Good Enough For Now

1911 Trigger and Harp with
Trigger Stop Screw Removed

The rules of the Bullseye sport allow considerable latitude in equipment and technique. And there are certain items and practices that improve one’s ability to hit the center of the target.

These include for most shooters but not all

  • Red dot,
  • Good stance,
  • Focus (of attention as well as eye) on the dot (or front sight),
  • and so forth.

But there are exceptions, and good ones, to each of these generalizations.

  • A great many shooters “way back” before there were red dots were, as a rule, shooting better than many of us today with (or without) a red dot.
  • I know a couple of High Masters that, when they assume their shooting stance, look so awkward and uncomfortable I can’t imagine how they do that for a full 2700, but they do – -and they do it quite well.
  • Brian Zins, the most winning Bullseye shooter in history, says he focuses not on the front sight, not on the dot, but contrary to a great many others, he says he focuses on the target.

With those exceptions in mind, here’s the real point: There are some items and practices that, while helpful, may prove to be temporary “stopping off” points along the path. They are useful for a while but, ultimately, they prove to have their own limits — they’ll only take you so far. Eventually, they become counterproductive and must be discarded lest you become stuck on a plateau.

I’ll use some of my experience as an example.

I still consider myself a beginner. In the few years I’ve been trying to hit the X, I’ve used and then discarded some things. For example, when my wobble was basically the entire scoring area (5 ring), the practice of consciously squeezing the trigger as the sights neared the center of the target did — and here’s the key word — temporarily result in an improved score.

For a frustrated Marksman, that’s a powerful incentive and, for a while, it works. But that same Markman will also learn, as did I, that as his wobble decreases with practice and time, when he then “jerks” the shot as the sights near the center of the target, the Marksman will discover the resultant jerking motion overpowers his ever-reducing wobble. So, as the Marksman’s skill increases, jerking the shot must eventually be abandoned.

It works for a little while but then becomes counterproductive.

Now, contrast that with the technique known by the experts as “steering with the trigger.”

Specifically, Masters and High Masters sometimes talk about their ability to fine tune their aim into the deep center of the black by the use of their trigger finger. That is, in the last few fractions of a second before the hammer breaks from the sear and fires the shot, the growing pressure on the trigger is also used to guide the sights into the very center of the target. The combination of steering and increasing pressure is, while admittedly different from what the Marksman does, nonetheless similar in effect: The shot breaks when the sights bear on the center of the target.

I should add that one of these is conscious while the other is automatic. And that is the critical difference.

Regardless, here we have an example of where two similar techniques — breaking the shot as the sight picture reaches perfection — where both the beginner and the expert benefit.

But note that in the middle ranks, perhaps through SharpShooter and well into Expert classes, we try to avoid any connection between where the sights bear and when the shot breaks. In the middle ranks, we learn to align the sights on the aiming area and to build pressure on the trigger until the shot breaks without disturbing the sights.

In these skill levels, the goal is the “surprise break”.

As we progress, therefore, we find that what helps our shooting and what is detrimental to it, change.

“Change” is the operative word.

What gives us a better score today may, in the coming weeks and months, prove to be a limiting factor in achieving even better scores.

So, while there may be some near-ideals we learn for stance, trigger control, eye focus and so forth, it is also true that not only are these skills time-consuming to learn, but also that, in some cases, we’re just not ready to apply them.

And it is also worth noting that only the top echelon in the sport have developed the abilities to do these things all at the same time and that, even for them, they may have found techniques that work just as well for them.

Each of us must, therefore, be constantly learning, integrating, re-examining, discarding and trying something different.

It therefore behooves us non-High Masters to listen, watch, read and experiment, but never to assume that every technique will apply to us now. Some may work for us but only after years of effort, years where we essentially ignore that good advice. We may not be able to execute on that good advice until our skill reaches a certain level.

It’s about finding the right combination that works where you are now.

So, yes, you should look for the ideals and try to work them into your shot plan but also be realistic and know that “putting it all together” takes time, a lot of time.

We may have to file away some techniques we are shown. For us, they may be “later.”

In the meantime, we need to push a lot of lead downrange, and do that thoughtfully, studiously and repeatedly.

It will come, but the square of Earth on which I place my left foot today is not the same square I will put it on a year from now.

Times change, and so do we.

Go with the flow, but don’t be afraid to push against the edges of the channel.

That’s where you’ll find the breakthroughs.

Memo #1 to Self

Sunday came with high hopes but that’s as far as it went.

The first target told the story: 22 Slow Fire, 84-0.

To make Expert, I needed an average of 90 across all forms and guns. And although things got better and I ended with 824-19 in that caliber, needing an 810 average, that gave me only a 14 point “hedge” against center fire and 45 caliber performance.

