November 1991 – Michael’s Observations

Rattle Battle II

Well, I guess everyone who was there now agrees with me on this: 60 seconds was just not long enough at 600 yards, in the second running of the “Rattle Battle,” for the required tasks and procedures. When teams shoot from 50% to 600% better scores at 300 yards than their 600-yard scores, something is amiss. Even the highest score shot at 600 yards was exceeded by that team’s 300-yard performance. This seems to indicate inadequate time for 600 yards. Another factor was that none of the teams obtained more than two hits on the 600 yard bonus target — out of 12 possible! A miserable 16% (two-of-12) is all that any team could muster.

Therefore, by all the power vested in me as an SCTC program “Fuhrer-For-Life” [since we are located in California, the German part translates as “El Queso Grande” – ye Ed.], I do hereby declare and proclaim that the new time limit for the 600-yard stage of the very next running (“Rattle Battle III”) will be 90 seconds — and may God and John C. Garand help you if you don’t have a good zero!

I assisted Victor, but he made all the major decisions such as team assignments. He made sure that each team had a .223, and at least one scope-sighted weapon. In the case of Bill’s team, he let us all have scopes, but he also gave us the only non-semi-auto weapon (a lever-action .30-30, with a low-power, down-bore scope). Lever-action-Tom had to do a lot of one-at-a-time loading while the clock was running. We also had the only other non-magazine-fed, semi-auto weapon: my loads-only-eight-at-a-time M1 Garand.

Lessons Learned

From observation, and by studying the hits as shown on the score sheets, we can see a few things. First, a “mouse gun” was very helpful to each team, as its higher rate-of-fire (from the lower recoil) allowed it to help out with the T-1, T-2, and T-3 targets at 300 yards and closer.

At 600 yards, only Bill Johnson (.223 with Colt scope) had all six hits on his target — of all shooters! No one else got over 50% hits. Of course, my contention is that this is just another case of a good shooter overcoming a “bad tool” for long-range shooting, and yet another classic example of the man being more important than the weapon itself. Except for at 600 yards, where all the specific information wasn’t available, Bill shot 50% to 75% on his bonus target shots (and I commend the pit crews, who took the time to break down the information and separated .223 and 30-caliber hits) and he was the only shooter who had six hits on his T-target at every range! Bill, on the T-targets, had 53% of our teams hits. Tom Banks and his lever gun didn’t have a very high rate of fire, and didn’t wind up shooting very many shots on his T-target, although I’m quite sure that a number of the 30-caliber hits on the bonus target were from his .30-30.

My Own Personal Sins & Follies

I had two failures to feed at 600 yards, due to what I believe to be lack of lubrication, which kept my potential hits down. Bob Jones offered me some grease to use before I shot at 300 yards, and I accepted. This was the first trial of the new M1/H since the welding-on of the scope mount, and with very little break-in time on the weapon. I only had a “ballpark” zero (on paper at 100 yards, and hits on steel with the range drum) but I was anxious to shoot it in an event. I had not yet put the field-support gear: rod, brush, case extractor, oil or solvent, and patches in the butt trap. Shame on me — but you all know crap happens. At any rate, the rifle then functioned without a hitch at 300 yards with its improved lubrication, courtesy of Bob Jones.

However at 200 yards, evil tidings. Even though my M1 was the only semi-auto weapon without a 20- or 30-round magazine, I could load three, reload with eight, shoot only one more, and have enough rounds left for seven-to-make-six on my own T-target before reloading for the second time. Oh joy! But then I became the cruel victim of the Mother-of-All-Malfunctions — the one where the operating rod comes off the bolt right after my first shot! This happens rarely to the Garand system, but it is usually the fault of the op-rod not fitting properly in the receiver channel, or being bent outward too much where the handle joins the tube.

I almost got it back on in time for a few shots, but I forgot the first rule for this type of problem — clear the weapon first! I needed to eject the two rounds and the clip, drop into a cross-legged sitting position, and work with the weapon across my lap. Yes, the op-rod can be disengaged from the bolt while the rifle is still fully assembled. This is the way you replace a bolt in the rifle, if all the other parts are good, to cure a broken ejector, extractor, or firing pin when you’re in the field. I had a spare bolt in my gear, two ruptured-case extractors, and a cleaning rod, but no lube.

But later I got to thinking — what if Bob Jones had mixed black powder in with that grease? What if this was a plot to make me look bad? After enough movement of the op-rod, the black powder would have blown the op-rod out of the track. Maybe? Maybe this theory is all a plot by me to distract attention from my horrible 100-yard shooting! I shot too fast and I used the six-power scope, instead of my iron sights as I should have! You should have seen the reticle post in my scope, running almost out of control, all over the target. It was awful, and I was embarrassed — but very thankful for “slopping on” five hits, a true miracle in action.

