The Goal

The Goal

Thursday, 31 December 2015

For the love of shooting

In last week's missive, I confessed to being a filthy hypocrite who hasn't picked up a rifle in weeks (months!) because of work, family and running, so it is something of a relief to be able to say that I have finally got off my backside and done some SCATT training in addition to a little live firing.

You know what? I rather enjoyed it.

It may sound a trifle sad to say so, but I enjoyed setting up my kit, lying down in my living room with my rifle and spending about 45 minutes clicking away at the sterile paper target set up next to the television. Probably the most welcome aspect is the feeling of muscle memory getting dusted off and being put to use once again. Things that were once automatic reactions becoming so once again; fully relaxing my left arm is probably the most significant for me; I can physically see the wobble getting less with each shot as I remember how to let down the muscular tension and allow the sling to do the work. When I can do this without thinking about it, and the same with my right shoulder, I will be ready.

The return to training is a bit late, as the NZ Nationals kick off in a little under two weeks' time. I may have been a little tardy starting my preparations; however I'll do what I can to make best use of the days available to me, helped by the fact that I'm on vacation for most of them. In addition to loading the remainder of my ammunition (185 rounds of short range ammo loaded and 150-something rounds of long range ammo to go) I'll try and get on the SCATT for 30-40 shots every day. I've already checked my kit over, so I should be good to go in that regard.

I'm looking forward to heading down to Upper Hutt again; to see who's on form and what the conditions are going to be. Most of all, though, I'm just anticipating the fun of spending a week on a rifle range with a bunch of likeminded folks and doing a bunch of shooting.

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Proper prior preparation prevents...

It's been a while because of work, family and (to a lesser extent) running but today I made it out onto the range for the first time since I shot at Bisley in July. Actually, I must confess to being a terrible hypocrite because much as I go on about training, I've virtually not picked up a rifle since then either; and it shows.

While my core groups at 300x today were OK, I had a flyer at each range: one was definitely me, as I saw it go way left in the inner and the target came up with the spotting disc pretty much where I thought I had put it; the other I didn't see go, which worries me. On the other hand there are two handy potential culprits today:
  1. It's better when your foresight iris doesn't unscrew itself while you're shooting; and
  2. One of the pillars that holds your cheekpiece in place stops doing that

If it does this, don't shoot.
The good news is that I can fix both of these things very quickly and it was only a practice; this being what practice is for. The bad news is that its doesn't matter if it was an equipment failure, these are avoidable errors. Still, lesson learned. Move on.

To finish on a positive note, there were many things which went well today. I felt comfortable with the rifle and although my first few shots were wobbly (two V sighters in my first shoot, thank you very much) things started to settle down quite quickly. My routine seemed to re-establish itself quite quickly (see video below*.) My test ammunition also shot well, with both short range and long range loads going well.

I've got 22 days before the nationals at Trentham so I need to get on the case with the SCATT and the visualisation. Fortunately I only have 3 days left until I'm on holiday for Christmas and only another 3 days at work. I will inevitably spend some of this in a G 'n' T, wine and port-induced stupor but I do intend to spend at least some of it working on my game.

* Yes, I now have a GoPro. Actually, I have a SJCAM5000+ which is as good and about a third of the price. I'm going to work out if and how I can use it to learn more from my shooting training sessions. I apologise in advance if you see lots of short videos of me shooting from now on.

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Where have all the coaches gone?

My friend and Aussie rifle shooter Tony Sultana recently posted an astonishingly accurate comment and piece of advice on Facebook the other day, which I reproduce below with his permission.

"I am still astonished for a better word that the vast majority (read nearly 100%) of dedicated rifle competitors that do not have coaches, I assume this is due to the fact that most shooters are an individualistic mob, and the word team has a rather loose term when it comes to competing in team events, we tend to pull together a fixed number of highly successful individuals and then call them a team, it doesn't work that way folks.

 A stand out from the crowd are the British T
eams, and any teams that have the majority of members that are military or ex military as are trained and know how and do operate in a team environment, their results reflect this the majority of times, this is an insight one how as shooters we predominantly think from my observations.

 So do yourself a favour go find a coach or mentor that can add value to what your are trying to achieve, remember if you want the same outcome you just keep doing what you're doing and it is guaranteed.

 This is not about teams, but how we tend to work, how long has it been now 1, 5, 10, 15 years since you have seen an improvement?

 Do yourself a favour. here are some start points to move forward.

• Ballistics and equipment ,Bryan Litz great books and articles
• Setting up a rifle (I can hear it now) I know how to do this, guess what you don't, David Tubb has a video that explains how to set up a rifle, invaluable advice.
• Psychology, process, training and practice, Lanny Bassham absolute gold mine of information.

 So find someone to help you.

This is probably one of the most insightful pieces of commentary I have read on the state of coaching* in fullbore rifle shooting. For me it captures both the problem and the solution.

Why don't we have coaches now?
I can only really speak for the UK, but there's something of a coaching gap between juniors and the international levels of the sport. Most people start of as shooters in the cadets, where they get taught the basics by cadet officers who are often keen amateur shots themselves, or they come from shooting families and get taught by their parents, uncles or aunts. Once they leave school and start university there's something of a void. Although partially filled by University clubs, very often the standard of coaching is variable at best and occasionally people just get taught to do the wrong thing. Once the education system is a thing of the past, there's not a lot in the way of organised coaching and I'm not even sure how much of an appetite there is for it. As Tony says, many people seem to want to just bang rounds down the range wishfully thinking it will make them better shots.

By way of example, various members of an association of which I was (and continue to be) a full member had voiced complaints that the small number of senior international shooters who were members never passed on any of their skills to other members. I volunteered to run a training skills weekend, which included a review of technique, training, psychology etc... Attendance was miserable, not least by those who had originally made the complaint. I had tried something similar with another association and had much the same result. People would turn out for matches (selection was more or less guaranteed if you could hold any kind of group) but not for any form of training.

I have bad news, and then again I have good news...
The bad news is that I don't really see this changing a great deal, unfortunately. While some of the clubs are making an effort, a lot of others aren't (and indeed in some cases have rules which preclude useful sessions like running SCATT training sessions in their clubhouses.)

The good news is that all is not lost for those who do get the value of having some independent advice. Many (but not all) senior TR shooters are perfectly willing to be approached for advice, but there are so many things you can do for yourself also:
  1. As Tony suggests, get educated! There's a huge amount of information available for nothing on t'internet from the likes of the US Army Marksmanship Unit and other resources.
  2. Try and find yourself a mentor or coach who you can run problems by; however please note that willingness to give an opinion is not always correlated with knowledge and skill!
  3. Finally, consider setting up a training group with a small number of like-minded individuals: share the cost of a SCATT, reloading equipment etc... I've seen this done in the UK which some success.
  4. For UK shooters, if you're of the right standard or even close to it, apply for the next GB U25 or GB touring team. Increasingly, team training sessions are focussed on just that - training - and not on selection or doing lots of shooting.
Good luck.

* Coaching in the sense of mentoring athletes to improve their performance, rather than the shooting sense of someone who reads the wind in a team match.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Run, not gun!

Dear readers, please excuse the lack of a shooting-related post last weekend. I was busy running a marathon down in Queenstown. I finished in 3:25:41 chip time, which I'm quite chuffed about.

Normal service will resume shortly.

Put one foot in front of the other. Alternate. Stop when you've crossed the finish line.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Revolution or Evolution?

I recently remarked that if I want to progress to higher levels of performance in shooting, I'm going to need to shock the system and find new ways of training. I've been thinking about this for a while, and it has occurred to me that what I need is a revolutionary increase in performance, which can only come from a revolutionary change in technique, approach, training or equipment.

I used to think that improvements in my performance would come gradually over time though practice and lead on a smooth slope to the eventual nirvana of Grand Aggregate wins and Commonwealth Medals. I have since revised that view and now believe that performance improvement comes through a combination of revolutionary change, evolutionary improvements and stagnation, which are all driven by limiting factors and their elimination*.


Let us consider the example of our Tyro rifle shot. (S)he has picked up the sport, maybe attended an NRA Open Day and has been taught some of the fundamental principles of marksmanship. (S)he doesn't really train as such and so achieves only modest level of performance; although starting from a low base, some evolutionary improvement is possible. His or her kit is fundamentally sound (although the jacket might need a bit of attention) but technique is poor and this limits any improvement to level of accuracy implied by the standard of technique.

One day, the shooter gets picked for their club team and shoots in the match. They do OK, even if their long range groups are a bit ropy. During the tea after the match, our novice is pulled aside by one of the club coaches** who tells them that they cant a little and they look like they're holding the rifle on the target, rather than letting it rest naturally. The coach has a target booked the next morning, invites her along and gives her some pointers. Rapid progress is made as a result of changes in technique, but soon other limiting factors come into play and equilibrium is reached until the next change which drives a significant performance improvement.

