Will O’Meara’s rifle training progress

Will O’Meara continues to lock down on his training, and is looking at ways to maximise his progress.

Rifle training tips from Will O’Meara

Last month, we covered some of the fine-tuning and set-up aspects of training. This month, we take a look at some ways to maximise your training without ever firing a shot.

First of all, let’s be clear: I like shooting, but shooting is not always the best use of your time. My first instinct on the range is to get my gear out and send some projectiles to an intended target.

That feeling of punching neat little holes in the paper or ringing that steel is very rewarding – it makes you feel good. What I have come to realise, though, is that a little rehearsal will only add to your results, and pay dividends in your progression in riflecraft.

Sometimes, of course, it can be good to get shooting straightaway, the perfect example being your cold-bore shot or cold-shooter shot, as may be more to the point.

Let’s dive down the rabbit hole of cold-bore. The whole idea here is that you have no warm-up; it is one shot, all in, hit or miss. Before you arrive at the range, decide on the distance of your cold-bore shot, and pick the size of your target.

I referred to ‘cold-shooter’ earlier, and the reason I did so is that it can often be the shooter that causes the error in shot placement, and not the bore of the rifle. There are, of course, instances where the condition of your rifle bore can affect your fall of shot.

Cleaning your rifle is probably one of the main causes of this differential in fall of shot. If your rifle is zeroed on a fouled or dirty barrel bore and you subsequently clean it then there can be a point of impact shift.

Point of impact will return to your original zero once your barrel returns to the condition it was in when you set your zero. How do we overcome this? One way is to not clean your bore.

Another is to meticulously clean your barrel every three shots, and confirm your zero on a clean barrel. I have covered cleaning before, so I won’t dive into it here again. Either way, the principle is the same: start with your barrel in the same condition, and you will get the same result.

Applying this logic, maybe it should be called a ‘clean-bore’ shot. The term ‘cold-bore’ may have come from the thought that after the first shot the temperature of the barrel rapidly increases, and thus causes a difference in fall of shot. As temperature increases then so too does the velocity of your projectile.

Short-range training aids allow the use of your scope at super-close ranges

A faster projectile will strike the target higher. From my experience running many shot strings into groups over chronographs, or more recently using the lab-radar, my conclusion is that in hunting scenarios, the temperature of the barrel should never affect your fall of shot, unless your barrel is light in profile and you are firing in rapid succession. This was demonstrated using the lab-radar recently.

Firing eight shots in fairly rapid succession, there was little deviation in velocity until the seventh and eighth shot. Those last two shots had also sat in the chamber longer than the previous six shots.

The reason for the extra chamber time was also heat related, specifically mirage. I had to wait for the scope mirage to clear in order to break the shot.

Having said that, there was no notable point of impact shift at 100 metres, despite the increase in velocity. Granted, that test was with a Sandero Profile carbon barrel. So let’s climb back out of this rabbit hole and towards the topic: practice without shooting.

Dress rehearsal

Rehearsal is always good, and can take many forms. You can rehearse without any kit simply by closing your eyes and playing through a scenario. You can rehearse with a pen and paper – like making a pre-fire process list that you can then practice and ingrain as a habit or a ritual.

But seeing as we have invested in the toys, let’s explore how we can practice at home. Dress rehearsal is a great yoke; it puts you a step closer to reality. It can help with issues such as dexterity when wearing gloves – if you remove your gloves for the shot, where do you put them?

I often like to put mine down on the side of a hill, take the shot, gralloch the animal, and then spend 20 minutes traipsing around the hillside looking for my gloves (insert monkey with his head in his hands emoji here).

Over years of preparing for competitions, I have come to realise the value of dry-fire. This is especially true in scenario-based events. Taking the time to explore different ways of doing it will stand you in good stead over time. I think it is because you build up a huge data bank of experience from this experimentation.

It then becomes instinctive as to what you should do in a particular scenario – what might work and what won’t – a bit like hunting itself really. Some of the most productive work I have done on the range has been without firing a shot at all. Of course, it’s always good to confirm by firing, but as your experience builds then so too does your appreciation of rehearsal.

