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It’s only a 96 and there’s only one X but I don’t care. This is a very pretty target. I shot it in Timed Fire this past Sunday and decided to bring it home. It’s going up on the wall. … Continue reading
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
But there are exceptions, and good ones, to each of these generalizations.
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.
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.
After each shot I’d glance in the scope to see if it landed where I called it.
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 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.
I shoot Bullseye for several reasons. Those who know me can report that, yes, my #1 reason is for the camaraderie; I just plain like the people I meet who are shooting Bullseye.
But that’s not the only reason.
A sense of accomplishment is also important.
And with that also needs to be the knowledge that I’m getting better.
Well, the time has come to move up.
The NRA Pistol Rules rank competitors in several categories, among them are Indoor and Outdoor. My current Outdoor classification is Sharpshooter and it is there — outside — where I commonly shoot both 22 and 45 caliber guns, the latter having a heavier, and therefore more difficult, trigger.
My Indoor classification has been as an Expert and it is indoors where the 22 is more commonly fired. Indeed, some indoor ranges permit nothing larger. Consequently, shooters tend to do better.
But I’m now ready to move up. Indeed, I both want to get my Outdoor Expert card, and I think my shooting is just about ready as well.
The individual skill-levels are as follows.
|High Master *||97||873||2619|
|Marksman||less||< 765||< 2295|
My goal, the Expert class, needs a 90% mark. That is, I need to shoot an average of 810 points in Registered and Authorized 900s.
But scores are reported to the NRA for an entire competition. And, the NRA tallies “shots fired” as well as the score. In a 2700 I need to shoot at least 2430 as my total for the three 900s (3 * 810), and I need to “keep it up” at that level for at least 360 shots.
Within a competition, I can do better, or worse, on any given 900, as long as the average for the competition comes out at the 90% level.
For the 360 shots, at 10 points per shot, a 900 has 90 shots, and a 2700 has 270 — not enough. It takes four 900s, or a 2700 plus a 900 or, in my case, it will be two 2700s to accumulate the needed 360 shots.
For some time, my 22 scores have been around 840 to 850. If I shoot at that level outdoor, that will give me a 30-40 point “helper” on CenterFire and 45 scores. (And shooting 840 to 850, you can see that I could, on a good performance at several indoor matches, move up there as well — but I want to keep my Indoor and Outdoor classifications more or less in-line with each other. So I’ve been avoiding indoor Registered and Authorized matches for that reason.)
In the most recent outdoor matches, I’ve done better than expected. That’s especially true with my 45 caliber wad gun now that it has the roll trigger — thank you, Dan Norwood. It feels like I’m pressing on a soft pillow and, rather than needing to “build pressure” to break a shot, I now “keep it flowing”.
For the level of my ability at this time, the roll trigger is a real plus.
And tomorrow we shoot the President’s Day 2700 at the Phoenix Rod and Gun Club. It is an official event so the scores will be reported to the NRA.
And the following weekend has a second, and also to be reported, 2700.
If I can shoot both 2700s and score 2430 or better in each one, then the record of my most recent 360 (or more) shots will make the grade.
I want an Outdoor Expert classification.
That goal, and the determination to get there, will be driving my focus and attention for the next two Sundays.
10s and Xs!
Above High Master, there are the unofficial 2650 (98.1%) and 2670 (98.8%) clubs. Performance at these levels is truly stunning, especially when you take into account that this is not for one shot, but for a repeated performance over at least 270 individual shots.
Recently I mentioned that I had the trigger weight on my IZH-46M air pistol cranked up to the maximum. I did this to practice with a heavy trigger.
Today, I decided to measure it. And while I was at it, I weighed triggers on my other guns as well.
But before weighing triggers, I thought it might be a good idea to calibrate the trigger pull scale itself. It’s just a simple spring and indicator, after all. How accurate could that be?
For the calibration, I made up some home-made samples of known weight. They are plastic baggies with different quantities of 200 grain LSWC bullets. The bullets were, in turn, spot-sampled on an RCBS Digital Powder Scale that I use when reloading. According to that scale, the bullets were within 0.1% of their 200 grain weight.
I reasoned that if the two scales came within a few percentage points of each other, I could accept their answer.
So, I counted out 35 of them (35 x 200 grains = 7000 grains = 1 pound). I did that four times to check the trigger pull gauge at 1, 2 and 4 pounds to more or less span the trigger weights I expected to find. I then weighted each calibration weight six times to make sure my “pick up the bags” technique was consistent.
