Shooting Techniques Articles
STICKING THE BOOT IN!
The challenge of flinching. “When he fired the thing, the recoil was reputed to have knocked him off his horse.”
Flinch: ‘To start or wince involuntarily, as from surprise or pain’.
I used to love taking fathers and sons out hunting. It was great getting to know the guys and to see the desire they had for their sons to learn how to hunt properly and enjoy our great outdoors as they did. As well it was a great excuse for them to go hunting! Inevitably they brought with them a .308 or a 7mm/08, both great cartridges and, as sure as day would follow night they would ask me what I used. I’d then offer to give the son a shot with my .22/250 which, as well as having less recoil, also had a suppressor so the noise was greatly reduced. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to know what followed. Although not wanting to disappoint Dad, they’d ask me, ‘Can I use your rifle? And many of them did with great success. Some of them proved to be crack shots. It was the lack of recoil that was the appeal, not the weathered and chipped black paint on my old synthetic stock.
Ever seen a gun-shy dog who, when he sees a gun, either cringes or slinks away? That’s a picture of flinching. It can be described as a premature reaction to anticipated pain and, to put that bluntly in shooting terms, for humans it means you yank the trigger because you are scared of the blast of the shot or the recoil or the effects of the recoil! Consequently, you pull your shots down and to the side. Does wonders for your groups! Flinching is a dirty word in rifle shooting. It’s also a common challenge many hunters will face.
A flincher has usually had a bad experience in the past, such as being belted by a rifle and, because he didn’t like the result, he reacts in anticipation of a shot. According to the dictionary, the word flinch means:
1. To start or wince involuntarily, as from surprise or pain.
2. To recoil, as from something unpleasant or difficult; shrink.
Maybe it sounds pretty familiar? In the mid 1800’s there was a famous English explorer and hunter called Samuel Baker, whose favourite rifle was a monster 4 bore (gauge) gun (1.052inches bore diameter), firing a 1750 grain projectile – the standard .308 is 150 grain. Evidently he used to chase elephants on horseback and when he fired the thing, the recoil was reputed to have knocked him off his horse. Even when shooting it standing, it half spun him around, giving him a bleeding nose for his troubles, but I guess that would definitely be preferable to being run over by a charging buffalo or irate elephant.
To give another example of the power of the 4 bore, another famous African hunter Frederick Selous related that when firing his 4 bore he sat down on the ground and made his black boy squat behind him holding his shoulders. When the gun went off, they both turned somersaults! Even thinking about firing the thing would make me flinch!
I’ve certainly had my moments in regard to flinching. Years ago while cruising down a calm southern lake in a boat, we spotted a stag standing on a little bench just above the lake edge. Ronald, my mate, was driving and after he slowed the boat down and turned off the motor, I waited until it stopped rocking, took careful aim and fired. Now I’d shot a good number of deer from the boat so it wasn’t a new experience, but when the rifle roared, this time the scope impacted me just above my right eye. The next minute blood started pouring down my face while the stag ran away. It was an easy shot too, but no deer and a scar were reminders of how simple it is to stuff up the easy ones! That episode did my shooting no good for a while.
So what causes flinching? Generally speaking, as you will have gathered, blast and/or recoil. The more powerful the rifle, the more noise it will make, the more it will boot and the more you will be tempted to flinch. There are, of course, other contributing factors, namely the design of the stock, effectiveness of the recoil pad, weight of the rifle and the power of the load, the shooter’s stance, grip and pain threshold. A poorly designed stock may give you such a slap in the face that you feel as though you’ve just received a left from a heavy weight boxer, whereas a heavy stock will make the recoil feel more manageable. However, because there is a significant trend towards lighter rifles and more powerful cartridges, more hunters will be faced with the challenge of flinching. And, while you don’t usually feel recoil when shooting at a deer, take it from me that bad habits formed before you hit the field will generally stay with you!
Yes, recoil is a significant factor and, as one writer commented, “The majority of authorities seem to agree that recoil of over 20 ft lbs will cause the average shooter to develop a flinch, which is ruinous to accuracy. I estimate that about 15 ft lbs of recoil energy represents the upper limit of the average shooter’s comfort level. Above that recoil becomes increasingly intrusive. The effects of recoil are cumulative. The longer you shoot, and the harder a rifle kicks, the more unpleasant shooting becomes and the more likely you are to jerk the trigger or flinch”. (C Hawks)
Recoil is measured by allowing the rifle to move back unrestrained when fired and it is interesting to note, in light of the comments above, the actual ft lbs recoil of some favourite cartridges. The .22/250 (7.5lb rifle) has 5.4 ft lbs recoil, the .243 Winchester. (8lb rifle) 10.0 ft lbs, .270 Win. (8lb rifle) 17.1ft lbs, 7mm Remington Magnum (8.5lb ) 19.8 ft lbs, .30/06 (8lb) 20.3 ft lbs , 300 Winchester Magnum (9lb) 24.2 ft lbs , the .340 Weatherby 42.6 ft lbs. These figures will vary of course depending on the bullet weight used and velocity of each load, with the effects magnified or otherwise depending on the weight of the rifle and design of the stock. You’ll notice that the .300 Magnum is well over the bench mark 20ft lbs.
