposed barrel while firing.

An option is to wear Nomex gloves and not worry too much about touching the barrel and its effect on accuracy.  The downsides are that you may interfere with you sight picture slightly, and it will hurt if you forgot your gloves.


Instead I decided to get my thumb out of the way.  It looks like this:


This grip gets set up the same way every time.  The thumb is on the same edge of the stock, the index finger is always pointing at the target, and the swivel stud is always on the same part of my finger.  It feels a little weird at first, but after a while it’s very easy to repeat and is quite intuitive.


Here’s where the old-school rifle shooters are going to say, “Boy, now just what do you think you’re doin’?”  The left elbow is definitely not under the rifle.  Not even close.  It’s closer to being beside the stock.  The arm is extended so far that the elbow is hardly bent.  When I started shooting carbines like this, I was very skeptical.  I found out that it just works.  The hand, being so far forward, makes it easier to move the rifle laterally.



As far as the rest of the body, I find that being less bladed seems to work more naturally with this arm position.  I’m still experimenting with degrees of upright vs. aggressive (rolled forward) shoulder positioning.


I have been very pleasantly surprised at how well this approach has worked in dry fire.  Everything I have learned and taught about shooting offhand and standing tells me that keeping the elbow out should yield much less accuracy.  I have found that not only does the muzzle come up on target much more intuitively and predictably, my hold appears to be steadier.


Why would keeping the elbow out and the hand forward lead to a steadier hold?  I think that the answer is the same as why a long sight radius (in this case a hand radius) makes hitting the target easier.  In theory, if your hold is perfect, than a long or short sight radius wouldn’t matter.  In practice, the hold is not perfect.  A longer sight radius means that the same amount of perceptible movement will lead to less movement on target.  By the same token, it seems reasonable that by keeping the support hand farther away, small variations in position and movement will lead to less shifting of the crosshairs and muzzle. 


To reiterate a basic definition of the snapshot from my previous work, it is defined as a hit on a 4” target from port arms in under 1.5 seconds.  Last summer, I had hoped to hit a 3” target from 25 yards in under a second.  That proved to be too much, too soon.  I was barely able to achieve Cooper’s standard on a small percentage of my attempts. 


The recent snapshot work I have undertaken has refined my understanding of it.  Therefore I’ll try to refine my explanation.  I can readily identify 3 phases of the snapshot:


1.     Point-aligned index is placed on target.
2.     Visual confirmation/correction of point of aim.
3.     Compressed surprise break and follow through.


With each phase there is opportunity to reduce the time involved, depending on the shooter’s strengths and weaknesses.  My trigger control under time seems to be pretty solid.  On the other hand, my index is not naturally very quick.  My visual confirmation phase is likewise not as quick as I would like it.  I figure if I can notice a time lag, it is too slow. 


For me, I save the most time when I work on a quick index.  Let’s examine the index phase of the snapshot.  During this phase, three things are accomplished:


1.    Point-aligned index is placed on target
a.     The support hand index finger points to the target.
b.     The rifle butt is placed in the shoulder.
c.     Correct cheekweld is established.


Parts “a” and “b” happen together; they are like 2 sides of the coin.  They are also dependent on each other to make the index effective.  If you point with your support hand index finger, but the butt placement is off, the “calibration” of your finger pointing will also be off (this is to say that the barrel is not pointing where you feel your finger pointing).  These two components are easy to work on in concert because you can run them on an intuitive level of concentration.  Just work by feel.  After working this for a while, it feels like I am tossing the rifle into position, and the butt lands solidly where it should.  My starting grip is more gentle and more tactile.  


The pistol grip starts out being held more by the fingertips of the firing hand than in a grip.  The thumb is riding the safety on the strong side, so there’s no “wrap-around” (opposable grip).  I don’t really have the feeling of actually holding the pistol grip in my firing hand, which although is shaped like it’s gripping, is really just rigid enough to hold its shape. 

