The Goal

The Goal

Saturday, 2 September 2017

Imperial 2017 Retrospective

It has taken a while for me to get around to writing up my range report from the 2017 Imperial Meeting; a mixture of inertia, general business at work and taking a brief break from training before getting stuck back in got in the way. It's a lovely, lazy but rainy Sunday afternoon here in Laingholm with a roast in the oven and a small glass of red* next to me as I write, so it seemed like a good time to look back on how things went and where I have to go next. To summarise: I got done what I needed to get done, but still have a decent amount of work to do in the lead up to the Commonwealth Shooting Federation Championships in November and hopefully the Commonwealth Games in April 2018.

In recent years, it has been my technique and scoring at short range that has driven my aggregate positions; however this year it was a bit different. I seemed to be able to hold a reasonable group at short, but kept on sneaking them out the sides. Although the wind was tricky at times I have a sneaking suspicion that I had been helping them occasionally.

Century 600x. Elevation was mostly OK, but the wind wasn't that hard.
By contrast my long range worked very well and I dropped few points over the hill, which pulled me up nicely in the aggregates and I managed to win the Palma Aggregate only two points down, beating DC by a few vee bulls.

Corporation 1000x. Wind was slightly harder that the graph implies, but not by much.
By the end of the meeting, I had achieved what I needed to. I didn't deliver anything spectacular, but I did come away with 20th in the Grand Aggregate albeit after a rather disappointing 71.7 in the Prince of Wales where every decision I made on the wind appeared to be wrong (I had worked my way up to 4th by that point.) I made up for this minor debacle by shooting 105.15 in Queen's I and, while my 146.16 in Queen's II left the possibility of an MCS in doubt, the conditions on the Saturday were benign enough that I put in a 149.15 in the final to leave me with a Commonwealth Games MCS of 400.46

Job done.

Queen's III 900x - Shot values rewritten in pen as far as possible because the card got soaked.

Queen's III 1000x - Elevation not quite so good as 900x but good enough. If shot 10 had gauged in, I would have top-scored in the final.
The heroes of the meeting were, of course, my legendary pardner CJW who took away the Grand Aggregate (not a bad effort for a man who claims to be better at a sprint than the marathon) along with PMP who finally won his first Queen's Prize. Other notable results included Great Britain's 21st consecutive win in the Kolapore; although the only time I can see this run being broken is perhaps when the Palma Match returns to Bisley in about a decade's time**; without enough teams with enough strength in depth it is hard to envisage someone surpassing the team's professional approach and ability to select from the broadest group of eligible shooters. By contrast Wales were not able to repeat our winning National Match performance from 2016 and England once again dominated.

CJW GC #Legend
It was a good year, a good meeting. The only real regrets I have from it are that Katrina and the kids weren't able to join me, and that I didn't seem to get more than two minutes with anyone I wanted to catch up with.

* Fickle Mistress, a Pinot Noir from Central Otago.
** My apologies to the 2018 Kolapore Captain if I just jinxed you.

Saturday, 26 August 2017

Thoughts on the role of the Wing Officer

This year, for the first time ever, I received in my squadding a special duty as a Wing Officer. I will admit under no duress whatsoever that I was rather pleased at this, as I have always rather naively perceived it as being one of the marks of elderhood on Bisley common. I had remarked as such to my friend HP shortly before the start of my stint during the first stage of the St. George's, and was overheard by well-known rifle shot and bon viveur DFPR.

Wing Officer on duty. Has power over the very fabric of space and time.
Our conversation went something like this:

"Is it your first ever time as a Wing Officer?"

"Yes! I'm rather looking forward to it. I get to wander around the range chatting to my friends for an hour or two and watch some shooting."

"Well there is that, but you know that you could have to completely ruin someone's holiday?"

I did not give this comment the serious consideration it was due and replied rather flippantly "Yes, so don't give me any of your crap R_______!"

Once I had excused my crass attempt at humour, we went on to discuss the very real possibility that I might have to make a ruling which could remove a significant number of points from a shooter's score. The most immediate situation I could think of was when a shooter had been unreasonably given a miss when they had previously been shooting bullseyes and no obvious cross shot had been observed; something which has happened to me on several occasions over the years, and which also happened to one competitor three times during the 2017 Imperial Meeting. Almost inevitably, the competitor is going to ask that the Wing Officer gets involved and, because of the rules regarding additional shots being awarded, it is also extremely common that the Chief Range Officer is asked to make a ruling.

DFPR's point went far beyond mere interpretation of the rules though, he remarked "Anyone can tell you what the rules are. The role requires experience and a deep sympathy for the shooter.*"

While I am in sympathy with the first statement but do not completely agree with it, I wholeheartedly endorse the second. In contrast to the bondage and discipline nature of the ISSF rulebook, which attempts to legislate every situation and aspect of the conduct of shooting, the philosophy underpinning the rules of fullbore rifle relies on the spirit of sportsmanship and good competition; an approach which necessitates interpretation of the rules by the Competitor Range Officer, Wing Officer and Chief Range Officer. In order for informed rulings to be made, the hierarchy need to know the rules; however for reasonable and just decisions to be made they also need to be enlightened by a sense of empathy and justice.

* A philosophy completely ignored by the Committee of Appeal at the Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games, but that's a story for another day.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Belmont Range Report - Watch for the Drop Offs!

As I have previously noted, all rifle ranges have their quirks, so it's always a good idea to go and have a bit of a pop before you go and do anything serious on a particular range. As it had been nearly six years since I'd last had a crack at Belmont during the 2011 World Long Range Championships, I decided that it would be worthwhile to pop over with the NZ Commonwealth Games squad and have a shoot there to get my eye in. It proved a worthwhile venture.