Speaking of the trend towards more powerful rifles reminds me of the day a potential client rang to ask my advice. He wanted to buy a .300WSM and after I cautioned him re his choice, mainly because of the recoil and the cost of ammo, he ended up buying a .270. Later, after a spell on the range and before he shot his first deer, he casually mentioned that he’d had a previous problem with flinching after a bad experience with a 30/30! He actually shot really well with his new Sako .270 and pulled off a great shot for his first deer, a nice stag. Bigger does not always mean better and there is a cost with shooting more powerful cartridges. Sure they go faster, hit harder and look impressive, but they cost more, the rifles are heavier and most guys actually have trouble handling a .30/06 let alone anything more powerful and, let me add, size and physique of the shooter have little to do with it. An aside here: realise the reason many of these new, powerful, short Magnum cartridges are so popular is that ammo and firearms companies need to keep producing new products so they can sell more, thus the new cartridges are promoted as the latest wonder, giving gun writers something to write about and us suckers something extra to buy!
So what can you do if you think you are flinching? If you do want to shoot a big cannon, make sure you have a very effective recoil pad fitted or, better still, put a suppressor on it. That will, of course, add to the weight as well. My very lightweight .30/06 has one fitted and it markedly reduces both the sound and the recoil.
To overcome flinching means you must retrain your brain and the way your muscles respond to the message from your brain. In other words, when you come to fire a shot your brain must tell you, ‘This shot is going exactly where I aim’, rather than, ‘This is going to hurt,’ and then your muscles will respond by squeezing, not yanking. You may have to remove the source of the problem and purchase a rifle with a smaller calibre or a less powerful cartridge. If you can shoot accurately with the likes of a .308, in my humble opinion, you will not be in any way disadvantaged for the majority of deer hunting you will be doing in New Zealand.
Dry firing is a great way to help retrain your brain. Using an EMPTY case, or a commercially made ‘snap cap’ with a spring to cushion the firing pin when it strikes, load your gun and practise firing for ten or so minutes every once in a while, in as many positions as you like. Change your empty case after half a dozen shots. Ideally, when you squeeze the trigger it should impart no movement to the sight picture. Then concentrate particularly on evaluating the sight picture at the exact instant the trigger breaks. The ability to ‘call’ the shot, that is to see and evaluate the sight picture as the shot is being fired, is critical. All top shooters spend time dry firing. It simply trains the brain and thus the eye and the trigger finger to respond to the correct sight picture.
Finally, when you go to the range, get your mate to load your rifle for each shot, but ask him to leave the chamber empty for some ‘shots’ without telling you. It is not only a good test to see whether you flinch, it’s also good training. You don’t have to shoot a big powerful rifle to be successful hunter, but whatever you do shoot, you need to shoot it well.
The New Long Range: Shooting at 400 yards
Do you agree?
Photo by Vic Schendel
Ever since there was a Kaiser-Frazer dealer around the corner or down the street (Google this to see the time frame), the long-range limit for hunters has been 300 yards. This is the maximum distance at which a competent marksman can reliably hit a big-game-size critter with a more or less ordinary rifle. However, there is now equipment—lots of it—that enables you to hit well beyond 300 yards. And so if you’re wondering if 400 yards is the new 300, I can answer “Yes, with qualifications.”
But first, let’s put this in perspective. I asked a range officer who gets to see the general public shoot what percentage can hit a deer-size target reliably at 300 yards, never mind 400. He smiled, and held up his thumb and middle finger joined to form a zero. You might want to think about that.
When you add a football field to the predictable world of 300 yards, everything goes to hell; beyond that point, velocity decreases dramatically, and your bullet drops like a stone. Wind, which is a problem at 300 yards, becomes a nightmare at 400. Let’s look at some dismal figures.
As our example we’ll use 140-grain .270 Winchester bullets at 2950 fps. Sighted dead on at 100 yards, they drop 12 inches below the line of sight at 300; at 400, they drop 28. With a 10-mph crosswind, they’re pushed 7 inches left or right at 300, but 13.4 inches at 400. Whatever problems you have at 300 yards double at 400.
To make things worse, very few people can estimate range accurately past 300 yards, and beyond that point even small errors become critical because your bullet is dropping so fast. If you don’t have an accurate rifle, lack the wits to select an aerodynamic bullet, or can’t shoot very well to begin with, you’re sunk before you start.
On the other hand, if you want to be a 400-yard shooter, you have a lot going for you. There are economy-priced rifles that shoot better than minute of angle, bullets that are aerodynamic marvels, laser rangefinders that take all the guesswork out of figuring yardage, and scopes and binoculars with all sorts of range-compensating aiming systems, many of which work. And there is no end of information on long-range shooting on the Internet.
All of this is a huge help. But the essential ingredient to shooting accurately at 400 yards is having a place where you can shoot at 400 yards. You’ll have to learn to dope the wind, insofar as that can be done, and the only way to do it is to shoot a lot, observe the conditions carefully, and keep good notes on what happens.
You also need to find out where your bullets actually go, as opposed to where all the ballistic calculators, drop tables, and range-compensating reticles say they will. In real life bullets go where they damn well please, not where computations say they should. I’ve been fooled badly, many times, going by the book.
Bison Ballistics puts the case with heartrending eloquence on its online calculator: “Do not rely on results generated by this software for any purpose whatsoever. It is a demonstration of ballistic theory, not a predictive tool for real-world use.” Amen.
I know a number of extremely skilled long-range riflemen, some of whom can shoot better at 600 yards than I can at 300. What they have in common is years of hard work—30 to 40 years or so each, shooting anywhere between 2,500 and 5,000 rounds of rifle ammo a year. How do I know? I asked. I bring this up lest you expend a whole box of ammo in practice and think you have done your homework.
So, is 400 yards the new 300? If you have the equipment, a place to practice, and the willingness to work at it, the answer is yes.