Rifle training tips from Will O’Meara

Will O’Meara has been using the Covid-19 restrictions as the ideal opportunity to lock down on his training.

Will O’Meara has been using the Covid-19 restrictions as the ideal opportunity to lock down on his training.

Obstacles are opportunities. Every time you come up against a problem it offers you an opportunity to improve. If you are reading this article, then there’s a better than average chance that you love rifle shooting.

The recent Covid lockdown has imposed restrictions that for many may meant no shooting. Personally, I took this restriction as an opportunity to improve.

I have long since learned the value of ‘dry fire’ practise. It was originally through pistol shooting that I was introduced to the notion and since then I have consistently seen the benefits to my riflecraft too.

So, what extra stuff do you need to do this training? Nothing, but there are tools that can add to the experience. I have used simulators and cinemas, paint rounds and blanks, video and diagnostic tools but to honest you don’t “need” any of that.

What you do need is some imagination plus a little time and discipline. In this two-part article we will look at the different aspects of practice that can be done to improve your skills without ever firing a shot.

There are some aides to add to your dry-fire training but first let’s explore some aspects of the training itself. As a soldier, a hunter, a guide and a competitor I have seen no other practice that gives you so much bang for your buck – partly because there is no cost and despite the fact that there is no bang!

Firstly lets dispel a myth – dry firing your rifle is bad for it. In the case of a modern rifle this is false, though antiques may be a different story.

However, the use of a snap cap can be very useful to training – it allows you to simulate bullet pickup from the mag during the cycling of the bolt and it also may give you “nicer” feedback as the firing pin strikes.

I think the simulation of pickup is most valuable and may iron out any issues that you may have with short stroking the bolt.

Lock and load

Short stroking the bolt happens during the reload and results in an empty chamber, it is caused by not bringing the bolt back far enough to pick up a new round from the magazine.

It has happened us all but as your experience grows you will learn to detect if it happens – for me it’s usually the sound of the reload that alerts me to the fact that I haven’t racked a round.

As I mentioned earlier short stroking the bolt can be one cause of not picking up a round, another can be that your magazine is not seated fully. The best action to take if you experience an empty chamber and the magazine has rounds in it is to slap (or push) your magazine and then to cycle the bolt again.

What we also learn from this is to always give your magazine a tap after fitting it to ensure it is seated fully home. A press check is where you load the round and then open the bolt, drawing it back just enough to see the brass of the case, thus confirming you have loaded a round.

Removing your mag to check that one has been taken is another method – these checks are usually used for the first round. Personally I have a habit of loading my first round in by hand; with the magazine full I draw the bolt back half way and feed in a round. I usually carry two rounds in my binocular harness for this purpose.

The advantages of this loading procedure are many fold: It allows me to have an extra round loaded, it confirms I have a round in the chamber and it is far quieter than racking a round from the magazine.

Many’s the day I have cringed as a hunter I am guiding rattles a round from the magazine when we are in close quarters of (previously) unsuspecting deer. In summary, snap caps have their benefits in training, to help you learn how to avoid problems and practice how to solve issues that may arise.

Set-up scenarios

Areas to train might include; system set-up and adjustments, gear ergonomics, positions, ranges, wind, scenarios, IA’s, transitions and fundamentals.

Things that I include in system set-up and adjustment are sling length and attachment, how you carry your rifle may depend on the type of hunt – are you in the forest or on the mountain? Will you shoot from sticks or freehand?

Do you expect a fleeting chance or a more planned stalk? Will you have to crawl? Are you carrying a pack? etc. For example, on the mountain I carry my rifle slung across my back.

This suits because it allows me to move well across terrain, to climb and glass easily, I expect to have to crawl to my final firing position and the rifle sits well on my back for this purpose.

Train your system and scenarios

In a forest scenario I often carry the rifle on my shoulder, sometimes with the muzzle forwards – alpine style, sometimes in the more conventional manner. This suits a quick set-up or use of quad-sticks. Practice different methods and what sling length suits each.

My RedKettle adjustable sling allows me to quickly adjust for different scenarios and also when employing the sling as a support aid. I probably use the quick release function mostly when deploying the rifle from the slung across my back position.

