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.

Eternity.

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.

Bang!

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.

Practice: Moving the Trigger Straight Back

Don’t have an unloaded handgun to practice with? No problem. Here’s how to practice moving the trigger finger straight back. You can do this standing or sitting, any time day or night. All it needs is your attention and a credit card.

  1. Hold your arm, wrist and fingers the same as when you are holding the handgun.
  2. Hold a credit card vertically in your hand between the point on your trigger finger where you place the trigger and the web between thumb and finger where the back of the gun normally sits. Only the trigger finger and the web should touch the credit card.
  3. Check the alignment: You should be seeing the credit card “edge on”. Eye, “front sight” and “rear sight”, the vertical edges of the credit card, should all be lined up.
  4. Focus on the near edge of the credit card and then slowly pressure the trigger finger straight back.
  5. The credit card should stay perfectly aligned with the eye.

Do you also have a GripMaster exerciser?

  1. Hold it upside down and low in the hand with the middle two gripping fingers on what are now the “top” two finger spring pads. Note that, as when holding a handgun, the middle joint of the gripping fingers, not the finger tips, will hold the GripMaster.
  2. Then, add the credit card between trigger-finger-position and web similar to before.
  3. Compress the springs of the gripmaster with the middle two fingers and, thereby, grip the “gun” (GripMaster).
  4. Focus on the credit card as before and pressure the trigger finger straight back. You should continue to see the credit card “edge on” at all times.

Alternatively:

  1. Hold the GripMaster normally.
  2. Fully compress the middle two springs with the middle two fingers.
  3. Practice pressing the trigger finger spring slowly but fully.
  4. Note that the middle two springs must be fully compressed throughout this exercise. If they aren’t, when the trigger finger spring is pressed, it will change the tension on the middle two springs and everything will move as you pull the trigger. Instead, you want everything to remain locked and still as you move the trigger. This is called “trigger finger independence”.

FYI: If you are shooting 45 ACP 1911 or other large caliber handgun, you will probably want the “heavy” (9 lb. spring) model GripMaster (http://www.gripmaster.net). (Their webpage lists this model as appropriate for those needing to do “weapon retention”.)

Shooting Strange Guns

I travel for a living. My job often sends me out on a Monday and home again on Friday but sometimes there’s a Sunday “out” or a Saturday “back” day. As such, it’s difficult for me to shoot the Tuesday evening Nighthawks here in Phoenix. Worse, I often miss the once-a-month 2700s on Sundays when an outbound leg starts with a mid-afternoon flight.

So, I try to find weeknight leagues in which to shoot at my destination. In so doing, I shoot at a lot of different ranges, experience the occasional “unique to this range” rules, and most enjoyably, I get to meet a lot of really nice people.

On occasion, however, I travel to places that aren’t particularly “gun friendly.” That is, the local laws either prohibit or otherwise discourage me from bringing my own guns. And some airlines are even more un-friendly in this regard.

But even when gun-less on my travels, I still like go to local events. The people are still friendly and it’s still a sport I enjoy even if I don’t shoot. I look at the guns and talk with the owners, watch how the shooter’s shoot (and note the consequent results) and enjoy my “night out” from work.

And as you might imagine, shooters offer their backup guns (and ammo!) to let me shoot on an almost unfailing basis. I’m more than a little embarassed to count up how often I’ve shot someone else’s gun and ammo only to leave them a dirty gun and empty brass. (I do try to sneak a couple of bucks to the owner to make up for what I’ve consumed but, having cleaned my own 1911s many times, I know there’s nothing I can do to compensate them for their time. I am truly grateful.)

But it does give me a chance to shoot a lot of different guns and, over that experience, I’ve started to form some opinions about how to adapt to different grips and triggers and, much to my surprise, I find that what’s important aren’t competition versus slab grips, dots versus iron sights or flat versus arched mainspring housing. But before I tell you “the secret”, let me tell you the routine I’ve developed for shooting a strange gun in Bullseye competition.

First, with a borrowed gun, one of my cardinal rules is to leave the gun with the same adjustments as when I started. If I need six clicks up, I’m always careful to crank six clicks down before returning the gun. And the same for the dot size: I’ve started shooting with a big orange dot but I try to note what the owner prefers and put it back that way when I’m done.

But for a competition grip, that pretty much means I can’t move the palm shelf up or down. There are no marks and it would be difficult to get it back to the original position. This means that “grip” is often less than ideal. Indeed, there is almost always some awkwardness and, in many cases, it’s just downright close to painful. I’ve shot some competition grips where my (big) hand could only be jammed in as far as my knuckles while leaving most of my hand hanging out the back. Other times, holding the grips felt like hanging on to a 3″ diameter piece of pipe with no contact above or below my hand. (If I can’t hang on to the gun safely, I don’t shoot. This has only come up once.)

Ideal finger placement on the trigger is often impossible. Indeed, sometimes even a “reasonable placement” can be beyond my ability to control. If I can’t get my hand into the grip, odds are I’m just barely going to be able to reach the trigger with the tip of the finger. Or if the grip is like that of a broom handle, my finger will be all the way through the trigger guard and in danger of going well beyond the first knuckle.

All of that is noticed and dealt with before ever raising the gun to see how the sights line up with my eye. And in most cases, the gun is pointed off at some scarey angle or, at a minimum, at a target three or four positions away from mine. So I have to stop, try and adjust how and where the gun fits in my hand, and in some cases, horror of horror, I even have to bend my wrist to make eye, rear sight and front sight all line up.

Once that’s accomplished (and I shuffle my feet so I’m then lined up on my target), it’s time to learn the trigger.

“Learn the trigger.” Now there’s an understatement!

I have been utterly astonished at the variety of triggers I’ve experienced. Some guns have a lot of take-up, some have virtually none. Some have a long springy feel followed by a larger amount of resistance, others have virtually none. Some slide smooth as glass from there until the shot breaks, some feel like I’m pushing a red brick across a slab of concrete (fortunately there aren’t too many of those), and some have virtually no movement whatsoever before the break. There are the “gee, was that even two pounds?” triggers, the “is the safety still on or something?” triggers, and the “ooh, that was nice!” triggers.

I carry half a dozen 22LR dummy rounds so I can dry fire the target guns of that caliber since you aren’t supposed to dry fire many of them. And with the center fire guns, I always ask the owner, “May I dry fire it?”

