Let Me Introduce You To Your New Best Friend: Your Target

The best tool for improving your marksmanship is your target. Like your best friend, your target is always there and willing to help. But unlike your best friend, your target will not lie to you. Whatever you are doing wrong or right, your target will provide an immediate and unambiguous record. If you know how to read your target, there is a wealth of knowledge to be had every time you go shooting.

The principle is simple really. Just about every common shooting error presents in a predictable way on your target. If you make one of those common mistakes, your target will show it. Knowing how to identify these mistakes can help you easily self-correct and improve your shooting.

Learning to read (your target)

A variety of individuals and organizations have published charts to assist you in identifying your errors.

Using a chart to identify your errors can be straightforward, but if you haven’t done it before there are a few tricks to make it easier.

Step 1: shoot the target

Until your target has holes, there isn’t much it can do for you. Kind of like if your wife were to ask you if an outfit looks good on her despite the fact that you haven’t seen it. The question gets you nowhere except a trip to the doghouse. You can’t blame your target when you shoot poorly, but she still blames you if she doesn’t like your answer. Go figure.

Step 2: consult the chart

Once you have holes in your target, the fun begins. Now you can compare your target to a chart and identify your shooting errors. How you compare will depend heavily on the kind of chart you are using.

These charts come in two main varieties: shot group examples, and wheels. The shot group example charts tend to show pictures representing example groups. With this kind of chart, find the picture that most closely represents your target.

With the wheel charts, things are a little different. Here you need to compare your group position to an area on the wheel. Once you have found a group or a section on the wheel, you should now have a list of one or more errors you could be making.

Step 3: process of elimination

Once you have your list of errors you can start eliminating potential problems. For example the first chart below indicates that with the pistol groups hitting low left generally can be caused by poor trigger control or poor sight alignment.

In order to identify which of these errors you could be committing, you should start by posting a fresh target and shooting another group. This time focus on not making one of the errors you found. With the above example you might choose sight alignment. Make sure those sights are perfectly aligned for each shot. Did the issue go away? If not then repeat but try focusing on a perfect trigger squeeze.

If you go through all the listed options without fixing your issue, you have one of a few potential problems: you were unable to actually self-correct one of the issues, your chart is incomplete and you are committing another unmentioned error, or you are combining multiple unrelated problems which happen to combine to look like a different problem altogether.

Potential pitfalls

Before you head to the range and expect these charts to be your new savior, remember one thing: these charts are imperfect. The real world isn’t always black and white. It’s not impossible to be doing more than one thing wrong (sometimes they will even cancel each other out, masking the problems altogether).

Sometimes you might find new and exciting ways to screw up too, meaning your mistake might not be on the charts at all. Congratulations, have a cookie.

Charts

Not all charts are created equal. They tend to all have common themes and areas where they overlap, but some charts list errors that others don’t. The amount of information on these charts can differ greatly. Which one you use is up to you. When in doubt keep a collection of various charts – more information is never a bad thing so long as you can parse it.

There are many similarities between disciplines, but for the most part these charts are targeted towards one type of shooting. Below are some charts I have found for analyzing pistol marksmanship. If you are looking for a chart that covers rifle marksmanship errors, check out an Appleseed, they provide some great materials.

1. Target Shooting Canada:

This is a good fundamentals chart of the group examples variety. This is a great place to start, especially if you are just starting out.

2. NEShooters (Awerbuck):

This analysis tool caters more to the tactical/defensive shooting crowd. Personally I take exception to a few of the listed errors: in particular 9 o’clock shooting errors being caused by not resetting the trigger quickly enough. This is a good example of a more complicated wheel type chart presenting all of its information in one diagram.

3. Degrata Tactical:

Another good general fundamentals chart, similar in many ways to the first. While the first one had brief lists of errors, this actually provides advice on correcting technique.

4. Xavier Thoughts:

This chart is probably one of the best because it’s so simple. Unlike the other charts I listed, this one is a very concise and clear wheel type chart, but it does require a bit more knowledge to use.

