Everyday Marksman is Back Online

Good day, everyone!

It’s been a bit of a journey, but the marksman family is finally settling into a new home and routine. The drive across the country took seven days, and unpacking into our new house is slow-going. One of the downsides of living in a more populated area is that you get significantly less square footage for your dollar, so we’ve got an ongoing effort to

The Everyday Marksman’s road trip kit while stopping along Route 66; full of “just in case stuff” for seven days

organize and eliminate things from our lives. We are also having to look at spending priorities. My new career ‘s gross compensation starts off at only slightly less than I was making as a military officer (which is expected, given the dramatic shift in industry I’m undertaking), but our expenses are significantly higher (health insurance, rent, etc.). It’s going to take a while to equalize and figure out how to allocate funds.

That said, I listened to several audiobooks and podcasts while on the road and thought a lot about my goals and the direction I want to take my training and writings. Chief among the books I listened to was the work of Jack Donovan in The Way of Men. It was recommended to me by another shooter and instructor I follow. While the the political and personal drama that surrounds the author is a bit of a turn off, and may very well taint his message among many, I do find his core philosophy to be of value. So much so that I’m working hard to incorporate much of it into my life.

What is that message? Essentially, it boils down to finding a core tribe, or “gang,” to belong to and making yourself a useful and important part of it. For a long time, I’ve felt relatively isolated among many of my peers. Surely, I had good friendly working relationships and a positive reputation with them, but I had very few who I would consider the kind of friend I could call at two o’clock in the morning with an emergency and know they would come through. If much of what I’ve read and listened to over the last two months is any indication, this is a very common problem these days.

I’ve also been spending a lot of time considering my weaknesses, both physically and emotionally, and how they have affected my professional, personal, and marksmanship lives. If I am to find and belong to a new tribe in a a new area, then I must demonstrate my worthiness of such a group. With that in mind, these are my new(ish) priorities for the coming year(s):

  • Physical capabilities: For a lot of reasons, I am placing my own physical fitness and capability at the top of my priority list. Without the military standing over my shoulder and forcing me to maintain at least a minimum level of fitness, it would be easy to let this one drop off. I want to be stronger and more capable so that I can better take care of my family and set an example for my son. I want to be more reliable when it comes to moving over distance with a load on my back so that we can do more when we get to the other side. I want to be harder to kill in a fight. I would be lying if I didn’t say the political tension and grim outlook of the country isn’t weighing on my mind. Physical preparedness is hugely important.
  • Skillset: To this point, I have focused primarily on the raw fundamentals of marksmanship. To be fair, that is the name of this blog and was my impetus for starting it in the first place. But I’ve come to consider that there are other equally important elements that coincide with being a well-rounded armed citizen. I’ve often written that my view of an Everyday Marksman is one who is engaged with their communities and looking out for the the safety and security of them and theirs. Message boards are full of armchair warriors who think that they will make it by sitting on their front porch (or roof) and guarding their stash from three hundred yards. That is simply not a realistic scenario. For me, it’s about fighting and surviving. I want to increase my skillsets in those other areas that help with the surviving portion. I do not plan on changing the focus of this blog onto these subjects, but they are a priority for me in the coming years.
  • Tactical Know-how: As I laid out in my old “about me” section, I may have been a military officer, but my specialty had nothing to do with small arms tactics and planning. In fact, in 10 years, I never even qualified with a weapon. My specialty was in nuclear weapons and strategic warfare planning. While those skills are useful in a grand campaign sense, I want to learn more about applying my marksmanship skills in a useful tactical manner beyond a square range. That means training, research, and practice. I do plan on writing about what I learn, though such training will not be a regular thing since its cost (in both tuition, travel, and ammunition) bumps up against my more limited financial resources.
  • Mindset: All the the practice and technical knowledge in the world is scarcely helpful if I don’t have the ability to apply it at the right time in the right way. Another book I listened to while on the road, Van Horne & Riley’s Left of Bang, was an outstanding discussion of the type of awareness mindset that is sorely lacking these days. I’ve been working as a civilian for only three weeks, and I’ve already been jarred by the general lack of thought given towards “what if” scenarios. I want to consciously foster a mindset that is actively engaged in my surroundings, and prepared to prevail against any threat.

Aside from living an overall more engaged and masterful lifestyle, my underlying motivation for these things is to be the kind of man that others seek out in times of hardship. Strength, Courage, Mastery, & Honor are the tenants of Donovan’s work, and I sincerely believe they provide a strong foundation to work from.