But during a weeknight league, everyone isn’t standing around waiting on me to learn the gun. Instead, I get a quick “here’s how this gun operates” lesson from the owner and then it’s time for the first Slow Fire target. I will use up several of that first target’s ten minutes working out these details.

One of the hardest things to figure out during this time is how to move the trigger straight back. With different guns, my trigger finger lands on the trigger in different ways. Sometimes it is flat and at a right angle but, when the grip fits me poorly, sometimes all I can manage is a finger tip at a steep angle. Consequently, each gun requires a different way of moving the trigger finger in order to get that straight back direction.

Heavy triggers with big fat grips are particularly challenging because it’s hard to get the trigger finger “around there” and flat on the trigger. Instead, if all that can be managed is a finger tip at an angle, mustering enough strength to pressure it straight back can require an inordinate amount of effort. And that has to be done over and over throughout the evening.

At the Sunnyvale (California) Gun Club on a recent Wednesday evening, I had the privilege of shooting a Hammerli 280 with iron sights (thanks, Liz) and then a Masaki 1911 set up for wad ammo with a red dot (thank you, Norman).

For those who don’t know, the very, very, very best handguns are referred to not by their manufacturers but, rather, by the name of the gunsmith who worked on them. Well, Ed Masaki had brought this particular 1911 to utter perfection. His work is legend in the sport. Shooters wait years — I’m not exaggerating — for one of his guns.

The slide on this 1911 was bank vault tight and moved just as smoothly. Shooting the wad loads, the action was so silky I hardly noticed the recoil. If it hadn’t been for the loud bang when the round fired, I would have removed my hearing protection just to hear the gun cycle.

Both the Hammerli and the Masaki shot magnificently that evening. I shot a (respectable for me) 531-7 out of 600 with the Hammerli. That’s 88.5% with iron sights, well into my current SharpShooter ranking. I was happy with that.

Ah, but the Masaki was another story, I’m afraid. Perhaps I was over-confident. Perhaps I rushed through the preparations. Clearly, I didn’t dry-fire enough to figure out that straight back motion because it seemed that after every shot, the gun would turn to me slightly and say, “You pushed me left on that shot.” We (me and the gun) would hunker down for another shot but, again, the gun would sneer, “Nope, you flipped me a little bit left again.”

And just as I was tempted to crank in 2-3″ right on the sight, everything would feel perfect and we would shoot an X.

“There,” the gun would seem to say, “you did me just right. See what we can do?”

But sadly, the repeatable fine control needed to shoot straight at 50 or even at 25 yards with that gun was beyond me that night. I knew it could be done, could do it every now and then, but doing it over and over again was more than I could manage that night.

So, what have I learned from all this, you might ask? Is it better to stick with one gun and learn to shoot it accurately before starting over with another gun? Or is there profit to be had in shooting many different guns and “dealing with” the issues and learning to shoot in spite of them?

What I’ve found is that in both approaches, the lessons to be learned are the same. Regardless of whether you want to shoot one gun or many guns, regardless of whether you prefer red dots or irons, slab or competition grips, roll or crisp or light or heavy triggers, the one (1) thing to be learned is the same.

The one (1) thing to be learned is to align the sights and move the trigger straight back.

Everything thing else can be adjusted, compensated, ignored, held funny, squished awkwardly, accompanied with long slow “effort noises” or whatever else might be needed.

Just align the sights and move the trigger straight back, that’s all.

Everything else is minor. Everything else can be imperfect. Everything else is irrelevent.

Align the sights and move the trigger straight back.

Don’t think, just do it.

That’s it. Straight back now…

BANG!

X!

There, see? You can do it!

Align the sights and move the trigger straight back.

Good.

Now, let’s try it again.

(Thanks, coach!)

Consolidation

The Learning Process takes place in a couple of radically different phases.

The first comes when we have some experience that ignites the quest for learning. When the interest is deep, that flame may flicker over time but it doesn’t go out. Instead it may come and go like the phases of the moon.

For Bulleye, the spark that started me down this path happened a couple of years ago when a friend at work took me shooting. That spark manifested itself in a cowboy six shooter firing 357 magnum rounds. Boy, was that a bad choice for the beginner — I was terrible and that huge explosion made it all the worse. Nonetheless, one of my best memories is a shot fired from that gun with my adult son behind me and the huge blast of incadescent gas. I heard him exclaim, “Woah!” and it had been a long time since Dad had impressed his Son like that. It brought back some forgotten father/son memories. And I cherished the moment for that.

The second phase of learning is when we actively take in new knowledge. This may come from books, from watching others, from advice read on the Bullseye-L list or from innumerable other sources. Studying takes place.

You name it and I’ve probably got it on my book shelf, or probably it’s on loan to someone (and probably not coming back). Elmer Keith is there, so are Jerry Kuhnhausen and Robert A. Rinker. The Pistol Marksmanship Guide from the USAMU gets a re-read from time to time as does The Pistol Shooter’s Treasury from Gil Hebard. And there are a dozen other books from shooters in related disciplines who all have something instructive to add. I’ve got the Bullseye DVD from the CMP and the more recent dry-fire practice DVD from Tillman Eddy. They’re all good. They all have something to teach.

Training falls into this same phase. Whether you train with a coach who watches, suggests and corrects, or whether you train by watching yourself and, comparing your performance to others or what you’ve read, training is learning.

Every source of information, whether a book or an instructor, has a different way of teaching. I suppose there may be those who can read one book or take one session from a coach and then go and do it perfectly but that’s not me. With all the distractions in my life including family and work, house and friends, taxes and television, Bullseye has been a long climb.

For me, I need those different ways of saying many of the same things, reading, watching and coaching, so I can get it.

Call me dense. Ok, I’m dense.

Call me stubborn. Ok, I’m stubborn.

But you can also call me persistent, dogged and determined.

Because I’ve always known that just getting it isn’t enough. In Bullseye, you’ve also got to do it. And as I’m sure you all know, knowing and doing are two very different things.

Bullseye isn’t a written test where you get a written score. Bullseye is about doing, about performing when it matters.

Moving from knowing to doing is where most of us spend a lot of time and ammo.
And that transition involves an intermediate phase, the third in the learning process. This third phase has two activities, practice and consolidation. Practice what you’ve learned and consolidate it with what you are already doing.