Here’s what I got.
|35×200 gr LSWCs
|70×200 gr LSWCs
|140×200 gr LSWCs
Basically the RCBS Trigger Pull Scale is off by 6.5% and is always higher than reality. (I wish RCBS made a bathroom scale like this — knowing it is 6.5% heavy, I could back 10+ pounds off what such a scale would say I weigh.)
That isn’t bad. Not bad at all. For just a “simple spring with an indicator”, you might even say that’s pretty darn good.
So with the trigger pull scale calibrated, I was ready to measure the triggers on my guns.
And, Voila! Here they are.
|Ruger Mk III
|SA: Short roll||3.000||3.000||3.250||3.000||3.000||3.125||3.063|
|DA||> 8.000||> 8.000||> 8.000||> 8.000||> 8.000||> 8.000||> 8.000|
The trigger weight on the IZH-46M was, as expected and as desired, high at nearly five (5) pounds.
I set it that way to help my ball gun shooting but, now that I look at the numbers, I’m surprised.
You see, and to be completely frank, I find the IZH-46M substantially easier to shoot even though its trigger and that of the ball gun are almost the same.
Part of the reason must be the feel of the two triggers. The air gun’s trigger is “springy” and as I add pressure, it moves. I like that. On the other hand, the ball gun’s trigger is “crisp”: As I add pressure, nothing happens until, suddenly, it breaks. And I don’t like that. Indeed, on days when it seems harder than usual to break a shot, I find myself wondering if the safety is still on, or maybe the hammer isn’t cocked, or any of a number of other worries creep in. And with that, my head is no longer in my shot plan.
When that happens, I need to put the gun down and get back into the plan.
So that small difference in feel makes a huge difference in how difficult or easy I think the two triggers are to operate. A smooth release of the air pistol’s trigger is easier to do than that crisp break on the ball gun.
Of course, anticipation of the size of the bang and recoil of one versus the other is also a significant factor. Although those aren’t supposed to affect how I release the shot, my gut tells me this is also happening. I know the ball gun has a big bang and throws a big recoil and, psychologically, that’s also making it harder to get off a clean shot from the ball gun.
Afterthought: The 1911 also demands a much harder grip pressure for several reasons including the functioning of the slide, to route the recoil up the arm and shoulder into the body, and to bring the gun back on target in preparation for the next shot. That tighter grip makes independent movement of the trigger finger more difficult. The harder I grip, the harder it is to move the trigger finger.
The air gun, on the other hand, could be fired with an extremely light grip. The recoil powers nothing, is almost nil, and with only a single-shot available, there’s no need to quickly get back on target (other than follow-through which isn’t as time sensitive.) While a light grip is counterproductive for accuracy and, consequently, I do “hang on” pretty good to the air pistol, nonetheless, I don’t have to grip it as hard. It is easier, therefore, to control the movement of my trigger finger with that gun.
Bottom line: A five pound trigger on an air pistol is not much like a five pound trigger on a 1911. But it still makes for good “trigger control” practice so I will continue with this arrangement.
Funny what weighing triggers leads into, isn’t it?
I then weighed the triggers on my 22s and you can see that the S&W 41’s trigger is underweight. It should be a minimum of two (2) two and a half (2.5) pounds. The check weights showed the RCBS trigger pull scale to be on the heavy side so the S&W 41’s trigger is even lighter than these numbers indicate.
The Ruger Mk III 22 has Volquardsen parts and shoots with a medium roll. As you can probably anticipate from what I wrote above, I absolutely love the trigger on this gun. (Indeed, the Crosman 2300S has an even longer roll — about a mile and a half by my estimation — thanks to some minor gunsmithing on my part and a sheet of 2000 grit sandpaper from the auto refinishing store.) Unfortunately, at 2.375 pounds, that trigger is under the 2.5 pound minimum.
My biggest surprise, however, was the wad gun’s trigger. It averaged out at slightly over 4.5 pounds. The rulebook says it can be as light as 3.0 3.5 pounds. And a couple of years ago, that’s where it was. Somehow between then and now, that trigger has increased almost 50% in weight. That’s a lot.
And the ball gun’s trigger at 5 pounds is also high.
To complete the suite, I decided to measure my “pocket buddy” too, my S&W 36 snubby that rides around in an Uncle Mike’s Sidekick and rarely sees the light of day. In single action, it is a very clean and highly repeatable 3 pound break. In fact, after going through and testing all my guns in a relatively short period of time, I’d have to say it probably has the best trigger of all my guns. Nice work, Smith & Wesson. (And not surprisingly, the double action trigger weight was higher than the 8 pound limit on the RCBS trigger pull scale so I couldn’t weigh the trigger in that mode.)