So where does that leave me in the near future?

Shortly before I left California, I got a screaming deal on some new load bearing gear that allows me to have multiple configurations. My old heavy battle belt setup has migrated to a lighter configuration combined with the MVT chest rig I received late last year. The other configuration is a more traditional H Harness setup from First Spear. I am super excited to see what it can do and will be writing about it here.

A small representative sample of my estranged magazines

In addition, I am happy to be reunited with my box of standard capacity magazines. They were in exile while I lived in California. Now that I’ve moved back to freedom, they have been brought back into service. Oddly enough, I’ve now been without them for longer than I’ve been with them. On an interesting personal note, when I pulled the mags out of the storage box and looked at some of the decoration I had spray painted on them before moving to Cali, I was reminded how much my own mindset and approach to shooting has evolved. The decoration, which was minimal in its own right, was from a time where shooting was more about fun and image than any real practical skill.

I am proud of that evolution, and I will endeavor to keep it going.


Your Gear Buying Philosophy is Probably Wrong, Here’s Why


As a community, we often lose sight of the important stuff. One of the reasons I started this blog was the realization that I was spending far more time purchasing gear than I was actually working on becoming a better marksman. Since then, I’ve slightly returned to more gear buying than practicing, but for an entirely different purpose and under a very different philosophy. I’ll get to that later.

John Buol Jr. recently put up an article about the Lie Against Competition shooting. He relays a story from a police department that I found illuminating:

Not long ago, I supervised a standoff situation where our officers were placed in positions to engage a dangerous suspect. Several officers were armed with M4s. Bystanders were thickly mixed-in! Range to suspect was between 10 and 30m. Happily, our situation was resolved without our officers having to shoot.

As a precaution, I asked all officers to report, with their red-dot-equipped M4s, to the range the following week. I set-up a situation with paper targets that exactly duplicated the situation with which were confronted a week earlier.

Given generous time, stable, braced firing positions, and stationary targets, not one of our officers was able to deliver required shots, even after several attempts! When asked about sight settings and zeros, most officers were not prepared to answer definitively. Some didn’t even understand the question! An examination of the M4s present revealed that, in most cases, the red dot and the back-up iron sights did not agree. Some were not even close!

Similarly, Ned Christensen of Michiguns posted a thread on whereby he shows some of the “Sub Awesome” sling setups that he comes across while training law enforcement. The point of the thread is not to make fun of anyone, but to show that even the “pros” are not necessarily doing things right, either. John Buol Jr. shares that he has seen this repeatedly in the military as well, as have I. The underlying message of these articles is that competition has a valuable place in training, since you will simply not see these kinds of issues concerning zero distances and equipment configuration among competitive shooters. It’s a valid point, but not what I’m driving at.


Identifying the Problem

All the Gucci gear in the world will not amount to a hill of beans if the person wielding it is not competent in the fundamentals. I sincerely believe that 95% of gun owners are better served by purchasing a basic (but quality) weapon and investing the rest of their time and money into training and focused practice. Hardware is not a substitute for software, even if the gun-owning community tries to prove otherwise every day.

Consider my thoughts on barrel selection as an example of how this gets out of hand. It’s probably the most popular post on this blog, which means there are a lot of people searching for information about what the “best” barrel is. In the real world, barrel configuration just isn’t that important. I was recently in a discussion with someone who absolutely believed that they needed a heavier SOCOM profile barrel for their first AR because it was the most “combat ready” of all the configurations out there. This individual could not speak to why the SOCOM profile was developed, and what made it particularly more worthy than any of the other profiles that have existed in the last 50 years (hint: it’s not), but he just knew it was what he needed.

Different types of barrel profiles and materials only matter when comparing two equally skilled shooters doing the same activity. It’s one thing to take two career door-kickers from an elite military unit and compare who performs at clearing a building using a 10.5″ barrel versus a 20″ barrel. But simply owning the “high speed” configuration doesn’t automatically make Average Joe perform like a career door-kicker. In fact, Average Joe may actually be hindering his growth as a shooter by limiting his future potential.

In the firearms community, we have developed this obsession with weapon capability. Instead, we should be focused on our own personal capabilities.

