The Goal

The Goal

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Touring Tips 1 - Jet Lag

While living in New Zealand has numerous advantages - A decent number of rifle ranges, good beer, fine wine, mostly superb coffee*, a great landscape for trail running, easy access to excellent fishing and therefore seafood - it does has the disadvantage of being bloody miles from anywhere. As a result of this key factor plus the need to travel for work and shooting, I've managed to become deeply intimate with jet lag. As it's likely that I'll be doing a bit of traveling for fun and profit over the next 18 months, it seemed opportune to think about jet lag.

Jetlag is a mismatch between your current actual timezone and the various chemical processes in your brain and body which regulate the daily rhythm of your body's activities. Fortunately for international travellers, these processes will adjust themselves over time. Unfortuately for international travellers, there's a maximum rate at which they can adjust and there are plenty of things that people do to disrupt this process. Depending on how you react to jetlag, you can feel pretty grotty during the adjustment process, which is not going to be conducive to top sporting performance.

I am in no way an expert on the science of diurnal rhythms and their management, but I've worked out a routine and a few tricks which seem to allow me to help make the adjustment as quickly as possible:

Rule #1 - Your body will only adjust at about 1 hour per day of time difference maximum. Some people may be faster and others slower.

Rule #2 - You cannot speed up adaptation beyond that limit, but you can slow it down by doing the wrong things.

Rule #3 - The sooner you move your sleep patterns to your destination once you have arrived, the closer you will get to the maximum recovery rate.

Rule #4 - Do not have afternoon naps or any extra sleep outside of your normal nightly sleep routine.

Rule #5 - A couple of glasses of wine is fine, but don't hit the booze to try and force sleep, as this will generally result in a very poor quality of sleep which may be counter-productive.

So far, so good; however it may not be entirely obvious how to apply this to your trip so let's work our way through the trip from NZ to the UK:

Before the flight: Try and get plenty of rest and keep well hydrated. If you can start to move your bedtimes forward or backwards to closer match your destination timezone, so much the better.

Flight Plan:

NZ TimeLA TimeLondon Time
23:1002:1010:10Flight departs AKL. Watch some films, do some work, but stay awake for the majority of the flight
09:1012:1020:10Try and get a little sleep before landing at LAX
11:1014:1022:10Flight lands at LAX
13:1016:1000:10Flight departs LAX. Snooze if you can.
14:3017:3001:30Meal served. Eat properly to ensure you don't wake up because I'm too hungry to sleep and have two glasses of wine. Then go to sleep and get as much sleep as possible.
23:4002:4010:40Flight lands at LHR.

After the Flight: No matter how hard it is, try to stay awake until at least 20:00 on the day of arrival in your destination. Get as much daylight as possible once you arrive at your destination, as this will help**, as can strenuous exercise***. Don't drink lots of alcohol on the evening of arrival, as you'll come out of deep sleep when the booze wears off. You'll also be dehydrated and feeling rubbish.

A final thought: Touring is expensive. A little preparation and thought can stop you wasting a lot of money. Save the boozing and late nights for after you've won the matches. It's OK to be knackered at work when you get back to your home country.

* With the exception of ground coffee for cafetieres. For some reason, it's frequently miserable over here.

** Forbes-Robertson, S., Dudley, E., Vadgama, P. et al. Circadian Disruption and Remedial Interventions: Effects and Interventions for Jet Lag for Athletic Peak Performance. Sports Med (2012) 42: 185. doi:10.2165/11596850-000000000-00000

***  Waterhouse, J., Reilly, T.,  Atkinson, G., Edwards, B. Jet lag: trends and coping strategies. The Lancet. Volume 369, No. 9567, p1117–1129, 31 March 2007.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Welcome to Season 3 of Gun & Run!

It has been a while; and it has been great to have a break; but after three months off, it's time to saddle up and get training and shooting again.

I have already talked about the importance of taking a break in Training Cycle 4 - Rest and Recovery but taking a little time away from shooting (although this is largely enforced by the winter weather we get here in Waitakere) gives me time to get out on the roads and get fit for the start of the shooting and trail running seasons. It also gives me the opportunity to post a little less for a while, and refresh the creative juices a little. I try hard to write thoughtful and interesting pieces on shooting, but I need inspiration to do this and not a little cognitive space. A busy schedule of work and travel for shooting last year wrung me out a little, but what a season it was.

The 2016/2017 season is looking like it's going to be a big one: I've got work trips to North America on the cards, as well as at least one trip (probably two) to the UK planned, as well as at least one (possibly as many as three) trips over the ditch to New Zealand's West Island* in the coming 18 months.
The handloading bench is going to get a lot of use in the next couple of months. The hammer is purely for emergency use.
Having taken three months off sport-specific training and live fire, I'm going to have to get off my backside and prepare for the coming season ahead. In no particular order, I have to:
  • Give my rifle a thorough check over and clean;
  • Load a shitload of ammunition for training and competition;
  • Dig out the SCATT and do some training;
  • Sort through my kit to see if I need to replace anything;
  • Think about what aspects of my position and technique I'm going to need to work on; and
  • Get out on the range and do some live fire.
 All of this renewed and reinvigorated interest in shooting, competing and qualifying for the most exclusive club shoot in the world is going to stimulate me to do a bit more writing too, I hope. I've already had a few ideas and started to mull over them while running. Future topics are likely to include: Wind reading, electronic targets, handloading, rule making and its consequences, volume versus quality in training, performance enhancing drugs in shooting (and sport in general), and possibly a book review or two.
I'm looking forward to it. I hope you are too.

* Also known to some people as "Australia".

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Lies, Damned Lies and Self-Coached Plot Sheets

After a moderately successful Imperial Meeting - if not quite a top-flight one - I got to enjoy a few days staying in the van on camp before heading back to NZ. It's nice to have a little time for reflection, which I find enhanced by the opportunity to run a few miles along the Basingstoke Canal. One afternoon during this period of post-Imperial bliss and after just such a run, a good friend (who we'll refer to as TT) stopped by and asked if he could take a look at some of my plots. I was packing up and had all of them to hand. "Pick a card, any card," I said. TT had a quick look through a couple of cards before handing them back to me. "Interesting," he commented.

Now, while I find plot sheets interesting to a certain extent I'm not sure that many other people do; After all, there's only so much information you can glean from a single scorecard; so I asked him why he wanted to look at them and heard a tale which saddened me slightly. TT had been shown a series of plots by another shooter, who appeared to consistently hold about half a minute at all distances and who appeared only ever to lose shots to wind. Now as it happens, I have shot with the shooter in question a number of times over the years. This person is a reasonably competent shooter, but I know from observation of their shoots and their results that they aren't quite of that high standard and I'm reasonably sure that they are engaging in the practice of "flattering" their plots; that is to say, plotting shots closer to the waterline (possibly at the expense of their apparent wind reading ability) than they actually were.

How so, you may ask?

Quite apart from having seen this person shoot, as you'll see from my plots I dropped at least two points to bad shots during the Grand Agg (as I have previously pointed out, you can lose shots sideways to apparent wind errors when actually a poor shot is to blame) but still managed a reasonable 14th place. For me a 1 minute group is reasonably good, a 3/4 minute group very good and 1/2 minute exceptional. I have shot smaller groups, but only during 2+7s and not very often. Shooting of this standard (with the occasional bad shot, as you can observe) has done me reasonably proud*.

