By Scott Smith
One of the most common questions I get asked at the range is: how do I shoot better? Initially I told folks to practice more. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that wasn’t always the answer. Many of the folks who were asking me this were older, smaller-statured males or females. After pondering the question, I came up with a two-part answer. First, get a sub-caliber firearm that functions, feels and looks like your main firearm. A sub-caliber firearm most likely will be chambered in 22LR. Today you can find lever-action rifles, bolt-action rifles, AR-style rifles and handguns that are virtually duplicates of your hunting, competition or duty firearm. I realize you are talking about purchasing another firearm, but .22s will make you a better shooter and can be used to introduce others to shooting too.
For all practical purposes; a handgun, bolt- or AR-style rifle chambered in .22LR will perform the same as a centerfire firearm. I understand you cannot practice those 300- or 400-yard shots with a .22. This will allow you to master any basics you lack or are weak on. You have to have all the basics of sight picture, trigger pull follow through, etc., down before becoming a true speed demon in 3-Gun, action pistol or becoming a precision CMP shooter. The .22s allow you to master the basics.
With few exceptions, in my size centerfire firearms. They were plinkers, not serious training/ practice firearms unless you competed with a .22 and could afford a target rifle or pistol. Most firearms chambered in .22LR were revolvers or a few pistols such as Ruger’s Mk II or Colt’s Woodsman. Today you can find pistols styled like your favorite centerfire pistol or even complete uppers to turn your Glock or Beretta into a .22. These kits will allow you to truly replicate your centerfire pistol. For rifle practice, you can find any number of .22LR-built ARrifles or put an adapter kit in your AR. I am not a fan of these conversion kits because they are dirty and you will have to clean your AR upper, ensuring the barrel gas port is clean; the lead seems to find a way to shave into it. Comparing the price of a dedicated .22LR AR versus the conversion kit, I would just purchase the firearm. This has led many nationally known competitors to train with .22s and even compete in major .22-only matches.
What I like about using a .22LR chambered AR or 1911 for training is the ability to increase trigger speed from the lack of recoil. You will find the reduced recoil, noise, and concussion from the ignition of the cartridge will help you overcome “flinching.” When you overcome the flinch, you will sta
rt to see your performance improve. You will not see as much trigger jerk from anticipation of recoil, and this will lead to a smoother trigger pull because you will not mash the trigger.
Most importantly, when you are not closing your eyes, which is a reflex of a bad flinch, you will be able to start following your sights through the recoil/firing cycle. When you start following your sights through recoil, you will be able to start calling your shots and start self-diagnosing bad shots. Once you can see your sights, you will know when you botched the shot and why. Having the ability to call your shots will make you a better rimfire and centerfire shooter. This ability is what separates average shooters from good and great shooters.
Once you are able to call your shots on a static range, you will find yourself being able to do it on a dynamic action pistol stage. Shooting pistol and 3Gun stages with a .22 will allow you to develop this skill and markedly improve your scores. You may not think running a .22 will improve your scores but it will. The 22s allow you to shoot faster, develop your shot calling skills on the move and allow you to beat the bad habit of anticipating recoil. This is why I run mini-stages on my range with my AR and 1911 chambered in .22LR at least one practice session a month.
Another advantage of having firearms chambered in .22LR is it will help you get out to the range on nasty days. All you have to do is sweep up and dump the brass— not pick it up out of the mud. This range time through those months of foul weather will keep your skills sharp which again will improve your shooting. How popular are .22s today? They are popular enough many big name shooters practice and compete with .22s. You will find .22 specific competitions such as the Ruger Rimfire Challenge and many rimfire steel challenge speed shooting competitions. Serious rimfire competitors build match specific .22s. Having handguns and rifles chambered like your favorite centerfire will allow you to compete in these competitions and get trigger time for 3Gun, IDPA, USPSA, CMP competitions and for hunting. You will also reduce your shooting costs and have fun.
