Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Shooting and Shooting Well

"Gun Control is Having a Good Sight Picture"

One thing I have noticed on my frequent rounds of the shooting range is the vast numbers of people that never leave the comfort of the bench, whose rifles never leave the sandbags, and whose skill never increases. By the way, how many rounds does it take to sight in that rifle?

The best thing I ever did, was to shoot several hundred rounds of twenty-two ammunition offhand at a spinner one afternoon many years ago.

It all started with a Columbian Mauser converted by the Israelis to 7.62 x 52 NATO (308 Winchester). First real rifle I ever bought. Steal butt plate, lousy stock design, guaranteed to jar your teeth loose. In those days I didn’t even break 145 lbs. To top it all off I bought several boxes of Musgrave ammo. Great stuff that ammo. Made in the Republic of South Africa, the rounds have heavy for caliber bullets of course. Long round nosed soft-points jammed up tight against the rifling. Pull that trigger get kicked by a mule. With shoes.

So needless to say I also learned to flinch. The anticipation was almost as bad. I even flinched subconsciously when I pulled the trigger of my airgun. As I got older I knew I was a flincher but didn’t know how to overcome it. I could will myself to stillness, but I either pulled the trigger, or momentarily closed my eyes.

One fine weekend, I was at a paintball tournament, and we were going through CO2 cartridges like mad with paintballs flying like mayflies at a hatch. For one reason or another I realized that I wasn’t flinching when I pulled the trigger. I paused in wonder, and immediately got hit by about eight paint balls. In those days you only had orange so I looked, well, orange.

After consideration, I figured that I was mentally occupied with the game at hand, and did not anticipate the recoil because first of all there was so little to contend with, and secondly I was focused on the target or targets. I went home to experiment. I bought a couple of bricks of 22LR, an extra magazine for the Ruger 10/22, and a spinner target with a one inch target. My Ruger has a Volkstrum trigger that I bought through Brownells and is the only modification I have made to it.

I set it all up with a good backstop at 25 yards.

I stood there shooting round after round. One eye open, both eyes open, different presentation angles, and different start positions. At first I concentrated on not flinching. Good sight picture, breathe control, and squeeze that trigger. Then I just relaxed. I was comfortable. As the afternoon wore on, I was shooting without really thinking, I was becoming instinctive in my targeting. I could focus on the target; the surroundings, the wind, and everything else became extraneous to me. The sighting became automatic and the spinner clanged with monotonous regularity. 99% on target. I moved out to fifty yards. The interesting thing was that once again the spinner never really stopped moving. 90% on target. Now I was cocky. Out to a hundred yards. At that distance I might have hit it 3 or 4 out of ten times. That’s offhand, at a one inch target, with a scope set at 1.5X. Not bad with a factory barrel Ruger10/22.

I went straight for my Weatherby 30/06. I really like my Weatherby, with its oiled walnut stock, and its Leupold scope. With 180 grain Swift A-Frames, and me doing my part, it will keep five rounds inside an inch and a half at a hundred meters. That’s more than good enough for me. I’m told that it will do minute of angle with 150’s but I prefer heavier bullets for hunting. In this case though, and in the name of economy, I used some budget 150’s for practice. I burned a hundred round of PMC ammo, (with a half dozen cleanings in between), mostly offhand, at a variety of targets and ranges. Now I can confidently state that if I decide to shoot at something with a properly sighted rifle, I will hit it where I aim. The flinch is gone.

When it was time to teach my wife to shoot with her S&W 908, I bought a case of ammo, and three extra magazines. When we went to the range, I brought my bull barreled Mark II, two magazines, a brick of .22 ammo, and the Smith and Wesson. We fired the Ruger until she was warmed up and comfortable shooting. Cristal is an old hand with the Mark II, having one of her own before I even met her. Anything that comes within her sights is apt to be ventilated, so I would think twice before challenging her to a gunfight.

The S&W is a nicely made compact 9mm. I am not a fan of the 9mm and my personal self defense gun is a Colt 1911 in 45 auto. But she needed a compact firearm with good capacity, and the 908 fit the bill. At the range, I filled up the four mags, and told her to point it down range and fire one round every two to three seconds until the slide locked. Drop the empty magazine, put another one in, and do it again; and again, until she went through all four magazines. By the third magazine she was in control of the weapon, and by the end of the session later that day, my thumb was raw from shoving 9mm rounds into the mags, and she was making two inch holes in the cardboard backing of the targets at 21 feet, just because she could.

(Update: As much as Cristal loves the fit and comfort of the S&W, I should have bought a Colt for her instead. Something has gone wrong with the Smith. The slide refuses to budge. The weapon does not have a round in the chamber, thankfully, and the only clue I have is that the extractor is not flush with the slide. What happened previous to the slide locking up is unknown. My darling loaned it to my father in law, and that is how it came back…

I am going to remove the grips tonight and see if I can garner any more information. I downloaded the manual from the S&W website, maybe there are some clues in there.)

When it came time to teach the kids, I was ready. I bought us all matching Daisy Red Ryder BB Guns! A couple dozen pop cans strewn about the yard constituted our targets. After a short but very serious lecture and demonstration on gun safety, we proceeded to ventilate as many cans as possible. Several thousand BBs later, everyone was making the cans dance all across the yard.