My highest score (but not best group) of the 2016 meeting. 1 MOA extreme spread for a 75.14 in St. George's II.

Probably more relevant than this, I entered down the coordinates of every single shot of the winning and record-scoring GB Team's plots from the 2007 Palma Match into a spreadsheet as part of my Master's thesis into the culture of high performing teams and of the 16 shooters in the match, only about 5 consistently held under a minute. The tightest shooter had a 2SD statistical group** of 0.85moa.

OK, you may be saying at this point, some people make their groups look a bit smaller than they are. So what? Well, here's the rub: firstly, these people are lying to themselves about their own ability. They are handicapping themselves, to a certain extent, because unless they are possessed of exceptional memory they will be making judgements about sight changes based on incorrect data. More than this, many match captains look at plots in addition to raw scores as they help to balance the fact that not all details are made equal from a wind standpoint. This means that under some circumstances, people who do this may be cheating other people who have shot better out of places on the National Match and other teams.

On a final note, let us consider what my friend and notable international coach MJE did at the start of a plotting classroom training session a few years ago. He displayed to the assembled shooters and coaches an oath, which roughly stated that they would plot all shots accurately. He then invited everyone to repeat it out loud. They duly did so. Think about that for a bit.

* That's not to say that I wouldn't want smaller groups. I do, and I try quite hard to achieve them.
** This means that 95% of the shots fired during the Palma Match would be within a circle of 0.85MOA and 99% within a circle of 1.28MOA.***
*** You may be wondering why I used a statistical approach rather than just, say, extreme spread. Like extreme spread statistical groups are roughly comparable between ranges, but also they allow a better comparison between different types of group. Some people just shoot big groups. Some people shoot small groups but wing one occasionally. Using a statistical group discriminates better between these two types of shooter.

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Range Report: Trials 3 & 4

The Imperial Meeting at Bisley usually makes up two of the trials, with all of the competitions from the first Friday, middle weekend and final Monday counting. It is during this ten day period that the majority of the real action takes places as the runners and racers are sorted out. It is very easy to get caught up in The Glory of the Bisley Imperial Meeting, with its distractions and social scene; although I must admit that there are some shooters who combine the two admirably.

As I had persuaded my employer to let me stay on in the UK between the end of trial 2 and the start of the Imperial, I was able to get a little range time and felt confident about my basic ability to shoot decent groups; however I was a bit more worried about the wind. While good shooting and good windreading very often go hand in hand* it's not always the case, and a bad detail on Stickledown can shred any aspiration. Other people clearly felt that same way, so I was able to join RO, SCC, PG and a couple of other shooters for shoots at 1000x to get my eye in. This helped.

Trial 3 - Middle Friday to Middle Sunday
After a rather enjoyable lie-in after the UVRC barbecue, a couple of beers and a rather late night final work conference call taken in the umbrella tent my meeting proper kicked off with a sensible shoot at 600x in the Century. It was a rather workmanlike shoot; the group was marginally over 1 minute of arc and my windreading was acceptable, although I did lose one to a gust halfway through.

Solid but nothing special. My target-mate and GB coaching stalwart MKT managed an superbly-judged 50.1, just missing out on a perfect polo shoot.
 Moving back to the Admiral Hutton at 900, the moderate-to-fresh winds continued and I repeated my performance; although the group was slightly better.

No-frills long range shooting.
To round out the day, I finally managed to put them all in. While my most common short-range score is 50 ex 50, I still find myself slightly on edge at the start of each Imperial Meeting waiting for the first possible, so it is always a relief to open my account on the Friday.

Much more the thing. Pity about shot #3.
It was clear that I was starting to get into the swing of things, but I would need to maintain this kind of form to establish a lead over the other shooters in the trial.

Donegall. Don't know what happened to that second sighter.
Very pleased with this. About as good a long-range group
Fortunately, the middle Saturday ended up going fairly well; although I did manage to lose my first point of the meeting to what was clearly a bad shot on my behalf. This always feels slightly different to one out the side where there's at least a sizeable probability that it was simply a poor wind call or getting caught in the aim. This time it was definitely your fault and you shot an inner.
Telegraph. First bad shot of the meeting where I lost a point.
The Sunday of the Bisley meeting is something special for me. I have won the Sunday Aggregate twice and it was the first competition I ever won during the Imperial Meeting proper. I was simultaneously slightly disappointed not to win it again despite a superb day on the ranges and delighted to see my friend TLB win it with some excellent shooting and by the narrowest possible margin - despite us sharing a score of 175.22 he edged me at the line by scoring a 50.8 in the Duke of Cambridge (at 900x the longest range of the day) to my 50.7

Ice cold in Alex. A solid 50.8
Perhaps not the neatest group, but a good string at the end.
Tried hard to lose shot 9 but got away with it. Otherwise pretty solid.
At the end of trial 3 having dropped only 4 points out of 500, I was 3 points clear of the next shooter. Job done.


Trial 4 - Final Monday to Final Thursday
A curious aspect of the psychology of shooting trials in the format that Welsh fullbore rifle shooting currently employs is that as soon as you're settled in one trial and performing, that trial is over and another is forthcoming with all attendant nerves, worries and tribulations regarding establishing a solid base from the start. Perhaps it's just the way I feel about it; having climbed one mountain, it's time for another with all of the fears of failure which can attend.

The shoots on Monday went OK. Although the winds seemed light, there was a subtle capriciousness to them. What seemed clear before a shot was fired became less obvious as time went on, and changes were often hidden. Watching the mirage seemed to be the best bet, but I still managed to lose four points on the day; although that seemed disastrous at the time, it turned out to be a reasonable result.

The Times. Sighters a bit spread and not happy with my wind zero.

The Corporation. So close and yet so far. Could've easily been more, but I didn't really take advantage of the conditions.

Slightly scrappy shoot, but could've been worse given the wind spread.
A picture was emerging; I was clearly shooting acceptably well, but a top performance was eluding me slightly. I felt like my wind zero wasn't quite as it should have been, and some of my sighters were at the extremes of the group. What happened in the St. George's 1st Stage did rattle me slightly, though, I clearly put one out of the group (the wind clearly didn't do that much to it) but I didn't feel it go. Worse yet, it was my last to count with a 75 in the gun. I obviously did something wrong, but whatever it was eludes me yet. Take the point and move on, thankful that you've qualified for stage 2.

Yes, that last to count isn't all it might have been. I never like losing one at 300, but to lose the last is worse.
 At this point, I had an afternoon off and away from shooting entirely. Katrina, the kids and I made it over to Guildford for an hour or two in the pool, and then a bit of shopping.

Queen's Wednesday is a busy day. Although the shoots are brief, especially as most people have figured zeroes and aren't fussy about taking cooking bull sighters by this point in the Grand Agg, the "transaction costs" are high. There's a lot of to-ing and fro-ing between various ranges on Century and Stickledown, so it can be tiring day.

