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Reply #107: Insight of a Bull's-Eye [View All]

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Swamp Fox Donating Member (106 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jul-02-05 09:55 AM
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107. Insight of a Bull's-Eye

Insight of a Bull's-Eye

by Swamp Fox

A lot has happened since the good old days of crack-shots like Annie Oakley, or the expert marksmanship of William F. Cody, a.k.a. "Buffalo Bill" Much of what was once civilian marksmanship has been replaced under the catch-all modern-day military term called "Sniping". Sharp shooting, or sniping, first became famous as a philosophical weapon during the Civil War when champion marksman Hiram C. Berdan of New York was authorized to raise a regiment of sharpshooters for the Union Army. To qualify, a recruit had to place 10 shots in a 10-inch circle at 200 yards. Regardless of what term or method that's used to identify someone's skill level, at the core of these techniques are 5 basic fundamentals that need to be applied; with no shortcuts for each and every bull's-eye.

Probably, no one adapted these five fundamentals any better and was more famous as a sharpshooter than William F. Cody, a.k.a. "Buffalo Bill". Legend has it, much of it according to Cody; that he killed 6,570 buffalo in the 18 months he worked for the Kansas Pacific railroad; hunting to feed the construction crews with little or no waste. All edible parts of the buffalo were reported to have been consumed. Back in those days good marksmanship was measured by how many buffalo were taken in a day with a one shot one kill. Better yet, Cody reported going quail hunting all-day with friends like Annie Oakley and bringing home six quails having only shot six times. That's probably a stretch, but those who practice this type of sportsmanship would never consider dry- firing their firearms to gain an edge over marksmanship because they did not need too. It would be hard for one to imagine a sharpshooter like Buffalo Bill or crack- shot Annie Oakley needing to do any practicing to improve their shooting techniques.

According to legend, Oakley herself started shooting at the age of 8 and by the time she was 12 had a business supplying restaurants with wild game meat. One can only imagine how much her marksmanship improved with age. Sportsmen /sportswomen of those times starting out taking pride in one's ability in knowing the proper distance to lead a running rabbit, deer, flying pheasant, grouse or how to hold a tight group in their shooting pattern under all kinds of conditions. This they believed is what marksmanship was all about. In most cases during those early days, a hunter having something to rest their shotgun or rifle on would be considered by some folks a lucky shot. These days it's called Sniping and measured by how many notches or confirmed kills one has to his or her credit.

To become a good marksman, safety always has to be at the forefront in one's thinking. I started shooting at a very early age, nine or so. If we wanted to participate in hunting, the proper safe handling of firearms needed to be proven to our peers and elders in advance, and this also meant becoming good at marksmanship. One of the golden rules back then was to treat and consider all firearms as if it's loaded with live ammunition; this way there were no excuses for accidents. Always keeping the gun pointed at the ground or in the air, but never at a person. A shooter was also responsible for where a bullet might stop; that meant even a bullet's backdrop needed to be considered before taking a shot. This also meant there was never a need to dry-fire a weapon; even releasing the firing pin before putting a rifle away was done by squeezing the trigger back at the same time locking the bolt down. We also were led to believe that dry-firing could damage the gun's firing pin. This could very well have been a myth created by some gun manufactures to minimize the squeezing of a firearm's trigger which in return would help to minimize unnecessary accidents. Especially considering most folks put a lot of value in their guns and would teach their youngsters not to damage them at all costs.

There is a school of thought that claims dry-firing is a necessary part of becoming good at marksmanship and they back this up with military and FBI Sniper experts. One in particular was the late Gunnery. Sergeant Carlos Hathcock, who was a Marine sniper, was considered by some to be the founding father of modern sniping. He was alleged to have had 93 confirmed human kills. His biography, "Marine Sniper," written by Charles Henderson, was published in 1985. He once said that Vietnam was "just right" for him. Although he also told a fellow Marine that he never looked at his work "as a shooting match where the man with the most kills wins the gold medal". My older brother actually served side-by-side with Hathcock, in Vietnam with the First Battalion - First Marines in 1966.and has some interesting observations and opinions of those days.

