We shoot with both eyes open, and so one eye sees the foresight directly and one sees it through the rearsight. Plus, on a competition firing line, there’s movement to either side from the other shooters. Neither of these is conducive to good shooting – so, we wear blinders on the non-aiming eye and also to block out the sides. However, a few years back the ISSF introduced rules about the blinders (ostensibly to promote the sport on television… which was a bit daft since the blinders were hardly the issue. But never mind, on we go…):
So at the time I used a very small blinder that just barely covered the foresight to avoid breaking equipment control rules:
It worked reasonably well if everything was perfect and nothing went wrong, but if anything was off, even by a little, it just didn’t work and the glasses had to be resettled and adjusted. So a few years ago I changed back to the largest size of shooting frame blinder under the ISSF rules:
But then recently, the eye test showed that I didn’t need the frames, so I started using blinders made up from cut-down target cards:
And also one for the sides (because that movement off to the side is remarkably distracting when you’re in a match and not everything is going according to plan):
But as I mentioned earlier, they don’t exactly hold up over use (the card just breaks down and gets grimy), so a bit of DIY (ebay is your friend) and here’s what they look like made up in PTFE (0.25mm thickness works well for the non-aiming eye and the blinder to the non-aiming eye’s side; 0.5mm is better for the aiming eye’s side blinder):
The problem with the side blinders is that, as you can see from the rules, the side blinder can only be 40mm deep; and if they’re in at an angle like this (because that’s the only way to get them positioned without using duct tape), the shooter wearing frames has more of the area covered over than the shooter without frames. Happily, a longer blind, a 90 degree bend and some scotch tape and problem solved…
Not a bad result for a simple bit of DIY. Could be improved (maybe swipe the headband from a pair of headphones instead of that 90 degree bend), but it’ll do for now..
Arrived at the range, stretched (need to buy a yoga mat for this, you wouldn’t believe how dusty the floor of a rifle range can get…) and warmed up, and started shooting with Matt watching. A few dry-fire shots to get settled into position, and then some live shots. And it was fairly obvious within those few shots that the cheekpiece change from yesterday isn’t working. The position felt loose and unstable and imprecise. Rolled the change back, chalked it up to being an idiot. Lesson learnt, a simple quick fix never is!
Once that was set back to the original settings (and fine-tuned to get it right), things got somewhat better. The cheekpiece pressure was still there though; but moving the buttplate out on my arm by about a centimetre fixed that, at least for today. Position marked for next time…
That done, back to the live-firing, and Matt had me focussing on settling properly, first during the pre-aim, then above the target, and only then pausing breathing and letting the target sink onto the target and settle for the shot. The results weren’t too shabby, but lots more practice needed.
Also found that using braces instead of a belt on the shooting trousers gave better lumbar support – I’m guessing I’d make it to 40 shots before the backache starts now. Need to get a better set of braces than the snickers workwear elasticated set though 😀 The single-shoulder variety that connects to the buttons on the trousers would be perfect…
…or a major improvement. I don’t know yet, and probably won’t know for a week or so.
First of all, I tweaked my buttplate. That change has been a while coming, it was needed and expected and is reversible. Basicly, I just raised the buttplate a little – I was settling into position below the aiming mark too often, and this fixed that. So that’s okay.
The worry is the other change I made.
After yesterday’s session, and the last few training sessions both with and without Matt watching, I’ve been watching that rightward drift of my NPA and trying to find the cause or to fix it. Turning my feet so that they’re no longer parallel is not really an option, as it compromised my stability. Turning on the spot proved very difficult, and not repeatably consistently. Moving my right foot forward opened my hips to the target line and compromised stability. Moving the buttplate further out along my arm put it firmly on the bicep muscle, which was a recipe for pulse and twitches. The other problem with these solutions was that they didn’t seem to work anyway – that rightward drift kept creeping back in, no matter what I tried.