Queen's I 300x. I'll take that 5 sighter. I'm not proud.
 Moving back from short to long, I continued to shoot well but managed to lose another 3 points to wind.
The Conan Doyle. Tricky winds.

Queen's I 500x. Lucky not to lose shot 3.

Queen's I 600x. Nicely held.
In the end, I cleaned Stage 1 of Her Majesty the Queen's Prize and it's always something of a relief to have a guaranteed shot at the second stage, if you'll excuse the unintentional pun. At this point things were looking solid in Trial 4; although my legendary pardner of Glasgow 2014 was starting to kick some arse and we were level going into the final day.

The PoW. A good finish to the Grand Agg and Trial 4.
I ended up coming joint first in trial 4 with CJW. We were both 5 points ahead of our nearest rivals. Job done.

Although I achieved what I had set out to during my trip over to the UK for the Imperial in 2016, I felt like I hadn't quite delivered as good a performance as I might: I had some issues with wind zeros, probably as the result of problems with cheek position and/or pressure, I didn't feel quite as settled as I have in previous meetings, and I didn;t achieve a Minimum Consideration Score (MCS) for the 2018 Commonwealth Games. There were still positives; in particular I coped much better with downward-sloping firing points - a perennial problem for me - which lead to good results at long range. Much to think about in the coming months.

* The simple reason for this is that if you're not shooting well, it's very hard to tell whether or not a sideways shot is because you've winged it or because of the wind. Hint: If you get one out left and then follow it up with a symmetrical one out the other side, it's quite possible that the first one was a bad shot.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

The Glory of the Bisley Imperial Meeting

Sitting in the departures lounge of LHR's Terminal 2 well in advance of my departure time - I always like to be early when travelling with Winona* in case of any of the risks which may crystallise - my social media feeds are filled with posts on the Imperial Meeting just completed. I feel much the same each year; that this year was in some way special; in some way better than the equally-perfect ones which have gone before.

Let me say this, then. This year was special in a multitude of ways, and it was perfect as a unique collection of experience, but yet could have been even better and I look forward to next year, the year after, or some future meeting topping it.

I shot well, but perhaps not as quite as well as I could have done. After all, I didn't win that elusive Bisley major and my final range in the Kolapore was a bit sub-par. The weather was interesting, having started off a bit on the cool and damp side, but soon came fine; even too fine towards the last few days. I got to spend a great deal of time with many of my friends, but it's never enough. How could it be with such people as ANRW, DAR, AMcC, CmcC, CJW, VW, SIF and so many others? How could it ever be?

Mistake not my intent. Above and beyond this was the quality of the experience of shooting at Bisley and the competition, which will have created memories that will keep us going until the next time. Jim took another Grand Agg, DC took another Queen's Prize, ANRW rounded out a solid meeting with his first St. George's Challenge Vase,  Welsh shooters took podium places in a number of major competitions. For me though, there is only one story and it's one that I'm still not sure how to react to simply because it hasn't made it through to me yet; big things take time to think through.

Wales won The National Match.

The winning team. Photo copyright Bob Oxford and reproduced on Gun & Run with his kind permission. 

Sure, England handicap themselves by their selection policy**; the conditions were easy; none of these facts matter to me or anyone else that matters because they are outweighed by the positives. We always struggle to get a quality team of 20 shooters together but this year contrived to pick the right people at the right time, with the result that our normal 98-ish bottom score magically became a 102, a sizeable majority hit 104s, and our normal one or two 105s suddenly blossomed into a round three-quarter dozen clean scores.

It is the one rifle match I never expected to win during my career. And so, it is all the more valuable and memorable and treasured as a result.

* My rifles have each had names: Rifle #1 was Marilyn, rifle #2 was Nariko and my current squeeze is  named Winona. Kudos to anyone who can spot whence the name originates.

** Although a more cynical person could argue that this is in itself a strategy to secure a long-term supply of talent and deny the other nations shooters who could compete for them; however that's an argument for another day, and possibly even a bit too cynical a view for my taste.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Range Report: CWG Trial 2

The British Commonwealth Rifle Club open meeting usually features some pretty stiff competition, not least because to become a member of the club you must have shot on an international team; however a majority of serious shooters also take part as by tradition the ammunition used comes from the same batch as that year's Imperial meeting.

The short range on day 1 was dominated by tricky winds and rain, with scores not up to their usual standard; although this didn't seem to phase any of the six people on detail 1 who managed to slot in 50.9s in the West Indies 300 yard shoot. Unfortunately I lost one out the top to a bit of early nerves, but held the rest in for a slightly loose 49.5.

A bit nervous at the start. Long time, no live fire.

Similarly, the first of two shoots at 500 yards, the India, was not all it might have been; I made a bold change at the start of the shoot and wound myself out to the left and was a bit more circumspect later on in the piece, only to lose one out right when I under-called a big change. Two down seemed to be a little off the pace, given the conditions, and I was already a shot behind.

Better elevation, but got the wrong end of the bracket twice.

We would revisit 500 yards after lunch in the Africa which went somewhat better. My position felt tight but relaxed and the rifle rested cleanly on target, with the result that the one shot I did help slightly clipped the lefthand edge of the vee-bull. My compatriot CJW managed to take the top slot with a superb 50.10 but I was pleased with my own 50.8. My hold had settled down after the very slightly shaky start in the morning.

Bring it.

Although the winds seemed to die back, they did have the capacity to surprise back at 600 yards. I pursued a strategy of shooting to the mean wind and trying to avoid firing in the lulls and gusts. My group was solid and I only lost one right at the end; I backed off a quarter as the wind appeared to be dropping, which proved a poor judgement call and cost me both the possible and the win. I ended up four off on the day, in 7th place.

A bit unlucky to finish on an inner, but could have been worse. A bit later and it could have been a magpie.

The Sunday morning dawned still, and there were expectations of high scoring. These were proved right on the first detail of the Falkland Islands at 900x, but the flags started to lift towards the end of the shoot and when the second detail got down, there was a very fickle lefthand wind with some big gusts and drop-offs. I shot reasonably well but couldn't quite keep up with the bracket of 4 to 8 despite recognising halfway through that I was constantly lagging the changes. I was unable to get ahead and finished with an OKish 48.5

Decent shoot, just not quite up to speed with the wind.

The odd wind conditions continued during the second 900x shoot of the morning. Fortunately my shooting was getting into the groove and I had more of a handle on the wind, and while I was unlucky to lose my 5th out left my 11th to count only stayed in by virtue of being a waterline shot. There were no 75s and I missed out on the tie shoot by a single vee-bull.

Happy with this. Got unlucky with shot 3, but lucky with shot 9. Honours even.

A long break before the shoot at 1000 yards afforded me the opportunity to have a decent lunch and a brief snooze in the vam before heading back up to Stickledown. The lazily flapping flags convinced me that this was going to be relatively straightforward; however as the previous details had found, the wind would pick up to a more typical value before ebbing back. The shifting winds, combing with a slack shot over which I took too much time, meant I lost 4 points; far from a disaster, but a little off the pace.

Shot 11 spoiled the look of the thing; I held on too long, but otherwise I'm happy with the shooting.

