When I was young, my dad taught me how to shoot with a rifle. There were tons of things to remember and do at the same time when taking a shot. Maybe it was because I was young, I couldn’t mastered all the things taught by my dad. Of course, I wasn’t much of a marksman back then. But it was an enjoyable time nonetheless.
After growing up, I wished to improve my shooting skills. Thus I asked my dad for his teachings again and, to tell you the truth, couldn’t believe it myself that such simple tricks vastly improved my shots accuracy. It appeared that the little things that I had neglected added up over the years and made such a big hindrance.
Even though I am still just an enthusiast, not a professional shooter or anything, I believe that the tricks you’re going to read can improve your shooting skills within reasonable amount of time. So let’s get started.
Crucial factors affecting your shooting
Believe it or not, to improve you need to first define what you want to improve.
It’s embarrassing to admit but when I was young, I thought shooting is all about aligning your front sight, rear sight and the target. How wrong I was.
Here is a list of what affects shooting.
- Aiming skills – Okay, the first one is really about aligning front sight, rear sight and your target. But this also includes parallax, range estimation, holdovers, inclination and cant.
- Body stance – This one focuses on how to minimize bodily vibration such as correct posture, muscle tension, bone support, natural point of aim and your breathing.
- Triggering skills – Pulling the trigger without messing up your aim. Breathing while triggering, managing flinch and following through. These skills take a lot of time to master. Just sayin’.
- Gears – Rifle, ammo, sight, optics, rings & mounts, sling and rests. Readying your gears is one of the most easiest things to do to improve your shots if you haven’t done that already. Plus, some of these additional gears can make your shots more accurate, if you’re willing to spend….
Whew! Hope I covered most of it.
Now let’s hop directly to the tricks! I’ll categorized them from easy-to-do to the practice-makes-perfect stuffs. This makes it efficient for you to start with the low hanging fruits to quickly see results.
Tricks & Tips : The Low Hanging Fruits
This section is mostly gear related. They require only preparations regardless of training and skills. If you haven’t been doing these tricks, you’re in luck because improvements can come real soon.
1. Let your barrel cool
If you use high energy rounds or fire lots of shots in a row, your barrel will heat up and alter your point of aim. If you can’t touch your barrel because it’s too hot, wait for the barrel to cool for better results. This might be 1-2 minutes or 15 minutes between each group depending on your barrel, load and outside temperature.
Believe it or not, some people even pour water outside or through the barrel to quickly cool it down. This is relatively safe if your rifle comes with synthetic stock and stainless-steel barrel. Note, don’t try this with gas-operated rifle!
For a safer method try using a fan or just stand the rifle on its butt to let heat come out quicker.
2. Clean your rifle barrel
Even though I’m not a hygienic guy, cleaning my rifle barrel from time to time is something I do, as it prevents accumulation of copper and improves my group.
Make sure your rifle is not loaded, then use a flashlight, your phone or bright daylight to shine through the muzzle. If you can see a lot of copper shining back at you, it’s time to clean your barrel.
Note that a sparkling clean barrel is not the goal here. Because we want some copper fouling to fill-in / smooth-out those tiny irregularities within the barrel. My old man taught me to always fire a fouling shot before use every time my rifle barrel is cleaned.
3. Follow through
After you fire each shot, stay in the same position until your bullet went out of the barrel and hit something. Don’t, for example,try raise your head and see where your bullet land beforehand.
This is because we humans are lightning fast. So fast that our reflexes could affect the bullet before it leaves the barrel. The Flash is real! This alter your perfect aim for the bullseye, resulting in less accuracy.
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4. Use a sling
For me, holding a rifle steady especially in a standing stance is quite difficult. My hand tends to shake when I hold my rifle for a long period of time. Luckily, I improved the situation by using a rifle sling.
Learning how to use a rifle sling is surprisingly handy. It becomes another touching point of your rifle, making your hold and aim much more steady. This is especially useful if you’re not muscle is not built like Samson. Trust me, try it sometime and you will wow at the drastic results.
5. Use a red dot
If your goal is not to train on iron sights, using a red dot can improve your shot groups. That’s because red dot sights are easier to use. I don’t have to align the front sight, rear sights and the target. All I have to do is just place the dot on the target and squeeze the trigger.