Fast forward a few years. Our tyro has progressed through a series of revolutionary changes in performance driven by revolutionary changes in technique, approach, training or equipment; and (s)he has now earned his or her first GB cap. The issue now is that significant improvements in performance are becoming harder to gain: (S)he has addressed all of the obvious flaws in technique and maintains good form and equipment. Continuing to train effectively in ways that have worked before is no longer enough to ensure improvement.

The lessons from my story are clear. To make revolutionary improvements, we need to make revolutionary changes. As we improve, what has driven performance gains in the past is no longer enough to drive future gains.

* For the Biology nerds among you, this is akin to the distinction between Charles Darwin's classical theory of (gradual) evolution and the more modern idea of punctuated evolution.

** I am referring to a "coach" in the fullbore sense of someone who reads the wind during a team match; however in this case, they are also acting as a "coach" in the more general sense.

Monday, 9 November 2015

When work gets in the way...

Unfortunately most of us have to work for a living, and sometimes work will get in the way; however there is at least some good news. Quite a few top-flight shooters (in the UK at least) appear to have demanding careers, so it is possible to combine work and fullbore rifle shooting in a way that is probably less doable were you to be a rower or distance runner. It goes without saying that training effectively, rather than merely practising, will give you even more of a fighting chance of maintaining your level of performance when times are tough.

I reckon there are two main strategies:
  1. To hell with work. If they really wanted you to work that hard, they'd pay you more.
  2. Minimise the effects by focussing on the training you can do in otherwise unproductive time.
The first approach is perfectly reasonable. Shooting is far more important than work, after all; however when it is employed literally as a tactic it is probably only really sustainable in the short term. Keep this up for too long and your employer is likely to pay you considerably less. And stop giving you work entirely. As a managed strategy, it can be sustainable in the longer-term. I know several highly intelligent and extremely capable people who have made a deliberate choice not to pursue as challenging a career as they are capable of to allow them to focus instead on their sport or other things that matter to them more. That said, be aware that this must be a conscious choice and you will have to accept the consequences. A price will be paid in reduced salary growth and less interesting work, both of which may be beneficial to your shooting career in the longer-term. Let us not forget that shooting is getting damned expensive and it is perfectly possible to compete at the top level in shooting into your sixties.

The second approach is to reorganise your daily routine to fit shooting training in and to de-emphasise your daily activities which get in the way. Practice visualisation on the train* into work; do some SCATT last thing at night or first thing in the morning. Stop watching crap on TV or going to the pub. For example, I'm running the Queenstown Marathon in two weeks' time and to fit all the training in, I started running the 9 miles back from the centre of Auckland to the train station where I park the car in the mornings: Time spent commuting by train ~55 mins; time spent running 1hr 20mins; I get a 3:1 return on the additional 25 mins added to my day. This is the algebra of high performance that you will have to perform.

What I have tended to find is that I now need to spend less time training to maintain a given level of performance, which means that I can more easily accommodate surges in demand for my time from work. That said, further improvement has become harder to come by and constant repetition of technique has less value, and to make any such improvement I'm going to need to shock the system, which is probably going to require me to make a massive change in my level of commitment, training and a consequent easy patch at work.

* Or write blog posts, as in this case.

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Making the most of your firing point

One of the funniest adverts I remember from my teenage years depicts the wily Brit outfoxing a party of holiday-making Germans by hurling his rolled-up beach towel from his hotel room balcony, which then skips across the swimming pool in a homage to Barnes Wallis' bouncing bomb design* before landing on his chosen sun lounger, unrolling and then finally depositing his can of lager** in a bucket of ice.

The humor of the ad relies on the supposed German*** practice of laying one's beach towel in a spot to reserve it; however there's a lesson in it for Bisley-style rifle shooting outdoors, where there is more than one shooter per firing point.

Many of the firing points at Bisley (and at other ranges) are in a miserable condition because of years of neglect, and shooting on one such can ruin your weekend or your meeting. (I'm looking at you Stickledown firing point 37 at 900 yards.) Outside of the Imperial Meeting, where firing points are allocated as part of the squadding process, you have the opportunity to get to your target early and take a sneak peek at the firing point to pick your slot. When you reckon you've found which part of the target is best, get your gear lined up and be ready for the call from the range officer to move forward.

Now, some of you are thinking at this point "Steady on there chap! This all sounds a little unsportsmanlike and suspiciously competitive" and I do have a certain sympathy with that view. We're talking about rifle shooting, after all, and not soccer. On the other hand, you're probably paying something like 2 quid a bang in the UK or a couple of bucks a bang here in NZ when you include range fees, markers, ammunition, petrol and accommodation. It does not seem unreasonable to be able to shoot from a firing point without bloody great divots in it, and nothing is stopping your fellow competitors from being equally organised.

If you're stuck with an absolute shocker of a firing point because your target colleagues got there first or because of allocated squadding in the Imperial, you may wish to think rather carefully about the placement of your matt and equipment to make the most of what you've got. Very often moving forwards or backwards will allow you to avoid the worst of the lumps and bumps; however take care to ensure that your muzzle is in front of, and your elbows behind, the line of the pegs. If this doesn't work then a polite request to your compatriots may allow you to move over a bit to find a more amenable position. In extreme cases, it may be worth asking the range officer to move targets; very often they will be sympathetic to a polite request if your firing point more closely resembles the cratered surface of the moon than the hallowed turf of Wimbledon.

Your position is built from the ground up. Give yourself the best chance by finding a decent piece of firing point and setting yourself up consistently.

* Engineering geeks will note that the "bomb" should have backspin and not topspin, as depicted in the cut where the towel bounces across the swimming pool. 

** Ironically the word Lager derives from the German word Laager, meaning storage, because of the practice of storing immature beer at cold temperatures to condition. British lager is mostly piss. German, Czech, Belgian and some NZ lagers are wonderful.

***I hope my German friends, readers and members of the BDMP will forgive my crass humour.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Goal Setting Part 5 - Alternatives for Artists, The Talented and Jump Starters

Group work was a key part of studying for my MBA at Judge Business School in Cambridge. Teams were selected to provide groups with highly varied backgrounds, and tasks were often tailored so that there was either too little time or too many people in order to provoke a particular set of experiences while completing the work.  In one of the early projects I worked within a team which consisted of three other team members who also had a professional services* background, and a fourth who had much more of a liberal arts background. Our colleague found our highly structured approach inflexible, unreactive and almost impossible to work with not because she wasn't smart (she is) or hardworking (she was) but because she simply thought in a completely different way to the rest of us.

In a similar vein, my very highly-structured approach is simply not going to work for all of you, so what are the alternatives?

Rather like my friend above, some people just don't think and plan in the highly-structured way that people like me ("Analysts") do. You don't automatically break things down into classical hierarchies, causes and effects; rather your thinking proceeds along entirely different lines. I'd describe the way that your thinking proceeds if I could, but unfortunately I don't, because I can't think the way you do!

In your case, maybe consider the things you're less good at and write yourself a promise on a piece of paper where you'll see it every day. It will act as a visual cue to do some training and direct you to the part of your shooting that needs it most; however recognise that failing to analyse your performance adequately may result in you training on the wrong things. Our perceptions of our weaknesses can be quite wrong.

The Talented
Some people just seem to get shooting and don't apparently need to train to get the results. Do whatever you feel like, but be aware that you might get even better results if you did follow a structured training plan.

Jump Starters
Some of you will be entirely motivated to train and work hard on your shooting without any of this detailed planning malarkey. It's obvious to you what your strengths and weaknesses are, and you know what to do about it. Actually you've probably lost patience with me several times during this sequence of posts on goal-based planning and may not have made it to the end of the other posts.

You probably already train enough but may hide the amount of effort you put in to appear as one of "The Talented". You probably struggle with admitting that you're not good at anything (but know it to be the case in your heart) so remember to think about where it is that you really need to train and focus your efforts there.

Good luck to all rifle shooters in their training. Up in the Northern Hemisphere it's time to clean everything and pack your kit away and take maybe a month off before starting training again in preparation for the 2016 season. Down here you should have already been training over the winter months in preparation for the opening shoots of the season. Good shooting to you all!

* Accounting, IT and Management Consulting roughly speaking.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Goal Setting Part 4 - You've planned the work, now work the plan

Project management is based around five key questions*, the last of which is "How do you know you're making progress?" It can be a surprisingly difficult question to answer at times as it relies on objective measures of progress. In shooting it is reasonably straightforward to measure your performance; although it can take a long time to be sure (see my previous post on SCATT & statistics.) You work hard and with a bit of good luck** you will hit your outcome goals.

