Overdue for an update

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It’s been over 6 months since my last post, but that was not due to lack of anything to write about: rather a lack of motivation to write about it.

Since my last post I have left two jobs, declined one job offer, sidestepped a second, and accepted a third in a somewhat tumultuous process that I would have rather avoided if I could. But I think I have found myself in a good position that represents a return to a career I thought I had left behind in Scotland in 2012.

My shooting was only slightly affected by the confusion however, and despite missing a number of Tuesday night hi-power practices I managed to improve through the season and even won a hi-power match on the way. I only won that match by 1 point from my nearest challenger, who also far surpassed me in his X count, however by not disgracing myself in the offhand and sitting positions, and putting in a solid performance at prone, I did what I needed to do.

I credit my success in that match to two things: the creation in my basement of a (nearly) 10 meter air rifle range where I can practice shooting offhand, and a short rain shower during the competition that hit the range just before I shot prone, disrupted some people’s shooting, and allowed me time to sneak into the range kitchen and eat some cookies. I had forgotten to bring snacks and was getting pretty hungry. On such slender threads does the fate of…unprepared match shooters depend.

In other target shooting news, I have been regularly been attending small-bore 50 meter practices this year, and apart from using up a bunch of ammo, I think I am seeing the benefits. Last time out I scored 398/400 (admittedly on the US NRA target, which has a more generous 10 ring than the ISSF equivalent). However, my groups have been steadily shrinking and I have been making progress in my wind reading and sight adjustments which has always been a weakness for me.

A feature of the more recent small-bore practices has been an informal competition between myself and one of the junior shooters. I think he’s around 15, and it was his father who proposed the “match”. We compete for a $1 prize, and so far I have won $2. But considering I have about two decades more experience than this kid, my winning margins have been disturbingly slim. In our first match I only beat him by about 5 points out of 1200. I have talked with my wife about whether I should deliberately throw a match sometime, I feel bad taking a dollar off a 15 year old boy (well, his father) every couple of weeks, but she pointed out that when he does eventually beat me, which probably won’t take too long, it will mean that much more.

I competed in a 300m match not so long ago, and unlike the first 3P 300m match I entered where I shot from the high-power sitting position instead of kneeling, this time I did it properly. This was the first time I have ever even tried the kneeling position (which I now realise reveals a lack of preparation on my part) but I managed to get set up and shot the string. At first I struggled, the angle of the sling and support meant the rifle recoiled diagonally, or at least seemed to, which took some getting use to. But as the string wore on my shots crept closer to the X ring and I felt like with a bit more practice I might not be too bad at it. Kneeling for 20 shots slowfire is considerably more comfortable than doing it sitting cross legged, so the whole event was a lot more comfortable than my previous experience. And that was reflected in my results, which were close enough to the other competitors to be satisfying, if not prize winning.

A few years ago I had considered trying to build a rifle in 6mm BR, but due to the costs associated with that caliber I ended up building my match AR in .223 Remington. I am now inspired to resurrect that idea with the goal of being more competitive at 300m international, and I don’t think it will cost me an arm and a leg either. One of the rifles I brought with me to the USA was an Interarms Mark X in .308 Winchester. This was my first hunting rifle that I converted from a target rifle by cutting down the barrel and the stock and adding a scope. And while it was always very accurate, it was always also very heavy. I now have three other hunting rifles that are much more practical for the purpose of hauling into tree stands and putting meat in the freezer, and since I kept the original sights, mounts, and match trigger for that rifle, I have a lot of the more expensive items on the shopping list already crossed off. I have a lead on a used barrel that might be made to work for me by exposing it to the correct chamber reamer, and I have a few options for stocks that aren’t terribly expensive…so this might actually happen, eventually.

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I finally dragged the Swing out for a shoot this summer. Gopher rifle club was hosting a 600 yard practice, and though I have previously taken my AR to these events, I decided it was a perfect opportunity to blow the cobwebs off one of my prized but long neglected target rifles. I was using a new load, and I don’t remember how I did (other than not terrible), but the weather was fantastic and I had a lot of fun. Laying in the hot sun wearing too many clothes trying to make holes in distant pieces of paper shouldn’t be fun, but for some reason there are few things that give me greater joy. There has recently been created an organisation – or maybe more of an informal group masquerading as an organisation – called the 2017 Palma Alliance. In order to gain membership to this “elite” group one must swear to henceforth shoot nothing but a .308 rifle with iron sights and 155gr bullets in midrange and long range prone matches. The goal is to encourage practice with Palma eligible equipment ahead of the long range championships in 2019. I have considered joining, but I want to have a look at the fine print before I commit. I am quite happy to drag out the Swing for practices at 600yds and beyond, but I have other rifles and calibers I’d much rather shoot at 300m, and I want to be sure that won’t disqualify me before I agree to the terms. Especially since they appear quite happy to name and shame members who break that rule.

