Rifle Methods, Mindset & Magic

posted on October 2, 2018

From the March 2001 issue of Shooting Sports USA, some of the best rifle shooters in the country reveal their recipe for success in competition.

The panel consisted of shooting legend Lones Wigger, Nancy Tompkins-Gallagher, Jean Foster and Jason Parker.

How do you prepare prior to a big match?

Jean Foster: I train hard until I leave for the match. I follow the course I’ve set out in my annual training plan, only making adjustments for specific items that come up in matches throughout the year. I also work with my sports psychologist.

Lones Wigger: When I was on the national team, we had an annual training plan with a major goal at the end of the last major match of the year. All of the other matches that year were intermediate goals. Two to three weeks before a major match, training would be three to four hours a day, five days a week. Preparation is the key to good performance.

Jason Parker: The night before a match, I eat a good performance-enhancing dinner. I get to the range about 45 minutes early. This gives me enough time to set up and then relax, but not enough time to let my mind wander.

Nancy Tompkins-Gallagher: I make sure everything is done before I walk up to the firing line. My sight settings are adjusted for elevation and my windage is set at zero. Ten minutes before I go to the line I have all of my equipment on—including sweatshirt, jacket, glasses, ear protection and sling, if appropriate. Five minutes before being called to the line, I relax and think about my upcoming performance.

How do you use the preparation period?

JF: I use the preparation period to finalize adjustments to my firing point set-up—like where my spotting scope is placed or how my prone mat is aligned with the target. Then I get into position and find my natural point-of-aim. The prep period is very relaxing for me.

LW: I do holding exercises, some stretching, getting the feel of the position, establishing my natural point-of-aim and going over everything in my mind.

JP: I use the whole preparation period to get my position comfortable. Then I dry fire to let my position settle and get my mindset right for the competition.

NTG: I find my position, set up my spotting scope and start to dry fire. This is the time for me to fix anything that needs to be fine-tuned. If it’s a rapid fire stage, I make sure my cadence and timing are precise. I also figure out what I need to use for wind and mirage.

How do you go about establishing your stance, position and natural point-of-aim?

JF: I have shot so much that getting into position and being close to proper point-of-aim is easy. To perfect my position, I close my eyes, do some deep breathing, then open my eyes to find where I’m pointed and make any needed adjustments. If it seems I’m unable to find a good position by scooting around, I get in and out of position as many times as necessary. The recoil recovery must also be perfect before I go to my first record shot.

LW: Through experience and feel, aligning with the target is easy to accomplish with years of training and experience.

JP: I get a very basic position and stance established, then pick up the rifle to get everything fine-tuned and feeling relaxed and comfortable.

NTG: I look for a flat area on my firing point to set up. It is very important to set up on as level an area as possible. I assume my position from memory, then check my natural point-of-aim by closing my eyes, wiggling around, then checking to see where I’m lined up. If I’m off to the left or right, I scoot in the direction I need to go. If my elevation is off, I adjust my hand stop and sling.

What is your normal pre-shot routine?

JF: My pre-shot routine is really easy. I visualize a deep-10 and then tell myself to “be ready!” I have defined “ready” as all of the things I need to remember to fire the shot.

LW: I try to do everything the same on each shot. I’m always checking the conditions.

JP: I load, pick up the rifle and let my position settle. Then I drop my head onto the cheekpiece and acquire the target.

NTG: I look at the conditions and at my previous shot and make any sight or wind corrections. Down in position, I load the rifle, check my target number and then center the bullseye in my sights.

How do you go about firing the shot?

JF: Once I tell myself “be ready,” the shot takes care of itself. I check the wind while I’m holding the rifle and breathing. If the wind is OK, I wait for my hold to settle and squeeze off the shot.

LW: I concentrate on the hold and my sight picture. I try not to disturb the gun when the shot breaks. The left supporting arm must be relaxed.

JP: I fire quickly, usually in about 6-8 seconds, never longer than 11 seconds. I take up the first stage on the trigger while I drop my head onto the cheekpiece to save a few seconds.

