Kirsch - Basics

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From Thinking Practical Shooting, by Saul Kirsch (page 13).

The Hold
The hold is how well you are able to keep your sight picture stable on the center of the target. It is extremely difficult to shoot an accurate shot when the sights are moving all over the target. The easiest way to achieve a good hold is to support the gun on a solid rest. You can use a sandbag resting on a table, or shoot in the prone position with the gun supported on the ground. This is a good way to practice the other elements of precision shooting, as having a solid stable hold simplifies your training.

Of course, you cannot support the gun or shoot prone in most competition shooting. It is essential to be able to hold the gun stable while standing unsupported, and for some shooters this is more difficult than for others. To some degree, a stable hold is a physiological ability you either have or not. However, certain actions can be taken to improve the hold:

Stance: Always stand with your feet comfortably apart, forming a wide comfortable base. Slightly bend your knees, but not enough to cause muscle strain. Pay attention to where your weight rests on your feet. Do not stand with your weight entirely on the front or on the back of your foot. Slightly to the front is preferable. Lead with your weak foot, so that your feet are not in the same line. Standing this way prevents a rocking forward-backward motion.
Natural point of aim: Try to be on target in your natural point of aim. In your shooting stance, close your eyes, and move the gun right and left about 45 degrees off the target. Do these swinging motions a few times from side to side, with your eyes closed. Allow the gun to stop in the position that feels most comfortable and relaxed. Then open your eyes and check where the gun has settled. Repeat this at least 3 times.
If you see that your point of aim is consistently off to the right when you open your eyes, adjust your foot position accordingly. Imagine you are standing on a rotating platform with its hinge between your feet. Rotate that platform in your mind, and correct the positioning of both feet accordingly. Once you have found the correct foot position that puts your natural point of aim on the target, or close to it, do not move your feet as you shoot your group. With experience you will learn how to place your feet correctly when setting up to shoot. Of course, this may not be applicable to IPSC match shooting, but it is useful to do in practice when working to improve accuracy and hold.
Arm extension: As a rule, it is easier to hold your hands stable when they are closer to your center of mass. If you are shooting with extended arms, you would do well to bend them slightly at the elbows in order to bring the weight of the gun closer to your body. It makes for a better hold, and probably helps in recoil control as well.
Gripping force: Over-gripping the gun is one of the most common mistakes in IPSC shooting. It originates from our wish to control recoil, and we will discuss this in a later chapter. Over-gripping can seriously hinder your hold. Your shoulders and arms tire more quickly, and muscle tremors make it impossible to hold the gun stable. Relax your grip! A very tight grip is unnecessary, especially during slow precision shooting. Allow the gun to recoil up off the target. This does not reduce your precision, and gives you a better hold.
Duration of aiming: Our hold is best during the first seconds we pick up our sight picture. The longer we hold on the target, the worse it gets. Movements only increase, never decrease. So, if you have not fired the shot within 4-6 seconds of settling on the target, you would do better to reject the shot, take your finger off the trigger, bring the gun down (while keeping it pointing downrange - never at your feet!) and attempt the shot again.

Correct breathing is a vital part of precision shooting. As soon as the level of oxygen in the blood begins to fall , our muscles suffer and functioning deteriorates. Even though we are capable of holding our breath for a minute or more, motor deterioration begins much sooner.

The most sensitive muscles in the human body, and the first to be affected, are the eye muscles. As soon as the level of blood oxygen drops , our vision begins to deteriorate. And of course, vision is the key to accuracy. Mere seconds after we stop breathing our eyes go slightly out of focus, vision is blurred, and transfer of information from the eyes to the brain is delayed. What you think you are seeing is not actually happening right now, but a fraction of a second ago. This plays havoc with the precise timing and eye-hand coordination so critical to accurate shooting.

In addition, the brain soon feels the lack of oxygen, and thought processes become slower and less efficient. This does not do our coordination and decision-making faculties any good.

All this begins only a few seconds after we stop breathing. It is therefore essential to pay attention to the following guidelines when shooting:

  • Do not hold your breath for more than 4-6 seconds before firing a shot. If that time passes, and the shot has not been fired, bring the gun down, rest, breathe, and try again.
  • Make sure you breathe sufficiently between shots. Take time to breathe deeply at least 3 to 4 times. Take care, though, not to hyperventilate, as that causes dizziness.
  • Do not stop your breathing when your lungs are empty. This causes the level of oxygen in the blood to drop even faster. On the other hand, do not hold your breath when your lungs are too full as this is uncomfortable, and causes muscle tension. Stop your breathing after exhaling naturally. In this position, about a third of your lungs are still full.

Let me add a few words about breathing on IPSC stages.

Be aware that you do not actually breathe as you shoot a string of shots. While you hold up the gun in front of you , you are aiming, shooting, and transferring to the next target - and you are not breathing at all! It is a subconscious reaction to the explosions going off in front of your face. You cannot shoot and breathe, even if you want to. You breathe as you move between positions, or bring the gun down for a reload.

If you would like to check this, shoot 20 accurate shots that take 10 or more seconds to complete. For instance, shoot A hits only on multiple targets that are 50 m away. You feel yourself choking towards the end of the string. You feel the need to breathe - but, if you continue to shoot, you cannot breathe.

It is important to be aware of this, and incorporate it in your preparation for a stage. Avoid the common habit of holding your breath as you wait for the beep. Many shooters do this, and as a result hold their breath for 5 seconds or more even before moving for the draw. This is a distinct disadvantage. Be sure to take deep breaths before the stage commences, again taking care to avoid hyperventilation, and use each movement on the stage to breathe deeply.