Relative Importances

To my article, “Be A Straight Shooter“, an anonymous reader objected:

“Is it my understanding that a Sharpshooter is suggesting that everyone else is standing wrong?”

That comment admittedly raised my hackles, initially because the author chose to remain anonymous, but after I had slept on it I had to admit it bothered me because it raised two very good questions I’ve asked myself:

  1. Who am I, a Sharpshooter who admittedly has trouble shooting the 1911 up to this very same ranking, to tell others what they should or should not do; and
  2. If most good (Expert, Master and High Master ranked) Bullseye shooters claim to use the 45 degree stance, doesn’t that disprove the recommendation that a 90 degree stance (or “almost 90” as I’ve described) is superior?

Let me be completely honest in answering the first objection: The anonymous commenter is right. I really don’t know.

This blog is about my efforts to become a better shooter which is not the same as providing expert advice on how to be that better shooter. Where a posting seems to be doing the latter, I need to make it clear such is not the case. I have, therefore, annotated the article in question accordingly (see link above).

But for the second question, as to why the reported stance is not more commonly used or perceived as such, the answer is more involved and serves as the topic of this article.


Some things are more important than others.

At the lower skill levels, the mechanical skills of simply releasing a clean shot may dominate a shooter’s attention and efforts. Many expert shooters have written that there is no proper stance, grip, or right way of shooting. What works for one shooter may not work for another. Each individual has to experiment and find out what works for him or her.

Indeed, beginning shooters may find it hard to simply put ten holes in the target. They may be doing so many things wrong that it is difficult to know which to fix first. And they may also discover that many recommended corrections actually show little or no improvement at the target because the effect is so subtle as to be completely overshadowed by other problems.

This is not to say that learning correct technique isn’t important. On the contrary, developing good technique and instilling it into automatic behaviour is essential. But only after the basics are “down pat” can the shooter move on to the higher levels of the game where attitude dominates the shooter’s consciousness and thereby contributes those final winning points.

To the beginner, technique is all important. Learning the best way of holding the gun, of standing, of aligning the sights on the target and releasing the shot, these skills take most of his or her time and attention. Attitude, “with winning in mind” as Lanny Bassham terms it, unfortunately contributes little to the beginner’s scores. The beginner needs proper mechanical technique first.

Over time, the beginner will improve. Skills will become automatic. And the developing shooter will focus his or her attention on skills that have not yet become automatic that need to be fine-tuned before being “put to bed” in the unconscious skill set.

It is also during the development process that the shooter may discover they have learned some bad, or let’s call them “less than optimal” skills. The shooter may find that some techniques that were learned early and which seemed to help have now become detriments. What used to work is now an impediment.

When this happens, those “skills that don’t help now” must be unlearned and better ones found, practiced, and inserted in place of the old ones.

In several ways, this is where I am now. I’ve learned a few skills and have ingrained them into my unconsciousness and, when I shoot, I do them automatically.

Unfortunately, when it comes to the marriage of grip, stance and alignment, I now see I have not understood the experts. Worse, I now see the ill effects of some of those ingrained habits. I need to undo those and substitute better ones.

If I were to rank the various skills Bullseye shooters need, I would have to preface that by saying that my limited experience makes this a very risky activity. Nonetheless, I would also add that it would appear that the most important skills are those typically having the most subtle effects.

But many skills permeate every level of skill. For example the one that comes immediately to mind is best captured in the dictum to align the sights on the aiming area and then release the shot without disturbing the sights.

Skills that are somewhere in the middle would include fine tuning how each different gun best fits into the shooter’s hand, where exactly the finger should be placed on the trigger, and of course, the shooter’s stance and alignment to the target.

These three are at the center of my current efforts. Grip, placement of trigger finger and the totality of alignment from front sight to rear foot, are a single item. They must be assembled as a unit, not one at a time but in complete concert with each other.

In “Pistol Marksmanship Guide” by the United States Army Marksmanship Unit (Fredonia Books, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, page 3) it says, “When assuming the firing stance, the head must be held as level as possible, so that the shooter can see the target directly in line with arm and sights.” (Emphasis mine.)

And the only way to line up eye, arm and sights is as I’ve documented. Because the head is in the center of the body whereas the arm begins out at the shoulder, the eyes simply won’t line up with the arm and then with the sights in any stance other than 90 degrees.

But if things do line up, then I contend that the shooter is angling the wrist to make it so or tilting the head or gun. If the wrist is angled, recoil is no longer “aimed” straight up the arm. When fired, recoil will move the gun in a direction other than straight back. And if that movement occurs in the few milliseconds while the bullet is still in the barrel, then the shot will be deflected. And tilting or the head or gun have their own problems as described in my previous article that won’t be repeated here.

Some world-class experts agree with this 90 degree — or close thereto — recommendation.