Apart from some success making holes in paper, since my last post I have also had some success making holes in animals, but this post is getting a bit long and tomorrow is Christmas eve, so I think it can wait.

Merry Christmas

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Getting back into the habit

Since the end of the 2016 hunting season I have been making an effort to shoot more regularly. Fortunately there is a winter high-power league, and a regular small bore practice events happening on alternate weekends, so I have been taking advantage. When I first moved to the USA I bought a “brick” of 500 rounds of .22LR match ammunition, and to my shame it took me until the end of last year to use up. When I was regularly shooting in Scotland I would probably go through at least that much in a couple of months, so I have some catching up to do. Last year however I bought two new bricks of SK match, and with all the shooting I have been doing I have already got though one: things are looking up. My scores have also been improving, and although I am shooting on the NRA 50m target, not the international (which is somewhat more challenging), I have been pleased with my groups and scores.

Here are a few examples of recent targets. They are not my best targets, but they are representative.

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On the high-power side of things, I have also seen some improvements. My offhand (standing) scores have steadily improved, and the last few weekends I have managed to get all my 10 shots onto the scoring area (5 ring or better), and occasionally even into the 10. My best score was an 88/100 a few weeks ago.

My sitting rapid is going well, mostly because I can now get into position without feeling like I will break, and this last weekend I shot a decent group. It would also have been a decent score if it was centered on the bull. It wasn’t though, but I take what victories I can.

Prone rapid is going okay, and although I haven’t managed to recreate my early successes (several 100/100) I came pretty close this weekend with a 99/100. Here is a picture of the group.

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There were actually 12 shots recorded rather than 10, since I forgot to switch the system into match mode after my two sighters. The high 9 was one of the sighters (honest).

In an effort to get better at offhand, easily my worst position, I have built a small 10 meter air rifle range in my basement. In truth is it probably only 9 meters, because that’s the furthest I can go between the foundations, but for practicing my technique it works great. I am borrowing a junior CO2 powered air rifle for that, and I built a target box with a steel back plate to keep the ricochets down.

Here’s me in action:

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The air rifle weighs considerably less than my high-power rifle, which I will try to correct at some point, but I hope the practice will be worthwhile anyway. The state championship is happening at the end of the month, and since I plan to enter the 3P event I will try to spend as much time in the basement as I can before then.

 

Hi-power update

I have been participating in a “winter league” since the end of last year, but despite the name it is not a competition. I have attended most of the dates and I feel like I am making steady progress. Because of the typical Minnesota temperatures at this time of year we shoot at electronic targets from the heated 300m shooting house.

I have mostly been practicing 3 position (it’s not called that, but I forget its actual name), which involves shooting offhand (standing slow fire), sitting (crossed legs, rapid fire), and prone (both rapid and slow fire).

The standing is pretty new to me, but I think I am getting the hang of it slowly. This last weekend more of my shots were inside the 8 ring than outside, and only one missed the scoring area entirely. I even hit the 10 ring a couple of times.

Sitting is in some ways more of a struggle for me. The position is basically sitting with crossed legs and elbows on the knees. In order to get the right support I have to tuck my feet right back under my thighs which puts a lot of pressure on my ankles. I then need to hunch down over the rifle in order to be able to see through the sights. I can’t wear my shooting glasses in this position as there isn’t room for them between my face and the rear sight. In that position I have to shoot ten rounds with one magazine change within the specified time limit, which I can’t remember right now but is something like 60 or 70 seconds.

I am not very flexible and find it hard to curl up into the required position. On the days where I find the position and can hold it long enough to shoot the string, I usually hit toward the center of the target, although more often than not my shots drop down to 4 o’clock. It may have something to do with the cant I sometimes get on the rifle, but I’m not really sure. This weekend I shot one string that hit at 4 o’clock. I decided to shoot a second string and my shots were mostly in the ten ring until I had a malfunction which I couldn’t clear before the time ran out. I trimmed down my rifle’s ejector spring a while ago to keep my spent brass from leaving the state, but I trimmed it too much and occasionally a case doesn’t eject all the way and masses things up. I have a replacement spring to put in, but I keep forgetting to sit down and do it.

Prone is understandably my best position, and I usually do well. This weekend I had my best scores for a while with a 98-4x in the rapid and 198-9x in the slow fire. Pictures below. I forgot to print more scorecards, so the slow fire detail is recorded on a rapid fire card.

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Prone rapid fire-January 30th 2016

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Prone slow fire-January 30th 2016

I was quite pleased with the slow fire detail as I was using a relatively new load (24.5gr AA2520 with a Nosler 80gr HPBT). I had tried it with 24.3gr of powder, but had inconsistent results so I bumped it up a touch and it looks like it worked.