When I bring the rifle up, the pistol grip is sitting on the middle finger (staying indexed, you know).  The arm comes up to its normal spot, which means that the hand comes up to its normal spot, which means that the part of the pistol grip that’s sitting on my middle finger (the same part every time) comes up to its normal spot.  This chain of events places the butt at precisely the same spot in my shoulder every time.


The other thing to work on in mounting the rifle is to come from a snappy movement to a dead stop.  The rifle just has to reach stillness immediately.  If it doesn’t, what you will see is that sight come up on target for an instant, then move away.  So how do you get it to stop?  The rifle has to follow your movement.  Don’t make your movement with any regard for the rifle’s feelings (‘cause it don’t have none); you put your body in the position you need to put it in.  The rifle may as well not be there (except for air rifle is stupider than air guitar).  


This kind of smooth, snappy, and efficient movement is the byproduct of, yes, you guessed it, REPETITION, but there is something more.  Your movement has to be structurally sound.  This brings into play posture, relaxation, physical condition (strength and flexibility), and efficiency.  I have a lot of time put into this type of movement.  I don’t think it’s something you can fake or come by easily unless you are unnaturally gifted.


Item “c” of the index phase is something that is slightly more difficult to calibrate (for me anyway).  Cheekweld is, ideally, a fine tuned aspect of marksmanship.  When speed is the primary criterion for performance, it follows that the precision of the cheekweld can be compromised without undue (noticeable/significant) detriment.  When the rifle is set up for correct cheekweld (height of comb), it is more likely that the ability to compromise the cheekweld precision is lessened.  I have found this to be the case after adding a cheekpad to my stock.  Where I used to “float” my cheekweld and let the eye find the correct relief, I now have to blend that with the proper position of the cheek.  


Here’s what all that gobbledegook means: If your rifle is set up correctly, it is going to be difficult to get the rifle up quick without slamming the comb into your cheekbone.  This slamming will result in a bounce, which slows down the completion of the index phase.  Taking it a step farther, it means that successfully completing the index phase quickly will likely be more difficult.  That’s what repetition is for.  Isn’t it a pain to have to do things right?


I’m finding that keeping the head erect is not necessarily a given.  I noticed in my first article on the snapshot that I lowered my head, and worked to eliminate it.  Lately I’ve been experimenting more.  There is a definite tendency to want to lower the head to establish the correct cheekweld.  I don’t exactly know what the “right” answer is, but I’m pretty sure that keeping the head perfectly erect is not it.  The question then becomes, “How much do I lower the head?”.  I think it depends on more than just a technical ideal for firing one shot.  If follow up shots are important, a more “aggressive” posture will be more effective in managing recoil.  If making the first shot as fast and as accurately as possible is the most important, a very slight lowering of the head seems to be working the best at this point.  I don’t believe that lowering the head is bad, in and of itself.  The important thing is that if the head is lowered, it is part of the index, and not an adjustment after the fact.


Let’s move to phase 2 of the snapshot: visual confirmation/correction of point of aim.  If what you see initially is an acceptable sight picture, you’re ready to move to phase 3.  This begs for a definition of “acceptable sight picture”.  I’ll address that topic next month.


If what you see initially is not an acceptable sight picture, you need to fix it.  This gets easier and easier with, you guessed it, REPETITION.  After a while, the correction of the sight picture looks like some sort of erratic auto-guided tracking system.  It looks like a drunk driver is driving the crosshairs to the target.  You don’t think it’s going to get there, but it does, and quickly.    When you see what you need to see, quickly execute phase 3.  After many repetitions, the trigger press seems to be automatically activated by the recognition of an acceptable sight picture.  Before you have time to recognize what is happening, you’re calling a hit.  Then work that bolt!