My consistent, if not exceptional, shooting won me 4th place in the BCRC Open but took me the top slot in Trial 2. This is heartening, as I'm still on the upswing but haven't yet hit top form, and with the Imperial Meeting making up trials 3 and 4, things are looking positive. A bit more SCATT and some livefire before everything kicks off next Friday, and hopefully I'll be able to make the most of my squadding.

Monday, 20 June 2016

SCATT troubleshooting; the collected wisdom of the UK Fullbore Facebook page

When you've sorted out all your setup issues and got into a routine of using SCATT or another shooter training system to support your training plan, everything seems easy; however just occasionally things will go tits up and you'll have some sort of problem. It may be that you've upgraded your laptop; it may be that you've moved house and things don't seem quite as easy as they were in your previous place; it may be just that the damn thing won't work. The point is that technology which was once a boon has now become a pain in the arse.

There is hope at hand. I and others like me have made many of the stupid mistakes so you can either avoid them or fix them pronto. With this aim in mind, I present a troubleshooting guide to SCATT with thanks to Charles Dickenson, Paul Wheeler, Bob Oxford, Christopher Hunter, Mark Bridges and all the other folks from the UK Fullbore Facebook page who have contributed to the SCATT threads.

ISSUE: Optical sensor and/or target don't register properly when plugged in:
  • Try unplugging the SCATT cables and plugging them into different USB ports.
  • Unplug everything, shut your computer down and start again from the beginning.
  • Go to the SCATT website and download the latest drivers. Reinstall the drivers, restart the laptop and try again.
  • If neither of these work then you may have a broken SCATT. Contact SCATT for technical support (support@scatt.com) and send off your SCATT to be repaired.
ISSUE: Cannot find SCATT device:
  • Are you using Windows 8? If so then you may need to upgrade your firmware, see below.
  • Check all your SCATT cables are firmly plugged in.
  • If SCATT is plugged in then unplug the USB cables and swap USB ports.
  • If swapping cables doesn't work, restart your computer.
  • If restart doesn't work then reinstall drivers and plug one USB cable in at a time, watching for error messages.
  • If neither of these work then you may have a broken SCATT. Contact SCATT for technical support (support@scatt.com) and/or send off your SCATT to be repaired.
ISSUE: SCATT device found, but no crosshairs or blue dot appear when I fire a calibration shot on the calibration screen:
  • Are you pointing the rifle at the target? You may be pointing high (this is a common problem because the adapter which clips the optical sensor to the barrel has an incline on it which may be a bit aggressive if your barrel has a taper on it, as most fullbore rifles do).
  • Check that the infrared sensors (look like clear/white LEDs but don't shine) above and below the target aren't obscured by anything. If they are, then remve the offending item.
  • Check you've not got your long range elevantion on the rifle. Put your 300y elevation on maximum (I set my rifle to have about 10 minutes BELOW by 300y elevation on my adjustable foresight but this may not be an option for you).
  • Try aiming the rifle above and below your aiming mark to see if you're still not on target.
  • Are you using Windows 8? If so then you may need to upgrade your firmware, see below.
  • If none of these work, then you may have a broken SCATT.
ISSUE: I've been using my SCATT and then it suddenly stops registering shots:
  • Chances are that it's just a dodgy connection. Save your shoot, close the SCATT software, check all cables are firmly plugged in and start again. If this happens frequently, then it may be worth replacing your cabling.
  • Also try increasing the sensitivity of the piezoelectric sensor which registers the click of the firing pin hitting its stop in the bolt when a shot is fired (decrease the number in the slider at the bottom of the calibration screen).
ISSUE: I've been using the SCATT just fine but I've started getting echoes, where the screen is showing two shots on a single trace, one in white and one in purple:
  • Check all cable connections are tight
  • Lighting or other sources of infrared (such as heat lamps, radiators etc...) can cause this, so try different lighting (or even a different room, if possible) LED bulbs seems to be the best light sources for avoiding this.
  • Try decreasing the sensitivity of the piezo sensor (increase the number in the slider at the bottom of the calibration screen)
  • If nothing works then your optical sensor is probably starting to go. Send it off to get it repaired or replaced
ISSUE: I've upgraded everything to Windows 8 and nothing works any more:
  • Borrow a computer with an earlier version of Windows and go to the SCATT website. Download and then install the firmware in your SCATT. Then use your Windows 8 laptop as normal.
DANGER WILL ROBINSON! Apparently SCATT do not like you doing this without speaking to their technical support, so you do this at your own risk. Do not blame me if you brick the best part of a grand's shooter training system.

ISSUE: I keep getting weird spiky traces, with my shots getting flung out into the white:
  • You've got a terrible flinch! Eliminate this possibility by firing a couple of shots with the rifle held on a bench (e.g. A Black and Decker workmate).
  • Can be lighting. Try changing light sources as described above.
  • Shiny flooring can also be an issue. Put something nonrefelective midway between the target and the optical sensor.
  • Having more than one SCATT in the room at the same time can sometimes cause interference. Use the Tools -> Options -> Firing Point menu item and select different firing point numbers for each device. Failing that, put barriers between the SCATTs midway between optical sensors and targets. Otherwise, you're going to be limited to one SCATT being used at a time.
  • The lens at the front of the optical sensor can work loose and wobble when a shot is fired. You may be able to hear rattle if you shake the sensor. Youll get massive spikes in the trace, flung shots and/or a big change in the point of impact between shots.  The lens is held in place by a threaded plastic grommet which screws into the body of the sensor. You can carefully tighten this up using a thumbnail, which will solve the issue.
Please, if you read this and think that I've missed something; let me know! I'll try and keep this up to date occasionally, so it can be used as a repository of the latest knowledge.

A final note: Troubleshooting your SCATT can be a stressful experience; you're all ready to do some training but are frustrated by damn technology. If you do get your SCATT working after having some issues, take 2 minutes to stop and reflect on whether you should now train. If you're stressed or frustrated then it may not be the right thing to do. Stop and think. If you're calm and can focus on the task in hand, go ahead, otherwise it may be better to take 5 minutes to bring yourself back into the right frame of mind or even cancel SCATT training and go do some cardio or core strength exercises instead.

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Exercise. Because.

Do some cardio and maybe some light weights*.

As well as being good for your general health there's a fair chance that it'll do your shooting some good. If you look at some of the very best shooters you'll see that they often do other sports or take regular exercise also.

By my reckoning, there are three main benefits from doing exercise that relate to shooting; although I admit that evidence for these is secondary and not direct:

1) Hold the rifle more still because of a lower resting heart rate
2) Maintain your position for longer and reduce group size increase in longer shoots
3) Handle a long competition period better

Really? Yup, I reckon so. Exercise on its own isn't going to make you Robin Fulton you understand, but it is another marginal gain.

I quite like running, but I have taken it a bit to extremes.

That said, what you shouldn't do is what I did. I started doing a bit of running, which was fine. I quite enjoyed it, even; however I am capable of anything except moderation. In short form, my friend Jenny asked me if I wanted do the Cambridge Half, I downloaded a training plan off the internet and lost over a stone in weight quite by accident. This meant that my shooting kit no longer fitted, but as this crept up on me (you don't lose a rifle's worth of weight in a week or two) it rather shagged my 2014 season.