In summary then, three four of my guns need attention. The 41 and the Mk III are below weight while the wad and the ball gun are both much too high.
As I recall, the 41’s adjustment is fairly easy to change. There’s a lever somewhere that needs to be moved. I’ll pull out the book or check online to see if that’s something I can do.
But the two 1911s and the Ruger need an expert gunsmith. And given that I really like roll triggers, I need to find a gunsmith who can do that on the 1911s, and the longer the roll the better. From previous checking I know that’s not your run-of-the-mill trigger job.
And with the Bullseye championships taking place next week at Camp Perry in Ohio, most of them will be there having fun, not sitting at home wishing he were there.
But since I can’t be there, then I’ll wish all of you lots of Xs and tons of 10s!
Rest your hand on the table, palm down, in a relaxed and slightly arched shape.
Tap it with your trigger finger.
That’s mouse-finger and, if you’re reading this on-line, it’s probably something you did to get here; you clicked a link or a button with your computer mouse.
And if you use the mouse a lot, you’ve probably become very good at positioning it quickly and then clicking or double-clicking. Your motor skills have probably become second nature. You see what you want on the screen and you click it.
Over the last two decades since computer mice have come into common use, I’ve used them for many hours just about every day. As a result, I’m good with the mouse. Real good, in fact. So good that my double-click speed adjustment in Windows is at the maximum.
Mouse Double-Click Speed
Now imagine you’re holding a gun in that hand and your finger is resting on the trigger and you want to shoot something … Now!
Those motor skills I’ve practiced daily for twenty years are going to take over and I’m almost certainly going to use mouse-finger on the gun — remember, that’s what I’ve practiced on a daily basis — and mouse-finger is going to push the muzzle, and the shot, left.
Well, no, that’s not really a “jerk” even though the end result is practically the same.
Jerking is when you anticipate the sound and the recoil of firing a gun and your grip and body flinch before the bang. (The body is starting toward a fetal position to protect itself.)
That’s a jerk.
Mouse-finger, on the other hand, pushes left and there can also be a downward component too as we’ll see in a minute, but the source of the movement, the reason for these movements is not a flinch. It’s the body trying to click the mouse (down) rather than push the trigger (back).
There is a 90 degree difference. One is “down” while the other is “back”.
And to see where the downward movement comes from in all this, we need to shift to the the trigger-finger motion.
So, put your hand back on the table.
This time, however, imagine your finger tip is gently touching something soft and gentle (!). With that thought in mind, use your forefinger to gentle caress it.
OK, bring your mind back from erotica-land, please.
Focus attention on the gentle stroke. There are several things to notice about this action as compared to mouse-finger.
First, the direction of movement now is back toward your wrist not down into the table.
Second, the speed of movement is dramatically slower than before.
And third, it is a gentle movement, not abrupt like mouse-finger.
This is how the trigger should be moved when releasing a shot.
But we’re not quite done yet.
Rest your hand on the table again, palm down as before with that same relaxed arch.
Moving only the trigger finger, move it over so it touches the middle finger.
Now try that caressing motion.
Can you move it straight back without moving the rest of the hand?
With my trigger finger “down” toward the middle finger, when I try to bring it straight-back, my whole hand arches.
Oh it’s true that if I “aim” the motion toward the base of my thumb, the finger can move and the hand remain still but I’m not moving straight back. My trigger finger is moving “up” to do that.
Conversely, if you scoot the trigger finger over toward the thumb and then try to move it straight back, the tip of the finger draws a gentle arc on the table-top.
Again, I can’t move it straight back.
So, trigger-finger is most naturally accomplished when the fingers are in their most natural and relaxed position. Ideally, this is how the gun should fit your hand.
If your fit isn’t perfect like this, then you’ll have to learn to move the trigger straight back in an unnatural (for you) movement. The more awkward the fit, the more challenging the motion.
Custom target-shooter grips attempt to put the hand in a natural position. This will be instantly obvious the first time you take hold of grips that fit your hand.
All others require some touchy-feel’y experimentation to find that position where “straight-back” happens most naturally.
So, here are the rules:
And feel (!) free to substitute your own word for “caress”.
But keep your mind on shooting because that’s a dangerous object you hold in your hand.
(So’s that other object but that’s not for blogging!)
