It should be clear to those who have been following this column for any length of time that I believe preparation is a key to success in competition. While it’s also clear to anyone who has fired a shot in competition that meticulous training and event preparation cannot overcome the greater and immediate need to execute the shot at hand, it is preparation that determines the result of that shot.
I think, and act, in terms of three different stages or levels during competition. Essentially, my focus changes. Each shift is still related to preparation: I prepare to shoot a 10.
The first mode, which I call Level 1, is a checklist. This is firing point setup, conditions analysis, rifle adjustments, personal gear, sight settings and so on. Here is where a majority of mistakes are prevented.
Efficiency comes with practice and effort. Determine sequences and chores to be done in an expeditious manner. Something like marking spotting scope positions on the scope stand saves time, as does loading ammo boxes the night before and preparing the rifle for the first event.
This Level 1 phase continues into the string at the start of each round. Level 1 is checking time, checking conditions, checking the number of rounds. In windy conditions it’s making a decision about when to mount up for the next shot.
It’s also checking to make sure nothing needs an adjustment–including hat and glasses–and also natural point of aim. This level is detached from any aspect of firing the rifle. The last step in this phase is loading the rifle.
Level 2 moves to the immediate concentration of attention solely on making ready for the shot. That means putting my rifle mount-up sequence into action. As I set the rifle into my shoulder, I am not thinking about having 14 minutes left or adding the click of right wind. Level 2 is the purely systematic routine of getting my position in play.
Level 2 is critical to standing-position performance, although there are equally critical elements in this stage that apply to all other events. Shooting slow-fire prone, for instance, I am keenly aware of the consistency of positioning the rifle in my shoulder and all elements of my position, and I always confirm natural point of aim, adjusting as needed.
Rapid-fire sitting is totally an exercise in position consistency. Level 2 in this event is rising and returning on mark, mounting the rifle and establishing (and reestablishing) natural alignment. Repetition is consistency, and each and every move I make or step I take is the same, every time.
Level 2 is easily generated in anyone’s routine, and the important point to grasp is the need for developing a habit of consistency and determining the sequence or process to follow.
This next level, Level 3, is my use of visualization in firing each standing shot. This is a routine I follow on every offhand shot, live- or dry-fired, I see the shot first in my mind and then trigger the shot on the target.
Level 3 is a bit different because I apply it mostly to the standing position. While I suggest anyone having difficulties with other positions or events to incorporate visualization into his or her training, visualization has the greatest benefit in offhand. Unlike the stable, sling-supported positions, in standing the sight is not holding still on the target; there is a big difference between what we want to see and what we are seeing.
I do, however, visualize my rapid-fire strings, picturing myself working the bolt flawlessly, locating the magazines, reloading, checking my timer and shot locations, and so on.
When I visualize the offhand shot, I see it exactly as it will appear–just as if I were shooting. This is positive feedback, shot-to-shot reinforcement. See the shot, take the shot, see the result.
Hopefully, the on-target result will mirror the pre-shot visualization, but even if the result is not the same as that seen in the mind, the use of visualization is still positive. Then it’s a matter of correcting the outcome for the next shot.
Don’t waste time thinking about the bad shot; replay the desired result instead. See a perfect 10. Done prior to each shot, it can have quite a positive influence.
I run the shot in my mind as the rifle is mounted. One product of habitually visualizing each offhand shot is that it develops the decisiveness so important to shooting consistently high standing scores. Seeing the shot and taking the shot lose their separation and, therefore, the transition to decision is likewise faster.
Level 3 can be practiced at any time. I’ll fire an entire string while driving down the road, and I usually run through a string of offhand prior to firing the event. Now I’m firing all 20 rounds as I want to see them. Not all sight pictures are perfect, but that’s part of the ingrained reality we’re trying to instill. They are all solid 10s, and that’s what I’m looking for. It’s positive reinforcement and, therefore, results in a positive approach in me once I’m on the line.
Honestly, I don’t know that there’s anything more important to a good offhand score than learning to use Level 3. It can help eliminate bad judgment, which is the primary cause of bad shots.