Another thing that will help you eliminate the gap between the phases is to make placing the finger on the trigger part of the index.  This may cause some controversy.  Is it a violation of Rule 3?  Not if you can be certain that your sights are on your target.  Consider that the time lag from index to trigger press will be about a half second.  If you can’t be certain of the sights coming up on target, then hold off on placing the finger on the trigger until the completion of the sight picture verification.   Speaking of Rule 3, do you think that keeping the trigger finger on between target transitions on a Steel Challenge stage would constitute a violation?  What about keeping the trigger back on a semi auto rifle through the breathing cycle for the “textbook” follow through?  What’s your interpretation of Rule 3 in regard to these examples?  


I’m using my dry fire target to practice.  Only one person has requested it since I mentioned it several months ago.  Here’s what it looks like:

If you click on the thumbnail, you should get one in approximately the same size that I use.  Make sure to print it without any scaling or fitting it to the printable page.  On my target, the top circle is approximately 1.35”.  The second from the top is 0.7”.  The center circle is 0.35”, and so on.  At 10 yards just move the decimal over, and you have the approximate size of the target in MOA.  The top target is about 13.5 MOA at 10 yards.  A test print of the above image yielded a slightly smaller version, but not too much smaller (not readily apparent when looking at them side by side from dry fire distance).  


Cooper’s definition of the snapshot involves a 4” target at 25 yards, which is about 16 MOA.  Since live fire is usually a bit more difficult, I have to artificially inflate the difficulty of the dry fire.  The top circle is therefore a good target to practice the snapshot.  I’ll take any sight picture that touches any part of the circle or rectangle I’m shooting at for the snapshot.


I added the shaded rectangles to the target after practicing a few times with the original target I made.  I was unable at that time to index my rifle consistently on the top circle, but the whole page was much too easy.  I also use the 7 MOA target (second circle from the top) for the snapshot occasionally.


I’m still practicing with my metronome to speed up my snapshot.  For those of you with a smartphone or iPod touch, here is a free metronome app that works nicely.  Here’s a conversion chart I made to convert the metronomes beats per minute (BPM) to something that works for what I’m doing:



For my reaction time to the shot timer, I add about a half second (I also have an adjusted spreadsheet page that adds 0.5 seconds to every cell- this seems to be about right on).  Your reaction time may be faster.  I don’t work with a timer very frequently.  Hardcore IPSC shooters practice reacting to the beep quickly.  I practice reacting to roving bands of killer NINJAS quickly (only click on that link if you have a truly tasteless and juvenile sense of humor- and it’s still a waste of time).  Here’s a free shot timer app for all you smartphone folks.  If someone would come up with a killer NINJA app I would appreciate it.


Here’s how I’ve been practicing my snapshots.  I do it in 3 beats of the metronome.  Beat one is the start signal, so it counts as zero.  Get the shot off by beat 3.  Pretty simple.  I think of 120 BPM as the minimum snapshot speed, which is one second (remember that the first beat is a starting signal and doesn’t count as elapsed time).  Add in my half second for theoretical shot timer reaction time, and you have Cooper’s 1.5 second snapshot.  At this very moment I can start cold at about 120, and move up to about 184 as I warm up.


Something interesting for me right now is that if I’m doing 3 beat snapshots at the top circle at any given speed between, say, 120 and 160, I can hit the next circle down in 4 beats.  I can hit the lower right rectangle in 2 beats.


If I move the metronome speed up and I just barely can’t keep up, I might take a pace or 2 forward, then move back as I get it.  Sometimes it helps to slow things down and work at a smaller target.  Other times the opposite is true, and just crank up the speed and aim for a rectangle or the whole page.  Learn to adapt your speed to the requirements that your target presents.


