By John M. Buol Jr.

Continued from Best Rifle Drills – Part 1.

Offhand Position

Start with group shooting slow fire from offhand. Note this isn’t the hip-slung, backwards-leaning standing position found in conventional competition. Using High Power as an example, the SR target engaged at 200 yards has a bull the size of the nine ring (13 inches) and a shooter of Expert classification can hit it routinely. Where Army and Marine-trained shooters can qualify “expert” by shooting six MOA groups from a prone position, an Expert classification in High Power requires hitting around six MOA from standing with no outside support. Master and High Master class shooters routinely hit the seven-inch ten ring, 3.5 MOA from the same distance and position. International rifle competitors shoot standing on a target with a ten ring slightly larger than one MOA.

That certainly requires top-notch marksmanship, one reason every shooter has much to learn from skilled competitors, but not specifically addressing our purpose. Instead, shoot these drills using the same position and stance offhand you would use when shooting at speed. For our purposes a twelve minute hold is sufficient, which keeps the wobble on a three inch target at 25 yards slow fire. Like before, there is no magic formula for developing your hold. It is a trial and error process. Observe how your sights move and make adjustments in response to what you see. Do it often enough to build endurance and develop consistency.

Presentation Practice

Position building is subtle as you’re trying not to move. Non-shooters will quip that shooting isn’t that difficult because all you have to do is be still, but as position building exercises demonstrate, this is an acquired physical skill like any other. Presentation means getting the firearm from a condition of readiness into a firing position aimed on target. Grooving this in is no different than developing a golf swing or any other skillful athletic maneuver.

There are many potential readiness conditions so it makes sense to use a single presentation path that can be common to all. To create a general ready position, start in your offhand position, relax your grasp with both hands and, keeping your head still and eyes looking forward, allow the rifle to pivot down at your shoulder until the muzzle depresses enough to lower the sights just below your eye line. You’re just looking over the rear peep iron sight or elevation adjustment knob on the scope and maintaining a light touch of the stock’s comb to your cheek. This ready position should be the same regardless of the handling executed. The rifle passes through this position on its way to the target every time.

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An example of point of impact shift when a rifle is shot from different positions and holds. The initial zero was obtained from a magazine-supported prone position with the support hand around the magazine well and not touching the handguard. The rifle used was a rack-grade issue M16 with an optical sight and without a float tube, so this is admittedly an extreme example, but all rifles can experience some variance in point of impact when held and shot in a manner different from how it was zeroed. Given the rifle/ammo combination and the distance used, all the group sizes were reasonable, however, the point of impact changed drastically. Lesson learned: Hold and shoot your rifle in the manner you intend to use in the field. A zero from a benchrest provides a zero from the bench and that might be a different point of impact when using a different position and support.

To build this we’ll start with low ready. From offhand, relax your grasp slightly and depress the muzzle down, pivoting at the shoulder through ready, until pointed at a 45 degree angle down at the ground. With your head upright and eyes forward, pivot up until the comb of the stock brushes the ready point on your face, then firm your grasp, pulling the rifle into your offhand shooting position to pivot from ready up to the target. Your shooting eye should pick up the sight just below the target and watch it pivot up from bottom center straight up into the point you intend to shoot.

Start this dry exercise with no target. Just work on going to and through instant ready and watching the sight track up as offhand is acquired. When that feels good try the same thing with your eyes closed. Confirm sight alignment in offhand, keep your head still and pivot the muzzle down. Raise the rifle upward smoothly with your eyes closed, feeling where the comb contacts your face and feeling the rifle stop in offhand. Open your eyes and check sight alignment. If everything was done properly your shooting eye is now seeing perfect sight alignment (front sight, red dot or reticle centered.) If not, you inadvertently moved something causing misalignment. Retry with your eyes open to reacquaint what right feels like while being able to visually confirm and then try again with eyes closed. A good goal is five eyes-closed presentations in a row yielding perfect sight alignment when confirmed. This creates a sort of heads up display where your acquired skill automatically presents your sights up on whatever you look at without conscious thought.

