Once or twice a year I go to the range with my unit to qualify on my M4. I usually shoot 3-4 3-round magazines to zero (sometimes more if I just want to shoot) and then head off to the qualification range. I usually do fairly terrible. There are some mitigating factors, primarily that the ranges we go to are typically not well maintained. But I would think that as often as I’m at the local range I would qualify a lot better than I do.
Jesse and I spend a lot of time at the local range, and that’s the problem. The range has nice cement benches to shoot from, we’re shooting out of a solid chair, and the target is a nice steel plate that has a nice ring when the round hits it. It is a really comfortable and solid place to shoot. I can hit that man-sized plate at 200 yards every time, even without magnification. There just isn’t any stress, there’re no time limits; it’s just me and the rifle, the two of us sitting on the bench. I can spend 10-15 seconds lining a shot up and not have to worry about the target dropping down. When qualifying I just don’t have that luxury.
This is a problem that I think most shooters face, even if they don’t know it. I know, most people don’t have to qualify the way I do; but if they ever get into an SHTF or home invasion situation, those kinds of stressors are going to become a factor. This is something we have to train for as responsible gun owners.
There are a few good solutions to help with this problem, but, to be honest, they all need to be done and even combined if possible.
Find an area out in the back woods that gives you a relatively good range and a solid backstop. Lay in the dirt. In fact, if you can find an uncomfortable place to shoot from, shoot there. In a combat situation, it is unlikely you are going to have the time to set up the perfect shooting position and you have to get used to shooting from awkward and uncomfortable places.
Start doing something to “qualify” yourself. Set up a series of targets at various unknown ranges and give yourself a short amount of time to hit them. Paint numbers on them and have a buddy randomly call them out so that you don’t get into a set pattern. Once you get good at that, give yourself one round for each target. It probably isn’t a bad idea to start clay pigeon shooting either. Get used to having to aim and fire accurately under duress.
The real key is to shoot outside of your comfort zone. Shoot off of the hood of a car; off of a barrier; out of a makeshift window; shoot up; shoot down; shoot laying against a tree and use your knee as a brace; shoot off of the bench. Shooting from a bench doesn’t develop any new skills. Force yourself to develop new skills, understand and practice shooting up and down angles. Practice leveling the cant of your rifle during poor shooting position drills. Know why you’re doing it.
Find some classes. I know they are expensive, especially the good ones, but they are worth it. You will be able to safely shoot in ways that you typically can’t do at the local range, and probably shouldn’t if you are alone out in the woods. The classes is typically structured in a way that you will build your skills from one class to the next. Start at the bottom and in 2-3 classes you will be moving and shooting in a safe and controlled manner.
Talk to shooters you respect. Have them critique you and show you positions you haven’t used. Take what works and throw away what doesn’t. Everyone is different; sometimes what works for one will never fit in the toolbox of another.
Finally, self-educate. By reading this article you’ve already taken that step. Read respected shooting forums, immerse yourself in the science of ballistics. Understand what environmental factors do to a shot: elevation, temperature, the wind, humidity, and angles all come into play. It’s not necessary to understand every nuance and formula in advanced shooting to improve. Simply understanding the concepts that increases in elevation and temperature, and a decrease in humidity all lower wind resistance and will shift your POI higher. The basics are enough to improve your shooting capability until you’re ready to take it to the next level.
Nothing says stress like competition. Turning up the pressure by shooting in unusual positions under constraints and artificial pressures. You’ll arguably learn more about yourself, your skills and your gear in one competition than you will week’s out in the woods. You can find a competition to fit virtually any skill level. My own shooting range has CMP High-Power matches on a monthly basis that’s fantastic for those both new and experienced in service rifle shooting.
Whatever you choose to do to improve your shooting, just be uncomfortable.