Belmont Range, Brisbane. The terminal on the right connects to the HEXTA electronic target system.
After a bit of a logistical cockup with the course of fire to be shot alongside the Aussies, I was going to be a Queen's I short of a full HMQPCOF. Fortunately I was able to enter the short range of the Natives' Rifle Club Championships on the Saturday. Shot on the superb HEXTA electronic targets* in fairly benign conditions, it was a nicely gentle reintroduction to the range. I was pleased to slot them all in, even if the conditions weren't massively challenging, mostly requiring only a bit of centering and the occasional change.

300x - Not a bad start. The HEXTA electronics worked well also.

500x - Keeping it together well, and still sheltered from the wind.

600x - Ignore shots 8, 9 & 10 as they were tacked on the end using CWG ammunition.
After my arrival, I'd found out that the Commonwealth Games ammunition was available in the Q Store; albeit at a rather steep AUD47 per 20 rounds. I picked up a box so I could see how it would go and was able to tack a few rounds on the end of my shoot at 600 yards. It seemed to group OK, although about 1/2 minute lower than my Optimus 155 handloads**.

With the third round of the Australia Cup not taking place until the Monday, I'd get to have a day off with the family; we had rented a place down in Broadbeach on the Gold Coast which backed on to the beautiful golden sandy beach. In addition to being a shooting holiday and a chance to refresh my memory of the conditions on the range, it was a treat for Katrina who would be celebrating her birthday on the Tuesday. We spent the Sunday morning on the beach, before heading over to one of the many amusement parks clustered around the area.

Heading up to the range on the Monday morning for an 08:30 start, it was clear that the conditions were going to be a bit tougher; I could see the flags standing proud from their poles as I drove along Old Cleveland Road, although they were mostly coming from between 1 and 2 o'clock. It was looking like angle could be more important than strength if it started to mix it up.

300x went well.

500x continued in much the same vein.

600x finished well, but no idea what happened to that second sighter.
In the event, we were tucked over on the right hand side of the range. Coupled with the dip in the range and some tree cover, this minimised the effect of changes at 300x and 500x; however back at 600x a careful eye was needed to avoid the occasional wind change which could have taken a shot out of the very tight bullseye. I was delighted to put them all in with solid vee counts at all three ranges to take the highest score on the range by a couple of vee bulls.

While the shorts had gone well, it was obvious that the long ranges in the afternoon were going to be a bit trickier. The wind didn't look like it was dying down and the bullet would be much more exposed to the wind with the additional elevation from both the range to target and the rising backslope in the back half of the range.

900x sensible group, just losing a couple out the sides to small wind errors.

1000x acceptable group, but one poor shot and a major wind error.
In the event, 900x went reasonably well and I lost only a couple of points to minor wind errors; it was nowhere near as difficult as I had feared might be the case; however 1000x would be much more taxing. Even though the angle of the wind kept the numbers relatively low, angle and strength changes produced a couple of big dropoffs during the shoot and several of us got caught for magpies and outers. Having dropped 6 points in aggregate by shot #5 I needed to go clean for my remaining ten shots to achieve an MCS. I successfully navigated a second big drop off but I let a slightly slack shot go, possibly as a result of my trying to get them away quickly to avoid another change in the aim and picked up a 4 for my 12th to count, taking an MCS with it. I stuck the final three shots in the bull to end up on 398.47, a single point short of the magical 399 score.

While I didn't quite achieve my goal, I did shoot well; particularly well at short range; and there is much for me to be pleased with. I've also now got some of the CWG ammunition back in NZ to make a few measurements, establish some zeroes and check that my rifle will group at 1000x when using it. Massive thanks must go to Malcolm Dodson, Brian Carter, John Snowden, Rob Johansen and Bevan Mehrtens from the NZ CWG Squad, but most particularly to Kim Ologhlen from the Natives Rifle Club for sorting me out secure storage for my rifle and gear, and allowing me to go slightly off-piste with my course of fire during the Natives RC short range.

Kim Ologhlen from the Natives Rifle Club. A top bloke.
Well, in conclusion I've left myself some work still to do; however I've got further opportunities to shoot minimum consideration scores between now and November, and my preparations for the 2017 Imperial Meeting are looking solid. If you're going to be around on Bisley Camp for the TR meeting, I'll see you then.

 * Yes, I was nice about electronic targets. I'll cover this off in a future article.
 ** RWS Cases, Fed 210 Match Primer, 155 grain HBC Optimus bullet loaded 40 thou off the lands, with 46.5grains ADI AR2008.

Friday, 9 June 2017

Shooting Jackets III, The Saga Continues

In previous posts I have shared my view on shooting jackets - What Have Shooting Jackets Ever Done for Us, and The Trouble With Jackets - I've dealt with some of the issues that I have endured over the past decade during which I have shot moderately well; however by way of a stunning irony my lovely new Kurt Thune jacket has arrived and doesn't fit.

The quality of the workmanship was otherwise superb and the materials suitably durable but however comfortable it failed in the very essence of being a shooting jacket in that it did not provide support in the right places and to the appropriate degree. After some head scratching from the folks who fitted the jacket, it looked like a manufacturing error had left the jacket with too much material in one shoulder, allowing the jacket to slide round when in the aim. It has gone back to the manufacturer; full review to follow when it returns.

In the meantime, let us step forward in time to shortly before the second of the two trials described in Trials and Tribulations. After the first set of long range shoots, it became clear that I was going to have issues at the longer ranges, where errors get magnified exponentially.

Just about held it together at 900x. A good score if not a great group.

I'd love to claim those as wind shots at 1000x but really it's mostly just a big group. Things fell apart, I didn't hold the centre.

After some thought, and a bit of a run around the block I decided extreme measures were required. I stopped in at a sewing shop in Upper Hutt and bought myself some needles and thread, and did the needful. I had heard say about running a line of stitches up the back of a jacket to take up some of the slack before, but had never tried it myself...

Stitch line running up the back of the jacket.

Close up view of my crap seamstressing, seamstressness... sewing.