That was just the first of my mistakes.

Probably the main one I have made is that I let my ego get the better of me and trained too hard. Like about 95% of people who take up running, I started off by running waaaaay too fast and probably built up my mileage too quickly, with the result that I most likely limited the rate of my improvement and nearly injured myself several times. If you're going to take up running, or indeed any form of cardiovascular exercise you're going to need to take it very slowly and gently.

While I'd rather be a good shooter than a very mediocre marathon runner, I do not believe them to be mutually exclusive. I think I've sorted out my kit problems and will keep up with the exercise.

* I'll cough to being useless at keeping up with my plan to do some light bodyweight phys several times a week. I'm trying to get there though.

Friday, 13 May 2016

The Trouble with J.J.

I am something of a fan of the Star Wars films* and indeed the Star Trek TV series and films; however recently there has been an ugly tendency which has vexed me somewhat. Not limited to these films, but certainly promulgated by them, is the idea that some people inexorably rise to positions of authority or demonstrate excellence merely by their innate characteristics without apparent hard work. Their talent alone, for lack of a better word.

Allow me to demonstrate.

In Star Wars: A New Hope the hero Luke Skywalker learns of the force and serves a brief apprenticeship with Obi Wan Kenobi and learns of the force. In the Empire Strikes back our hero serves his journeymanhood with the Jedi Master Yoda on the planet Degobah. Only in the fullness of time does he master the force and himself to defeat Darth Vader and the Emperor. While his journey is abbreviated by the necessities of the narrative form and the limitations of film media, it is clear that he has to work at his craft.

Let us compare this with Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens: our apparently-orphaned*** heroine Rae, who has had no training in the force, is awakened through psychic contact with the force-sensitive Kylo Ren. Despite her youth, naivete and lack of training she soon demonstrates advanced Jedi skills such as controlling the mind of a storm trooper and moving objects by force of will alone. She is shortly thereafter able to defeat an (albeit wounded) force sensitive individual (Kylo Ren again) in a lightsaber duel. Consider James Tiberius Kirk in the reboot of Star Trek. Ditto.

In short, these films represent the epitome of the new millennial Dream: not the triumph of the will so much as the triumph of the innately brilliant, and while it is possible that there may be a small number of people for whom life is like that; however the chances are that it isn't for you. It certainly isn't for me:

- Fencing: It seems apposite to talk about sword fighting, given the context of this post. I fenced at school for several years and eventually learned not to suck completely at it.

- Running: It has taken me three years to get from miserable to mediocre. On a good day. I am not noticeably lazy about training: I run four to six time each week(except recently, work has got in the way) do a good mix of training and yet it has taken that much hard work even for me to be able to run a marathon at 7 minutes fifty seconds per mile, more then 50% slower than the best runners in the world. And yet it has taken me this much work to get that far.

- Shooting: I'm actually quite good at shooting sometimes, but it has taken a lot of work to get there; 27 years and counting. I spent a lot of time on the 22 range at school but really found my metier on the fullbore range at Kibworth. I wasn't great at it, but got a bit better. I continued shooting after school and eventually cracked mediocre; however it wasn't until I went beyond practice and into training before I achieved a reasonable level of competence.

I had originally completed this post with a somewhat trite homily "At the end of the day, if you're not already at the top of the game or even if you are but want to stay there, do you want to trust to your innate brilliance or are you willing to train? Do you really have any choice?" but feel that this is not really what I want to express.

I have said those words before, but what I really want to express is how depressing a thought that this is. There are indeed some things at which you will forever suck regardless of how much you train, but what effect does this have on people who watch it? It has been said that it takes about five years to build a good shooter. Will the next generation of shooters stick at our sport or any other long enough to get to be any good?

* Please Note - Many Star Wars fans believe that there are only three or potentially four Star Wars films; they are correct in principle but wrong in practice in my humble opinion. There are precisely four point two: Episodes I, II, III, IV, V, VI and VII**.

** I understand that you're thinking at this point that Gaz cannot count; however I assure you that I can. Episodes IV,V and IV are worth full value; episodes III and VII are 50/50; and episodes I and II aren't really worth shit, but are given fractional value on the basis that they provide details which are otherwise essential to the storyline.

*** NB - If your hero or heroine is an orphan it's fantasy and not science fiction. Pop quiz time: What do The Belgariad, Star Wars, Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, Star Trek and of course, the original reference work, La Morte d'Arthur have in common? Answers on a postcard please.

Friday, 6 May 2016

Range Report: CWG Trial 1

In the past week I have flown halfway around the world (twice), had a wonderful long weekend at my spiritual home and made a good hundred holes in bits of paper at various distances with a view to qualifying for the 2018 Commonwealth Games. Originally tacked onto the front end of a business trip to North America, I have ended up having to return to NZ on the May bank holiday Monday owing to a delay in my project. Avoid this if you possibly can, because forty-eight hours of flying in six days in economy is a real pain in the arse.

What I can heartily recommend is enjoying a sport like shooting, where people against whom I was directly competing went out of their way to help me try and beat them: One lent me a rifle to shoot; another loaded top-notch ammunition for me to use. Other people made similar efforts, offered to load me ammo in case of issues, gave me lifts around camp and to the airport on the Monday. You know who you are. Legends. Without people like this, I wouldn't have been able to shoot at all, and our sport would be just another kind of game.

The trial itself was based around the Army Open, with Queen's I, Queen's II and Palma courses of fire spread over the course of the weekend. Being the forward-thinking, war-fighting chaps that they are, the ATSC has made it any ammo and all ICFRA targets. Combine the hard targets with tricky winds and it was bound to be an interesting weekend; and so it proved. It started in pretty benign fashion at 300 yards, with winds not far off zero and a small spread; however back at 500 yards the bracket widened to two minutes, and even further at 600 to run from about 1 right to over 3 left. In the event, I wasn't too unhappy dropping only three points. At least once I had seen everyone else's results. No one managed to clean the shoot, and only two people managed 104s.

The vicious fishtail wind continued into the afternoon, with occasional light showers of rain adding to the excitement. The bracket at 300 ran to about a minute either side of zero. I lost one well out right to a combination of a bad shot and a poor wind call. The bracket at 500 yards was similar, although I managed to avoid firing at the extremes, but I found myself sneaking out into the inner several times. Unlike at previous ranges, my group wasn't centred and I ended up with a 47 as a result of the sudden changes in strength and angle. Still, it could've been worse; the shooters on first detail at 600x took a beating with a huge wind bracket running to several minutes in either direction, whereas those of us on second detail had it a bit easier. There was only right wind to deal with, and I managed to squeeze them all into the tight ICFRA bullseye for a total of 146. Despite what I would generally consider mediocre scores, I was in fifth place in the open competition and first in the trials by three points.