I also work my bolt in conjuction with the metronome beat.  It goes something like tick, tick, CLICK, work-the-bolt, tick…  It’s really hard for me to tell, but I think the bolt work takes two additional beats after the trigger press for a standard snapshot.  You can get a better illustration from the old video I posted on snapshot dry-firing:

A slightly more advanced way to do it is to use only 2 beats.  Even if you cut the speed in half, it is not easy at first.  I was at 138 doing 3 beats, then I turned it down to 68 for 2 beats.  I couldn’t do it at first.  I think the reason is that with faster tempos it’s easier to anticipate the starting click and cheat it a bit.  With a slower tempo, say under 100 BPM, you’re more likely to actually wait until hearing the “starting click” to begin moving.  When practicing in 2 beats, I notice that I get the rifle up more explosively, the sights don’t settle as well, I’m a little more likely to miss, and my bolt work seems really fast.  Try to get the bolt completely cycled before the next beat after firing.  Today I was working at 92 BPM in 2 beats, meaning the actual time from starting click to shot was 0.65 seconds and the bolt was worked in about the same amount of time or slightly less. 


I mentioned my cold start speed and what I work up to.  The cold speed is the important thing to keep in mind.  You’re not going to get to warm up for a snapshot should you ever need to take one.


Here’s a recap of what makes a snapshot:


1.    Point aligned index on target.
a.    The support hand index finger points to the target.
b.     The rifle butt is placed in the shoulder.
c.     Correct cheekweld is established.

2.     Visual confirmation/correction of point of aim.
a.    Correct point of aim if necessary.
b.    If an acceptable sight picture is verified, proceed to step 3.


3.     Compressed surprise break and follow through.


I plan to test my snapshot in live fire in the coming weeks.  I am confident that I can consistently execute the snapshot under the appropriate time to Cooper’s standard.

17 thoughts on “The Snapshot: Rockin’ the Bolt Gun Like a Carbine

  1. One thing about developing a completely different technique for one particular type of shot:

    In practice you know ahead of time exactly what you are going to do.
    In the real world, a snapshot is the response to a more-or-less unexpected, in-your-face sudden stimulus. Which one of the multiple techniques you know will you execute? At some point you have to find a way to make the different snapshot technique be the one that is selected and performed reflexively by the nature of the situation that triggers it.

    Good to hear that extended support arm stuff actually works, I never tried it, it just looks wrong…may have to play with that a bit.

    • Hi Pete,

      I agree that the more decisions that need to be made, the longer it will take. There have been studies about that, it seemed like adding one more option increased reponse time by about a half second, on average, if I remember correctly.

      Taking into consideration the context for taking a standing rifle shot, it seems that the most obvious reason for doing so would be time. This “version” seems to be, for me anyway, a bit quicker. If I have time to take a more precise shot, and no support or opportunity for a steadier position exists, then I figure I can fuss with my offhand.

      I haven’t really had time to consider whether or not this will be my default technique, but I guess I need to wring it out and give it some thought. It seems to make sense, but I need to take it out and try it.

  2. Rifleslinger, two questions:
    1. Do you achieve a good cheekweld with an M4 with the collapseable stock?
    2. What kind of cheekpad is on your Sako? Pros and cons?

    • A. Nonymous,

      1. I wouldn’t say that I get a great cheekweld with an M4 collaspible stock. I’ve been using the Magput CTR on my AR carbines, which is the only type of AR that I have to shoot. The type of shooting that I use an AR for is more of a “minute of bad guy” type of shooting, so I guess my accuracy expectations have not been very high.

      I’ll also add in that I don’t think I shoot as accurately with AR’s. I don’t know what it is about them, or me. It’s not that I don’t like them, but they have been somewhat frustrating for me at times. I’ve never shot much with one with a magnified optic.

      2. The cheekpad on the Sako is a Triad Tactical “slick side”. In the next 7-10 days or so, I have an article coming out about it. This is a way of saying I want you to come back and read often (but there really is an article finished in the queue).


      R. Ifleslinger

  3. Great Stuff-
    I’m thinking I will make the point index support position the default hand position when still hunting.I have always found the wing out elbow more steadier ,I have a shooter amigo who always chides me that is way there were so many one arm amputee’s from the Revolutionary and Civil wars,but I’m thinking from a different context ,surprise snap shot ,also this makes a good case for the barrel band sling swivel if shooting a rifle with much recoil

    • Tell your friend that it’s much safer for you to keep that arm out, away from your body, if it’s such a popular target as to have cost all those civil war veterans their arms. Better to take a hit on the arm than center of mass, right 😉

      It’s only recently that I’ve become aware of the barrel band sling swivels. My first thought was, “That’s dumb.” Then I thought it was an affectation to say, “Look, it’s a special African Safari rifle!” Are you saying that it may help to secure the support hand if it’s placed farther forward?