Sometimes the consolidation is easy. The new skill just fits right in. Other times, a new skill wrecks what used to work and you have to go back and reassemble the picture with new answers.

Well, for the past several months, my progress shooting Bullseye has been difficult to see from the score card. Indeed, it looks like I’ve slid backward; my scores with the 1911s (both wad and ball, red dot and irons) have declined or only made, at best, no more than nominal improvement. And my 22 scores have not progressed to any substantial degree.

To the outsider and perhaps to those who stood at the line at yesterday’s practice 2700 in Phoenix, my performance now is perplexing. It certainly was to me. My scores were down and some of what I used to do fairly well didn’t happen. I was disappointed as my scores plummeted from CF to 45 even though I was shooting the same gun and, to no small degree, I was perplexed at my performance.

But, with a night’s sleep to put things in perspective, I think I’m right about something I’ve been suspecting about my shooting. That is, for several weeks I’ve started to feel that I don’t really understand “trigger control”. I can tell you the definition but, to borrow a word from science fiction author Robert Heinlein, I don’t “Grok” trigger control.

Suddenly, I know what it is that I don’t know: I don’t know how to control the trigger.

I have consolidated a lot of lessons and that’s good.

All of the things I’ve been reading, trying, practicing, rejecting and trying something else before ultimately accepting what works for me, and then occasionally discovering that what worked at one level of ability becomes counter-productive later and that I’ve got to sometimes go back to the basics and re-learn old teaching for new lessons, … all of that has been consolidated into a bundle I will now call “the basics.”

I know how to stand. I know my NPA. I know how to grip all my guns, and each of my guns. I know where my trigger finger needs to be on each of their triggers and where I need to feel the pressure.

All of that knowledge is consolidated. When I go to the line and get ready to shoot, it all just happens. I know what to do.

And with all of those basics nicely packaged and in place, I now discover that I really don’t know how to shoot.

Intellectually, I know how the muscles in my hand need to feel to move the trigger straight back, but I don’t know. The “I” in this is the whole creature that is me: brain, bones, muscles, fibers, nerves and fluids. The brain knows but the rest of the creature doesn’t.

The bottom line is that “I” don’t know how to move that trigger straight back without disturbing the sights.

I can hit the “X” but when I do it, it’s not through trigger control. It’s luck, it’s snatching the trigger at the right time and in the right way, but only rarely is it moving the trigger straight back without disturbing the sights.

I need to learn that.

And Bullseye isn’t about doing it just once.

I’ve raised the gun, done everything right and shot an “X” on the very first shot of several matches. But to do that again, and again, and again for 269 more shots (or 299 if there’s a leg match) is quite something else.

Some will say that the most important lessons to learn in Bullseye are sight alignment and trigger control. Having the basics somewhat in place, I am beginning to understand not only how vital those two are, but also just how difficult they are to master.

Knowing and doing are two different things. But I would add that doing and doing on demand are, again, two different things.

In this period of consolidation for the past several months, I’ve begun to suspect that “mastering” the basics is a good, valuable and essential first step, but no more than that. It’s a good start.

What remains is to master sight alignment and trigger control, and to not do it just once or twice per target or match but truly master them and do them again, and again, and again, round after round, target after target, match after match.

My admiration of shooters in the High Master category has skyrocketed in the past few months. I now have a very small inkling of understanding of what they do and it is truly awesome.

Now when I watch someone who hits that 10 ring over and over — Steve Reiter cleaned two slow fire targets yesterday — I am at a loss for words.

I’m not being trite when I say, “Nice shot!” Instead, I am dumbfounded.

I know that everyone single one of those shots truly was a “Nice shot!”

The tasks before me are to consolidate the learned skills but then to focus on the front sight and move the trigger straight back.

Trigger control.

It’s time for me to learn some trigger control.

So simple.

So hard.

Feel the Wiggle

For what it may be worth, I learned something unexpected in dry-fire. Whether or not I need to keep that lesson or if it was just a stepping stone along the way, I don’t know.

Regardless, here it is.

In dry-fire, I noticed there is a small amount of lateral play in the triggers on my 1911s. And in trying 1911s that belong to others, I also noticed it in theirs as well. I presume it is present in all 1911s, to greater or lesser degree it is true, but it seems to always be there.

I’m only talking a fraction of a millimeter but to the sensitive finger-tip, it’s very definately there. I can feel it.

Part of my trigger preparation now is to “feel” for that left-to-right movement and to position the trigger in the middle of it.

What I think is happening is that, inside the gun’s frame, the harp of the trigger is “floating” — it is not touching the frame or magazine on either side. Instead, the trigger is, if you will, “standing” on the sear. There is no other contact inside the frame.

The release I subsequently get is far more likely to be straighter back than if I just feel for where the trigger and finger come into contact. Don’t misunderstand. I still have to get trigger and finger in the exact same contact but I then also do the lateral wobble to feel the movement and finally place the trigger right in the middle of that space. The trigger feels like it is balanced on a point deep inside the gun.

I mentioned this to John Zurek but he looked at me like I was nuts. (Well, maybe I am.) John might have said something like, “You’re gettin’ way too analytical, Ed.”

Well, there is certainly some truth to that. It is an occupational hazard, and my wife would certainly say it annoys her to no end sometimes.

Yeah, I’m an analytical kind of guy. Guilty as charged.

But whether it is too analytical or not, I don’t care because, frankly, it works!

I am suddenly (well, not so suddenly — it’s been a looong time coming) getting some really nice releases and a much improved “score” on calling those shots. The holes in the target are right where I saw them, dead on and my Slow Fire is up 10+ points.

Unfortunately, Timed and Rapid Fire, especially Rapid, start good but then I fall into old habits. The first shot or two are straight back and hit the target very nicely, but then the rhythm-monster takes over inside my head and my whole body spasms to yank the shots off “in tempo”. I’m also a musician and, boy, can I keep a steady beat. But in Rapid Fire, I don’t consistently follow through, don’t get the sights back on the target, but the “beat” is there and the gun fires precisely on the beat, forget the target thank you very much.

And most noticeably, there’s always this same circular motion that starts as the gun comes down out of recoil and enters the black. At that point, something takes over and the gun takes off to the right, moves out of the black, neatly circles down and completely around the black, and the shot goes when the aim point reaches jerk land sometimes with an extra jerk in there just to show me who’s really in control here.