Analyze your groups regularly to improve

Your target doesn’t lie. If you want to improve your shooting and don’t have the luxury of the oversight of an experienced instructor, the next best option is to look at your target. Let your target do the teaching. With the right materials, you can identify your errors and correct them yourself.

What group analysis resources do you use in your training? Post a comment and share!

Toss the Sandbag, Rest, or Bipod

Photo credit: UK Bench Rest Shooting

Recently the club I belong to opened up a 200meter range that used to be for rimfire shooting only to now allow center-fire rifles. As a part of this process, they now require shooters to qualify in order to use the range with a center-fire rifle. Since I love me some long range shooting, I jumped at the chance to qualify. But…

What really disappointed me when I made it to one of the qualification sessions was that everyone was shooting off of a bench. Maybe I’m some sort of rifle marksmanship snob, but shooting off a bench rest or bipod doesn’t really seem like a demonstration of skill to me. I can lock my rifle in a vice and prove my rifle is qualified to shoot on the range, but I would rather demonstrate my ability instead of the rifle’s.

Shooting off the bench seems to be the norm these days. So normal in fact that the requirement for qualification was a 5” group at 200 meters, roughly a 2.3 minute of angle group. Most skilled shooters with a rack grade rifle and surplus ball ammunition should be capable of a 4 minute of angle group (that’s 9” at 200 meters) without the need for a bench (try prone with a sling).

If shooting from a bench was the requirement for use of the range, I think this expectation would be perfectly acceptable. Instead since prone is allowed once you have qualified, it just reinforces the fact that most people just can’t shoot a rifle these days. The majority of people qualifying showed up with some sort of .223 with a high-power scope and a bipod or shooting rest. Partly because that’s what people do these days, and partly because the requirements made it so most shooters who normally could pull off a 9” group at 200 meters from the prone position with a sling were concerned about qualifying.

Rather than play their game of shooting a scoped rifle off a rest, I took my M1 Garand. I got into a solid prone position, adjusted my iron sights based on my zero and understanding of trajectory, and proceeded to put a qualifying group on paper. I say this not because I want to show off (though I am really proud of my group!), but because I think it highlights what is wrong in the shooting world right now. To further rub it in, my wife then used the same rifle and qualified from the seated position… with a better group. I doubt that the majority of the bench rest qualifiers could achieve the same. Many seemed to have enough trouble getting a 5 inch group with their fancy rest and high-power scope.

Once, America was known as a nation of Riflemen. It was said that you would find one behind every blade of grass. Do you really think a Rifleman would need to shoot off of a bench rest? I don’t.

Want to really prove your marksmanship skills with your rifle? Do it without the rest.

Are Long Range Skills Valuable For Self-Defense?

Photo by AMagill

Most people will readily agree that if you are using a rifle for anything other than defending yourself in relatively close quarters, then it is probably not self-defense. Taking a shot at 300 yards is not easily construed as self-defense except for the most extreme of circumstances.

The simple conclusion to take from this is that working on skills for shooting farther than what self-defense ‘dictates’ is probably unproductive for our goals of preparing for self-defense scenarios. This is mostly true, but I believe that there is still plenty to be taken from long distance shooting that can be applied to running a gun in a fight.

Long distance shots might be unlikely but not impossible

Most gunfights occur in relatively short distances. Everything from bad breath scuffles at point blank range to 10 yards or farther. It is logical to assume that training for longer range shots would be counter productive.

But just because we are not as likely to take shots with our carry guns at 25 or 50 yards doesn’t mean that those cases can never happen. Keeping distance between yourself and an attacker is a great strategy. If someone is shooting at you from those distances do you really want to get closer?

Pistols have drop too

Most of us will never get into a gunfight with a rifle at full-distance rifle ranges. Unless you are serving overseas, you are unlikely to be defending yourself from an attacker taking shots at long distance. So what is the value to knowing how to shoot at these extended distances?

One key to mastering your rifle is learning about trajectory and bullet drop. Bullets don’t fly flat, and as a result you need to compensate for the path of the bullet when shooting. You might not find yourself needing to apply these concepts with a rifle, but what about your pistol?

Most of us shoot our pistols at distances where any sort of drop is negligible, but when you push out to farther ranges you will experience bullet drop. If you want to be capable of using that pistol at all practical (and maybe some unpractical) distances, you need to understand the trajectory of your rounds. There is no better way to explore and understand this concept than long distance rifle shooting. When you understand trajectory with a rifle, you can apply the same concepts to learn what your pistol does at distance.

Fundamentals, fundamentals, fundamentals

Finally, practicing at distance is a great way to practice your fundamentals and push yourself beyond your current limitations. Long distance shots require great sight alignment and excellent trigger control. If you can make a torso shot at 50 yards with a handgun, then making the same shot at 5 yards can only be easier.

Even if you don’t think long distance shots are likely to occur in a self-defense situation, there is plenty of value to be had practicing these shots. Whether it’s to be prepared for the unlikely event you need to take a long shot, or just to reinforce the fundamentals, practicing at extreme distances is a great way to push your limits and improve your skills.

Do you practice long distance shooting?

Stop Trying To Shoot Better

When I went shooting a few days ago I came to a familiar realization. Like many times before, I realized that when I try too hard I tend to screw things up. The more I ramp up the pressure on myself, the less smooth my actions become, and the more mistakes I make in my efforts to perform better.

Last weekend I was at the range working on improving my draw stroke and slide-lock reloads. To practice these skills I was using a 1Reload2 drill (draw, fire one shot, reload and fire two more). I was doing this drill with my shot timer in an attempt to measure how I was performing and push myself towards a faster time. What I found was that the harder I tried, the more often I would flub the draw or screw up the reload. My actions became jerky and not the smooth and calm movements I had emphasized in my dry-fire practice. Ultimately this hurt my time instead of improving it.

The same problems occur in my marksmanship training. These days I spend much more time teaching others how to shoot rifles than I spend shooting them myself. I’m trying to change that, but whenever I do get a chance to shoot a rifle I feel like the pressure on myself to do well is a huge barrier to success. I often start with a decent shot group, but the problem is knowing that I can do much better. I push myself to the point where my performance just gets worse, causing me more and more frustration. Eventually I have to pull myself back from the stress of trying too hard, and force myself to simply relax.

Rifle marksmanship, especially when you are talking about shooting using a sling, is ultimately about being relaxed. Let your bones and the sling do the support work while you align your body so you can make the shot. As they say, shooting is very much a mental game at this point. The harder you (or I in this case) actively try the more likely muscles are to become involved. I fuss the shot and as a result of trying too hard my groups open up.

Relax

If you find yourself having this problem yourself, go back to the basics. Be calm and collected and stop trying so hard. You’ll usually find that going a little slower and not making mistakes is actually faster than going as fast as you can and struggling the whole way there.

We put pressure on ourselves to do better with every shot, to increase our speed and get tighter groups. This pressure ultimately serves to do nothing other than to make things more difficult.

Personally I shoot the best when I have no expectations for myself. A couple years ago I had a chance to shoot my AR15 out to 600 yards. I was having trouble seeing the target through my iron sights and figured my rough elevation adjustment would be off anyway, so I really didn’t expect to even hit the target. I relaxed and shot a carefree group by the basics, and I was totally shocked when I saw the great group on my target.

I am fastest and most efficient when I worry less about speed and instead just worry about being smooth and practicing the fundamentals. You too may be surprised at the difference when you stop trying so hard to shoot your best. Focus on the technique rather than trying to make each shot perfect.

Remember slow is smooth, smooth is fast.

Does self-imposed pressure negatively impact your performance? Let us know and post a comment below!

Who Needs Training, I Have a Shotgun

Image by secretsath

One of my biggest pet peeves about self-defense and training is that so many short-sighted individuals think they have a catch-all solution. They believe that some piece of equipment or special technique will save them from anything that they might have to deal with, rather than acknowledge that defending oneself or one’s home requires persistent practice and a variety of skills.

I don’t need to practice, I have a shotgun

My favorite is the shotgun excuse. I’ve never been a fan of shotguns myself. They can be great toys and can be applied to great effect in some situations, but to me they are not the precise implement of death that a pistol or rifle can be.