  • If you are unable to hold your rifle steady enough in field conditions to hit a target, is the solution for you to spend thousands of dollars on new gear to help you see the target better? No, it is not. You should be spending hundreds of dollars on some training and practice ammunition.
  • If you have never been trained to tactically clear a building, but think you might need to, then you are better spending money on seeking that training and putting in the practice with what you have. You are not well served by spending the money on NFA hardware when you don’t even really know how to use it right (or what its limitations are).
  • If you plan on getting involved in three gun, immediately purchasing $5K in “gaming hardware” is not in your interest. Instead, show up to a match with what you already own and learn how to push your current equipment to its limits. Burn out your barrel in the process and then figure out what will better serve your needs and techniques.

These things sound perfectly reasonable, but many of us don’t follow it. Our behavior as a shooting community still trends towards the things we shouldn’t be doing.

Why is this? My guess is that we inherently understand two things: First, it is difficult to admit where our skills are weak. Either because we lack enough experience to determine what we need to work on, or because we view admitting fault as weakness, we don’t talk about it. Secondly, we recognize that actually investing the time and money into improving ourselves is harder than buying “stuff.” It’s not as if the temptation isn’t always there. In the first hour after starting to write this post, I’ve received three emails from companies telling me that I need to purchase stuff from them to trick out my gear and “give me an edge.”


How do we fix it?

This is a difficult challenge to overcome. It goes back to the death of mastery in our culture. Collectively, we want the easy fix so that we can go on experiencing a continuous series of “climaxes” when it comes to shooting. We reject the idea of riding the plateau. We don’t want to put in the work, because have been led to believe that work is for suckers.

Suggesting that everyone get involved in training and competition is certainly one path, but I don’t necessarily think it’s a realistic one. Not everyone lives where it is easy for them to do. For instance, my living in California means that the opportunity to use my ARs in any real training is extraordinarily limited and there just isn’t much of a competition scene. Sure, I could compete/train in another state- but then I have to factor in not only the cost of traveling, but also the cost of a different set of equipment (non-neutered rifles, 30 rd magazines, etc.) I’m not saying this is insurmountable, but it reduces the likelihood of participation for much of the population.

If I had my way, we would be establishing a culture that puts more emphasis on simply being good marksmen. Our language would shift away from what kind of gear we own to how we practice with it and, more importantly, what we are capable of doing without it. We would spend more time teaching others how to perform well, rather than telling them what they should buy.

At some point, we all need to realize that the idea of the “best” gear is fleeting. For example, I’ve been following the military’s strategic pivot to the Pacific theater, and I’m seeing some pretty interesting trends. We, as well as the Brits, have been renewing our emphasis on jungle warfare and I’ve been reading training reports and looking at pictures of the guys who are doing this training. Many of the advancements in gear and optics we’ve seen over the last 15 years of desert warfare are being reversed. Chest rigs are getting ditched in favor of belt rigs. Optics are being removed in favor of irons because the environments simply aren’t conducive to magnification, electronics, or really anything that has lenses. All of the things we decided were “the way to do things now” aren’t necessarily true anymore.

Do you know what hasn’t changed? The importance of knowing your own capabilities, working within them, and working to improve them. The one constant in all this evolution is the importance of the user.

When I said in the beginning that my gear buying philosophy has changed, I wasn’t lying. Whereas I used to buy “stuff” because I thought that’s what I was supposed to want (and the internet told me so), I now buy things based upon my needs. I don’t look to expand a particular weapon’s capability, I look to support mine. I realize that this distinction may not look significant from the outside, but it is a distinction. It’s taken me a lot of time and potentially wasted money to get here, and I want to help prevent others from making the same mistakes.

Don’t get me wrong, I still want some things just because. There isn’t a practical need for the new rifle I’ve been working on, it’s just something I would like to have. But I’m not telling myself that if only I had a lightweight 18″ rifle-gassed iron sight rifle, I could finally be comfortable carrying a rifle in the field and still be able to land hits at targets past 300 yards.

Where are your priorities? Do you desire to “look the part” and buy things to make it happen? Or do you buy things based upon careful analysis of your capabilities and analyze the most appropriate way to fill any gaps?



Enjoying the Path

I was recently put together a lecture about developing a winning mindset for my office. The gist of the lecture focused on goal setting, focused practice, and reinforcement of success. These were the same concepts I started talking about in the beginning of this blog. The things I wrote about then, and rediscussed in this lecture, came from the excellent work of Lanny Basham. But I don’t want to revisit that today. Rather, I want to revisit another book that I had these folks read excerpts from.