The problem here is that you may only have one outcome goal per year, or potentially even an outcome goal that will take several years to reach. How do you know you're making progress towards it?

This is where all that faff with process and performance goals comes into its own.

Keep a training diary
If you intend to be serious about your shooting in any meaningful way, keep a diary of what training you have planned versus what you have actually done. It doesn't necessarily need to be fancy, long or incredibly detailed; a simple list of dates, types, volumes of training and scores is perfectly adequate.
I keep mine in a spreadsheet which sits on the desktop of my laptop. I also keep my calendar of events in the same spreadsheet*** so I open it every day and am constantly reminded of the need to train. You might want to keep your plan and diary in a form that you will be forced to see every day; e.g. print it out and stick it on the fridge, or on the wall next to the bathroom mirror.

Analyse your performance
Approximately every month, go back and review what you actually did against the training you had planned. Look at the groups you're getting in livefire and SCATT, and the scores you're getting on paper. Answer as honestly as you can the question "are they improving rapidly enough to hit my outcome goal on time?****"

If you're not making the planned progress, you're over-training, under-training or doing the wrong kind of training. In running over-training is very common, but I suspect that under-training is going to be more common in shooters, given the general lack of serious attention training gets. I also suspect that doing the wrong kind of training, or mechanistically training without appropriate thought I suspect is also going to be relatively common.

At this point, I should probably note that in my experience improvement has come in fits and starts, with the larger gains driven by a positive change in my technique which I have then driven home with a large volume of repetition. Don't expect a linear progression towards your goal!

In pretty much all of the above circumstances, you're going to need to...

Modify the plan
In the short term, most modifications of planning will be tweaking what you're already doing: increasing the volume of some aspects of your training, reducing others. Some of the will need to be intuition-based but you should be able to run some experiments to see what works for you and enables you to maintain a high standard of performance, and/or drives improvement.

In the longer term, you're going to need to shock the system and introduce new elements to avoid getting stale. Doing the same exercises again and again is likely to get boring and will lead to stagnation in performance, so mix it up a little and try something different.

Good luck and enjoy your training!

* The five questions are: 1) Where are we going? 2) How will we get there? 3) Do we have enough money, time and other resources to get there? 4) What's going to get in our way? And 5) How do we know we're making progress?
** You don't have full control over your outcome goals, remember? But Arnold Palmer allegedly said that the more he practiced the luckier he got. You might want to think about that.
*** Yes, really. I have a very complex and busy life. Without my spreadsheet I would be lost.
**** All goals should be time-based, remember?

Friday, 16 October 2015

Holy Protea Match Batman!

Captain of the 2017 GB Rifle Team Tour to South Africa Nick Tremlett has just released his team selection and it is a doozy. The sheer strength in depth is astonishing and if anything, it is even stronger than this year's Palma Team with several notable members who were absent from Jane Messer's World Championship-winning team for personal or professional reasons.

Of course, this is no bad thing. The international team match down in Bloemfontein is the Protea Match, which is notoriously hard for outside teams to win (the last being Steve Thomas' 2008 GB Rifle Team if I remember correctly) given the ability of the home side to field the best shooters from widest possible selection and the fickle winds of the General de Wet range.

Some stats for the terminally-geeky:
  • Every single team member except the one new cap has been on a Palma Tour
  • All but two of the team have been a World Team Champion at least once, with some members of the team having racked up as many as 6 Palma Match Gold Medals
  • The new cap is a World Under 25 Team Champion
  • Four Palma Match-winning coaches have been selected
  • Three team members have won individual Palma or Target Rifle World Championships
The team can been seen on the NRA website here.

Addendum: I am delighted to see that the captain has also been farsighted enough to extend the idea of a training squad to non-touring individuals. I firmly believe that the GB Palma Team's training programme, which forms part of the team selection process, has been a keystone of the team's continued success; and something to which I owe no small debt for the improvement in my shooting over the past decade.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Goal Setting Part 3 - Habits you need to make

General Dwight D. Eisenhower the allied World War II commander noted that plans were useless, but the process of planning was indispensable. So it is with pretty much any training plan; the value for the rifle shooter is as much in thinking about what one wants to achieve and what you're prepared to do in order to achieve it, as much as it is in creating a sequential list of activities to follow.
To date, I have set out some outcome goals that I wanted to achieve in 2013 together with the performance goals which identify the level of performance I'll need to achieve; however to this point I have not really set out what it is that I'm going to do.

I want to...

1. Win the CWG Trials
2. Come in the top 25 in all 3 Bisley majors

To do this, I will need to...

a. Average 49.5 or better at short range
b. Average 47.5 or better at long range
c. Make sure my kit is in top condition
d. Improve my cardiovascular fitness
e. Improve my injury-resistance

I need to take my performance goals and work out what level of training and other actions I'm going to need to complete in order to fulfil them. This is very much where the art of planning comes in, rather than the pure science. How much practice does one need to do in order to average 49.5 at short range? Damn good question; and the answer is going to be very different depending on your previous level performance, flaws in technique and level of talent, for lack of a better word. Just as working up to running 100+ miles per week isn't going to turn you into an Olympic marathoner overnight, Mo Farah isn't going to have to break much of a sweat in training to beat me in the marathon no matter how hard I train over the next 12 months. These things are what we in the trade call path dependent, they take time and the outcome depends very much on the route you've taken to get there.

Put simply, the route out of the planning quandary is to take a wild-ass guess at how much training you're going to need to do. To set out my process goals I did some reading, spoke to an awesome physio (she knows who she is) and looked at how much training I had done in the past to achieve similar levels of performance. I created the following process goals...

I will...

I. Train on a SCATT for at least 20 shots at least 3 times every week
ii. Train livefire at least twice every calendar month from March - September
iii. Monitor my performance by writing in my training diary after every practice
iv. Practise visualisation for at least 10 shots four times per week
v. Check my kit after every training session and put it away carefully
vi. Get my rifle checked by my armourer at the start of the season
vii. Jog at least twice per week, covering at least 5 miles in total*
viii. Warm up and warm down before and after every training session and match

Dear reader, I know what you're thinking at this point "Woah, hold your horses a moment Gaz! Didn't you just admit back there that the process goals you have created are little more than a guess." In my case, there's a bit more analysis to it than that because I've been doing this for a while, but if this is the first time you've created yourself a training plan using my approach, then yes, this is essentially correct.

At this point I ask you to consider two things: Firstly, what alternatives do you have? And secondly, I refer you back to the future US president's comments at the start of the post. You've got a plan that you know is going to change as you try to implement it and learn more about yourself and your shooting. This gives you a framework to start to measure and understand what you're going to need to do to hit your mark; and that, ladies and gentlemen, is the value of the planning process.

We've planned the work, but I'll talk a little bit more about working the plan next week.

*I slightly over-performed on this one. The running got a little out of hand and I now run about 50 miles per week, have done three half marathons, one full marathon, am training for my second marathon and have entered my first 50 mile trail ultramarathon.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Goal Setting Part 2 - Just how awesome do you need to be?

There's a lot to be said for ignorance combined with a positive attitude. In particular, it make for great stories: the young maths student who unknowingly proved a previously undemonstrated statistical theorem, mistaking them for homework (as shown in the film "Good Will Hunting" but actually a true story); the plucky young English runner who entered the Ultra-Tour du Mont Blanc and accidentally won it the first time she competed.

Unfortunately, for the vast majority of us who want to try break out of the ordinary and attempt something extraordinary we have to do this knowing the challenges we face and very conscious of our own limitations. It is with this in mind that we need to think about how we take the outcome goals that we have set ourselves and take the next step in turning it into something practical upon which we can take action.

In 2013, I set myself two key goals:
  1. Win the Welsh Commonwealth Games trials; and
  2. Come in the top 25 in all 3 Bisley Majors: Grand Agg, St. George's and HM Queen's Prize
To take this further, I needed to work out what level of performance I would have to achieve in order to reach the goals (and, further, how much training I would need to complete to do so.) In the case of both of these, it comes down to simple numbers: I needed to average over 49.5 at short range and 47.5 at long range.

Beyond mere scores, I'd been thinking about other ways to improve. I'd done a serious amount of work on my technique, but I hadn't really done anything physical to help my shooting so I decided to add some performance goals relating to my cardiovascular fitness and injury resistance. The first of these might make some sense to you; however the injury-resistance might be giving you some difficulty. A couple of factors influenced me here: firstly the number of shooters I know who have serious back problems from years of abuse; and secondly, the serious muscle cramping I get between my spine and my right shoulder blade after several days of shooting, which I was sure was having a negative effect.

