Friday, May 24, 2013
Consider this post a final walk through with the landlord before I move to the new place. I apologize for the nacho cheese stain in the corner there. I don't expect any of the damage deposit back. You can find the new place at: Art of the Rifle (where else?)
Tuesday, May 21, 2013
As I said last time, something arose that made attending the rifle competitions, while not exactly impossible, a lot lower priority than other things I had to deal with. It was the latest of several setbacks to my shooting improvement this year that were the result of life happening in unfortunate ways.
One thing I had been very happy about was that I was able to buy a Zeiss PRF rangefinder. I had been using it often. I had been in the habit of taking it to work with me. When I had a spare moment I would pull it out, look at something in the distance, estimate its range, then use the rangefinder to check. This was going just great in getting my eye calibrated. Somehow on one of these work trips I lost it. I have no idea how, but it is GONE. It's completely unfathomable how it happened, but my hours have changed and there are some times when my mental state is such that the lights are on but no one's home.
I had gotten a really great deal on the rangefinder as well, which made the prospect of replacing it even more daunting. My wife, surprisingly, told me that I could just get another. I was ready to get one when the reason I needed it, these impending competitions, fell out from under me. All that was just an aside to show you that I'm getting to the point where I could write a good country or blues song based on personal anecdotes.
The feeling I had after finding out I would not make the Steel Challenge (a precision rifle course with the same name as the pistol match) or the Sniper's Hide Cup was that my opportunity for great learning, growth, and improvement was flushed down the toilet. Also, I had arranged to shoot the Steel Challenge with reader, commenter, and friend “SLG”, so I missed my chance to finally meet him.
Subjectively, it seems to me that I have not really improved at shooting lately, and that this was my big opportunity. Upon some reflection I realized that I did not have this feeling of stagnation prior to this year. The difference is a lack of context that the shooting fits into. Shooting on its own is like spinning wheels in the air. Without application it’s difficult to have a frame of reference to even measure, track, or drive improvement.
Before February, I had a solid role, context, and frame of reference; it was sort of an identity for my shooting. After that was gone I figured I could simply transition that into competing, and that I could actually make faster progress at shooting without having to work on ancillary field skills. That put me almost seamlessly into preparation mode, trying to fill some obvious gaps. When I found out I could not attend these competitions, it seemed as though my preparation was wasted. It really felt as though the bottom had dropped out from beneath me.
Starting the blog back in 2011 was fun, and there was always a lot to write about. For the first few months I was just conveying information I was extremely familiar with, which was easy. After that I went in some easy circles, coming back to the same topics as I gained some insights here and there.
This year I got to the point where I was tired of revisiting the same topics repeatedly. I started feeling like a bit of a fraud because I'm writing from the exact point that I'm exploring. Essentially I have no basis of authority on the information I'm presenting because it's essentially the noise from my brain as I try to figure out what I'm doing. It’s especially hard when my efforts don’t result in tangible gains.
The only thing left to do is to pick the proverbial bicycle up and get back on it. In the next few weeks I’ll be relaunching the blog at a different site. The emphasis will be on moving on from being a decent general rifle shooter to having more finely honed skills with smaller targets, and at longer ranges. While it felt as though I missed the bus to really stepping up my game, I figured out that there will be more opportunities coming along that route that I could jump on when I can.
Saturday, May 18, 2013
An unexpected family health issue came up the day before I was supposed to leave for my first competition, and will prevent me from attending both of the ones that I had signed up for and had been preparing for (and really looking forward to). I had written the following article to put in the blog queue prior to finding out that it would be irrelevant. I decided to go ahead and put it out since it sort of ties up what I had been working on for a while, and since I'm not quite ready to do much writing just yet. Sling orders are still on hold, as I would like to get out of town for a break if it will be possible.
For the last month or two I have been picking nits in an effort to bump up my game in the precision rifle shooting arena. It has involved a lot of exploration, some learning, fine tuning, an improvement in the process of taking a shot, and maybe some modest gains in what shows up on paper.
