What We Take for Granted at the Range

On a typical trip to the range, the typical rifle shooter plans a nice day for the outing. He probably has the luxury of bringing as much gear as he wants. He can find a nice spot, possibly even a bench, and arrange his gear so it’s easy to access. The target is probably stationary, of a known size and shape, at a known distance and in front of a backstop that he very likely doesn’t need to even think about. He can choose his favorite position without having to think about it, or in a competition it may be chosen for him. He can then go through the processes of executing the fundamentals of marksmanship and gun handling. If he misses, he can the data to correct and the target will very likely still be there (the wind has been known to blow one down from time to time).

To sum up the experience of the range shooter, he determines his own course of action, how he prefers to accomplish it, and he sets his own time for accomplishing those things.

A shooter in the field may be engaging in an outwardly similar activity, but there are several important differences. He is limited to the gear he can carry with him. He does not know the time when he will take a shot, or if he will have an opportunity to take one at all. He may have to wait hours to find this out. Unless he is conducting an ambush or a raid, or is sitting in something like a tree stand, he doesn’t know the location that he will be shooting at or where he will shoot from.

The shooter has to be alert enough, and possess sufficient observational skill to detect his target. If the shooter has an opportunity to shoot, he as several quick decisions to make. These decision will be based on snap evaluations of the target, terrain, and conditions. What is the shot difficulty? What positions could the shooter use potentially use to make a shot of this difficulty? What is the best position possible given the terrain?

The conditions need to be evaluated. What is the distance to target? There are several ways of determining range that have different levels of accuracy and require different amounts of time, time and accuracy typically related. Depending on the distance, the shooter may have to estimate wind speed and direction. At longer ranges wind estimation is probably more important than any other factor. After those tasks are complete, he needs to make a very serious decision. Does he have the ability to make this shot?  It takes a lot of skill and experience to even answer this question accurately.  Most shooter hold their skill in too high an estimation to do this.

The shooter needs to perform all the tasks of the range shooter, but does not have the luxury of getting his space perfectly ready, or to lay out his gear for easy accessibility. He has to evaluate his backstop to determine if he can safely fire a shot. After executing the shooting sequence, the then needs to re-evaluate the situation. Does he need to fire another shot? Is there another target? If the answer is yes the entire situation must be re-evaluated.

To sum up the experience of the field shooter, his actions are determined by the target, the terrain, and the conditions. The target determines both the time of day (or night) and the duration of the firing opportunity. All this is difficult enough, but what if the target shoots back?

Range practice can instill a false sense of competence. There are many skill components of shooting that are taken out of play at the range, and most shooters take this for granted. It takes deliberate study, evaluation of one’s skills, and effort in order to build the experience and maintain the ability necessary to accurately judge a situation and take an effective course of action to address it in as little time as possible. This probably won’t happen by watching Shooter again.

Good luck and good shooting. Thanks for reading.

20 thoughts on “What We Take for Granted at the Range

  1. Aha. A most excellent and important topic to cover, weedhopper! Thanks for posting this to get your readers thinking about it.

    This is where the ‘rubber meets the road’ – or the bullet meets the fur. Engaging in varying kinds of competitions, formal or informal, helps teach your ‘fire control computer’ what to expect and what to do. Also hunting. Small game seasons usually precede (as well as follow) big game seasons. This is a good ‘tune up’ activity to get ready for the big game event.

    If you have never hunted or competed, but intend to do so, this is an important point to ponder. The realities of these activities are much different than the usual no-pressure trip to the familiar range. I have often seen first-timers caught flat-footed by unexpected events in competition or hunting. Think and prepare ahead of time.

    • I think that even most competitions are so structured as to almost be one dimensional. Yes, they are challenging, and they work wonders for managing marksmanship under stress, but there are so many decisions that are already made up for the shooter. I think that in most “real” applications the shooting is just another one of the necessary skills, albeit a very critical one to have ready when it’s needed.

  2. Great post. These are topics every shooter should be thinking about in light of a sober and careful self assessment of the level of one’s real level of skill, not the one you wish you had.

    • It is not easy to keep a current, realistic idea of one’s level of skill. It takes a bit of work, and almost any time away seems to result in an optimistic estimation, to put it mildly.

      I think that most times I go to the range I deal with some disappointment.

