Mixed Bag

Steve Reiter (2008)

Here are some scattered notes and comments from today.

I didn’t shoot very well in today’s 2700. All my scores were down at the low-end of where I’ve been shooting. The bad news is this was an Authorized match and the scores count so I’ll be in Outdoor Sharpshooter land for a while. The good news is that’s where I *should* be competing, that’s where I *need* to be working, and doing the things I did today (shooting, not quitting, re-focusing on basics) is what will *eventually* let me learn what I need to know to advance. Patience!

Clarence, to my immediately left, had a squib but caught it immediately. Other than the round stuck in the barrel, there was no damage to his 1911. (I think he was shooting the gun later in the match but I didn’t confirm that.) He shot well in spite of that incident (and whipped me by 100 points — way to go, Clarence!).

Steve Reiter, Senior US Champion many times over, was scoring my 45 targets. I let that get to me on the first two Slow Fire targets and butchered them both, scoring only in the low 70s with not one hole in the black on the second of the two. Ugh!

But then I re-focused all my attention back into my shot plan by meticulously following each step and, I’m pleased to say, resurrected myself on the first SF of the NMC with all shots in the black. TF and RF thereafter weren’t great but they were tolerable, mostly in the mid-90s.

I fired some carefully reloaded Aguilla brass in Slow Fire after making them specially for today and making doubly certain to fully seat all the primers. Even so, I had nine high primers in the 60 rounds in Slow Fire over CF and 45. For TF and RF, I switched to reloads in Starline using the same batch of primers but had no problems — no high primers. So, something is decidedly wrong with Aguilla brass.

But I still have mixed feelings about discarding it.

On the down side, the high primers cannot all be detected by vision or touch. I’ve had several shooters try and we all failed to spot several high primers. So the bottom line is if I shoot the Aguilla brass, some “thunks” will happen.

But on the plus side, if I restrict its use to Slow Fire only, shooting it is a great “ball and dummy” drill; and brother does it show me I have a problem when I think there’s a live round in the chamber.


Dry firing alone just isn’t solving my “jerk” problem so, for the time being at least, I think I will continue reloading and shooting the Aguilla “Surprise” ammo, but only in Slow Fire of course. And quite frankly if the high primers continue long enough for me to learn the lesson of how *not* to jerk, that would be fabulous.

So, looking forward, we shoot a “Camp Perry Warm-up” next Sunday starting at 7:30AM.

I’ll be the jerk with the high primers in Slow Fire … but not for too much longer if this works.

See you on the line.

Day 4 of 4, 45 Caliber and Leg Match


Little things:

  • John occasionally brings sweets — donuts, cupcakes, etc. — but won’t touch them himself until the match is over;
  • Younger shooters (that’s younger than 50 or so) are more passionate in their frustration and can become borderline reckless if their handguns jam more than once — keep an eye on them;
  • Renold usually has a tune going in his head as do I and, passing close to each other on the way out to the targets or back, we hum aloud to compare notes, but adopting his tune doesn’t help me shoot as well as he does;
  • Most of the High Masters have a lot of upper-body strength, often from childhood, but there are significant exceptions so it’s not a requirement for that level of performance, just a help;
  • Couldn’t see a double on someone’s otherwise excellent target one day, scored it as a miss, didn’t change my story when the shooter pointed out a slightly elongated hole, he challenged it (for a buck), the jury agreed with him, then I re-scored it but possibly gave him too much thereby apparently compounding my faults — like a shot in the five ring, “it happens,” and all you can do is move on;
  • The conscious mind can only think one thought at a time but Bullseye requires a skilled coordination of observations and actions — it can be a long road for those who insist on “figuring it out” because that path forces no more than one step at a time;
  • I feel an odd tension around Bill — we’re too much alike, perhaps, even though we appear to be quite different;
  • Bob will move up and out of Sharpshooter land after today — good, because he’s shooting Master-level scores which sure knocked me out of the run for one of those new pistols, the prizes for this competition;
  • I’ll need 90+alibi rounds of wad for the 45 competition today, plus 30+alibi of ball for Service Pistol team and another 30+alibi of ball for the Leg Match;
  • I lightly cleaned the wad gun last night so it’s ready; and
  • Yes, my shoulder and grip are both tired but no more so than yesterday or the day before — I’m ready.