Mastery, by George Leonard is a fairly light and quick read. My copy is yellowed with sunlight from prominently resting on the coffee table for years, and I periodically glance through it looking for little tidbits of wisdom. Like Basham’s work, I wrote a bit about Mastery early on in my journey. Having gone through it again, there was something that stood out to me that I think we all struggle with.

Leonard talks about the concept of homeostasis. The idea is that every living thing seeks to keep its environment stable. In complex organisms, like us, that includes body temperature, blood pressure, hormone levels, oxygen levels, muscle tension, glucose, and millions of other processes that must be kept in constant balance. To these systems, survival means maintaining the status quo. This continues to apply even if we think the status quo is wrong. This is why it is often so hard to pick up new “healthy” habits when we decide we need to live a better lifestyle. Our body recognizes the change, and will trigger alarms to stop us from continuing. These alarms take many forms, from sore muscles to cravings. Given enough time and effort, the new healthy lifestyle becomes the new “norm” and your body will fight to maintain it.

Homeostasis applies to social pressure as well. Again, our natural instinct is to maintain the status quo. We don’t necessarily like change, and very often find it threatening- even if it is someone else who is doing the changing. Think of the times where someone has tried to quit smoking or drinking, and their circle of friends taunts them or encourages them to continue on with the old habits anyway. “C’mon mate,” they say,”nobody here cares. Have a drink!”

Backsliding is a universal experience. Every one of us resists significant change, no matter whether it’s for the worse or for the better. Our body, brain and behavior have a built-in tendency to stay the same within rather narrow limits, and to snap back when changed…Be aware of the way homeostasis works…Expect resistance and backlash. Realize that when the alarm bells start ringing, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re sick or crazy or lazy or that you’ve made a bad decision in embarking on the journey of mastery. In fact, you might take these signals as an indication that your life is definitely changing–just what you’ve wanted….Be willing to negotiate with your resistance to change. (Mastery, p. 107-115).

This is true of any endeavor we undertake. People will try to challenge our decisions because they represent changes to their perceptions of us or the environment.

It could be marksmanship: “Why are you going to the range so much? You planning on killing someone?”

Or perhaps prepping: “Damn dude, how paranoid are you?!?”

Even fitness: “I could never do that, I like sleep and food too much. Want a beer?”

These negative pressures can easily dissuade us from continuing down our new path, which is exactly what they are designed to do. The trick, really, is to surround yourself with people and things that support you. Barring that, try to change the minds of others as well until they accept your change or even join you on the path. The bottom line, though, is that you will not engage in the required amounts of practice and focus that are required of you unless you overcome this tendency towards the status quo.

You must challenge yourself to become a constant student. Accept that you will probably never truly master anything. You will always be working on yourself. You may become better than most, or even be the “best” in some objective measure, but you will realize that there is always more to learn- and that is the beauty of it all. If you challenge yourself in this way, you will see that the world opens up to you and begs you to engage in it.

Another quote from Mastery sums this up well:

Our preoccupation with goals, results, and the quick fix has separated us from our own experiences…there are all of those chores that most of us can’t avoid: cleaning, straightening, raking leaves, shopping for groceries, driving the children to various activities, preparing food, washing dishes, washing the car, commuting, performing the routine, repetitive aspects of our jobs….Take driving, for instance. Say you need to drive ten miles to visit a friend. You might consider the trip itself as in-between-time, something to get over with. Or you could take it as an opportunity for the practice of mastery. In that case, you would approach your car in a state of full awareness…Take a moment to walk around the car and check its external condition, especially that of the tires…Open the door and get in the driver’s seat, performing the next series of actions as a ritual: fastening the seatbelt, adjusting the seat and the rearview mirror…As you begin moving, make a silent affirmation that you’ll take responsibility for the space all around your vehicle at all times…We tend to downgrade driving as a skill simply because it’s so common. Actually maneuvering a car through varying conditions of weather, traffic, and road surface calls for an extremely high level of perception, concentration, coordination, and judgement…Driving can be high art…Ultimately, nothing in this life is “commonplace,” nothing is “in between.”  The threads that join your every act, your every thought, are infinite.  All paths of mastery eventually merge. (Mastery, p. 141-150).

Don’t get caught up in the day to day status quo. Engage in the little things you do each day and make the pursuit of mastery part of your every day life, not just marksmanship, health, or whatever your pursuit. Life continues to exist between those special moments at the range, or with your family- you just need to engage.