Now I'm not going to claim that everything is now perfect; however pre-modifications I was just about able to touch my elbows together wearing the jacket* and this was not possible after; it also feels suitable snug, without the uncomfortable feeling of tightness. It is no coincidence also that I shot just as tight at short range, but considerably tighter at the longs.

After a bit more playing back at home on the SCATT, I put a line of stitches in the left shoulder to close things up a bit further.

Butchery. But functional butchery.
Where I am now is that I have a jacket that I would be confident with in going out and shooting SCATT; a high-level competition; a trial. With an extended trip to Belmont Range Complex next weekend** watch this space.

* This is a rough test for the fit of a jacket. Stand up, bend your elbows at 90 degrees and hold your arms in front of you so your upper arm is parallel to the ground. Squeeze your elbows together. If you can get closer than about 10cm / 4 inches of touching then the jacket is too big.

** This is, of course, assuming that the Queensland firearms licensing team and/or NZ Postal Service get me the documentation back in time.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Wind - Near or Far?

One of the questions which comes up occasionally on internet boards and which can cause a bit of consternation is whether greater allowance should be made for wind conditions nearer the shooter or nearer the target. A surprising number of people believe that the wind nearer the target will have a greater effect, after all the bullet is going much more slowly when it gets to the other end.

Let's look the ballistics of a shot fired by a target rifle shooter on a flat, open range with a 10 mile per hour crosswind from 3 o'clock. (S)he is using ammunition with an old-style Sierra 155 HPBT bullet (part number 2155) with an average real-world BC of 0.417 (vid. Brian Litz's superb experimental data) which achieves a muzzle velocity of 2925fps*. Using the JBM Ballistics page, we get the following results:

Range Muzzle 100x 200x 300x 400x 500x 600x 700x 800x 900x 1000x
Velocity / fps 2925 2711 2505 2306 2117 1937 1764 1596 1443 1307 1193
Wind Drift / Inches 0 0.7 2.9 6.8 12.7 20.7 31.2 44.6 61.4 81.8 106.1
Time Elapsed / s 0 0.107 0.222 0.347 0.482 0.630 0.793 0.972 1.169 1.388 1.629

EDIT: The tables in the figures are now correct! I transposed the times of flight from the 1307fps muzzle velocity calculation onto the data for the 2925fps calculation.

We see that the last 300 yards account for more than 50% of the wind difference. Clearly the wind closer to the target is more important, right?

Not so fast!

I was taught that the wind closer to the shooter has a greater importance, and the various books I've read tend to agree on this point. My experience on most rifle ranges tends to agree; although there are notable exceptions. Let's perform a thought experiment:

Scenario 1 - The same shooter fires a shot on the same flat, open range at a target 1000 yards away. For the first 900 yards, the air is perfectly still. In the final 100 yards, there is a 10mph/16kph wind running at 90 degrees to the line of flight. We know that the wind drift will be zero for the first 900 yards; however we need to calculate what the drift will be in the final 100 yards, which we can do using the ballistic calculator. Using the results from the JBM ballistics page the bullet will be going about 1307fps at 900 yards. Re-entering this value as the muzzle velocity allows us to calculate what the wind will be over the final 100 yards of the range.

Range Muzzle 100x
Velocity 1307 1193
Wind Drift / Inches 0 1.9

This gives us a total effect of about 1.9 inch or 0.2MOA from the perspective of the shooter 1000 yards away, which is roughly equivalent to the contribution of the final 100 yards to our hypothetical shooter's first shot; therefore the wind in the last 100 yards accounts for only 2% of the total deviation.

It would be interesting to know, by way of contrast, how much wind the first 100 yards would account for. To understand this, let us return to our hypothetical shooter:

Scenario 2 - Our shooter fires another shot at a target 1000 yards away; however this time for the first 100 yards, there is a 10mph/16kph wind running at 90 degrees to the line of flight. In the remaining 900 yards, the air is perfectly still. What will the deflection of the bullet be? We know from our original calculation that the bullet will have drifted about 0.7 inches in the first hundred yards.

This is where is gets interesting. Even though there is no longer any wind, the bullet will continue to move sideways even as it flies downrange because of Newton's 1st Law of Motion**. Thanks once again to Sir Isaac, we can estimate the sideways velocity of the bullet as it transitions from the windy 100 yards into the remaining, still 900 yards; and therefore the total deviation.

If we calculate the acceleration on the bullet over the first 100 yards given the known displacement and time of flight, we can then calculate its sideways velocity at the end of the 100 yards. The bullet will continue to travel sideways at this velocity as it flies down the range, but no faster because there is no more wind.

Following a series of calculations, I make this about 20.6 inches*** however because of errors in assumptions this could be as much as twice the actual contribution. Even so, it is between 5 and 10 times the effect of the wind nearest the target.

Hopefully I've provided a reasonable argument that as a general rule, the wind nearer the muzzle has a greater effect than the wind nearer the target on a flat, open range; however ranges are not always (often?) flat or open in the real world!

Clevedon rifle range is situated just outside Auckland, lies between a series of low hills, and points towards a ridge with several deep ravines leading down to the butts. Particularly at 600 yards, the flags closer to the butts appear to have a greater effect than the ones closest to the firing point. While it is entirely possible that we are mistaken in this; I and other club members think that the funneling effect from the ravines coupled with the shelter of the hills alongside the range leads to this rather odd observation.

The 500x point on Clevedon rifle range near Auckland. Not flat or open!
Indeed, most ranges have their own quirks which must be learned: it is for this reason that top-level teams frequently send advance parties to recce ranges the year before major championships, the Palma Match in particular. I have no doubt that GB, the US and other teams will be sending shooters and coaches to New Zealand to learn the inimitable character of the mighty, frustrating and rewarding Trentham Rifle range.

