The Goal

The Goal

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.