Defining Practical Marksmanship

Since the beginning of this blog, I’ve but an emphasis on “practical” marksmanship. The tagline at the top reads, “Practical, Not Just Tactical.” Something I realized, though, is that I’ve never really talked about what “practical marksmanship” entails.

The term itself is nebulous. Practical as opposed to what? Tactical marksmanship? Precision marksmanship? Dynamic?

Allow me to reference the Cambridge Dictionary:


adjective /ˈpræk·tɪ·kəl

    1. Relating to actual experience or to use the knowledge in activities rather than knowledge only or ideas
    2. Fitting the needs of a particular situation in a helpful way; helping to solve a problem or difficulty; effective or suitable

Ok, there, I made it sound official and a little academic. I suppose that is interesting, but it’s not really satisfying. What am I really getting at?

To me, practical marksmanship is really about keeping the end goal in mind. I do not discount the value of competition and a focus on precision, those are both vital components of my vision. However, to me, winning a competition is not the end game in of itself. Rather, the focus is on the ability to apply the skills learned through practice and competition and apply them to real world use of hitting targets that need to be hit. That could manifest itself in hunting, field competition, or defensive action. The long term focus is not on the skill in a vacuum, but how that skill will be applied in the real world.

How is that different than tactical or precision marksmanship? I suppose it is not, really. In my view, tactical marksmanship is primarily focused on relatively close range defensive marksmanship (as opposed to hunting or competition); it is a subset of the practical. Precision marksmanship is a bit more vague, and I more closely associate it with competition or long range shooting with more time and planning available.

Perhaps I’m splitting hairs here, but its just something that I’ve been thinking about. My vision has always been one of being able to walk around with a rifle in the field, recognize the need to take a shot, take a stable position, and hit the mark. I want to do this at any range I can see the target under any weather condition. That is practical marksmanship.

You can see this manifest in a variety of ways. My gear choices and weapon configurations could easily migrate towards specialized setups that would be better for precision, or better for home defense, or better for shooting 3-Gun. But they don’t, because I realize that such configurations are really tailored to specific circumstances. “Space Guns” that run on the ragged edge of reliability in order to decrease shot split times work well enough in a relatively sterile USPSA match with a tailored hand load, but would probably choke after being exposed to cheaper surplus ammo and a healthy dose of dust. Long and heavy barreled F-Class rifles are great for maintaining those tight shot clusters at range, but you sure wouldn’t want to hump one for miles up a mountain on a hunt.

Keep the end goal in mind, and work towards it.




More Standing Position Tips

The newest Appleseed newsletter was waiting for me in my inbox this morning (which reminds me, two of my work friends are off doing an Appleseed this weekend- good luck, guys!). One of the articles is titled, “Secrets of Offhand Shooting” by Agrivere. I thought it was worth sharing. Much of what the author says is right in line with my experience. A lot of shooting, like many activities, is about the mental game and solid practice.

To add context, if you’ve never shot an appleseed, the targets are all military F-Type Silhouettes scaled to simulate firing from 100 to 400 yards while shooting at the 25 yard line. The shooter works their way through each position at smaller and smaller targets under varying time limits.

  • Standing at the largest “100” yard target
  • Kneeling/Sitting at the “200” yard target
  • Prone with tight time limit at the “300” yard target
  • Prone with lots of time for the “400” yard target

As you can see, successive stages require the shooter to adjust NPOA between each target.

One of my Appleseed AQT targets from August 2014

Secrets of Offhand Shooting by Agrivere

Shooting offhand (the standing position) sounds pretty simple.  All you’ve got to do is stand there and shoot that HUGE target.  How hard can that be?  It’s those little ones at the bottom that are hard – you can barely even SEE those.  Can’t be hard to hit that huge one at the top, right?

Then you pick up the rifle and start looking at that huge target, and not only will the sights not stay on the target, they may not even stay on the paper.  It feels like the sights spend as much time on your neighbor’s target as they do on yours, right?

If any of that sounds familiar, you’re in good company.  Offhand shooting is hard, and doing it well is even harder.  If you’re one of those folks, and I know a few, who picked up the rifle for the first time and started shooting great groups offhand, then this article may not be for you.  And for the record, I’m jealous, because learning to shoot offhand well has been quite a challenge for me.

Unlike a lot of the champion shooters you read about, I started out just like most of us, just trying to shoot ten shots that scored.  My rifle was moving all over the place, and I considered it a major victory to have a shot that hit the black.  Plenty of shots didn’t hit the target at all.