I now had a couple of solid outcome goals and some performance goals. I will:
  1. Average 49.5 or better at short range
  2. Average 47.5 or better at long range
  3. Make sure my kit is in top condition
  4. Improve my cardiovascular fitness
  5. Improve my injury-resistance
Two of these goals are ludicrously specific, measurable, relevant and timely but may not be achievable and have large risk factors outside of my control. The other three are not terribly specific and therefore not meaningfully measureable, but are definitely relevant, achievable and within my control. None are tied to a specific timeframe yet.

We're getting somewhere, we're still a ways from having a set of goals we can use to generate a training plan but by  thinking about what we want to achieve in a broad sense, we're really just following good planning discipline: working out where we want to go and how to get there. Any good project manager will tell you that we also need to have answers to other questions: do we have enough time, money and other resources to get there? What's going to get in our way? And, how do we know we're making progress? More on these next time...

Monday, 14 September 2015

Goal Setting Part 1 - What do you want to achieve this year?

In the chronically underrated work of genius that is Michael Lehmann's film Hudson Hawk, starring Bruce Willis, Andie Macdowall and most importantly Richard E. Grant, the insane billionaire Darwin Mayflower declares unashamedly...

"...happiness comes from the achievement of goals..."

While I'm not sure that I entirely agree with the sentiment, there is an element of truth to it; and more pertinent to the matter in hand, if you're like me then having a goal will motivate you, and achieving that goal will bring both a deep sense of satisfaction and a yearning for something possibly a bit more stretching.

It is generally a couple of months before the start of the season that I generally start to think about my goals for the year. In my current circumstances, this has become considerably more complicated  as the result of work, running, Commonwealth Games trials. Those factors together with the fact that I now live about as physically far from Bisley as it is possible to get without leaving the surface of the planet.

The classical way of thinking about goals is the SMART model, wherein goals should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely:

Specific - The goal sets out in unambiguous and objective terms what you hope to achieve and how you will know if you've achieved it.

Measurable - It is possible to make some kind of measurement or observation to let you know whether or not you have made progress towards achieving your goal or have actually achieved it.

Achievable - You are capable of reaching the goal that you have set yourself; although it should not be so easily reachable that it is a foregone conclusion. Sometimes it can be difficult to calibrate.

Relevant - If the goal is part of a bigger plan then it needs to be relevant to achieving the wider goal, and any activities undertaken to try and reach that goal need to be relevant to it.

Timely - The goal should either set a deadline for achieving the goal or describe how often / much you will do a particular action.

As a framework to get you started, it's not too bad but I do think that it has some flaws: firstly, it appears to be predicated on the idea of reasonableness of goals and the individual control that you have over them. I've previously commented that wanting to win a Commonwealth Games medal or a World Championship is a wholly unreasonable goal and one over which you have limited control. I argue that doesn't necessarily make it a bad goal, provided that you do break it down into more detailed, controllable goals which relate what you're going to do to achieve it. That said, you need to have an element of realism to your goals; if you've been shooting fullbore for only a couple of years, haven't every shot a possible and have never made it into the top 200, setting a goal to win the 2016 Grand Agg is probably a little overly ambitious.

Secondly, it doesn't really distinguish different levels of goals within any kind of hierarchy: you're going to have some strategic "outcome" type goals (the two unreasonable goals listed above, being good examples). At the other end of the spectrum, you're going to have some very specific and discrete goals; and finally there are going to be some in the middle, which we'll call "performance" goals. A valid approach should probably take these into account also.

The process of goal setting I advocate begins with setting out the highest-level objectives that you with to achieve, and the breaking them down from there. Here's my list of outcome goals in 2013 by way of example.

I will...

1) Win the Welsh Commonwealth Games trials; and
2) Come in the top 25 in all 3 Bisley Majors: Grand Agg, St. George's and HM Queen's Prize*.

I think that gets right to the point; however it has a number of flaws as a training plan. I don't outright control any of these goals; other competitors could shoot better than me, for example. It also doesn't really do anything for me. I could just as easily have written "Win HM Queen's Prize" and I'd be none the wiser about what to actually do about it. These goals need to be broken down further into something a bit more relevant. I'll talk more about that next week.

In the meantime, have a think about what you want to achieve in your shooting in the next shooting season.

* NB - In the SMART framework, these goals are very specific, perfectly measureable, entirely relevant, achievable (for me) and time-bound; however they are not controllable and so would often not be considered good goals. I disagree, for reasons which I hope will become clear over the next few posts.

Friday, 4 September 2015

It's raining, it's raining...

Keen-eyed readers will have noticed that I took a week off posting last Saturday. I've not run out of things to say, rather I spent the evening that I normally use for writing my blog preparing brass for the start of the fullbore season here in NZ. I spent it lubricating, sizing, cleaning and primer pocket uniforming while watching Mythbusters on TV. Who says you can't get anything worthwhile done while you're reloading?

Anyway, on to the subject of this week's post.

Before I moved to New Zealand to live, I had only been here in summer and no bugger thought to tell me how much it rains in Auckland. It probably doesn't help that we live out in Waitakere at the edge of what is essentally temperate rainforest by a huge harbour within 10 miles of the sea, but the sheer volume of it is spectacular. Maybe it has just been a particularly wet year; however it seems like a good idea to brush up on how to shoot in the rain.

The most critical issue when shooting in the wet is to keep your ammunition, chamber and bore free of droplets of water. If these get significantly wet then it is very likely that you will suffer an unpredictable but severe elevation change. Additionally, you are likely to want to keep your scorebook at least reasonably moisture free. As a final consideration, you may wish to keep yourself dry also; although this is by no means a necessity.

The rifle
It doesn't matter that much if the outside of your rifle gets a bit wet, provided that you take it out of the bedding and dry it off at the end of the day (do NOT put a damp rifle away, as that is a recipe for rust) but you must keep the inside of the action, chamber and bore as absolutely dry as possible before and during the shoot. A few spots of rain probably won't do you much damage, but a few big droplets on your boltface or in the chamber are very likely to stuff you.

To manage the amount of water getting into these critical areas I do the following things:
  1. Get the rifle into the shoulder quickly, without elevating the bore too much. It is possible for water to enter the bore that way. Certainly don't rest with the butt on the ground and the bore in the air while it's raining. Apocryphally, at least one first stage of Her Majesty the Queen's Prize has been lost this way.
  2. After you have fired your shot, take the rifle out of the shoulder and wipe the area around the loading port with a beer towel before unlocking the bolt. Leave the action and loading port covered until it's time to get into the aim again.
Eagle eyes and other lenses
In the season when lenses in the foresight were first made legal in the UK, I remember the first stage of the St. George's being absolutely sodden with the result that a huge number of people had their scores wiped out when their brand spanking new Eagle eyes got sodden. It is pretty inevitable that your lens is going to get wet when it rains, but there are a number of steps you can take to avoid this kind of clusterf***ery:
  1. As with stopping water getting in the bore, don't hang around when getting the rifle in the shoulder.
  2. Treat your lens with RainEx or another hydrophobic coating which will make the water bead up and not smear the lens. It is worth checking that the stuff you're going to use won't degrade the material your lens is made of before doing this.
  3. Always have a small packet of absolutely dry tissues with you when you shoot in the rain to dry the lens if you have to. It is worth practising how to do this without ruining your position. Do not use a damp tissue as this will just smear the water about the lens, which is almost certainly going to be worse than just having a few droplets on it.
  4. Under no circumstances should you use canned air to dry your lens in the rain, as this is very likely to cause serious condensation.
On that last point; just before the start of a particularly wet 600x during the Intercounties a couple of years ago I was first man down and elected to stay down in position during a rainstorm which temporarily stopped shooting on the grounds that I was comfortable despite being already soaked. I really wasn't going to get any wetter at that point. I was all set to dry my lens and carry on at message 1 when a team-mate used canned air on my foresight, which resulted in condensation so bad that I had to come off the point and competely take my foresight apart to dry it before I was able to begin my shoot*. In the dry, it's probably fine. If it's raining or very humid, don't do it.

If you wear shooting glasses, much of the stuff written above also applies to them. Wear a big hat. Don't look up any more than is necessary to keep a good eye on the flags. Have some clean, dry tissues or lint-free cloth handy.

Scorebook, ammunition etc...
Keeping your scorebook, pens etc... is worthwhile but it is imperative that you keep your ammo dry.
The patent on weatherwriters is due to expire sometime soon (really, they are/were under patent) and the ludicrous price should come down when a bunch of generic versions come on the market in the next few years. Buy yourself one of these for your scorebook. If you get a really big one you coulld probably put your scorecards and ammo box in there also. Put your ammo in a box with a lid and put a beer towel over it.

You, the shooter
Different people have different philosophies on this one**, but my personal view is that you should shoot in all conditions wearing and using as close to the same kit as is possible. When I talked about shooting in the heat  I said much the same thing; however what I didn't say that I probably should have done, and was reminded to by my good friend Bob is this: "Think cool." Similarly, mindset is critical to shooting in the wet if you're going to adopt my philosophy because I don't wear any additional wet weather gear.