Then it was to the bench with the Ruger 10/22. Once again the focus was on safety and overall gun control. Proper gun handlings, sight picture, breathe control, and squeezing the trigger, was the order of the day. The key was a relaxed but purposeful attitude and a controlled discharge of the weapon. Both the boys did an excellent job of it.

After several weeks of shooting the Ruger, I pulled out the old 308 and another Ruger, a 77/22 in 22 Hornet. The 308 went to the older one, while the younger was assigned the Hornet.

By now I had pseudo-sporterized the old Mauser. Gone was the steel butt plate, replaced with a proper pad. The stock had been reshaped to more pleasing lines (sorta…), and a sling installed. I left the original iron sights on it. They are rugged and accurate enough for the kind of hunting I do. A box of 150gr pointed soft points rounded out the ensemble.

We headed out back to our shooting range and set up at the fifty yard line. I had a bag of soda cans with me to liven the exercise up. The boys stapled the cardboard target backers up, while I set up a few cans on stumps. Back at the bench Blake took up position first. I asked him to fire one fouling shot at the target and then we would continue. He had no problem, hitting within an inch of his point of aim. I then changed it up a bit, I asked him to shoot at the bottom of two cans that were stacked one upon the other. What he didn’t know is that I had put two full cans there. When he pulled the trigger, the impact and subsequent disintegration of the hollow pointed 45gr bullet, not only blew the bottom can to smithereens, but also ruptured and exploded the top one. I can’t think of a better display of the destructive power of a firearm.

That demonstration drives home the lethality of any high speed projectile. The same can be done with a milk jug filled with water to which some red dye has been added.

Properly awed I set the two down to business. Both of them put a dozen rounds of 22 Hornet down range without any issues. Again we concentrated on proper form, target acquisition, sight picture, and trigger control.

By the time we ready for the Mauser, I was concerned that the switch from the Hornet to the .308 would be dramatic. I was wrong. The boys, other than remarking that it “kicked a little more,” continued to put round after round down the range, hitting their assigned targets with monotonous regularity. Both were shooting offhand and doing a much better job of it than I ever did. Just to be sure, I occasionally mixed in a spent round while helping them load their rifles. Not once was there any noticeable flinch, twitch, or extraneous movement on their part.

The lesson here is to use a firearm that you know you can control and that you are not afraid of! Any rimfire is a good choice along with a brick of ammo. Proper form and safe gun handling habits are easily reinforced by using the relatively quiet and basically recoilless guns to solidify them. A move to a mid level gun that a good physical fit for the shooter is also important. From there its just a matter of regular practice to stay fit and on target.

There is one thing that I do each and every time before I go out. The day before, I take out the Ruger 10/22 and shoot several magazines in all the field positions, sitting, kneeling, and mostly offhand. I have never shot a single head of game without a rest, but the confidence of being able to do so makes me a better hunter.


Anonymous said...

This is a great post. One of my goals for this year is to learn to shoot, and one of my big concerns is the kick of the gun. It sounds like you were able to manage it, as were your boys, so that makes me less worried.

Phillip said...

Great info!

Shooting, and shooting a lot is the only way to becoming a consistently good marksman. Shooting without the bench is also a requirement...although the importance of finding and using a good rest shouldn't be ignored.

I always like to start new shooters off with little guns. Build up to the bigger stuff...there shouldn't be any rush. Once the mechanics are established, it's a lot easier to deal with other things that pop up, like flinch (an evil demon that can raise its head even in the most experienced shooters).

deerPhD said...

Awesome post - I love the insight youv'e gain on the relationship between our mind and our physical behavior (including flinching!). Plus, I love paint ball!

Othmar Vohringer said...

Great post Albert with a lot of good tips. The sub-title; “Gun Control is Having a Good Sight Picture” is the only acceptable gun control for me, all other forms of it will be challenged.

Keep the good work up.


Albert A Rasch said...

Thank to everyone for the kind words. I have taught a lot of people, including my mother in law, how to shoot. The experience has been enlightening in that it has allowed me to see what works and what doesn't.
The worst students are young men who are substantially bigger than than me. My demeanor on the range is usually intimidating enough to squelch any braggadocio or hubris at the firing line, but occasionally I get someone who needs to be put down hard.
Women on the other hand, a very compliant and tend to shoot better than I after a couple of sessions. Their only problem is with the notion that the guns "KICK" and that it must take a big person to control it. Once they've got the basics down and put a few rounds down range, they are invariably OK with it.

Albert A Rasch

deerslayer said...

Albert; Found your visit and comment at my site and decided to visit you. really a great post on gun control and overcoming the flinch. I began with a 22 when I was 7 years old shooting targets and now have shot many heavy caliber rifles without flinching or hesitation but prefer the 25-0-06 or 6mm for my hunting purposes.Anyway I'd like to add you to both my sites if you don't mind? Keep up the great work and I'll be back soon.

Jon said...

Albert, great post. I started shooting a BB gun at hand thrown ping pong balls in a garage in SW Houston, graduated to bigger guns as I grew up. I start my Grandkids on rolled wiffle balls with a .22 pistol.

Hand/eye coordination is probably the most important element of shooting!

Albert A Rasch said...

Thanks for the links, and I'll be checking your sites out in the near future.