Today I’m a Master classified NRA Highpower shooter, and in the interest of full disclosure I wouldn’t say I’m a great offhand shooter, but I’ve finally gotten pretty good, and I’ve picked up a few tricks and tips I want to share.  These are things I’ve learned either from other shooters or through trial and error which I think can help you to improve your shooting.

There’s a whole lot to talk about when it comes to making good shots offhand; far more than can be covered well  in one article, so this is  the first of a three-part series.  In Part 1, we’ll talk about some of these “secrets”.   Part 2, will be a more advanced discussion of how to build, or rebuild, your offhand position to maximize stability.  Then in Part 3, we will cover how to create a shot process and how to execute good shots.

First, you need a goal. My goal for this series for you to be able to clean the standing target on the AQT.  Not getting lucky once in a while, but to consistently shoot 8 MOA groups standing, every time.  Why 8 MOA?  Well, you can just fit a 2” circle inside the 5 ring of the AQT target, and a 2” circle at 25 yards is 8 MOA.  What about the rest of the five ring?  Well, any shot that hits outside of our 8 MOA circle could just as easily be a four as a five, so if it happens to catch a five that’s just luck.  And luck isn’t what we’re looking for.

I’m confident that if you’re willing to put in the effort and the time, this goal is achievable for pretty much everyone.  As always, feel free to take what works and discard what doesn’t work for you.  There are many ways to shoot offhand, and what works for me might not work for you. But I hope you’ll keep an open mind and give it a try! That said, don’t give up too easily and use “doesn’t work for me” as an excuse. Some of this stuff is hard, and you will need to be persistent to unlock the secret and understand why it works. This is especially true if you need to unlearn some bad habits first.

Here are the secrets of successful offhand shooting:

1)   Shooting is 90% mental, and the other 10% is in your head.

This might just be the very best piece of advice I’ve ever gotten for shooting, which comes from a former National Champion shooter on the All Guard Gold shooting team.  Of course it applies to all positions, and all kinds of shooting, but it is particularly appropriate for offhand shooting.

The mental side of shooting, especially offhand, is important on many different levels.  First and foremost is the practice needed to turn conscious activities into subconscious process.  Remember that the conscious mind is only capable of doing one thing at a time, and when shooting we need to be able to do many different things simultaneously – align the sights, hold the rifle still, squeeze the trigger, and so on.  The only way to do this successfully is to train the subconscious mind to do them for us, and this is done through practice and repetition.

Think of your subconscious mind as a supercomputer.  While your conscious mind can only focus on one thing at a time, the subconscious mind can do many things simultaneously.  In fact, when I’m shooting well, my conscious mind isn’t really doing much at all other than monitoring what’s happening.  My subconscious programs know how to hold the rifle still, align the sights, and execute the shot.  When it all goes right it’s a weird feeling – all I’m doing is watching the front sight, and when it lines up where it needs to be the rifle just goes off, without any conscious effort at all.

The other key mental element in play here is belief in yourself.  As Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right”.  This is perhaps the hardest part of shooting in general, and offhand in particular.  You have to believe you can do it, and the confidence you need will only come from practice.  Speaking of practice…

2)   The only way to become really good at offhand shooting is to be ankle deep in brass.

This is a piece of advice I received from a High Master Highpower shooter, though when he gave me this advice he suggested the pile of brass needed to be higher than your ankles (it still starts with “A”).  Whatever the depth of the brass you prefer, it’s absolutely true that it is going to take time and repetition to get good at offhand shooting. Fortunately, a lot of that brass can be “virtual”, using dry fire practice.

To give you an idea what I’m talking about, I frequently use a Scatt electronic trainer, and so far this year I’ve shot (offhand only) 1,920 shots on the Scatt, 310 shots in competition, and hundreds more in live fire practice.  Last year was about the same.  If you want to be good at shooting offhand, you’re going to need to commit the time to do it.

Dry fire works for most of your practice, but as we all know you have to do it properly.  Only perfect practice makes perfect.  You have to be honest with yourself, and not cheat.  That’s one of the nice things about an electronic trainer, as it will show you things in your shooting that you can’t easily see without it, and help you correct errors you might not even know you’re making.

In addition to programming our subconscious, what is it about offhand practice that magically makes you a better shooter?  This is one of the secrets that people won’t tell you, because most of them don’t know, and it’s very simple.  You’re training your body and your brain to use different muscles, in different ways, than you’ve ever had to before.