      What this has caused me to ponder is if all those old rifles with full handguard that go really far forward didn’t make good sense after all? Something you said before about all these new rifles being designed by people that don’t shoot rifles also comes to mind. Also notice that the newer tactical rifles have full handguards that extend out quite a bit (never mind that they weigh more than the shooter and have a ton of gadgets (crap) bolted on.

    • I think what Rawhider may mean with the barrel-mounted sling swivel is that a heavy recoiling rifle will really mash your forward hand when it is placed behind a conventional stock-mounted swivel. The barrel-mounted swivels won’t bite you.
      However, if you shoot such a rifle with a tight loop sling, you are now putting quite a bit of tension on the barrel which could affect zero on a longer shot.
      However, most such rifles are shot offhand at big critters less than 100 yards away, without using a sling…

    • This technique puts my hand in front of the forward swivel. His comment made me think he was talking about a sling setup that kept the hand behind the forward swivel when running the hand forward.

      I’m sure he’ll come on and clarify.

      Incidentally, I got my Ching in the mail yesterday. I’m really excited to give it a whirl…

  4. Colorado Pete is right I was just remembering how some time back in my .375 H&H (use enough gun)days running around in a circle looking for fingers I thought had been torn off,when sling swivel hit them in recoil,sorry nothing esoteric far as sling mounting.BTW on my planet I think credible snap shooting is at the top of the list as one “owns” the ground in increments ,I think have optic on low power always be looking close before far.

    • I still remember firing one round out of a Ruger No. 1 .375 H&H back around 1980. OUCH.
      On your planet you have jungle vampire zombie velociraptors, so yeah you’d better have a darn good snapshot! Not to mention a faster-than-light bolt flick and a supersonic reloading stroke!

      The snap shot is a lot like a fast draw with a pistol. Lots and lots of careful reps required.
      A good skill at snap shooting helps prevent needing to draw your pistol, or fix your bayonet for that matter…

    • Speaking of snapshots…when I took Col. Cooper’s General Rifle course at the Whittington Center back in ’99, we had a retirement-age gentleman from New England with us. On the man-against-man steel shoot-off at the close of the course, he showed off what must have been his lifetime of grouse-shotgunning skill. The first target was a large steel at about 50 yards or so. His rifle went off when the buttplate hit his shoulder, so consistently that it seemed as if the trigger was in the buttplate. And he did not miss.

    • I have a little experience with the scout scope. Takes a little getting used to. You ought to keep both eyes open. It does work very fast. The magnification is low so very little difference in what each eye sees.

  5. I think so but it is debatable. Finn Aagaard and Wayne Van Zwoll have written about this as well as whether a scope is quicker than irons (i.e., ghost ring/receiver sights). I suspect the fastest is a red dot.

  6. A 1x optic would undoubtedly be faster than irons for me. I’m guessing that anything under a 4x would be very close to irons in terms of speed. I’m used to my scope, and keep it on 3.5x unless I need something more. I use it with both eyes open and it’s faster than irons for me. I would like to have a little bit more on the lower end. I think a 2x-12x would be about perfect.

    So nothing really magical about the scout scope, except for long eye releif, light weight, and maybe a slight edge with how much vision it obstructs? I’m guessing any low power scope would fare about the same?

    • You get less vision obstructed, which means more peripheral awareness of what is going on in front of you, much like using a ghost ring or non-magnifying optic. The scope is not at the center of gravity so you can carry the rifle with one hand at the receiver as though it had irons only. You can get access to the action more easily without the scope in the way, and use a stripper clip to load the action if it can be modified with a clip guide. It is fast and very usable with both eyes open.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *