So, now that I’m back from the woods, I can go to the range (I never got around to setting up a range on my property, though I did spot a perfect spot for a 100yd range) and actually focus on shooting again. As part of that, I’m going to try and start a shooting journal, so that I can record (and share) some findings, and my progress. Note that I will primarily be shooting my AR-15, since my goal is to advance my NRA classification in the Highpower/Service Rifle category (my goal is to make Master (95%+) in 2010, which is a bit a stretch but attainable since I was shooting Expert (89%+) earlier this year in unregistered matches at my club — without a shooting coat).
Range: Los Altos Gun Club, 100yd range
Conditions: clear/sunny, chilly (40-50F)
Yesterday was the first time I got to shoot with the Creedmoore shooting coat I bought this summer, and boy, what a difference that makes. I can’t believe I’ve been shooting for close to 3 years without it. I shot 70 rounds total, 20 off-hand standing, 30 sitting rapid, 20 slow prone, on reduced highpower targets. I focused mostly on finding comfortable positions with the jacket.
For off-hand, finding a comfortable position wasn’t hard at all. I found that if I rest the SLED (which has the same profile as a 20-round magazine) on my left palm, I can then rest my left elbow on my hip really comfortably (and the non-slip padding on the coat helps a ton too). I also found that I can rest the rifle butt much higher up on my shoulder than I can when I’m shooing without a coat, and I can also tuck my right elbow in for a firmer grip. When shooting without a coat, I had to place the stock much lower on my shoulder, and stick my elbow out to get the stock firmly square against my shoulder. So the higher placement also allows me to keep my head straighter, which is generally good.
Once I felt reasonably comfortable, I started off spending an entire firing session (usually about 15 minutes) dry firing. I focused on my NPOA (natural point of aim), doing the whole exercise of closing my eyes, simulating recoil, settling down, then opening my eyes to see where my rifle was pointed. I’d then shift my feet slightly until I settled down with the sights on-target. It took a while, because my NPOA seemed to shift from time to time.
After 15 minutes of dry firing, I moved on to live fire. By this point, my position was so comfortable that my front sight post generally stayed in the black, which was not something I’d been able to do before without a coat. Since my position was stable, I was then able to focus on the other fundamentals, like breathing. I generally take two or three deep breaths, exhale half way, then try to make a shot. I then have 6-9 seconds before oxygen depravation begins to have an adverse effect. The hard part is to remember that I don’t have to take a shot, especially in slow fire. If I don’t break the shot within that narrow timeframe, it’s much better to take a couple of breaths and try again, than to rush a shot. I’m also working on trigger control, and disciplining myself to be patient and wait for a good shot. Arguably, this sport is more about not taking bad shots, than it is about making good shots.
After my first string of 10 shots, I couldn’t believe what I saw through my scope. I’d scored a 93, beating my previous record of 88, and I hadn’t even shot my AR since April! My second string was even better, at 95, with 7 of the 10 shots in the 10-ring. In fact, I “lost” a couple of shots to the 8-ring because I couldn’t believe I was getting so many into the 10 ring.
Since I wanted to get some shooting in in all 3 positions, I moved on to sitting. Although my sitting scores have been decent (90-97) in the last several matches I shot late last year and early this year, I’ve had trouble finding a stable position. I can’t seem to decide between placing my left elbow in front of my knee, on top, or somewhere in between. With the coat on, I found a position that just felt comfortable. Comfortable is generally good because it means there aren’t any weird forces at play. I shot a few strings, but I mistakenly used reduced 300-yard targets (again, haven’t shot since April :-P) so I don’t know what scores they would’ve been, but judging by the fact that all the shots were in the black, it would’ve been up in the 90s. In general, though, my groups seemed much smaller than when shooting without a coat.
I finished with a couple of strings (one of 7 shots, another of 13) in slow prone. It actually took me a while to find a comfortable position, especially finding a good place for my left hand. I’ve heard it said that your left hand (supporting hand) should go as far forward as your sling allows, but that simply doesn’t work for me (the muzzle ends up being waaaay too low). Unfortunately, that means I have to pull my left hand in closer, and it’s not as well supported as it would be if it were up against the sling swivel. I guess that’s why match rifles have adjustable hand stops, but I shoot Service Rifle, so I have to do the best with what I’ve got. In any case, after some shuffling around, I found a reasonably comfortable position, and squeezed off some rounds. The range was closing, so I didn’t get much time to actually work on things. My group was ok, though nothing special.
Range: Los Altos Gun Club, 100yd range
Conditions: foggy, then cloudy, then sunny. chilly (40-50F)
Since I got to the range kind of late, I only did 3 strings of 10, off-hand. I worked on the fundamentals again, but made a little progress on diagnosing my inconsistent NPOA issues. As it turns out, I need to do some leg work. The inconsistencies I was seeing (basically, where my NPOA would appear to shift even though my feet haven’t moved) were caused by my knees, and whether they were slightly bent or locked. Locking my knees seem to be more stable, but it’s only comfortable to do so if my feet are oriented just so, in relation to my body. And in the process of shuffling my feet to adjust my NPOA, they may or may not settle in an orientation where locking my knees is possible or comfortable. It seems more often than not that having my knees slightly bent is more comfortable, but I just have to remember that and not lock it. The general remedy seems to be to just check my NPOA regularly, and remember what state my legs were in when I found my NPOA.
I also noticed that when it was foggy and cloudy, I was shooting high. I think this is because I use a six o’clock hold with a line of white (basically, my front sight post is under the black, with a little bit of white showing in between). I generally like this because with a true six o’clock hold where the front site post touches the black, I have a hard time judging whether they are just touching, or the post is slightly in to the black. Leaving a line of white allows me to judge more precisely how close or far my front sight post is from the black. Unfortunately, this also makes my hold more susceptible to variations due to lighting conditions. When it’s sunny, that line of white will appear brighter and thicker than when it’s foggy or dark.
I don’t remember my scores from today, but they weren’t anything too special. The first two strings were solidly in the 90s (I think one was 95, the other slightly lower). But then, on the 4th shot of the 3rd string, I flinched. I think I was thinking too much, and for whatever reason, I flinched, and the shot went off the paper. But, what was more significant to me, was that I managed to not let that affect me, and put the subsequent 6 shots all in the 9 and 10 rings. Of course, if I were shooting in an actual match, I might not have recovered from that bad shot quite as well, but it’s good to get practice in screwing up too.