One of the biggest things you need to learn to improve your shooting in the field or on the competition field is to shoot from non-traditional positions. When I was a kid, my dad told me to practice shooting “like Daniel Boone (one of the greatest woodsman of the colonial era)”. What dad was telling me was to shoot off fence posts, use your hand as a support on a tree trunk, use a cross timber on a fence as your rest. These are non-traditional shooting supports that you will find in the field when hunting or on a 3Gun course. If you carry a firearm professionally you will find hoods of vehicles, window ledges and even your partner’s shoulder may be an improvised supported position.
If you watch an episode of 3Gun Nation you will see competitors shooting under props that look like cars, shooting through low ports in a wall, off a car seat, etc. At first blush you may think, “I cannot do that at my range,” but sure you can. Shoot under the bench instead of on it, use a milk carton as your rest shooting under the bench, cut a port in that milk carton to be your low port. You are limited only by your imagination when it comes to shooting in awkward positions. If your range is very restrictive and does not allow this, consider using an airsoft rifle at home. Airsoft rifles will allow you to safely practice odd shooting positions in the privacy of your house.
Should your range be like mine, you can use the bench and roof supports to simulate shooting off of a tree, a stump, hill rise, etc. You can also practice seated shooting, prone, or kneeling; whatever position you can come up with; as long as it is safe. In the woods, on duty, and in competition, you never know where or when you will need to execute a shot, so practice in various positions.
Kneeling and seated are stable positions that have been used by hunters and armed professionals since the dawn of shooting. The key to making these stable positions is to have the fleshy muscle of the bicep resting on the inside or outside of the knees. You can see in the accompanying photos how Lisa has positioned herself. If you place your elbow directly on the knee, you will slip. Two hard objects are not stable and the belly of the muscle acts as a shock absorber against natural movements such as breathing. In the photos you will notice she also has looped her hand through the rifle sling. This makes kneeling and seated shooting positions nearly as stable as the prone position.
Slings act as a support when you wrap your hand through the forward portion of the sling in a shooting position. This happens from the isometric tension across from the butt of the long gun, over your back through your wrist to your support hand. If your sling is properly fit, the long gun will be wide portion to the butt stock and carry the rifle muzzle down. You will find this also allows you to use the sling quickly as a support when standing. Your hand naturally will wrap the front of the sling as you reach for the front of the rifle to remove it from your shoulder.
One piece of gear all hunters should have that ensures a reliable rest and works from a number of shooting positions is shooting sticks. Shooting sticks were around long before modern bi-pods and weigh substantially less and are far more versatile. Those with diminished upper body strength from injuries or simply by virtue of size, will find shooting sticks give you a rigid shooting position. Folks who hunt with scoped handguns swear by shooting sticks. The other feature that makes them popular is the ability to fold them for easy carry in a pack.
Shooting sticks come in a variety of styles. The traditional style is a pair of sticks bungeed together to form a “V” that is the rest. These are generally sized for use in a seated position but they can be had in lengths long enough for standing. Here in the states, the seated length works well for most applications, the standing length because of all the tall brush and grasses is popular for big game hunting in Africa.
You will also find walking stick shooting sticks, which come in handy when trekking over rugged terrain. Another popular version is the tripod version. These are slightly heavier but more steady, especially when used shooting while standing. You can find shooting sticks at most popular big box stores such as Cabelas, Bass Pro, Gander Mountain, etc.
Over the years I have found a backpack makes a solid rest in the field. The reason I and many armed professionals use a pack as Grabbing shooting sticks at the V secures the rifle into them, giving you a solid shooting position even during recoil. a rest is its versatility. It can be laid over items such as a log, a rock, rise of a hill; all to give you a make shift “sandbag.” The pack ,like a sandbag, cradles your long gun, giving you a solid rest and it will protect your long gun from getting damaged if you are using a rock or other natural item that could scratch your firearm.
As you can see, there are many stable positions to shoot from that do not require you to have the additional weight of a bi-pod on your firearm. Using a rimfire version of a long gun or handgun will allow you to practice these positions without fear of recoil and muzzle blast when you are shooting. Hopefully this will help you while hunting, in competition or just on the range. As always, shoot straight, shoot safe and have fun.W&G