For the less hair-shirted and/or bloody-minded amongst you, a good pair of waterproof trousers may help. Unfortunately, I've never tried shooting in a cape or any kind of waterproof over my jacket, so I can't help you beyond suggesting that you give them a try and find out what works for you.

Alternatively, at least one shooter I know swears that in bad weather less is more. He frequently wears shorts and flipflops in all weathers on the grounds that the less you wear, the less there is to get wet. Your mileage may vary.

On a final note, like much in shooting, shooting in the rain is an acquired skill. Don't skip practices in the rain because you think you know how to do it already, or don't want to get wet. GBRT has lost at least one major match I can think of for precisely this reason. Be positive about shooting in the rain and think thoughts like "I'm going to shoot at least as well as I normally do; the rain often damps down the wind; other shooters don't keep their standards up in the rain; it's a good opportunity to pick up some places in the Grand."

* The universal gas laws tell us that by expanding when they exit the spray, the gases in the canned air are doing work against the surrounding atmosphere so they cool down. When their temperature gets below the dew point, then they will cause condensation in damp air.

** As Yamamoto Tsunetomo, the famous 16th Century Japanese author and proto-rifle shooting blogger wrote in his respected tome Hagakure "There is something to be learned from a rainstorm. When meeting with a sudden shower, you try not to get wet and run quickly along the road. Running under eaves of houses you still get wet. When you are resolved from the beginning you will not be perplexed; although you get the same soaking. This understanding extends to everything."

Saturday, 22 August 2015

So you want to shoot for GB...

For many shooters, getting selected for a Great Britain touring team is one of their major goals and it can be a source of blistering heartache when that first team selection is elusive. I certainly spent years thinking about how to earn the blazer with the "Bill & Ben" badge and had a number of disappointments on the way, which occasionally even felt grossly unfair when other people who had not achieved as much as I felt I had were picked ahead of me. I think this is normal and is probably just the disappointment talking. As in dating, rejection comes as a part and parcel of the game; however unlike in dating not getting picked for a team is very, very rarely personal even though it can feel like it at the time.

I hope that it doesn't come across presumptuous or even arrogant, but I've had a think and come up with some pointers for budding tourists which I hope will take a little of the agony out of the process.

You've got to be in it to win it - Team Captains cannot pick you if you're not a member of the National Rifle Association or if you don't apply for their team. Join the NRA and read the journals, which announce the captains. They usually write a letter inviting applications. It's like applying for a job: write yourself a little shooting CV and a polite covering letter. Sometimes, they will circulate a standard form. If they do, fill it in and include it with the covering letter.

Introduce yourself - Selection is an easier process for everybody if you introduce yourself to the team captain before she or he makes the selection. Ask around to find out which club they are a member of and go and say hello. Have a chat with them. Be honest about why you're introducing yourself. Tell the captain about your achievements if they ask; it's OK to be proud of things you've had to work hard for, but don't be boastful. You also don't necessarily need to wait until you have actually sent off your application.

Shoot for your county and club - Team captains want to see evidence of the ability to shoot in team matches, as well as individual scores and groups, so see if you can get picked for your county. Some of the higher-ranked counties may be tough to get into, but they also tend to be the bigger counties, some of whom will also enter "B" teams for matches. Club shooting is often a bit easier to get into, as there are more matches and the more senior shooters will often have more shoots than they are able to do. Very often the club captain will know the captain of the team you're interested in.

Go on a club, NRA Channel Islands or GB U25 Tour - Just as captains like to see some match experience, prior touring experience is also a major plus. I was lucky enough to tour with the Athelings in 1994, and SC's 1997 NRA U25 tour to Jersey but it was RB's most excellent 2004 Channel Islands tour, which I think gave me a leg up towards my first GB tour to Canada in 2006. Quite apart from the strength of the opposition, Jersey has two beautiful ranges, great food and can be a relatively inexpensive place to shoot.

Focus on your shooting - Your individual competition and team match scores are public property and captains will look at them above pretty much anything else when they come to selecting their team. The vast majority of us who aren't enormously naturally talented have to work at this shooting malarkey. 'nuff said.

Do not despair, it isn't personal, stick at it - You are almost certainly going to get rejected for GB teams before you get picked for one, and this is likely to continue as your continue your career in shooting and try to get picked for the higher status tours*. When you don't get picked, you've got to shrug it off and try again. What other option do you have?

To round off my post, getting picked is only the start of your adventure. When you are selected for a Great Britain Rifle Team tour, you have been handed a huge opportunity. A tour is an opportunity to learn from more experienced shooters, to represent your country in a sport at which we have won six of the last seven World Championships, and to have a wonderful time. Train effectively, shoot well, work hard to make a positive contribution to the team and have a fantastic time. Make us proud!

Shoot for GB and you'll get to learn what this picture means. Idea ruthlessly stolen from World Champion, top bloke and all-round shooting legend ERTJ.

* Not all GB teams and tours are created equal. My opinion on the order of difficulty based on frequency and strength of opposition (listed from hard to coffin nails) is West Indies, Canada, New Zealand/Australia/South Africa/USA (all roughly equivalent), any tour which includes and Australia match, Palma tour. Then we come to the Kolapore Cup and an Australia Match held at Bisley, which score about 15 on the Mohs scale.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Palma 2015 - Big Match Shooting

Shooting big matches is the apotheosis of our sport and of the big matches the Palma is the greatest. Mastering the fear of failure, or that of success, to shoot well as an individual in a big competition is an achievement; however the self-control required to master that same fear and excitement in the Kolapore, the America Match or the Palma is something further. I remember shooting in my first Kolapore in 2011 where I could hold the rifle in perfect stillness but not on the centre of the target, or centred on the target, where it appeared to vibrate from magpie to magpie with furious purpose. I managed to overcome my weakness on that day, and many of those shooting in the Palma held at Camp Perry over the past few days have done so as well; most notably the head coach, coaches and shooters of the Great Britain Rifle Team, who won the 2015 Palma Match, were the only team ever to win all 6 ranges, took the record for the highest individual score, and were the first team ever to be captained by a woman.

I argue that GB has managed to do this by acting as a closely-coordinated team, each of the individuals in which knows what their task is and executes it as well as they can. Take the target-by-target scores (shown below.) The top four targets are the four GB Team targets, which tells a story all of its own...

The top four targets on the range are GB targets. Photo reproduced with the kind permission of Bill "Obi Wan" Richards.
...however if you compare the difference in score between the top and bottom targets for each team, there's a convincing trend*: the higher-placed the team, the lower the difference between the top and bottom targets. My interpretation is that this strongly suggests that the coaches in the top teams are very closely coordinated by the main coach and share information effectively to limit the damage done to each target's score; the lower-scoring teams do this less effectively.

A scatterplot with trendline of each team's score versus the difference in target score between the highest and lowest scoring targets for that team.
It used to be said that GB shooters were outclassed as individuals, but shone as a team; however in the 2015 Championships, it is clear that this is not the case. If we compare the relative totals of the top 5 teams in the Palma Match and the sums of the team members' scores in the World Individual Long Range Championships, GBRT come out top.

TeamPalma Match Gun ScoreAggregate of Individual Gun Scores

To my mind, this suggests that GB and the USA teams well above the others in terms of both individual shooting; however GB's superior team performance won them the Palma despite the enormous strides the USA have made under Dennis Flaharty's leadership and Emil Praslick's dedication to their coaching performance. (Note that the USA had the most consistent performance among their four targets, even if not the highest scoring.)

On a final, personal note I sincerely wish I could have taken part as an individual. More so as a member of one of the official teams. I've had the privilege of being a part of two GB successes and hope for the opportunity to be involved in future efforts. There is nothing greater in fullbore rifle shooting to which one should aspire than to represent one's country in the Palma Match. Well done to all those competing in the 2015 World Long Range Championships, whether first or last.

* The R^2 value in the graph indicates only a 7% probability that this trend occurred by chance.
** Brandon Green appears to have one score missing, so his score was adjusted per his average for all distances.
***Colin Cole and George Edser appear to have scores missing, so their scores were adjusted per their average for all distances.
****My Kiwi friends will, no doubt, be disappointed not to have battered Aussie in the Palma as they did in last night's Beldisloe Cup but they can take pride in the fact that they beat them in the individual.

Saturday, 8 August 2015

A Tale of Shooting and Obsession

In his utterly compelling book Feet in the Clouds* the author and fellrunner Richard Askwith puts down in words the love of his sport and obsession with completing the 24 hour Bob Graham Round**. Driven beyond all reason and sane counsel to run approximately 66 miles up and down 42 peaks, with over 8100 metres of ascent and descent in the Lake District over some of the most rugged terrain in the UK, the books relates the utterly ludicrous lengths to which this otherwise unremarkable man went to achieve his goal.