My 22 is often better, much better, and I was counting on it to pull up the scores in Center Fire and 45 to the needed 90% average for Expert.

This doesn’t look good for the Expert card today.

Changing to the wad gun I shoot in Center Fire, I knew I needed to do better than usual, and probably much better.

My mind was busy calculating scores as I began Center Fire.

And with the second Center Fire, it was over.

Oh my gosh, how could I butcher a target so incredibly bad!

Looking in the scope at the target 50 yards away, I could only see seven holes that were worth anything.

61-0 with two visible misses, and then one completely off the paper.


How could it get so bad?

I shook my head in disgust.

But I knew the answer: Ignore the basics and it goes to hell in a hand basket real fast.

In Bullseye, you just cannot let up. A moment of distraction and, “Bang,” into the berm outside of the target.

And that’s exactly what happened.

I was thinking about my scores and that Expert card, and didn’t think about the shot.

The shot. The one you’re doing right now. You’ve got to stay on that one shot and nothing else.

So there I was standing and looking at that dismal target and knew it was hopeless.

Should I pack up and go?

Go home and dig up the yard?

Or do I want to work through this, figure out what all is going wrong, and get back to where I can shoot most of the middle out of a target again?”

I’m not a quitter. As long as I’m safe to shoot, I’ll try to work through it.

So I sighed, had a quick snack of bitter crow in front of the other shooters, and then resigned myself to work my way through, to forge ahead and get back to the basics.

The first Slow Fire of the National Match Course in Center Fire was next.

I thought myself through the shot process.

I will focus on the dot. Then come into the aiming area. I’ll start the trigger straight back (feel my trigger finger arching to move it straight back, and then I’ll just hold it there, ignore the wobble, focusing on the dot, the dot, the dot and wait until it goes.

First shot. Do the process. “Bang!” That felt pretty good.

Let’s do it again.

And again.

After each shot I’d glance in the scope to see if it landed where I called it.

Most did.

But after seeing that one new hole, I went back to the shot process.

After the tenth shot was gone, I reloaded the magazines, clicked the dot down four clicks for the short line (next), set the screw driver on the table with the blade pointed toward me (meaning the sight was now set for the short line), and looked in the scope to tally the score.



I looked again, counted the holes, and then tallied the score a second time.

A 91-2 in Slow Fire?

I just shot a 91-2 in Slow Fire!

Damn! That’s good!! That’s real good for me!!!

Wait. What did I do? Why was that different?

I repeated the mantra to myself: Focus on the dot. Come into the aiming area. Start the trigger straight back … and then just hold it there, ignore the wobble, and wait for the shot to go.

And what did I not do?

I didn’t think about getting my Expert card.

I just thought about the next shot.

Timed and Rapid came and went as I worked to focus back on that basic process for each shot. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t, but even in the latter case, all the shots counted — there were no more misses, not in Center Fire and not later in 45.

With the three misses in Center Fire and the struggle to resurrect “how to shoot a good shot”, I ended with 772-12. That’s so short of the needed 810 that even that tiny corner of my mind that hoped against hope to still pull victory out of this disaster, even that gave up.

45 Rapid Fire: 94-1


45 caliber was next. Nine targets later, I saw my total: 802-14.

Still short of the needed 810 but, then again, if you look at the progress of a bad 22 performance followed by an utterly dismal Center Fire Slow Fire, and then the return to basics and the scores coming back up, well, that 802-14 actually looked pretty good.

If my 22 had “been there” and my Center Fire and 45 had been up to that same 802 level, I might have had enough for the Expert card.

But there was a much more important lesson here.

Indeed, if I were looking for a prime example of how thinking can mess up shooting, thia was it. I had started the day thinking, “I’m gonna earn my Expert card today,” and then became so preoccupied with that thought that I completely destroyed the possibility.

And as soon as I accepted the fact that I couldn’t get there and would, instead, go back to the basics and look no farther ahead than the next shot, it all started coming back.

My Expert card will come someday.

It will happen.

But I won’t get there by striving for it.

In some sports, you may be able to visualize that gold medal hanging around your neck and use that inspiration to help you get there.

But in Bullseye, your vision can’t be any further away than the end of the barrel or that red dot and this next shot.

Focus on this shot.

The Expert card is the mailman’s responsibility, not mine.

It’ll come with it comes.

Memo to self?

That’s easy. It’s to focus on the dot, come into the aiming area, start the trigger straight back and then just hold it there, ignore the wobble, and wait for the shot to go.

Anything else is noise.

Mindless Entertainment

Shooters learn Bullseye much the same way they do any other sport. They study, they experiment, they practice, they talk to others, they get coaching directly and indirectly. They commit things first to memory and then to body actions and, if everything goes well, they become as proficient at the sport as their abilities permit.