So last night I try the same exercise as on Tuesday. And I’m in a pretty good state compared to Tuesday, which is good, more data to check. After warm-up and dry-firing, the first ten shots of the exercise (the control group, shot eyes open) go down well:
Just two fliers, shot 6 and shot 10. The RIKA is tracking away, but again, the calibration isn’t matching Megalink to RIKA perfectly — this is the same group on the RIKA:
So again, watch the individual trace shapes, not their location on the target because the calibration seems to be drifting from shot to shot (other shooters have noticed this on this RIKA unit as well, not just me):
So it’s not bad, the shots all land in the hold area, more or less, and the hold area’s small enough:
So that’s not a bad control group. Not the best I’ve ever shot, but more than good enough to work with. Tuesday saw a major drift of the NPA to the right when I fired with both eyes closed, but was that because I was having an off day or because of a real issue?
Yeah, I’m going to go ahead and call that a real problem. The RIKA agrees (again, the calibration’s off…)
Okay. So that’s a conservative tweak, a good control group, a good test group, a problem clearly spotted, and good data all round. So far so good. Here’s where it gets a bit hinky.
When I drop my head into position, and look through the rearsight on target, I could tell there was something pushing the rifle out of my cheek and trying to rotate it around the axis of the barrel (or a parallel axis a bit lower down). It showed up on Tuesday, and I’ve seen in a match or two in the past, but I had it down as a product of a bad day. But I got to thinking when it showed up today as well (when I wasn’t having a bad day) and I started looking at it, and after some experimenting, I came to the conclusion that the cheekpiece came just a smidge too far out to the left of the rifle, so that when I dropped my head into position initially and compressed the flesh of my cheek, it was okay, but as the flesh decompressed, it pushed the cheekpiece away from my cheekbone.
Solution? Move the cheekpiece.
The angle of the cheekpiece is now shallower, and it has been moved to the right by about four mm. Which doesn’t sound like much, but makes a large difference. It’s also been raised just a smidge to compensate for the angle change, but that’s more a consequence than a change in itself.
The results seemed very promising – the rifle is no longer shoved out of my face, my head’s just sitting there on the cheekpiece comfortably without any side pressure and with the foresight nicely centered in the rearsight. And the RIKA trace shows a good hold with this:
So why the worry? Well, first off, it’s like I said yesterday – changing the rifle setup is a Big Thing™. Having made the change, it’s going to be a week or so before I know I made it correctly (ie. did I move it far enough left or change the angle too much, etc), and longer before I know if it fixed the problem properly. And ideally, I should probably have waited another few sessions first. Dumb rookie mistake.
Hopefully, there’ll be some dumb luck to go with the dumb mistake, and this will lead to an improvement… we’ll find out over the next few sessions… and then there’ll be a few hundred dry-firing cycles to run through to properly bed the change in.
What, you thought a quick change to the rifle would be quick? 😀
Tuesday was not a great day for my shooting. I was tired and my head wouldn’t settle, and nothing seemed to work right. Still, on with the training, even through the hold wasn’t great (on friday, it’d sit in the nine ring on the rika trace; tuesday, it would maybe hold inside the seven ring.
The exercise was the same as before, shot routine as normal, hold on target, then close eyes, count off a second or so, and then fire. The idea is that if my NPA (Natural Point of Aim for the non-shooters, it’s where the rifle would point if you didn’t deliberately or subconciously try to point it somewhere, and it’s where the aim will be the most stable – we want that in the centre of the target if possible, but because you can be subconciously moving the rifle to the target, it can be hard to spot problems here) is off, then the rifle will head towards the NPA as soon as I close my eyes and the shot and the trace will show me where it’s headed for. Fired ten reasonable shots this way:
And the traces show the same tale:
Superimposing them all makes it a (bit) clearer (remember, the electronic target and the electronic trainer aren’t perfectly in sync (and in theory never can be), so the points of impact vary a bit, so it’s the shape of the traces you’re looking at:
So in each case, as you can see, the rifle heads away from the hold area as soon as I close my eyes, and the shot never lands in the hold area at all. That’s more than a hinky triggering, that’s a hold error right there, and it’s what Matt was talking about (how he could see it, I don’t know – this is why the NCTC think he’s a genius).
But this isn’t the end of the exercise. As you can tell, this was an off day for me even without this. So the results aren’t perfect. Compare the X/Y graphs from tuesday:
to those from Friday:
You can tell just by looking at how Friday’s graph is so much less noisy that the hold was better that day.