Let today’s matches begin!


I won’t have the complete scores for a day or two but, at this point, I know how I did, and it was “extremely well” on this last day.

Here are my scores across all four days of this annual event:

Service Pistol 681-9 75.7%
22 Caliber 823-15 91.4%
Center Fire 773-12 85.8%
45 Caliber 811-17 90.1%
2700 Aggregate 2407-44 89.1%
3600 Aggregate 3088-53 85.7%
22 Team unk. unk.
CF Team 264-2 88.0%
45 Team 275-8 91.7%
Service Pistol Team 220-1 73.3%
EIC Leg Match 252-4 84.0%
Everything 4099-68 * 85.4% *

* will increase slightly with 22 Team score

After four days of shooting a 900 plus one or two NMCs in each day, my technique has settled down considerably.

Significantly, in both of those final NMCs, I think my performance was just about the same but for the Leg Match, I had changed to some ammunition given to me many, many months ago by John Zurek. This change seems to show the gift ammunition flying substantially better than what I had used just moments before.

About this gift ammo John Zurek had said, “Save this for a Leg Match. It’s really good stuff.”

And I’ve had it sitting in the supply cabinet for, what, maybe a year now? A while back, I tested a scant 10 rounds in the Ransom Rest and they printed within a 1.5″ circle at 50 yards. Oh yeah, that’s good stuff!

So today, I used another 30 of those rounds for the Leg Match.

As I released each shot, I called it and then looked in the scope. The truth of John’s words looked back at me because practically every shot was on call. And while it’s true I still messed up a couple of them, when the Leg Match was done I had a very respectable score.

With that, I also learned that the ball ammunition I had been using in the Service Pistol matches, both individual and team competitions, simply did not get along with my ball gun. At least some of the blame for the dismal Service Pistol scores goes to the ammunition / gun mix. They just don’t get along.

I have ten rounds of the “good stuff” left and I’ll have to figure out what to do with them. Certainly I’ll be measuring them with calipers every possible way I can think of. And ultimately, they’ll probably get fired from the Ransom Rest again but this time with a chrony in front and then a virgin target way out at 50 yards. Whatever I get from all that will be both my starting point and my goal in developing a ball load.

Yes, there’s a lot to be done.

But looking back at the last four days, it’s been absolutely wonderful.

  • I shot some really good targets in a major competition with 60+ shooters.
  • I renewed acquaintances with shooters from California and Colorado, and made new friends with others from as far away as New York state.
  • From the preliminary numbers, it would appear I placed very well within the Sharpshooter ranks — I think I came in second in that (my) classification.
  • I had quite a few very good trigger releases and have a very good idea what that should feel like, and a very good idea of how to make it happen more often than not. In other words, my “shot plan” has received some careful honing and is working substantially better than before.
  • I learned that I need to develop, not buy, a ball load that flies well from my ball gun. (The “White Box” ammunition John Zurek gave me as a gift is over twenty years old and is no longer being made. I have only those ten precious rounds left from which to begin my efforts.)
  • I had a really fantastic time!

Finesse the Trigger

See that stack of rocks?

That’s Steve Reiter, national champion Bullseye shooter many times over.

I call him a “stack of rocks” because if you finish your Slow Fire early and sit down to watch, he looks like an utterly immobile stack of rocks that’s been like that for a couple of millenia. Nothing moves. The wind blows but nothing moves. A cloud hides the sun, nothing moves. A bird flies across the range but nothing, not even a muscle in his beefy, farm-boy arm moves.


Now there’s no way I’m going to be able to stand that still. While I do have my better days when the wobble nearly stops for a second or two, when that happens, I so dearly want the gun to go “Bang” but, invariably, if I will it, I jerk it.

Years ago, Coach Pat had me hold the gun and do everything except pull the trigger. He did that. As a team, we shot a ten, two nines, an eight and a seven with five shots. Coach’s lesson was that my “hold” was the seven ring even though my shooting (by myself) had a lot of fives and sixes.

He said, “Your problem is trigger control. Move the trigger straight back.”