On Sunday morning, the conditions looked readable but proved deceptive. As with the Saturday, the strength and angle would be stable for a few tens of seconds before shifting to a new state extremely rapidly. I only dropped a couple at 800, losing one just out either side. At 900 yards, the wind had strengthened but the general pattern continued of rapid changes within a bracket of 4 to 9 left. After a bull and an inner for my first two shots to count I got caught badly in the aim for a far right outer. ICFRA targets are utterly brutal in hard conditions. The good news in the cloud of being four points down is that I'd managed to identify two general wind conditions: one at a bit under 6 left and another just over 8 left. Using this approach I only lost one further point for a 70. Despite two relatively good scores, my lead in the trials had diminished to a single point.

Up until the final range, I had consistently held about 3/4 of a minute across the ranges. Unfortunately a miserable firing point didn't help my position and I had serious difficulties maintaining an acceptable group despite getting up and attempting to completely reset my position after five shots: tighten my sling, move my mat and do some padding of the drop-off in the firing point. I didn't end up with anything particularly wide unlike the many other shooters who collected outers and misses, but I did end up with a couple of magpies and an awful lot of inners spread at various points around the bullseye for a 61. My group was not all that it might have been.

At the end of the day, while I didn't win the first trial, I did manage to shoot well and led until the final range, losing the lead only after a difficult 1000 yards detail. I'll take second place, four points off the lead, especially as the next nearest competitor was a further eighteen points behind.

Onwards and upwards.

Monday, 25 April 2016

The effect of heart rate on shooting - Part 1

Quite a long time ago now, I noticed that the beating of my heart appeared to slow when I was in the aim. I remarked as such to a medically-qualified friend, who replied that he was not in the least surprised as it is known that it is possible to consciously slow heart rate*. Having recently bought myself a Garmin 225 GPS watch combined with a heart rate monitor as a training aid for running, I decided that it would be interesting to see what results I got when measuring my heart rate during a SCATT session.

The Effect of Heartbeats on Aim
It's logical that heart rate (and possibly strength of heartbeat) will have an effect on aim. The hydrostatic pressure of the surge of blood around the body will disturb the fine aiming required to shoot a rifle accurately, either as it passes through the organs of the body or through the major blood vessels of the upper limb**. Indeed, the disturbance caused by heartbeats can be observed using a SCATT as is shown in the diagram below.

Fig 1.0 - The effect of heartbeats on SCATT traces. The notation indicates the heartbeat number in sequence and the time before the shot broke.

What is perhaps less logical, or at least less well known, is that it is possible to consciously control heart rate to some degree. By extending this, maybe it's possible that some people can subconsciously control their heart rate under circumstances or, to put another way, do I subconsciously decrease my heart rate while shooting?

The Measurement of Heart Rate
I bought my watch primarily for running, as my pace judgement isn't great and this is critically-important when running long distances. Go out 15 seconds per mile too fast in a marathon and the last 10k is likely to be deeply unpleasant, not to mention very slow. The watch that I bought also has an integrated heart monitor, which works by detecting colour changes under the skin of your wrist when bloodflow increases. Once an activity is recorded, the data can be viewed through the Garmin website or through a 3rd party app like Strava. The plan is simple, start the heart rate monitor and then correlate the heart rate output with shots from SCATT.

Fig 1.1 - Strava output for my last 5k parkrun. The red line is heart rate.

Experimental Conditions
I fired a good 10 shot group using my SCATT wearing the heart monitor. I was careful to try and do this as close to normally as I was able using my normal kit and technique. I switched on the heart rate monitor after warming up, but before I got down to shoot.

Fig 1.2 - SCATT results.

Heart rate monitor results
The heart rate trace yielded some great results and demonstrated exactly the effect I wanted to observe; however it also yielded something rather unexpected. Given that my resting heart rate is somewhere around 50bpm*** I was expecting to see my heart rate decrease to around that level or possibly lower while in the aim, and it to increase moderately when back out of the aim to, say 90bpm. The raw graph looks not dissimilar to this expectation.

Fig 1.3 - Heart rate results. Note the average heart rate of 90bpm.

When I superimposed the shots on the graph, as is shown below and then actually looked at the specific heart rate numbers I was rather surprised to see that the average during shots was 60-65bpm and between shots it went as high as 130-135bpm,which is approximately the same as when I run at a 9 minute mile pace on a flat course.


Preliminary conclusions
It is clear from the result that I am subconsciously controlling my heartbeat when doing SCATT sessions; however the range of heart rates was much broader than was expected. In the next article, I'll have a crack at explaining what might account for this variation and whether there's any way of using it to our advantage.

* Vid. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22744827
** It is worth noting at this point that at least two aspects of shooting technique are aimed at diminishing the effect of heartbeats on aim: The modified Estonian position is supposed to reduce the effect of bloodflow through your guts on aim, and correct positioning of the sling on the upper arm reduces disturbance from the brachial artery.
** Average for a 40 year-old man is something like 70bpm according to http://www.topendsports.com/testing/heart-rate-resting-chart.htm but I've been running for few years now, which has had a significant effect.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

In sickness and in health?

I am pretty rarely ill. Aside from a couple of broken bones (right medial malleolus in a rock climbing accident and an RDI fracture of the left distal radius) and appendicitis as an eight year-old, I'm rarely out and out ill. I average one day off work every other year, give or take. As a result, I hate being ill and feel guilty about it when it does happen, particularly if I have to take time of work or training.

I'm currently ill with man 'flu and I hate it. I've been ill enough to have a sore throat, headaches and general cold-like symptoms but not so ill that I feel justified in taking time off work. So I'm left wondering what to do about training.

The question really asking here is; when should you say "to hell with it all, I am going to take time off  training"?

And the answer we're really going to get is "it depends".

In my case, I've laid off the phys and the cardio for most of this week; although I've possibly taken the cardio a teensy bit far in recent months, so laying off this is no bad thing anyway, even if just to give my legs' connective tissues a rest from being beaten into the pavement for 50+ miles each week. But this is all really a sideshow, what I would like to work out is when to take time off the important thing, the real deal; when to take time off shooting.

It's always going to be a judgement call: the training you have planned, the illness, the weather conditions, the distance to the nearest bathroom (really important in some cases). Yes, all are relevant factors but that said, to my mind they are all subservient to one thing; do you feel like going shooting? I think that I've already set out to address questions motivation and how the quality of training is just as important as the volume of training, so this is fundamental. In other words, if you don't want to go train or shoot and you don't think that you'll warm to the idea as you get into it, then don't waste your time. You'll probably just end up going through the motions and not putting quality time in, which is possibly worse than not putting time in at all.

Today, I'm taking the day off with man 'flu. Despite the offer of a day's shooting at 1,000 yards in autumn sunshine out on the East coast I'm lying in bed typing this having had a wonderful lie-in and not one, but two breakfasts in bed. I don't feel guilty in the slightest.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Bugger.

Decided to record my heart rate using my Garmin 225 watch during this evening's SCATT session as part of an experiment but must have accidentally deleted the session. Bugger. Will try again tomorrow.

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Temet Nosce

In the film The Matrix* Keanu Reeves' character, Neo, visits The Oracle for enlightenment and is pointed to a sign above the door to her kitchen which states "Temet Nosce". She proceeds to explain that it's Latin and means "know thyself", before delivering a homily on the power of knowing what you are capable of.

If you want to achieve things in  pretty much any sphere you need to know what you are capable of. Partially in terms of raw talent, but more so in terms of a realistic assessment of how much time and effort you are willing to put into your sport / work / hobby.