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:
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.
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.
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.
I skipped coffee in the interest of stability. Maybe that’s what I did wrong.
I ate a high-protein breakfast 90 minutes before first shot so my brain would have the needed molecules for concentration. Maybe that’s what I did wrong.
I disassembled, wiped down and otherwise lightly cleaned the wadder the night before. Maybe that’s what I did wrong.
My finger didn’t feel right on my model 41’s trigger. Maybe that’s what I did wrong.
And I really wanted to shoot scores a level above my current NRA Outdoor Sharpshooter rating. Maybe that’s what I did wrong.
Patching a five [barely]
Or maybe it was just just gonna be an all-around “bad day”.
It sure seemed determined to go that way.
In a word, my shooting was terrible. Nothing seemed to go right. I thought of packing it in early but decided that “quitters never win” and I’d try to see it through. But things just went downhill because after a dismal 22, CF was worse, and then the 45 competition started no better.
Then, adding insult to injury, after the Slow Fire of the National Match Course for the 45, I noticed that the dot on the wadder seemed loose. I grasped it and gave it a wiggle. Yup, sure enough, it was not secure. A vision of the scope coming loose in recoil and bonking me in the forehead as had happened to Leslie flashed through my mind.
Even if it doesn’t come loose, I reasoned, I’ll be thinking about it coming loose instead of concentrating on my shot.
I’ve got to fix this or change guns.
A quick inspection revealed that the bolt holding the front ring to the slide rail had loosened. I started to re-tighten the bolt but, as it began to snug down, something didn’t feel right. When it should have become tight, it felt mushy.
Oh no, I thought. The threads are stripping out.
I stopped turning and hoped it would stay sufficiently snug for the remaining targets but, after the NMC Timed Fire, I could wiggle the front bolt by hand. It wasn’t gonna hold and the whole thing might come away on any shot.
“I’ve got a gun failure here. One of the scope rings is coming loose. Can someone official witness this so I can switch to my backup, to my ball gun?”
From down the line Don yelled, “Wait, what kind of a mount is it?”
He came down, looked and said, “I’ve got a new one of those in the truck. I’ll get it and we can put in a fresh bolt.”
Two minutes later, it was in place.
“That should hold you for the match,” Don said.
But after the first target of the Timed Fire match, it was loose again. Apparently the receiving threads inside the scope mount were also gone.
Turning to the shooter on my right who’d been tallying a good number of Xs and 10s all day, I asked, “Will you verify this?” I wiggled the now loose red dot again. “I’m gonna have to change guns mid-match because this one is disabled.” He agreed. I put the wadder away and took out the ball gun which, luckily, shoots my wad loads just as well as ball ammo.
So, I finished the 2700 on that gun and, incidentally, posted some slightly better scores than I had with the loose-dotted wad gun.
But regardless, with bad 22, center fire and several poor to mediocre 45 scores, my aggregate for the day, 2281-25, was awful, really awful. Indeed, that score was below the SharpShooter baseline (85% of 2700 is 2295) so I didn’t even shoot my qualification this day.
“Ball match, anyone?”
Well, I thought, what the heck. It can’t get much worse. And my arm actually feels reasonably Okay and, after all, I do like shooting that ammo and the iron sights.
“I’ll shoot,” I volunteered, “but I need a couple of minutes to clean the barrel after running the wad ammo through it.”
While I cleaned the ball gun’s barrel, most everyone else packed up. Oh well, I thought, that just means fewer folks to lose to.
Three of us shot ball, one comparative newbie a couple of positions down to my left, myself and the guy to my right who’d been scoring my bad targets all day but who shot his own very well. I thoroughly expected to get trounced by a bunch of points by him.
But maybe I can beat the newbie, I thought.
I went to Don and bought a box of factory ball Aguila. It’s cheap, kicks like a mule, flies better than I can shoot and, after resizing, the brass would be reloadable.
And I shot a very good Slow Fire target, very good for me at least, an 85-1.
All right! I *do* like shooting these iron sights.
Timed Fire wasn’t quite as good but, at 80-0, still “in there” for my ball scores.
But even with that score, I noticed that my trigger control was better than it had been with the wad gun and its red dot. Not seeing the target clearly is a good thing.
And maybe some luck was with me because, glancing over at my “good shooter” neighbor’s score card, I saw he wasn’t doing very well with the ball gun. Indeed, my Slow Fire was better than his and our Timed Fire had been about the same. I was actually a couple of points ahead. The beginner farther down the line, well, he was doing like beginners do. I know, I’ve been there many times.