In parallel with his multiple attempts at completing the challenge, the author relates an abridged history of the sport through which it is possible to chart the evolution of modern training techniques. Early exponents of the sport did not train and their knowledge of performance nutrition was somewhat flawed; however more recent athletes, such as the great Kenny Stewart, applied more scientific principles to their efforts.

Much like fellrunning, even as our sport is in decline the sophistication of training techniques has increased. Aside from time spent on the range shooting live rounds, the concept of training for shooting does not seem to have even existed before the 1980s; shooter training systems came on the scene in the early 1990s; similarly, the idea of even the highest level teams training together before competing is a recent concept.

Much like the author, unless you are supremely talented you are going to need to be somewhat obsessed with training to achieve your goals. Just as he "trained like an Olympian for six unbroken months, seven days a week, often twice a day" you're going to need to put some effort into your shooting if you want to achieve an unreasonable goal; and make no mistake here, wanting to win the Grand Aggregate or a Commonwealth Games medal is an unreasonable goal.

Much like some of the fellrunners described in the book, I'm trying to work out how to use the body of research in sports science and other tools to improve my performance in my sport.

* Subtitled A Tale of Fellrunning and Obsession, hence the title of this post. Available at It really is a compelling read, I promise you.

** The Bob Graham Round involves traversing 42 peaks in the Lake District within 24 hours, starting and finishing at Keswick's Moot Hall in the marketplace. Anyone who completes the round within the time limit under supervision is eligible to join the Bob Graham 24 Hour Club. People who have failed to complete the round include the late Olympic athlete Chris Brasher and renowned explorer Ranulph Fiennes Vid.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Training Cycle 4 - Rest & Recovery

Just as it's important to get plenty of rest when you're training or competing, it is very important to wind down the training at the end of the season and do something different.

Taking a break in your schedule is as much psychological as it is physical: it is an opportunity to let injuries heal (yes, you get them in shooting. Just look at the number of people who get physio / osteo after the Imperial Meeting) but also to reflect on the season just completed. It is also the time to start planning your outcome goals for next season, to assess the level of performance you're going to need to reach to achieve them and thereby work out just how much and what kind of training you're going to need to put in. Taking a break will give you closure on the season just past and help you build the motivation to train for the season to begin.

On a more personal level, I've shot two major meetings this year (Trentham and Bisley) and have shot well in both, which is a great relief after a very disappointing 2014 season. Sometimes I worry that I don't know what it is that enables me to shoot well, and the thought of losing my mojo and not being able to get it back can be terrifying. While I have not fired so many rounds as normal, nor have I trained as hard, it feels like it's time to take a bit of a break. I'm going to give my rifles a proper clean, leave the barrels oiled, lock them away in the safe and give the SCATT a rest for a month or two. That way I'll be able to come back to training later in the year, so I'm ready in 2016 to fire good shots and get the wind right.

In the meantime I've got the Queenstown Marathon to run in November. I've slacked off my running training a bit since Rotorua in May and it's time I started upping the mileage again if I want to break the 3:30 barrier. To achieve this, I'll need to build up to at least 45 miles per week (preferably 50) including at least half a dozen runs of 20 miles or more in the two months before the race. Early entry has also just opened for the 2016 Hilary Trail run and I'm seriously tempted to sign up for the 50 mile ultramarathon, but please nobody tell Katrina.

I'll put some posts up when I get around to doing my 2015 review and planning for the 2016 season, but in the meantime I've got a few thoughts to put up about windreading. I'm also massively excited about the 2015 Palma even if I'm not competing this time around. Can GB make it four in a row, or will Team USA do the business on home turf?

Monday, 27 July 2015

WLRC 2019 at Trentham - Promotional Video

My good friend Tony Sultana posted this on Youtube yesterday. It's a promotional video for the 2019 World Long Range Champs to be held on the Seddon Range in Trentham. You may recognise one of the interviewees...

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Imperial 2015 Retrospective - The Compleat Shooter

We finally made it back home to Auckland after 30 hours of travel by car and plane; although the after effects of the time difference are going to take a few days to shake off. Was such an effort to come over to the UK and shoot at Bisley worth it? The answer is a complete and unreserved "yes". If there's anything which would make me move back to the UK from NZ then Bisley is it.

It was a good meeting which tested most of a rifle shooter's skills: the wind was tough on some days, particularly on Final Saturday, with major changes in strength and angle requiring bold decision making; we enjoyed both hot weather as well as a couple of days with some light rain during shooting hours; and to do well during the Imperial Meeting always requires strong marksmanships skills over mere luck. Winning, rather than merely doing well, requires the shooter to have mastered all of these skills and more.

On the shooting front, I pretty much managed to hit most of my goals. I had wanted to make the top 25 in each of the three Bisley Majors and earn myself another shooting slot on the GB Team for the Kolapore Cup. Despite having borrowed a rifle (loaned to me by my 2014 CWG pardner, who also shot very well, and very close in configuration to my own gun) I was delighted to make 5th in the Grand Agg, 15th in the St. George's and 19th in Her Majesty the Queen's Prize. Getting to shoot in my third Kolapore, coached by the ever-superb MJE, was a real vindication of my return to form after a fairly mediocre 2014 season. I even managed to pick up a couple of pots.

2015 Grand Agg Leaderboard. Reproduced with the kind permission of Glyn Barnett GC3 SC3 GM2 etc... etc...

It wasn't just me who was shooting well either: GCDB put in a stunning performance to win the Grand, having started the week not even on the bottom of the leader board. DC won the St. George's Challenge Vase and his second Queen's Prize with some really superb long-range shooting in difficult conditions, with changes of up to 6 minutes.

Glyn Barnett. The man, the hairstyle, the legend...

On the social front, Katrina and the kids got to have a lot of fun with the ever-expanding horde of shooters' offspring charging around camp. I spent a very great deal of time apologising to people for not being able to catch up with them properly as I charged off to another shoot, another barbecue, another thing I needed to organise, but there was still time to hang around at the legendary social hub of Bisley chez Watson on the way to and from my van from and to Century Range. We also managed to have a few people round our place for food and drinks.

Dinner and drinks at the Morris country estate.

The only real downside was that I didn't get to blog as much as I would have liked, but after mid-Tuesday it all gets too busy, with increasing numbers of shoots and events. That's OK though, this blog isn't really meant to be about my shooting so much as to talk about stuff that I've learned which might be useful for you.

So, dear reader, what do I have planned for the next few months? I'm going to talk some more about SCATT at some point; I've had some really good ideas on windreading and wind strategy; plus I'd like to write about the differences between shooting in pairs or threes and string shooting. I hope you'll enjoy reading which I've got to say, and please never be shy to ask me a question, talk about your experiences, or tell me if you think I've got it wrong.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Imperial Meeting 2015, Day 5 - Seize the Opportunity

After a pleasant evening at the Canadian Team reception at Canada House, I was rather looking forward to a bit of a lie in as the result of a leisurely 11:45am start in The Times competition at 300x. Or, rather, I was looking forward to the lie in until another shooter who had been on the receiving end of a crap day gleefully informed me that it was going to blow a hoolie starting from 14:00 in the afternoon. Not what you want to hear when you have a 16:30 Corporation.

Either way, I had a great shoot in The Times even if I didn't have a particularly good score (49.9) at least partially because I'd never really managed to track down what my wind zero should be on the borrowed rifle. Still a nine vee bull finish after an inner first to count was quite pleasing. Less so was the minor train wreck I enjoyed at 600x. I dropped two of my last three shots to an increasingly tricky wind. True, the two gentlemen I was shooting with did pause for about three minutes to have a prolonged conflab about whose turn it was and who had last fired, during which time the wind did as it damn well pleased. This isn't really the point, however, as it is up to you (or me, in this case) to keep up with the wind, make the correction and fire the shot. I was rather disappointed with the 48.4 which followed.

Having dropped three points on the day already, I was not really looking forward to the Corporation. Two sighters and ten shots to count fired at the longest distance of 1000 yards, The Corporation of the City of London competition has been the nemesis of many a Grand Aggregate score. I resolved simply fire good rapid shots, make the best wind calls I was able and avoid shooting on gusts. Having a good marker, a good firing point and only a single companion on the target, I was clearly being handed an opportunity by providence to make up for the tricky winds, which were running about 10 - 14.5 left with significant drop offs. I shot well, shot sensibly fast and avoided missing the black for a very pleasing 48.8 to leave myself 5 down for the day.

Happy with having only dropped to 6th on the board, I got an early night. St. George's I tomorrow, and a chance to put in a good score and maintain position.