One of the underpinnings my work in the last month was my attempt to work up a really good load for my rifle. I worked with the components I could get, which was lucky in the first place. The components consisted of 155 grain Sierra Palma bullets, Federal cases, Winchester primers, and Vihtavuori N140. I estimate that I will need 400 rounds for the competitions I have coming up, and I was able to secure 500 bullets and 3 pounds of powder, which would theoretically put me just over that.
My experience during load development was that there were too many individual sources of inaccuracy to really nail down the thing I was looking for, which was an accuracy node. It was not until I ran out of time and extra ammo to play with that I was even finding a methodology that seemed to yield any meaningful results.
I started with ladder tests at 130 yards, which is the farthest I can get without getting really creative with the range space (and taking up all the available “bays”). Ladders are best done at farther distances, but as long as you know which hole belongs to which bullet, there’s something to interpret. I saw quite a bit of something that one does expect (or want) to see at that distance, which was significant horizontal shifting. Normally in ladder testing, horizontal point of impact shifts are attributed to wind and disregarded. What I was seeing could not be attributed to the modest and fairly consistent wind I was shooting in.
I decided to try an Optimal Charge Weight load development round. The results conflicted with my ladder testing, and turned out not to be fruitful, to make a long story short. That accounted for 22 bullets and accompanying powder that I lost. I’m not saying the methodology is flawed, just that my system was not equipped to take advantage of it.
Some side experiments during that time seemed to get me closer to being on track. I put the Atlas on the TRG and got a weird and wide flier with a strange and different recoil impulse. I borrowed the Vortex Razor 5-20x50 from the TRG and put it on the FN. The scope has parallax adjustment, which the SWFA does not. It is also significantly larger and heavier, which for the most part is undesirable, but was instructive in the way it changed the character of the recoil impulse.
Changing the scope seemed to help a bit. I don’t think it affected the crazy stuff I was seeing, because I still experience some of it. It did, on the other hand, seem to help in a small way in general. The best groups I shot with it were, I think, the best groups I have shot with the rifle.
I also borrowed a Harris bipod. The Atlas had been bothering me. I was starting to suspect that the adjustments and features of the Atlas were making it impractically difficult for me to find consistency. It tilts. It pans. It has a tension knob that is supposed to lock it down, but which in my experience doesn’t really, and tends to loosen rapidly. The panning feature invariably allowed (caused?) my right bipod leg to walk forward. When the leg walks forward to the end of its travel (who knows when that happens?) there is hard contact on one side that maybe wasn’t there before, and is not there on the other side. It just doesn’t seem like a good thing to me. It could be that I was doing something wrong, but it does seem that if that was the case the Atlas was not helping matters.
The first Harris I borrowed was too tall, which meant that I could not get good contact on the rear bag. I did get a little vertical stringing as I struggled to keep the rear bag in consistent contact with the stock, BUT, something happened that was reassuring. Every hit in the group, which turned out to be 7 rounds or so (got carried away), was consistent with my call for that shot.
To sum it up, I left the biggerbetter scope on the rifle, and borrowed a Harris of appropriate height (thanks SLG!!!) and started seeing results that, while not amazing, were consistent. This unfortunately was too late a development in my botched load testing to assure me that I did the best I could.
What I learned was that my rifle will shoot Federal Gold Medal Match fairly consistently in sub-minute 3 round groups. I apologize for 3 round groups, but this was load testing, and time and ammo were both at a premium. My average group size over 7 3-round groups was 0.96 MOA.
I found out way too late that I had to redo my load development to get something that would come anywhere even resembling acceptable. What I learned was that I could get reasonably consistent muzzle velocities with any charge that I tried enough of to tell what consistent was. I chronoed every round I shot, and the consistency of the numbers was one of the only things I could look at to say that at least one thing was happening the same way every time over the course of several weeks. Most of the loads would not shoot, including ones with standard deviation of ~11. In the end, I just went old school, shooting 3 round groups for group size. The best I could do was a consistent pair of 1.2 MOA groups. I did not have enough components or time in reserve to play with seating depth. My suspicion is that my rifle does not much like these bullets, which have a reputation for wanting to reach a velocity of 2950-3000 FPS before they start shooting well. My velocity with the 20” barrel is ~2814.