* This is roughly equivalent to RUAG or GGG.
** A body will remain in constant motion unless an unbalanced force acts on that body.
*** Actually, it will be a bit less because of wind resistance but this is going to be reasonably close.

Addendum - Scenario 2 Calculations
To calculate the acceleration due to the wind on the bullet, let's use one of Newton's equations of motion...

s = ut + 1/2 at^2

  • s = sideways displacement of 0.7 inches
  • u = initial sideways velocity of 0 (the bullet isn't moving sideways when it exits the bore)
  • a = acceleration that we want to calculate
  • t = time elapsed of 0.107s
s = 1/2 a t^2

2s = at^2

a = 2s / t^2

a = 2 * 0.7 / 0.107^2

a =  122.1 inches per second ^ 2

Using this acceleration and the time of flight for the first 100 yards, we can calculate the sideways velocity of the bullet at the end of the 100 yards.

v = at

  • a = Acceleration of 122.1 inches per second ^ 2
  •  t = 0.107 seconds
v = 13.1 inches per second

We can calculate the total wind drift by adding to the 0.7 inches of drift in the first hundred yards the sideways drift over the next 900 resulting from this velocity.

s = 0.7 + 5.8 x (3.158 - 0.241)

s = 20.6 inches

NB - There are two limitations that I can think of to this: Firstly, this discounts wind resistance; and secondly, the acceleration on the bullet will reduce as it approaches the wind velocity. Both of these will tend to over-estimate the effect. By applying a similar calculation to the whole 1000 yard range it is possible to see that the over-estimate is at worst 100%.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Trials and Tribulations

The process of actually getting to go to the Commonwealth Games is a long and often frustrating one; even after you have notionally been selected by your NGB*, there may be a whole host of other criteria to be fulfilled and indeed as one person once put it to me: you're not 100% sure until you're sitting on the plane waiting to take off. You need to convince them that you're capable of a medal-winning performance on the day.

I cannot speak for the other countries involved in The Games, whose selection processes may involve anonymous committees in smoke-filled rooms and the reading of entrails following the ritual sacrifice of small animals for all I know**; however Team Wales, the WTSF and the WRA jointly have a fairly straightforward approach, which can be summarised from the point of view of an athlete thus:
  1. Do lashings and lashings of individual and pairs training
  2. Come in the top 2 in the nominated ranking events
  3. Shoot as many minimum consideration scores as humanly possible, preferably during competitions involving other CWG-level athletes, whom you beat during the process
There is considerably more to the formal procedure than this from the point of the NGB, but this gets to the heart of what you actually need to do and can control in order to get selected. My legendary pardner CJW and I have achieved #2, have solid plans in place for #1, and are both working on #3. Unfortunately #3 involves shooting a total of 399 out of 405 for a full HM Queen's Prize course of fire, which is no mean feat; doubly so when you live in a country where no one ever shoots a full HMQPCOF. Fortunately, I also live in a country of fine, upstanding people who are willing to muck in and help out a fellow rifle shooter in need; and, to cut a long story short, I've been shooting alongside the NZ CWG ranking events which do involve shooting the full course of fire.

Fast forward to last week, when I got to spend a wonderful four days down at Trentham trying to shoot an MCS while simultaneously not cocking up anyone else's shoot. At this point enormous thanks are due to a moderate-sized cast of people who helped out by ROing, butt marking, logistics etc... etc... So 'nuff respect*** to Kevin Win, Tony Gore, Andre Doyle, Vic and Jared McMurdo of HotloadeD Kiwi fame, Eben Fourie, Darryl Crow, John McLaren, Brian Carter, John Snowden, Bevan Mehrtens, Malcolm Dodson, John Whiteman, Geoff Smith, Rob Johansen, Rick Fincham, Allen Owens, Henry Firmston, and all the others who helped out and made things run super-smoothly.

The downside is that I didn't get an MCS; I managed two 396s. Boo! The upside is that I did have some excellent groups and only one dodgy shoot. Yay!

35.6 at 300x in Trial 2
35.7 at 500x in Trial 1. Bring it.
35.6 at 600x in Trial 1. Tough to get on 600x ICFRA targets.

On the other hand, the second of my 396s would have been a 401 (and therefore a minimum consideration score by 2 clear points) had I not carelessly placed one of my shots on an adjacent target at 900 yards. Boo!

Shot #12 rather spoiled the look of the thing.

While I didn't ultimately get the result that I wanted out of the weekend, it was a really worthwhile exercise now that I have some emotional distance on the crossed shot: I got to shoot two full courses of fire with top flight shooters; had some great results; have confirmed that my brand new jacket does not fit; have confirmed that the tweaks I have made to my old jacket have helped; and it is clear to me that I can (still) shoot the groups and scores required. Roll on June, when I'll hopefully get a chance to shoot a full course of fire on Belmont Range in Australia, the 2018 Gold Coast CWG venue.

* National Governing Body. It actually may not be entire clear who your NGB is, or indeed there may be more than one body you need to satisfy during the process.
** You know who you are.
*** I may be up to date on shooting terminology, but my chat dates from the mid-90's.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

The Trouble with Jackets

If there is one bit of kit which seems to present more problems than any other, and certainly the one about which I get the most questions, it is that of shooting jackets. Other things seems to be much more of a science: rifles are pretty well understood*; spotting scopes themselves are fairly easy, and positioning a mere matter of trial and error; mats ditto; hats a personal preference but still fairly hard to get wrong; gloves ditto. By way of contrast, nothing but nothing seems to be so perversely difficult to get right as obtaining and maintaining a properly-fitting jacket. Unfortunately, this is one area where I definitely do not have all of the answers.

My personal bugbear in this regard is that I appear simply to require that I get a new custom-fitted jacket made every two to three years, or at the very least have my existing jacket retailored. This is expensive and a logistical pain in the arse. I have mentioned problems I have had with jackets in other posts but that was really the result of a one-off change in my body shape; what I'm really referring to in this post is what I shall term jacket fatigue.