Also the red dots are relatively parallax free, meaning more room for error if you don’t place your head and eye at the exact spot every time. Note that placing your head and eye at the same spot is a very useful skill and shouldn’t be ignored even if you use red dots.
6. Try looking through high magnification scope once
You shouldn’t buy a new high magnification scope (16x or more) for this trick as it’s just for demonstration purpose. Just try borrowing or having a look through your best bud’s scope instead.
Looking through a high mag scope, you will see things like how your breathing, heart beats, shooting stance and squeezing the trigger move your aim. It should gives you ideas generally on how to improve things further.
Knowing what to improve is one of the first step to actually improve.
7. Check your gears
If you use a red dot or a scope and couldn’t get good groups, check whether it is mounted/zeroed properly. Also check/tighten each screw properly according to the manufacturers. If you use rests, make sure they are secured.
Tricks & Tips : The Ones That Require Practice
Ok, let’s move on to the ones that you actually need to work on. The best thing about this part is that you’ll be very proud when you see better results from your hard work. Plus, it’s mostly free!
1. Use your bone structure
Due to the way our muscle work, there tend to be some vibration when we use them. That’s why many shooting schools advocate utilizing your bone structure in every shooting stance to relax your muscle.
For standing stance, that means your head, neck and spine are straight. Your knees can be straight or slightly bend depending on your preference.
For prone position, keep your spine straight and align it to point at your target. You can absorb recoil and hold your rifle much better with this technique.
Now, it’s likely that you’ve heard of the bone structure tip before, but do you know how to test that you’re doing it correctly without an instructor?
The trick is to stay still in your shooting position for 5 minutes. Once done, the point where you feel strained is the point you need to work on. Adjust those body parts until you find the best position for that particular stance. Don’t expect quick results though, most people take 1-3 months to find that “sweet spot”.
2. Move the rifle to you, not you to the rifle
While aiming, you don’t want to move your neck down to the cheek weld because that will strain your neck muscle over time, reducing accuracy. Instead, raise the rifle to you (except prone and benchrest). Shoulders and arms muscle can be trained to hold the rifle steady much easier.
For prone and benchrest positions, you still don’t want to strain your neck. Move your entire body instead to get appropriate height for your cheek weld.
3. Your off-hand grip should be as far forward as possible
As demanded by the law of physics, you need to exert more force to lift farther away objects. Placing your off-hand as far as possible, makes it easier to control your rifle and point of aim.
Also try to get your off-hand grip as high as possible, to better steady your recoil.
Be mindful that your hand doesn’t obstruct the rifle’s action and ejected shells though, or you will be in for some pain and your rifle might malfunction.
4. Play with your off-hand elbow position
Your off-hand elbow give you lots of control over your rifle.
In a standing position, twisting your off-hand elbow out to the side and raising it parallel to the ground give you more control over recoil as downward pressure can be made easily. Plus, your elbow joint will not be moved by recoil due to the cross-directional set up. However, you strain your shoulder and elbow faster this way.
If you lower your off-hand elbow, you’ll have less control during recoil which makes accurate rapid shots harder. But it will pose less strain to your shoulder and elbow. Some people advocate tucking your elbow to your side for stability. This would work well for very-low recoil rifles.
5. Main hand grip
Place your grip firmly, and as high as you can to gain control. Don’t grip too tight that your hand muscle vibrates though. Firm and steady is the key here.
From your main hand, you want such control that even if you release your off-hand, you can hold your rifle steady. P.S. I need to do lots of workout to achieve that.
6. Shoulder pressure
Place the buttstock firmly in your shoulder and pull the rifle into your shoulder a bit. This helps steady the rifle and make recoil absorption much better.
7. Maintain your upper body stance
When you perfected your stance and need to acquire new targets, don’t twist your torso, move your arms or anything like that. Instead, you should be keeping everything from your waist up fixed, and move with only your legs, knees and feet (for standing stance). This is the same concept as the “natural point of aim”.
If you’re using iron sights and new to the system, you may need to shift your focus between front sight, rear sight and the target to make sure they are aligned. The trick is to focus only on the front sight and place your aim
Firing with both eyes open can also help as it is more natural, meaning your eyes will strain less. Plus it gives better peripheral vision. To do this, you need to determine which eye is your dominant eye.
