by Ralph Hicks
Beyond the mental and physical preparations it takes to shoot well is the ability to fine-tune your shooting positions and turret adjustments based the terrain and climate conditions. The more precise your ability to read the wind speed and direction, determine the exact range to target, trigger control, and forming a solid firing position then the better accuracy will becomes. Knowing what factors produce a bad shot is as important as knowing as what makes a great shot: A soft position, a sloppy trigger press, a few miles per hour off on reading the wind, and three or more feet off on ranging will adversely impact accuracy.
Ranging errors are more common than most shooters realize. Laser rangefinders are incredible in determining range and have contributed to our ability to effectively hit targets at extreme ranges. Like any piece of technology, rangefinders can produce errors by reading objects differently than your intended target. If the target has no reflective surfaces, it becomes harder for some lasers to send back data; low cost range finders suffer from this the most making the rifleman to look for targets that are more reflective,. Here is where ranging mistakes are made.
The second most common mistake is a poorly executed shooting position which leads to a misaligned body with the rifle, a sloppy leg and foot positioning or a bad grip can degrade your ability to hit the target accurately. If you have a combination of a bad wind read and poor shooting position then your ability to hit the target is going to deteriorate greatly.
Finally, entering bad data into the ballistics calculator is third factor in missing the target. This stems most often from entering the wrong muzzle velocity or weather data resulting in bad wind or elevation calls.
Both ranging and inputting the right data into the ballistic calculator are mechanical inputs and either you do it right or wrong. Below are the areas that can be enhanced or corrected with a few minor adjustments. Correcting for cant, securing the correct point of aim, trigger control and breathing and heart rate control are areas most over looked.
Canting the rifle is a common mistake in long range shooting, if the rifle is not level, canted to the left or the right, the path of the bullet will fly in the same direction of the cant. This is not a major issue when shooting at short ranges but as the range increase it will send the bullet several inches off target. It is a common cause of misplaced shots; one-inch miss at 100 yards is a 10-inch miss at 1,000 yards. An anti-cant device can be used to correct this problem. An anti-cant device is an overstated term for a bubble level.
Point of Aim
The next step is to find the natural point of aim. Look through your scope, set your shooting position firm until there is no horizontal movement along the reticle horizontal cross hairs or mildots. When you look at your sight picture the only movement you should see is straight up and down movement along the reticle’s vertical axis, this becomes the natural point of aim. Each inhale and exhale should move the reticle up and then down from the center of the crosshairs. Once you have reached physical and mental stillness take one breath in and exhale slowly, then pause on exhale as you pull the trigger your natural point of aim should fall back to the sight picture you originally had, otherwise your body position was not correct.
Trigger Press and Follow Through
The first pad of your index finger should rest just above the curve of the trigger, the non- shooting hand should be firm around the stock; your index finger is at a 90-degree angle to the trigger, your pull is smooth and uninterrupted. The force is consistent, and the finger holds the trigger until the recoil cycle has ended. A slight pull to the right of the trigger finger and the bullet travels left; a pull to the left and the bullet travels right.
Some argue the trigger press should be slow allowing the shooter to be surprised when the trigger breaks and a round is fired. More often than not a slow trigger press results in some form of involuntary movement. The same can be said for a very fast trigger press; a fast trigger press can result in a jerking movement. On the other hand a drag of the finger across the face of the trigger may cause a hit off center. A smooth and steady motion is required while at the same time maintaining full concentration on the sight picture. As you are concentrating on the sight picture the heart rate and breathing should be second nature from all the practice you performed prior to the hunt or competition. The finger should be held back to the rear of the trigger guard until the recoil cycle has ended; and the trigger finger stays in that position until the sight picture once again becomes in focus. This hold is called “follow through” it is this process that helps hold the “point of aim” through the entire firing sequence.
Finger Placement on the Trigger
The placement of the trigger finger is critical in achieving accuracy. Avoid finger placement below the first digit crease of the index finger. It is recommended that the finger be placed on the trigger at the center of the pad of the first digit of the index finger. Some use the tip of their finger for a more tactical feel while others press the trigger just above the first crease of the index finger. The higher you place the trigger on the pad the more force it takes to pull the trigger. For those who have difficulty pulling the trigger, they may need to drop the pad lower and be closer to the crease between the first and second digit of the index finger.
Finally, the index finger pad should be placed to the bottom arc of the trigger, and the trigger finger should not touch the stock, otherwise it could produce a counter force that will send the bullet on a horizontally trajectory.
As discussed, breath control is an important part of precision long range shooting. It also creates the proper focus needed to shoot long. After you have obtained a clear sight picture and point of aim obtain a rhythm in your breathing to enhance your trigger control. Breathing promotes oxygen in the blood and holding your breath creates excess carbon dioxide even with small breath pauses. It is not uncommon to see shooters take rapid deep breaths before a difficult shot to bring as much oxygen to the blood as possible. This allows for longer breath holds. This practice is very helpful when shooting off hand where small movements from inhaling and exhaling can throw the shot off target.
Prior to pulling the trigger you should be able to hear your heart beating. As you are going through the breathing cycle you should be following the rhythm of the heart. The trigger press occurs between heart beats. This is not a difficult act of coordination it just takes a little practice, there are a couple of ways to do gain mental and physical trigger control. The first step is to gain awareness of your heart rate. To practice hearing your heart rate, perform some physical activity to increase the heart rate, find a quiet place and listen carefully to the heart beating. Now control your breathing to a point where you exhale between the beats of your heart.
Practice breath and heart beat control during dry firing exercises until it becomes a natural element of the shooting sequence. This practice helps maintain a calm mind, precision focus and better trigger control. This same breathing exercise is used to relieve stress and has been practiced for thousands of years in some eastern traditions.
A firm and stable shooting position, proper read of the range, breath and heart rate control along with good follow through produces target success. All these measures can be practice without ever having to go to the range. How you practice is how you will shoot.
Read more at rthfirearms.com
Ralph Troy Hicks is the author of Fundamentals of Long Distance Shooting and Fundamentals of Long Distance Shooting II. He is a competitive shooter who set out to design and manufacture the finest semi-auto in the world—a rifle that could hit a dime at 100 yards and reach out to 1,400 yards with minimal felt recoil. It took over three years to develop this firearm. His goal was to take the precision of a bolt-action rifle and the speed of a semi-auto and marry them together in a stunningly beautiful firearm platform. It has the power, speed and precision to make any shooter into a champion.