Imperial Meeting 2015, Day 4 - Don't Shoot at the Extremes

This morning started out quite calm and much cooler than the past couple of days; however the wind had still managed to pick up by the time the 08:30 detail of the Alexandra kicked off this morning. Unfortunately I seemed to be slightly slower off the mark when picking up the wind and lost a shot early on to end up with a 49.3 despite the generally positive feel of the shoot. Off the range, the wind had felt almost as blustery as the day before, but based on my plot things appeared to have calmed down significantly from yesterday's tempest.

Moving briskly off to the long range for the Duke of cambridge (it feels odd that we now have an actual Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, having managed quite succesfully without either since the last one died without issue quite a while ago) a similar pattern emerged. The wind was fairly steady, but I still managed to lose a shot just out the right hand side early on in the shoot while I was working out the bracket. Still, a 49 at long range in the Grand is a sensible score to add to any campaign. It's all too easy to lose a few more than you should on Stickledown, particularly when it's tricky.

My final shoot of the day was at 500 yards in the Daily Mail, where the winds were beginning to shift around a bit; although they remained solidly from the left, so there would be no need to come back through zero. In the event, having spoken to a fellow Welsh shooter I avoided shooting on the peaks and troughs, cutting my wind bracket down significantly. Aside from a slightly iffy last shot which crept just under the vee bull it was a pretty good shoot. A 75.12 to add to the bag. Not enough to win, but the full house of 75 points was very welcome.

At the end of the day, I was slightly surprised but rather pleased to be as high as 2nd on the Grand Agg board.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Imperial Meeting 2015, Day 3 - Wait, it gets worse!

Collecting your cards is one of the delights of the Imperial Meeting. Opening your A4 envelope of joy and pasting the stickers on to your cards is a little ritual that I'm hoping many other TR shooters find as pleasurable as I do. That said, probably the first thing I do is skim through the timings of the shoots, paying particular reference to the timings of the long range shoots. So it was with some delight that I saw I had bagged an 08:30 detail in the Lovell 1000 yards match and it was with visions of impeccable 50s that I trotted out to the range this morning; however I was again to be confronted with a difficult wind, shifting in strength but also angle. I had just about kept up for the first half of the shoot, dropping only a single point, but it couldn't last and 4, 4, 3 for shots 7 through 9 left me facing the thick end of a 45.4 even if I did manage a central V for my final shot. Bugger!

The trend of difficult winds continued throughout the day, with a lot of quality shooters getting hammered in the Lovell (1000x) and the Daily Telegraph (500x), and dropping more than normal in the Donegall (300x). Personally, I needed an extra sighter in the Donegall to finish my morning's shooting with a 49.7, which I found faintly disappointing even despite the taxing winds.

As I wasn't going to be back on the range until 17:00, I made the most of the break and spent some time with the kids, and had lunch round at a friend's van. A 20 minute power nap also seemed like a good idea, to try and break the last of the jetlag (I flew in from a work project Montana, rather than directly from Auckland so it has not actually been too bad.)

The final shoot of the day was the Daily Telegraph. Two sighters and fifteen shots to count at 500 yards in apparently blustery and variable winds. There had already been horror stories from one or two eminently skilled shots; however there's no point worrying about the conditions. Fire good shots and make the best decisions you can about the wind. The wind bracket I had been quoted ran from about 2 to 5 left but it was noted that when the wind squared up and the flags started to run it could be higher and would probably be not a good time to let one go. Armed with a bit of knowledge I was rather pleased to find that aside from a couple of squirrely bits at the start and finish, the wind was more constant than I had feared. Not firing at the extremes probably saved me a point or two. In any event, I fired good shots and did just enough on the wind to keep them all in the bullseye for a 75.7 and 4th in the competition. An excellent start to this year's Grand Aggregate campaign.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Imperial Meeting 2015, Day 2 - Blown Away

In fullbore rifle there is nothing so deliciously frustrating as a day when one is shooting well, but is thoroughly challenged by the difficulty and capriciousness of the wind.

I'm getting to grips with the rifle kindly lent me by CJW, legendary partner of Glasgow 2014 fame: My elevations have been fair to good all day, and appear to have gradually improved as I've gone on; however the wind has been excitingly difficult with wide wind brackets spanning both sides of zero at both short and long ranges. Perhaps because of the angle of the wind relative to Stickledown (long range) and Century (short range) it's felt like the Century ranges at 500x and 600x have perhaps even been slightly trickier than the Admiral Hutton at 900x.

Either way I ended up with a 49.4 at 600x, a 48.3 at 500x and a 47.3 at 900x. Not going to come even close to winning anything even on such a difficult day and I'm wishing I'd just been slightly smarter on the wind at points, but am quietly pleased with a number of big and successful changes I made.

Friday, 10 July 2015

Imperial Meeting 2015, Day 1 - Getting Organised

After 18 hours of flying from Montana to London, I was kindly picked up by my friend Bob (of GGG teardown fame) from LHR and made it to the best place in the world. After coffee, the day was mostly spent getting borrowed rifle and kit ready to shoot in the Veterans' Match at 500x on Century. Bob had also sorted us a practice target at long range, which has at least enabled me to get some zeroes and make sure initial shots will be on paper.

The Veterans' Match was acceptable, if not brilliant. My 49.7 at 500x was a workmanlike score; although losing my last was a bit disappointing. The next time I will fire a better shot and will put them all in.

More pleasant been the continual greetings and catchups with old friends. It has been nigh-on impossible to go anywhere, do anything without running into someone. I'm hoping that from now on, I am able to dedicate a little more time to people. Much of today, I've had to run off with unseemly haste to zero my rifle, to get to Stickledown, to head off to shoot. Meeting new people and renewing old friendships is one of the most important aspects of shooting at Bisley and I should give it the respect it deserves.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Feelin' hot, hot, hot

I'm currently in hot and steamy Montana for a work project, looking longingly at photos of Bisley on Facebook and planning to do a bit of trail running when it cools down later this evening. Back in the UK it's shaping up to be a toasty warm Imperial Meeting, so it's a good time to remind ourselves of how to shoot in the heat*.

Our sport takes place outdoors, so we're largely at the mercy of the elements. Being able to cope with sun and sweltering heat comes as part and parcel of the competition; however you are limited in the changes you can make to your clothing. If you train with a thick jumper under your thick leather shooting jacket you're going to need to be able to compete with the same thick jumper under the same thick leather shooting jacket. This can make things a bit hot under the collar.

Here are a few common-sense tips to help you manage the heat:

1) Wear Sunscreen - Even in the UK, the sun is strong enough to burn you. In the short term this is a pain in the arse and a distraction, but in the long term repeated overexposure to UV can lead to malignant melanoma. As a fullbore shooter you're going to spend a lot of time outside and get a lot of sun.

2) Stay in the Shade and/or Wear a hat - Pretty obvious this one. Bisley is known for silly hats; please keep up our nation's proud traditions. A hat can keep you cool, but also it will reduce the amount of glare that your eyes have to deal with.

3) Stay Hydrated - Your body's natural reaction to high temperatures is to sweat, reducing your temperature through evaporative cooling; however this and your body's other processes can dehydrate you if you don't take in enough fluids. Don't drink lots of Gatorade and other supposed 'sports' drinks as they contain a lot of sugar, which isn't good for you in the long term but can also cause blood sugar highs and lows. They're fine for running, where you're burning 100 calories per mile, but not so much for shooting. Contrary to popular belief caffeine-containing drinks do not increase your risk of dehydration, so if you're used to coffee with breakfast don't stop.

4) Take Enough Salts - Less likely than dehydration but with as severe consequences, drinking too much fluid and not taking on enough sodium and potassium salts can result in hyponatraemia. Entertainingly, many of the symptoms of too little sodium in the blood are similar to those of dehydration, so if you feel dehydrated take on a little salt also.

5) Go Easy on the Booze - Shooting with a hangover in high temperatures can be a deeply unpleasant experience and is unlikely to improve your performance. Keep it to a couple of beers in the evening, or drink the occasional shandy.

6) Acclimatise in your Gear - Your heart rate is likely to go up when there's a sudden increase in body temperature, so in the relatively moderate temperatures you're likely to encounter in the UK it is worth getting ready in your gear 10-15 minutes before you start shooting to allow your heart rate to come back down. Conversely, when shooting in extremely high temperatures in India in 2010 some of us found that staying in the cool and then putting our gear on at the very last minute managed the overall heat load.

7) Use Eye Mist/Drops - If you find that your eyes get dry and this affects your vision, consider using an eye mist spray and/or eyedrops. Originally a bit on the expensive side, eye mist sprays became a lot cheaper when generic brands came on the market. Eye drops aren't too bad, I buy the cheapest and most basic I can find in the supermarket. I generally spray my eyes 15 mins before a shoot and use eye drops at the end of the day.

