Thursday 9 March 2017

Loading or You Move Around A Lot

Very few rifles I've used have had the capacity to hold more than one round at a time. As far as rifles and their accuracy is concerned the more moving parts they have, the less accurate they are likely to be. Similarly, the more parts of you that move about the less accurate you are going to be.

Apart from muzzle loading equipment, break barrel air rifles are likely to cause the greatest disruption to your position between shots than any other type of firearm. To load while in the prone position you need to bring the rifle towards you to reach the muzzle so you can break it open in order to cock it, this compresses the main spring. This requires some effort and I found jamming the butt underneath my chest provided the necessary purchase for me to pull down the barrel until it clicked to being cocked.

With the breach open and the barrel free from the main spring's pressure, my child sized fingers could pick up a tiny pellet to insert without the barrel springing back shut. The breach was not easily visible so developing a good feel for what you were doing was essential to avoid dropping the pellet or inserting it off centre (another reason for preferring .22). Once the pellet was properly in the breech the barrel could be flipped back shut and the rifle be one with you again before releasing the shot. Ultimately, being able to do this blindfolded is the aim.

I remember one day of shooting in our front garden next door to the boarding house, for which my dad was one of the masters, I had been out there for some time and was being watched by a couple of lads who were boarders. I was very conscious of their presence although they were behind me. I was thinking of every movement I was making while operating my rifle. Shot after shot after shot I fired and I wanted them to be fluid, slick and good. Party popper after party popper was knocked down with each and every strike. I heard one of them say "I bet he thinks he's training for the army". I doubt they had watched Carry on Sergeant, unlike me, because I knew you needed 'two of everything you should have and you're in'.  I'd already given up that dream because of my eye and I only ever wanted to play with tanks anyway. I have no wish to be shot at!

The loading process is repeated over and over as you work out the best way to do it and becomes more and more streamlined. It is essential to find a way where you cause the least disturbance possible to your position. Or, you develop a way that enables you to reconstruct the position easily and accurately. Practice does not make perfect, especially if you don't know what you're doing. Practice makes permanent. This is another reason why play is crucial. If you're playing you are happy to mess about, try something different, experiment with other ways, find out what's best. When you get precious about something you lose your flexibility. However, don't try fixing something that isn't broken.

If you keep your loading process smooth, compact and gentle you are less likely to cause disturbance to your position. Your original position is generally the best. From then on it's likely to get worse with each and every movement. You will eventually reach a critical point when your position, and this is my own special technical term, craps out. When you reach that point it's game over, get up, have a rest and shake it off, then start again.

Shooting freehand and with something like a break barrel rifle uses a process that creates shed loads of movement but with that a great deal of positional reconstruction. In target rifle when you're using a lot more kit for support and a bolt action rifle it is more about maintaining your optimum position through a perfected loading process. I always found it hilarious when a shooter would spend a few minutes shuffling their legs and other parts of their body around to compensate for changes in alignment that didn't happen having only moved their trigger arm to load. They then wonder why that shot missed having unwittingly crapped out a perfectly sound position.

I have to admit that the novelty of firing a rifle left me many moons ago. I do not imagine myself as John Rambo, I no longer imagine being charged at by a hoard of Zulus. I do not load and fire in a crazy manner as if my life depended on it. Many beginners do, especially if they're a CoD fan, and it's a very difficult thing to talk them out of doing. They can be bollocked out of it though, especially if the reload is unsafe breaking range rules or they damage the bolt, action or the ammo in the process. Remember that rule? Don't be a d***? Well, don't be.

Be aware of yourself, be sensitive to what you're doing. Every action you make does something, somewhere. You do not function in a bubble. Ultimately, you are connected, and in this instance, to a rifle. Understanding what you are connected to and realising how you can minimise negative consequences in the outcome makes you a better shooter. Things that are forced, break. Things that are rushed, go wrong. A lack of care, makes a mess. Try not to create disturbance. Find your flow and let it happen. There is peace in oneness.

Saturday 4 March 2017

The Sight Picture or What You See

The sight picture is less important than you might think. Firstly, your eyes aren't supporting the rifle and, secondly, only a fool trusts everything they see. Reality is only so real.

I've always preferred open sights, I'm not a fan of telescopic sights. Yes, they magnify the image but they also magnify the wobble. Yes, they have cross hairs but that's a limitation in itself and nor do I play Call of Duty...Quick Scope my fanny!

So you have a foresight and a rearsight, the first near the end of the barrel and the other near the breech closer to your eye. You look through the rear one and centralise the front one. To do that most effectively you focus on the foresight. The distance between the two sights is known as the sight base and the longer the distance the more accurately you can line up the barrel. There is no sight base as such with a telescopic sight making it more difficult to ascertain the rifles alignment.

My air rifles had beautifully basic blade and V sights. The rearsight was a V shaped notch in which you align the blade  centrally at the bottom of the V and level with the top of it. You don't want to obscure what you're aiming at with the sights so the target should sit above the blade. I used to have a confusing time wondering whether it was best to have a clear image of the rear sight, foresight or target. All I could tell you is I certainly couldn't focus on all three.

