Airgun Workshop – Shooting Positions Part 3
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- Last updated: 02/12/2016
Last month we touched upon shooting stance, dealing with taking shots from both a kneeling position and then from prone. In this final instalment, we’ll finish the main positions, then progress to finer technique overall.
When I first started Field Target (FT) shooting, a sitting position, with both arms up, and an elbow on each knee, was a firm foundation and a good place to start. You’ve effectively created a proper means of support, but it does depend on how far your arms reach. If the elbows don’t easily sit in the wells of the knees, then it may not be the ideal stance for you. Likewise, the stability of this position relies on getting the legs fairly straight, under the knees, so a full support is created. If this is awkward, then maybe avoid this position. Either way, that vital consistent approach needs to be maintained, by holding exactly the same point of the guns grip and forend each time. Alter this, and again, the way the recoil is absorbed, will change, possibly altering the zero. As I have said before; I cannot stress enough about the fact you do have to be able to repeat this exactly for every shot for maximum performance!
The FT over-the-arm stance has long been a favourite of mine and here my long legs and arms allow for a complete tripod to be created. Incredible stability is the result; but again, if it seems a stretch or muscles are straining for you, then don’t push things. If it works for you, then just make sure that the rifle’s point of contact over that front elbow joint is again the same every time. As this position allows a spring piston rifle to actually jump up, with the recoil, it makes sense that the point of impact (POI) will be higher than if the rifle was shot from a kneeling or two handed stance - assuming it had been zeroed from the latter. Mounting the rifle differently each time will again allow the action to jump to a greater or lesser degree, causing further changes. Thoroughly testing and checking the change of POI as different positions are adopted, is all part of the art. At this point, it’s worth mentioning here of course, that no form of sitting position is allowed in Hunter Field Target (HFT).
And so to the dreaded standing shots - easily the most feared of all by most of us! That said, follow the same basic rules, think about you’re approach, and you may have half a chance.
The basis of the standing position requires the shooter to stand sideways on to the target, with the legs set apart roughly the distance between the shoulders. Push the front hip forwards, and place the elbow of the supporting arm into and onto the hip support. How comfortable or even possible this stance is, is dependant upon the individual, but it can work well and is the basis for indoor target shooters.
Just as we had to be mindful when shooting a spring gun in the over-arm FT sitting position, that the guns forend contact point was the same every time, so we need to make sure that we support and contact the same point of the underside of the gun’s forend when standing. What we support the rifle with, is a matter of choice.
I favour a target glove and let the gun sit on the extended fist. Alternatively, you can raise the fingers of the supporting hand, or even face the supporting hand outwards, and rest the gun in the natural V created. Stick with what feels comfortable, but keep that contact point consistent as mentioned.
Sometimes a totally free-handed, unsupported stander has to be taken, when targets are placed at a steep angle up a tree and here we are left with little choice but to bite the bullet. Given half a chance though, adopt the target stance and concentrate.
As I’ve always said, rules for shooting are best taken as recommended guidelines rather than set in stone, since what suits one person’s physique etc, may not suit another’s. Breathing is a classic example and many individuals take a different approach. There really is no RIGHT way with this just guidelines to be tried and adjusted to suit as necessary. My technique for breathing does involve actually holding my breath for a short period, but some shooters don’t. Here’s my technique, that has served me well on and off over the years.
When in the aim, from whatever position, once you have arrived at the point where the target has been identified, and the scopes reticule is in place, you are now very close to taking the shot. Take a series of good deep breaths, inhaling firmly but fairly slowly, and then exhaling fairly slowly. Repeat this a few times then, when you feel you are nearly ready to pull the trigger, gently exhale approximately half the final breath, and HOLD your breath. This shouldn’t be strained, since you are still holding half the breath and you are only going to hold this state for probably five seconds maximum… In practise, the breathing process will become second nature and you won’t really be aware of the sequence anymore.
Good trigger technique involves gently releasing the shot, whilst transferring as little movement to the gun as possible. A light trigger mechanism helps, but a solid technique will serve you better regardless! Make sure the trigger blade contacts the finger in the middle of the first pad, and try and squeeze it straight backwards, which will avoid pulling the gun off to one side.
Shooting airguns is arguably the hardest form of shooting, since the guns lock-time (the time it takes between the trigger being pulled and the pellet actually leaving the barrel) is relatively slow, when compared to that of firearm be it rimfire or centrefire. Given the inherently slow mechanism of a spring piston airgun, the shooter needs to try even harder, if full accuracy potential is to be realized. ‘Following through’ is the key to success and this term effectively means maintaining the position and sighting of the target, until the shot has left the gun and is safely on its way. Everything happens in milliseconds, but if we’re too hasty in snatching off the shot and instantly coming out of the aim then we can actually alter the pellets path; albeit slight.
Get used to squeezing the trigger, and holding still for a couple of seconds after each shot, and results will invariably improve!
With any practise regime, it’s important not to run away from the tricky stuff. We all like to see targets go down regularly, but if you only ever shoot at large targets, close up, from a totally supported stance, then come a competition, or a tricky shot at a live target, out in the field, your body will simply not be prepared to go up a level, to achieve your goal. Regular practise of all positions, especially the tricky kneeling and standing ‘discipline’ shots, gets the right muscle groups working and even if the targets rarely drop, you can rest assured that the body has been pushed to the limit- almost certainly boosting any future performance.
Likewise midweek practise can take the form of just ‘assuming the position’, where a ten or fifteen minute session can make all the difference. Just picking up the gun, without even firing a shot, and getting into a kneeling or standing position, and holding the position for a couple of minutes at a time, can be a great idea. The right muscles will be working, and getting used to working to support the gun and that’s invaluable at the end of the day. A form of ‘dry-firing’ if you like, although unlike PCP’s, we can’t actually fire air off, since the spring gun’s mechanism will be damaged with no ammunition loaded.
My final tip here concerns mental approach, and here it applies equally to other shooting disciplines and sports for that matter.
In short, have self-belief. I was always told the classic adage when I started competition shooting, that when you arrive at a competition venue, you are only ever up against those on the day, that actually believe they themselves have a chance; and it really does hold true. Talk yourself down and think in a negative way and your chances of success are severely minimized. Imagine yourself receiving the trophy, and you’re back in the running. Simplistic, but compelling stuff!
My final piece in this series will look at selecting the right gun.