Keys to Good Shooting


Steve Light



Most articles on shooting describe shooting equipment and methods for sighting-in, glass bedding, smoothing the lock action, etc.  However, very few articles are written on what I consider to be the most important element of good shooting – the shooter.  Good shooting requires more than the right combination of equipment, because more often than not, the missed shot can be blamed on the shooter.  Although most shooters don’t want to believe it, the gun will shoot where you point it!  Therefore, I plan to outline my philosophy of the key factors that contribute to good shooting in a series of four articles in subsequent issues of “The Skirmish Line”.  These articles will address the following subject relating to the human side of the shooting equation:



The articles were previously published in the Potomac Region magazine “Along the Potomac”.


I emphasize “philosophy” because the articles will address my opinion based upon my experience and what has worked well for me.  It is important to realize that what works well for one shooter will not necessarily work well for another.  Therefore, treat my advice on shooting as well as that of others as general guidelines only.  You must personally test and evaluate recommended shooting methods from others to learn what is best for you.  My best advice is not to expect immediate successes and failures.  Don’t look for short cuts or the magic musket and bullet.  The perfect 10-X gun has not been invented. Shooting 10-X’s is a combination of the gun and shooter and that combination will only be consistently effective when preceded by a lot of hard work.


To avoid sounding pretentious, I would like to add that I don’t always practice what I preach.  It is extremely difficult to consistently be able to spend the tremendous amount of time that is necessary to maintain good shooting scores.  Also, human frailties (loss of concentration, nerviness, too much partying) will always cause a bad shooting day or a flyer or two.  Although I consider myself a competitive shooter, I try not to let my desire to shoot well interfere with the comradery of campfire fellowship.  Nevertheless, I hope these articles will provide some new insight on shooting and incentive for the skirmishers who desire to improve their shooting.


“Mental Attitude”



This is the first of four part series on the keys to good shooting. The series of articles discuss the human side of the shooting equation and they assume that the shooter’s musket and equipment are zeroed-in for 10X shooting.  This article will discuss the most important element of good shooting:  mental attitude.


This article is entitled “mental attitude” because it is the individual’s mental attitude that causes a shooter to perform well in competitive matches.  I do not know why some individuals have a competitive spirit and others do not.  Also, because of varying interests, an individual can be competitive in one endeavor but not another.  The reason that mental attitude is the most important element of good shooting is because an individual who has the proper mental attitude, that is, the desire and self-discipline to spend the necessary time in studying and practicing the art of shooting, will be among the top competitive shooters.  With such an attitude, the shooter will make every effort to maximize his shooting performance within the limits of his own physical ability.  I have never seen a definition of the term, “competitive shooter” but for the purposes of the article, he is defined as an individual who loves competition and has the desire and discipline to be always striving to maximize the performance of his shooting equipment and skills by extensive study and practice of shooting.


Most shooters today tend to maximize their shooting performance by improving their equipment.  They are always seeking a better gun or making constant changes to the sight or bullet.  Obviously, maximizing the performance of the equipment is extremely important to good shooting, however you must also maximize the individual shooting skills.  The shooting equation is” equipment (A) + shooter (B) = good shooting.  Maximizing “A” is much easier than “B”.  It is also much easier to find fault with the musket than with yourself.  Thus, it is the “A” part of the equation that most shooters tackle when trying to improve their shooting scores.  If an individual is to maximize his shooting performance, then he must have the self-determination the “B” part of the equation.


Not all shooters will be able to shoot in the nineties.  There is a scoring level at which a shooter will peak and no amount of additional practice will result in further improvements.  However, most shooters have not reached their fullest potential and can improve their scores by tackling the human side of the equation.  A shooter who wants to improve his shooting should set specific goals.  For example, if you are shooting in the mid-eighties in competitive matches, then set a goal to push your scores to the high eighties in one or two years.  You will find that the improvement comes slowly as illustrated by the following curve that is based on my own shooting experience.

                                         5                   10             15























The curve illustrates that you can improve your scores with little effort and time at first but increasingly you must spend a tremendous amount of time in practice and competition to push your scores higher.  The amount of time it takes to progress up the curve depends on many factors, but the most important is the individual’s mental attitude or competitiveness.  The more self-determination for improvement the individual has the more he will drive himself to learn about shooting and the more time he will spend practicing.  It took me about five years to be able to shoot consistently in the high eighties.  Two or three years later, I could shoot in the low nineties more times than not.  Slowly, I could see my scores increase to the 93 and 94 range after about ten years of shooting.   Unfortunately, I learned the hard way about two years ago that the curve works in the reverse.  Because I was doing less shooting, my scores dropped to the 88 and 89 range.  I blamed my poor shooting on other things such as age, failing eyesight, paperwork duties as regional commander, etc., but the truth was that I had failed to keep with what Mike Leahy calls “maintenance work”.  My experience is that the fall down the curve is more rapid and easier than the climb up, especially when you are in the low nineties range of scores.