Once comfortable with eyes-off presentations we’re ready for timed singles. With a 16 minute mark, begin by presenting from low ready up through instant ready and on target with no time limit. Just confirm you’re tracking straight up and catching your sights visually as the sights contact the bottom center edge of the target on the way up.

Now, set a shot timer with a par time of three seconds and repeat this, reacting to the start beep and presenting through dry trigger press on a good shot before the ending par beep. After doing this a few times in a row, knock 0.2 seconds off the time and repeat. If you’ve been doing the eyes off drill successfully working this down to two seconds should progress quickly. From there, continue down in 0.1 second increments. 1.5 seconds on a 16 minute mark is a good pace. 1.0 is possible but requires flawless technique and only the best will achieve it with any regularity.

This will take many sessions to accomplish. If you miss the time limit or find your presentation starting to get sloppy, try several with no time limit to reestablish what you’re trying to do and back off the par time. The idea is to slowly approach your current speed limit, building on good repetitions and increasing speed incrementally. Eventually, your speed limit will increase and good presentations will become more automatic. We are purposely using a smaller target and presenting at a slower pace to learn precise movement. Smooth is fast and by using a smaller mark we’re grooving smooth movement which will translate to speed.

Offhand Slow

Confirm your dry practice by demonstrating the ability to shoot a group. B-8 25 yard Rapid/Sustained target centers used by the NRA and CMP for conventional pistol competition are ideal here. The ten ring is just over three inches, or about twelve minutes at 25 yards with a 22 minute (5.5 inch) bull out to the nine ring.

Start with single shots slow fire, striving for a five round score in the high forties with no shots outside the nine ring. A score of 50 is quite achievable and demonstrates your offhand speed position and trigger control to center a 12 minute group or better every time.

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Unsupported positions, particularly offhand, or less stable and provide a greater challenge to marksmanship fundamentals. Learning how to still shoot well when the position and hold isn’t perfect helps everywhere a rifle is useful. Shooting from an Offhand speed position, not a hip-slung slow-fire Standing position, at a B-8 pistol at 25 yards can realistically yield groups like this.

Sustained Fire

After you’ve checked out on the preceding exercises re-shoot the bullseye with a time limit to learn to compress the fundamentals more quickly. This can be done with a set number of shots fired within a par time or with a shot timer and keeping each split (time between each shot) under a certain time. For example, start aimed in and firing five accurate shots in under ten seconds or allowing no more than 2 seconds between each shot give the same effect. Two seconds per shot is a reasonable limit and you should be able to shoot the same scores you did in offhand slow fire at this pace. Increase your speed in increments until you can’t reliably hang shots on the black.

Presentation

Good shooting thrives on dry practice and no component more than gun handling. The firearm handles exactly the same with or without ammo. The only time there’s a difference is during the shooting process. How the gun gets on target and how the sights track in getting there is the same dry.

Groove this where holding the black (5.5 inch nine ring on the B-8 target) during two second singles is routine and push down to 1.5 seconds. When you’re there, try it on a full silhouette. Seventy two minutes wide at twenty five yards, this will now look monstrously huge! Using the smaller bullseye at a slower pace developed precision by requiring a smooth, consistent presentation. We are now starting on the silhouette with 1.5 second singles (nearly twice as fast as the qualification requires) and work the time limit down in 0.1 second increments. With all the extra real estate we have for shot placement on this barn door sized target, and your precisely developed presentation, working down to a goal par time of 0.8 seconds will progress quickly. This leaves about a quarter second split time for the second shot of the pair yielding a 1.0 second controlled pair from low ready at 25 yards.

Benchrests provide an ego stroke. They provide rock-solid stability and greatly reduce human error during shooting, making it the easiest way to obtain and display a rifle’s precision (not accuracy) capability. However, this is a useless display as it has nothing to do with how the rifle will be actually used and provides no real insight to how things will really work. Positions braced by your body and readily-available or improvised rests, fast offhand shots, and the like are how a rifle is normally used.