But I was doing pretty good and the pretty good shooter to my right wasn’t.
A very dangerous thought crossed my mind:
I could win this admittedly small and not very tough competition. Yes, by golly, I could win this match.
Instantly the other half of my mind jumped in:
No! Stop! Shut up! Don’t think that! Be quiet!
Just focus on the next shot. Remember: front sight, alignment, aiming area, front sight, trigger straight back, front sight, front sight, front sight.
Now be quiet and just shoot.
We shot the first string of Rapid Fire. Some good, some bad.
I resisted the urge to scope the target.
Second string and again, some good, some not so good.
I put the gun away.
Naked eye from the firing line, I could see some holes in the black near the center but I knew I’d jerked a couple also. I folded up the scope without looking through it.
What’s done is done.
I scored the beginner’s target: Yup, he’s out of the running. A good try but really losing it on the Rapid Fire.
Now for my target.
Hmmm. It had a couple of Xs and a couple of 10s. Those looked very nice. But my target also a 5 — lower left, of course. My score was 78-2.
I had gone downhill over the three targets in the ball match. There were some good shots, yes, but there were also some bad ones.
My final score for the ball match was 243-3.
So, I wondered, what had Bob shot on his last target?
It looked like he’d done better than me, but how much?
“Hi Bob, how’d you do? What’s your total?” I asked.
Trying not to let my voice waver, I asked, “Uhm, how many Xs?”
“It was a bad match, for me. No Xs.”
He shot 243-0, I shot 243-3 … I won? I won. I won the ball match!
I don’t care there was hardly anyone shooting.
I don’t care if none of us were very good.
I won! I won the ball match! Yahoo!!
What a great day!
It has been argued that, with the 1911, the bullet leaves the barrel before any rearward slide motion begins. In addition, I have proposed that resistance to recoil must be aligned with the intended flight path because the resistance to recoil occurs before the bullet leaves the barrel and, if misaligned, the aim will be deflected and with it, the flight path of the bullet.
The video (link below) contains a closeup of the muzzle end of a 1911 when a shot is fired. Thirteen (13) frames are shown, spaced out so this can be analyzed.
Here is a description of the individual frames in this video.
As you can see, the slide begins it rearward movement in frame #2, well before the tip of the bullet appears in frame #10.
Note that, if the slide is being propelled back, then the recoil spring is being compressed. That, in turn, is pressing the gun backward into the shooter’s hand with increasing pressure. The recoil from the shot, therefore, is attempting to move the gun backward before the shot leaves the barrel.
I conclude, therefore, that because the slide is in motion during this “critical to where the shot goes” time, this demonstrates that other forces acting on the gun at this same time — such as the resistance to the recoil from the shooter’s hand, wrist, arm, etc. — may cause the gun to move while the bullet is inside the barrel.
Muscle strength alone is insufficient to resist the exceedingly brief recoil when the gun is fired. The gun is going to move. The important question is, in what direction?
To achieve an accurate shot, resistance to the recoil must align perfectly with the shooter’s hand, forearm, elbow, upper arm, shoulder and body so that the gun moves directly in line with the intended flight path. If fully aligned, the barrel will move “straight back” and the bullet will depart the barrel in the desired direction. Conversely, any sideways or vertical motion that occurs during this brief time is likely to “throw off” the shot.
A good indicator of aligned resistance to recoil is the manner in which the gun moves throughout recoil. Straight back is good. To the left, right, up or down suggests there may be a problem.
A special thanks to Tripp Research for permission to reproduce these frames taken from their video at … This link no longer works, sorry: http://www.trippresearch.com/media/movement/hispeedgateway.html
This article presents my opinion on how to bring together several commonly heard recommendations on how to shoot better. And it comes to the rather surprising conclusion that most Bullseye shooters are using a less than perfect stance.
Readers have, very understandably, objected to my apparent pretentiousness and I must say that I too have had these very same qualms. I’ve asked myself, “Who am I to tell others how to shoot?”
This article was motivated by a desire to reconcile recommendations that seemed impossible to perform all at the same time, namely to use a hold that aligns recoil with the arm and, at the same time, aligns the sights with the eye without tilting the head or gun.
In my experiments to accomplish these recommendations simultaneously, I found there is only one stance that makes this physically possible.
But the fact that most shooters do not use that stance is, itself, good cause to question the importance of those commonly heard recommendations. (The relative importance of various recommendations is the topic of a later article.)
