Bellow is a collection of articles written by Larry Sawyer for the MRRA Newsletter.
Reprinted with the permission of Lawrence M. Sawyer.
The Top Three Mistakes Beginning Prone Shooters Make (Part 3)
(c)2012 Lawrence M. Sawyer. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced or distributed in any manner, including electronically, without the express written permission of the author.
In the last two articles I covered the standing position in some detail. For many people, that may have been just too far advanced relative to the type of target shooting that they do. So now, we'll go back to the beginning, to where almost everyone starts, the Prone position. If you are new to the game, or coming to sling-type shooting from F-class, or are just not getting the results you wanted to see before moving to the next position from prone, then this article is for you.
It's natural to assume that prone should be easy. The shooter is lying on the ground, both elbows firmly planted, and it certainly looks like the gun isn't moving. Compared with standing, it's not.
The problem is, we have an expectation of hitting the target center with very high frequency, regardless of how much practice has taken place. It shouldn't be that hard. In addition, there's almost always someone at a match who does hit the ten every time. A competitor looks over at the person leading the match, sees a prone position which he THINKS looks like his, and says "But I am doing what he's doing. Why is my score so much lower?"
There was a time, well into my adult years, when I was losing many points in prone matches, even while I could hold my own very nicely in standing and kneeling. I had been shooting for years and years and I was very frustrated. I decided that I had to dedicate myself to solving the problem, and I then spent a few years really studying the position, asking lots of questions of the top shooters I met at matches, and trying many ideas, position changes, and gadgets. (I can report to you that buying gadgets is more fun than working at something!)
Over the course of just a few years, I went from never finishing higher than third or fourth in a local match, to being consistently in the top 10% (or higher) at the Prone matches at Camp Perry. Just a few years ago, I set a new state record in prone (3198/3200), made it on to the U.S. Dewar Team at Perry three times, and for part of one year anyway, I was ranked #8 in the country in men's prone by USA Shooting. (Ha... that didn't last!) I racked up numerous 50 Meter international match prone scores in the 592-595 range as well. I am by no means claiming to be the best prone shooter around, (there's always someone better) but I came away from my journey having learned many things, and really understanding the difference between decent prone technique, and really superb prone technique.
In this article, I will lay out the biggest mistakes that I think shooters make when approaching the position. This is my Top-10 List, condensed into just three to keep it very digestible. Here we go!
#3: A Position That is Too Low.
A too-low position is the first thing most beginning shooters experience, because when the sling is first attached to the arm and clipped to the rifle, the natural inclination is to make it comfortable, and that means, not too tight on the arm, nor too tight in the shoulder. The result is a position that feels pretty good, but offers no structural support, and thus collapses quickly. It collapses downward, with the sling sliding down the arm, and the stock coming out of the shoulder. But it's comfortable! Look at this, it's resting right on the inside of my elbow! I can shoot this! No, you can't. It's illegal under ISSF rules for one thing. International rules require a 30 degree angle measured from the surface of the floor to the forearm supporting the rifle. Second, the lower you go, the more you end up looking out of the top of the eye socket, which fatigues your eye muscles very quickly, and makes your neck sore as well. The equivalent situation would be looking straight up at the sky while standing up. Your neck is going to get sore in a hurry.
Use a high-quality sling with aggressive rubber on the cuff, and a clip to hold it in place on your arm. The clip is permanently fastened to the shoulder area of the jacket and holds the sling in suspension. Fasten the sling just above the bicep. A higher position also keeps your lungs and diaphragm off the floor and allows easy breathing. Now you can breathe easily, and see for far longer without eye fatigue.
(Side note: Some will argue that a really low position, where allowed, as in NRA events, is better. I disagree. As evidenced by scores alone, the world's best prone shooters score 598-600 consistently, and that's with legal, 30 degree high positions. And they do it on the hardest targets that exist, which are the international 300 meter and 50 meter targets. By extension then, if you can shoot a perfect score on the hardest possible target with a higher position, then I think it’s safe to assume that the position is contributing to your success.)
#2: Ignoring Natural Point of Aim.
If you build a solid, tight position, the gun will really only want to point at one spot. That one spot is your Natural Point of Aim. If that spot is not on the center of the target and you have to push or influence the front sight to the bull, you will not shoot tens.
Here is what you should see. Breathe in, and the muzzle drops. Breathe out, and it rises. It is critically important to set up your position so that when you exhale naturally, the sight comes up from 6:00 into the center of the bull. The Center. Not just a little above. Not below center. THE CENTER. Use your buttplate settings, or where you seat it in your shoulder to adjust elevation. For left-to-right alignment, use your support arm elbow as the pivot point and move your entire body left, or right, to align your Natural Point of Aim to the center of the bull. Do NOT use breath volume to control elevation. It's not consistent enough.
If all you did was address these first two items, you could go pretty far and probably make big gains with your score. But we’re not done. We still have to address the worst sin you can commit, which is...
#1: Insufficient Buttplate-to-Shoulder Pressure!
Not enough pressure from the buttplate in the shoulder allows the buttplate to be placed inconsistently in the shoulder from shot to shot, and it allows the butt to move while aiming. In a worst-case scenario, it actually moves just from squeezing the trigger.
Lengthen your stock by moving the buttplate out, or drive the gun backward by moving your handstop forward. (Which method makes more sense for you depends on too many variables to address here, but sometimes either one is okay.)
Next, gauge the pressure you feel in your shoulder. Here's how I like to describe the "right" amount of pressure. If you go to seat the buttplate in your shoulder and you can't even get it there, then the stock is too long and there is, in fact, too much pressure.
But if you seat the buttplate, and bring your elbow to the floor, and you lay there and think, "Boy, this is really tight, I'm not sure I can shoot this" then it's just about right!
What you may have at this point is a very high position. You will feel very significant shoulder pressure. Try shooting it. If your mental focus strays from the shot process, back to the shoulder pressure, then bring the buttplate in just a little. (Or move your handstop back.) Take it in just a little at a time until it's no longer distracting. BUT, under no circumstances should it ever be so loose that you can move the stock in your shoulder while your anchor elbow (right elbow for a right- handed shooter) is on the floor. If you can move the buttplate from your shoulder with your elbow on the floor, it is WAY too loose.
If you address these three things, your scores should go up. If they don't, you might need some one-on-one help to trouble shoot why you're not hitting the center. Good luck with your new position!
Successful Standing (Part 1) | Successful Standing (Part 2)
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