At
http://www.targettalk.org/viewtopic.php?p=99246, Steve Swartz writes, “You want to be facing 75-90 degrees away from the sight line to the target”.

Steve is an accomplished, olympic-caliber pistol shooter, and has been a member of the U. S. National Pistol Team. His accomplishments are, in part, described at http://www.coba.unt.edu/news/view.php?/2006/05/03/dr-steve-swartz-advances-to-world-cup.

John Zurek, a High Master, placed third in this year’s ranking for the two shooters to represent the United States at the Beijing Olympics. John holds multiple range records at the Phoenix Rod and Gun Club. And needless to say, John often wins most of the 2700s he enters around the US.

And John shoots with a full 90 degree stance.

And an Olympic coach in the UK told me the 90 degree stance was preferred because everything is in alignment with the force of the shot. Using this stance, he said, there would be less tendency to “throw the shot off” by misaligned forces while the shot is still within but being accellerated out of the barrel, and that after the shot, recovery would be substantially quicker with the 90 degree stance.

This coach went on to say that I should hold my head straight, not leaning to either side, nor forward or back, because to do otherwise would affect my balance and stability. By keeping my head perfectly erect, my wobble would be less.

And again, in the “Pistol Marksmanship Guide”, see the photographs of shooters on pages 86, 92, 93, 99, 100, 103 and 104. These clearly show a stance much closer to 90 degrees (my “almost 90”) than to 45.

Finally, let me also note that people don’t always do what they think they are doing. Many shooters believe they are using a 45 degree stance but, in practice, they are actually using a much steeper angle, often close to the 75 degrees that Steve Swartz mentioned.

To test this claim, walk down the line at a Bullseye match and note the actual position of shooter’s feet. I believe you will notice that the majority of shooters are actually standing at a steeper angle than 45 degrees. It will be more like 60-75 degrees.

Let me recap this with three basic statements before ending this.

  1. What we say versus what we do are sometimes at odds.
  2. What is best is what works for you.
  3. And what works for you at one stage of development may not work at another.

Bullseye is a learning process. To grow you must change.

And to accomplish growth in a positive direction, you must identify areas causing problems or otherwise holding you back, and then figure out what changes are likely to, in the long run, improve your performance.

To that end, I have chosen to try and follow the advice of experts as exemplified in their actions as well as their words.

But in the area of grip, trigger and stance, I’ve previously been unable to bring all three together at the same time and in agreement with their recommendations.

And so I experimented and found, much to my surprise, that it is possible to achieve the recommended grip, and trigger, and stance all at the same time while simultaneously following all other recommended aspects. And to do so, one must use the 90 degree stance.




90 degree stance

To be blunt, if your body is built like that of most humans, the only way to get your hand, wrist, arm, shoulder, body and eye all into a single line is to stand with your body at 90 degrees from the firing line.

And that alignment is what the experts recommend, and it’s what the experts practice.

And finally, I understand why.

Now all I have to do is put it into practice.

Give me a couple of years. I’ll be working on it.

4 thoughts on “Relative Importances

  1. 1. Your computer model is missing a rotating trunk/midsection.

    The feet can be at a 45degree angle (line drawn toe-to-toe) to the target while the upper torso (shoulders) and arm are at at 90 degrees.

    2. Also note your theory is inconsistent with the long held approach of raising the arm to a natural point of aim (sometimes with eyes closed), then adjusting the feet to bring that natural point of aim on target. Are you prepared to claim this technique is bunk?

  2. 1A) The artist’s model has a rotating midsection, but
    1B) Why would you contort your body like that — it can’t be comfortable, and you’d have to do it all day in a 2700.
    2) Read up, my friend. There are three (3) natural points of aim. One at the 45 degree stance, yes, but there is another when facing straight (0 degrees) and the third is when standing at 90 degrees.

  3. Hi Ed:

    Is the comment listed above from the same anonymous reader mentioned in your update?

    We all should be skeptics—to a point. But good manners start with one’s tone during any communication.

    Ed, I think you’re doing an excellent job of trying to meander down the path of understanding, and hopefully, applying it on the line. OBTW, I’ve got a few friends who swear by the “Russian” 90 degree stance.

  4. Thanks, Tony.
    Last night at the Sunnyvale club there were 8 or 9 shooters. Of them, one had his feet at a 45 degree angle, two stood with their feet at a full 90 degrees, and the rest were somewhere closer to 90 than 45. But it’s only fair to add that most had their bodies twisted so their shoulder’s were at the 45 degree angle to the firing line but with their heads tilted over slightly and/or guns angled inward to make things line up.
    The two 90 degree shooters (er, make that three counting me) stood very straight. At least one of them is a High Master if I’m not mistaken.
    And 90 is starting to work for me. It is very comfortable except for my old neck injury that prevents turning my head all the way. Some compromise will be needed but, for now, I’m giving it a “full try” before making any changes.

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