August 1991 – Michael’s Observations

I really liked Lyle’s event (see last issue), even though I shot feebly and, with all my aches and pains, was extra-slow trying to get into and out of position. At first I feared it was a problem with my hernia repair, done about eight or nine years ago at the V.A. Hospital, because I had pain and swelling right in the same area. It turned out to be an abscess in the groin, on top of my hernia repair which, I was thankful, was still intact. During the next week after the event the good old V.A. folks cut, slashed, and fixed me up again. Praise be to John C. Garand for the fact that my USMC Honorable Discharge is still worth something, in this world of today.

I was not the only one of the wounded who was in action that day. George Olmsted (who has had more than a few knee problems over the years) chipped his knee cap, and pulled several things apart going kneeling. It seems that George’s knees don’t want to go past a 90-degree bend. However, in fine warrior tradition, George limped back into the fight and carried on. Very good show! We had dinner last week on one of his L.A. overnights and, after some orthostereoscopic work on his knee, he is recovering nicely and looks forward to shooting with us again soon.

We Are Testing, Testing, Testing

It seems that, for the most part, everyone in our program more-or-less understands what it is that we’re trying to accomplish in the Southern California Tactical Combat Program: testing under field conditions — testing ourselves, our gear, our weapons, and our techniques for handling field shooting problems. Well, most of the time we do. However, as we cycle in some “new boys” from time to time, I think it is a good idea to remind all hands of our mysterious and sacred mission. Although I am fully aware that you can lead a horse to water but you cannot make him drink, we are not dumb animals. I believe if you point out the opportunities available for learning extremely valuable information to the new boys it will make a difference in how they approach their shooting. And it may even remind a few old hands that there are many lessons just waiting to be learned, if we put forth the effort necessary to learn them. Huh, maybe?

For instance, I put a pouch on my right suspender and then had trouble getting the rifle into that shoulder all day. It made me slower than I could have been, but it was not responsible for me yanking on the trigger! I stayed with it and reconfirmed what I probably already knew, but had to learn over: not to put anything there! I know I didn’t shoot very well, but my new “M1/H” rifle hit the plates each time I held it steady and had good trigger control. When I waved it around and yanked on the trigger, the damn thing wouldn’t hit at all. Fancy that.

Another lad who is fairly new to us had some teething problems with his gear, so he shucked it. I told him he should have stayed with it anyhow, to see just what could be done to work around the problem or so he could get some firm ideas on how he thought the gear should work in the future. Harry Dexter tested his chest strap carry for his big 7×50 binoculars, and he said it seemed to work very well and didn’t interfere when he went prone. Remember, these shoots are all golden opportunities for us to test whatever it is that needs testing. Don’t let them slip away!

Small Plates: Trajectory vs. Zero

At 200 yards, only the times with one-shot hits can be used to figure the average time taken to go prone and launch a first round hit. The top three fastest one-shot hits averaged about eight seconds flat, so if you subtract that from (for instance) Robert Mount’s time, and divide by his other five shots (six shots, total) you come up with three seconds per shot. Perhaps a little too fast for a head-size (10-inch) target, but not much faster than Bill Johnson’s 3.33-second average for his last two shots. However, it seems that Bill had a scope, and could spot his strikes better. Question: the people who fired the most shots at 200 yards, Mount and Caplan, had iron sights — did the fact they could not see the targets as well, or see exactly where they were missing, make them shoot so many shots so rapidly?

Dexter, Banks, and Philip Wyatt carried the manually-operated (bolt and lever-action) banner, and all had scope sights. All of them took longer than 10 seconds to make a hit at 200 yards. Why? Again, at 150 yards, they seem to be significantly slower than the military rifles; and the same holds true at 100 yards, with Mr. new-boy Banks taking the maximum time for three shots and no hits from kneeling. Although, in his defense, I don’t know his zero or his trajectory; that in itself could be the cause, especially if he didn’t know them very well either. (He is fairly fresh from an API 250 class, so he should at least have some semblance of trigger control.

The point is, we have been led to believe that the quicker handling, the lighter triggers, and the superior accuracy of sporting rifles and of bolt action rifles in general, is exactly what the bolt-action, scout rifle concept has to offer as a true and solid benefit over military rifles.

Have we assumed, over the years, advantages about the bolt-gun that in fact do not actually exist? Perhaps so. Maybe we’re discovering once again that it is the man behind the weapon, and how good a day he’s having, that decides the issue. What a concept! In fact, Dexter taking Second Overall in the man-vs.-man shooting seems to indicate that he shot faster, and got quicker hits, than he did in the qualifications; a case of the man behind the gun getting his act together when it really counted.