Some rifles carry better with the sling on the side versus the normal underneath position. I like the side mount and to have my front stud as far forward as possible. This helps keep the rifle balanced when you have a moderator fitted.

Bipod deployment and adjustment is another one to practice. I use Spartan Precision bipods – each have benefits and compromises. The 300 version stays on the rifle so practicing its deployment was limited to instinctively knowing where the release button was and also ensuring I didn’t over pan as there is no pan limiter.

I could not get on with the Javelin to begin with as I didn’t have an effective way to carry it. I now have a Redkettle light holster that sits on my bino harness.

I practice taking it from the holster and popping it onto the rifle – the more you practice this the slicker it becomes. I also practice adjusting the leg length, this will be true no matter what bipod you use and all will differ.

The Atlas and Harris both require practice to ensure quiet deployment and adjustment – it is amazing how many stalks are spoilt by the “ping ping” of a spring bipod leg or the ratchet of a leg being lengthened.

Setting up your scope has many aspects all of which can be built into training. Testing ocular focus to ensure a sharp crosshair, the parallax adjustment to ensure a crisp picture and removing parallax error, understanding your crosshair if it is a ballistic or mildot style, building turret check and adjustment into your shot process and adjusting the magnification are all factors that can be improved with practice.

Let’s dive deeper into just two aspects of scope adjustment; parallax and magnification. To test your parallax; select a target, ideally at a longer range. Adjust parallax until you get your target in focus.

Now, without moving the rifle, move your head up/down and side to side – this is changing the position of your eye in relation to the reticle – if your parallax is correct then the crosshair position will remain in the same position on the target.

If the crosshair moves as you change your head position then adjust parallax until the movement is minimised. This will ensure the least margin of potential parallax error. The more you do this, the more you will come to realise the benefit, build it into your shot routine, then train it to make it habitual.

Magnification methods

In relation to magnification, sometimes less is more. I have often been surprised at how better groups can be achieved at lower magnification. There are a number of reasons for this.

When you increase magnification then your target gets bigger but any movement or shaking is also magnified, this can cause you to snatch at the trigger as you become over conscious of your movement on the target.

Adjusting your mag to zoom in and out can also be useful, for example to find an animal you will benefit from a wide field of view and then crank up the magnification to identify it and then wind back for a suitable scope picture to shoot.

Too much magnification can also make it difficult to find the animal, difficult to maintain sight picture during recoil and follow through and increase the difficulty of making a follow up shot.

The sling is often overlooked and under-utilised

Tunnel vision

I’ve seen a few instances where a hunter I was guiding has shot a different animal to the one I indicated because they were tunnel visioned by too high a magnification. Practice changing your magnification whilst in different shooting positions and also practice picking up your target.

It is easy to tell a well practised rifle shooter by how quickly they can acquire a target. To practice this is simple and pays dividends. Pick a target with your binos, eyeball it with your naked eye, noting some landmarks, then line up on it by using your muzzle as a reference.

Look through your scope at a low magnification, find your target and then crank up the magnification. Play around with this until you find a happy medium of magnification that allows you to find targets and have precise shot placement – use this then as your optimum magnification.

As you improve with practice, increase your starting magnification – this will make it more testing to transition from eyeballing the target to picking it up in the scope and thus your skill in acquiring targets will improve. I then revert back to “optimum” and have my scope set to this as a base setting – remember that “less is more”.

Gear up

It is also worth mentioning that wearing your hunting gear whilst practising can add to the experience. It will help fine tune your gear and the ergonomic use of your tools.

For example, where do you keep you lens cloth? Imagine you have stalked in on the ‘stag of a lifetime’, you raise your rifle and peer through the scope to see nothing but a grey haze!

Can you clean it in a quick and effective manner? The same could apply to your spare ammunition, your binoculars, rangefinder etc. Know your kit by practicing with it, improve your system at every opportunity.

In next month’s article we will take a look at further aspects of training and how you can add realism and variety to your routine. Remember to always double check your weapon and magazines are unloaded when dry firing and to practise in a discrete and safe manner.

In the meantime, I hope this adds to your training and helps keep you focused on all the positives that lie ahead.

If you hunt with gloves then train with gloves too. Parallax has the potential to cause a miss

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