Of all of the parts of the system of shooting, trigger control and body control are the basic foundation. Before we continue looking at other aspects of shooting for accuracy, these skills are the ones that a shooter must hone first.
Smooth is Fast, Fast is Smooth.
“Slow down guys, take your time taking precise shots that count.”-Brandon
The biggest mistake anyone can make in this realm is rushing the shot. Breath control, physical control, and mental control all have to be there. It’s been said before by instructors all over the world that the shot should come as a surprise, and not be anticipated. Simply put, if you’re thinking about the shot, you’re not concentrating on the shot and relaxing. The best shots I’ve taken at long range, I thought only about relaxing, letting my mind go slack, and focusing on my breathing. Each time, the shot really was a surprise.
Another aspect of this is the follow-through. The wave of calm, the shooter’s concentration, and the body’s position should not break before the rifle comes back to a rest from recoil. This is called follow through. What makes this particular point so important is that if the body shifts at all at the moment of the shot, or within the first few milliseconds after the shot, the bullet still hasn’t made it out of the barrel, so if a shift occurs then, you’ll invariable throw off the shot.
You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out, Kid.
One of the best things a teacher once told me to prepare me for this, was to get an air rifle. Not a high-end, super-fast air rifle, but your average walmart special. When shooting an air rifle at a target, he explained, the followthrough, trigger control, and shooter technique were far more important to gaining accuracy, as your window of concentration must be longer to earn that accurate shot. Another benefit, he explained, was that with an air rifle, you could practice almost anywhere you had 25-50 yards without pissing off or shooting the neighbors, and shoot thousands upon thousands of shots without any special gear.
In my first year of shooting, I was a marginal shot. I could hold a rifle to 3″ or 4″ groups at 250-300 yards, and I felt great about myself. I shot and shot until the pounding of a full-bore rifle took its toll and left me shaking so bad I couldn’t shoot any more. It was after one of these marathon range sessions I finally took my instructor’s advice to heart and picked up the air rifle. Setting up a small course of fire off the back deck of my house out to 50 and 75 yards, I religiously plunked down with a daisy special every night and didn’t stop until I’d burned through 500-600 shots, slowly working my way down from crappy shooting to acceptable shooting.
I saw the same increase in performance in my shooting, too. Next trip to the range, after my shoulder healed up, those 3″ groups were replaced with 1″ groups.
Practice Makes Perfect, Regardless of Caliber
“Mental rehearsal is key. I’ll address mental management and my take on natural point of aim in a separate post. Keep at it Bravo Two!” -Brandon
When you’ve got your practice schedule well in hand, you’ll find that you’re itching to try it out. But, thousand yard ranges aren’t that easy to come by, and your average .308, .300 Win Mag, or .338 Lapua Rifle is an expensive child to feed. Seriously. Even reloading, it gets expensive. Air rifles will bring out other skills, like wind estimation and elevation and all that, but they’re not going to give you the full effect when you are ready to add some mid-range techniques to your practice schedule. The next phase in my training was an average .22 long rifle. Granted, “Average” was an older Remington .22 repurposed from the army with a great bore. One of the benefits of .22 Long Rifle is that it’ll get out to longer ranges without all of the issues that an air rifle will have. 100 yard shots, and even 200 or 300 yard shots aren’t impossible with this fun little caliber, and again, it’s cheap.
Fundamentals of trigger control and body control come into play here, too, as anyone who ever shoots 100 yard rimfire bullseye will tell you. Every twitch and point of pressure on the rifle will throw off the shot, so patience and proper form become all the more important. Here is where a good rifle begins to make a difference. A cheap .22 and a good .22 won’t necessarily be the same thing. And, looking at rimfire match rifles, they can be every bit as individualized as their big bore counterparts.
This isn’t the point in the training cycle to get discouraged, and I know a lot of folks, myself included, will take an ego hit when they see just how much they’ve been missing when they start to do this. Worrying now, too, about this upgrade or that toy to help you is going to hurt you more than it’ll help. Remember that this is just like busting out an exercise routine, and what we want to do here is just improve our basic skills and strengths. Adding crutches will let us get by without having that proper foundation in form and control, and will hurt in the future.
Stay tuned for our Part 3, where we’ll get into more of the details about positions and techniques. Now, grab that air rifle, and go practice!