September 23, 2010
By David Tubb
The key to offhand shooting success
By David Tubb
I can hold the rifle still on target, and sometimes I do, but I have learned that it's preferable to shoot using a method by which the rifle is brought to the target following a pattern. This is what I call an "approach" method, and it is my recommended shooting technique.
Everyone's wobble area (the area the sight covers at the steadiest point in your hold) tends to go in oblong patterns, and there will be some movement pattern that seems natural for you. If your shot groups go from 8 o'clock to 2 o'clock, for example, you may do best approaching from 8 o'clock. What matters, though, is that you know what it is and that it's the same each time. My standing position is engineered to reduce vertical movement in the rifle. Rifle movement in this position is naturally left and right, not up and down, so a horizontal approach is a natural outcome.
Approaching the target means that the shooter starts the sight from some predetermined point away from target center. It honestly doesn't matter where or how much off-center this starting position is; what matters is that each shot starts the same.
Experience dictates that the approach should start from a point where the aiming black is visible in the front-sight globe but not yet in the front-sight aperture. It also makes good sense to have the approach be predominantly horizontal and also moving from left to right for a right-handed shooter. Those are only suggestions; the truly effective method behind the approach is the method itself, and that might and should change for different people.
Currently, I approach the target from the left and bring the rifle on a slight diagonal from about 8:30 to 2:30. In high winds, I find that I approach more directly laterally--from 9 o'clock to 3 o'clock--and this is primarily in the interest of time. In high wind I'm also holding harder on the rifle and driving it to target center more forcefully and frequently at a more rapid pace.
My calm-condition approach travels on that slight arc simply because it's the natural track I experience from moving my rifle from the center of the target back to my approach point to the left. The reason there is a slight downward slant coming from target center back to the approach point is because of the slight change this causes in the orientation of my shooting position.
I am, in effect, increasing the amount of body twist at my starting point for my approach, and that is "unwinding" as it centers on the target. (A calm condition, to me, is any condition where I can control rifle movement after the rifle has stopped moving; it's a condition under which I can hold on a good shot.)
The correctly done approach stops the rifle on target center. There is no overswing, no "shooting on the move."
It's a way to get the front sight to center still for a good shot. It's not done in desperation, and it's not done as a substitute for holding steady. In calm conditions, I can bring the sight over, let it center on the target and then just leave it there if I want to, and sometimes I do.
It is also intentionally not done quickly. It's creeping across. It's 9-ring, (count) one, two, three; 10-ring, one, two, three; X-ring, one, two--shot.
If the wind is blowing, the approach sequence might be faster, but I'm not going to take a shot normally at that point.
My method then is usually that I get to the target off the approach and sometimes then have to hold on it.
I'm shooting quickly shot to shot, for the same reason I shoot quickly at 600 yards: conditions. At 600 yards it's because I want to be exposed to fewer condition variables. I'm shooting quickly offhand because I want a time cushion to wait out conditions if I need to.
Shooting at a fast pace offhand is partly a matter of not wasting time. I see many people reload and wait for the target to come up and then go about shooting. Instead of waiting for the target to come back up and eyeballing it for 15 seconds, why not work on trying to shoot another good shot during that same time? I don't wait to see the target before I prepare for my next shot. I reload my gun and start the mount as the target starts up.
I'm assuming that my last shot will be on call. If it shows up within one inch of my call--within my call radius--I'm off and running. If it comes up more than an inch off my call radius, then I'll make a correction.
I have to wait. If I'm waiting, then I'm holding. I'm then trying to shoot the moment the shot is good so that I maximize my energy and time, and I'm not trying to make it better.
Normally, if I try to make it a little bit better, most of the time it gets worse. Don't take any more time that you have to. I am always approaching, though, and the reason is that I'm doing the same thing all the time; I have a pattern. As said, I still approach in very windy conditions--approach and hope but prepare to hold, and let the sight come on and in to get a good shot.
I think the best defense against the wind offhand is to learn and employ judgement on shot quality. Quite simply, I care about 10s and seek to avoid 9s--in the wind or in the calm.
Landing shots inside the X-ring is sensational, and I get plenty of those, but putting together a long string of Xs even on a dead-calm day takes a good deal more effort and time than shooting 20 10s. I'm not going to say that I don't try to shoot Xs offhand, but the Xs I score standing are a product of good fortune and what I like to think is a good offhand hold and technique.
In other words, when I approach the target and ease the sight over and in to center it, it should show an X, but I don't have to see one to go to the trigger. I will see several and will have several on the scorecard, but I will not waste a moment taking a solid 10 and turning it into an X. That's the best way to shoot a 9, by my experience.
You have to learn w
hat a 10 looks like, and shoot every one you see.