The Snapshot

I recently examined the offhand position.  Cooper’s conclusion was that the offhand position was only useful when there was not sufficient time to take a steadier position. It seems like a reasonable conclusion.  Cooper also wrote about the snapshot, which is the logical extension of his thinking on the offhand position.

Cooper defined a snapshot as a hit on a 4″ target from 25 yards in under 1.5 seconds.  He customarily tested the snapshot starting from the port arms position, then moving to offhand at the start signal and firing a shot.  The second part of the test was a hit on a 10″ target from 50 yards in the same time limit.

Cooper wrote that this skill was not likely to be used, but a good thing to have in the toolbox.  It seems to me that regardless of the likelihood that a skill will be needed, the urgency that we must place on its mastery lies in the urgency that we may find ourselves in when the skill is needed.

The snapshot is a reaction to being surprised.  Otherwise you’d set up in a better position, right?  I don’t know what might be surprising you, but if you’re walking around with a rifle, let’s assume it’s not a trivial situation.

We don’t always have the luxury of setting the distance.  That’s the essence of the snapshot- how we can use the rifle when the target has penetrated our “personal space”.  Alternatives to consider might be: a) not being there if we can help it,  b) moving to cover if we’re being shot at,  c) using a weapon better suited to close quarters  d) taking a position that makes us a smaller target.

My initial goal was mainly to add this tool to my belt- at hit on a 4″ (~16 moa) target from “port arms” in 1.5 seconds or less at 25 yards.  As I began working with it I started wondering how fast I could get this.  Sub-one second seems well within the realm of possibility.  Then I considered that maybe a 12 moa target would be better.  At least if I set my sights on a lofty goal I will probably achieve my original one.


The preceding sentence turned out to be false.  I had a disappointing day at the range.  But as with the offhand range session, having a reality check exposes one to reality.

Going in I knew my snapshooting wasn’t up to snuff.  Maybe 2 weeks earlier, I had good speed and good hits in dry fire.  I was busy with work stuff for about a week, and couldn’t dry fire.  When I got back to it, I was back to square 1.  I borrowed a timer, and found that a 2 second par time was really pushing it, and since I was rushing, my hits were inconsistent.  At least I established a baseline of how I shoot when I’m not in the groove.

First I shot a paper target with a 3″ black at 25 yards.  I got 4 hits out of 10 shots.  Average time: 2.38 seconds.  Average hit time: 2.61 seconds.  Best hit time: 1.91.  2 shots completely went off paper.  Of the 8 that were left the group was about 4.1″.  Pretty horrible.

I had been planning on following up with shooting 4.25″ clays at 36 yards in order to maintain the approximately 12 moa target size.  Taking my dismal performance into account, I decided to stay at 25 and shoot clays.  At this distance it was a 17 moa target.

Out of 12 shots I got 7 hits.  Average time: 1.95 seconds.  Average hit time: 2.02 seconds.  Best hit time: 1.43 seconds.  That was the only hit under Cooper’s 1.5 second definition.  The next closest was 1.63 seconds:

I also kept note of my heart rate to reference for a future topic.  During the first/worst run, my heart rate was in the low 100’s with an average of 112.  During my second run the average was 122.  I was getting more consistent hits while it was in the high 120’s to low 130’s.  I don’t know exactly what to make of that, but maybe it is helpful to be a little “excited”.

The primary thing I learned at this range session is, if I’m attempting a snapshot and the crosshairs don’t immediately come up to the target, the attempt has basically failed.  The other thing that the video showed me is that I was not bringing the sight to my eye, but bringing my head down slightly to meet it.  This hammered home to me the importance of staying relaxed, looking at what I want to shoot, then bringing the rifle and sight up to my visual plane.

The other important thing about snapshooting is that it seems be a very perishable skill.  If you want to keep it quick and accurate, practice it for a few minutes a day.  Keep up the intensity and continue to push the speed.

Overall, I feel that I underestimated the difficulty of this skill.  I will continue to work on it.

8 thoughts on “The Snapshot

  1. An old CWO2 would tell me…”cheek-weld, cheek-weld, cheek-weld.” I don’t think he stuttered, but the man could hit five X’s offhand at the 500 yard line with M16 irons, so I tried to listen.

    This is something I definitely need to practice more of! Thanks for the reminder.

  2. Excellent analysis, and an excellent site overall.
    The snapshot is perhaps more akin to a skeet shooter mounting the shotgun than run-of-the-mill rifle shooting.

    Good observation on “I was not bringing the sight to my eye, but bringing my head down slightly to meet it.” The scope should be inserted into your eyesight-to-target line as you mount the rifle.

    As far as I can tell, there are three parts to a successful snap shot: proper gun mount, which is butt-in-shoulder and cheek weld; proper body indexing to the target, which is natural point of aim; and then proper programming of the above into muscle memory. You are right, it is not easy.

    I suggest trying to mount the rifle with your eyes closed, then opening them to see where it’s pointing. Orient your aim by moving your whole body with the rear (away from target) foot until you are on target. Moving the rear foot towards or away from the target gives elevation changes, and moving the foot to one side or other gives lateral changes. Get your position and posture “on” so that when you open your eyes you are pretty much on target. Then teach yourself to acquire this exact orientation in the standing position. The rifle should then “snap in” right on target. Doing some shotgun wingshooting starting at port-arms can help.

    Have you been to the Colonel’s General Rifle class, or to an Appleseed shoot? I have done both, and am an instructor with the latter. I highly recommend it.

    Excellent work Rifleslinger!

  3. @Colorado Pete

    I agree wholeheartedly with your comment. I think that repetition is what I need at this point.

    I’ve never had the privilege of attending Gunsite, but have had the privilege of attending an Appleseed, which was very enjoyable.

    What are your thoughts on the position of the support elbow in the snapshot? Maybe not so much directly under the rifle?

    • with snapshots using my mosin i’ve found that i have the most accuracy and speed w/ my right arm @ about a 45 degree angle. I probably don’t practice it as much as i should but then again there is only so much money for ammo.

    • Bob,

      I’ve been using both my elbows at a 45 degree angle, or shallower lately. It does seem to be smoother. Next month I’ve got a re-do on some of my snapshooting observations.

  4. Col Cooper also wrote about the proper position of the rifle when attemping a snapshot: be sure to raise your barrel so that the muzzle is between your eyes and the target.
    We hund mainly driven animals here, and one has routinely 2 to 3 seconds to shoot while animals cross the shooting line. Pointing the muzzle is the only solution to be on target fast enough.
    I also put a lot of effort to set my rifle as close to my needs as possible: length of pull, shape of stock, lowest scope mount available, and balance of the rifle.
    After all, trap shooters do this, why not us with our tool ?

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