“Oh no, it’s the jerk,” I could almost scream.

The monster is in control and, oh yeah, the holes are gonna be down and left.

“Ragged Fire” is going to take time.

But getting that trigger under control in Slow Fire, in finding a mantra that enables me to move that trigger straight back, well, it’s a major revelation!

Is this something good shooters have to think of? Almost certainly not. Most shooters, I’m just about convinced, learn by watching and doing. As infants, we learn how to learn by observation. Let a child see a step-stool in use and they’ll soon be climbing the furniture and onto the counter. Most things in life we learn by watching and most of the things I’ve learned about shooting, I’ve learned by watching others.

Is this something good shooters have to do but aren’t necessarily aware that they’re doing it? Again, the answer is probably no. What is essential seems to be moving the trigger straight back. If you can do that with the harp pressed up against the inside of the frame, that’s fine. What matters is the hole in the target.

But is this something I needed to discover so I could find a way (not necessarily the only way) of getting a clean release?

To that, my answer is an emphatic, “Yes!”

It was the step that moved me through a tough road block.

For the next several weeks (and years?) I’ll be in the process of cementing that lesson into place in head and body. Repetition is the way that’s done. I’ll write it up for my Shot Plan and tape it into my gun box. I’ll read it often and mentally say the steps to myself many, many times.

  • “Okay, raise the gun so the sights are just above the bull.
  • “Find the dot. See the dot. Focus on the dot.
  • “Now, place the finger carefully on the trigger right there on the pad of my finger, and right there on the trigger.
  • “Put on a slight pressure so you feel the contact with the trigger more on the lower part of the finger rather than the upper.
  • “Next, gently move the trigger left and right. Do you feel the free space? Move it again if you don’t. You’ve got to find it. [Put the gun down and start over if you can’t find the free space.]
  • “Okay, position the trigger right in the middle of the space and add a tiny bit of pressure to keep it there.
  • “Come down into the bull and into the aim point.
  • “Let the wobble happen — it will diminish and when it does, my unconscious mind will move the trigger straight back through that free space and the shot will go straight to the target.
  • “Okay, stay on the dot, … the dot … the dot … ohmmmmmmmmmmmmmm… Bang!”

With repetition, that straight back movement will eventually dominate what’s happening in Timed and Rapid Fire. It will come.

Ultimately, the evil “jerk” will be banished.

His days are numbered.

Hooray!

Bang! Bang, bang, bang, bang, bang!

I’ve been concentrating on the 45 hardball gun for several weeks (seems like months) and other than two 900s per month on the 22 and 45 wad gun, I’ve been shooting almost nothing else. I probably shoot 4X as much hardball as anything else right now, all on the theory that shooting the more difficult gun will teach me more and, in turn, help the other guns.

I think this is basically true, but there seem to be at least two limiting or otherwise extenuating factors, both of which have become prominent, and real problems.

By way of explaining, let me say that at last night’s league 900, my shooting was dismal with the hardball gun. I only succeeded in calling maybe one shot in ten. All the rest went somewhere wildly different than I thought. Or when I thought I’d heeled a shot up a little, it would hit the very top of the target “way up there” instead of just a little up that I thought I had done. My score for the 900 was a depressing 626-3 (70% but only because it rounds up that way).

I knew last night what was wrong: I have no trigger control with that gun. Instead, when the iron sights waggle into the right place on the target, I’m snatching the shot and, of
course, yanking it all over the paper. Timed Fire is the only place I can establish any semblance of smoothness and that’s only by ignoring where the gun is aimed and just focusing on a smooth trigger finger movement. But I can’t even do that consistently so even in Timed Fire more than half my shots go down and left into jerk-land.

Dry fire will, I’m sure, fix this but, well, dry firing is just not much fun. There’s no flash, no kick, no bang and no smoke. You tell me where’s the fun in that?

So, that’s the first issue, trigger control. The good part of that is it’s a core issue: everyone struggles with it, occasionally even the High Masters. To be specific, I find it enormously reassuring when I’m standing at the line shooting slow fire and I hear one of the High Masters next to me release a shot and immediately mumble, “Damn!” (I love my amplified ear protectors!) I’ve heard Steve Reiter, several (three?) time Perry (US) champion, curse that he “jerked an eight” (I should be so good!). And I’ve heard John Zurek, US Olympic shooting team member, say almost the same thing.

Trigger control is the big one in this sport. Everything else is foundation and it all has to be there, but if you can’t release a shot cleanly, the rest of it just doesn’t matter.

The second issue, at least for me, goes by a couple of names including ego and confidence. Basically, when I get frustrated amd things aren’t going well, I can sometimes pull myself together and recover, but there are also those times when it just goes completely to pot. Last night was one of the latter because things just got worse and worse as the evening went on.

One of the very accomplished shooters last night commented his progress was like a badly cut saw: overall his scores are getting better and better, but only if you look at them over the span of several *months*. Looking at individual match scores, he said it is hard to see the progress, and sometimes very discouraging if you limit your vision to just one or two matches. You have to take the long view not only of what this sport is going to take, but also of each individual’s progress. For most of us, it is a long, slow and uneven road.

In a related vein, I’ve noticed that when new shooters come to the league, the others are encouraging and helpful to a degree but the really focused and patient help, the coaching
that really matters, doesn’t come out for a while. Some might say they are waiting while the newcomer “pays his dues” but I think it’s something else. I think the experienced shooters intuitively know this sport is going to take time and present an awful lot of frustrations. I think they are unconsciously waiting to see if the newcomer has the determination to stick with it. The experienced Bullseye shooters know these lessons take a long time to learn, especially the one called “trigger control” and if someone is going to give up after as little as just a couple of years of trying then, hell, why bother showing them something that’s going to take a decade and more to master?

But speaking only for myself, my ego took a real beating last night and, frankly, it needs some TLC. So I am going to put away the hardball gun for a while. I need some successes.
I’m going to shoot some 22 for a couple of weeks to boost my ego, and thereby my confidence. With the 22, I will again see that I can shoot, and that I can shoot pretty darn well, sometimes in the low Expert range. Hell, I even cleaned a target with that gun in an authorized competition. I need some time with that gun to rebuild my confidence, to boost my ego, and maybe to get a little angry at myself so that, when I do pick up the hardball gun again, I’ll have the determination to push through some more of that oh-so-valuable but oh-so-painful “learning experience.”

