Learning By Seeing

There are several videos on the net of Bullseye shooting. Since many learn by seeing, these may be very instructive. I’m one of those and so, in watching and analyzing, I’ve tried to make note of some key points.

I invite you to watch the video below and to read about what I and others noticed as significant. You will, of course, have to decide for yourself what is helpful to you.

My First Set of Observations

This video contains two, five-round Rapid Fire strings seen through the shooter’s eye. This is from an EIC (Excellence In Competition) match and the shooter is using “Iron sights” which makes his score all the more impressive!

  • 1) The shooter is using “center hold” (sights are centered on the bull both up and down as well as left and right) — many prefer “6 o’clock” or “sub 6” but, obviously, “center hold” works fine for this shooter.
  • 2) Watch carefully and you will barely notice that the sights are in the dead center for only a tiny fraction of a second before the shot goes — the “coming into the right place” and the “release” are so close together that it seems (to me, at least) there can be no conscious thought of “now” — the release must be 100% subconscious in what we see here.
  • 3) Recoil is up and left, but not much. The grip, wrist and elbow must all be extremely tight. Notice in particular that the wrist never “breaks”. I’ve let first timers fire my 1911 (with one round in the magazine for the first time) and have been astonished at the flexibility of the human “limp” wrist. This shooter’s wrist, however, is like a solid piece of oak. (A firm wrist is, I’m now convinced, important to many aspects of the shot including its release, not just recoil recovery.)
  • 4) The hand/arm is tilted slightly left — the sights aren’t perfectly horizontal. I’ve noticed my arm wants to do that too and I’ve been fighting it but, after watching this, apparently that’s no big deal.
  • 5) The time between coming into dead center and the shot being released decreases over the five shots in the first string. In the first three shots in that string I can see a very brief pause “in the zone”, but for the last two shots, I don’t see the motion stop. Instead, apparently the subconscious just sees the sights coming into the right place and it (the subconscious) releases the shot as the sights move into the aiming area.
  • 6) The size of the shooter’s wobble is immense at first. I think of these large sudden motions as “lurches”. They always surprise, and annoy, me but after one or two, they usually calm down. (When they don’t, I put the gun down and start over.) In the video, the wobble sort of zeroes-in on the aim point, not all at once but with smaller and smaller motions as it closes in.
  • 7) After the gun recoils up and left (for this right-handed shooter), in the recovery that immediately follows, the alignment crosses down and right below the bull and then comes up and left back to the center. I’ve been coming “down” to my sub-6 aim point but, as I cross the black, the sudden appearance of the white always startles me a little. Perhaps if I were to come “up” to my aiming point as this shooter does, I’d be able to find it sooner and without the surprise I currently experience.
  • 8) Many shooters will say that timing your shot to coincide with moving through the center of the bull is a bad idea in that it leads to jerking the trigger. But in this video, this is exactly what is happening: the shot is released with movement into the aim point particularly on the last two shots where there is little or no pause before the shot goes. The key word left out of my explanation is that the shot release is *subconscious* whereas beginning shooters try to conciously release the shot, and that’s where the jerk enters. In this video, it seems clear that the shot release has to be subconscious because of the precision of both when the release occurs and also its smoothness. Because the release is subconscious, the (conscious) brain can’t jerk the trigger.
  • 9) After the shot, sight alignment (front to rear sights) is achieved well before complete alignment on the target. This shooter lines up the sights before coming into the aiming area as you’ll see. This agrees with recommendations I’ve heard about getting your arm, wrist and hand muscles to “remember” where they need to go to get the sights back into proper alignment. The front and rear sight alignment is achieved (I think) through this shooter’s muscle memory, not by eyesight. That is, the firm grip automatically brings the sights back into alignment after the shot.
  • 10) Check the back of the shooter’s hand, close to his thumb. You’ll notice a small discolored patch on his skin. That’s apparently where the slide “bit” the web of his hand. That’s why some like to have beaver-tail safeties installed. (Lucky for me, it’s not a problem.)