So, as you read this article, please keep the above issues in mind.
I had the range to myself this past Sunday morning and, after a few targets, I noticed something important and, because of it, I completely re-built my shooting stance right on the spot.
That experience allowed me to integrate several pieces of advice I’ve heard, and it also caused me to reject some common knowledge you’ll hear at just about any range with Bullseye shooters.
Because some of this flys in the face of common knowledge, I’ve gone to some length to back up these claims. Consequently, this is a significantly longer article than usual.
Specifically, I’m going to contend that a) you should have recoil coming straight up your arm and b), in order to do so, you simply cannot use a 45 degree stance. Put more strongly, if you are using a 45 degree stance, you aren’t shooting as well as you could. The stance is inherently flawed.
You can do better!
To prove that a 45 degree stance is incompatible with “recoil up the arm”, try this. (I’ll also describe why “recoil up the arm” is so essential but not just yet.)
This means that, to make the recoil come straight up your arm, that one angle found above is the only angle that will work. It’s the only arm-to-body angle where the sights line up with the eye in perfect alignment.
So why is that recoil coming straight up the arm so important?
The reason is that when the gun is fired, it moves backward against the hand an instant before the bullet leaves the barrel. If the wrist then moves because the force alignment with the arm is off, the muzzle will shift and throw off the shot.
Those with great upper body strength may be able to resist or minimize this, or they may be able to muster the exact same strength for each shot so the deflection is the same on each shot.
But for those of us who don’t have that strength and repeatability, we’ve simply got to align the recoil with our arm and body so everything moves straight back, first the trigger, then the gun, then our hand and into the arm as the recoil shoves backward.
On Sunday morning, recognizing I needed to line up the gun with my arm, I took my stance completely apart and re-assembled it starting at the trigger. I then worked my way back, joint by joint, until I ended at my feet. Holding that stance, I then shifted my feet until the sights were aligned on the bullseye.
My goal in all this was to integrate as much of the advice I’ve heard with all the “practical” I’ve seen, particularly that practiced by Masters and High Masters.
After all, they’re hitting the 10 and X rings a lot more than me.
What they are doing is obviously working.
The more of that I can do myself, the better my shooting should become.
And along the way, I learned a lot about the “why” of this stance, and also a lot about the conditions that may exist that cause some shooters to have to shoot differently, and what they have to do in order to compensate for those changes.
But before getting into all that, there are a couple of important observations to note.
Recoil going straight up the arm
(Click to enlarge)
This picture shows the desired gun-to-arm alignment.
In the diagrams that follow with one exception, that gun-to-arm alignment is constant — the recoil force is always lined up with the arm.
On Sunday, it took me a few shots to “settle in”. I then shot several pretty good targets. But after about two hours, my grip was starting to get pretty tired — with all my work travel, I don’t get to shoot with any regularity and, among other things, my grip strength and stamina have suffered. And as my grip went, so did my shooting. And over the past year (or more), this has invariably meant that all my shots start moving to the left. I’ve tried all sorts of solutions and some have helped, but none have completely cured the problem. By this time, I had become convinced that there was one underlying problem I had not yet resolved.
And now I think I know what it is — wrist angle!
To explain what I’m convinced was happening (and which was solved almost immediately on Sunday morning), I have enlisted the assistance of an artist’s mannequin, a digital camera and some photo editing software to make some diagrams of gun/wrist/arm and body alignment. What you will see through these is that, when the gun is perfectly lined up on the arm, there is only one shoulder/body angle that will line up the sights to the eye.
And what is not quite so obvious is that before the shot leaves the barrel, the recoil will drive the gun back into the shooter’s hand and if that hand isn’t lined up to transfer the recoil straight up the arm, those mis-aligned joints will cause the muzzle to move to the left (for a right-handed shooter).
Hence, as my grip becomes fatigued, my shots move left.
Zero (0) degree stance
With the mannequin’s assistance, we will look at the three common stance angles, 0, 45 and 90 degrees.
Each one is named for the angle the toes make with the firing line. In the diagrams that follow, the firing line runs vertically through the picture and the horizontal line goes to the target. The green line marks the shooter’s toes and, in this picture, you can see that green line, the tips of the shooter’s toes, are parallel to the firing line. This is a 0 degree stance.
The red line denotes the axis of the barrel lined up with the shooter’s arm. Going in the other direction and leaving the shooter’s hand, this is the path the bullet will take.