“Level and smooth,” he would croon as I would try to follow his teaching.

So, I’ve learned to do a lot of dry-fire and to watch and see what the front sight does when the hammer falls. And recently, I’ve been seeing the front sight take a little bob downward. Sometimes I put the gun down, rest a moment and try again and it goes away. But other times, it’s still there and ultimately I decide to stop because I’m obviously teaching myself to do the wrong thing. But what am I doing that causes it?

Not long ago, our car had a slight pull to the left. To compensate, we drove with a slight pressure to the right, not much, just enough to offset the left pull. The car goes perfectly straight as long as you keep up the pressure.

Pressing the trigger back on the 1911 and holding the gun really tight can end up in a similar situation. If your trigger pressure isn’t perfectly straight, a strong grip can exert a counter-pressure and end up holding the gun perfectly straight.

But unlike the car, at some point the trigger hooks release the hammer. At that instant, the trigger floats free for a fraction of a second before bottoming out on the over-travel adjustment. During that fraction of a second, whatever unaligned force your trigger finger was adding is suddenly removed and the compensating force from your grip that was previously offsetting the crooked trigger pressure is released, and the nose of the gun twitches out of alignment.


I once asked the members of the Bullseye-L emailing list how long it took, with everything in place and all lined up, from the time they committed to firing a shot to when the gun went off. Answers varied but the norm seemed to be somewhere between a half and a couple of seconds, no more than 2-3.

But when I watch Steve Reiter, I think it’s longer, much longer.

Same with John Zurek. I know because I asked him what he was doing for the 30+ seconds I watched him routinely hold.

John said, “Movin’ the trigger straight back.”

Here’s an interesting observation: The harder you grip the gun, the more it will mask a mis-aligned trigger pull, and you’ll only know it when the hammer drops.

Oops, too late!

With a very strong grip, mis-aligned trigger pressure can’t be seen before the hammer falls.

A gentler grip, on the other hand, will immediately show poorly directed trigger pressure; it will push the front sight away from alignment. Long before the shot breaks, you’ll see the sights being pushed out of alignment.

Brian Zins says he “steers” the front sight with his trigger finger. He calls the sights his “trigger purity indicator.”

A word comes to mind: finesse.

BassPro.com says finesse refers to “slowing down and using smaller lures, line, and rods.”

And in Bullseye, perhaps it can mean using a less-than-crushing grip and finer “control” of the trigger.

Finesse the trigger.

When Zins Speaks, …

Brian Zins has won the US national bullseye (Conventional Pistol) competition at Camp Perry Ohio more times than most of us have shot Xs in a single target. Understandably, when Brian speaks, bullseye shooters listen.

Not long ago, Brian wrote to the bullseye-l mailing list about his grip. He said,

From: Zins GySgt Brian H [mailto:brian.zins@usmc.mil] 
Sent: Wednesday, January 30, 2008 12:19 PM 
To: bullsey...@lists.lava.net 
Subject: [Bullseye-L] RE High and right 

        All shots that not on call are in some form or fashion anticipation. 
I would have to say that your problem is probably stemming from a grip 
issue. I will try to explain this the best that I can without actually 
having a visual for you to follow. 
Look at your hand 
The crease between the fatty portion below your thumb and pinky finger just 
above your wrist. 
The backstrap of the grip needs to go right between those fatty areas in 
that crease. 
Our hands are actually designed perfectly for shooting. As long as we use 
the shape of our hand to our advantage. If you put the mainspring housing of 
the gun on the either of the fatty parts, the gun will move in recoil. With 
a .45 anyhow, not so much with a .22. 
This will also help the gun align to your eye better without having to move 
your wrist to obtain sight alignment. 



Well, my 45 scores were dismal, repeatedly so. I had little to lose so I decided to try Brian’s grip.

