The Snapshot: The Path of the Muzzle

I continue to peel away the onion on this snapshot thing.

Here is what I’ve done on it so far:

Those links contain most of my thoughts on the snapshot, as well as detail the evolution of my philosophy on one of the core rifle shooting exercises that the rifleman should set himself to master.

One of my goals for the year is to significantly improve my snapshot.  At this point, I define significantly as follows:

            “I would like to raise my snapshooting hit ratio significantly and lower
            my time as well.  I’d like to see my fastest hits under 1.25 seconds and
            the majority of my rounds be under 1.5.”

Basically what this means is shaving off about 2 tenths of a second from the snapshot while improving my accuracy.  I’m not going to get there by trying to do the same thing faster.  I need to remove excess movement.  That’s where mastering a discipline becomes more like creating a sculpture with a chisel than by erecting a structure out of cement.
I have identified 2 obvious areas of inefficiency in my snapshot technique.  The first I have been aware of for a while.  That is establishing cheekweld and eye relief as the rifle settles into position.  It was obvious in the last update I did, with the video of the 1.39 second snapshot hit, that I gently nestled my head down to the cheekpad just after the rifle was pointed in.  This probably added, coincidentally, about 2 tenths of a second to my time.

It’s actually pretty difficult to get to the point where you can get the head on the rifle in nothin’ flat without slamming the cheek down and jarring the whole system, but there’s a way.  I can describe the feeling of it in a couple of ways.  The first would be that you’re being played in reverse, and the original forward movement was bringing the rifle down and the head back to an erect position.  That’s pretty out there, I know.  The second way to describe it is that the final position we’re reaching is like home, and everything wants to go home, like going from a dominant chord to the tonic, for you music buffs.  The rifle belongs pointing in on the target, the cheek belongs on the cheekpad, and the eye belongs in perfect eye relief with a full sight picture.  Getting there quick doesn’t mean that we crash upon arrival.  That pretty much covers that.

The second way I’ve discovered to become more efficient is to bring the rifle up in a more efficient manner.  I learned this a long time ago when I shot a lot of USPSA.  When drawing a pistol, you want it to go in a straight line from the holster to extension.  There is something called porpoising, which you can see hypocrites with guns do on TV and in movies while they pollute our culture.

Porpoising is named for the porpoise, which jumps out of the water in and dives back in in an arc.  Some people draw their pistols up in an arc that travels over the horizontal plane that extends from the eye to the target, which creates a lot of wasted motion, and therefore wasted time.  It also obstructs one’s line of sight to the target, which is important.  All of these issues for pistol technique hold true for the rifle as well..

Here’s a video sequence of improper rifle presentation via porpoising.  I apologize for the graininess of the photos.  It was relatively low light, the camera was in sport mode (really cool), and “someone” set the lens to manual focus:

Porpoising is a little more difficult to eliminate with the rifle because it’s a lot longer than a pistol.  You don’t have nearly as much direct control of how the rifle muzzle moves without really putting a lot of practice into it.  Here is the sequence with the muzzle going in a much more direct route to being pointed in:


Those photos were taken during real presentations of the rifle, not posed individual shots of the camera, although the presentations were at about 1/3 speed.  What’s difficult to see about them due to my face being blacked out is the gap in time between being pointed in and attaining cheekweld.  You can see it in the final 3 photos; the muzzle is essentially in position but my face is squishing down on the cheekpad.  On an unrelated note, notice in the first photo of each sequence I’m still indexing to keep my finger off the trigger rather than using a safer method for bolt action rifles.  Even though I’m already aware of those issues they are still happening without me noticing.  It’s going to take several thousand reps of consciously doing it correctly before I can do it without having to be really aware of it.  I will have to double check myself with photos or video to make sure it is right.

It’s worth it to put a lot of practice into handling the rifle (and other stuff too) more efficiently.  I’m noticing a huge difference in my perception of the speed.  It’s similar to what happens with the bolt work sometimes.  It occasionally comes up faster than my perception is used to tracking and there’s a brief moment in time where it’s surprising.

What you’re going for in terms of muzzle control is to emphasize the support hand pointing at the target.  The firing hand just adjusts the rear of the rifle to keep the muzzle on an efficient track to its final position.  Give it a try and let me know what you think.

6 thoughts on “The Snapshot: The Path of the Muzzle

  1. Interesting thoughts, RS. I’m glad you can explain them so well. Quite a few years ago I loved duck hunting and was having problems hitting fast flyers before they were out of range. (You’d be amazed how fast a bird can move when spooked! I know I always am, anyway.)

    Long story short: my partner, who had about 30 more years shooting experience than I, told me exactly what you’re saying here. That I was ‘circling’ my shotty as I shouldered, thereby losing sight of the target, then having to recover it before shooting. Once I understood what he was trying to impart, my sucess rate rose dramatically.

    One of his comments as to why I was so good at trap is that the weapon was already shouldered before seeing the ‘bird’, so I’d never trained myself to shoulder the weapon, but hunting isn’t trap.

    Now, fast movers and partridge are easy targets.

    Thanks again for being so observant.

    • I would say the same thing about self defense. It’s similar to practicing to draw and shoot a pistol as quickly as possible. It’s much better to see trouble coming and be able to avoid it. A distant second is to be able to see it coming and already have the gun out. If you have to draw in reaction you’re starting out in a bad spot.

  2. Doing a “slow snapshot” (there’s an oxymoron for ya) can help you track the path of the muzzle such that any gross errors in excess motion, ‘fishing’ (up, over, and down), horizintal zig-zagging, etc. can be seen. Get the most efficient and correct motion developed and work that from slow to fast to ingrain it properly.

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