But it is also true that Bullseye is significantly less physical than some sports. In Bullseye, for example, there is no running. On the contrary, Bullseye shooters stand for relatively long periods of time nearly motionless. And when they do move, it is what appears to be a leisurely stroll down to the targets and back. But this is not because Bullseye shooters are lazy or laid-back. On the contrary, that leisurely pace is very intentional. Bullseye shooters do not want to elevate their heart rates. The sport requires it. When firing a string, Bullseye shooters want as motionless a stance as possible to minimize their wobble and, in turn, improve their accuracy on the target. Walking fast raises the heart rate, increases the wobble, and worsens the shots. No, Bullseye shooters walk slow for a reason. They take it easy for their next shot.

But, Bullseye is very much like other sports in one key way.

Consider a world champion tennis player. They are certainly very physical running left, right, forward and back, stretching and stooping for each shot. But consider also that player’s mental state while playing. Specifically, for a world-class player, how much self-talk are they doing once a volley begins?

Beginners do a lot of self-talk.

“Do this, do that, grip the gun tightly, focus on the front sight,” are among the common self-talk statements that beginners use to train themselves in Bullseye.

And no doubt beginning tennis players do the same. “Spot the place where I want the ball to go, loft the ball high and stretch up for the serve, now execute a smoothly increasing swing,” they might tell themselves.

But for the world-class tennis player, all of that is automatic. They’ve trained and practiced and everything they do has become completely unconscious. Indeed, it probably feels instinctive and the conscious mind simply watches as the ball is served and the volley played out.

In this, Bullseye is the same.

Indeed, many experts would probably agree that, as a given player’s skill rises, all sports become mental games.

“Attitude is everything,” some say.

“Visualize what you want,” others recommend.

“Focus on the goal.”

As the champion tennis player launches the ball up in the air to be served, his or her thinking has stopped. There is silence in the head. The body is on automatic. The eye sees; the body moves. It is a fully integrated machine.

The brain is only permitted to watch, not to act.

Think of sitting on the sofa and watching TV. The brain watches, it is entertained, but it does not participate.

Mindless entertainment, we call it.

At the upper skill levels, all sports have this in common.

Mindless entertainment.

In Bullseye, after the basics are learned, after shooters learn how to hold the gun, set their natural point of aim and move the trigger straight back to release the shot, an active, talkative, “do this, do that” brain is a hindrance. It messes up the shot.

The brain must be silenced.

Tell it.

“Please be quiet now. I’m going to shoot. Just watch. You’re going to like this. This is going to be good.”

It’s OK for the brain to watch. In fact, it’s good for the brain to watch. It likes to relax and be entertained. The brain enjoys the action and when the string ends, then it can become active and talk to the other shooters, score targets, notice that the body is thirsty and direct it to get a drink of water.

Bullseye must be intensely entertaining to the mind or we wouldn’t keep shooting for all the years it takes to become expert at this sport.

Think of anything non-essential that you have, nonetheless, voluntarily done for years. Why do you do it? Because you enjoy it. It is amusing. It is entertaining. It has to be or you would have abandoned it long ago.

In Bullseye, the brain’s recognition of improvement feels great. It likes it. And recognizing what caused some bad shots during a string can be amusing. I’ve had a lot of shots that made me laugh. I don’t particularly like them, but I do enjoy them when they happen.

And the brain talking with the other shooters is a vital part of the sport. We are, after all, social creatures. We find it enjoyable to talk with the other shooters when we’re not in the middle of a string, and I’m quite certain they do to.

But, when it comes time for the next string, the mind must again become quiet. It must not speak. It must not be active.

As with TV, the commercial is over and the program is starting again.

So, dim the lights and unmute the sound. Turn off the brain and watch the show.

Shooters to the line!

During a string, Bullseye must become mindless entertainment.

Maybe we should change the cadence:

  • Shooters to the line.
  • Brains, switch to silent mode. No talking inside or outside of the head.
  • Bodies, this will be your first string of Rapid Fire.
  • With five rounds, load.
  • Brains, be silent on the line.
  • Are the brains silent?
  • The brains are silent.
  • No thinking on the right.
  • No thinking on the left.
  • The line is not thinking.
  • [Targets face, the string is fired, targets edge.]
  • Make the line safe.
  • Make the line noisy.
  • Brains wake up, open mouths, start talking inside and outside of your heads.
  • Is the line noisy?
  • The line is noisy.
  • Go down, talk as you walk, score your targets, make noise, visit with your neighbors, cover up that mess and stroll back talking all the way. Enjoy!

Bullseye done well is mindless entertainment.

Silence on the line!