This is the third of a series of four articles, which are being published in The Skirmish Line, on “Keys to Good Shooting.” The articles do not discuss improvements in your shooting equipment (gun, powder, Minie). The articles assume that your shooting equipment is capable of consistently shooting a tight group in the intended target. The theme of the articles is that your shooting scores can be improved by maximizing your shooting habits and skills. The first article, published in the January-February, 1983 issue, stated that the shooter with a competitive attitude would maximize both shooting skills and equipment to improve shooting performance. The second article, which was published in the March-April, 1983 issue, described the need for physical and mental conditioning to improve shooting scores. This article will describe the need to practice consistency in all aspects of shooting to improve shooting performance.
Most shooters have experienced the problem of their Musket changing the point of impact from one day to the next. For example, you may have fine-tuned your Musket so that it is shooting a very tight group in the black. You then leave the practice field with the warm feeling that you have the world of Musketry by the tail and wonder why so many other shooters have problems. However, when shooting the same Musket on a different occasion, such as the following day or week, your point of impact changes and the group is off target several inches. Does this situation sound familiar? I believe all skirmishers have experienced the frustration that goes with the point of impact changing for no apparent reason. I have even seen shooters so angry that they curse their Muskets and sling it to the ground in despair.
The reason the point of impact is changing is simple but pinpointing the attributing factor is not. For example, if the point of impact changes, the some “condition” must have also changed to cause the Musket to shot differently. Identifying the condition is the problem. Ideally, if all conditions remain the same, then a Musket will shoot in the same spot from shot to shot or day to day. The main message of this article is that the degree of variation in the point of impact from week to week can be minimized if the shooter practices consistency in shooting. Therefore, this article will examine the conditions that can cause the point of impact to change and outline what you can do to shoot more consistently. It is important to note that to practice consistency in shooting requires knowledge about shooting, time, practice and a great deal of self discipline in maintaining consistent shooting habits. Also, maintaining consistent shooting and loading habits will help you mentally on the firing line. Your confidence will increase when you know that you have done everything possible to eliminate variations that could cause a bad shot. It is difficult to shoot good scores when you are worrying if the drop charger was accurate every time or if the new batch of powder that you are using for the first time will cause a change in your shot group.
There are three basic categories of conditions that will cause the point of impact to change from one shooting day to the next. They are: Individual, Equipment, and Environment. These categories and a brief explanation (each category and conditions are worthy of separate and lengthy articles) of the conditions that can contribute to inconsistent shooting are summarized in the following paragraphs.
A. STANCE Choose the most comfortable shooting stance or position and then maintain this stance (relative position of feet and body to target) on every shooting occasion. Do not attempt to force your stance by placing your feet or body in a position that is uncomfortable. If you take a natural and comfortable stance, then you are likely to take the same stance on each different shooting occasion. The position that I find comfortable for me is generally referred to as the Army standing position. Your left side is facing the target and the feet are spread shoulder width apart so that your body weight is evenly distributed on both legs and feet. The right foot is placed on a line parallel to the target. At this point, I open my stance somewhat by placing m left foot off a parallel line with the right foot. This stance turns my body or chest at a 45-degree angle to the target.
B. MUSKET HOLD AND GRIP Always hold the Musket at the same location and with the same grip of the hands. Never cant the Musket in the hands. It is amazing to observe on the firing line how many shooters have their Muskets at an angle when shooting. I prefer to rest the stock in the palm of my left hand and grip its side at the lower band with my thumb and all fingers to maintain good contact area with the stock. However, I have seen excellent shooters who use the NRA style grip with their thumb and first two fingers forming a tripod to hold the Musket. I don’t know how it works but it sure looks pretty. Also, maintaining the same position of left and right elbows relative to the body. This is extremely important. Most shooters know that using different bullet and powder combinations will change the point of impact. An analogous case is golf. Golfers know that the slightest change in stance or position of arms relative to body or change in grip will cause a change in the flight direction of the ball. The same applies to shooting. For example, shoulder the Musket and then purposely raise or lower the right elbow from your normal position. Raising the elbow tends to lower the front of the barrel which would cause you to shoot lower. Again, I personally favor the Army over the NRA style of holding a Musket. My left arm is nearly underneath the gun away from the body to form slightly less than a right angle to support the weight of the Musket. The right elbow is about parallel with the ground. The right hand grips the Musket firmly with my thumb and fingers completely around the nape of the stock. The trigger finger moves independently from the right hand so any movement in the trigger finger does not move the stock. I have seen many different and successful styles of holding a Musket. My point is not to recommend a specific holding method but whatever you do, do it the same way every time if you want to shoot consistently. It is extremely important to maintain the same grip and position of the arms relative to the body to shoot consistently.
C CLOTHING Variation in the thickness of the clothing could create a different recoil condition or positioning of the stock thereby causing a change in the point of impact. Personally, I believe this is not a major problem but shooting in the same uniform or thickness of clothing will eliminate clothing as a possible factor in causing the point of impact to change.
C. BIOLOGICAL (Nerves) A remedy for nerves is difficult since biological traits of individuals vary. For example, some skirmishers find that a good night’s sleep produces good shooting the next day, while others don’t mind a hangover since it deadens the nerves. The point is that the shooter must realize that a case of good or bad nerves results in good or bad shooting. Also, the things that cause bad nerves for a shooter should be avoided.
There are many reasons why the point of impact will change on different shooting occasions. I have examined some but certainly not all of the reasons why the point of impact can change. Some of the conditions that cause a change in point of impact will be more relevant to a specific shooter than another. Some factors, such as consistent lead and powder compositions, are very obvious, yet I have seen shooters come to competitive matches using new caps, lead, or powder. The point is to repeat the same shooting habits and use the same equipment on each different shooting occasion once you have sighted-in and are shooting well. If you have to make an equipment change, then sight-in at the practice field and not during a skirmish. In summary, to shoot consistently you must employ and practice consistent habits in all aspects of shooting.