In the previous installment, I mentioned that shooters have a tendency to ‘walk’ their rounds into the center of the target. The reason for this is that the most missed shot in shooting is the very first shot. Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States, commented about this in his book The Wilderness Hunter, published in 1893.
No possible rapidity of fire can atone for habitual carelessness of aim with the first shot.
To TR’s comment, I would add ‘and mashing the trigger’ after “carelessness of aim.”
The second most missed shot in shooting is the shot immediately after clearing a stoppage. Stoppage refers to either a malfunction or a reload. As put in the military, “any unintentional interruption in the cycle of operation.”
Both of these shots are missed so often because they represent a transition point from using a complex motor skill (combination of gross and fine) to a fine motor skill. Unless well practiced, that transition is a difficult one to perform well.
Common shooting tasks requiring complex motor skills are:
- presentation from ready or pickup,
- draw from a holster, or
- stoppage clearance.
Those three tasks require the shooter to engage, both concurrently and consecutively, both large muscle groups such as the biceps, triceps, trapezius, etc. in broad movement (gross motor skill) and the tendons of the hands in small movements (fine motor skill). Immediately following the complex motor skill comes the requirement to perform the fine motor skill of pressing the trigger smoothly.
There is also a series of visual transitions that must take place. The shooter initially starts with an infinity level focus on the target and then must bring the focus inward to index the pistol onto the target. More experienced shooters may recognize this step as the inverse of ‘Sight Picture’ as classically taught. Finally, the shooter must quickly transition from a coarse (soft) index focus on the outline of the pistol to a reading distance fine focus on the front sight itself.
When a stoppage occurs, the shooter will, or at least should, bring the pistol closer to the body to perform the stoppage clearance. Most people cannot clearly focus at this distance, so the eyes will shift to a soft focus, either on the pistol, the target, or somewhere in between. Once the stoppage has been cleared, the shooter must shift focus to infinity to reacquire the target. The coarse index of the pistol onto the target comes next. And as a final focus point, the shooter must once again shift to a reading distance fine focus to reacquire the front sight and achieve both a good sight alignment and sight picture.
If this sounds like a complex series of fast breaking events, that’s because it is. Especially for those whose eyes began to lose their ability to accommodate (quickly change focal distance) in their 40’s (i.e., all of us), it’s a difficult series of visual focus events.
The following is a drill that accomplishes two things.
- It provides a baseline measurement of how well a shooter can perform the complex series of tasks involved in making a good hit with the first shot, including a distance component.
- The drill itself is a very structured exercise that can be done on a regular basis to improve the shooter’s ability to perform that set of tasks.
Basic level shooters can use a larger target, such as a B-27 or a Q, and count their hits in the largest ring to establish a baseline. Intermediate level shooters can use the actual scoring values of a target such as a B-27 or BT-5 as their performance standard. Advanced shooters can use a smaller target, such as the NRA B-8, as a very difficult criterion.
The drill is untimed. The object is to subconsciously ingrain the skills necessary to make the hits. Some shooters may find value in talking themselves through the tasks required as they are shooting the drill. For instance, the visual task sequence might be described as:
- Target focus
- Pistol index focus
- Front sight focus
Sequence 1 (10 rounds) – 3 yards
Start with the handgun loaded with five rounds only. Shooting is done with both hands. Starting position is aimed at the floor below the target (Low Ready), below where a subject’s feet would be. The trigger finger is consciously off and above the trigger. Have a spare magazine loaded with 5 rounds available. Revolver shooters use a speedloader, speed strip, or loose rounds.
- Bring the pistol up on target and fire 1 shot at the center of target. Follow through for one second, call your shot, and then return to low ready. Decock, if your pistol has a decocker.
- Bring the pistol up on target and fire 2 shots at the center of target. Follow through for one second, call your shots, and then return to low ready. Decock.
- Bring the pistol up on target and fire 3 shots at the center of target. Note that after two shots, the pistol will be out of ammunition. Call those two shots, reload, and fire the third shot. Follow through for one second, call the third shot, and then return to low ready. Decock.
- Bring the pistol up on target and fire 4 shots at the center of target. After the shots, the pistol will be out of ammunition. Call your shots and holster the pistol or place it on the bench.
Bring your target back and record how many hits you made in the body scoring area. You can write this on the target or a separate piece of paper. Use this format: 3/X, 3 being the distance and X being the number of hits. Intermediate and Advanced shooters record the actual value of your hits; maximum value being 50. Cover all the hits with masking tape or pasters.
Sequence 2 (10 rounds) – 5 yards
Repeat Sequence 1 but with the target at 5 yards. Record the value of your hits and paste or tape them.
Sequence 3 (10 rounds) – 7 yards
Repeat Sequence 1 with the target at 7 yards. Record the value of your hits and paste or tape them.
Sequence 4 (10 rounds) – 10 yards
Repeat Sequence 1 with the target at 10 yards. Record the value of your hits and paste or tape them.
Sequence 5 (10 rounds) – 15 yards
Repeat Sequence 1 with the target at 15 yards. Record the value of your hits and paste or tape them.
At the end of the drill, your record should look something like this.
Now you’ve established a baseline for how well you can shoot a specific series of tasks. Over time, shooting this drill and other drills should allow you to increase your scores at every distance. ‘Getting better’ is a process not a performance.
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Structuring your practice and setting goals is critical to getting better at shooting.