It was a good day ‘tater.

If you read my last post, you know I have been sneaking up on possible causes for my less than stellar scores. After much experimentation, I can say I think we have found the problem.

We began going through my position carefully and we thought we had identified the issue. The rifle butt, under recoil, was moving my shoulder down and to the right. It was not much, but it doesn’t take much to miss the target. Shooting my rimfire rifle, I paid close attention to where the butt was positioned in my shoulder pocket and the relationship of my shoulder to the buttplate itself. When I found the solution, I started putting three, four, five rounds into one hole. There were two issues at play here, different problems that played upon each other.

First: The wonderful new shooting jacket I have started using was allowing the buttplate to move. The ‘no-slip’ surface was not much more than a piece of rough out leather. While it might be fine for a checkered buttplate, it was not up to the task of controlling the movement of a polished brass buttplate. That problem was solved by gluing pieces of compressed rubber matting over the leather pad high up on the shoulder.

Recoil pad on coat

Rubber matting added to recoil pad on coat.

Second: My shoulder was slightly off of perpendicular to the recoil of the rifle. The rifle was recoiling straight back, but my shoulder was allowing the rifle to move right because my shoulder was moving to the rear. A picture here will be worth a thousand words.

Shoulder and recoil direction map.

Red represents my shoulder angle and green represents the direction of recoil.

Looking at the above image, the lines represent my shoulder angle (red) and the direction of recoil with the rifle (green). You can see how the rifle’s recoil is not square to my shoulder in the left diagram. What that does is cause my shoulder to move when the rifle recoils. This happens because my shoulder is not transmitting all the recoil force to the rest of my body. My shoulder is a loose platform for the buttplate. What I need is the diagram on the right. To do that, I have to adjust my body to be more in alignment with the rifle. That brings my shoulder square to the buttplate and allows my whole body to absorb the recoil.

Lets look at some pictures of me in each position. I am wearing only a shirt so the pictures will more clearly show my shoulder in relation to the rifle. Pay attention to the line of my body represented by the red line, to the line of the rifle. Also, notice the difference in how the butt is placed in my shoulder.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

See the difference? The shirt hides some the shoulder position but you can feel the difference. Notice also that the rifle now recoils more into my body, where previously it was pushing my shoulder away. When under recoil, my wife can see the difference in how the rifle muzzle behaves. My targets were showing me the difference all along.

You may be wondering, did it work? Well, we again completed the exercise of shooting first from the bench, then from my old position, then from a modified position. Yes, it worked. My shots were more centered and more consistent. I was feeling good about what we discovered and confident that improvement would be found.

Last weekend, we again traveled to the beautiful Miami Rifle and Pistol Club for Joe’s monthly midrange match. The weather was comfortable, but a strong headwind that turned on and off like a light switch did little to provide a good test environment. Just when I thought I had a good shot lined up, holding high for the headwind, I would touch the trigger and the wind would stop. Instantly. A shot intended to travel 600 yards through a strong headwind instead went sailing through 600 yards of still air. I could not call it back. The wind change was enough to throw the bullet from the center, to the top of the bull.

I did not let the wind aggravate me. I instead took it as a chance to watch the effect a strong and perfect headwind had on my bullets. I was starting to call where the shots would land based on my sight picture and the wind on the range. It was fun.

Overall, I think the weekend was a success for me. I found myself returning to my old and comfortable position more than once if I did not concentrate though, and that cost me many points. I will dryfire, shoot the rimfire rifle, and practice until my new position becomes my comfortable position.

I can only get better, right?

Posted in Interesting stuff, Technique

Progress? It depends on what you take away from it.

It has been a good while since I posted last. We had many home chores that required our attention. It kept me from shooting.

With all the home work done, we took a day to go to Friendship and try something new. In all my efforts to find an answer to my accuracy problems, I have often made the remark that “I know how to shoot,” and I have proved it to myself. Well, the one thing I never considered was the difference of which rifle I was shooting.

A rimfire target rifle is light and has no recoil to speak of. The barrel on my CZ 452 is 24″ and the stock has a pistol grip. The trigger weight is 3 pounds and breaks perfectly. I have been shooting mostly rimfire the past several years, so of course, I would make good scores.