Keep cool. Stay hydrated. Maximise your performance and enjoy your Imperial Meeting. Looking forward to seeing y'all on Thursday morning.

* Thanks to Phil T from for the subject for today's blog.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Two and a half things

One evening after only a few ales, very wise friend of mine once remarked "You can only do two and a half things well at a time."

This immediately struck me as an enormously smart thing to say for a variety of reasons. Firstly, it states that there's a limit to the number of things you can do well at any one time. Secondly, it implies that the limits of your ability are not quite as simple to define as it might appear at first glance. Finally and perhaps most importantly, it recognises that when you don't do something well, you'll either not do it all or you risk doing a half-arsed/assed* job of it.

This observation is important to rifle shooters because the vast majority of us are amateurs who to work in addition to training for our sport and managing our lives outside shooting. We have to decide which two and a half things to focus on.

Here I have good news and then again, I have some bad news.

The bad news is that if you've not either incredibly talented or you've already achieved a high level of competence, then you have to make shooting one of the two things and not a "half" or a "no" thing if you want to make significant and sustainable progress. For the vast majority of us whose initials are not GCDB there really isn't a good substitute for quite a bit of hard work in training and on the range. This quite naturally has consequences for the other things that you do in your life. Some significant others may object to you SCATTing in the living room while they watch Criminal Minds over the top of you lying on vaguely doggy-smelling shooting mat.

The good news is that compared to, say, marathon running or rowing, the amount of actual training you need to do is comparatively light. For example, to complete a marathon in under 4 hours (i.e. Marginally better than only half as fast as Mo Farah) you need to run about 30 - 40 miles per week (including one long run of 16 - 20 miles) which works out at about 6 hours per week of running at the appropriate pace. The top endurance athletes run well over 100 miles per week, albeit at a much faster pace than 09:00 minutes per mile, on top of which they spend numerous hours in the gym working on their core strength, flexibility and running form. If you spend even two hours on SCATT, an hour on visualisation and another hour or two on a bit of cardio and light weights, you will be streets ahead of most other fullbore shooters and are likely to make significant performance gains as a result.

Pick your two and a half things wisely.

* Delete as appropriate according to preference, cultural heritage etc...

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Interpreting SCATT Results, Part 3 - Comparing Techniques, Positions and Equipment

Before we get started, this post is long, quite technical and makes for dense reading; although I do include an executive summary at the end. I make absolutely no apologies for that whatsoever. Comparing techniques, positions and equipment is an important topic and it is surprisingly hard to make comparisons that are truly discriminatory and not the result of chance. Very many people have made comparatively minor changes to position or technique, subsequently had one good result and declared victory against all ills in their shooting - real or perceived - only to find out after a few more shoots that they've not really resolved anything.

Why is it so hard to make real comparisons?
The short answer is "statistics". For a longer answer, read the tale of woe which follows...

Imagine a shooter with a performance distribution as labelled "Technique 1" in the above diagram. (S)he's not exactly a bad shooter, but can be a bit variable sometimes, so resolves to make a change. The change results in the performance distribution labelled "Technique 2", which is actually worse than the previous approach. The change has been detrimental; however the shooter has no way of knowing this yet, as (s)he hasn't tested it yet. In due time, the shooter goes and fires another competition and entirely by chance gets a 50! Elated with the positive impact on performance, (s)he goes and has a celebratory shandy on the North London RC verandah and announces to all and sundry that everything is sorted. During the next day's shooting, regression to the mean* rears its ugly head and scores are abysmal.

You get the idea. The point here is that even though the change is detrimental to the shooter's performance, there is still a finite probability that they will get a score which is above average for them using their previous technique. The shooter needs to make several measurements to have a better understanding of the performance profile which results from the change. The more measurements, the better the understanding.

In summary, it is entirely possible to make a detrimental change and yet have one or more better-than-average shoots afterwards. This is something best avoided.

How do we use SCATT to make good comparisons?
One of the key uses of SCATT is the comparison of different techniques, positions and equipment prior to testing them in a livefire training session. The feedback that SCATT, Noptel, RIKA or another similar shooter training system can provide is worth a very great deal for a number of reasons:

Firstly, dry firing with such a system provides quantitative feedback in addition to the qualitative "feel" of trying something new in a simple dry fire or even a live fire environment. The trace length, shot release and shot aim data allow direct comparison of the different elements of groups of dry shots fired under different circumstances.

Secondly, the marginal cost of dry firing with a SCATT is essentially zero, so the only limit on the number and quality of tests that can be done is the amount of time that you are willing to spend upon testing. This allows much more reliable and detailed comparison than one done on a rifle range with live ammunition, where the cost of ammunition, target time and barrel life becomes a significant factor very rapidly.

There are five guidelines to making a good comparison using a shooter training system:
  1. Build a baseline / control
  2. Change one thing at a time (but use your common sense)
  3. Record everything
  4. Do enough shots to make the comparison meaningful
  5. Understand the limitations of the system
When making a comparison you must realise that you are running an experiment. All good experiments need a control or baseline against which any comparison is to be made. The first step in comparing positions, equipment, techniques or anything else to is establish a strong baseline. In the vast majority of cases, this entails recording SCATT data for your current position and equipment setup.To ensure the statistical validity of the baseline and any comparisons made against it, you should record AT LEAST three strings of AT LEAST 10 shots each. More is better. Ideally, these strings should be recorded separately with the shooter getting up and completely re-establishing their position between strings, as this allows comparisons of both the potential of the change and the reproduceability of that potential.

In any good experiment, one change and one change only is made between tests. If you make two changes then you test, then you don't know what the effect of each individual change is. So if you wanted to make two changes, you should test each change individually and then both changes together (as well as the tests needed to establish your baseline.) Of course, this presents us with an issue because if you want to play with lots of different settings, such as when you've just bought a new rifle with lots of spiffy adjustments to make, in theory you can end up with hundreds or even thousands of tests to do. To get around this, you should apply some common sense to a) reduce the number of tests you need to run, e.g. you can probably test eye relief as a discrete test once you've picked the remaining settings for your position, and b) eliminate the obvious no hopers, e.g. with some handstop settings your sling may be obviously too tight or obviously too loose.

It is critically important that you record everything for two main reasons: Firstly, if something doesn't work out, e.g. a handstop position, then you need to be able to revert to your baseline settings, but also so you can keep an accurate track of the changes you made and the results you got. Reproducibility is the key; there's no point doing a bunch of comparison tests to find the best position for you if you can't reproduce it once you've identified that it is the best position.

The key limitation to understand is that SCATT and similar systems are not perfect in their modelling of shots, so it is a very real possibility that you're not going to get the perfect position for live shooting from SCATT training; however what it does allow you to do is to make useful comparisons

Real life example; comparing underlayers
OK, so Kat, the kids and I moved to NZ. I had some (but not all) of my shooting kit with me and my new jacket arrived. I didn't have any underlayers with me for the Nationals so I shot using wearing a hoodie under my new Creedmoor jacket. In the fullness of time, the rest of our stuff arrived in boxes, including all my old underlayers. This left me with a dilemma: Did I continue shooting with the hoodie or did I revert to using my Kurt Thune coldwinner top?

Enter SCATT and Excel.

I fired a bunch of shots under as near identical conditions as I could make them, changing only the top I shot in. After doing a little calculation, I obtained the following results:

Top Worn Shots Average Tracelength Standard Deviation Standard Error Average Shot Release Standard Deviation Standard Error

What this tells me is that shooting with the hoodie appears to provide a more consistent hold than the coldwinner top, all else being equal, because the average tracelength and shot release values are both lower (i.e. Better) for the hoodie. I can see that this is statistically very significant for the tracelength because the difference between the two average tracelength values is much greater than the standard error values. The difference between the two shot release values is not demonstrated to be statistically significant, as the difference between the two values is only about 1 standard error. Comparing more values may resolve this issue.

I'll be shooting in the hoodie at this year's Imperial Meeting. I also ran a similar comparison of low and high cheekpiece positions and found that the high cheekpiece position provided a better consistency of aim.

tl;dr version for company directors and other individuals with the attention spans of goldfish
SCATT is really good for trying out changes to your equipment, position or technique.
When using SCATT to compare changes you need to:
  1. Make sure you know your current standard of performance to act as a baseline
  2. Change only one thing at a time
  3. Keep an accurate note of the changes you've made
  4. Fire lots of shots with the change to make sure the comparison is a good one
  5. Recognise that SCATT isn't perfect
*Regression to the mean is a statistical term which describes the situation when a measurement is toward the extreme edge of a distribution; subsequent measurements tend to be closer to the opposite edge of the distribution through sheer probability. When someone suddenly looks like they've improved but haven't made a change or haven't done a lot of training, it's probably just temporary and more typical scores (for them) will be on the way.