If you are serious about improving your shooting, then plot your own curve, establish realistic shooting goals and monitor your progress.  Identify areas where you feel improvements are needed.  Initiate corrective action and determine if such action results in higher scores.  For example, if you feel that you have trouble holding the gun steady, then take steps to strengthen your leg, back, and arm muscles.  Progressively identify and correct other areas that would improve your shooting skills.  If you keep trying to improve your shooting skills, then I am confident that you will see an increase in your scores.  Genetic and physical characteristics will enable some people to shoot better than others.  However, every shooter has room for improvement.  For most shooters, the factors limiting them will be related to the time and effort spent toward improvement.


Mental attitude also involves shooter confidence while shooting.  Each shooter should be confident about his shooting before he enters the firing line.  There must be no doubts about yourself or the musket.  Any doubts that the gun is not sighted-in or whether you have properly cast or sized the bullets or measured the powder will work against you and keep you from fully concentrating on your shooting.  You can actually talk yourself into a bad shot by worrying about the gun or equipment.  I cannot overemphasize confidence as a factor of good shooting.  Your mental attitude must be one of confidence that you can win.  More shooters could improve their scores if they would take a more positive attitude to the firing line.  However, you cannot have a positive attitude or self-confidence by just wishing it so. You must have fully prepared yourself and our equipment before stepping to the firing line.  Such preparation must include plenty of practice, employing consistency in shooting habits, and physically and mentally conditioning yourself for competitive shooting.


A word of caution about assuming a positive and winning attitude toward your shooting.  Don’t over do it!  Trying too hard or raising your expectations about winning will cause anxiety and nervousness.  You must avoid undue pressure that will lead to poor shooting.  Individuals and teams have often won a match on a day when they least expected to win.  We all know how much easier it is to shoot a ten in the sighter than it is in the scoring bull.  Under these situations, the shooter is relaxed and thus able to use his shooting skills to their maximum potential.  Therefore, the competitive shooter must not only be confident but he must also be cool in competitive situations to maximize performance.  Admittedly, there is a fine line between a winning attitude and coolness under pressure, but both are essential to good shooting.


Although I cannot identify the physiological make-up of a competitive Shooter, I can provide some recommended actions that should be taken to become more competitive.  Whether an individual can follow the recommendations will depend on desire, self-determination and the amount of time devoted to practice and self-improvement.


                                                              You must enjoy competitive shooting.  If you find practicing a burden or feel ill at ease during competition, then it is unlikely that you will have the desire and discipline to continue the hard work that will be required to be competitive.


                                                              You must have a positive and winning attitude.  Your shooting philosophy should be one of shooting to win.  On the firing line you must be confident, but cool and clam.


                                                              Fully concentrate on your shooting while on the firing line.  Practice your sighting and trigger release methods until they are automatic and your body reaction to the recoil is controlled.  The sighting and trigger release methods will be discussed in a later article entitled “Moment of Truth”.


                                                              Increase your knowledge of shooting by reading information on shooting, listening to other shooters and keeping a notebook on your own shooting experiences.


                                                              Condition yourself for shooting (mentally and physically).  An article on conditioning will appear in the next issue.


                                                              Practice, practice, and PRACTICE!


We probably have only seen the beginning of competitive shooting in the N-SSA.  Our present form of skirmishing started like many other competitive sports as a simple game of fun and fellowship.  As a sport catches on and the desire to win increases, the participants strive to improve their skills, equipment and performance.  An example of how competition is increasing in the N-SSA can be illustrated by examining the winning scores from the 6th Potomac Regional skirmish, which was held at Ft. Meade on May5, 1962:


25 yd Revolver                                                                         88-1X

50 yd Revolver                                                                         58

Revolver Agg                                                                           146-1X

50 yd Carbine                                                                          83

50 yd Musket                                                                           89-2X

100 yd Musket                                                                         71

Musket Agg                                                                             160-2X

Grand Agg                                                                               389


These winning scores don’t even come close to today’s top scores.  Why are the scores higher today?  Are today’s shooters any better than they were in 1962?  Obviously, the increase in scores is partly due to shooters using better equipment. Most Muskets used by competitive shooters today will and should group in the ten ring when correctly shot off a bench.  However, we are approaching the limits of the Musket’s mechanical and ballistic performance using the present skirmish rules regarding Muskets and equipment.  The main reason for the higher scores today is related to an increase in competitive shooters.  Also, I am convinced that future increases in shooting scores will come from the human side of the shooting equation as competitive shooters strive to reduce all human error.


I have purposely set very high standards for a competitive shooter.  It should be noted that only a small percentage of the skirmishers want to be involved in competitive shooting.  Although I consider myself a competitive shooter, I have in recent years fallen short of the discipline required for top notch competitive shooting.  However, I deeply believe in the principles espoused in this series of articles.  Your present shooting performance is mostly related to the time and effort that you have given to it.  The major point of this article is that if you want to improve your shooting, then it is mostly a matter of doing more to improve your skills.  Also, you can improve your shooting if you have the proper mental attitude and self-determination to work at maximizing your total shooting ability. I predict more skirmishers will exert the hard work to maximize their skills and as a result we will continue to see a corresponding increase in individual match scores and lower team times.  Are you ready to join them?