Perfecting Shooting Accuracy
Beyond the mental and physical preparation required to shoot well is the ability to fine-tune your shooting positions and make turret adjustments based on terrain and climate conditions. Accuracy means being able to read wind speed and direction, determine the exact range to target, trigger control and a solid firing position. Knowing what factors produce a bad shot is as important as knowing what makes a great shot: A soft position, sloppy trigger press, a few miles per hour off on wind reading and three or more feet off on ranging will adversely impact accuracy.
Ranging errors are more common than most shooters realize. Laser rangefinders are incredible in determining range and have contributed to our ability to effectively hit targets at extreme ranges. But like any piece of technology, rangefinders aren’t error-free. If the target has no reflective surfaces, it becomes harder for some lasers to send back data; low-cost range finders suffer from this the most, forcing the rifleman to look for targets that are more reflective. This is where ranging mistakes are made.
The second most common mistake is a poorly executed shooting position in which the shooter’s body is misaligned with the rifle. Sloppy leg and foot positioning or a bad grip can degrade your ability to hit the target accurately.
Entering bad data into the ballistics calculator is the third factor in missing the target. This often stems from entering the wrong muzzle velocity or weather data, resulting in bad wind or elevation calls.
Ranging and entering the right data into the ballistics calculator are mechanical inputs — you either do it right or wrong. Below are the things that can be fixed with a few minor adjustments. Correcting for cant, securing the right point of aim, trigger control and breathing and heart-rate control are the areas most overlooked.
Canting the rifle is a common mistake in long-range shooting see post. If the rifle is not level, the bullet will fly in the same direction as the cant. For shorter ranges, this isn’t a major issue, but as the range increases, canting will send the bullet several inches off-target. It is a common reason for misplaced shots; a 1-inch miss at 100 yards is a 10-inch miss at 1,000 yards. An anti-cant device—a fancy term for a bubble level—can be used to correct this problem.
Point of Aim
The next step is to find the natural point of aim. Look through your scope and set your shooting position firm until there is no horizontal movement along the reticle’s horizontal crosshairs or mil-dots. When you look at your sight picture, the only movement you should see is straight up and down along the reticle’s vertical axis. This becomes the natural point of aim. Each inhale and exhale should move the reticle up and then down from the center of the crosshairs. Once you have reached physical and mental stillness, take one breath in and exhale slowly, then pause on exhale as you pull the trigger. Your natural point of aim should fall back to the sight picture you originally had, otherwise your body position is not correct.
Trigger Press and Follow Through
The first pad of your index finger should rest just above the curve of the trigger and your non-shooting hand should be firm around the stock. Your index finger should be at a 90-degree angle to the trigger so that your pull is smooth and uninterrupted. Your finger should hold the trigger until the recoil cycle has ended. A slight pull to the right and the bullet travels left; a pull to the left and the bullet travels right.
Some argue the trigger press should be slow, allowing the shooter to be surprised when the trigger breaks and a round is fired. But more often than not, a slow trigger press results in some form of involuntary movement. The same can be said for a very fast trigger press, which can result in a jerking movement. And a drag of the finger across the face of the trigger may cause an off-center hit. Accuracy requires a smooth and steady trigger pull while maintaining full concentration on the sight picture. Hold your finger back to the rear of the trigger guard until the recoil cycle ends. Keep your trigger finger in that position until the sight picture once again comes into focus. This hold is called “follow through.” It is this process that helps hold the “point of aim” through the entire firing sequence.
Finger Placement on the Trigger
The placement of the trigger finger is critical to achieving accuracy. The center of the first pad of your index finger should be placed on the trigger. Avoid placement below the finger’s first crease. Some use the tip of their finger for a more tactical feel while others press the trigger just above the crease. The higher the trigger on your finger pad, the more force it takes to pull.
The finger pad should be placed on the bottom arc of the trigger, and the trigger finger should not touch the stock — doing so could produce a counter force that will send the bullet on a horizontal trajectory.
Breath control is an important part of precision long-range shooting. It also creates the proper focus needed to shoot long.
After you have obtained a clear sight picture and point of aim, find a rhythm in your breathing. Breathing promotes oxygen in the blood; holding your breath creates excess carbon dioxide, even with small breath pauses. It is not uncommon to see shooters take rapid deep breaths before a difficult shot to bring as much oxygen to the blood as possible. This allows for longer breath holds. This practice is very helpful when shooting offhand, where small movements from inhaling and exhaling can throw the shot off-target.
Prior to pulling the trigger, you should be able to hear your heart beating. As you are going through the breathing cycle, you should be following the rhythm of your heart. The trigger press should occur between heartbeats. This is not difficult — it just takes a little practice. There are a couple ways to do attain mental and physical trigger control. The first step is to be aware of your heart rate. To practice tracking your heart rate, perform some physical activity to increase it, then find a quiet place and listen carefully to your heartbeat. Now control your breathing to a point where you exhale between the beats of your heart.
Practice breath and heart beat control during dry firing exercises until it becomes a natural part of the shooting sequence. This practice helps maintain a calm mind, precision focus and better trigger control. This same breathing exercise is used to relieve stress and has been practiced for thousands of years by some Eastern traditions.
A firm and stable shooting position, proper read of the range, breath and heart rate control along with good follow-through produces target success. All these things can be practiced without ever having to go to the range. How you practice is how you will shoot.