After a little futzing around with the 1911 in my hand, I found something that seemed like what Brian was describing. Being a methodical (my wife uses a different, and four-letter, word) guy, I wrote down the details:

  1. Form the shooting hand as if you are about to shake hands with someone.
  2. Using the non-shooting hand, grasp the gun by the barrel (never put your hand in front of the muzzle!) and then press the gun into the shooting hand such that it contacts the web between thumb and forefinger first, and as high on the backstrap of the gun as possible.
  3. Still holding the gun with the non-shooting hand, wiggle the shooting hand to feel the “deepest” the bottom part of the backstrap can go in the grip — the “life-line” across the palm forms a V-shaped valley and the backstrap of the gun should “nest” into the center of that valley. The goal is to place the backstrap in an area where there is a minimum of “meat” between backstrap and bone. Rigidity and the absence (or minimum) of padding are the desired characteristics.
  4. Still pressing the gun in position, wrap the shooting hand around the gun and grasp it with the middle two fingers. In some hands, the middle two fingers grasp the gun very close to the second joint and, again, have a minimum of padding between bone and metal, and the fingers cross the front strap at about a 20 degree angle. The pads at the base of each finger (in the palm) are slightly in contact with the slab-side grip but exert little or no pressure.
  5. As you raise the gun to shoot and move onto the target, move the trigger finger into the trigger area as far as possible. For some, the trigger will be touching that finger just outside of the farthest joint but right next to the joint. As before, the goal is to have as little pad between trigger and bone as possible.

When I do this, it feels very odd especially at first. But the sights line up more naturally than before and, when they don’t, I know I didn’t screw the gun into my hand correctly and I stop and do it all over. Eventually, the alignment is correct, the feel is right (odd!), and my whole hand feels “clamped” — Brian’s word in other postings — around the gun.

It ain’t goin’ nowhere!

Dry-firing, the results are promising but in my inexperienced hand, not perfect.

On one hammer fall, the front sight will bob down. (That would’ve been a six o’clock 6).

On the next, the front sight jumps right and up. (Two o’clock something — did I anticipate?)

Then, down and left. (Jerk!)

My hand hurts from the pressure I’ve been exerting on the slab-sided grip but cannot maintain. That’s not what jerked the trigger — I did that by trying to make the hammer fall when I “willed it” to get the shot over (and release the painful pressure!) — but the lessened pressure made the front sight jump way down and left, not a 9, an 8 or a 7. No, that one probably was a weak 5 or, worse than that, a “Maggie’s Drawers”, a miss.

Take the gun out of your hand, I say to myself. Let the blood circulate for a few seconds.

Okay, screw it into your grip and try again.

Click! There — it didn’t move! (Or maybe I just wasn’t paying close enough attention?)

Again … Ah, a small jump that time, not a lot but it was there.

Come on, now, straight back. (I have to arch my trigger finger just a little to make that happen.)

Click. Yes, nothing moved.

By golly, this can work!

But again, my hand is aching.

After a few more dry-fire shots, that’s all I can do that day. It’s a strain gripping that hard.

“GTSOOI”, I wrote on a Post-It and stuck it inside my gun box. “Grip The S%!* Out Of It.”

As you may know, I travel a lot and occasionally shoot at different bullseye ranges when a local competition and my business assighments match up. But that’s the exception, not the rule. As a result, training and practice for me, much less formal competitions, are catch as catch can.

So it was barely a week after changing my grip that I had my first opportunity to try it on anything other than dry fire and, as ill-luck would have it, it was a formal competition.

And the results were dismal.

In a moment of less than stellar judgement, I shared my frustration with the list.

… I also found that when I didn’t do everything right, things got really, really bad in a hurry. the least little jerk seemed to take the round much farther away from “home” and, in more than one case, completely outside the scoring rings!

So now I’m “on the fence”.

Should I keep at the new grip which, when it works is very nice, or should I fall back to the old grip which is more forgiving?

I received a couple of mildly encouraging replies and then, to my surprise, a personal reply from Brian himself.

(Can I say we’re “buddies” now? Is one personal email sufficient?)

Brian wrote,

I would say stay with the new grip. The key is consistency and the grip may take a little getting used [to] but [in] the long run you will [be] much better off and more consistent. The reason things may seem to be more “out” when you make a mistake is probably because your hand is trying to do what it has done for so long and the combination of the two do not work. Give it time it will work for you.

All right, I thought. How long?

I decided to give myself three months, April, May and all of June.