My M1 is short with a 24″ barrel, heavy for a battle rifle, and has a pistol grip stock. The trigger is very nice for an “as issued” battle rifle. A semi-auto rifle makes it easy to have the same position for several consecutive shots as well.

The Whitworth, in contrast, is long with a 36″ barrel and the stock is straight gripped. At 9 pounds the Whitworth is close to the M1 in heft, but carries far more weight at the muzzle. The fact that it is a muzzle loading rifle brings a whole new set of problems to shooting it well.

Consider, first and foremost, you have to build a new position each and every time you fire a shot. Your body, the rifle, your grip, and cheek weld, must all be exactly the same as the shot before, if you expect good scores. Consider also that the lock time is very slow in comparison to a modern action. The bullet is traveling far slower down the bore as well, less than half the speed of the M1’s 30-06 round. So, from the time you press the trigger, until the bullet leaves the muzzle, there is ample time for any bad habits you have to be displayed in the path of the bullet.

That, the bad habit part, was what I needed to know. Did I have any bad habits that my modern rifles were hiding? Yes, I was asking myself if I had gotten lazy in my shooting.

The only way to know was to remove me from the process of firing the shot, or as much of me as I could. I did not have anyone experienced enough living close by to have them try the rifle with my loads. So I did the next best thing, I shot the Whitworth from a bench.

I will tell you right away that I am not a good bench rest marksman. I only began shooting and instructing from prone in the last 7 years. I have shot offhand the majority of my life. I started with muzzle loading, shooting round ball at 100 yards or less, then shooting Cowboy Silhouette to 200 yards. All my shooting had been done standing.

I configured what I thought would be a reasonable bench rest setup. I mounted my wrist rest into a wooden frame that I could set on a table, strapped down tightly to provide a stable platform for the rifle to rest on. The wrist rest was adjusted to a comfortable height and a thick wool pad was tied on to give the rifle forearm a smooth surface to move on during recoil. The rifle was set on the rest at the same position as my support hand would be normally located. I only held the rifle enough to control it during sight alignment. I positioned the chair so I could rest my weight on the table and place my feet in the same position each time. The rifle was free to recoil directly into my shoulder.

All of this was done on a bench rest at the range which was firmly planted into the ground with 6″ spikes. It was quite solid.

bench Rest

As good a bench rest as I could make.

The idea was to fire five or more shots at 100 yards without my looking at the groups. My wife simply watched the target and marked the shots on the score card. She might have let “do that again” or “you’re going to like that” slip out once or twice. Otherwise, she did not taint the experiment.

The results were surprising. I ended up with two targets that had sub 2″ groups, centered. My wife watched as I shot and said the muzzle recoiled straight back and up. No torque or twist was evident.

We then ate a snack and discussed what the difference was between the bench shots and my previous prone shooting. We thought the problem was how the rifle was positioned. So, for our next test I would shoot as I normally do, prone with a sling and making no effort to adjust my position based on the bench rested shots. I moved off the bench to the shooting mat and fired five shots that went into a 4″ group and strung from low left to high right. The shots all landed 6″ right of the bench rested shots.

More snacking, more discussion.

I went back to the bench rest and fired ten more shots. Those shots all landed back in the center of the target and in a nice cluster. Several shots went into less than an inch.

The problem is me. I have a position issue that is not showing up with a centerfire rifle, or I am hiding it well. When I shoot a LRML rifle though, the problem is clearly visible on the target. My wife said she could easily see that the rifle was recoiling differently on some of the shots with the muzzle climbing to the right and the butt turning off my shoulder.

The targets told the tale. I always tell my students to trust their targets. Your friends will lie to you about your shooting ability. You will lie to yourself too, but your targets will never lie. Your targets are the most trustworthy report of how you manage your rifle. Learn to read them properly and they will show you what is happening.

I had not been trusting my targets. Looking back at the stack of targets I have kept, the answer was right there, staring me in the face.

Now to identify the problem and fix it. To do that, I needed to take some time off and do the experiment all over again. I needed to confirm what we found and duplicate the targets.

Posted in Technique | 1 Comment

Equipment update II – May 2017

Last month, I promised an update on some things I have changed or improved on.

These are all little things, minor or even nitpick things, but they make a difference. If you don’t consider them worthwhile, that is fine. However, they might make you think differently about your equipment and possibly improve on your own kit. So, with no planned order, lets look at some things I have done that I think help my shooting, or at least my shooting experience.

