Shooting technique
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  1. #1
    Marlin Marksman
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    Shooting technique

    I've been shooting for years, hunt all the time, I have my own range, I'm a casual reloader...and I'm not as good a rifle shooter as I'd like to be. I do pretty well in field shooting situations, but I'd really like to improve my bench technique. It would help me test loads and work with my rifles. So, for those of you kind enough to help out a guy who is trying to improve, what's your technique off a bench? What do you use for a rest? How many shot groups do you fire? How often, and how, do you clean your barrel? How long do you wait between shots? Do you put your rifles away with dirty or clean barres? What other things do you do to shrink your groups?

  2. #2
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    Guys like Wind, Rowdy, M700 and others are far more the marksmen than I am but I will offer my two cents or so and you can make change if ya want.

    Accurate rifle shooting starts with the fundamental premise that you are the weakest link. First, foremost, and almost always. What this means is, when bench (table, truck hood, side of tree, etc.) shooting for accuracy, or really any time, you want to eleviate as much of your influence on the gun as possible. Now, you can go a long ways with this and get gun vices and butt stock cushions and weighted sleds and all manner of things designed to make the rifle as steady as possible and thus reduce to varying degrees your influence on the shot. Any and all of these things may be to your liking and may suit your needs but that does not make them necessary. True, the more you you put into this the better you may perform or in some cases the longer you may be able to shoot but that doesn't mean you can't achieve satisfactory results without a lot of gear and expense.

    A stable platform that offers comfortable natural seating is the starting point. Don't force yourself into an uncomfortable position to use a certain table or rest or whatever. If you're shooting at an established range this isn't usually an issue but if you're shooting at your own range as you say, make sure you put some thought into this.

    A simple "U" or "V" shaped wooden front rest can do wonders. Since this is not going to be adjustable, be sure you get the height right to make things natural and comfortable. Whatever rest you decide on, pull it back so it is at least under the forearm of the gun.

    From there, since I don't use any type of butt stock stablizer, I use my non-shooting arm to assist. I pull it back across my chest, with my elbow forward for stability and my hand on the bicep of my shooting arm, helping to support the stock. Might sound convoluted but when you sit down and play with it it will make sense. The idea being to form a solid position that reduces my influence on the gun (vs. my hand on the fore arm).

    If you look close in this pic you can see my left arm tucked up under the gun:



    Here's one of my oldest girl but note that she likes to use her hand to support the stock:




    Once you are comfortable and as rock steady as possible it all comes back to what all shooting does, the fundamentals. No death grip with the shooting hand. In fact, the more stable you are, the less grip you need to apply and the less the grip the better the shot.

    Proper finger placement on the trigger matters. Now I know there are those you can wrap their finger around a trigger to the last knuckle and do amazing things but by and large for the bulk of us, how you place your finger on the trigger will affect accuracy. About half to the end third of your pad is best. If you look at your finger prints and find the center loop that's an ideal place to put your finger on the trigger. This positioning helps reduce muscle strain and twitching.

    I'm not a big fan of the term breath control. It's more breath awareness. Don't hold your breath. Just breathe, nice and relaxed. Ideally, your trigger breaks just as the last of your exhale is over but don't rush it or anticipate it. Slowly squeeze the trigger as you exhale and let it surprise you. Better to fire during exhale and missing that natural pause than to force the trigger. NEVER FORCE THE TRIGGER. This is why a heavy but crisp, repeatable trigger is still always better than a light but sloppy trigger. You want it to break clean the same way every time.

    Now, all this is assuming you have proper sight picture and sight alignment if using irons or proper scope placement if using optics.

    If it don't feel right, don't shoot. Shake it off - stretch, breathe, take a break if you need to, whatever, but never force the shot. Doing so just again makes you the big bad influence on accuracy and once that frustration ball gets rolling it is often nothing more than an act in futility.

    I fire three shot groups. If sighting in, then I don't want the distance any more than 25yrds. Sighting in at 100 yrds is fool's folly. Do it up close and know you, the gun and the round are accurate, then adjust for distance. I will not make an adjustment of any kind until I have at least one three shot group. By group I mean something no more than say 1-2" in spread. I don't really know how long I wait between shots. I don't speed shoot them by any means but I don't get up and walk around between shots either. More often than not what I do is load one round at a time. The time it takes to unload the spent casing, load another round and get back into position is in my experience generally sufficient.