Followup Comments From Others at Bullseye-L
(This link no longer works, sorry: http://www.lava.net/~perrone/bullseye/)

  • Doug Huber observed:

    One more thing I noticed is that just prior to the second string of fire the shooter is not aligned properly. You can see that he shifts his feet by the way camera moves. You may have to watch the video a couple of times to see it.
  • Greg Schindler added some comments:

    1) I stopped using a 6 o’clock hold after some discussion with some very experienced shooters from the “Big Team” (USMC). It was causing me to not trust my wobble area and try to snatch the shot when it looked perfect at EXACTLY 6 o’clock. By moving to center mass, if the sights are anywhere in the black, I’m good to go.

    2, 5, 6 & 9) Your sub-conscious WANTS to shoot a perfect shot, if we will just let it. I think that as we get into a string, particularly Rapid Fire, our focus tends to increase, and we “trust” ourselves. That is if we are having a good string. Not so when you get the “First shot won’t break” string. I have always heard from the better shooters to get moving on the trigger BEFORE you have completely recovered, this also helps explain the shortness between shots. I’m still working on this one myself.

    3) My mental image is of my arm as a long howitzer barrel, from shoulder to palm, nothing moves.

    4) I know a retired USMC shooter who shot at an almost 45 degree cant. He shot like the blazes, but his windage adjustments were a thing of black magic and alchemy!

  • Ed Hall began his follow ups with:

    … the complete uninterrupted trigger operation is started before coming back into the aiming area. It is completed in the aiming area, without a stop along the way. “Keep the trigger moving.”

    [Ed Hall has many, many excellent postings on related subjects. Please see his
    links at http://www.starreloaders.com/edhall/.]
  • At one point, Ed Stevens asked:

    The recoil to the left is a natural result of the barrel twist, is that correct? (Just curious.)
  • Chuck Holt answered:

    “Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.” The recoil to the
    left is mostly a product of “following the path of least resistance.” A
    right-handed shooter has their hand, arm shoulder, and everything else
    holding the gun on the right side of the gun. It has no where to go but
    to the left. Watch a lefty shoot sometime.
  • And Dave Salyer confirmed:

    It is due to him being right handed. Recoil goes to the weakest direction of support.
  • Ed Masaki also confirmed this (in his usual all-caps):

    BARREL TWIST HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE RECOILING TWIST LEFT OR RIGHT. A RIGHT-HANDED SHOOTER HAS A TWIST TO THE LEFT AND A LEFT-HANDED SHOOTER WILL HAVE A RECOIL TO THE RIGHT. A 2 HANDED SHOOTER WILL HAVE THE GUN JUMPING STRAIGHT UP. [The] GUN WILL TWIST TOWARD THE WEAK OPENING. A CANNON WILL JUMP UP AND TO THE REAR. WHY DIDN’T IT FALL ON ITS SIDE?

I’ve spent the
last several practice sessions with the turning targets programmed for a
three (3) second face time following by twenty (20) seconds of edge. During
the short face time, I release only one shot. But my releases were initially
very, very quick, and jerked so I’ve been working to slow down the release, to
concentrate much harder on the sights and only when they are in alignment,
tell my body, “Okay, you can release the shot anytime now.” Eventually, that
conscious thought will have to go but, for the moment, I need to slow down my
finger until the eye and brain get their act together lining up the sights and
the aim point.

In other words,
I’m temporarily using my brain to teach itself to “get on the sights” (lined up)
and then to “allow the subconscious” to the “release the shot”
but all of that commotion is temporary.
Eventually, once everyone (!) knows what they are supposed to do,
the conscious brain will have to get out of the way (Shut up!)
and let the unconscious do everything.

My Second Set of Observations

I took a closer look in single-frame mode. (Note: Mpeg video presents 30 pictures per second and it’s fun to see the hole appear in the target about 2 frames, 1/15 sec, after the “bang”. With this 1/30th second sequence of pictures, you can get a pretty good idea of what’s happening in recoil.)