One of my favourite games was to fill a 2 litre pop bottle with water and fire as many shots as I could from top to bottom in a vertical line to have as many holes as possible spewing water before the water ran out. Within the whole process of firing one shot the sight picture was pretty unimportant, there was barely time for it.

The kind of shots you'd often miss were exactly those you tried the hardest not to. The longer you hold the rifle or stare through the sights the more effort you impart and naturally you get tired. Target rifle is always moving because of the sight picture and so it's as much a game of releasing the shot at the right moment just like clay pigeon. The movement is a lot less but the scoring zone is significantly smaller. That moment may be fractions of a second and I often say as soon as your conscious mind has told you it's a good sight picture, you have already missed.

We are beings preoccupied with the world outside of us. We are easily distracted and forget the truths found within us. Shooting is the same. You will not find answers to your true alignment through your sights. You must breathe, relax, feel and think about what your body is saying. Do not rely on the implement in your hands to tell you how you are doing. You are responsible for it, and it is inanimate.

So, essentially all the sights do is confirm visually where you are pointing the rifle. If you're supporting it incorrectly they won't do much to help you.

Sunday 26 February 2017

The Position, or being a gun platform

A platform doesn't hold something, it supports it. Here is the basic premise with rifle shooting. If the platform is unstable what it is supporting won't be secure. A wobbly platform means a wobbly rifle equals a wobbly shoot.

I never gave much thought to how I was supporting my air rifle as a kid. My dad had shown me where my two hands were supposed to go, that the butt went in my shoulder and my cheek against the cheek piece. Having sussed that the next thing was to make sure you were able to look directly through the sights that confirmed the barrel was pointing where you were looking.

Firing a rifle of any kind freehand, without any form of aid or support, is a wobbly affair. Target rifle shooting isn't a static sport. The rifle is moving around a lot, much more than you give it credit for as an observer. Dad taught me to squeeze my wrists into the stock and that helped but really it's no good for competitive shooting because it requires muscular effort, or corrective tension. If you're holding the rifle your muscles tire and you wobble more.

The first shooting aid I used was a two point sling of the very basic variety. A two point sling attaches to a rifle in two places. Slings were first developed to carry a firearm over your shoulder and were attached under the barrel and near the butt. It was worked out that you could insert your arm through the sling and hook it around tricep of the arm that supported the firearm. By wrapping the sling around your wrist and holding any excess length between your supporting hand and stock you could impart three points of tension onto the firearm now in your shoulder. It makes quite a difference and the concept was developed into the one point sling for true target rifle.

We have four points of contact with a rifle; supporting hand, trigger hand, shoulder and cheek. With each and every shot they must be in the same place. These points of contact are attached to our body and by extension the body needs to be in exactly the same position for each and every shot. It sounds easy until you gradually realise just how much you unconsciously move around and how much disturbance reloading can cause to your position.

There should be nothing complicated about a shooting position. It needs to be comfortable and simple, especially when you start out. When lying on your front make sure your spine is straight and your hips and shoulders square to your spine. You want a straight line from your supporting wrist to the ankle of the supporting side of the body. We draw the other leg out slightly to give you some stability width ways. The arm of the trigger hand should be such that it doesn't cause an excessive tilt to your shoulders and that they are pretty much parallel to the floor.

Now, everyone is a different shape and size and few positions are the same but these basic rules are the best place to start. Keep it simple and comfortable, put the rifle to your position not the other way around. Building the position should be an ordered process that is consistently repeatable. Imagining yourself going through that process is a great way of identifying errors as you are making them in reality so you can correct them before you begin your shoot.

The platform is the important bit. The platform creates the natural alignment for the rifle. Natural because there's no effort involved and aligned through your body's four points of contact. Being aware of what your body is doing is a really important skill and is honed through mindfulness and yoga. Peace man!

Thursday 23 February 2017

My First Gun...then my second, third, fourth and then I begin to lose count

I love tanks. I'm glad I've got that out there, it's done now. I used to read military recognition journals as much as I read Asterix books as a child. Essentially, I grew up a spotter, a spotter of military kit. I think this combination of literature has resulted in my love for Tank Girl being somewhat extreme.

However, after a degree in War Studies and nearly two decades involved with target rifle shooting I consider myself a pacifist and the detailed spec of target rifle kit bores the crap out of me. I think what I've learned about myself is that it's not the technical details that interest me nor do I condone the violent history of firearms. The active process of firing a shot and achieving consistent results keeps me coming back. Having devoted my time to novice shooters and not always having bespoke kit I have had to hone the dark art of bodging. I don't want a piece of kit that does the work for me, where's the fun in that?

A favourite story of mine is from a former captain of my squad shooting the Imperial meeting with a beaten up old Grunig 7.62 target rifle using a threadbare jacket. Typically, he was late to his detail and threw himself down next to a young lady from an esteemed shooting school who had pedigree Bisley heritage. She had all the shiny kit. My captain described her disgust beautifully when they exchanged register score cards at the end and he had comfortably beaten her by a couple of points. What's that phrase now...? All the gear and no idea. The best shooter can shoot anything well.

