Working Offhand

It seems reasonable to do some work on the fundamentals on a regular, and not too infrequent basis.  Offhand is one of those things that generally seems under-emphasized, as if shooters are paying reparations for the days when offhand was the thing.  I do a lot of dry fire in offhand, but why not spend a few rounds a week to keep the live fire honest.

Sometimes wanting to do well interferes with one’s ability to do well.  This is one of those mind games I play.  Pete has chided me often enough that I decided to finally, perhaps, “click” into the superficial layer of an insight of good offhand shooting.

Something that I have done pretty consistently in the past, especially since I started the blog, is to really be concerned how well I shoot.  The pictures are going up on the internet, so I don’t want to look like a duffer (but still I post them… should I be rethinking that? [joking]).  It has sometimes added a layer of self-consciousness to my shooting.  Offhand, being something I probably don’t shoot enough, except for infrequent “testing”, has been among the worst of my self-conscious shooting practices.

A notable exception to this is when I have other things to think about, or is it too much to do to think at all?  At the full distance Appleseed, I shot a few clean scores in stage 1, one of them with 7 of the ten in the X ring, which is about 4”. 


Something about that is an added layer of stress that involves making times, making sure the target is yours, getting clean reloads (a 10 round string with two 4 round mags involves some foresight), remove some of the burden from worrying about how well you will do.  This brings to mind a question I had asked Pete, “Do you think that the excitement that comes with a real life field shot can simplify the processes that can seem complicated during learning and training?  To say it another way, given sufficient prior work, does the subconscious tend to take over and do a better job?”

Applying logic and control to some processes can be counterproductive.  I suppose that’s why the highest level of the “Four Stages of Competence” is unconscious competence.  Reaching that level requires intimate familiarity with the skill.  I do a lot of dryfire in offhand, which should transfer directly to live fire.  The wrench in the works is self-doubt.

I began to shoot a five round group.  It has often seemed that when I shoot offhand in live fire the reticle moves more than it does when I dry fire.  I think that the real difference is that I care what it does more.  I may also be trying to hurry my way along into a great result rather than just enjoying myself.

What I found worked well at the Appleseed was to watch the reticle move around, and when it was nearest the X ring, to begin to apply the compress surprise break.  That’s what I did for the first three rounds of the group, which did not hit my intended 4” circle.

I stopped for a moment and considered the method and the result.  Then I thought back to something that commenter “RF” posted back when he was posting as “Anonymous” (I’m happy he severed his affiliation with the dastardly “Anonymous” group).  Anyway, here’s one of his many insightful quotes:

Our problem is that it is not logical to allow the rifle to discharge at just any random time. Regardless of this logical disconnect, this is in fact the key to getting the part of the brain that moves the tongue to control the trigger for us.

Sure, there will be wild shots with nothing in control when this mysterious brain function does not take over but we can train the brain to provide the correct behavior.

Instead of pulling the shot and flinching just before the rifle fires, we can train it to coordinate the moving sight picture with the trigger pull and give us those “lucky shots” on a fairly consistent basis. Yes, I said instead of flinching, it comes from the same part of the brain! Most of us are already using this part of the brain to shoot and only need some simple training to change the behavior from flinch to what we so greatly desire.

I have found that this part of the brain can not tell right from wrong. It does perceive pain and emotion. Fortunately there is no need to go the pain route if we control the emotions.

Do not react to bad shots! Remember it can not tell good from bad but does respond to emotion, any emotion, good or bad. Do not get mad or stressed about bad shots because that encourages this part of the brain to give you more of them! Ignore them! On the other hand, enjoy every good shot. Be happy about them, let yourself celebrate every one of them. Reinforce the good performance and ignore the bad.”

What I decided was to stop trying to control the trigger.  Time to move into Zen in the Art of Archery territory.  I just held the rifle up with my finger on the trigger for the final 2 shots.  Guess what happened…

6.52”.  The last 2 rounds, in which I let the shots be released at random, were the ones in the black.  

Thanks guys.  I may be a little slow, but I do listen.