Once you learn that, you check whether your dominant hand is on the same side as your dominant eye. If that’s the case, you can just go shoot with both eyes open naturally.
If your dominant hand and eye are on different side (cross-dominant), then you have 3 options.
- Train to change your dominant eye and shoot with both eyes open
- Train to shoot off-hand and shoot with both eyes open
- Close your dominant eye and shoot
9. Squeeze The Trigger Straight
From action movies, one would think it’s all about smashing those triggers as fast as you can. Real life shooting is just the opposite, how unfortunate!
The idea is how to squeeze the trigger without messing up your point of aim.
First, the triggering process is more of a “squeeze” rather than “pull” your trigger.
For beginners, it’s advised to squeeze slowly and evenly over time. And you should time your rifle to fire at the moment between exhaling and inhaling, that is when your lungs are empty and about to inhale again. Your body will be most at rest at that particular breathing cycle.
For more advanced shooters, they’ll squeeze the trigger faster when their aim is steady, and squeeze slower when their aim is moving from bullseye.
You must also find the contact point on your trigger finger that does not move your rifle left or right. For example if you use the tip of your right index finger too much, your point of aim likely shift to the left. While contact point too much to your joint could move your point of aim to the right.
Many competition shooters take hours a day to practice this process using high-tech equipments from the likes of Noptel and Scatt training system to precisely track point of aim during their triggering. Unfortunately, these equipments costs are through the roof!
(The Scatt MX-02 System costs $1,800 at the time of this writing!)
Want to hear some of my dirty little secrets? I used to suffer a lot with triggering until I found out about MantisX. It allows me to track my point of aim before and after my triggering with just the use of a small device attached to your firearm and a smartphone, at just a fraction of those competitive shooter’s equipments. Well, it’s not as good as a Noptel, but it is more than enough for my use.
With the MantisX, you can easily determine which point of contact works and which technique of breathing offers best results. It’ll even offer you how to improve your shots.
10. Flinching Fix
So I used to believe that I can handle recoil just fine. But the MantisX proved me wrong. It appeared that I unsubconsciously brace for recoil just before firing my shots.
The trick to fix recoil flinch is to start training from low recoil rifles and to practice a lot of dry firing. While practising, make sure you record whether you flinch or not.
Note that centerfire rifles can dry-fire safely while rimfire rifles require snap caps to prevent damage from/to firing pins.
If you see yourself flinch a lot, try building more shoulder muscle and get more familiar with recoil.
Another cool trick to fix flinching is called the “Ball and Dummy Drill”. You ask a friend to mix up your magazine with live round and dummy round, then go shoot. This way if you flinch with just a dummy round, it would look kind of stupid. And hopefully, you’ll quit flinching.
11. Practicing tips
Since in real life situation, you’re likely to be forced to shoot in less than ideal situations. So it’s wise to practice many stances be it prone, crossed-leg, crossed-ankle, kneeling, standing, charging and offhand shooting.
I recommended you to dry fire every stance of these inside your house everyday. (I slack sometime though.)
Also make sure that you can operate your firearm without the need to look at nor the need to move your cheek away from the cheek weld. That’s because you wouldn’t want to lose sight of that buck out in the field.
And another thing to note, practicing with low recoil, rimfire makes it easier to diagnose your firing sequence.
It’s known that every rifle has favorite round of its own. So keep experimenting until you find the most accurate batches for your particular rifle.
13. Know your bullet trajectory and windage adjustments
Correctly compensate for bullet drop and wind effect will increase your accuracy. This takes a lot of practice and experience in terms of estimating distance and guessing the wind.
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If none of the above works …..
So you finished all 20 tips mentioned above but see no results? Now, it’s time to blame your gears. Visit your favorite gunsmith, and let him check your rifle. LOL.
It is a very rewarding experience everytime I see my shot group improves. Striving for more accuracy is definitely the fun part of shooting sport. I hope you gained some useful tips from this article and try it out sometime.
If you have more recipes for accuracy, feel free to share it with me. I’d be thrilled to learn and practice it!