Friday, February 1, 2008


I will be the first to admit that I am a bit daft on the subject of accuracy shooting. Others of my acquaintance will tell you that, no, he is not 'a bit daft'. He is in fact, plumb crazy about the subject. And, I suppose, I will submit to the majority opinion. That is not something I often do, just for your information. It is my long held personal opinion that if 'everybody thinks that way', or if 'everyone knows it', I will by reflex suspect that it is incorrect. I don't know if the majority has ever been right about much of anything, and I strongly suspect that if 'everyone knows it', very likely it is not important enough to be worth knowing, or it is false.

Regardless, I have long held the opinion that a rifle is to be used to strike things at a distance from me. If I can see something, have a good rifle and a good scope and good ammunition, there is absolutely no excuse for my not being able to put a bullet on it. Otherwise, why have the good rifle, good scope, good ammunition? While it may be theoretically possible to scare a deer to death, it has been my experience that your chances are a lot higher of having it fall dead if you blow through its heart with a chunk of lead traveling very fast, than by having that chunk of lead strike the ground beneath it. Or into the tree next to it. And I'm lazy, I admit it.
Particularly if I'm hungry, I do not want to wound said deer and then be required to chase it through brambles and up and down hills and through creeks and whatever to find it. And presuming that I do find it, I will just have to tote it back. I'll pass, given the opportunity. And this piece is intended to give you the opportunity.

At one point in time, I was relieved of the possession of my weapons. It's a long story, but I did get them back. Anyway, to feed my shooting jones, I would go to the rifle range before hunting season and just hang out. I saw some amazing sights.

I watched grown men with expensive rifles with expensive scopes carry a 5 gallon bucket 50 yards downrange, get on a rest, and fire a round at the bucket. If the round hit the bucket, they considered the rifle 'zeroed', fetched back the bucket, and left, presumably to go hunting.

Judging by the (lack of) skill exhibited in their methods and technique of shooting, and given the laws of chance, they probably stood about as good a chance of hitting their targets as they would with a properly zeroed rifle.

I watched men who were more serious about the effort get on the bench, fire a few rounds, walk the 100 meters to the target frames, tape over holes or put up new targets, walk back disgustedly, adjust their scopes, fire a few more rounds. Repeat. Perhaps several times.

When I observed them to be thoroughly frustrated, I would say 'mind if I shoot a couple of rounds?'Almost always, they would readily agree, giving me their rifle with expressions such as 'damned thing won't shoot', or 'damned thing shoots all over the place'.

After making sure the barrel was not overheated, and with a judicious check of the tightness of the screws which attach metalwork to stock, I would load a round and fire it. Oftentimes, the rifle was ridiculously out of zero. Most scopes are marked with the calibration data, such as 4 clicks to the inch at 100 yards, and I have a fair amount of experience with scopes of various brands and models. So I would mark the point of impact, make a judicious adjustment, fire another round, perhaps make a final tune, then put three rounds within a couple of inches of each other, or better, and give it back. 'Nice piece', I would typically offer.

Typically, they would look through the scope, and if they could see the holes with the scope, would look up in amazement and say 'howinhell you do that?!' Often they would say something like 'sheeit', or something similar, and walk downrange to see it up close.So I would tell them. 'Get on the gun, get it very close to on target on the rest, get comfortable, get loose, get still. Only then put your finger inside the trigger guard. Then very carefully apply pressure to the trigger until it breaks.'This does not mean 'get on target and pull the trigger'. The actual moment the trigger breaks should come as a surprise. 'Pulling the trigger' is not a discrete act. It is a process of feeling the point where the trigger stops with very gentle pressure, while making sure that you are absolutely on target and as absolutely still as you can manage, slowly apply more pressure, carefully maintaining stillness while maintaining the crosshairs on the target until the trigger breaks, firing the round and mildly surprising you simultaneously.

The 'secret' to this is, first, learning how to get on the gun, on the bench or rest, and getting still. This is, truly, a most difficult operation. When I say 'still', that is what I mean. It is easily seen, through good optics on a good rest, how even aside from breathing and heartbeat, the crosshairs will dance around the intended target. It is a conscious act of will to use those dancing crosshairs and feedback to gently slow the dance and shrink the distance they cover. As you get better at this, and the better and more powerful your optics are, you will see how much disturbance first your breathing, and later your heartbeat will affect this stillness or lack thereof. As you improve, you will learn to take a few breaths to clear the carbon dioxide from your lungs, then slowly let air out until you reach a point of neutrality. You will not be holding your breath, you will not be exhaling, you will not be straining at the limit of exhalation. You will be neutral and relaxed concerning your lungs. You will also learn how to be conscious of your heartbeat. At this point, breath-neutral, you should no longer see a dance of the crosshairs, but a steady small twitch coincident with your heartbeat. You will learn-- your brain will learn-- to apply your pressure to the trigger in the pauses between heartbeats. The 'process' of pulling the trigger is not a long, drawn out affair. It is a process, but it is not of long duration. And, with practice-- let me repeat that word-- PRACTICE-- you learn that, particularly on 'good days', you quietly and naturally go 'into the zone'. Time slows... focus sharpens.... the automatic part of your brain has already noted breath and heartbeat and tells the finger to begin the application of pressure and.... BOOOM. Round on target.

The first time, the first day you do this right, regain your sight picture and realize that you have broken the X of your target, you simply are bemused by how easy it seemed. Why hadn't you been doing this before? It's like a zen thing... in fact, given my ignorance of zen, it probably IS a zen thing. Your entire world is the bench, the rifle, the scope, the trigger, the target.... your spirit and your will. You WILL the bullet onto the target. If everything, all these physical things plus your hara and your will are one, the bullet CAN NOT MISS. Why you haven't done it before is simple. You had not been doing everything... EVERYthing... right. And when you do it right, it just happens. It seems magical.... but it IS under your control. You just have to invest the time and effort and ammo to learn it.

William Michael Kemp

Staying Alive sez: This is how it's done. This is not Viet Nam spray and pray. This is hitting where you aim and hitting it the first time. Remember, ambushes and sniping are the way to go. YOU get off the first shot and the bad guy's blood mists in the air. If there is more than one bad guy, they will be looking for someplace to hide. They wil be looking to get the hell out of Dodge. If you and some buddies are walking along and one of you erupts into a crimson cloud then YOU will be looking for a hole to hide in. Good shooting. And PRACTICE.

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