Occasionally, I've heard shooters make wistful comments along the lines of "I wish I could shoot as well as X. How do they do it?" or ""What is X's secret?" or even "I'd do anything to shoot like X." I've never had the temerity to ask how much they train or what they have done to try and emulate their heroes, but I'd be interested to have heard their responses. I suspect, but could not prove, that many people might want to achieve this level of performance but haven't made the connection yet between their wants and the demands of bridging the gap.

That said, I hope that there are many people who have examined themselves in this way and have been honest enough with themselves to admit that they either do not want it enough to put in the required level of effort, or that they want other things more, and can live with enjoying their shooting at they level they compete. There is no shame in taking enjoyment in playing in a sport at which you know you will never excel.

On a personal note, I'm getting back into the swing of things and, while not entirely hitting all of my process goals in my training, I'm making progress. Those eagle-eyed amongst you who have spotted that I've put up a training plan and started to track my training online will know that the cardio is approaching fine, I'm just about shooting enough SCATT and I've got out on to the range a couple of times recently; however I'm not really getting to grips with the phys yet.

I'm making this effort on the training front because despite the fact that I live in NZ, I feel like I can still shoot at a high enough level win medals at Commonwealth Games level wherein I have unfinished business. After some fast talking with my employer, it's looking a lot like the Army Open, BCRC, Imperial and potentially the WRA Open are on the cards for me in 2016. I'm going to the lengths of putting it on my blog because having published my training plan, I'd better try and stick to it or I'm going to look like a bit of an arse. Despite what Master Yoda may have to say on the matter, fear can be a powerful motivator.

In my case, I know my motivation for training and capability for sticking to my plan; however this is something you will also need to discover about yourself. You do need to be realistic though and understand what you are willing to put in, in order to get out what you want to get out. There's no point believing you can achieve great things if you know that you're not going to put the hours in to achieve them.

* For all its being derivative (start with the anime film The Ghost in the Shell and the classic cyberpunk novel Neuromancer) it's still my seventh favourite film, sandwiched in between Start Wars: Return of the Jedi and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

Friday, 11 March 2016

SCATT Games 1 - Feel the force

I have felt for a while now that just lying down and shooting on a SCATT under normal conditions is a really great start, but not necessarily the best use of such a versatile training tool. This season, to try and explore different ways of using my SCATT, I'm going to try some additional exercises to see what benefit they give.

One possibility came to me over the weekend while I was sanding and varnishing the front doorframe, which leaves my hands pleasantly occupied while allowing my mind time to think of other things. My idea was to establish my natural point of aim (NPA) and then shoot on a SCATT with my eyes closed to verify that I was actually shooting at the NPA and to allow me to focus on feeling my position rather than relying on a visual verification. Having given this some thought, the next thing to do was to set up the experiment.

Experimental Theory and Conditions
I decided that I would fire two sighters and then 10 shot group* under normal conditions to act as a control. I would then fire a second pair of sighters under normal conditions to re-establish my NPA and then fire a second 10 shot group, except that I would have my eyes closed from the start of the exhale phase through to shot release**. The core hypothesis of the experiment being that were my natual point of aim to coincide with the target with my eyes open, it should also correspond with the target with my eyes closed. Any deviation in the mean point of impact (MPI) for the two groups should be within the standard error of the MPI, otherwise my my NPA would clearly not be "natural".

To try and eliminate calibration and other errors, I fired the two sets of sighters and groups without breaking position. In this case I fired the normal group first, but when I rerun the experiment I'll shoot first with my eyes closed to eliminate order as a confounding effect. Also, I'll try control shoots where I keep eyes open for both shoots and closed for both shoots.

Results
As is clear from the two diagrams shown below, I need to work on my NPA! There is a difference of about 0.75moa horizontally and 0.75moa vertically between the two groups. I've not yet run the maths, but I think that when I do I'll find that the difference in zeroes is greater than the standard error of the group size.

Yes, I know. I used two slightly different targets by mistake. Damn.

Conclusions and Next Steps
While the result isn't quite as I had hoped, much more important is that I know have further knowledge about my shooting; information backed by data upon which I can act. The key actions I now know I need to take are: to repeat the experiment, to check that this is not simply the result of experimental error; but also to monitor improvement as I work on this aspect of my shooting.

Addendum; I hadn't really noticed that the eyes closed shoot had a much better shot release number. Now this could be because I was wobbling a bit less because I wasn'y unconsciously holding the rifle off the NPA, or it could just be chance. I'll have to do this a few more times to distinguish between the two possibilities.

* Yes, I know I should really be firing more shots that this (at least 30 to have some statistical validity) but it was the first time I tried the experiment and I'll repeat it a few

** My final shot sequence goes: Confirm NPA, breath in, breathe out to natural respiratory pause, confirm centering, take first stage, squeeze, bang, follow-through.

Saturday, 5 March 2016

On Failure

It has occured to me - in fact at least one person has actually asked me - that people might wonder why I write on my blog about the downs as well as the ups. After all sports psychology seems to indicate that talking about the bad stuff makes it more likely to happen, or even simply that it's bad marketing; after all I know for a fact that team selectors (or potential team selectors) for Wales and GB read this blog.

To my mind, there are three reasons: Firstly, if you don't recognise your failures then you're never going to address their causes except by blind luck; secondly, I don't like the image that some people try to project of flawless performance without effort, as I think that it's discouraging to less experienced and skilled shots; and finally, if you don't try something that you have a significantly probability of failing at, how are you ever going to know your limits?

I think that to get better you have to recognise your failures and learn from them. In this, I significantly disagree with many books on the psychology of shooting ("With Winning in Mind" by Lanny Bassham, for example, which is otherwise a superb book) which tend to recommend that you don't think about your failures or write them down in your diary. What you think about is what you produce, after all. In my daily work as a manager of large, complex projects post mortems are an utterly vital mechanism for improvement; where mistakes, errors of judgement, communications issues and plain old-fashioned cockups are talked through in a dispassionate, learning-driven way to reduce the likelihood of us doing the same thing again next time. By talking about my mistakes as well as successes I want to make failure "discussible", an accepted topic of conversation with a view to learning from those mistakes.

Just as importantly, I want my writing to help other people get better at shooting. I have been fortunate enough to have a great deal of support from my wife, family, friends, coaches and team managers; my contribution is to share what I have learned and how I have learned it, and a lot of those lessons have been built up from one or a series of SNAFUs, disasters, irritations and errors. Inevitably, you're going to get it wrong sometimes, be it in terms of technique, training or the wind, so you may as well learn what you can and move on. Don't imagine that any successes I've had in shooting have come without a lot of hard work. I know that there are people who appear to achieve great results without the hard work, but that ignores the hard work that they have already put in to give them the ability to perform at that level. By ignoring the effort and errors that have gone into producing success, we're

The great Lazarus Lake*, founder of the Berkley Marathons, which are often considered to be the hardest ultramarathon** in the world*** said of them "We have a lot of really educated people. Most of them are people who are very successful. They like challenges. They're used to succeeding and they are not afraid to try something that they'll probably fail." I recently ran my first ultra pretty much to find out if I could move 50 miles on foot at a stretch on a single day. I was pretty sure I could do it, but didn't know that I would do it. It was quite hard and I nearly dropped at 10 miles, but I made it through. Shooting is a little different to running, but the same kinds of ideas apply; how do you know how good you can be if you don't try and push your limits a little. Shooting under difficult conditions - high winds, rain, heat - are more likely to cause you to 'fail' for want of a better word, but if you approach it in the right frame of mind then it will make you a better shooter.