Understanding that you need a new jacket or that your existing jacket needs a spruce up is only the start! Tales abound of recut jackets fitting even worse, and the sheer worry of sending off your order to Switzerland or Finland with the best part of 500 quid spent only to get something entirely unusable back drives many to despair. Believe it; it happens.

Why, Dear God, why is it so hard?

Shooting jackets must fit well across the shoulders and the backs of the arms to allow proper position and relaxation of the supporting arm as well as consistent positioning of the sling. Tension in this arm, or a sling which gradually slides down, pulling the jacket with it, is not a recipe for top notch accuracy. Even if you are able to maintain a good hold and release for individual shots, the shifting position will also shift your natural point of aim, which is very likely also to shift your point of impact.

Shot with a jacket which allowed the sling to slip. Each individual shot is good, with low trace and release numbers but the overall group is shoddy because of inconsistent NPA.

Firstly, jackets wear and stretch over time: Even the best materials are slowly distorted by the forces imposed on them during shooting. Secondly, our bodies also change in shape over time**. I have both lost and subsequently redistributed weight, but others will gain it or will change shape in other ways because of exercise, injury, illness or the aging process.

Possibly more than this, at least in fullbore where serious coaching may be a rare commodity, shooters don't always know as much as they might about how it is that jackets actually fit and commit a variety of misdeeds. I've certainly been guilty of this in the past and one of the only upsides to having to go get refitted every so often is that I learn more each time. Chief among these crimes is the idea that the jacket should fit as tightly as possible, most particularly in the padded shoulder, whose straps are cinched to twanging point. While this is an occasionally-useful hack to make an oversize jacket work, it is not really a sustainable solution and can result in further stretching and distortion.

Note the straps in the right shoulder have taken up the slack, but aren't so tight as to completely distort the fit of the jacket.

While I'm hesitant to give hard recommendations on this issue because I seem to have so many issues with it personally and I'm not going to recommend a particular brand or style of jacket because all of them can be made to work if they fit appropriately, a few of the lessons I have learned are:

When buying a new jacket...

1. Take the time to get jacket fitting right - Jackets are very expensive and even more so when they don't work because of time taken to get them sorted, wasted training hours etc...

2. Don't necessarily expect it to fit perfectly first time - I have been fairly lucky in this regard so far**, as only 1 of the jackets I ever had just outright didn't fit. It was still an expensive experiment and wasted a year of my time before I got it sorted. Friends, particularly females, have sometimes had serious issues in getting jackets fitted correctly. This seems to be more of an issue in ladies with an impressive decolletage.

3. Think about a local supplier who can make alterations - When #2 is an issue, you're going to need to get it recut. If at all possible, find someone local to fit it to you who can make minor tweaks to the fit as this will save a long lead time if your jacket is made abroad. I recognise that this may not always be possible.

4. Consider whether your existing jacket just needs a refit - Sometimes there's nothing really wrong with the old jacket that some new pads and a bit of a recut won't sort out. Many shooters out there run with the same jacket for many, many years before needing a new one. (Just not me, apparently.)

5. Do not get rid of your old jacket - A well-known shooter and former world champion of my personal acquaintance got a new jacket (supposedly an upgrade) and proceeded to have a miserable season; however because he still had his old jacket available, he was able to swap back and saw his scores climb back up to what they had been previously.

6. Buy your jacket at the end of the season so you have the winter to get used to it and have time to sort out any logistical cockups. Ordering a new jacket to arrive the week before the Nationals is not a risk-free exercise.

More generally...

7. Jacket fit is driven by bodyweight and body shape. Most of you will change in your body weight but relatively little in shape once you're in your twenties; however be aware that major changes in lifestyle can effectively change your bodyshape semi-permanently***.

8. The jacket doesn't need to be as tight as you can possibly fit into; it should be snug but allow you to breathe. The fit across the shoulders is more important.

9. Do NOT have the straps in the right shoulder as tight as they will go because this will tend to loosen the jacket in the opposite shoulder.

10. If you find your SCATT tracelengths increasing, or if you find you have to adjust your position during a shoot with your groups enlarging as a result then your jacket may be coming out of fit.

In summary, buying a jacket can be expensive, difficult and time-consuming. My suggestions above do not in any way guarantee success because jacket fit is an art not a science; however I'm hoping that they may reduce the frustration a little.

* Although I admit that stock fit can sometimes present a few issues.

** Hold this thought, I'm in the process of having a new Kurt Thune Prone 600 jacket made at the moment. Review to follow.

*** Try going from no significant exercise in over a decade to running 60+ miles per week. That ought to do it.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Getting the message out there...

One of the things that the ultra trail running community does so well is showing the beauty and difficulty of their sport through social media. YouTube channels like The Ginger Runner and Billy Yang Films produce exciting and often inspiring videos about running and runners; sometimes about the elite of the sport but occasionally talking about midpackers like me.

By way of contrast, it's probably fair to say that shooting has a bit of an image problem; in the UK it's rare that we get any kind of positive coverage in mainstream media despite the Great Britain Rifle Team's numerous successes at World Championship and Commonwealth level. Fullbore is also not an Olympic sport and relationships with the ISSF disciplines can be strained and dismissive at times. The lack of public awareness of our sport is reinforced by an unsympathetic media and dubious briefings and policies released by police and civil service authorities; it can be a little difficult to be positive about the future of our sport.

Bearing this in mind, it is absolutely fantastic to see the recent series of videos being made by the GB rifle team and released on their Facebook page. Parag, Kelvin, Matty and everyone else are doing a great job of showing our sport in a positive light; and I look forward to seeing more footage from the tour in the coming weeks.