The FBI also maintains a sniper school primarily for law enforcement. One of its Snipers, Lon Horiuchi gained much attention for his actions during the Siege at Ruby Ridge. It was Horiuchi who shot Randy Weaver's wife Vicki as she stood in the doorway, holding their 10-month-old baby. Nevertheless, I've never considered myself any kind of sniping expert, thank God to my knowledge never took a human life during my tour in Vietnam. However, I've always taken some pride in the fact that during my Army basic training I qualified as an expert and finished second out of 350 other guys at the rifle range. This, other than the occasional turkey shoot, is the only competitive shooting I've ever participated in. Although the Army had an excellent training program back then, I felt my skills in marksmanship were developed long before ever being drafted into the military.

The problem with military and others Sniper training (dry- firing) is designed for killing human's with offense tactics and handling of weapons in a controlled environment. I can't help but feel these tactics, while necessary for the military, are not a good choice for training young civilian marksmen. A lot of youngsters never have any kind of supervision or training to speak of and once they become of legal age can purchase firearms under their Second Amendment rights. With little or no training in safety it's a scary potential for disaster exits. I remember all too well hunting during the '60s before hunter's safety courses became law; lots of guys were walking around the mountains in Western Maryland with their safety off not knowing any better from a lack of proper training. When confronted over their poor safety techniques their usual response was a challenge to fight over a bruised ego.

For one to train themselves to become a good marksman, 5 important elements listed below will need to be applied. In my opinion, good marksmanship is about consistently performing these five elements, often enough to make them automatic.


Controlled Breathing

Sight Alignment

Trigger Pull

Shooting In Groups of 3

Do Not Anticipate Recoil.


With practice a good marksmen using open sites should be able to, at 100 yards, place three consecutive shots that can be covered with a quarter. There are two different methods to tell the shooter if they are flinching or pulling the rifle at the point of its going off. First, if the group of 3 is not consistent regardless of its overall outside diameter. Second, have someone other than the shooter randomly load the weapon; the loader should occasionally not place a round in the chamber. The observer will then immediately be able to see if the shooter is flinching and thus disturbing their sight alignment.

There are two very important things about the use of a three-shot group when shooting for accuracy. First, some rifles become overheated after the third round and will not hold a tight group. A good example of this would be the Savage model 110 -300 magnum. The barrel on this rifle becomes very hot and the fourth round will not stay within a tight group or pattern. That does not mean to say there's anything wrong with the Savage rifles, only this is the nature of this particular caliber. Second, mountain rifles are normally designed with a light stock and therefore have a tremendous amount of recoil. One-way to help reduce recoil is by installing a muzzle break. In some rifles like a 280 this can reduce recoil comparable to that of the 243.

Bring the front site to a very fine point in the rear V, at the same time taking all the other four elements simultaneously into consideration; shooting in groups of 3 is making one's bull's-eye, regardless if they're hitting the target center. Moreover, it's one thing to practice one's skills not being under pressure, and a completely different thing when adrenalin is applied. Comparable to that of seeing a nice Buck or being in a combat situation. However, practicing shooting in groups of 3 to make a bull's-eye, allows one to focus on the task at hand (consistency). The principal behind this is under pressure your reflexes and previous practicing, along with training skills, will take over.

Shooting is no different than any other sport: consistency, coordination, practice and focus are key elements in fine-tuning a skill level, to bring them ( five mentioned earlier) together successfully at one point (accuracy) in a bull's-eye. Leaving just one element out of shooting would create a handicap and not give the shooter a true picture of their skills. Without this it would be impossible for the observer (trainer) or shooter to understand which one of five needs improvement. One very good example would be archery, consistency in one's technique in their draw; stand and stop the drawing of the bow before releasing at the same point (cheek) every time. Just imagine a shooter practicing dry-firing with a compound bow to perfect his release. So, unquestionably, the claim by some folks that dry-firing is necessary to become good or great at marksmanship just does not hold water. One could very easily make a claim that they are leaving out one very important element in the training process of their mind to deal with recoil.

One could easily draw the conclusion that there is no danger in the practice of dry-firing and therefore philosophically take the position this it is not a safety issue. However, there is no evidence that those who practice good marksmanship prior to the modern-day term called sniping ever needed to dry-fire their firearms to make a bulls-eye.
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