Front sight. Why do they always show front sights mounted with the insert coming out the breach end of the sight housing? I admit, I always mounted my sights like that until I dropped an insert into the grass.  I have turned my front sight around with the lock ring (I have no idea what that part is called) facing the target. When I need to change the insert, I simply stand the rifle with the butt on the ground and gravity becomes my friend, not my enemy. No more dropped inserts.

Changing the sight insert from the top is just easier.


Rear Sight. Fitting a rear sight to a military match rifle can either be very easy or very hard. If you do not want to inlay the sight mount into the wood of the wrist, which is easy, you need a rear mount made. With no commercial mount available, it must be made. If you don’t have tools beyond a file and a hacksaw, it can be hard to get a proper mount constructed. I have made three so far and I can see where I already want to make another.

My current mount is held in place by the tang screw. There is a second screw threaded through the mount just behind the tang screw. That threaded hole accepts a smaller screw with a centering point on it’s end. I added a small, very small, 60 degree dimple in the tang that screw centers into when tightened. The screw doesn’t have to be strong, it simply has to keep the mount from swiveling. The tang screw handles the job of keeping the mount tight to the rifle.

Sight mount from the left side.

Sight mount from the right side.

Sling. I am on my third sling now and very happy with it. I started with a standard 19th century military sling on my Kerr and found it a challenge to shoot with. The majority of the problem was hand slippage on the fore stock. I then began using half of a 1907 military sling and that worked well enough. I just tied the front half the sling around the rifle forward of the lower band and ran the adjustment frog through the swivel on the trigger guard.

Kerr rifle with the long half of a 1907 sling.

It worked well. My only issue was that getting into and out of the sling was a challenge as the leather was very supple. With no body to the sling it just flopped around while putting my arm through the loop. I imagine having that sling used on a M1 for the past 5 years was no help, as the rifle was loaned quite often and had numerous shooters of all sizes adjusting and using it. I wanted something more substantial that would hold it’s shape better, allowing me to get my arm through the sling with little trouble.

Looking though my unused shooting goodies, I had a heavy belt that was made to go with a hunting bag and horn but was never used. I cut the belt about 8″ from the buckle  and attached the buckle end to the sling swivel with a leather lace. I took the feed end of the belt and cut a slit exactly as long as the belt was wide. Looping the belt through that cut, I slipped it over the forearm and pulled it tight. I added a twist and fed the belt into the buckle and I was done. I now had a heavy sling that stayed open on it’s own and was very easy to get into and out of.

Thicker, heavier, with a twist.

Flash guard. I know, I do not need this. What I do need is more time in my life and less cleanup after shooting. A flash guard provides that. I had tried bending up a flash guard out of sheet brass and it worked. It was flimsy, as it had to be so it could be bent to shape, and was often bent out of shape while shooting. I next tried a commercial cone shaped flash guard and while it was sturdier, it also made capping difficult.

Sitting at the workbench one night, I began looking through my Gold Mine, the pile of odds and ends I cannot bear to throw in the trash. I found a cough drop tin with a nicely formed corner. The corner happened to be the same radius as my nipple bolster. Five minutes with a pair of tin snips, a quick trip to the drill press, and a nice flash guard was made.

So far, it has worked out very well. Replacements will not be hard to find if the need arises.

Flash guard from the top.

Flash guard from the side. Ignore the fouling in the hammer nose, I took care of that.

Hex Jag. I fired the Whitworth for a few months without a hex jag and had no issues keeping the bore clean. I began to wonder if a hex jag was even needed. I was cleaning the rifle one evening, after a day of shooting, and realized more patches were required with the Whitworth, than the Kerr, to get a clean bore. Another trip to the Gold Mine and I found an old 50 caliber cleaning jag. Putting the jag into a bench vise I began filing flats onto the jag, file and fit, file and fit. Once I had the basic shape I wanted, I began to try patches to check the fit in the bore. After just a few minutes I had a jag that was a tight fit with a dry patch and a easy fit with a wet patch.

Cleaning the bore became far easier and much faster. I am still not sold on using the hex jag to wipe between shots, but for cleaning the rifle after shooting, it makes a worthwhile addition to any Whitworth owner’s equipment.