But as you can also see in this first diagram, the target’s direction from the shooter’s eye (blue line) does not line up with the gun sights. Indeed, the sight line (yellow) is so far off that the bullet may not even hit the shooter’s target!
The shooter could try to remedy this by moving his arm to the left and then rotating his wrist to the right to make the three lines all line up, red, blue and yellow.
Wrist cocked right to align sights
But rotating the wrist to the right like this moves the recoil force out of alignment with the shooter’s arm. Consequently, when the gun fires, the wrist will flex and throw the shot off. Also, the recoil force will then flex the shoulder and, again, the shot will be thrown off.
And finally, the recoil will then rotate the shooter’s body. Again, the shot is thrown out from what was a perfectly aligned shot. Wrist and shoulder and the entire body are torqued by the shot because the wrist was cocked to the right to bring the sights into alignment.
For a right-handed shooter with the muzzle cocked to the right, recoil will push the gun straight back but, since the support is to the gun’s right, the gun moves in the unsupported direction, to the left. This leftward motion occurs at the gun, in the wrist, in the shoulder and in the body’s rotation. They all move the gun to the left in recoil.
Nonetheless, there are a small number of excellent shooters who do this.
They get away with it because they have developed compensating pressures in grip, body trunk and muscles that perfectly offset these forces, and they do it over and over again.
Repeatability is, after all, one of the most important goals in this sport.
If you can release shots exactly the same way again and again, no matter how far out of skew they go, if you do it the same way each time you can just turn your body so they always hit the center of the target.
Sadly, I’m not that good. I can’t do things exactly the same way each time, at least not yet.
If I rotate my wrist to align the sights but, in so doing, let the recoil flex my wrist, shoulder and body, it’s going to throw the shot off, and it’s going to be different from one shot to the next. This just won’t work for me.
Head canted right with 0 degree stance
Another possible solution to this problem in the 0 degree stance is to tilt the head over to line up the eye with the gun’s axis which is, in turn, lined up with the arm.
Conversely, the gun can be tilted in to bring the sights into the line of sight.
And some shooters do a little of both.
Standing in the 0 degree stance with the gun tilted over one way and the head leaning the other, everything can be brought into alignment.
Well, just barely as the mannequin shows.
But there are at least two problems with this approach. First, if the gun is canted then the sight adjustments for up and down and left versus right are no longer lined up. Instead, you have to remember how much cant is applied and mentally rotate the target to figure out how much not-quite-up or how much not-quite-left to crank in when adjusting the sights.
Worse, if the head is canted, the inner ear begins telling the brain that the body is leaning. Although the brain will adequately compensate for this for a little while, if you continue to hold your head anywhere but perpendicular, eventually you will start to fall, become dizzy, or at a minimum, start to wobble. It is unavoidable.
If you don’t believe me, stand up, close your eyes and tilt you head to the side. Do this in a padded room because, before long you will start to feel, and see, these ill effects.
And if these happen while breaking a shot, your body will move and, with it, so will the gun.
Most shooters say they use a 45 degree stance and it is quite possible their toes actually are on a line that is angled 45 degrees away from the firing line, but look also at their bodies. Are they standing straight or is the body twisted one way or another?
Also, after shooters have “settled in” after several targets, look at their stance again. Have their feet moved? What about body twist?
As you probably know, generalizations are dangerous. And in the sport of Bullseye pistol shooting, there are an amazing number of shooters using some very interesting techniques, many of whom shoot quite well.
But, by and large, if you focus your attention on only the Master and High Master shooters, you will start to see less and less variation.
So I invite you to sit-out a target every now and then to observe, and observe the best shooters with a critical eye. Whether they intend to or not, they have a lot to teach us.
And be forewarned because you’ll need to look at a lot of them before some of the more subtle practices become apparent.
Notice the big things they all do right, but also notice the little quirks and try to figure out what effects those might have.
Then look for them.
45 degree stance
In this diagram you can see that the 45 degree stance brings the barrel’s axis closer to the body. As before, recoil is straight up the arm but, unfortunately and also as before, the sight line (yellow) isn’t perfectly lined up. If the shooter cocks his wrist to the right to align the sights, he will have to move his feet to bring them to bear on his target. He will no longer have his feet at a 45 degree angle. But this is of no major consequence — the primary sin here is in cocking the wrist to the right. Recoil will push the shot to the left and if the shooter doesn’t have enough stamina to exert the same wrist, shoulder and body torque resistance throughout the entire competition, his shots will start to splay out horizontally.
Regardless, many shooters use this stance, line up the sights and hit the X ring.