The world of target rifle was a universe away from my garden. My little Diana didn't even have rifling. After cocking what looked like its barrel you unscrewed a smoothbore tube from the muzzle to remove it and insert a parallel sided pellet that wasn't waisted, or had a skirt. It wasn't powerful, it wasn't accurate and eventually dad bought me a decent Chinese made .177 air rifle that lasted years. Saying that, mum and dad had my Diana mounted in a museum grade display box. That little piece began my journey 33 years ago.

A friend of my father gave us a .22 break barrel Diana and that was a quality air rifle. A .22 pellet is so much more fun than the smaller .177. When shooting at broken pottery or damaged gramophone records the heavier pellet produces a much more satisfying effect.

It was a long time before I bought my own rifle, a second hand .177 Feinwerkbau. It made shooting in the postage stamp sized back garden of our house outside the school too easy. I wish it had been .22 as well.

All my air rifles were break barrels and that suited me just fine. They cause you massive disruption to your position and hold of the rifle in order to reload them. Building and maintaining your position is the first skill of marksmanship to master. If your position is crap, your shoot will be crap.

Tuesday 21 February 2017

How I began.

Mum blames my dad. He was in the army and had grown up with a fascination for things that go bang. He allowed me an air rifle from around the age of 5 or 6, I don't remember a time when I didn't have one.

I played with various break barrel air rifles in the garden until I left home and with them I taught myself how to shoot. Black powder muskets also had a great influence but one never expected accuracy from those smoothbore beauties, unless you are my dad, he and his Brown Bess rarely missed. Unlike now, I wouldn't have been able to tell you what I was doing in any depth as to how I was able to hit the mark I wanted with the rifle in my hands.

Repetition is key, doing things over and over again until you achieve the result you desire is how I learnt. Investigate, explore, play. Enjoying what you are doing enables you to continue doing it without becoming bored. It's not immediately apparent just how complicated shooting a rifle accurately is, however, over the last fourteen years I have perfected a coaching method, used by hundreds of beginners, that I know works.

I grew up the son of a boarding house master in the grounds of a pacifist school. Life's sense of humour has always tickled me. My sister was offered shooting just as much as I was but her bent was collecting and cleaning skulls of dead animals. She built an incredible collection. To me, the bizarre is normal, through divine design not choice, has my world, with me at its centre, been different, other, me. 

I didn't grow up on an estate with friends. A doctors negligence meant I lost the sight of my right eye when I was 12 months old which discounted football as a favoured sport. Any sport requiring me to judge distance took a while for me to get the hang of. I was always a bit crap at those team games. I was a chubby kid too and my mum Indian. If other kids wanted to rip a fat, half blind, half cast kid to pieces it wasn't difficult. When I think on the sports I enjoy, swimming, cycling, shooting, I think it's fair to say I like my isolation. 

I don't consider any of those parts of me a weakness. They are what make me and I'm proud to be different. I mention them because I was aware of it when I was very young and I wouldn't want it any other way. I like a challenge, although I like being the challenge  more.

One day dad taught my sister and I how to shoot. I don't remember it although I do remember using our very first air rifle with dad in charge, vaguely. Dad was content to let me shoot alone when I was a bit older. To be honest, now I'm a dad I can't wait till my boys can entertain themselves for hours outside too. For me firearms safety just seems natural common sense, those basic survival rules surrounding potentially lethal equipment boil down to one phrase for me, don't be a dick. I don't think dad explained it in exactly such terms but I think he'd agree and everything he taught me then is still relevant today. 

Dad made a portable backstop which allowed me to set up a range inside and out. My little .177 Diana wasn't powerful so a few metres was all I'd need. As I got bigger and I progressed onto bigger rifles so I would shoot mostly outside. I would grab a rug to lie on and not enjoy the scratch and tickle of the lawn against uncovered shins. Worse still were spiders or ants that found their way onto you. But then there was the smell of the soil and the wind in the trees. The delicately soft petals of daisys and dandelions, the lush green of the many garden weeds. The sun watching me all day long as I intimately watched the earth beneath me. The lawn's contours lay under me as my knees and elbows became red and sore as I emptied another tin of pellets, the essence of oil close to my nose. My most vivid memories of that garden are from ground level. The rose bushes hid me from prying eyes and the low walls kept any stray shots contained. Trees seemed even taller and curvature of the ground even greater. I love a different perspective, it broadens your perception.  

I'm sure dad left me to it when he knew I was safe to be alone. What a privilege that was. When you look at health and safety today and the restrictions on activities kids can do I'm grateful my childhood was when it was. I was given a responsibility and, for the best part, I didn't abuse it. I valued what I had. It could be taken away from me. My rifle was a means to another frame of mind whether I realised it or not back then. I kept coming back to it because I became to feel as one with a rifle.