A simple hex jag. Take any 50 caliber jag you own and file to fit.

So, there you have it. My boring post for the month of May. It may not be awe inspiring and it may not be exciting, but it just might prove valuable to see how someone else solves their problems.

Posted in Equipment

Equipment Update – April 2017

Things are going well. The new rifle is working and I am shooting much better. It was time to take another look at my kit.

I had made a change to the loading tripod I had been using in 2015. I upgraded to a heavier tripod and copied Mike’s setup of having the tray under the tripod head instead of on the tripod head. That gave me a bigger tray and easier access. I had also been noting what things I use during a match and removing all else. This reduced clutter and kept what I needed in easy reach. It worked very well.

Oak Ridge. Everything on the tripod. Small, light, simple.

The tripod now holds what I need close at hand, and also supports my spotting scope for checking the markers on the target. No need to wait at the firing point for targets to come back up to look through a ground scope, I can mark my scores using the scope at the loading tray.

Oak Ridge. My kit, everything I need and nothing I will not use.

On the tray, I have two containers for patches, both wet and dry, bullets, powder, and caps. The tray holds only what I need to wipe and load the rifle. No tools, gadgets, or other assorted things to roll around. If I need a different cleaning jag or tool, they are in the range bag under the tripod and easily accessible.

While the tray worked and did what I wanted, I saw some room for improvement. At Oak Ridge I found myself fumbling with dirty patches and having to be careful of how the rifle was set into the tripod. My score board seemed like an attention starved house cat, always in the way. While the rifle never fell, and never looked like it would fall, it was constantly on my mind. It was time for some changes.

I spent a few days in the workshop setting up my equipment and trying different arrangements until I thought I had a better solution. I added a cradle for the rifle so that it would be kept from sliding across the tray.  My scoreboard now has a lip added to it so that I can simply hang it on the side of the tray after marking my shots.

Cincinnati. Updated tripod, version 2?

I added a 2 inch hole drilled through the bottom and a paint ball loader sits in the hole. The paint ball loader has a spring loaded lid, sits low in the tray, and cannot blow around like a plastic bag or used coffee container. I cannot take credit for that bit of ingenuity, my youngest son and my wife both suggested that addition.

Cincinnati. New tray has rifle cradle and a container for used patches.

They were right, it was a good addition. At Cincinnati  a few weeks later, I tested the updated tripod and it all worked splendidly. I never fumbled a dirty patch and the patches never blew away. After each relay, I simply closed the lid and threw the container into my range bag. Clean and neat. My rifle stayed safe and secure in the cradle with no fears of it falling over.

After Oak Ridge, I also reviewed my home-made shooting jacket and decided that after using it for several matches I knew what I wanted, or needed, in a shooting jacket. The padded elbows were a nice addition, and the no-slip shoulder pad almost mandatory with the polished brass buttplates of the Kerr and Whitworth rifles. What I did not like was the collar and the loose fit. It seemed I was spending a lot of time and effort just arranging the jacket to get a good position for shooting. I don’t think I was as consistent in my position as I should have been. You can read more about my thoughts on a shooting jacket in a previous post.

I have been paying close attention to what other shooters were wearing and what was available on the market. I wanted something with few frills, but the features I wanted needed to be proper and well positioned. After a few weeks of online shopping and reading far too many forum posts, I settled on the NRA jacket from Champions Choice.

Champions Choice Jacket. Only the features I needed.

The jacket is a simple entry-level high power jacket, but it has all the features I was looking for. The jacket has a well designed shoulder pad, just enough elbow padding to work, an easily accessible and large pocket, and no collar. The sleeves and shoulders fit me well, without excess material. It also has an abundance of straps that I will never use.

I practiced wearing the jacket shooting my 22 rimfire, and then with my Whitworth. I was very happy with it. While it does not improve an already good position, it certainly does make finding a good position much easier. When you have only 50 minutes to fire ten shots for sighters and record, time saved finding your position is time you have available for other things.

I used the new jacket at the Cincinnati match and it fit perfectly, and worked as I wanted. My choice of size and brand was either dumb luck for a first time buyer, or I don’t yet know what a terrible mistake I’ve made. Time will tell.

I am happy with my equipment at this point. I am certain I will make changes as I shoot more often, but they will be small and deliberate changes.

Posted in Equipment