For me, it’s time for some fun and plain old self-gratification. I’m gonna forget the seriousness for a little bit and just enjoy making a big bang, a bright flash and a lot of smoke.

And, come to think of it, not worrying about where the gun is aimed (other than “in a safe direction”) will give me the perfect opportunity to practice just moving the trigger smoothly and not worrying about where it’s going to hit the target.

As Coach Pat would sometimes say, “Shoot, make noise, have fun!”

I love this sport almost as much as I love the people who shoot. (Ah, don’t get wierd guys. “Love” is a relative word, okay?) Having the opportunity to stand next to and try to do
the same thing as world class athletes is incredible, and when we’re walking back and forth to the targets and they say something like, “You know, I noticed you’re doing something when you shoot — let me show you a different way of doing that — it might be helpful” — well, what are the odds of a poor duffer getting a personal tip from Tiger Woods who just watched you muff the tee shot? But in Bullseye, it happens, and not just once a lifetime.

Bang!

Bang, bang, bang, bang, bang.

Oh yeah!

The Watched Pot Never Boils

Something interesting has been happening the past few weeks.

As anyone who visits this blog on a regular basis may have noticed, I haven’t been writing much. Initially this was due to “the bug” that was making its way through seemingly everyone in my extended family. The grandbaby had it, her parents, we got it, the grandaughter and her family then had it, then my wife developed a pneumonia ’cause she wasn’t quite over it after all … And through all that, I wasn’t doing much shooting, just a lot of reloading and dreaming.

This past Saturday, we shot an L Match. For those who haven’t done one, it’s basically a two gun event, a 900 (90 shots) with a 22 and another 900 (90 shots) with a centerfire. But the rings on the target are decidedly bigger and so everyone has a good chance of getting a much higher numerical score.

The best shooters are intensely focused on putting every shot into the X ring. That’s where the overall winner will be decided.

I’m not in that category, of course. Instead, I just focused on doing the best I could.

But I *did* do something a little different. What I did was to pour almost all my attention into keeping my self intensely interested in what the dot was doing.

That’s gotta be the hardest way to say, “Watch the dot” but those three words belie what I was doing. They just don’t capture it. So please let me say it again:

I concentrated on staying with the dot as it waggled around in the scope. I followed it (with my attention) as it went over there, and then over here. I tracked it as it went up, then down. I just stayed with it whereever it went and, somewhere in all that, “BANG!” The shot went.

That’s the first part of the story.

Here’s the second part.

Move the trigger straight back, perfectly smooth.

Last Saturday, I was able to (sometimes) do both of those things simultaneously, and without having to consciously think about them while “doing” the shot.

And my scores (in the larger L Match targets) were decidedly closer to center and with fewer jerks.

Other shooters, upon hearing my description of how this all felt, have said, “You were in the zone, Ed.”

And I must say, it was a grand experience. The shots went with no concious effort but rather a recognition, an instant after the fact, that everything was in the right place. And it punched an X or a good solid 10.

But I do have to temper my excitement — the rings in the L Match targets are definately bigger than what I’m accustomed to shooting so my shots would certainly seem better for that reason alone.

But in Timed Fire, something really wonderful happened so I know what I experienced on Saturday is not just because of the size of the target rings.

In fact, what happened was that I totally blew the first string. My first five shots on that Timed Fire target were strung out from “no score jerk land” (low and left) in a line into about the 8 ring. I jerked every shot. Gak!

As I reloaded the magazine, I quietly said to myself (hey, with the hearing protection, no one can hear what I’m saying, right?), “Move the trigger straight back, smooothly, float the harp in the middle of the channel up and down and left and right, remember how that feels when it just smoothly goes straight back.”

I raised the gun and when the target turned for the second string, everything came into place and each of the five shots went right through the X ring. Damn! All five in a row were Xs!! Wow!!!

 

Precision pistol shooting is a bunch of basic skills. Each of them must be understood, practiced with great attention to detail, errors noticed and corrected time and time again, and then practiced in context while the next basic skill is similarly perfected. Each skill warps all the previous ones and the learner has to go back and go over them again and again.

But when it comes time to “shoot the X”, all of that has to be flushed out of the head. All of the skills have to be there, but not in the head.

Last Saturday, I watched the dot, I mean *really* watch the dot, and I moved the trigger smoothly and straight back, all at the same time and for what feels like it must have been the very first time together, and shot the heck out of the center of the target.

Practice, practice, practice, yes. But when it’s time to shoot, fill up the pot, turn up the heat, but then walk away and let the pot cook.

It will boil, but only if you get it ready and then just let it cook.

The Internal Coach

I tried a slight modification to the approach I recently wrote about. Specifically, although I still try to release all thoughts and self-talk during a shot, after I’ve released the shot and lowered the gun, that’s when I do something different.

I let the coach talk to me then.

This “coach” is entirely inside my head. Basically he silently watches me shoot and then, as may be indicated, he makes a suggestion or two, but then moves quietly back to observe again for the next shot.

To tell you how I found this internal coach, I have to go back to the beginning.

When I first started shooting Bullseye, I received a lot of one-on-one (live) coaching. Coach Pat was ex-Marine, ex-shooting coach, and an all around interesting individual. He was the consummate coach and would change his coaching technique as he came to know me better, as my technique improved, or didn’t, and as would fit his demeanor for the day.

He would say, “My rate is twenty bucks until one of us gets tired or pissed off.”

And Coach Pat was very effective. When grooming an internal coach, the same changes in strategy Coach Pat would use might also be effective.

For example, on my first lesson with Coach Pat, we spent what I thought was a surprising amount of time just learning how to stand. My internal coach doesn’t spend that much time when I move to the line now but, nonetheless, he talks me through getting my stance set so my Natural Point of Aim (NPA) falls dead-on the bullseye.

And preparing for a string, my internal coach might remind me, for example, that “This is Timed Fire. You will have a lot of time for each shot. Take your time and settle each one in.”

But once I start to raise the gun, the coach goes silent.

Or rather, I start letting those thoughts go. Thereafter, when words come to mind, I just let them go without repeating or thinking about what they say. After a few seconds, there will be silence. I let the silence settle over me as I start watching the sights (well, the red dot actually) and just keep doing that until the shot goes.

After the shot has gone, I continue the silence until I recover the sight picture and then start to put the gun down.

