I wrote this in February or March, prior to going on break.  The really good parts I just added to it right now. 

This article will pertain to target shooting, where you have the luxury of making your shot on your time.

I’m getting to the point in my standing position where I’m almost happy with my level of precision.  Scary.  I’m sure the last MOA will be the toughest to shave off.

I think that if a relatively decent shooter were to look through my sight picture in the standing position and experience what my hold looks like, he would not believe that my average extreme spread for a 10 shot standing group is in the 5.5 to 7 minute range.  The limit of my hold is much larger than that.

The reason that I can group much better than my hold is that there is a moment where the hold steadies up, where all systems are go, and all that needs to be done is to press the trigger before the moment is gone.  After I spent a lot of time in the standing position, I realized that the skill of timing the shot release was allowing me to get easier results in other positions as well.  Any position that is not perfectly steady will show smaller groups if the shooter is able to time the release of the shot.

The ability to effectively time the shot depends on a few things.  The shooter must be able to control the trigger sufficiently well to allow for a very narrow window of time- probably a half second or less.  The shooter must be aware of his cycle of movement.  The shooter must have the patience and discipline to accept only the right moment and not one that is only ‘close’.  The sights resting briefly on the target is not the same thing as the sights crossing over it.  The shooter must also have a level of attention and readiness to fire that is always at the ready to recognize the right moment and seize it immediately.

Knowing Your Rhythm

The only way to get a feel for your personal cycle of movement is to do a lot of firing.  I do a lot of dry firing but in my case I needed live fire to really learn to take advantage of my cycle of movement.  I think for me it had to do with making live fire standing practice a routine thing so it didn’t feel so much like a test.  Dry fire probably set the skill, but it didn’t transfer directly to live fire without some work.

My own cycle of movement begins with a rather wide arc.  I usually take one breath after bringing the rifle up.  A second after I reach my natural respiratory pause, things usually begin to settle.  I don’t see figure eights, just sort of a happy meandering sort of movement.  If my position is properly balanced I will feel a sense of steady calmness about my position.  If my center of gravity is outside of my feet I will feel a sense of slight panic and urgency to quickly get the shot off.  If everything is as it should be I will only have a moment before things begin to break down.  For the most part I only get one optimum cycle each time I bring the rifle up, although sometimes I get two good shots before lowering it.

Knowing Your Hold

One of the things that has seemed to help my development in the standing position is using an appropriate sized target, or in my case an appropriate distance from my target.  Using a huge target is obviously a waste of time unless you just need an ego boost.  Using a target that is too small imparts a feeling of futility that results in reckless decision making when it comes to breaking a shot.  If there is already very little hope of hitting the target, the shooter is more likely to just to say, “Screw it,” and let a shot fly.

Using a target that is difficult, but potentially hittable 90% to 100% of time with a little luck or perseverance will allow for the shooter to relax and practice good decision making.  When I was working standing hard last December, I realized that my confidence was lacking at the 50 yard line with my 4” target.  It was on the day that I moved forward to 35 yards that my groups went from 10.590 MOA extreme spread to 6.775 MOA extreme spread.  Since then I haven’t gone back above 7.5 MOA in my ‘practical’ standing position, which is my normal one, and lately have been regularly between 5.5 and 6.5 MOA.

With that difficult to hit, but attainable target size, the shooter will be forced to pay attention to his movement cycle and make good decisions.  There are times when I’ll see what looks like the real window for firing, but I can tell if I’m really on top of things that it’s going to be too transitory to break a quality shot.  Great shots usually don’t come about when the muzzle is moving away from the target.  Only with experience will you know the difference.

Seize the Moment

You should have the feeling of a predator ready to pounce, but only when the time is right.  If you work enough on your hold, such as with holding exercises, you may become too accustomed to watching your sight without the intention to do anything about it when it is on target.  Sometimes the right time is only long enough to recognize it and fire and not one bit longer.  That’s not the time to be watching passively at your sight while your attention is on your balance or your breath.

When the sight is up, and you’re about the business of firing, your trigger finger should just be waiting for work like that homeless guy who uses newspaper to clean your windshield while you’re stopped at the intersection of Sunset and San Vincente.  You don’t really want him touching your car, but you have to admire his work ethic.  The sight resting on the target is like a Mercedes stuck at a fresh red light (it’s your cue that it’s GO TIME).  The trigger under your finger with the slack taken up is like the LA Times Opinion section in your hand, ready to wipe down that windshield, except unlike the LA Times hopefully it doesn’t completely suck.  Get after that windshield!  There might be a dollar in your immediate future, and a 40 of Mickey’s in your hand very soon!

That was so impressive I think I just have to leave it right there.  This isn’t the time for me to thank your for reading.  You should be thanking me now, shouldn’t you?

13 thoughts on “Timing

  1. A good trigger helps immensely ,low power or irons, and I found shooting target handgun of great benefit ,also air gun at 10 meters on less then dime size target requires the same skill set and I have always maintained that standing is the holy grail that transfers the most useable skills and is therefore the most beneficial of the shooting positions( 2cents)
    and yes Thank you

    • Standing is where it happens. It’s so easy to neglect it, because it’s so much more difficult, but the rewards it brings with it are indisputable.

