Common Firing Line Errors

(Part six of a nine part series, courtesy of Fred’s M14 Stocks)

We continue on the road to becoming a Rifleman:

You go to a lot of trouble to fire a shot – buy a rifle, ammo, travel a long distance, and lay out in hot and cold weather – so you should want to have that shot impact COT [Center of Target].

Well, watch out for these common errors, and you’ll be ahead of the game:

#1: Failure to keep eyes open when the rifle fires to ‘call’ your shot
To know where the shot just went, you need to take an instant mental photo of where the front sight was when your rifle went off. If you don’t, you lose the information value of feedback from that shot – and you’re almost certainly flinching and/or jerking the trigger. So, keep that eye open – call the shot based on the position of the front sight on the target when the rifle fired, and watch for bullet splash downrange for confirmation of your call. On the firing line, in practice, you aim to continually increase the percentage of shots that you can honestly call ‘good’ – the front sight was on the target when the rifle fired.

#2: Failure to pull rifle back into shoulder
One of the leading causes of trigger jerk, bucking, and flinching is fear of recoil, and the impact of the rifle on the shoulder. If you come away from the firing line complaining about recoil, or a ‘sore’ shoulder, this one is what you are doing wrong – and it WILL lead to flinching. So grab the pistol grip firmly and pull the rifle back into your shoulder while you fire the shot – so you ‘roll’ with the recoil. A side benefit: extra pressure of the trigger hand on the stock will give the perceived impression of a ‘lighter’ trigger.

#3: Failure to get NPOA
“Natural Point of Aim” has been said to be the one factor which separates the riflemen from the ‘wannabees’. If you don’t get your natural point of aim, your shots will be off the center of the target, even if fired perfectly, because your body is out of position, and you have to muscle the rifle onto the target. A rifleman takes position so that his rifle, with his body relaxed, is pointing at the target. He doesn’t have to fight muscle strain and he makes his job of firing the shot a lot easier – and his shots will be on target. Get your NPOA by lining up on the target with your sights, closing your eyes, relaxing your body, and taking a deep breath in and letting it out. Open your eyes and shift position pivoting around your forward elbow, to bring the sights back on the target. Repeat until when you open your eyes, your sights are naturally on the target. Once you establish your NPOA, keep it by not moving that forward elbow supporting the rifle [prone] or keeping your position steady [all other positions].

#4: Failure to pull ‘trigger’ leg up tight behind trigger arm to absorb recoil and generally tighten position [prone position]
Try it and you’ll see your front sight settle down like it should. Grasping the forearm with the non-trigger hand and pulling slightly back into the shoulder may also help in rapid fire [what other kind of shooting is there?].

#5: Failure to maximize your feedback
Shooting is always learning, and every shot you fire should be a learning experience. If you’re in a match, and screw a string of fire up so badly you are ashamed, you keep shooting just as hard as before, with those educational purposes in mind.

#6: Failure to ‘followthrough’
By the time you think “Followthrough” as you hold the trigger back after the shot, this step in ‘Firing the Shot’ is done. But don’t overlook it, because you need to do it.

#7: Failure to keep the sight on the target
The most important step in “Firing the Shot”. Ignore this, and you might as well be shooting blanks, or setting off firecrackers. This is a 2-part step: physically focusing your eye on the front sight, and firmly focusing your mind – your concentration – on ‘keeping that front sight on the target’. Whatever else you do, you must do this for the shot to hit COT.