I then announce where the shot went.

“Eight o’clock, seven ring,” for example.

The internal coach now moves up beside me and is free to speak.

“Do you know what happened on that one?” he might ask.

“Yeah,” I would tell him, “I heard myself say, ‘Ooh, that looks good, shoot now!’ and so I jerked the shot.”

Nodding his head, the coach might say, “Focus solely on the dot this time. If any thought of the trigger enters your mind, abort the shot and put the gun down, and then try again. Focus on the dot. Focus on the dot.”

Coach will step back then as I quiet my mind and do the next shot.

 

Some comments are in order about this mental coaching technique.

  1. First, in selecting a live coach, you will want someone who both knows about shooting and who is also a good people-person. If you’re going to use an internal coach, the same requirements apply. Obviously, you will want to be as educated as possible about shooting so you give yourself good advice. That’s why the “internal coach” won’t work for beginners: they don’t know what to do yet. The needed education can be acquired, in large part, through books and I won’t go into which one(s) I prefer here. My approach was to read a lot and take a little from each source.

    But you won’t find much on coaching in books. For that, you’ll need to get some first-hand experience, and preferably from more than one individual because the coach/coached relationship is a very personal thing. Your personalities have to mesh to a certain degree or it just won’t work.

    So, how do you find a good coach? Well, you don’t actually. What you do is try different people and eventually you luck into a good coach. You can start with the shooter to your right or left the next time you go shooting. Obviously you want someone who seems to shoot fairly well, but the funny thing is that a good coach needs to know how to help others shoot well, not necessarily themselves. So if they shoot “Ok” (or better), that person could be the right coach for you.

    Between targets, lean over and ask them, “Excuse me but could you watch me shoot a couple of shots and see if you see me doing anything wrong? I’d really appreciate any suggestions you might make.”

    Do that several times and, somewhere in all those shooters you’ll find a good coach. Much of your internal coach will be modelled on that person’s behavior.

    So, you will also want your internal coach to be a people-person. That means he (or she) has to like you, to want to see you succeed, and to have an endless supply of patience. You may have to groom your internal coach if he doesn’t initially have all of these qualities. But luckily, and unlike real people, your internal coach can become whatever you want him to be. You’ll just have to guide him from time to time. For example, it’s Okay to tell your internal coach, “I know you’re frustrated with me. I am too, so please cut me some slack. We’re in this together, after all.” And he is, and he will.

  2. Achieving that mental silence as you release a shot sounds easy but, in practice, may be difficult to do. Some days I just naturally seem to drop right in whereas on others, it’s like there’s a meeting in the conference room and everyone is clammoring for my attention at the same time. Some times it’s all I can do to get a few seconds of peace. But once achieved, the next few moments of peace are a little easier to find and they last a little longer.

    I took a class in Buddhist Meditation once many years ago and then practiced it for a little while. I’ve fallen away from it as a regular practice now but sometimes when hiking in the desert or a wooded forest, I’ll find that same, word-less peace. And some say that silent prayer, just listening instead of “talking”, just being quiet and letting all thoughts go in a time of prayer feels like a similar state. Practicing these other methods of mind-quieting will help you repeat it at will. (Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, refers to a state of “Mindfullness” that is what may be needed for shooting. Your mind is quiet but alert and attentive. He is one of my favorite authors and his books are widely available.)

  3. Aborting a shot is something I need to do much more often. Thoughts of the trigger, of wanting the shot to go because I see the dot grow still and sitting dead-on the X, of beginning to grow tired of waiting for the shot to go — all of these are signs that the shot should be abandoned. I should put the gun down and start over.

    But that’s so much easier said than done.

    I think I still need the coaches help on this one. What I need to do is tell him, after the shot and after I’ve put the gun down, about what *I* did on a non-verbal level and then listen to his advice. I’m sure he’s going to say that I should just stop and put the gun down when that happens, but I still need to hear that from my internal coach to reinforce what I will then start doing during the silence of the shot when he is watching me again, in silence, to see how I do. And when I do put the gun down and start over, the only thing I may hear from him is a smile. He knows I’m following his advice.

  4. There will be times when the internal coach may give you some good-natured ribbing. Indeed, even a good live coach may do that, and although you may find it annoying, the coach may intuitively know this is exactly what you need at that moment.

    The best example I can think of is something that happened with Coach Pat one day. (This was the real Coach Pat, not my internalized version of him.)

    I was jerking my shots one day as he watched me shoot and the harder I tried not to jerk, the worse it got. After watching me do this for two strings, Coach Pat told me to shoot another but then he moved up and stood with his face right next to my ear and each time I jerked a shot he said “Jerk!” real loud.

    Damn, I got mad, and madder, both at my jerking and at him!

    Bang! “Jerk!”

    Bang!! “Jerk!!”

    Bang!!! “Jerk!!!

    And then suddenly, it was like I went up and over the top of a hill. My tension crested, and then broke. I started laughing. All the tension was gone as I shook my head at how incredibly ridiculous everything seemed.

    Coach Pat laughed too. He knew he’d broken the tension that was making the jerk worse and worse with each shot.

    He said, “Okay, let’s see some good releases now. Remember, level and smooth, level and smooth,” and he stepped back and smiled as I shot three tens in a row.

    Wow!

    Your internal coach may have that same wisdom. It’s a people-skill for sure but you’ve probably been in this life long enough to develop some of that same wisdom, too. If you’re internal coach is doing something you don’t understand, trust him. Could be he’s pretty smart.

 

Over time, shooters may benefit from a lot of coaching at first, possibly even through the release of each shot, but then progressing to letting you shoot in silence with positive suggestions and earned compliments after, and even to the point where the coach doesn’t say anything at all. Instead, he just holds up a target with a single hole dead center in the X and then motions you to the line. Some of the top Bullseye shooters say that’s what it’s like for them. They “show” what they want to their unconscious and then let it figure out how to get there. Although it’s not clear who is the coach and who is the shooter in that situation, there are definately two creatures involved. One is setting the goal, the other is shooting the gun.

Thanks, Coach.

Value, Compromises and Learning To Shoot

Here are some less-than-obvious values to good equipment.

  • The bullet goes where the gun was aimed when the hammer was released.