Friday, 10 March 2017

SCATT Games 2 - Don't Chase the Aim

During the 2016 Imperial Meeting I got chatting to my Australian friend AP in the bar of the Surrey RA at Bisley; he has shot fullbore internationally, won a few competitions here and there, and has shot 600 in ISSF 300mtr so he knows what he's about. We talked about family, my move to New Zealand, stuff; the kind of things that people talk about when they don't see each other for 51 weeks of the year but pick up right where they left off.

But in the course of our conversation, we got on to the subject of sight picture and in particular not getting too fussy about it. The key point was that if your position is reasonably good and you've arranged yourself so the natural point of aim coincides with the centre of the target, then there's no point trying to chase the perfect sight picture. If it feels comfortable and close to the middle, get the shot away.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Feel* it. Whack it.

This is a useful skill to have, especially on ranges like Trentham where the wind can change very rapidly indeed, as it allows the shooter to employ a broader range of tactics for dealing with the wind**; however this takes a great deal of confidence. A simple exercise he recommended to build more confidence in your ability to hold a tight group without worrying too much about your aim is to shoot SCATT without looking through your sights, but instead to look at the screen as you shoot.

So, how to do this...
  1. Get set up with your SCATT as normal and fire a calibration shot looking through the sights.
  2. Look at the screen rather than through the sights, arranging yourself so that the centre of your trace coincides with the centre of the target.
  3. Fire a sequence of shots using your normal technique but looking at the computer screen rather than through the sights.
  4. Repeat ad nauseam.
NB - It is really important that you arrange yourself so the rifle wants to naturally point in the middle (or very close to it.) Do not force the rifle to point in the middle, or you're likely to embed a bad habit which will carry over into your shooting.

Lie down. Hold still. Let the rifle point itself in the middle. Squeeze gently.
My experience of this...
I gave this a try a couple of times and it was interesting. I know I can point a rifle pretty accurately; off a consistent firing point and without putting the rifle down, my wobble is less than half a minute. There's knowing that, and then again there is knowing that.

The lesson I'm trying to imprint here is that I don't need to wait for the perfect sight picture and that I can get the shot off much more quickly than I think I can, with little or no degradation in quality of shot. This is not something that will happen overnight, but with general training and some repetition of the exercise, I hope to get the shots away more quickly and lose fewer points to wind as a result.

Hopefully, by doing this exercise you will see that your hold and shot release are well within the area of the bullseye and you can get shots away really very quickly. It makes it easier for the shooter to pick a single wind condition and shoot to it, for example, while still staying within time. A subject for a future article. In team matches, also, your wind coach will thank you for being able to get an accurate shot away quickly

* I had originally written "see it" but the whole point of this exercise is to escape the tyranny of the sight picture. Feel when the rifle is in the middle.

** A subject for another day. There's a lot more to the wind than reading it. Now if only I could learn that in the bone.

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Periodisation of Training in Fullbore Rifle Shooters

In many sports, training is very carefully periodised - that is, broken down into different phases each with a different blend of training types - to fit in with the sport's events calendar. In shooting, I think that it's probably helpful, if not quite as important as it probably is for, say, elite marathon runners, who will probably race only twice a year and whose training will peak at well over 100 miles per week. Personally, I find periodisation to be important: my results are poor if I do not train or train too little, but if I train very hard for too long a period I feel like I get stale and don't have quite the same edge or desire to compete. I think that this is primarily a mental issue and not a physical one, unlike in many other sports.

Unfortunately, there is little hard empirical evidence I have seen relating to shooting to direct us, so we must rely on judgement and a few principles to be our guide when building an annual plan. I have tried to read around the subject a little bit and pull together something that works for me; although I would be hard-pressed to prove that it is better (or worse) than another approach. Please feel free to pick what you like and discard what you disagree with; or to share what works for you in the comments section.

Building the Plan - Macrocycle, Mesocycles and Microcycles 

Training plans are generally build around a sporting year* (or macrocycle) as most sports have a competitive season centred on series of specific events in the calendar. For most shooters, this is also true and is likely to be based around the dates for the National Championships in your country, together with any other major events such as the World Long Range Championships or Commonwealth Games. In each year, there will generally be three key phases, each of which may be broken down into shorter periods of training, known as mesocycles. At the lowest level of detail are microcycles which correspond to individual weeks in your competitive year.

A fullbore macrocycle - Typical dates for transition, preparation and competition phases

Preparation - General preparation should include building up cardiovascular fitness, strength, flexibility and endurance. Specific preparation for fullbore shooters would include equipment checking, a position rebuild and technical re-training. Typically in the UK, the preparation phase would start early in the new year** and last until April or May. The early part of the preparation phase can often be exploratory, with a lot of experimentation with new pieces equipment and tweaks to position or technique. Given the cost of livefire, I spend a lot more time doing SCATT or dryfiring to try lots of different combinations before I head to the range; however as the start of the competition phase approaches changes should become less frequent and more incremental in nature, and I would expect to do more training on the range. Similarly, emphasis should shift from general preparation to more specific competition training.

Preparation Phase - Early mesocycles focus on kit selection and dyfire, but specificity increases as the competition season approaches

Competition - During the main competitive season, which typically runs from May through to the end of September in the UK, the emphasis of training will shift to maintenance of proper technique and equipment throughout the season. I find that if I don't re-emphasise my technique with occasional SCATT or dryfiring sessions, it can sometimes drift and performance suffer slightly.

During the competitive season the focus is very much on delivering the goods at each match; however it's important to prioritise so if you need to use a competition as an extended form of training you're prepared for it. For fullbore shooters, the highest priority will usually be the national championships; however this is not always necessarily the case. If a Commonwealth Games or a GB Rifle Team tour is looming, you may need to be prepared to sacrifice your Queen's Prize or Grand Aggregate score for a higher cause***. It should be possible for you to maintain a high standard of performance throughout the competitive season if you have prepared effectively, but it may not possible to maintain absolutely the highest levels of performance; although some well known and highly-skilled shooters (also good friends) disagree with me on this point!