  3. Ah So
    Your observations coincide with many Professional Hunters ,that Americans in general over estimate there abilities ,and that they tend to admire their shot instead of immediately readying for a second shot if needed.
    The bench is only for load development and testing equipment, practice field positions,improvised rest, ( I know it’s blasphemy but hanging a bi-pod on a rifle is not for me)
    9″ paper plates on lathe at unknown ranges and only first round hits count,from field expedient support in all types of shooting conditions will quickly give one an idea of his practical range, Won’t get started on the big moon observatory optics which can often be hindrance
    But I guess we always go back to what it is we are trying to do

    • Yup. And too many people don’t know that they really don’t know what they’re trying to do. A half-inch group at 100 yards from the bench bears no relation to the fleeting shot from offhand at a spooked deer at 50 yards. Being able to hit from prone with bipod at 500 yards won’t help when you can’t go prone or use the bipod. Oh, you just spent three minutes getting all set up for that 250 yard shot, and the trophy buck just stepped into the brush, never to be seen again? Too bad, you should have had your hit in less than 30 seconds. Etc. etc.

      By the way, once you have your zero confirmed, and put some holes in paper with practice runs to give you a baseline, using steel targets the size of your quarry’s kill zone is better than paper. You hear the whack, you hit the kill zone – success. A pass/fail target. You can keep shooting without spending time going down and up range. Call your shots to know where/why you missed any.
      Or, simply….don’t miss.

    • Once again Rawhider knows of what he speaks. I think that shooters used to focus more on doing stuff with the rifle they had than trying to make up for skill with equipment.

  4. Good stuff, but where would all the marketers and manufacturers of all the gizmos for shooting be if shooters actually embraced your points? 😉

    One of the most eye-opening events for me was when I got my butt off of the bench and tried some field positions. Sure, they were, and are, more challenging to make hits from than from a rock- steady bench, but knowing how to shoot from FPs is also empowering and confidence building, not to mention more fun. I think it’s fair to say (of course I would, I’m the one who is saying it) that people who never add FPs to their rifle-shooting regimen get so much less satisfaction, not to mention competence, from their range time than they will ever know.

    This brings up another point I wonder about: are we really a nation of riflemen? Granted, there are are probably more rifles in circulation now than there ever have been in our history, but is there the skill to wield all of those guns in realistic scenarios? I highly doubt it. There are myriad reasons for this, chief among them is it’s hard work to become proficient with a rifle, as this blog attests to, and few seem to have the inclination, for whatever reason, to do so.

    • First of all, thank you for using the word “myriad” correctly.

      I don’t think we are currently a nation of riflemen. Probably too much work. Quick fixes via wallet-letting seem to be the current modus operandi.

  5. Nicely focused and fired out… and it hits!

    Among my many travels into History, were the opinions of combat veterans talking about what was going on in training back in the states… someone went back and investigated. They found a safety NCO at every transition point, a safety officer or two watching over the course of engagement and the range NCOs, and a book of rules that everyone had to follow to insure they wouldn’t allow an accident to happen during training, and everything was perfect – or the troop was removed from the course and given remedial training until they learned the lesson.

    Needless to point out – that didn’t produce the desired combat infantryman that wouldn’t have everyone looking after him, that would have to outsmart his enemy and fight when and where ever he was at the time of combat.

    So learning about your weapons, and all is good – and mass production rules apply to training. But in the end the individual has to be a thinking participant but flexible enough to adapt to the situation. All points you have covered.

    I like the idea of shooting balloons as they are wind driven across my field of fire, but I just don’t have the ground with solid backstop to make it safe.. maybe with a pellet rifle?

  6. Free floating balloons make for very erratic targets. Only had the opportunity to shoot at them once. Full of helium at Whittington. It was a challenge that the Colonel set up for the handgun class. I got mine, but it took more than one shot.

      • If my foggy memory of this is accurate, it must have been somewhere between ’94 and ’96. I could dig out my certificate if you want me to pin it down.

        • Nah, just curious. I went to the Colonel’s General Pistol 250 at Whittington in ’97 and his General Rifle there also in ’99, was wondering if you were one of my class mates!

          Never shot balloons in those classes, but at the reunions in the fall Rich Wyatt would fill up helium balloons. Pistols first, then any survivors would get the rifle treatment. Fun stuff. That, and the straight away skeet with a rifle.

    • I’ve been thinking of balloons for the last couple of weeks. I’ve been thinking to blow them up to different sizes, between 4″ and 10″ with helium. It seems like it a small weight were attached that would allow the balloon to skim across the ground as the wind blew it.

      • Pete – My memory, like I said, is a bit foggy. The balloon shooting may well have been at an early reunion at Whittington in the same time frame. I think the one I made it to was the first one there. I’m not surprised that Rich kept up the balloon shooting at subsequent reunions.

        • Sorry RS about placing my comment to Pete under yours. You know how well I get along with my computer. Your weighted balloon targets would be a cool alternative, and make the whole affair much safer if you don’t have several thousand acres of wilderness as a backstop.

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