Competitive rifle shooters will obsess over things such as finding the perfect node in their reloading practice—but it is experience that tells us the majority of our misses are due to other factors. When I started shooting competitively, I struggled mastering the fundamentals (Steady Position, Breathing, Trigger, Sight Alignment, Recoil Management, and Natural Point of Aim). Coming out of the prone (most stable) positions, the fundamentals must be prioritized. It’s fair to say that we must focus to become stable—but other fundamentals; like natural point of aim, trigger squeeze and breathing will become repetition with much practice.
When I analyze my match performance, the majority of my misses are caused by two things: poor wind calls, and shooting by the seat of my pants.
1) Poor wind calls
- Mirage is the best indication of wind. Focus on the target and back off parallax until you start to pick up mirage. Mirage laying over at a 45 degree angle is about 5-7 mph. If it’s flowing more flat then that is 10-12 mph.
- If you can’t get on glass prior to your target engagement, then start with your parallax ring at 100. As you turn it to focus on the target at the correct yardage you will see mirage in front of the target. This is a good thing to do if you have time as a final check of conditions before breaking the shot.
- Be sure to have a wind plan. Use your Kestrel to determine wind deflection for each target and write it down. Take a mental note of what the wind feels like as you are taking readings. Wind felt light on your face is 3-5 mph. As speeds pick up during the Course of Fire, you can quickly adjust on the fly.
2) Shooting by the seat of your pants
- Run through the stage in your head. Set up, movements, when to dial, when to hold, and wind plan.
- Turn down the magnification. Typically, shooters will run the magnification much too high. There is no magic bullet for what to do here as conditions will drive this but the idea is to see every hit or miss. Practice recoil management.
- See the hit: You can never make the proper adjustment if you don’t mentally focus on managing recoil to the point that you can see your impact. Often, white painted targets are a major crutch. Train yourself to look at target reaction so you can determine if you are off to one side.
- Focus on the target through the trigger press. See the target and focus completely through the press.
- Breathe! Try to break the shot at the bottom of our breath. This drives consistency.
- Practice with a purpose and develop a mental pre-shot checklist and you will be on your way to more impacts. For the guys on Team Area 419, this is understood to be a humbling, lifelong pursuit.
Editor’s note: Team Area 419 is a precision long range shooting team that competes across the country, including at the NRA World Shooting Championship. Area 419 custom rifle builds blend hi-tech CNC machining with good “old fashioned precision hand work.” Visit them on Facebook and Instagram.