So, not a good day. But the upside is, the problem was more pronounced because of that. Being too unfocussed mentally and too tired physically to cheat the rifle into the ten ring with subconcious muscling means that I could see the problem free and clear.
But what does it look like when I’m not having an off day? And was that off day making a mountain out of a molehill? The data isn’t really exhaustive. And you can’t make a change based on one set of data like this. People do – there are Irish shooters who’ll shoot nine 10s and then a nine, and who’ll haul out the hex key to tweak something on the rifle because of the nine. Changing the rifle, or changing the position or indeed anything about the shot routine, however, isn’t something so small and trivial. If you change even a small thing, it can take hundreds of shots (a) to get the change right and be able to trust it in a match, and (b) to know if the change actually fixed the problem in the first place. So you have to be really conservative and not fix something until you know it’s a problem with the setup instead of faulty execution (of course, if it is a problem with the setup, you then often have to switch gears and be completely unorthodox in finding a solution! 😀 ).
So today, I do this all again, and hopefully it won’t be an off day and my hold will be better this time, and if the results are the same, then it’s time (with my coaches) to try to find a solution…
So evaluation day didn’t go quite as well as hoped. Got to the range a bit late, got set up with some dry-firing and then set up for the Rika. Calibration took a while longer than I expected (and we never did get it perfectly synced to the electronic targets) and then I put 20 shots in on the Rika. The targets looked okay-ish:
(One wierd flier, but otherwise okay)
Again, a weird flier but otherwise okay. Looking at the Rika traces showed the fliers are coming from the triggering, so at least I know what to work on.
Unfortunately, we mucked up the setup of the Rika and lost the traces, and by this time my back was sore – that being the role of the jacket, not to help you shoot a ten but to help you shoot more than 20 of them in a row, which seems to be where my limit is at the moment. Something else to work on..
So I put another ten rounds in while still on the Rika:
Not a horrible group, if a bit loose (which was more to do with the back I think). Here’s the Rika trace:
Note that the traces didn’t match the points of impact exactly:
Minor differences between group sizes and shape – seems the Rika configuration drifts over time. Looking at the score-v-time graphs, they’re reasonable enough (reasonably level up to the release and no big spikes around release).
So, new plan. Work on back muscles to push the muscle limit past 20 shots, and work on the triggering to eliminate those weird fliers. Which probably means more Rika time in the next few weeks.
This evening’s training was a bit of a trial for tomorrow more than anything else. Yesterday’s shooting with my eyes shut was a good indicator that there was something wrong, but the air pressure problem prevented any real diagnosis, and the more I thought about it, the less I could see it doing to help because I couldn’t tell if it was bad triggering or bad hold that caused the problem. So today, I wanted to set up the Rika to see what my hold looked like. I didn’t quite think this through though, and wound up trying to set up the Rika after warming up – while still in full kit. If ISSF think the “penguin walk” is a bad thing, they’ve not seen the penguin try to get over a 3′ table while in full kit…
Anyway. Finally got the Rika set up. For those who don’t shoot, the Rika is an electronic training aid, made up of three main parts: the target, which has two small infra-red LEDs on it and which holds a normal paper target and sits down the range in the usual place or as close to it as you can get:
Then there’s a sensor that’s slung under the barrel of the rifle, and an interface box that’s basicly all the magic electronics that interprets the sensor and gives a very basic (two-line dot-matrix) interface.
This interface box plugs into the PC and that’s where the real magic happens…
But, while that video trace is really useful, it’s not the only data the software can give you…
And these statistics (and a few others) can be run over groups of shots as well as individual shots.
So tomorrow’s plan is to shoot a few strings with Matt observing to get some baseline data and see how things are going. An evaluation day, in other words…
I said a pressure drop, Oh pressure, oh yeah Pressure’s gonna drop on you -The Clash
Ahem. Right. So the evening’s training was to try to see if I was still holding the rifle on target rather than letting it just sit there. Warmed up by sweeping up the range (no, I don’t want to think about lead dust toxicity, cheers) and then into the kit and up to the line and did about ten to fifteen minutes of holding and dry-firing before starting in earnest.