The easiest way to plan out the competition phase is to write down in date order, all of the matches and competitions you will be doing through the year. When I was still in the UK, a typical year would have looked something like:
  • April, Army Open Meeting
  • May, English XX Meeting
  • June, Intercounties Meeting
  • July, British Commonwealth Rifle Club Championships
  • July, Imperial Meeting
  • August, Welsh Championships
  • September, Surrey Open
  • September, Commonwealth Shooting Federation (European Division) Championships / LMRA Open
  • October, Ages Match
Typically, I would also have live-fire training weekends in between many of these competitions; however I would also often have a bit of a slowdown between the Imperial and the Welsh Open, but take a day off on the Friday before the Welsh Championships for a final bit of livefire training. This seemed to work well and allowed me to pick back up where I left off on Final Saturday. Other forms of training - SCATT, cardio, PT etc... - continue but generally at a lower intensity than during the preparation phase.

Competition Phase - Training should be very specific, but back off the volume and intensity shortly before the Imperial Meeting, or whichever competition you wish to peak at.

For those whose goals are longer-term, such as being selected for the Palma Team or Commonwealth Games things can be a bit more complicated because of selection weekends, which generally include trials in which you will want to shoot well. The same general principles apply; however these will tend to shift the relevant dates in the season. I didn't always shoot the Ages Match at the end of the year, but always looked forward to it when I did because it was a fun, relaxed shoot to wind up the seasons with. My PBs for Queen's II (150.27) and Queen's III (150.20) were shot over a particularly calm October weekend one year.

Transition -  The final, transition phase is focussed on taking time away from training and competing to rest and recover from the year's exertions. Without time away from sport, motivation to train and succeed can wither over time. Take a holiday. Lie in at the weekends. Drink some gin.

Don't forget that the next season is just around the corner, so it is also a time to think about the past seasons successes and lessons learned so you can plan your next year's campaign. Think about your kit choices in plenty of time, so you can enter your next preparation phase with the kit you think you'll be competing with in the following year.

Transition Phase - Take a break. Have a stiff G 'n' T.

On a final note, this approach has worked pretty well for me. Since moving to NZ I have not actually changed my training cycle that much because I have still shot in the Imperial Meeting every year since (and intend to in 2017) but I know that at some point I'm going to have to shift to an antipodean training cycle. I'm looking forward to a year of travelling around competitions in NZ at some point, but maybe not this year unfortunately.

* For Olympic and Commonwealth Games athletes, there may also be a two or four year supercycle based around their major event.

** The start and end of the training macrocycle do not necessarily need to align with the start and end of the calendar yea.

*** I most definitely should have done this in 2014 when it became clear that my re-tailored jacket wasn't working in the run-up the the CWG. Instead of persevering in the Imperial at Bisley, I should have got on a plane to Switzerland so Martin Truttmann could've made me one of his finest jackets. The retrospectroscope is a powerful analytical tool.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

What have shooting jackets ever done for us?

A member of the UK Fullbore Facebook Page recently asked a superb question, which I paraphrase below:

Isn't the shooting jacket just a convenient place to attach your sling?

Personally,  I really hope not, otherwise I have wasted a serious amount of cash over the years which could have been better spent on bullets or beer; however the questioner has actually got a bit of a point. What do jackets actually do for us and quite why do we spend so much money on them? First, an experiment...

SCATT Practice in the garage. Hard to see from this angle, but the jacket is completely undone.

If you're a regular reader, it cannot have escaped your attention that I like experimental evidence because it tells us the way the world really works, and not how people believe that it should work. In this case, I wanted to see what effect completely undoing my jacket would have on SCATT as some smallbore shooters are known to do in the prone position. As an experiment to see what effect this has on support and stability*, this was done completely on a whim so I don't pretend that it is statistically valid, but it is at least interesting.

While the group was slightly larger, the vital numbers are essentially no different, even taking account of the odd third shot in the second string, as the screen captures of the SCATT sessions below demonstrate.

Ignore shot 3 in the second string. Probably interference.

 Qualitatively, the hold did not feel as secure without the jacket done up, and certainly when not on final aim it did seem to wave about quite a bit. Additionally, the butt of the rifle was harder to place in the shoulder and I don't feel that it would have behaved quite the same under recoil; however this is essentially conjecture without a trial. In conclusion, despite the results from SCATT being essentially indistinguishable I won't be shooting with my jacket undone any time soon!

So, what have shooting jackets ever done for us?

In addition to being an excellent place to attach your sling and make sure that it stays roughly in the same place relative to your musculo-skeletal system, your jacket fulfils a number of other functions in fullbore rifle shooting: it provides support and allows you to maintain the proper position for longer and more consistently as a result; the rubber on the elbows and in the shoulder prevent you from slipping between shots or while in the aim; the stiffness and thickness of the material helps soak up a little bit of the recoil, which reduces fatigue, and it helps to isolate the rifle from your heartbeat; and finally it gives you some protection from the elements that we have to endure when shooting outdoors.

It is possible to shoot decent scores without using a full shooting jacket; I remember forgetting my jacket many years ago, improvising with a greatcoat and a belt as slingkeeper and shooting a 35.5 at 300 yards; AP of Australia won the Corporation of the City of London match at 1000 yards with a score of 50.9 (dropping his last shot to a cooking bull, no less) in 2016 using a harness-like arrangement sold by a well-known UK shooting tailor. Despite this, I would suggest that your scores are going to be more consistent using a well-fitting jacket of roughly conventional design.

