Monday, January 21, 2008

Unsolicited Advice

I put the following up on the Gun Thing Forum in response to the question "how do I improve my offhand shooting?":

1. Stand easy, weak side shoulder facing the target. A line drawn across your back should point at the target. This is your starting point. Later, as you find your own natural point of aim, you may modify this.

2. Feet slightly more than shoulder width apart. Some folks like their feet parallel. Others go toe in, or toe out. But the key is to not force a too wide stance. Back straight, and keep it as straight as you can when the rifle is in your shoulder. You will be moving; an exaggerated sway-back won't help. Offhand is the weakest position because it requires more balance vice bone-to - to bone support.

3. Take a breath. Let it out.

4. Inhale as you bring the rifle up. Keep the muzzle high, something like thirty or forty degrees above flat, and pointed a little right (right handed shooter) a bit from the target. Drop the butt down into your shoulder , into the the pocket formed by keeping your elbow and right arm as high from your body as possible; try for parallel to the deck but higher is better. You will "roll" the rifle into your shoulder and the at same time acquire your cheek weld.

5. Find your sights FIRST. Establish your natural cheek weld - the position of your cheek against the stock that puts your eye effortlessly behind your properly aligned sights. By standing 90 degrees to the direction of fire, you may rest your weak arm against your body as you rest the rifle across your palm. I said REST. Any pressure in your fingers, any torsion on your wrist - will only lessen your chance of a good shot. This will only be achieved with practice, which is a damn good reason for putting a fifty - foot air rifle bull on the wall of your basement or garage for practice. You will leave the mechanical safety engaged, by the way, until your sights are aligned with the target.

6. Concentrate on your front sight tip. Doing this will center it in the aperture of the rear sight ; if you are shooting buckhorn sights you will be less precise, elevation wise - especially if your eyes are getting old like mine.

7. You've got the rifle in your shoulder. The sights are aligned. You've inhaled just a little beyond the point of natural breathing. Stop breathing. Look over your front sight. Your rifle is pointed at a rough Natural Point of Aim (NPA). If you do nothing else now but concentrate on your sights and squeeze, you will hit what is on the tip of your front sight post.

8. Still holding your breath, it's time to move your NPA to as close as you can get to being on the bull. This is my favorite line in coaching offhand:

Aim with your feet.

You've achieved a natural, balanced posture by this point. All that remains is to make the most minor of corrections, closest to the ground, to put your aim on the frame. I generally have to move my trailing foot an inch forward or back to get on target, but if you find yourself uncomfortably off-line, go ahead and move both feet, making sure that your final position doesn't sacrifice your balanced, relaxed NPA stance. You will breathe normally during this exercise - but always stop halfway on the exhale when checking your NPA.

9. You are standing. You are unsupported. Your NPA is on the paper. Stop breathing, observe your front sight. Move your front arm in or out for elevation, move your feet for windage. The conventional wisdom here is to arrive at a situation where your sights track the width of the target in a "lazy eight" pattern. Imagine an eight drawn laying on its side, with the left and right extremities just touching the edges of the target (or even shorter, between the edge of the paper and the bullseye) , with the amplitude of the eight equal or less than the diameter of the bull, with the waist of the eight centered on the bull.

10. You feel like you've got a solid sight picture now (sight alignment = correct rear sight/front sight relation. Sight picture = sight alignment + target correctly on front post) and are ready to get down to business. Inhale. Hold half of it. Close your eyes. Hold it. Open your eyes. If you are off the target, aim with your feet.

11. Safety off. BREATHE IN. Sight picture good. Manageable racetrack. RELAX - breath halfway out and hold. Feel for wind on your cheek. AIM - frontsightontarget frontsightontarget frontsightontarget STOP frontsighton SQUEEZE slacknoslack frontsighton BOOM.

Recoil. Keep your cheek on the stock. Roll back into your NPA. Follow through - do not come off the target until you have a good sight picture. Safety ON. Rifle down to rest, and have a seat on your stool.

12. Mark your call (what you saw when the round left your rifle) in your range book. Look up to see white disk in front of bullseye, marking your "x". Repeat the process. Collect your trophy.

Disclaimer: I haven't shot a formal match since the nineties, and that was merely silhouette shooting with my old M1; it was the day that that barrel died, as a matter of fact. Today I do shoot offhand at milk jugs or steel plates with modest success at ranges between three and six hundred yards.

Don't spend a lot of time practicing offhand live. It becomes a race between getting frustrated and getting tired, and both states will end useful expenditure of ammo. Find out how many rounds you will be required to shoot in a match, then limit your live fire training to twice that amount per range visit. You get more value out of dry fire training for offhand than for any other position.


There. If you ever have to make THE SHOT, now you know how.

Snowy as all get out today. That means I get to stay home and clean house. Have a fine day!

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