By Seth R. Nadel

Every so often, you realize that your shooting abilities are not what they used to be. No matter what your current game, you just are not where you want to be, where you used to be. Things need to change, but what?

As Americans, we tend to throw money at the problem – if I am not shooting well, I must have an equipment problem! A new gun, new sights, better (more expensive) ammo, we just know we can buy our way back to the top of out game. Well, perhaps so – barrels do get shot out, bedding of our rifles loosens, handguns get worn. I can think of 1,001 ways to spend money.

Most of the time, if we take this equipment route, we change too many things. We get the new sights and have the trigger redone and change ammo, thus never sorting out the root of the problem! In fact, usually we need to look to ourselves.

That’s right, that face in the mirror is usually THE problem. It’s really hard to shoot out a barrel – we generally can’t afford that much ammo, or that many components. Plus, with modern finishes and lubricants, wear is less of a factor. But as we age (which is far, far better than the alternative), sometimes we fall into ruts. This has certainly been true in my case, where I drifted from Bullseye pistol into PPC competition, and then into combat, … err, now the more politically correct “Practical” shooting. Much of this was driven by my job as a Federal Agent – I evaluated each successive sport as better geared toward enhancing my survival on the job. I was recently brought back to earth by my poor showing on a practical course of fire.

The course was, on first appearance, easy. Four targets spread across a 20 yard wide bay, ranging from 20 to 30 yards, with only the 6 inch wide A zone exposed. One round each freestyle, one each strong hand only, and one each weak hand only, in separate strings. I used to do well on these types of stages. Not this time, I had a perfect score – 0.00! Perfectly bad!! I shot a bit slower, and I thought I focused on my sights, but my score divided by my time stank! What was wrong?

I had a “smart attack,” and I took my pistol and ammo over to a different range with a bullseye target at 25 yards. Darn it, every shot would have been an A on an IPSC target! OK, it was NOT my ammo, gun, or sights, it was my hold, sight picture, and/or trigger press. The problem, my friends, was ME!

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A bullseye shooters pistol box.

So, how can I fix the problem? My pistol shooting roots are in bullseye, that old fashioned game with a round black target at 50 feet indoors, or 25 or 50 yards outdoors, with a soft recoiling pistol/ammo combo, held in one paw. The course is 10 rounds in 10 minutes (with a very small X ring) slow fire, 2 strings of 5 rounds in 20 seconds each, called Timed Fire, and then 2 strings of 5 rounds each in 10 seconds each, or rapid fire. Before you IPSC shooters start to laugh, try it on the regulation targets! The 25 yard slow fire 10 ring is only 1.5 inches across, while the “X” ring is a tiny ½ inch! The timed and rapid fire rings are slightly larger. It’s a lot harder than you think. I still have my bullseye guns, so I dusted them off, grabbed some left-over ammo, and got back to the range!

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The High Standard .22 – and that is a 50 yard replacement center target.

My .22 High Standard does not show it’s age, but the problem with .22’s is the ammo. These guns were built for Standard Velocity rounds, not the latest high speed light bullet ammo that is common now.  My old standard rounds fell out of favor when the maker started producing too many misfires. And another issue is even finding standard velocity ammo these days. I picked up a box of foreign made Pistol Match ammo, and immediately found it to be trash! Some rounds were so weak, they would not function the pistol. Other had a lot more recoil than needed, and threw the brass over yonder. Accuracy was dismal – so much for printing Match on the box!

I did have a few boxes of  older standard velocity .22, and so I got to work. Yes, the problem is ME! My gun box holds my old score book, and I cannot even get close to those scores – yet.

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The Match Air Pistol.

I am building up the muscles that have atrophied over the years with my .22 when the weather allows, and I’m shooting my Match Air Pistol when the wind is blowing and the snow is falling. With the very low velocity of an air gun, it makes you focus on follow through even more than a .22, and the targets are much smaller. But I have a clear 33 feet in my house, and I can shoot it day or night.

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The Clark Long Slide .38 Wadcutter gun.

There is a famous saying that “Only accurate guns are interesting,” and I am fortunate to have one highly accurate gun. It is a M1911 rebuilt a long time ago by Clark into a long slide .38 Special wadcutter gun. Yes, it consistently feeds rimmed, blunt nosed .38 rounds, and if the shot is not in the ’X’ ring, it is solely my fault! This is just an amazing masterpiece of gunsmithing, with the blunt wadcutter bullets seated flush with the end of the case. Of course, .38 Spl. wadcutter ammo is even harder to find than .22 standard velocity rounds, so I have to reload my practice ammo to very exacting standards. But that is part of the game, and you can even experiment with different powders for different types of recoil. Some prefer the fastest powders for a short, sharp recoil, while I find a slightly slower powder smoothes out the recoil for better follow-through. And with it’s extended barrel, follow-through is a must! I have proven beyond any doubt that I can move the gun before the bullet clears the barrel!

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.45 softball gun, with extended front sight.

The final “bullseye” gun in my box is a .45. As the full 2700 course (2,700 possible points) calls for slow, timed, and rapid with .22, a center fire, I must admit I have never really mastered the .45 in bullseye. Once again, the issue is me! If I strap my pistol into a Ransom mechanical rest and check, it has the accuracy to do well. I just never seem to be able to extract the inherent accuracy from the gun. But this is my 2017 goal, to vastly improve my scores with the 1911 “softball” gun – we all need goals in life!

I have found in the past that when I go back to my roots in bullseye pistol, my scores in my other shooting competitions go up. That’s right, I do better in Practical (USPSA) pistol, high power rifle, even 3 gun! After all, if I can hold that pistol all the way out in one hand, and get the sight alignment and trigger press perfected, shooting with 2 hands at much larger targets, or with a rifle or shotgun with 3 points of contact (left hand, right hand, and shoulder) and perhaps a sling seems really easy!

Oh, my vision has changed, and my muscles need more exercise to hold the guns as steady, but those are really just excuses! If I want it, I will put in the time and effort to get it! And so can you!! Go back to your roots, whatever game you prefer, and go for it!

Perfect Practice makes for Premier Performance!