As for senior people in the world of shooting reading this blog and making judgments about me as a result. Yes, I'm sure that will happen and sometimes those judgments may be negative. On the other had, it really comes down to results and attitude: all of our competition scores are in the public domain, and I think my writing demonstrates my attitude. I still have designs on Palma Teams and the Commonwealth Games, make no mistake.

* No, I don't think that's his real name either.

** An ultramarathon is any footrace longer than the marathon distance of 26.2 miles / 42.2 kilometres. Practically, the shortest distance considered to be ultra is 50k; however single-stage races of 50k, 50m/80k, 100k and 100m are reasonably common. There are a small number of single-stage races over 100 miles, such as the Badwater Ultramarathon, which runs from the lowest point in the contiguous US (Lone Pine, Death Valley) to the highest (Mount Witney).

** The Berkley Marathons require simply that you complete 5 circuits of a 20 mile course in under 12 hours for each circuit around a hilly Tennessee backwoods. That's moving at under 2 miles per hour, which is a pretty average walking pace. Should be easy, right? Wrong. Under 1% of people who line up at the start make the finish line, with no one even completing the race in many years. It's not a race that you just rock up at the start of either, many of the guys and gals who enter the Berkley are the elite of the ultradistance world who can run 100 kilometres at a faster pace than you could keep up for 5k. Watch this video if you want a flavour of the race.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

The importance of "talent" in fullbore

There is a question which has been bothering me for a while; how important is raw talent in rifle shooting? To put it another way, are rifle shooters born or are they made?

Certainly in other sports, such as sprinting and distance running, 'talent' is indisputably a major factor. In running distances from 5,000 metres up to the marathon the most critical capabilities are: to be able to develop a high VO2max, that being the degree to which an individual is able to take up and utilise oxygen from the air to produce energy in the muscles; have a high proportion of slow twitch muscle fibres; and to have slender, tapered arms and legs*. These are traits which to a very large degree are driven by genetics, a.k.a. Talent. In the case of vO2max, there is good scientific evidence to support the degree to which it will improve given a stimulus**. If you don't have the right combination of genes you are not going to be challenging Mo Farah in the 10,000 metres any time soon ever. To put this in context, the USA with a population of 250m has in its entire history produced precisely 10 men capable of running 26.2 miles in under 2 hours and 10 minutes. The Kalenjin tribe of Kenya and surrounding countries, who number about 4.9m people all told, produced 32 individuals who did it in the month of October 2011 alone.

Returning to shooting, I'm pretty sure that if I asked random British shooters to name the greatest TR shooters of our era then the likes of DCL, PMP, DCC and GCDB would come up pretty regularly. (If you're not from the UK, the please feel free to substitute NT, MG, SG or KR from the US, AH from the RSA, JC from Aussie, MC or RG from NZ etc... etc...) Many of these shooters showed a great deal of promise from a relatively early age, which tends to suggest that some form of talent may be important.

By way of contrast, in fullbore rifle shooting it is clearly noticeable that the products of certain schools such as Gresham's, Uppingham and some dump in Surrey that shall remain nameless, as well as former members of specific ATC and ACF units, tend to predominate when it comes to major competition wins and GB representation. This is most easily explained by skilled and enthusiastic cadet SSIs, officers and shooting instructors inspiring young cadets to take up shooting, and then training them to do the right thing the right way.


Uppingham Veterans RC Team. All World Champions trained by the great SJP.


I would conjecture that unlike, say, running which can be reduced to a relatively small number of variables, there seem to be many traits which would make you a good rifle shooter each of which would contribute in a relatively minor way, so it is correspondingly less likely that any one person would have a sufficient preponderance of all of those traits to have an overwhelming advantage. To illustrate this point, when people hear that I shoot they tend to ask if I have particularly steady hands or paricularly good eyesight. I don't think I have either of these: the jacket and sling do the work for me, and I am both shortsighted and astigmatic. When considering quality of eyesight, a certain winner of HM Queen's Prize has the idiosyncratic nickname "Blind Pew".

Harvey "Blind" Pew GM
I can certainly think of a number of additional arguments and counter-arguments in this debate, and a definitive answer is not going to be forthcoming; however if I were to have to venture an opinion, then I would probably state my beliefs thus: A degree of talent probably does help in shooting but not so much that a sufficiently determined individual cannot achieve great things through hard work alone.

* Yes, really. It's to do with the ability to move them quickly owing to lower mass per unit length and the efficiency with which they dissipate heat.

** Bouchard C, Sarzynski MA, Rice TK, Kraus WE, Church TS, et al. (2011) Genomic predictors of the maximal O2 uptake response to standardized exercise training programs. J Appl Physiol 110: 1160–1170; and Skinner JS, Jaskolski A, Jaskolska A, Krasnoff J, Gagnon J, et al. (2001) HERITAGE Family Study. Age, sex, race, initial fitness, and response to training: the HERITAGE Family Study. J Appl Physiol 90: 1770–1776

Friday, 12 February 2016

Welcome to Trentham

The title of the post comes from the phrase that I probably heard repeated the most during my week down at the Kiwi Nationals in Upper Hutt at the start of January. The wind during the week ranged from benign through moderately difficult to utterly fearsome. Whenever I came off the firing point with a shellshocked look, having been freshly mullered by the ever-shifting, swirling airflow out it came, 'Welcome to Trentham!'

From the sublime... (I won this 500x shoot)
Possibly the only thing worse than starting a shoot with a hit scoring 1 to count is starting and finishing with bullseyes only to get a succession of four consecutive outers alternating either side of the aiming mark only just shy of the magpie line somewhere in between. I managed both of these during the week! Suffice it to say that as I didn't pick up any misses, I would have been in for a shout at the late, great John Lord Swansea's Corporation Insurance. By way of contrast, the only thing that made it bearable was the fact the everyone else got theirs at some point too (my score of 32ish was "surpassed" by one Kiwi multiple Commonwealth Games medallist.)

...to the ridiculous. I wasn't the only one who got creamed.
All in all, I actually shot reasonably well with the exception of one 600x shoot in tricky winds where a couple of loose shots turned what would have been a creditable (given the conditions) 48 or 49 into a rather lacklustre 46. I also made some good decisions, including one 900x shoot where I got up after my third to count - before I made a total Horlicks of the whole thing - and completely reset my position, getting a significantly higher score than I suspect I would have done otherwise. There are some positives to take away from my week down there, but it's clear that not putting in the hours that I have done over the past few years prevented me from making more of an impact. Once I've got my upcoming ultramarathon - The Hillary Trail Run - out of the way, I'll get back to the SCATT and the visualisation. Aerobic fitness really is not a problem at the moment.