The Goal

The Goal

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.