    But, every rifle is different and you'll have to learn your guns. I remember one day at the range with Rowdy and I was shooting one of my guns and he was watching my shots through his spotting scope. I stopped to BS with him a bit about something and he said, now see if it that were me and my CB I wouldn't have stopped shooting. That gun appreantly likes to be shot rather quick and warm. He knows that from a lot of shooting and cyphering.

    As to a fouled vs. clean bore, again this is going to come down to your gun but I suspect more guns prefer a fouled bore vs. a clean one. But, that doesn't mean I would foul a bore before hunting season and keep it that way. Hunting accuracy is a different quantifier than bench accuracy.

    That kind of stuff is going to come to shooting time and knowing your gun and what you are and are not okay with.

    Hope some of that helps.
    Last edited by Eli Chaps; 02-16-2013 at 09:28 AM.

  3. #3
    High Priest of the Powder Hoarders Contributing Member
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    Hard to add to what Erik posted, but here's my quick-n-dirty version.........Bench height is important. I like to have a straight back, not leaning into the gun, especially the hard kickers. So you have to find a happy medium between seat height, bernch height, and the height of the rest. Once you find the right balance it will feel a lot more natural than crawling up the stock.

    Proper eye relief is also important, especially if you're using a scope.

    Some guns shoot better with your hand under the forend, including most of my Marlins.

    I like to keep the front rest close to the action, where it meets the barrel/magazine. Any time I get a lot of vertical stringing, it's usually because I've let the gun move forward. It has to be in the same place for EVERY shot.

    Marlins tend to string shots upwards as they heat up, mine also push shots to the left (usually) as they get warm. Don't feel the middle of the barrel of the gun to determine if it's cooled down, check the front of the action around the chamber area. That area gets hotter, has more metal, and takes longer to cool.

    Above all, try different things. See what works for YOU and that particular firearm. It can be time-consuming and expensive, but in the end it will save you time and money. Be patient, and keep good records!
    “Obama would’ve done more to stop Russia from interfering in our election, but he was too busy interfering in the Israel and British elections.” —Twitter satirist @weknowwhatsbest

  4. #4
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    PJ makes an excellent point about notes. Date, time, weather conditions, gun, load, etc. can all be very valuable info and you will be amazed at how quickly you forget details, especially if shooting more than one gun in a session and/or you go a while between sessions.

    On another occassion that I was at the range with Rowdy, I pulled out my 336W that I was convinced in my mind I had sighted in after installing the rear peep and scout scope setup. Well, the scope was dead on and my irons were in perfect alignment with the bullseye. Only the groups were about six-eight inches high. I had indeed sighted it in and surely I must have discovered I needed a new front sight but I had completely forgot about it. I'd changed the front on another gun not long before that range trip but somehow forgot about the W. Had I taken notes (like I was taught to do but ignored) then I would've had something to remind to me and could've had the new sight installed before heading out.

  5. #5
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    Good advice given so far. Shooting tiny groups from a bench is not as easy as some may think, and while you may not strive to be a competitive benchrest shooter, using good technique when testing loads or sighting in, can not only reduce the variables, but save time and money as well.

    Limiting my reply as much as possible...and assuming the basics like trigger control have been mastered...the most important thing I've learned in 35+ years of testing a wide variety firearms with my handloads or factory ammo, is the willingness to be flexible with your technique and experiment a bit with an individual rifle to see how it will respond. The techniques that work best with a heavy-barreled varmint or benchrest gun may not be the best for a lightweight sporter, heavy-recoiling big bore, or a typical levergun.

    As a quick example..I have a Remington 700VS .22-250 that will consistently shoot groups of less than a quarter inch at 100 yards, but to shoot it's best, I found almost no contact with the rifle was necessary. Set up on a pedestal rest and a rabbit ear rear bag, I would simply put my shoulder behind the rifle to limit rearward movement and "pinch" the trigger with my thumb on the back of the trigger guard. Sounds unconventional, but it was very consistent, and the reams of one-hole targets I collected with this technique proved it's worth.