In terms of dress rehearsal, I make a habit of wearing my bino harness. In fact, this year I have made the decision that I am going to wear it in all precision rifle matches. You don’t need it in those comps, but it will be good practice and a constant reminder of why I compete – to improve my shooting skills for hunting.

Set your sights

Set goals for each session. I believe for dry practice it is good to hone in on a specific aspect or tool, and to approach it with the ‘little and often’ mindset. Examples of such aspects might include shooting off props: gates, fence posts, rocks etc, or perhaps using aides such as a tripod or quadsticks.

I like to develop a scenario in my mind, bring some movement into the practice, and have a multi-position practice stage – for example, one shot prone, one shot kneeling, one shot standing.

You can build variations; supported, unsupported, from the rifle slung position, etc. I also favour a timed approach, as well as allowing myself the freedom to experiment.

Short-range training aids allow the use of your scope at super-close ranges

It is through experimentation and objective assessment of effectiveness that we can improve. Another useful tool in assessment is to video yourself and take note (actually write it down in a notebook) of what works well and what does not.

The video analysis is always interesting for me, as it gives me an objective viewpoint. It never looks as good as I think it did, and thus spurs on identification of weakness in technique and subsequent improvements.

Building multiple shots into the position scenario above is easy. The addition of different ranges and wind speeds can really add to the scenario. I sometimes use a chalk board for this purpose.

I will draw several targets on the board of different sizes – you could also print off some pictures of deer to add to the reality. On the chalk board, I write a series of ranges and wind speeds.

I pick one of each at random, followed by some targets, and then apply the correction to my scope. Sometimes I dial, while at other times I hold the correction – such is the advantage of a scope like the Steiner M7Xi, but apply the logic to whatever scope you use.

If you have no ability to correct for range or wind, then practice holding off, relate your hold-offs to the size of the target, and push yourself beyond your perceived boundaries. This will improve your skills, and also reinforce your understanding of the limits of yourself and your equipment.

Adapt your training

The breaking of the shot – i.e. what happens to your scope picture when you press the trigger and the firing pin goes click – will tell you a lot about your setup and shot process.

This practice can be further improved with some training aides such as the Dry Fire Focus adaptor from DST Precision. This little kit comes with a little disc-shaped adaptor and a stack of photos of ranges.

Build scenario-based training

The adaptor allows your scope to focus on the photo from a very close range, and the photo adds a nice dimension of reality to the training. Incidentally, I tried to make one of these focus adaptors before, and it sort of worked, but wasn’t great.

I drilled a small hole in a plastic disc (lid of a glass yoghurt jar), which fitted perfectly in the objective of my scope. This, coupled with a bright light onto the target picture, allowed me to improve focus, but it wasn’t perfect.

I have used some diagnostic tools in conjunction with live fire and dry fire over the years, and these tools can really add to your training. There are a few of these on the market or about to be launched, such as Mantis-X and Aim-Steady.

These diagnostic tools track exactly what’s happening in relation to your inputs to the gun, and relay the information to your phone. All this data can then be used to display trends, weaknesses and improvements in your shooting. These diagnostic units are tiny, not limited to dry fire, and can be used with any firearm.

There are other aides that are widely used, such as shooting cinemas. These are incredible simulators that allow you to use your own rifle to train in a realistic and dynamic scenario.

They are very popular on the continent, but most of us have one sitting in the corner of our living room, aka the TV – just don’t try live fire on it! Or I am I the only one who shoots at Nat Geo on the TV?

When you get back to the range, don’t leave your dry fire habits behind you. There is great benefit to running shooting stages dry, especially against the clock. Be creative, use your imagination, and experiment – it will pay greater dividends to you in the field.

Practice will pay off as with success, be it in competition or on the hunt

Practise stuff that you never practise, don’t fall into the old routine of printing pretty groups off the bench. Analyse your weaknesses, and train until they become strengths.

Note down what you have learned and build it into subsequent practice. A final note on safety and unintended consequences: when dry firing, ensure that your chamber is empty, and even better that you don’t have any live ammunition even with you. 

Practise in a safe location; never point your weapon at anyone, and ensure that your practice doesn’t lead to a visit from the police, wondering why you are leopard crawling around the garden, and seem to be shooting off your step ladder at your neighbour’s chickens.

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