Alright, so you’ve been out plinking away with your air rifle and you feel pretty comfortable on the trigger. Trigger control and technique are coming along, and you’ve learned:
Now let’s talk about the next hardest thing to do: Mental relaxation and Natural Point of Aim. Brandon wrote about these on SOFREP, and will address these issues in-depth soon. He did recommend getting Lanny Basham’s book titled With Winning In Mind.
Natural Point of Aim
I’m going to cover this one first. Natural point of aim, while it may seem odd or confusing, is actually one of the easiest tricks to shooting a rifle. When you’re behind the gun and completely relaxed in the shooting position, you’ll notice that your crosshairs will land somewhere when you’re at rest. This point in space is called your natural point of aim, since it requires no pressure or maneuvering on your part to achieve.
This natural point of aim is important because any time you have a shot you have to strain to achieve, you’re invariably going to have some waver and movement you can’t take out of the equation, since you’re forcing the gun into that position. The trick, here, is to adjust the rifle and your body’s position so that the natural point of aim coincides with your target. Don’t worry, it may take a while to get used to it.
The best way I’ve found to work on this technique is to simply lay with the rifle in the prone position, and find a position that’s comfortable. Multiple smaller sandbags help with the rifle to allow you to adjust and move the rifle until it’s stable and falls where you want it to, while maintaining that comfort.
Mental Control and Relaxation
Mental relaxation and control during a shot is always the hardest topic to talk about. There is no perfect answer or technique that works for everyone.
The biggest pitfalls most shooters fall into when they start shooting at these ranges is simply overthinking the shot. Oftentimes, they’ll question whether they’ve adjusted adequately, whether their holdover or lead is correct, and will be tempted to worry about this and make repeated corrections and never settle into the shot. By not trusting their math or their technique, they never find a point of calm, and invariably the shot misses. I know that the more I spend time thinking about my adjustments, the range, trigger control, etc., the more my scope moves.
In fact, thinking about anything during the lead up to the shot, once you’ve settled behind the rifle, is going to take away from that focus and calm. What I like to do, as a test, is set the safety on the rifle, settle in for my shot, clear my mind, and then attempt to shoot without disengaging the safety. A lot of times, I’ll find I have a lot of tension and like anticipating the recoil, I’ll jerk the rifle off target.
When focusing in on the shot, the key is to find a way to clear your mind. I do this by simply focusing on my breathing. I try to simply watch the crosshairs and think about my breath, finding a steady rhythm, working my breathing into slower, deeper patterns. Once I’ve begun to focus on this, and i find myself relaxing and breathing more evenly, I’ll start counting my breaths, and start the takeup to make the shot.
Whatever you do to relax behind the rifle, the key with controlling your mind is to find a way to relax and not think about the shot. You know you’re going to take it, you know what you’re doing, but getting your mind off of the shot at hand and onto some other topic or memory or music or something that soothes and calms you is the best way to find that zen moment.
And yes, it is a LOT like meditation.