    That should be obvious but, as a beginner I knew my wobble was much worse than the inaccuracy of the gun. My “off the shelf” Springfield Armory “Mil-Spec” 1911 (the Parkerized version) would shoot a 6-8″ group at 50 yards. That was good enough for scores of 8, 9, 10 and X. Pretty good.

    My ability to hold, however, allowed shots to range out beyond the 7 ring, and occasionally, spasmodically, worse. When you then combine me with the gun, a target in which every hole actually scores is not bad, and one in which most shots are in the black is a truly good thing. And, in Timed Fire, I’ve even hit 90+ every now and then with that gun.

    But the gun was frustrating. On those (still) rare occasions when I know my trigger control was good and the shot was released with the sights close to the center of my aiming area, when the hole appeared several inches out from the bull, I couldn’t know if it was me or the gun. Maybe I saw the iron sights wrong, had the front sight slightly left or right of center, or maybe I pushed the nose of the gun out of alignment in that fraction of a second between sear-release and hammer-impact.

    I didn’t know, I couldn’t tell, I wasn’t sure what to fix.

  • The bullet goes where the gun was aimed when the hammer was released.

    When the round punches low and left on the target, for a right-handed shooter such as myself, that almost certainly means I jerked the gun and the “fix” is obvious: I need to regain that unconscious shot release that is oh so fleeting at my level of experience. I’ve done it a couple of times, I’ve felt it happen and known the feeling of surprise, not because I wasn’t prepared which does cause surprise but not for the right reason, but because it really felt like I was letting someone else do the trigger. All I had to do was hold it on the right area of the target until they released the shot.

    The mental game I play that works, at least occasionally for me, is to get everything ready and then say to myself, “Let the monkey shoot now.” The “monkey” does the trigger, not me. I truly don’t know if, ever, the gun is going to fire. I just hold it in the aiming area and, well, I wait and either the shot goes (and I’m surprised), or I get tired of holding and abort the shot.

  • The bullet goes where the gun was aimed when the hammer was released.

    The ‘smith who made the gun shoot this well — thank you, Frank Glenn — knows what the gun is capable of doing so if I later show up at his door complaining, he will know I’m an idiot.

    Frank will probably listen politely — he’s a gentleman — and may volunteer to check the gun but, in the end, he will know what needs work (me) and what doesn’t (the gun).

For a Bullseye shooter, good equipment is a mirror. Through my newly reworked 1911 that, as of yesterday, has a Kart barrel, competition bushing, tightened slide-to-frame fit and the critical eye and sensitive touch of the expert gunsmith, I can now see each aberration, each mistake, each goof in what I do.

The gun says, “You jerked me.”

The gun says, “You anticipated that shot.”

The gun says, “You steered the muzzle left on that one.”

And the gun says, “What the h#$$ was that — did you sneeze or what? Sheesh! Come on, get in the game. You know what to do. Point me at the right spot on the target, release the shot without disturbing that, and, brother you can bet your last dime that I’m gonna do my job and put that bullet dead on. Now let’s try that again.”

Q: Can you compromise on expense while still a beginner?
A: Yes, but only to a point. The point will come when the equipment becomes an obstacle, not because it doesn’t do well, but rather because the shooter will stop trying. “Heck,” the shooter will tell himself, “it’s in the 8-ring, isn’t it? That’s pretty good for both me and the gun.” And yes, that’s true. But at that point, the shooter stops trying to do better because, frankly, that really is the best they can do. Additional effort by the shooter to do better, to call his shots, just isn’t going to work consistently. The shooter’s advancement is held up, stopped, because the gun is showing its own defects and, thereby, masking what the shooter needs to fix. The shooter cannot see what he needs to fix.

Q: Can I learn on less expensive equipment and then “move up” later?
A: Yes, but if you wait too long, you may find your interest and excitement slowly dissipating away. The physical steps to releasing a good shot are well known. You can find them in any number of publications. Write them down and memorize them. They aren’t hard to perform and any gun, no matter how bad, will allow you to practice those steps. There may even be some debatable value in learning to shoot with a scratchy trigger — hell, if you can release a decent shot with that, just think how good you could be with a finely tuned, precision wadder! But if you keep shooting the less-than-great equipment, once you’ve learned those basic physical steps, you will never get to the fine tuning of making everything happen at the same time simply because it will be impossible to see the benefit of doing so.

Shooting an “X” is easy. We’ve all done it. Just pick up the gun, aim and release the shot and, no matter how bad your aim or the accuracy of the gun, there’s a certain probability that this error will add to that error and, lo and behold, the bullet punches through the “X”.

But to do that over and over, to do that when you want it, to do that, you need a big, flat shiney mirror in which to watch yourself so you can see what you’re doing wrong.

Good equipment shows you yourself. You can see what you’re doing wrong and, most satisfyingly, when you do everything right.

Bang!

“X”

Bang!

“X”

Bang!

“X”

“Wow, what a great gun,” you will say.

And don’t forget to add, “I shoot great!”

Because you can, and do, with good equipment.

—–

I’ve been shooting Bullseye for about a year.
My current NRA ranking is that of Marksman, the lowest step on the ladder.
To get that ranking, all you have to do is shoot 360 times and have them recorded in the NRA annals. You don’t even have to hit the target, just shoot and have (the misses!) recorded.

In that year, I’ve started to understand just how difficult it is to make the bullet go where you intend. There are dozens, maybe even a hundred or more reasons to miss the mark.

One thing is certain in Bullseye: With good equipment, focused practice and ruthless attention to detail, you may succeed. But without it, you won’t.

That’s a fact.

Trigger Control and Bicycle Riding Redux

From Email to a shooter asking several questions including why some of his shots hit up and right of center.

 

Concerning jerk, anticipation, thumbing and the search for a smooth trigger squeeze, all I can tell you is that you are right in there with every other Bullseye shooter.

Let me say that again: The #1 desire, the “Holy Grail” of pistol shooting is “Trigger Control” and that means releasing a shot without disturbing the alignment on the correct area of the target.

I screw up almost every shot.

On the few that I don’t, I can call them and see, in the scope, that I got it right. Those are starting to happen more often (but my current state of progress would be more accurately described as “less infrequently bad”). Trigger Control is exceedingly hard and is the one thing that some say will take a decade or more to become “good” and, for most of us, more than a lifetime to truly master.

Note that even the top, top, top shooters often hit outside the “X” ring with guns that are well capable of 1/2″ groups. Even the top, top, top shooters screw up Trigger Control. This is not an easy thing to master!

