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A Commonsense Approach To Better Marksmanship

November 25th, 2009 Posted in Uncategorized

A good field shot is a combination of good equipment and skill. Money can get the equipment, but you must put in the hours of practice time. The end result will be worth the effort.
By Richard Mann

Maj. Ned Roberts, designer of the .257 Roberts cartridge, was lucky. Roberts’s Uncle Bud taught him how to shoot a rifle. Uncle Bud was an accomplished shot and had been a member of Berdan’s Sharpshooters, during the Civil War. When Roberts was not yet a teenager, Uncle Bud started him on a rigorous practice regime, and before long Roberts was able to put four out of five shots inside a two-inch bullseye at 55 yards using a .30-caliber muzzleloader and open sights from the standing, off-hand position.

Proper length of pull is critical for optimal offhand shooting. It should be about an inch less than the distance from the inside crook of the elbow on your shooting arm to the first joint of your trigger finger.

After Roberts accomplished that feat, the range and target size were doubled. After Roberts managed to qualify at 165 yards with the same proficiency, Uncle Bud proclaimed him a good shot with a rifle. The year was 1876, and Roberts was not yet 10. That same year he shot his first big-game animal: a lynx that weighed 67 pounds. Things were different in 1886. In those days marksmanship was considered as important as good manners and good grades.

Most of us are not lucky enough to have an Uncle Bud, but several respected shooting academies across the country offer courses on the hunting rifle. They are expensive but can be worth attending if graduates make perfecting the skills presented them a priority. We learn physical skills by doing, or by trial and error, not by instruction.

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We all like to think that we have a little Ned Roberts in us—usually more than actually exists. I’m not saying hunters are poor marksmen but that on average hunters think they are better rifle shots than they really are.

Every year I conduct a rifle workshop for one of the top custom rifle builders in the country where hunters are invited to test their shooting skills in simulated hunting conditions. Even experienced hunters perform well below their expectations—most often with an excuse for every miss.

Know Your Equipment
Becoming a good field shot is simply a culmination of using good equipment, developing skill, and understanding limitations. Money and good sense will outfit you with the proper equipment, but it takes diligence on your part to feed the monster called practice that most of us ignore.

For starters, rifle fit is very important. Trying to manage a rifle that does not fit you is like wearing boots two sizes too large on a forced road march. Length of pull, the distance from the rifle’s butt to the trigger, is a key measurement and can be adjusted by shortening or lengthening the stock.

Rifle balance, trigger manipulation, and eye coordination are critical for accurate shooting. Coordinating the trigger pull with the exact moment your eye says it’s time is how you hit where you are aiming.

This is the reason that some firearms manufacturers, such as Remington and Ruger, now offer “youth” rifles that have stocks with a shorter length of pull. These rifles are much more appropriate for youngsters, many women, and small-framed adults.

A rifle that balances behind the front of the action will handle smoothly, and a rifle that balances forward of the action will hang on target better. A compromise is a rifle that balances very near the front of the action, provides good handling characteristics, and a reasonable steadiness on target.

The balance point can be adjusted by adding weight to the front or rear of the stock or by shortening the barrel. A rifle’s balance is critical for good offhand shooting.

Total rifle weight can influence performance, particularly when shooting offhand. Most rifles will shoot best when total weight is between 6.5 to eight pounds. If total weight is under 6.5 pounds, consider a rifle that is a bit muzzle heavy.

If weight is over eight pounds, consider a rifle that is a tad butt heavy. Custom rifle builders I have interviewed—like Melvin Forbes at New Ultra Light Arms and Charlie Sisk at Sisk Rifles—all agree the physical interaction between shooter and rifle is paramount to mastering the fundamentals of field shooting. A rifle needs to fit the shooter and be comfortable to shoot in a variety of positions.