  2. This article might be just what I needed right now. As I’ve said before, I’m still very much an ‘L-plater’, practicing my fundamentals with sling and irons, and have only (relatively) recently begun getting out of prone into sitting and other field-expedient ‘jackass’ positions. In the last few months I have ventured a couple of cautious efforts at standing but with very mixed results due to the high levels of intrinsic variation I seem to bring to the equation as the shooter.

    I do remember the article where you went forward to 35yds to regain momentum with your standing live fire work but it didn’t ‘resonate’ with me at that time as I hadn’t gotten to where I am now. Today’s article has made me excited rather than pensive about the prospect of doing more standing live fire work.

    The right thing at the right time – and not the first time you’ve had this effect on me and my shooting pursuits – Thanks again!

    cheers mate, jonno

    PS – have also (finally) started with a handgun (revolver in .22LR to begin with) which I am enjoying immensely and already finding benefits flowing back across to my rifle work in terms of trigger control (which has always been one of my main shortcomings). Should give a shout out to Colorado Pete about here as I am working primarily out of his book on handgun marksmanship – hey Pete!

    • Hey mate, glad you were able to make the leap to the “short gun”. Any questions, email me.
      Have fun!

  3. Shooting from standing is so different than shooting from prone that it does seem like an exercise in futility at first. One thing that has helped me a bit is one handed bullseye pistol shooting with a 10m target air pistol. I perfect hold is not possible, so timing the trigger such that it breaks as the sights are coming into perfect alignment is the goal. My air pistol shooting has improved my rifle shooting in all positions, but I notice it most in standing and kneeling. Dry fire is fine, but the feedback you get from seeing the shots on target is important. An air rifle is an affordable way to get this feedback.

      • I’m no expert, but here goes. What I want is accurate and cheap. Power for hunting is irrelevant. Benjamin Discovery or Marauder PCP rifles are very nice. Daisy 853 target rifles are a gold standard for 10m. For pistols a Daisy 747 is very accurate. I have a really cheap Chinese made Beeman P17 pistol that is very accurate, but it has detestable fiber optic sights. Still… it only cost 45 bucks. I shoot once handed pistol at 10 meters, and air rifle at 50 yards or less. Spend less on the rifle and more on premium domed pellets.

  4. Can you further clarify what “the right moment” consists of? You say it might last only half a second, and you only get one or two per presentation. But in that moment are you settled on the center? I often get a moment like you describe, but it rarely falls on the center of the target. So I either take what I get, or try to yank it towards the center (which of course doesn’t seem to work very well!).

    Also it’s not clear whether you’re saying that timing the crossing of the target counts as a “moment”? E.g., if you see or guide your “meandering” across the center can you time the shot to break during the crossing?

    • The right moment is target dependent. When I practice I try to work at a distance that will present the primary bull of my target at a distance where a hit will result in the group size I’m looking for. I try to balance the difficulty level so that it’s not a given, but that my odds are pretty good. Too much difficulty will make for wild decision making. Too easy is wasting time. If I have a better position relative to apparent target size (which is how you want to set up real life shots), I might narrow my acceptable “hit zone” to a smaller part of the target (aim small, hit better). In that context, I’m not worried about absolute precision. A hit is what I want, so it’s an accuracy game rather than a precision game.

      As far as the yanking goes, you’re correct. That’s bad :). I won’t go so far as to say you’ll go blind, but it won’t help you hit the target. In this context it’s more a game of setting up the framework favorably, observing ‘it’ happen, and being sharp enough to seize upon it quickly without startling the framework you’ve set up.

      In reference to your last paragraph, it’s something you have to learn to recognize. Maybe and maybe not. I won’t accept the sight clearly moving across the target as an acceptable sight picture. I will accept a sight picture that’s not completely still, but moving inside the hit zone, depending on whether it feels like it will stay there or not. If you’re in tune with your position and movement patterns, you’ll begin to tell the difference between a sight picture that’s going to be inside the hit zone long enough for you to break a shot. You should have already taken stock of your position from your feet up, that status of your blood oxygenation relative to your breath cycle, your state of muscular stability or fatigue, and your mental confidence. Even then, there will be times when everything looks good and the sight decides to leave the hit zone as you’re breaking the shot. Sometimes things just go wrong, but you’ve explained the same thing to me before in reference to probabilities, so I know I’m not telling you anything new.

      • Thanks for the great answer. I need to remember to distinguish between practical shooting (where we want “reasonable” hit probabilities on the target’s critical area) and precision shooting (where we want the tightest groups), and if the latter is attempted off-hand at all it’s a totally different game.

        • I missed something here, and I wanted to take a moment to come back to it. In my previous comment I framed it in the context of an accuracy game rather than a precision game. Yes, to a point. I’m always concerned about precision when I’m working a position. How else am I going to get better? In this case, as I mentioned before, I manipulate my distance from the target to set my precision goal for that group. Of course, this only works with a good zero, which is very important to me anyway.

          Oddly, in field positions I still tend to look at extreme spread in my 10 shot groups more than any other measure. It’s not until I’m in a position where I need to split hairs that I really shift into looking primarily at mean radius, or some other invariant measures.

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