Shooting Well: It’s All in Your Head


According to popular Gun Digest author Wayne van Zwoll, physical gifts aside, practice makes you a marksman – assuming, of course, you can think straight.

A big animal in the scope can bump your pulse. Keeping a calm focus on the shot gives you photographs like this.

Too Much Time in the Sights?

The longer you aim, the more desperately you want to breathe normally again. The thump of your pulse becomes more pronounced, just when eye fatigue is burning a target image into your brain. Wobbles become shakes, as your muscles tire under the rifle’s weight. Offhand, your entire body starts to sway. You can no longer distinguish between the actual target and the image that entered your brain while your eye was still keen. As the entire effort starts to unravel, you hurry the shot. And you miss.

Better to practice this routine:

  • Lay a foundation with a body position that makes full use of bone support (not muscles), and that enables the rifle to point naturally toward the target.
  • As soon as you shoulder the rifle, find the target and begin your trigger squeeze. You will have breathed deeply a couple times and let the last breath about half-way out. Your lungs should lock about when the sight finds the target and your finger begins to pressure the trigger.
  • The shot follows—probably not in the first second, maybe in the third, certainly by the fifth. Hold longer than six or seven seconds, and odds of a good shot often drop.

No One Can Hold a Rifle Still, Get Used to It!

The level of accuracy you expect influences the speed of your shot. No one can hold a rifle still. The best you can hope for is an acceptable wobble, one whose speed and amplitude stay within bounds. You determine those bounds. They’re tighter prone than offhand, tighter for a 300-meter competitor than for a hunter throwing down on a buck jetting for cover 30 feet off. One reason we don’t shoot as well as we can in the woods is that we demand too much precision. When you’re out of breath, or wind gusts tug the rifle, and especially if you must shoot without support, you’ll have to accept more wobble! Insist on a perfect sight picture, and you’ll hold the shot too long.

Shooting before the sight picture becomes still is best included in your practice routine—get used to it! When wobble unnerves you, you’re apt to freeze, or to jerk the trigger. You see the sight pause in its dance, so you seize the moment. The result is a miss, because you moved the rifle as you triggered it. Get comfortable with a little wobble! Center it on the target, smoothly crush that trigger. The rifle is most likely to fire when the sight is close to the middle.

For more, practical advice from this seasoned shooter, check out his new book, Gun Digest Shooter's Guide to Rifles. Van Zwoll presents rifle shooting basics and advanced rifle shooting techniques, and also covers rifle ballistics, rifle cartridges, action types, scopes and optics, how to zero your rifle and pro shooting techniques.

Perfect for beginning and advanced rifle shooters alike, Gun Digest Shooter's Guide to Rifles contains historical information, tables, illustrations, and ballistic charts that make it a practical reference guide for any rifle aficionado.


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