* Yes, before you all shout at me, I know that a lot of the stability for the sling position in particular comes from the fit across the shoulders and upper arms.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Why everything you think you know about sports hydration is probably wrong

I would expect nearly most my readers to subscribe to the notions of sports hydration that I once did - as alluded to in Feelin Hot Hot Hot - and which are still repeated endlessly by many personal trainers, sports coaches, and even the medically-qualified. These boil down to three key points:
  • Drink early, drink often
  • Even tiny levels of dehydration can result in a catastrophic drop in sports performance 
  • If you're thirsty, it's already too late
Unfortunately, these principles are probably wrong and likely to result in no appreciable improvement in performance. In extreme cases (not likely in rifle shooting) they can be fatal. The best evidence-based medicine that I have seen is documented in Tim Noakes' superb book Waterlogged, the main point of which can be reduced to one simple message:

If you're thirsty, drink. Otherwise, don't worry about it.

In endurance sports, there is evidence from Triathlons in New Zealand and South Africa, and footraces in South Africa to suggest that the best performances are associated with higher levels of dehydration*. Further yet, there is significant evidence to suggest that there is no link between even moderate levels of dehydration and hyperthermia**. Going even further than this, the issuance of guidelines for athletes by the American College of Sports Medicine*** that they should "drink as much as is tolerable" is likely to have directly contributed to the rise in fatalities from exercise-associated hyponatraemia and exercise-associated hyponatraemia encephalopathy**** which were essentially unknown until the early 80s when the hydration fad started. In summary, the best evidence currently available says that athletes should drink to thirst. Evidence to the contrary is surprisingly limited, quite often flawed and mostly sponsored by the sports drink industry.

OK, that's great for marathons and triathlons but what about shooting?

As far as I am aware there has been no real study on hydration and performance in shooting sports for me to draw on. Most of the things I have managed to find online have quoted general guidelines and no actual backing evidence. The key difference in the case of shooting is going to be the effect of hydration on the eyes; however if you're drinking to thirst then I would suggest that this is unlikely to be a major issue.

It's still always worth having a bottle of water on the range to sip at when you get thirsty especially in warm conditions, but there's no value in trying to drink ahead of thirst. Desperately needing to pee while on the firing point is probably also not good for performance.
* Noakes TD. Waterlogged. Chapter 2. Wyndham CH, Strydom NB. The danger of an inadequate water intake during marathon running. South African Medical Journal. 1969; 43, 893-896.

** Adolph EF, Dill DB. Observations on water metabolishm in the desert. Americal Journal of Physiology. 1938; 123, 369-378. Jardon OM. Physiologic stress, heat stroke, malignant hyperthermia - a perspective. Military Medicine. 1982; 147, 8-14. Noakes TD, Adams BA, Myburg KH. The danger of an inadequate water intake during exercise. A novel concept re-visited. Euopean Journal of Applied Physiology & Occupational Physiology. 1988; 57, 210-219.

*** Convertino, V. A.; Armstrong, L. E.; Coyle, E. F.; Mack, G. W.; Sawka, M. N.; Senay, L. C.; Sherman, W. M. (1996-01-01). "American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Exercise and fluid replacement". Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 28 (1): i–vii.

****Noakes TD. Waterlogged. Chapter 10. Nearman S. Drinking too much water can kill you; death of a marathon runner. Metro Competitor. 2003; 24 October. Noakes TD, Goodwin N, Rayner BI, et al. Water intoxication: A possible complication during endurance exercise. Medical Science Sports Exercise. 1985; 17, 370-375.

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Why you should shoot away from your home range

Since moving to New Zealand at the end of 2014, I have come to appreciate the weakness of my windreading ability as an issue I need to do something about. While my first visit to Trentham back in 2015 was welcomed with gentle winds and moderate conditions (and a podium place for me), the wind during past the past two years' national championships have demonstrated why it's renowned as one of the hardest (if not the hardest) ranges around. I feel the need to rise to that challenge with the 2018 Commonwealth Games and 2019 World Long Range Championships approaching fast.

I'm approaching this in a variety of different ways: I'll be refreshing my knowledge of the theory of windreading (and will probably write a couple of posts about it over the next few weeks), trying to shoot a decent amount of long range for obvious reasons, and making an effort to shoot on a variety of different ranges. On this last point, I've not made that much of an effort to get out there and experience a wider variety of ranges since I moved to NZ, but I did at the weekend and it was well worth the effort for a variety of reasons, not all of which were wind-related.

Over the Auckland anniversary weekend - that's the last weekend in January for non-JAFAs - I traveled up to Kauri Mountain Range to shoot in the Northland Championships. The range itself is set on farmland outside of Whangerei three hours north of Auckland and has space for four targets, with electronics having been recently installed.

Kauri Mountain Range. It's a range which backs on to a mountain covered in Kauri trees.

Being very near to the sea, the weekend's shooting fulfilled my desire to experience a wide range of wind conditions. While it was millpond calm shortly after dawn, the wind soon picked up and started by blowing off the land out to sea before reversing as the land heated up. While the wind could be steady in either condition, the transition between the two took a while and produced a very finicky, tricky wind with significant changes sometimes required between subsequent shots. I coped acceptably with the wind for four of the six ranges, but really should have done better at the other two.

Quite apart from hitting my goal of shooting in some interesting winds, the welcome from the members of the Whangerei Rifle Club was great. We shot in an informal atmosphere but with some good competition. We did something that can sometimes be forgotten in the chase for good technique and possibles: we had fun on the range in good company and glorious weather.

Day 2. Beautiful weather with a great bunch of folk
Unfortunately there is a fly in the ointment. The land on which the range is situated has recently been sold from one farmer to another, and while the original owner has been unstinting in his support for the club, the new owner has given them immediate notice. The club has other irons in the fire and are hoping not to be homeless for long, but it's still sad to see an established range go. It was great to feel like I was supporting them and their club by turning up to shoot on their range, but even so I hear of other ranges here in NZ and back in the UK being shut down or closed for civilian use. Coupled with increasing costs and a lack of interest from the younger generation, it's another threat to our sport.

Get out there and shoot away from Bisley, Trentham or your home range. It'll make you a better windreader, a more rounded shooter and hopefully give some much-need support to a smaller club or range under threat.