Back to a more serious note: the spirit of the program — all the shooters watching each other and helping each other out, either by their actions (like Bob’s lube for my sticky rifle), or their suggestions about technique, or observations of problems. It makes this a very good learning experience for all of us, every time. And as is SOP [Standard Operating Procedure] for a team event, the discussions of strategy and tactics is educational for all who are involved. This is another reason why the event director takes care not to allow a team of all new shooters to compete. The minimum in a three man team would be a least one veteran shooter who is also a high-quality shot. It is also necessary to have an experienced hand in each team in the pits for scoring and organizational purposes, to show the “new boys” how we learn things by keeping track of all of the information that we can, not just a total point score to determine the “winner.”

Anonymous Lessons

Here are some general observations of what went on at the event, but without names. The primary idea of our program is to learn, not to deliberately embarrass any of our shooters. On the other hand, any one of us with too thin a skin, or anyone who can’t admit his failures or shortcomings, is a person who isn’t going to learn much from life in general or our shooting program in particular. So, if you recognize yourself, welcome to the club. We all foul up some of the time, and the only important factor is that we learn from it. I’ve listed most of the sins I committed at this event; now here’s some of the others I saw.

  1. Brain Drain: Several shooters didn’t think very well. I saw more than one shooter, fire enough rounds to take down his target, then stop and unload his weapon without attempting to fire at his team-mates’ targets that were not yet down! Too much thinking about just your own shooting, instead of your responsibilities to the team.I had “brain drain” myself, but my team leader, Bill, asked me if my sights were set for the correct range (and they were not) before we fired at 300 yards. The very important message here is that a team’s members must look out for each other if they are to do well, not just walk up to the line when their team number is called and shoot at some targets. They must plan, scheme, and plot together and, more to the point, they must absolutely look out for each other.
  2. Reloading: It appeared that some people didn’t have any kind of system worked for reloading their weapons, or didn’t remember exactly where their ammo was on their gear! Some of these people had been around for a while (we understand that new people have problems) so what’s the real problem?One could be that by changing to a different rifle frequently, and changing field gear all the time, it becomes hard to remember where everything is located on this particular outfit. If you shoot both a .223 and a .308, the gear you have should be compatible with both weapons. If you shoot a bolt rifle and an M1 Garand, the gear should accommodate both stripper clips and en-bloc clips as well. It would seem to me (and I can be just a little Holier-than-thou, because I basically shoot with the same type of weapon-and-field gear combination all the time) that the answer may be a compromise between experimenting all the time with different things, and somehow finding the time to start refining your really serious, first-line, go-to-war gear. You should experiment, but you should also have some of your gear ear marked to grab-and-go with in case the Martians invade next week. Don’t you think so? I have been refining mine for some years now, and I still have some conflicts with fit, location, and reach that I would really like to solve before the Crips and the Bloods, or the militant “gay” commandos, start assaulting my street. If I live long enough, and keep working at it, I guess it will come to pass. I surely hope so, but I do have — right now — a fairly good system I am familiar with, to grab-and-go with. Shouldn’t you have one as well?
  3. Your Zero: The score sheets reek with indications of high-and-higher, as well as the dreaded left-and-low! Now, shooting low and left at the closer ranges can be blamed on technique, or the lack of it. Watching the other shooters, and my own performance, would seem to indicate just that. However, high shots in the 10-o’clock to two-o’clock area (if you are, in fact, holding your sights where you are supposed to) usually mean a poor zero. Maybe there are some other causes, like a rifle and ammo that groups into the space of an Olympic-size swimming pool, or a trigger jerk that would pull the door handle off of a Brinks truck, but by and large it is a sign from that big range in the sky to go check your ZERO!
  4. Miscellaneous: One “new boy” I saw shot all of his shots from the standing position at 200 and 300 yards! The point isn’t that he used an inappropriate technique, but that he fired much too fast for that position, at those ranges. He should have used a suitable target-shooting standing position, otherwise known as “precision off-hand,” and made every shot count. I know that this was his first event with us, and if he comes back on a regular basis he just might start to learn some things about real field shooting.Rifles, rifles, where are our rifles? Except for work in the pits, or other administrative or line-judging work, the SCTC program has always advocated that for the purposes of our research and, more importantly, for the shooter himself to learn more about his ability to operate in the field with his chosen weapon, he needs to keep his rifle within arm’s reach — for the entire day! If this is not done (and we have always had mostly a “gentlemen’s agreement” on this point with everyone) the shooter doesn’t learn what he must put up with, in handling effort, to use his choice of weapon in the field. Perhaps this is just a case of new people not knowing the official policy, or some old hands getting lazy. Well, now you’ve been told about it — develop the right habits!