The idea was simple – go through the routine as normal, then just before firing, close both eyes and count to 1-and-a-bit in my head and fire with my eyes closed. Safety note: I was doing this alone, on a closed range, and my eyes were closed for all of about 1.5 seconds at the most – this wasn’t a case of “Use the Force, Luke” we’re talking about here, but a specific training drill.
Anyway, the results seemed relatively clear – no matter how good the initial hold and sight picture were, the shot never got closer than a high 10.0:
There was such a pronounced bias to the right that I actually shot a ten-shot string as normal, with eyes open to check:
Ignoring that lovely flier (which I think also proves that Matt was right and I’m muscling the rifle about still), the group was nice and tight and off to the right. So I adjusted my position slightly, and shot some more with my eyes closed:
Okay, now that’s a bit odd. I’d expect some loose grouping, even a lot of horizontal sway like that, but I wouldn’t expect all the shots to be consistently low. It was so odd that I stopped shooting that string and tried a few more shots with eyes open:
Now during this string, I’m checking buttplate position, I’m checking my inner position especially around my back, I’m paying attention to my elbow placement, looking for what the heck is dropping all those shots low. I mean, this is with eyes open, and the hold and the release all look fine (except, ironically, on the one ten shot in the string). And then eventually, I twig to the problem:
Ah-ha! See, this is the problem with a gauge you have to look down the barrel to see 😀 Pressure’s well into the yellow, the regulator can’t get the pressure up to the standard level (Dammit Jim, I’m a regulator, not a compressor!) and so the shots all fall low. And at that point I throw both hands up in the air (metaphorically, I’m still holding the rifle and it’d be a bit expensive to replace – as in, about €2,750) and wrap up for the day.
Lesson learnt – check air before a live-firing drill…
On the upside, I didn’t realise it until later, but I was so confident in the shot routine that I was checking the rifle to find the problem, even when I was shooting with my eyes shut. That’s a major improvement on just six weeks ago.
Another day, another three hours on the range training 🙂
Today started off warming up as usual, then on to dry-firing. Same idea as yesterday – dryfire and then break position when the position felt right, walk about a bit, then come back and setup again and repeat. Only used the one firing point today though because it’s Friday and usually that means it’ll be myself and Paul and Ashling and Ray and Matt training away (Ray’s en route to the World Cup in Ft.Benning at the moment though so no Ray today – good luck if you’re reading this Ray!). After an hour or so of this, I took a break for a bit, then went back at it, this time firing two shots after I was happy with the position. I found I was grouping in the same spot as yesterday, which was odd – I thought the sights would have been in on the electronics. I must have adjusted them at some point for some reason. Anyway, I dialled them back into the ten ring and went on to shoot ten shots (in two-shot groups, breaking after each and rebuilding the position):
It wasn’t a bad result, with the jacket the way it is now I’ll take anything over a 95 as a good result. However, I was rushing the follow-through (or as Matt put it, “Followthrough’s shite. The rest is good.” Matt’s nobel prize for literature is expected any year now).
So I shot a ten-shot string in one go, watching the followthrough:
Again, not a horrible score, and the sideways wobble could be down to tiredness (at this point I had nearly three hours shooting put in and today was my first day back in the gym after twanging my hamstring). But watching the recoil during the followthrough showed that immediately after the shot, there was an oscillation from left to right, usually random in direction and magnitude, if fairly small (I was shooting with a 3.9 foresight and the aiming mark never left the ring during the oscillation). Matt thinks I’m still holding the rifle on target. So that’s the thing to work on next week. I have to stop holding on target – the rifle has to be sitting there pointed at the target, not being held on target by muscle (because muscle twitches and that’d give you random fliers).
Still though, I’m pleased with my progress so far. Next match is in four weeks – I might be able to hit the MQS (570) by then if all goes well, though the jacket really is a limiting factor there. Over 20 shots, it’s easily doable to hit that standard (the two strings above are better than that standard), but over 60 shots, fatigue sets in without the jacket, which is a worry. We shall see…