#8: ‘Flinching’, ‘bucking’ or ‘jerking the trigger’
“Flinching” is anticipating recoil by an abrupt backward motion of your shoulder to get ‘away’ from it. “Bucking” is anticipating recoil by shoving your shoulder forward to ‘make up’ for or ‘resist’ the impact. “Jerking” is snapping the trigger quickly to get the disagreeable experience over with as soon as possible. All three will throw your shot off the target – in fact, are guaranteed to throw your shot off the target. All three (usually lumped under the generic “flinching”) are natural responses to your body’s abhorrence of sudden impacts. You have to work to control your body, so the rifle is not disturbed by any movement at the time the hammer falls. You do this in several ways. One is to eliminate the recoil impact by pulling the rifle snugly back into your shoulder, so that there is no impact, and you simply ride the ‘push’ of the recoil. If you don’t pull it back tightly into your shoulder, the rifle has time to pick up speed and slam your shoulder, and you start to flinch, buck or jerk the trigger in response. So pull it back into your shoulder, and you’ll do OK. Second, keep your eyes open so you can take that instant mental photo of where the front sight was on the target at the instant of firing. If you can’t do this, you know you are guilty of flinching, bucking, or jerking. Third, concentrate on keeping the front sight on the target. Pulling the trigger is not the main task – No! Keeping the front sight on the target is the main task. So practice until that trigger finger is ‘educated’ to take the slack up and steadily increase the pressure when the front sight is on the target, ‘freeze’ when the front sight drifts off the target, and continue the squeeze when the sight is back on the target. You’ll have to do this in the 6-10 seconds you’re holding your breath. If you don’t fire the shot in that time, simply relax, take a deep breath and start over. [Trigger finger tips: middle of the pad of the first joint, or the first joint itself, should be where the trigger touches the finger. Keep the finger clear of the stock (‘dragging wood’) as it will throw your shot off. Visualize a straight pull back, not to the side.] Once out in the ‘real world’, you’ll find that with practice, you’ll punch out 20 good shots in 30 seconds, if you ever need to shoot fast. Even the best riflemen can develop a flinch, so periodically do the ‘ball and dummy’ drill to test for one, and then continue ‘ball and dummy’ until you are ‘cured’ (but remember that rarely will the cure be permanent, so you still periodically recheck). Twenty rounds should suffice for both the detection and the cure. Have a friend ‘load’ and hand the rifle to you [make sure all safety precautions are observed!] either with or without a round in the chamber. Usually, he will start off with a live round to ‘juice up’ any tendency to flinch, and then give you an empty one to see if there is movement in the muzzle when the hammer falls. He continues with ‘empties’ until your muzzle doesn’t move. Then he feeds a live one followed by more ‘empties’ – actually, he is trying to ‘smoke out’ your flinch and get it to show itself. He continues until he is convinced that your flinch is gone. Along the way he will watch your aiming eye to make sure it stays open when the rifle goes off.

#9: The biggest failure is to go to the range without a goal
Your goal should always be to improve your shooting, and come away from each session on the range a better shot. And you do that by firing the Army Precision Combat Rifle Qualification Course – which Fred’s has reduced to 25m for speed and convenience. Those in the know at Riverside who have fired the full course at 100, 200, 300 and 400 yards will tell you – “the course at 25m is harder!” And each time you fire it, you have a numerical score by which you can measure your progress towards becoming a good shooter – a RIfleman!

#10: Failure to use your sling
For over 100 years, the sling has been in military use as an aid to marksmanship. Because of the tendency of the M16 barrel to flex under sling pressure, the sling has been slighted in the last few decades. But make no mistake: the sling is one of the biggest aids to accurate shooting that you have, and you always have it with you, to carry the rifle. So, never fire a shot without the sling. Use the hasty sling for standing and anytime you’re in a rush, or may need to move fast after firing a shot; and use the loop sling for prone and sitting when you have the time, but try to make sure your upper arm is padded to block muscle tremor and heartbeat, either with a shooting jacket or heavy clothing. It’s hard to estimate how big a factor in accuracy the sling is. A minimum of 20%, going up to 80% or more. It will help in rapid fire, keeping your position tight, speeding your recovery for the next shot. The bottom line is, always use your sling – in every position, for every shot.

Click on these links for some diagrams on sling use:

Using the M1907 sling

Using the M1 web sling

#11: Failure [sitting position] to put both elbows in front of both knees
If you’ve been to the range much, you’ve seen a new shooter trying to shoot sitting – with that trigger elbow up high in the air, almost like he’s shooting standing, totally ignoring that nice big fat knee, as steady as a bench, and less than a foot away. The shot will be much better, with that trigger elbow down on the front of the knee, where it belongs (NOT on top, where recoil will knock it off, slowing recovery time). And that other elbow, the one under the rifle? Hunker forward and drop that sucker on the target side of its knee – again to resist recoil. A good sitting position will initially break your back until you get stretched, but once everything falls into place, you can shoot nearly as good as you do off the bench! Don’t sell the position short, especially if you are on a downward slope and need to shoot over grass, etc.

#12: Copy this checklist & take it to the range with you
You’ll be amazed at what a quick review of these lessons can do for the rest of your range time. Make it a habit to take a look through the list as you are eating your “range lunch”, then fire your remaining shots even better than before!