Try to raise just one eyebrow without moving the other.  Or move just your pinkie toe without moving the others.  For most of us it’s almost impossible. Why is this?  There are muscles there, and nerves to send the signals.  Why can’t we do it?  Because we simply haven’t trained our brains to send those specific signals to those specific muscles.  You can, if you want.  Practice builds those neural pathways to let our muscles do things they can’t currently do.

And that’s another big secret of offhand shooting that nobody ever tells you.  It’s the flip side of the biggest lie we tell when we teach offhand.  Anyone ever tell you to relax?  Well, the last time I checked, if I REALLY relax when I’m standing up, I’m going to fall down.  What experienced shooters really mean when they say “Relax” is, “Relax all of the muscles you don’t absolutely need to stand up and hold the rifle still.”  The thing is, when you’re starting out, in all likelihood you can’t do that, no matter how much you want to.  You need just the right amount of tension in just the right muscles to execute a good shot.  Too much tension and the rifle moves all over the place.  Too little and your position falls apart.  A big part of practice is learning exactly how that feels when it’s right, and when it’s wrong.  One of the biggest points of practice is to build the neural pathways to let you add just a tiny bit of tension to a shoulder, or a hip, or whatever, in just the right way to keep your position balanced and stable.  It only comes from repetition.  Speaking of a stable position…

3)   Your hold has to be 10-Ring to shoot 10s.

This tip comes from Carl Bernosky, one of the greatest shooters in the country, and current co-holder of the national record for Highpower offhand shooting with a 200-15x.  That’s 20 shots in the 3½ MOA ten ring, and most of them landing in the 1½ MOA X-ring.  That’s some good shooting .

Since we’re not shooting a Highpower target, we’ll adjust his advice a little and say “If you want to shoot small groups, you need to have a small hold.”  Sounds simple enough when you just say it like that, but it’s surprising how many shooters overlook this most basic of fundamentals.

We will be talking a LOT more in Part 2 about how to build a position that is capable of holding the rifle quite still, but it won’t surprise anyone to hear that it will be based on the exact same principles as every other shooting position.  Holding the rifle still requires using bone support wherever possible – remember bones don’t get tired the way muscles do – and relaxing our muscles as much as we possibly can.

This is especially hard in the standing position, as we simply MUST use some muscles in order to keep standing.  The less we use them, and the more carefully we use them, though, the better off we’ll be.  Here’s a framework to start thinking about.  Think of your muscles like a room full of toddlers.  They simply can’t sit still for more than a few seconds.  If they aren’t doing anything they have to do something – anything – and if you give them something to do, the next time you turn around they are bored with that and want to do something else.

That’s the biggest reason your sights move around like they do.  Your muscles really are trying to help, but just like a room full of toddlers they aren’t all on the same page.  They twitch and contract and tense up and the rifle moves all over the place.  With practice you can teach them how to hold still and let bone support take over, and that’s the goal.

So until we get to part 2, try to think about ways to have more bone support and less muscle support in your standing position, and your rifle will move much less.  Here’s a hint.  Start from the ground up, and think about each joint from your feet to your head, and whether you’re using bone support or muscle support.  Your feet, your ankles, knees, hips, back, shoulders, neck, everything. There are proven ways to build a position that will maximize stability and bone support, and minimize muscle tension.  We’ll talk a lot more about those in Part 2.

The other secret to holding the rifle still is the same as it is in prone, sitting, or kneeling, and that’s a rock solid NPOA.  Your success at aligning your natural point of aim with the center of the target will to a large degree define your success in all shooting sports, however, in offhand shooting, finding your NPOA can be extraordinarily challenging, leading us to…

4)   The NPOA Conundrum

We’ve all heard it many times.  During prep time you should build your position and establish your Natural Point of Aim so your NPOA is aligned with the center of the target.  Check your NPOA before each shot.  Adjust as necessary.

All sounds good, right?  How is that working out for you?  Probably about the same for me, which is to say not at all.  Here’s the secret nobody is telling you.  Until you learn to hold the rifle still, you don’t really have a Natural Point of Aim.  I mean sure, you can kinda put the target in the middle of the gigantic wobble area, but it’s not really doing you any good, not really.  Lets break this down a bit.

What is NPOA?  The definition in the Appleseed manual is:

The place where your body, in its RELAXED state, would place the shot. It demands bone support, not muscle support. Muscles are the enemy of precision rifle shooting!

