Value, Compromises and Learning To Shoot

Here are some less-than-obvious values to good equipment.

  • The bullet goes where the gun was aimed when the hammer was released.

That should be obvious but, as a beginner I knew my wobble was much worse than the inaccuracy of the gun. My “off the shelf” Springfield Armory “Mil-Spec” 1911 (the Parkerized version) would shoot a 6-8" group at 50 yards. That was good enough for scores of 8, 9, 10 and X. Pretty good.

My ability to hold, however, allowed shots to range out beyond the 7 ring, and occasionally, spasmodically, worse. When you then combine me with the gun, a target in which every hole actually scores is not bad, and one in which most shots are in the black is a truly good thing. And, in Timed Fire, I’ve even hit 90+ every now and then with that gun.

But the gun was frustrating. On those (still) rare occasions when I know my trigger control was good and the shot was released with the sights close to the center of my aiming area, when the hole appeared several inches out from the bull, I couldn’t know if it was me or the gun. Maybe I saw the iron sights wrong, had the front sight slightly left or right of center, or maybe I pushed the nose of the gun out of alignment in that fraction of a second between sear-release and hammer-impact.

I didn’t know, I couldn’t tell, I wasn’t sure what to fix.

  • The bullet goes where the gun was aimed when the hammer was released.

When the round punches low and left on the target, for a right-handed shooter such as myself, that almost certainly means I jerked the gun and the “fix” is obvious: I need to regain that unconscious shot release that is oh so fleeting at my level of experience. I’ve done it a couple of times, I’ve felt it happen and known the feeling of surprise, not because I wasn’t prepared which does cause surprise but not for the right reason, but because it really felt like I was letting someone else do the trigger. All I had to do was hold it on the right area of the target until they released the shot.

The mental game I play that works, at least occasionally for me, is to get everything ready and then say to myself, “Let the monkey shoot now.” The “monkey” does the trigger, not me. I truly don’t know if, ever, the gun is going to fire. I just hold it in the aiming area and, well, I wait and either the shot goes (and I’m surprised), or I get tired of holding and abort the shot.

  • The bullet goes where the gun was aimed when the hammer was released.

The ‘smith who made the gun shoot this well – thank you, Frank Glenn – knows what the gun is capable of doing so if I later show up at his door complaining, he will know I’m an idiot.

Frank will probably listen politely – he’s a gentleman – and may volunteer to check the gun but, in the end, he will know what needs work (me) and what doesn’t (the gun).

For a Bullseye shooter, good equipment is a mirror. Through my newly reworked 1911 that, as of yesterday, has a Kart barrel, competition bushing, tightened slide-to-frame fit and the critical eye and sensitive touch of the expert gunsmith, I can now see each aberration, each mistake, each goof in what I do.

The gun says, “You jerked me.”

The gun says, “You anticipated that shot.”

The gun says, “You steered the muzzle left on that one.”

And the gun says, “What the h#$$ was that – did you sneeze or what? Sheesh! Come on, get in the game. You know what to do. Point me at the right spot on the target, release the shot without disturbing that, and, brother you can bet your last dime that I’m gonna do my job and put that bullet dead on. Now let’s try that again.”

Q: Can you compromise on expense while still a beginner?

A: Yes, but only to a point. The point will come when the equipment becomes an obstacle, not because it doesn’t do well, but rather because the shooter will stop trying. “Heck,” the shooter will tell himself, “it’s in the 8-ring, isn’t it? That’s pretty good for both me and the gun.” And yes, that’s true. But at that point, the shooter stops trying to do better because, frankly, that really is the best they can do. Additional effort by the shooter to do better, to call his shots, just isn’t going to work consistently. The shooter’s advancement is held up, stopped, because the gun is showing its own defects and, thereby, masking what the shooter needs to fix. The shooter cannot see what he needs to fix.

Q: Can I learn on less expensive equipment and then “move up” later?

A: Yes, but if you wait too long, you may find your interest and excitement slowly dissipating away. The physical steps to releasing a good shot are well known. You can find them in any number of publications. Write them down and memorize them. They aren’t hard to perform and any gun, no matter how bad, will allow you to practice those steps. There may even be some debatable value in learning to shoot with a scratchy trigger – hell, if you can release a decent shot with that, just think how good you could be with a finely tuned, precision wadder! But if you keep shooting the less-than-great equipment, once you’ve learned those basic physical steps, you will never get to the fine tuning of making everything happen at the same time simply because it will be impossible to see the benefit of doing so.

Shooting an “X” is easy. We’ve all done it. Just pick up the gun, aim and release the shot and, no matter how bad your aim or the accuracy of the gun, there’s a certain probability that this error will add to that error and, lo and behold, the bullet punches through the “X”.

But to do that over and over, to do that when you want it, to do that, you need a big, flat shiney mirror in which to watch yourself so you can see what you’re doing wrong.

Good equipment shows you yourself. You can see what you’re doing wrong and, most satisfyingly, when you do everything right.







“Wow, what a great gun,” you will say.

And don’t forget to add, “I shoot great!”

Because you can, and do, with good equipment.

I’ve been shooting Bullseye for about a year. My current NRA ranking is that of Marksman, the lowest step on the ladder. To get that ranking, all you have to do is shoot 360 times and have them recorded in the NRA annals. You don’t even have to hit the target, just shoot and have (the misses!) recorded.

In that year, I’ve started to understand just how difficult it is to make the bullet go where you intend. There are dozens, maybe even a hundred or more reasons to miss the mark.

One thing is certain in Bullseye: With good equipment, focused practice and ruthless attention to detail, you may succeed. But without it, you won’t.

That’s a fact.

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