NTG: I usually take another breath and then release about ⅔ of the air in my lungs. This breathing pattern releases stress—both physical and mental. I center up the bull and fire a slow, but deliberate shot. It’s very important to maintain good trigger control and follow-through. You must never anticipate the shot going off, as this can cause bad habits such as jerking the trigger or pushing the rifle butt with your shoulder. A 10 o’clock shot is usually caused by shouldering, and a 4 or 5 o’clock shot is caused by jerking or an over-aggressive trigger pull.

What is your follow-through and shot evaluation technique?

JF: After the shot goes off, I count to three―as in “Bang … two … three.” During this time, I evaluate my recoil and call the shot. Calling my shot is not a conscious thing, I look through my scope and confirm where the shot is, but I never actually say, “That was a 10.3 at 2:30.” It is more of a feeling. After each shot, I double-check the wind as well.

LW: I always call the shot, evaluate the score and compare the position of the shot on the target with the shot call. I evaluate the wind condition to determine why the shot is where it is. Is it you, the wind condition or the equipment? I then change sights or hold over accordingly.

JP: I have a short follow-through and evaluate the shot very simply, as either good or bad. If there is a fault with that shot, I will make a small correction. If the problem persists, I’ll make a more drastic change.

NTG: As soon as the shot is fired, I maintain position until I’m sure the recoil is complete. Instantly, I call the shot so I can make sight adjustments as needed. If a shot is called a 9 at 3 o’clock, for example, and it comes up a center-X, it’s nice to receive the X, but you must still adjust to where the shot was called. It is also necessary to make any position or technique adjustments as needed. Errors in technique are just as important to note from shot to shot as calling your shots.

Do you have any other thoughts, comments or recommendations for your fellow shooters?

JF: I’m a “distracted shooter.” I am very aware of what is going on around me. I know who is on the range, who’s leaving, who’s done firing the course and whose target system just broke. I tried to focus on just shooting, but find that to be more distracting. My mental plan, when trying to focus, began to include sayings such as, “Don’t listen to that noise,” or “Don’t pay attention,” or “Focus on your shooting, it doesn’t matter.” To me, these thoughts became even more distracting. It’s easier for me to recognize what is going on around me and move along, rather than try to block them out. My advice is that not all shooters are the same and it takes a lot of time and work to figure out what works best for you.

LW: Having good equipment and ammunition are a given. The most important aspect of becoming a champion is a clearly defined training plan. That’s absolutely imperative to give you direction. The plan must realistically reflect the time available to you to carry it out. Second, your goal setting must be realistic and achievable, but also must require real effort and hard work. Third, you must have the commitment, wanting it more than anything else and be willing to make the sacrifices necessary to achieve your goals. Finally, you must have the determination and desire―the “fire in the belly”―to be competitive. It has to be your number one priority in life.

JP: I recommend getting the shot off quickly and letting the position settle before you fire the shot.

NTG: Target shooting is a fun and rewarding sport. Through shooting, you learn how to better concentrate, which can help you in all areas of life. You also learn how to improve both your physical and mental control. Responsibility is the other major factor that is learned. Probably my best recommendation is to train hard, learn from books and articles, and from other shooters. Be prepared, safe and responsible. The major secret to shooting well is to enjoy it and have fun. If you are prepared, relaxed and having fun, you will do better. My scores improved drastically when I quit worrying about my placement in the competition and concentrated on my performance. It is far more rewarding to perform well and not win a competition than to perform badly and win. Be a good example to others by being responsible, friendly, helpful, honest and self-controlled. Enjoy the wonderful people involved in our sport and the thrill of competing with others who enjoy doing what you do. Have fun!

So there you have it, from four fine rifle shooters. As you can see, they experience the same match pressures, worries and distractions the rest of us do every time they step up to the firing line. The major difference is how thoroughly they prepare themselves before their match and how they deal with those challenges during their match. There are no shortcuts to shooting success, but these four great athletes have helped show you the straightest path which every shooters must take to the winner’s podium.


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