We already talked about the fact that you essentially cannot relax when you’re standing without falling to the ground (especially when you’re new to shooting offhand), and yet we’re told we need to find and check our NPOA, which requires us to be relaxed.  So we must relax in order to have a solid NPOA, but we can’t relax because we’re standing here holding a heavy rifle.

So here’s the secret.  It’s all about your position. Building a position which is capable of holding the rifle still is a big part of Part 2, but until you learn how to hold the rifle fairly still while standing on your feet, honestly NPOA is a pretty worthless concept.  It’s probably worthwhile to try to put the target generally in the center of your wobble area, but if your sights are swinging across a space twice as big as the target, don’t sweat it.

We will talk more about how to build a solid position much more still down the road, but until then here’s what to work on.  Learn to hold the rifle still first.  Dry fire on a blank wall.  Don’t worry about where it’s pointed, just feel your position and where it has tension, then learn to let that tension go. Hold drills are great for teaching you where you still have tension, so you can reduce or eliminate it.  It will take some time.  You’ll be tired and probably sore.  Make adjustments to your position and see how the sight movement changes.  In time you’ll be holding a very small area.  At that point we can introduce a target.  Why do all this dry firing without a target?  Because, simply speaking…

5)   The Target is a Distraction

For most of us, the target is really messing us up.  It’s a huge distraction.  If you’ve followed what we’ve talked about here, you’ll see it.  As soon as you put a target out, your hold will increase in size dramatically.  Doesn’t make sense, does it?  Well, here’s what happens.

Your brain wants very badly to put the sights in the center of the target.  So much so that it will try to help you do it.  You’ll muscle the rifle onto the target and not even realize you’re doing it.  And all of a sudden, before you know it, your hold size has doubled- simply because you’re not relaxed.  Your body wants to help, but it’s working against you.  That’s the point of all that blank wall dry firing, to learn what it feels like to hold the rifle still without a target to distract you.

It requires tremendous focus to establish your NPOA in standing, and it will shift over the course of a string, so you’ve got to recheck it frequently.  If you’re using a scope, it’s even easier to fall into what I call The NPOA Trap.  In the NPOA Trap, simply because you can see the target SO well it’s very easy to muscle the rifle over to it without even realizing you’re doing it.  It can quickly turn into a vicious circle, where muscle tension makes your hold bigger, so you try harder to find your NPOA, which makes your hold even bigger, and so on.  To break the cycle you simply must relax, and that’s harder to do than it sounds.

So take the time in dry fire to learn how the sights should look when you’re relaxed, by dry firing at a blank wall without a target.  Then, when you introduce a target, if they don’t look the same, you’ve fallen into the NPOA trap.  Adjust your NPOA and relax until the sights move the same way.  Only then have you really found your NPOA, and only then will you shoot as well as your capable of.

Another small trick you can use is to adjust your sights to let you hold the rifle on a “valueless” part of the target.  If you can hold your sights on something that has no “value” in your mind, like maybe the corner of the paper, your mind will be far less tempted to try to muscle the rifle around, and your hold will shrink.

I hope you found that useful. We’ll be going into a lot more depth on position and shot execution in the next parts, but until then safe shooting, and as always if you have questions or comments please don’t hesitate to ask!

I will keep an eye out for parts 2 and 3.


Staying Motivated With Small Improvements

In any endeavor, you need to keep some perspective on the difficulty of the challenge. Be it marksmanship, fitness, financial, or any other challenge, you need to set appropriate goals and track relevant metrics to gauge yourself on progress.

It’s been a month since I announced I was going to do the GoRuck Tough in August. I started the GoRuck training plan two weeks ago. And while I’ve never really been in bad shape, I can’t honestly say I’ve been in particularly good shape, either. From day to day, I notice the little changes in how well I complete the workout. More so, I notice improvements in work capacity and endurance at my unit’s official physical training sessions. These things motivate me and let me know that I’m making progress.

As I look back at my marksmanship endeavors, I notice the evolution of my progress tracking. However, I also notice a lack of accountability and real performance standard. A score from a shooting position is something, and certainly better than what I had before, but it’s rather limiting. When I think back to my original goals when I started this blog, they were much more challenging. I no longer have them posted mostly because I never succeeded in developing a way to test my progress in achieving them.

Ultimately, that is the most important part. You are what you measure. If you measure the things that matter to you and your goals, you will have more success and stay motivated. If you measure things that are tangental, or irrelevant, then you will be frustrated and unsuccessful. That in applies in all things.