In the weeks, months and years to come, you’ll have to do what I think we are all resigned to do: shoot a few shots, try to figure out what isn’t right and then try to fix it. Sometimes you will think that the gun’s sights are a little bit off. Temperature, wear and tear, ammunition, wind and other issues are all important factors in adjusting the sights and, yes, the sights do sometimes need adjusting.

Sometimes it will be you that needs to be fixed. Just this past Tuesday evening, Coach Pat at our league pointed out that I was “thumbing” the pistol and pushing the tip of the barrel right as the shot was being released. So, I “floated” my thumb out into the air and, voila, the shots moved 2″ to the left. Why couldn’t I see that? Well, maybe sometimes we need others to see what we don’t want to see. I really thought I had grip worked out but, no, Coach Pat showed me otherwise. Three steps forward, and then two back.

My guess would be that your “high and right” shots are a slight push with your palm in anticipation of the shot. I sure do exactly that sometimes. Anticipation pushes the shot up and right (for right-handed shooters).

But the fix is not in learning to avoid anticipation. Although that seems like the obvious solution, it’s not the one you want. There’s a better fix!

The best fix is to figure out how to make the gun going off be a surprise to you each time. Stated differently, if you don’t know when the gun is going to go off, then you cannot anticipate it. Ergo, no anticipation (shots go up and right) and no jerk (shots go down and left). [Reverse the left-right directions for left-handed shooters.]

So, how do you make the gun go off without knowing it is going to go off?

Ah, now that’s the real magic!

I like to think of learning to shoot as being a lot like it was when I learned to ride a bicycle. At first, I had to concentrate on keeping my balance and, until I could do that, Mom or Dad would have to hang on to the seat and run awkwardly down the sidewalk to keep me upright. But at some point, after many attempts, I ‘Got It” or rather, some part of my brain “got it” but not my consciousness. On that day, and even now, I couldn’t tell you what to do other than “keep your balance.” But, nonetheless, my body/brain knew how to do it. Oh sure, I was very wobbly for a while but, with more and more practice, I rode better and better and, before too long (and when Mom wasn’t looking), I could ride with my hands off the handlebars.

Ta-daa!

Everything had become automatic. I was riding the bike! Er, well, “I” wasn’t but somewhere inside, some part of me was doing it, but it wasn’t my conscious brain.

My brain would say, “Let’s ride over to Howard’s” and off I’d go on the bike.

My brain would say, “Let’s jump the curb!” and I would consciously yank up on the handlebars as the front tire rolled off the curb, but who was keeping us balanced?

My brain would say, “The street is slick with rainwater — slow down for the curve,” but who was keeping me upright?

Balance had become automatic and unconscious.

The conscious brain handles the exceptions, the unusual conditions, the special desires of the moment, but something else in the head keeps the bike upright and steady.

I’m convinced that shooting is the same way. Ultimately, everything has to become automatic, unconscious and you just “do it”, like riding a bike.

But to get there you have to shoot many thousands of rounds, watch yourself to see what you’re doing wrong, guess at the fix, try it, see what that screws up and then work at fixing that. And when you find a solution and a big part of your overall technique works, then you have to do it over and over so it becomes an unconscious habit.

“Look, Ma, no hands!”

“Look, guys, I cleaned a target!”

In the Bullseye list, watch for phrases such as “unconscious shot” and “being on automatic” and “let it happen” — I’m pretty sure this is what the top shooters are talking about.

Try this: stand at the line, get your grip right, assume your stance, find your natural point of aim and adjust your stance as needed so the sights are dead-on. I put my arm down, close my eyes, raise my arm and then open my eyes to see where my aim is and then I adjust my left [rear] foot to try and bring the sights dead-on the target.

And now here’s the hard part of this exercise — think of nothing, nothing at all until the shot goes.

Just stand there with the gun out, clear your mind and wait.

I know you’re supposed to hold the sights in alignment during that “think nothing” period but try it with and without aligning the sights — what’s important is that the gun will eventually go off if you’ve trained enough, if you’ve activated your arm and trigger finger often enough, if you’ve gotten to the point where, when everything is set, you shoot. It will happen and it’ll surprise the hell out of you!

Sometimes as I’m ready to clear my mind I tell myself, “Let the monkey shoot now.” And it always scares the bloody hell out of me that the gun I am holding suddenly goes off. But that’s what you want because, if you don’t know when it’s going to go “Bang”, there’s no way you can anticipate it!

And you want that to happen on every single shot.

Surprise, surprise, surprise!

Dry-firing is a great way to practice the skills you will need to “ride the bicycle”. It ingrains the movements into that unconscious part of the brain that needs to be in charge when you shoot.

The “dead alibi” rounds — some call this the “Ball and Dummy” drill — may also be helpful but remember this technique is useful only as a test of your ability to release a shot without moving the sights.

Let me ask a question: When you studied a subject in school, how often do you take a test?

Using the “dead alibi” rounds is a good test and it will tell you if you need to study some more, but then put the technique away while you do the study (the practice). “Coach Pat” in Phoenix tells me I should “Ball and Dummy” each Slow Fire target but, to me, that just generates frustration. I know I’m jerking the trigger. What I didn’t know is how not to do it.

And the answer is, literally, don’t think about it. Just do it. No thinking. Just ride.

Later, when I think I’m holding the sights on target as I release the shot, then I can test myself with “ball and dummy” to see if I can pass that test. And I’ll use that technique occasionally to help me figure out what I am doing wrong, but then I’ll go and work on the solution a while before re-testing.

I’m just amazed how difficult this sport is to do well. It seems so simple — just align the sights on the proper part of the target and then release the shot without disturbing the alignment.

Hah!

Final word: When you find that the practice and training for Bullseye is really frustrating, go and do something fun with your 41. I love to “plink” and my favorite targets are MacDonald’s ketchup packets taped to white paper plates on sticks [splat!], new cans of shaving cream [gush!], and old milk cartons filled with water [foom!]. With your 41, you can probably hit each of these at a greater distance than most other “plinking” shooters. I enjoy shooting at the junk and especially when someone else shows up and I see myself doing better (sometimes a lot better), I immediately feel recharged. I’m ready to go back and work on my precision shooting technique.

10s and Xs (and splats, gushes and fooms)!