I also learned what I had not been able to when I tried to eliminate the bipod hop. Moving the butt closer to my sternum resulted in a definite reduction in the hop to the left. This puts the heel of the stock at the top of my pectoral muscle just below the collarbone. I notice that my head and neck seem to sit “truer” in this position.
I learned that a heavier rifle, even if just a pound or so, really helps in prone. It helps more than I would have thought. It does not help at all for me in offhand, and it makes the rifle less pleasant to carry around. It has caused me to rethink the feasibility of one rifle that can do everything well. I’m still committed to the idea of something handy, which is not what my rifle has morphed into in the last few weeks (it has probably gained ~20 oz.). Who knows what the future holds.
This officially closes the chapter on my sole obsession with precision shooting via the bipod and rear bag. Now comes the time to begin the hurried sharpening of the other tools in the box, and to ready them for use...
Posted by Rifleslinger at 10:13 AM
Thursday, May 16, 2013
I'm preparing to leave town until Monday, 6/3/13 for a vacation to shoot some shooting competitions. Effective immediately I won't be accepting payment on any new orders, as I cannot guarantee shipment prior to my departure.
If you'd like to get on my list for a sling, you can send an email as normal. All orders already made will be shipped promptly as usual.
Business will resume as normal upon my return, if the good Lord's willin' and the creeks don't rise.
Thanks for your patience.
Monday, May 13, 2013
If you have been reading here at all in the past month, it should be evident that I have been plagued with dissatisfying downrange results. After a while it starts to play with the mind. It’s probably natural to start wondering if what initially seems like an equipment problem can be shooter induced, as per Rifleslinger's Razor.
I had a hard time believing that I could be the cause of a 3 inch flinch (I don’t know if that’s an accurate description, or at what distance it would be accurate; it sounded cool). Flinching is one of those things that will rear its ugly head to any rifle shooter from time to time. One must maintain constant vigilance against it.
I had already sort of proven to myself that the rifle, and not me, was what was causing my inaccuracy woes. A few weeks ago I did a test in which I assumed a firing position in prone and had Young Miss Rifleslinger actuate the trigger during the bottom of my breath cycle. The result was a mediocre 1.55 MOA group.
Probably the best way to deal with a flinch on a routine basis is through the ball and dummy drill. I had been looking for my dummies for a few weeks. Luckily, the liquid portion of my lunch completely evacuated from its container into my backpack, which compelled me to empty it for cleaning and I found them.
Doing ball and dummy by oneself is not hard. It’s actually really good practice for manipulating the rifle without looking at it, which keeps the eyes downrange. I’m not saying one should never look at the rifle for a visual cue, but overdoing it can be a crutch. Shooting is such a visual activity, and rifle shooting sort of revolves around target detection, that keeping the eyes off the rifle as much as possible is a good idea.
Initially I began loading three dummies and one live round into my four round mag. That works pretty well unless you happen to shoot dummies for the first three rounds. I also got to where I could feel a difference in several ways. The live rounds would be cooler due to not having been cycled through the action. The dummies get rough. My reloads with this batch of brass were not sufficiently resized. I made a new batch of dummies with my new, bright, shiny brass, and reset my sizing die to take care of the things I could fix.
The next trip to the range with my new dummies gave me a lot more confidence. I have not seen more than a half inch of movement (at 129 yards) upon firing, and that much is uncommon. That movement was not due to flinch, but to trigger control and/or NPA issues. Most of the dummy dry fires were very smooth.
After playing with the 1 live/3 dummies method for a while, I stumbled onto something that worked a lot better in my opinion. I made four new dummies. I started grabbing 2 live rounds to work into the mix. Somehow I ended up with 6 cartridges in my hand as I was loading the mag. Four went into the mag. I put the mag in the rifle with the bolt slightly forward and topped it off with one of the remaining rounds. The other round I carefully set aside so I would not see it. The beauty of this dummy loading method is that even at the last round in the mag one cannot be certain whether it’s a dummy or a live round, and you can be assured that at least one round in the gun is live.
As I continue training for my upcoming matches I’m going to keep up the ball and dummy. I think it will be more useful as I transition into focusing on field positions. It also stretches out the quality of training per round, which is becoming more important considering the ammo supply line.