Toward the end of April, I had shot a few times with the new grip technique, dry-fired a lot (50% of the days?), and more recently had noticed my hand feeling a bit less strained in the evenings.

I was quite sure that, accuracy aside, I was gaining a lot of grip strength. And one of the constants I had seen in other Bullseye shooters was that Master and High Master ratings often seem to go with upper-body strength.

Brian Zins is one tough-looking Marine. Woe be to he who doubts a Marine’s strength.

John Zurek swings hammer, pushes a saw and hauls lumber as a carpenter five days a week and sometimes on weekends building his own place.

Steve Reiter grew up on a farm. He’s no mouse-pusher.

They are all High Masters and they all have very good arm and shoulder strength.

Top bullseye shooters may be alike in other ways but, of this, I am convinced. If you want to shoot the 45 well, you need better than average, and possibly much better than average upper body strength.

In this day when mouse and keyboard dominate the skills used by many for 8+ hours a day, the 45 needs more, a lot more.

And I’ve also discovered that the Zins grip is utterly, maybe even “wildly”, intolerant of fat-fisted, limp-wristed, bendy-elbowed shooters.

Steel demands steel.

Power demands power.

If you want to shoot a powerful steel gun, you have to back it up with power and steel. If you don’t, the gun will run right over you and the shot will go the hell where it wants to go. You show the least little weakness and it’s gonna get ya.

But if you show strength and resilience, it’ll do exactly what you want.

Rule the gun!

When I GTSOOI, focus on the front sight, pressure the trigger straight back and get a (nearly) surprise break, it’s going in the X ring or damn close to it.

And when the shot goes anywhere else — and when it goes bad, it sometimes goes really bad — I blew one of the basics:

  • Crush the oil out of the grips and make my arm rigid, hand, wrist and elbow;
  • Pour all my attention into the front sight for alignment and forget the wobble no matter how interesting it might be;
  • Add straight-back pressure to drive the trigger directly into the top of my nose; and
  • … bang!

When it works, it is magnificent!

And when it fails, oh brother, is it bad!

Sometimes I know which one of the basics I messed up. But other times the shot is almost completely off the target and I won’t have a clue what I did wrong.

Imagine a target with 4 Xs, 3 tens, a 9, an 8 and a top right-hand corner of the target, way way way outside the 5 ring.

“Hey,” I want to shout, “who’s shooting on my target?”

But I know better. I am. It’s me.

I’m coming up to the end of the first month of my three month trial. The good news is it’s working. I can see the improvement, I can feel it working, and I have seen enough really good shots to know that I can shoot a “tenex” (10 Xs in one 10 round target) with this grip. It will happen. I will shoot it, and it will unquestionably be with this grip.

I shot the center-fire and 45 stages of a 2700 this weekend. I told the other shooters I skipped the 22 portion because my grandaughter was competing in the state finals in soccer which was true. (They won in triple overtime!) But it is also true that I am completely focused right now on the 45. I don’t want any scores going to the NRA from any other gun.

I want my Outdoor Expert rating to be based on that gun, the hard gun, the real gun.

And its coming, its coming.

Patience and perfect practice. Dry-fire, dry-fire and dry-fire.

I’m writing this flying to Huntsville Alabama and my 1911 is in checked baggage, cleaned and lubed after the competition, it is ready for dry-fire every evening at the Comfort Inn.

GTSOOI, front sight, straight-back, … click.

GTSOOI, front sight, straight-back, … click.

GTSOOI, front sight, straight-back, … click.


Today, Bruce Martindale summed up grip pressure very nicely. He wrote:

… my personal concept on grip pressure is that group size, as a function of grip pressure, is a U shaped curve and maybe it has a third axis for trigger sear weight.

Too loose grip gives bigger groups (trigger motion and recoil induced). Too tight also gives bigger groups (lack of trigger control). You can not grip tight and retain fine motor control of your finger. So what to do? “Just Right” tension that gives you trigger AND recoil control).

How much is that? Well you have to figure that out by training with “too much” and “too little” then “just right”. Call it the “3 bears” exercise.

Thanks, Bruce, that’s perfect!

Oh yeah, my wife knows me, all right. (See reference to “wife” herein.)