  • 11) Recoil in the frame immediately after the “bang” is consistently straight up and only very slightly left: and there is no apparent rotation around the axis of the barrel. This mostly up motion is due to the fact that the barrel is above the shooter’s grip and the slightly left tilt is from the hold that is canted slightly to the left. (IMHO)
  • 12) It is, however, interesting to note that in each case, the muzzle of the gun has moved to the left and out of alignment with the rear sight. That could be the effect of the rifling. It looks like a simple push to the left. It does not appear to be a rotating motion. The muzzle has moved left about half the width of the notch in the rear sight in this second frame. [Looking at the video later in single frames again, I’m not as convinced of the “push to the left” — instead, I think the movement may simply be a product of the tilted hold and the gun moving “up” from that initially tilted position. Ed S.]
  • 13) In the third frame after the “bang”, the gun is moving strongly to the left (and still up) but, let me repeat, strongly to the left. The direction is dramatically different from that seen in the previous frame. And in successive frames, the motion continues this “more left than up” motion. IMHO, pure recoil due to the gun is seen in the second frame. It is an upward movement. No rotation is visible.
  • 14) IMHO, the change in direction (of recoil) in the third and subsequent frames has to be because of the shooter’s body.
  • 15) Conversely, some of the videos from this year’s Camp Perry competition show left-handed shooters and, in those, the recoil is up and right. I think this supports the opinion that the sideways motion in recoil is due to the shooter’s body and “handedness”. The slight muzzle-push seen in the frame-by-frame analysis is very small, about half the width of the notch in the rear sight. [And, as commented above, I later began to doubt if this was due to rifling but might be due instead to the gun’s original tilt. Ed S.]
  • 16) Possibly also of some note is the fact that, depending on when the video “snapped” each frame versus when the gun went “bang”, the gun rotates upward as much as what appears to be 45 degrees (in the shooter’s hand) even though the hand does not rotate hardly at all. Viewed at full speed, you may be able to see the top surface of the gun “flash” at the peak of this rotation — the top surface is quite bright as it rotates up and then back down on each shot.
    [Later, after looking at the Camp Perry videos again, I *don’t* see this same gun flip in any of them and, frankly, I’m not sure what to make of what I see in the EIC video in this regard. It suggests a lighter grip is in use and the gun’s recoil is, therefore, more pronounced even though the grip is sufficient to return it to position in the very next frame. Some have said the 9 mm has a sharper recoil than the 45 so maybe that is a factor in the increased gun flip. Regardless, there’s a mystery here.]
  • 17) I’m now interested to watch shooters using a 90 degree stance. I’d like to see how their guns move in recoil. I’m expecting to see much less side motion as I’m thinking it is the 45 degree body stance and body-rotation / reaction to the backward push up the arm and off-center into the trunk that causes it.

FYI: The program I used to do the frame-by-frame analysis is Avidemux and it is free — see http://fixounet.free.fr/avidemux for the download, etc.

Camp Perry and Other Videos

Clark Hardesty has produced a number of Bullseye-related videos. Some are “meet the person” videos while others were made at the firing line. All are very well done and worth watching.

Clark’s videos and his associated blog are available at
http://clark2245.blogspot.com/.

If you learn by watching, all of these have something to teach.

Good shooting!

2 thoughts on “Learning By Seeing

  1. And I thought I was long winded?

    In all seriousness, you’ve made or observed an awful lot from watching this video, more than me. I was planning a post about this video but never got around to it. It’s stunning to watch, especially from a shooter’s perspective. But I did take this a step further by asking Andy Moody about this video last Saturday (computer notebooks are handy little buggers).

    What he told me just about put me on the floor. Apparently the Marine Corps Marksmanship Unit has been producing both instructional and scientific shooting videos for over twenty years. Yes, I did ask how some lowly Bullseye shooter like me could get his mitts on them. Andy gave me a one word answer: “Sorry.” Brian pointed out that they use high speed digital video today on a single shooter basis as a training tool.

  2. I’m a visual learner — I learn by seeing, as in “seeing is believing.” And yeah, I saw a lot in this video.

    The trick with video or any other “learning tool” is knowing how to use the information it makes available. It’s one thing to notice the things the shooter is doing right or that don’t matter as I’ve done here, but it’s quite another to notice what a novice or other shooter might be doing wrong, and then more importantly, to know which one to fix first, and how to get the shooter to fix it.

    That’s where an expert instructor comes in. A really good one may see more than one thing going wrong and will know which potential “fix” will have the most “bang for the buck.”

    And a good teacher will also understand the shooter’s temperament and have a good idea how to get that individual shooter to put that change into effect.

    Those of us who are attempting to be self-taught in this sport are at a serious disadvantage. Bullseye is very difficult sport and as others have observed, it’s 90% mental. Getting the physical 10% right is where this video comes in and the best we can sometimes do is to mimic the experts.

    And the Marines are certainly that.

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