My goals for the future are to improve my offhand and sitting by practicing the positions at home in order to develop my muscle memory. I also just need to shoot more. I could also use to lose a little weight (or move it elsewhere on my body), because my jacket is getting a little tight around the middle and I don’t even want to thin about replacing that. Replacing a few beers every month with G&Ts would probably make all the difference.

My latest 3D printed butt stock is working out well with just a couple of small changes that need to be made. More details of that will come in a separate post. I have also designed and made a 3D printed hand stop with the hope of replacing the one I was using, which is on loan from a friend. I used it this weekend without issue, so things are looking good on that front.

More to come…

Another mini match

Another week another mini match. This week I managed to improve in some areas but slip slightly in others.

My position for the 200yd offhand felt less stable than last time. I had a few shots which I called as bad as soon as they went off. I think I wasn’t finding the same position every time I set up.

200 yd slow fire (offhand) 30th June '15

200 yd slow fire (offhand) 30th June ’15

My sitting rapid was better. I tried to get the rifle as vertical as I could and (possibly) as a result my group was centered more on the bull. I did make the mistake of wearing shorts and found out that the grip pads on my jacket are quite coarse and uncomfortable on bare legs.

200yd Rapid fire (Sitting) 30th June '15

200yd Rapid fire (Sitting) 30th June ’15

My 300yd rapid was also an improvement, however after firing my shots I got distracted collecting my brass and nearly missed seeing my target after it was marked. I got the score but the target was pulled before I could record the placement of my shots.

300yd rapid fire 30th June '15

300yd rapid fire 30th June ’15

My 300yd slow fire started well, and I thought I was going to improve on my previous mini match result, however I had a mystery 9 on my fourth shot and a few others that stubbornly missed the x ring. Other shooters reported having shots go high, so I wonder if the light levels shifted briefly…or I had a bad shot.

After 6 & 7 went high I adjusted my sights down a quarter minute and then shots 8 & 9 went in about a quarter minute low. Since 6 & 7 are clearly more than a quarter minute high the sight adjustment was more of a gesture since I didn’t really believe an adjustment was required. Shots 6-9 are also drifting left but I don’t know what that means.

In the end however, I suppose I can’t really grumble about 99-4.

300yd slow fire 30th June '15

300yd slow fire 30th June ’15

Another Hi-power practice.

I was out at Minneapolis Rifle Club again this week for a Hi-power practice, but instead of the usual routine we had a mini match.

*I had planned to get to the range early to shoot some small bore before the practice started, but the traffic a 3pm was as bad as the traffic at 4 that I usually drive through so I arrived later than planned. When I got to the range I realised I hadn’t brought any 50m targets with me, but then I found some old targets with clean diagrams which I put up. I continued to set up hoping to get in 20 minutes before I moved to the hi-power range, but then discovered I had left my sights at home. Thats what happens when you don’t do it regularly.*

Ordinarily we will shoot at either 200 or 300yds and shoot the full course of fire for that distance, this time however we reduced each detail to 10 shots from 20, and shot at both 200 & 300yds.

I started in the pits and pulled for the 200yd rapid sitting and offhand (standing) slow fire. Then we changed over and I shot the sitting and offhand then moved back to 300yds and shot the prone rapid and slow fire, before going back to the pits so the first group could shoot 300yds. Then we cooked some sausages.

My offhand was better than expected, I have been steadily improving. I mostly got 10s & 9s with only a few flyers (see below). The X came after I had been holding in the aim for a bit longer than I should have and decided to come out of position and start again (positive reinforcement experience there). The 7 (shot 8) was frustrating but I was pleased that I called the shot accurately.

200yds Offhand scorecard

200yds Offhand scorecard

 

My sitting rapid was less successful. My scope stand is good for prone shooting but is too short to allow me to use it to see my sighters when sitting. I adjusted my sights based upon what I could make out with the naked eye, but I ended up dropping my shots to the right. Although I have managed to develop a stable sitting position, in order to get my eye behind the sights I am canting the rifle to the right, which is probably the explanation for the position of my group (see below).

200yd sitting score card

200yd sitting score card

 

At 300yds we started with the rapid fire and again I didn’t do as I had hoped. The targets were in shade during the sighters and I had opened up my rear aperture a bit, but the sun came out again during the string and I think that may have contributed to my error (I know, excuses excuses!).

300yd rapid fire score card

300yd rapid fire score card

 

The day ended well with the 300yd slow fire. My sighters were in the 10 ring and it only got better from there. 100-6 was my final score on that detail. The guy marking my target complimented me on my shooting, then asked where the other four Xs went. To be honest I can’t explain why I pulled those shots to the right, but I will think about it.

300yd Slow fire score card

300yd Slow fire score card

 

It was a beautiful evening to spend at the range.

Evening light in the pits

Evening light in the pits