9 thoughts on “Working Offhand

  1. Interesting phenomena. I do know that it is really easy to beat yourself up mentally if your first couple of shots aren’t as good as you would wish, or if you get excited a bit as a good group develops. A lot of us are performance oriented, and that probably feeds into this. But who wants to not care about how well, or not, you’re shooting. The object, after all is to actually hit the target. This seems to confirm that there is some level of having to reprogram some of the mental software.
    Oh. And some of us remain in the Anonymous group because the dastardly Grinch that controls how you select a profile is unbelievably uncooperative in how we want to have a profile. Is he the one that puts up the Rorshach tests to prove that we are not computers or aliens?

  2. Hi RS, interesting topic for me as I definitely fall into that category of people with a tendancy to ‘overthink’ things. I think that being overly self consciousness tends to foster self doubt and I definitely perceive that my sights seem less steady in live fire than dry. Hard to get away from the sense that live fire ‘counts’ more, especially with the price of ammo being what it is.

    I remember reading an account of one of the old African ‘White hunters’ (might have been Karamojo Bell) where he received a shipment (I forget, but maybe a thousand rounds) of ammunition which contained an unacceptably high percentage of ‘dudd’ rounds. As he could not count on said ammo for the serious business of elephant hunting, he reportedly expended the whole batch for practice(presumably over a number of sessions) by firing offhand from the shore of a large lake at passing birds (something like geese, again don’t remember exactly). Apparently, it got so he could hit ’em pretty reliably too.

    Imagine the potential practice value in being able to expend live ammunition as freely as one dry fires (I’m just getting into reloading and here in Australia, even with bulk component purchases, standard centrefire calibres work out at not much under $1 a pop!).

  3. Interesting subject. I have experienced bits of it from time to time over the years and not really understood what was going on. Back in my highpower days I had a lot of trouble with offhand probably for this reason.

    Makes me think of how many Appleseed shooters shoot tighter groups on the stage 3 rapid prone than they do on the stage 4 slow prone. No time to fuss or ponder, just perform.

    Offhand is ripe for mental interference. It is quite difficult and showcases what is probably one’s worst shooting. This ups the stress level which gets the wrong mental gears turning and leads to all sorts of bad results.

    My high point in highpower offhand was shooting three X’s in a row (3″ ring at 200 yds.) I can recall being in a certain state of mind and body that was different for those three shots than that in which I was for the prior and following shots. I could not understand/identify it and so could not regain it at will (much to my disappointment).

  4. In IPSC/USPSA shooting we give the conscious mind the job of calling the shots, because if you allow it to do anything else it does seem to enjoy making a hash out of things. (If you can’t call your shots yet you give it the job of just watching the sights move in recoil.)

    There are a couple of approaches I’ve played with for offhand. One is to do what I would do in USPSA which is just to accept that I can hold the gun within some acceptable circle of accuracy, and simply break the shot without disturbing the gun and let the hit fall where it may. If you can hold your rifle to acceptable accuracy there’s a lot to be said for that. Basically you just let it rip at candence and be done with it. Means your arms don’t get tired, too.

    If you can’t hold the rifle acceptably still, then you start playing these games where you’re trying to more actively control the gun. I’ve been playing recently with moving the rifle in a figure 8 with the center over the bullseye and tightening when I’m in the range of acceptable accuracy. My most recent tests indicate that if I start a controlled but fairly fast trigger pull when my point of aim hits the edge of the black area on a AQT target that it’ll break pretty darn close to the center each time. I’m not 100% confident in this yet in all circumstances but I’ll continue to play with it.

    The weird thing for me is that I never really focused much on offhand because I always did pretty well at it. But I’ve moved my weaker positions, especially sitting, to the point where they’re strengths and it’s time to revisit offhand since the AQTs tell me it’s really the only place left to pick up some points.

  5. When the planet was young and so was I ,all most all of our shooting was offhand -we prowled the city dump and could find a jillion fun things to break,or squirrel patches near by- maybe a .22 and some reactive targets let’s call it fun practice – always fun if there is little competition too

  6. Another thought from this aussie redneck – I know I don’t hang out in the right circles but I don’t know too many chaps who can reliably put offhand shots into 7 inches at 100 yds under field conditions. I know this isn’t where you’re at but from where I’m looking it’s only that tiny 4″ aiming point that makes that shooting look below par. FWIW

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