People who own only a shotgun tend to believe that it’s all they need. Since it shoots a pattern instead of a single projectile it reduces the need for accuracy. This in turn leads people to not train. If you believe a shotgun is the best tool for the job, so be it. But if you pick up a shotgun, shoot it a few times and then put it away, you are being foolish. You must constantly train with any weapon you intend to use. A special weapon is not a replacement for your training.

I don’t need to learn that, I’ll just shoot them

The other great fallacy is believing a gun will solve all of your problems:

“I don’t need to know how to fight hand to hand, know how to employ a knife, or be able to grapple because I have a gun.”

This ridiculous conclusion is made far too often. The real world does not afford us the ability to choose when we have to fight. In fact life can surprise us when we least expect it. Most muggings happen at close range, and when the attacker has the initiative. This means you’ll probably be more in need of those close combat skills than you think.

 

This is only a small sample of the kind of thick-headed excuses for not training.

What other short-sighted excuses have you seen for not training?

Exaggerating the Basics

Aim small, hit small.

Have you heard the line before? It’s a very basic concept that amounts to aiming at a smaller target (or a smaller area on a large target) in order to increase your overall accuracy. But this concept stretches far further than that.

Why do we want to aim small when we train? Adrenaline.

Unless you’re at that public range with the dope with no muzzle control, your adrenaline level is minimal when training. The pressure is relatively low when you are working on the basics. But what happens when you need to recall these skills on the street?

Adrenaline is a funny ‘feature’ that we developed long ago as humans evolved. It gives us great strength and speed and helps us survive many life or death situations. Unfortunately for mankind most of our evolution occured before the genesis of modern combat. Fine motor skills only became relevant to our life and death struggles relatively recently. Adrenaline does some funny things to our fine motor skills, and just about everything in shooting is fine motor skills.

We train with smaller targets or by following this “aim small, hit small” philosophy because it leaves room for error. If we hold ourselves to higher standards when training, then we can afford the inevitable involuntary degradation that occurs when our training meets the real world.

Hits count, and you need to guarantee them when your life or the lives of others depend on them. Can you really afford to be just good enough on the range?

Putting it to practice

For shooting it is pretty clear how to apply this concept to your training. The simplest way is to mark your full size silhouette with a smaller bullseye. Even a circle drawn with a magic marker will do. When training only accept hits on this smaller circle rather than anywhere on the silhouette. This smaller target will require you to slow down and make sure you hit. If you can hit a smaller bullseye quickly, it stands to reason that you should be able to hit the shilouette when the shit starts flying.

Another way I put this to practice actually saves me money. I print out smaller silhouettes and post them at the same distances I would use for the larger ones. This would have the same effect as shooting from a greater distance with the original targets. This forces you to practice shooting at a smaller target. You must try to hold yourself to a higher standard on a reduced size target or you risk the opposite effect. Keep in mind this cannot completely replace your use of full size targets at actual distance, especially when pressure testing yourself.

Applied elsewhere

Despite bringing this up as a shooting concept, it absolutely does not end there. When training a few years at a Kyokushin summer camp I had the fortune to train with Shihan Cameron Quinn. During one of the sessions he put great emphasis on the same subject. He told us not to aim for the chin with a punch, but to aim for the gnat on the hair on the mole on the chin. This is the same idea of aiming small, hitting small. Precision enhances your efficacy in all arenas of combat.

I was also trained as a student of Kyokushin to “Exaggerate your kihon(basics)”. This exaggeration serves two purposes. Firstly by exaggerating you are reinforcing correctness. When we have the opportunity to train without the pressure we should capitalize on the opportunity and make sure our technique is correct. Want to see some poor technique? Just add pressure. Additionally adrenaline has a nasty side effect of shortening muscles. This shortening means that a technique that isn’t exaggerated in practice will be tiny if not non-existent when applied to the real world in real stress. Unless you think T-rex arms are the best self-defense technique you can see really easily how this can be a problem.

This principle can be applied to just about anything that is practiced under low pressure but needed in a high pressure environment. Make sure everything is as good as it possibly can be in training so when you need it, your training won’t let you down.

How have you applied this concept in your training? Join the conversation by posting a comment below.

 

 

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