General Performance

Several people took longer to shoot at 150 yards than they did at 200 yards. Some even took more shots! Why? The times and the number of shots should have gone down as we got closer, except for those of us who chose to fire wildly (three or more shots) from off-hand. Did we underestimate the task? Were the 200-yard hits lucky? One of the main problems in gaining information from these scores is that there exists a different mind-set in qualifications from that in man-vs.-man shooting. No doubt about it. It doesn’t mean that it is bad, just different. In qualification shooting, where it is just you against the clock, some people tend to shoot more carefully. It is a good time to test yourself against time and to find out whether or not a certain position or technique is getting you the results you desire. Shooting qualification times serves as a little controlled test that gives you feedback about what is working well for you.

On the other hand, man-vs.-man shooting tends to hurry us all. That is, we tend to take hastier shots from higher or less stable positions (at least with rifles) than we normally would. However, in the heat of battle we sometimes see the error of our ways and seek a more stable position, or execute better sight alignment and trigger control than the “hose job” shooting we’ve just been doing, several seconds before. We saw that happen at this rifle event, and I have seen it happen over and over again, in lots of man-vs.-man shooting, during the last 20 years or so. I would like to have recorded just how many shots were fired by each shooter in each bout of the man-vs.-man shooting. It might have been very illuminating.

Continue Shooting ‘Till You Hit, or Miss and Slow Down?

Speaking of volume of fire, which we almost did, it would be interesting to know (and please call me or write me, if you have any answers to tell) if shooters tend to fire at a steady, even pace until they get a hit, or… do shooters fire fairly quick first shots, and then slow down their shooting because they missed? This brings up yet another question of group size (spread) in rapid fire (defined as about one to three seconds per shot) versus getting into a very stable position and taking the time to get a first shot hit. Admittedly, it’s a very difficult task to do, with another shooter firing away right next to you. But would it be any easier if those shots were flying at you, near misses from an enemy down-range?

What are people really doing? Do shooters firing at a single point target (as in qualifications for time) tend to go for fast, one-shot hits and only slow down if their first shots miss? Or are some of the shooters more or less committed to a steady cadence of shots until they hit? It seems, from observed data, that most shooters in man-vs.-man shooting tend to fire evenly spaced shots until (1) they miss enough times to make them slow down and execute better technique or, (2) their opponents finally hit first because they had already missed several times and taken too long. Does that sound right, compared to your experiences? My personal opinion is that if you take more than two shots to hit in a man-vs.-man, the outcome is “up for grabs” and it is either a case of outlasting or out-slopping the other guy — not controlled skill by any means.

More Food For Thought

Only Bob Jones and Jay had all one-shot hits, and they qualified for third and eighth places respectively. The top two time-qualifiers just had one one-shot hit each, out of their three chances. Jay and Bill were the only two to go prone at all three distances. Bill was the fastest of anyone who went prone at 100 yards, but slower than the top two off-hand hits. Jay’s 150- and 100-yard times were very close to each other. Shouldn’t one of them have been faster or slower?

In a man-vs.-man fight, where the other guy’s misses are all whizzing right by or kicking dirt on you, we all can see that the distraction factor to your shooting might be substantial. In looking at the score sheet, would Robert Mount’s six shots in 23 seconds have been preferable against people who had one-shot hits in 10 seconds or longer? Would they have calmly hit anyway? Or would the close misses he was shooting have spoiled their aim until he got his hit? Would my four shots, at 100 yards, in just under 12 seconds, against Jay have prevented him from getting off his single-shot hit in the same amount of time? Could one of my earlier misses have hit, or would any of Robert Mount’s earlier shots have hit, a man target while he was going into position?

I’m not sure there are any firm answers right now, but we should start looking for them. I am not at all ready to concede that “hose-and-hope” is a viable technique: “shoot faster, we’re still missing them, damn it!” Nonetheless, in pistol shooting we have come to understand that a single solid hit somewhere in the torso of the target, done very quickly, is a much better result than two shots touching inside the shirt pocket, done a great deal slower.

If you have the time (or you are firing the first shot of the engagement) with your rifle, a perfect center hit (or your best precision shot) should cost you nothing. Of course, we must always consider the size of the target we have to engage. A 10-inch disk is a far more difficult target than a full- or half-silhouette of a man. It would seem important for each shooter to know what size “cone of dispersion” or group size he can shoot at each estimated distance and rate of fire, especially at battle sight ranges (300 yards or meters, and under). Beyond that distance I truly believe that very careful aimed fire, from as solid a position as you can get, to be the most effective.

It may well turn out that semi-auto rifles have an distinct advantage at battle sight ranges over the more accurate bolt-action rifles (and past scores in the Bunker Suppression event, out to 300 yards, seem to bear this out). It seems that most military rifles group well enough to make hits (not necessarily super-tight groups) on man size targets at the longer ranges. This is naturally a comparison using shooters of approximately the same ability. Of course, we know that a good man having a good day can do much better with poor equipment than poor shooters can do even with the very best equipment.

Well, let me know some of your ideas — if any of you remember to write, or your memory lasts long enough to tell me when you see me next. In the meantime, I am working up a rifle shoot which will build on some of the things I’ve discussed so far. In fact, I’m working on two different events, each one based on one of the stages we just shot in this one of Lyle’s.