This begs the question, what are they doing to make this work?
Head canted with 45 degree stance
Tilt the head and/or cant the gun and things will line up. Indeed, tilting the head slightly forward into a more aggressive stance also helps line things up. This is quite common among good shooters.
But as before, tilting the head ultimately leads to a less stable stance because the brain is still receiving an “off-balance” signal from the inner ear.
People who take long airplane rides, myself included, can tell you that after several hours of being bounced around in the air, it takes hours to regain their normal stability.
For several hours after such a flight, I find myself slowly falling right or left and if it wasn’t for the walls of the hallway through which I walk, I’d fall over.
Many is the time I’ve stood in the kitchen talking to my wife after coming home from such a flight and, even while leaning on the counter, I still find myself sliding off to one side or the other.
If you tilt your head for a shot and then straighten it back up in between, you’re doing the same thing to your inner ear as happens to mine on a bumpy airplane flight. And that means you are going to wobble.
On the other hand, if you can stand with your head perfectly straight up, the inner ear will tell the brain everything is balanced, straight and normal, and the brain will leave all the muscles involved in keeping you upright just as they are.
And that means less wobble.
90 degree stance
Finally, here is a full 90 degree stance. The toes are perpendicular to the firing line and the head is rotated around and lined up with the sights. In this stance, we finally have complete alignment of the barrel’s axis, recoil up through the shooter’s arm, and the line of sight. (Note also that, in recoil, this is no twisting motion on the body. It is straight back through the upper body as well as through the arm.)
But use of this stance is fairly rare. For one thing, rotating the head a full 90 degrees is getting near the limit of what some people can do. I, for example, have a neck injury that makes this much rotation hard to achieve.
Secondly, it doesn’t feel as stable as the 45 degree stance. Although the recoil is better, the shooter’s body is now vulnerable to stiff winds down the shooting line and moving the feet to counteract that ruins the recoil recovery.
Although better for the shot, this stance may be more difficult to maintain for long periods of time.
Assuming the shooter develops the needed stamina which is, after all, simply standing straight and in one place for extended periods, this does appear to be the best stance.
Remember earlier I mentioned that most shooters thought they used a 45 degree stance?
Well, if you look closely, I contend you’ll see that many of these top shooters are actually standing at a steeper angle. Sixty to seventy-five or more degrees is not all that unusual from what I’ve seen.
Slightly less than 90 degree stance
In this diagram, we see this “almost 90 degree” stance. This stance was selected for the mannequin because it comes closest to lining up where the mannequin’s eye should be which is, of course, slightly off-center in the face, with the line running from gun up the arm and into the shoulder.
And this “almost 90” stance is what I ended up with on Sunday morning. After rebuilding my stance from the trigger and on back from there, I found I just couldn’t do a full 90 degree stance. My neck just hurt too much.
So I compromised.
I shifted my feet ever so slightly, tilted the gun left just a smidgen until everything lined up. My head is straight up without any tilt.
And the recoil is almost coming straight up my arm, and certainly much more so than it was in the 45 degree stance.
The exact “almost 90” angle for other shooters will, of course, vary slightly with each individual. It will vary depending on the position of the eyes in the shooter’s face — are they widely separated or close together, the location of the shoulders forward or back on the body, and as before, a slight cant of the gun or even a small head tilt may also be needed. In some individuals, the forward “aggressive” posture may be sufficient to line things up. And if the head has to be tilted, hopefully the off-balance error signal will be sufficiently small as to be either ignored by the brain, or insignificant during the time of the shot. (Given enough time, however, the body will wobble as the brain tries to shift the body back into what it thinks will be a correctly balanced position, and the gun will wobble as it does so.)
Another view of the slightly
less than 90 degree stance
Here’s that same “almost 90” stance from a slightly different viewpoint. You can see that the shooter’s toes are slightly moved back toward the 45 degree position and, although the angle shown here is quite steep, in practice I think you’ll find angles greater than 45 to be surprisingly common especially among the top shooters.
For my aching neck, I now use this “almost 90” degree stance. I have a small amount of tilt on the gun, perhaps 15 degrees or so but I ignore it when adjusting the sights — my wobbly hold more than drowns out the small error that results.
And best of all, my left-to-right spread has dramatically improved and I’m convinced that is because I’ve gotten rid of all those angles. Everything just naturally lines up and I’m just as comfortable as can be. I could stand just like this for hours. Well, certainly for a “long” time anyway because it feels natural, nothing feels strained.
See you on the line!