    Using that same technique with my 6 lb .350 RM, the .375 H&H, or the .45-70 1895 with "warm" loads would be...let's just say...less than successful. Like PJ, I long ago found some of the harder kicking rifles, and nearly all the leverguns, respond best when the forearm is hand held, the back of the off hand resting on a sandbag. When using this technique, some rifles may respond best to a light grip, some to a more forceful hold, but in either case, always strive to keep the same amount of tension from shot to shot.

    The position of the forearm on the front bag, rest, or hand, can have a definitive effect on group size. Generally speaking, the closer to the receiver the front rest is placed, the better...until that point is reached where the length and weight of the barrel tries to lift the butt off the rear rest...but like everything, experiment to see what each rifle prefers. I have some that settle down only when the front rest is placed farther out on the forearm. Once you determine the favored location, a bit of masking tape to mark the stock makes repositioning the rifle in the exact same location after every shot easy.

    Some rifles will shoot their best when allowed to move on the bags, recoiling freely with your shoulder there to simply arrest that movement. When this is the case, I take pains to make sure the sling swivel studs, if present, are not hanging up on the bags during recoil. I've also been known to dust my leather bags with talc or a bit of motor mica when summer humidity can make them a bit tacky, so the rifle may slide freely and smoothly...consistency always being the key.

    I've already gone beyond the brief reply I intended, but the point to take to heart is; don't give up...don't be discouraged when a particular rifle doesn't perform as expected. Be willing to experiment, be open to the feedback the firearm gives you. I truly believe the vast majority of rifles today can give far better accuracy than most folks achieve and it's you, as the shooter, that has the greatest influence over that performance. Be open-minded enough to realize that, and flexible enough to make it work when you do.

    Roe
    Last edited by Barenjager; 02-19-2013 at 10:55 AM.

  6. #6
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    I like that tape on the stock thing Roe. My guns/rest have a tendancy to move around when I'm shooting so a quick visual indicator would be very nice. Don't know why I never thought of it?!
    cgcollins likes this.

  7. #7
    "Opinionated Texan" Marlin Fanatic
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    Hard to add to what has been said already.
    The #1 thing I see people do wrong, is they want to put both hands on the gun at the bench. When shooting from a bench, One should utilize sandbags, a good shooting rest, and cradle the rifle in the position it needs to be in for sight alignment. Then, if right handed, the shooter's right hand should be on the grip of the stock, while the off hand should be tucked under the stock, or off the gun completely. many people want to hold on to the forearm with the off hand, and often this pulls the gun off, and results in inaccuracies.

    Guns need to be shot, when bench shooting for accuracy, as cool as possible. Depending on caliber, some heat up faster than others. Three to five shot groups will give good enough indication on the accuracy of a load when testing. Hot weather is also a factor in keeping a barrel cool. When testing a load, do not attempt to site the rifle in for the load, aim for the center every time, and look at the consistency of the given group. The hotter the barrel, the more effect there will be on accuracy. I have placed a rifle in the cab of an AC'd pickup before to help cool it down.

    cleanliness is key. i clean my rifle barrels thouroghly approximately every 30-40 rounds. With a brushing and swabbing in between.

    Rifles, especially bolt action rifles, can be modified to help improve accuracy. Glass-bedding the action is a great , and very effective and inexpensive option. Free-floating the barrel is also a good improvement you can do on the cheap. Most, but not all, bolt action rifles have an adjustable trigger. Lightening the trigger pull is also a good way to improve accuracy. Most factory triggers are set north of 5lbs. This is more than enough to cause one to "pull" a shot off target across a bench. This , of course, is a tedious job, and should not be attempted by a beginner. Most gunsmiths will lighten a factory trigger for $50.00.

    Quality glass is also important, if shooting considerable distances (200 + yards) The better one can see, the more accurate the shot will be.

    Stay calm, and don't walk back and forth to the target too much. A normal heart rate is important.
    The only real way to improve one's skill at the bench, is practice. Putting rounds down range, and taking your time will develop your skill. Invest in a quality adjustable shooting rest, some sandbags, and get comfortable.
    Navajo
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  8. #8
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    Wow! Lots to learn from this thread. Thanks for the good material.

    David
    navajo and cgcollins like this.

  9. #9
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    What a wealth of information. Thanks to all who took so much time to help me out.
    navajo likes this.

  10. #10
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    man i love the things i learn on this site! great thread !! someone sticky this ?!
    Always remember that God is forever, and His strong, everlasting arms will hold you safe, keeping you from danger...



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