    Leaving your weapon in your vehicle, then walking around and shooting the breeze with everyone until it’s your turn to shoot, is nothing more than what happens at any of the conventional competitive rifle contests that exist today. But we are trying to test the true ability of people to operate in the field! If you want to learn, try harder! If you’re just screwing around, please try to humor us. Acting like a part-time shooter at our events is not teaching you enough, and it fouls up our research program. We have had events in the past in which a penalty was imposed on anyone who chose to “abandon” his weapon — even for a minute. Event directors have the right to assess those penalties at any time, in any event. You have been warned, so beware of leaving your weapon laying about. A penalty is meant as a reminder that you could very well be disarmed or dead!

  5. Problems: I was not the only one with weapon gremlins, but mine started earlier in the day. On the last shot of the event an FN FAL, shooting FN 58 NATO ammunition, had a case separation. R.J. saw the case eject, and he said it looked like a .45 ACP because it separated half-way between the shoulder and the rim. This is not what most people know as case (head) separation; usually the case separates a quarter to three-eighths of an inch from the rim, which leaves 75% or 80% still in the chamber.The call went out for a broken case extractor, and I rushed to the rescue — almost. The good news was that it extracted the broken case from the chamber. The bad news was that because the rifle was made for the shorter (by one-half inch) .308, the .30-06 case extractor would not clear the ejection port of the FAL. The rifle wouldn’t throw the extractor, with the broken case attached, out of the port. We tried to take the rifle apart but that didn’t seem to work either, so I disassembled the case extractor with a Leatherman tool and everything then fell out. “All’s well that ends well,” but shouldn’t everyone be prepared?
  6. Iron Sights: I can’t evaluate iron sights very well any more (particularly against field-colored targets) because I can’t see well enough. However, I don’t really know if most people see all that much better that I do. A case in point: afterward, several shooters were banging away at the 650-yard gong, and I asked if I could take a few shots with the FAL. I wanted to feel that spongy trigger again (they all have them) and see if I could manage to control it.I just could not see the gong, at 1500 hours [3:00 pm], so I was aiming at the area that I knew the gong was in. I fired 10 rounds and the man on the spotting scope called “high,” “low,” “left,” and “right” — you know, the old 20-foot doughnut. I know it was FN 58 Ball, and that was part of the problem, but bloody hell-fire… with changing light and such, you may want to think carefully about your long-range shooting with iron sights. The other two shooters “plinking” at 650 yards weren’t doing much better that I was. You may actually be capable of shooting better than you can see with iron sights. This is also known as a problem of error-of-hold: you cannot generally shoot a group smaller than your own, personal error-of-hold. And that is only if you and the weapon and the ammo are capable of shooting a group smaller than whatever your error-of-hold is; otherwise, your groups get even larger. If your eyes are very good (more power to you youngsters) maybe that’s the problem some people are having with their long distance shooting.
  7. Telescopic Sights: “Piggy-backing” on what I was just talking about in the last paragraph, when going up against field-colored (read “not the easy to see bullseye”) targets, it is difficult to pick them out in the first place (unless they “skyline” themselves, like the targets in the frames do). It’s also difficult to find the exact same place to hold for each shot which, if you cannot, becomes an error-of-hold problem. I believe optics help a lot, in real field shooting.Good eyesight doesn’t last forever, unfortunate as that may be. From my personal experience, my eyesight in my early-middle 40s was generally satisfied with a four-power scope; but I find that inadequate now — although I find it much better than no optics at all. We had four rifles with iron sights and seven with telescopic sights, of which three (or 43%) of the latter were the expensive Swarovski optics (used by me, R.J., and Bob Jones). But of course they only help you to see or hold better. They don’t have a great deal to do with your zero, or the quality of the ammo you use, or your positions, or your trigger control technique. Too bad isn’t it? It would be nice if you could just buy better shooting; but then anyone could, and we wouldn’t be so superior to the scummy rabble and the punks out there (because we practice seriously and they don’t) now would we?
  8. Teammates: Two old guys and a youngster (who’d just turned 30) managed to stagger forward in spite of some problems. Bill and I have over 100 combined years of experience at breathing, so we told our youngster just to keep breathing (and shooting) and we would do all right — and it worked out well. Bill happens to be a good, veteran shooter, and he had a good day shooting and carried our team along. Tom, with his .30-30, had a slow rate of fire, but he made his shots count and out-hit some of the semi-auto weapons of the other teams. That helped a lot. I am very happy that I had those two helping to carry me through my troubles with my new rifle.

Skill Is Better Than Luck… (unless you are lucky enough to get skillful partners).