Get a Grip
September 23, 2010
How to develop positions that will hold their own when the wind blows.
Most people would be surprised at just how tightly I hold a rifle, especially in standing or offhand. Those who develop a standing position indoors--or who normally shoot under calm conditions outdoors--tend to rely on the standing position platform (position mechanics), rifle weight and balance, and time to settle the hold and fire the shot. But wind is a fact of life in high power shooting, and I think it's a big mistake to use standing position mechanics that are geared toward calm conditions.
Your position should produce adequate tension on the rifle to maintain control over the rifle in a five to 10 mph wind. As wind speed increases, and its effect on hold stability and control strengthens, so too should the gripping force on the rifle.
A firm hold on the rifle gives you more time to shoot because you're maintaining better stability and directional control. This is especially true in a wind that's strong enough to require the shooter to drive the rifle toward the target aiming black. A loose hold simply decreases the influence you have over a wavering, wandering rifle, and that means you might be involved in the shot for that much longer.
How tightly do I hold the rifle? Tightly enough that I can easily turn the rifle upside down and hold it securely using only my left hand. I use at least that amount of tension all the time.
My right hand grasps the pistol grip with at least that much force. It's well beyond a "firm handshake." When the wind becomes stronger, I increase tension in both hands but relatively more in the right, and that continues the stronger the wind becomes.
I also rest my face against the cheekpiece fully. I'm not straining my neck muscles but rather relaxing the full weight of my head onto the stock. I use the cheekpiece and sight mounting height controls on my rifle to accomplish this.
While I do increase gripping tension on the rifle in a high wind, the change isn't as great for me as it would be for some shooters. That's part of the point. I consistently grip the rifle with a fair amount of tension, and consistency--particularly as it applies to a position--is one of the biggest keys to shooting well.
The importance of tension in the sling-supported positions parallels that of standing. Many, perhaps most, high power shooters simply don't use enough sling or gripping tension in prone and sitting positions.
I think most shooters will feel the need to hold the rifle more firmly in sitting due to the less stable nature of the position. On the other hand, many prone shooters have been schooled to believe that reducing pressure against the rifle will produce better consistency and accuracy.
Not me. I grasp the rifle fore-end and pistol grip firmly in both sitting and prone. This reduces the effect the wind can have on me, and it also lessens what recoil does to the position--as well as producing more consistent bolt operation. In other words, this tension keeps the rifle in place and also keeps the shooter in place. That last part often gets overlooked.
Sling tension should be at least high enough to require the shooter to push the rifle well forward (right hand on the buttplate) in order to position the plate into the shoulder pocket. If the buttplate can be brought straight up and onto the shoulder, the sling is way too loose. I use considerably more tension, but that yardstick is a minimum.
Of course, increasing sling tension influences other elements of a shooter's position, but experimentation will provide the combination necessary to make it work. That's what practice is for.
I hold the pistol grip and fore-end with firm pressure in prone and sitting. The pressure I use in standing is not nearly as high, but I do not just let the rifle rest suspended. I take hold of it.
Many shooters favor using virtually no gripping pressure against the rifle fore-end in offhand, preferring instead to allow the handstop to secure their hand on the fore-end. I don't. I have all fingers squeezing the fore-end because this has proven to work best for me.
Take a little firmer approach this season and see if you don't shoot better.