Sight Alignment, Trigger Control and the Big Lie
Improve your groups and scores
The following is the first four chapters of my book "Sight Alignment, Trigger Control & The Big Lie."
The sections in red are techniques that should be paid close attention.
Help a Junior Shooter - Please make a generous Donation to the Camp Perry Retired Marines!
In the mid sixties, the Cherry Point Rifle and Pistol Team shot seven days a week for nine months of the year. Weekdays were practice, and the weekends were at matches. To liven things up at one of the practice sessions, Dirty Dave Yingling ( a name he worked hard acquiring) decided to play a little trick on one of his team mates.
He pasted a repair center on backwards over the aiming black of the target. He pasted an aiming black onto the metal scoring disk (a round metal disk painted red on one side and white on the other, attached to a pole about six feet long) and wrapped the pole with the white portion of the repair center.
When the targets went up for rapid fire, he held up the pole with the mobile aiming black in the center of the target. From the line, it looked like all of the other targets. He let the shooter pick up his sight alignment and sight picture and squeeze off the first two shots. After the magazine change and the third shot, he S-L-O-W-L-Y moved the pole around the target. Now you know why they call him Dirty Dave.
Aiming is simply aligning the front and rear sights in the proper manner. I will cover the "post" front sights first. I once had a shooter ask a question on the subject and I told him: "That was covered in the class. Weren't you paying attention?" He said: "You were talking about the M1A and I shoot an AR-15." "No - I was talking about the POST FRONT SIGHT, the method is the same for each."
Aiming involves three elements:
The rear sight is an aperture or a small hole through a piece of metal -- or a hooded rear sight. When you get into position, make sure the eye relief (distance from the rear sight and your eye) is the same each and every time. Do this by placing your cheek on the stock or on your hand at the same point each time. This is called a "spot" weld or "stock" weld.
When you look through the rear aperture, your mind must form an imaginary pair of cross hairs, one vertical and one horizontal. The front sight post is then aligned with these cross hairs. The top of the front sight post is brought up even with the horizontal line and centered. There is an equal amount of the front sight post on each side of the vertical line (See Figure 4).
You cannot assume the shooter automatically knows this. We once had a shooter hitting way over the target. He was putting the BOTTOM of the front sight post even with the horizontal line.
Figure 5 is an exaggeration of sight misalignment. The shot will be out of the black. It will be low and to the right, and most likely off the target at longer distances. A small misalignment can cause you problems, but don't "get wrapped around the axle" with the thousandths of an inch - just do it correctly. It must be done the same each and every time.
Sight alignment does not require an aiming point. It can be done on a blank wall. When you are trying to shoot at and hit an aiming point you must add the next step - "sight picture." In High Power shooting, the aiming point is a round circle, a different size for each distance. The size of the aiming black will appear the same at all distances.
The most common sight picture used is the "six o'clock hold." The sight alignment is correct and the aiming black is set on top of the front sight post so the post just touches the six o'clock position of the aiming black. The sights are adjusted for the bullet to hit the center of the target (See Figure 6). This gives the shooter a defined aiming point. For an experienced shooter, it is the best. For a new shooter,it causes a problem that will be discussed in the section on FOCUS.
The "Center" or "Navy" hold is shown in Figure 7. Again, the sight alignment is correct and the top of the front sight post is placed in the "Center of Mass" of the aiming black. The sights are adjusted so the strike of the bullet is set to "Point of Aim, Point of Impact
I knew of a "Sub-Six Hold," but never used it until a particular weekend. We were shooting the Marine Corps Western Division Matches. After one week of school and three weeks of practice, getting ready for one week of matches, I was ready for a break. The local club was having a rifle match that weekend and the Major said, "You will shoot and you will have fun."
Every time I fired a Division Match, I checked out two M-14's, one as a back up gun in case something went wrong with the number one gun. This weekend both rifles were in for repairs so I drew a third rifle from the Armory and with no zero, went to shoot the match on Saturday morning. While zeroing the rifle from two hundred yards in the off-hand position (you can do things like that when you are a little show off), my first sighter was extremely high. I ran the sights all the way down to the bottom and took the second sighter. Again it was way high, but still within the scoring rings.
In the old days, you were allowed only two sighters at each yard line (two sighters at the 200 yard line for both off-hand and 200 yard rapid). Since then, a new rule change allows two sighters at each stage (two for off-hand and two for 200 rapid). I decided to use a sub-six hold, shoot the twenty shots off-hand, have the armorer put on a new sight, and re-zero for the sitting rapid stage.
Using proper sight alignment, I used the bottom edge of the 4' x 6' target as the aiming point and had the sights set to hit center. To my amazement, I found I could call my shots. I could tell if the shot was going to be just out of the ten ring at three o'clock.
For a period of time, I experimented with a sub-six hold (not that much of a sub-six hold). I held about one half the way from the bottom of the black to the bottom of the target and had the sights set to hit center, while maintaining proper sight alignment (See Figure 8). I found the sub-six hold allowed me to
"accept my wobble area" and continue the squeeze of the trigger without trying to make the shot "too" perfect as in the six o'clock hold. A slight call to the right still gave me a ten at three o'clock and a slight call high still gave me a ten at 12 o'clock. The center hold works much the same.
Jack Krieger, an excellent Long Range shooter and well known rifle barrel maker, holds the world's record for a sub-six hold. We were shooting a 1,000 yard match and he brought a different rifle on the second day, but forgot to bring his sights. After asking around, he found an extra set that would fit his rifle. He took his first sighter and I saw it got half way up the side of the mountain (all right, large hill). He came all the way down to zero on the sights and still was way over the target at 1,000 yards. I had him hold on a trash can at the 600 yard line and shoot again and he was still over the target. He then held on a clump of dirt on the 800 yard line and his shot was low and left. I brought him up and right and we got onto paper . . . he fired a 193 with a sight picture 800 yards sub-six.
Some people use a "Line of White" hold or a "Flat Tire" hold. In the "Line of White" hold you hold just a little under the six o'clock position so there is a line of white between your front sight post and the aiming black. The "Flat Tire" hold has you pushing your front sight post up into the aiming black a little so that the round aiming black appears to have a "flat tire." The problem with each of these is "How much?" and keeping each shot consistent.
A "Frame" hold is used in very poor light or in foggy conditions. You can barely make out the target so you shoot for the center of the frame, because the frame is all you can see.
All these sight pictures work. I have used each from time to time and I've changed around. I have practiced for weeks with a sub-six hold and the morning of the match decided to go with a center hold because it felt right.
Put the book down and go take a break! Come back later when you are refreshed and can give the next section your full and undivided attention. It is so important, it will dramatically increase your scores and/or classification.
I read an article on sight alignment, and it was pretty good, but I waited to see what they had to say about the focus. Near the end of the four or five page article was one small paragraph where they stated, "The proper focus is on the front sight post and not on the aiming black." That is true as far as it goes. When I started shooting High Power in 1965, I was told the same thing, but how important the focus is was not driven home.
When I started shooting, I was pretty good in the off-hand position. My rapid fire strings were OK, but my 600 yard scores were terrible. I had elevation problems you wouldn't believe. I tried everything, six o'clock hold, center hold, sub-six hold, line of white hold, flat tire hold, frame hold. I held the bottom of the target. I held the top of the berm and nothing helped. I could not hold elevation well enough to keep the shots in the black, much less the ten ring. I changed one thing - my focus!! My elevation at 600 yards dropped to X-ring size and I went from getting bronze medals to silver and gold medals. My scores and classification shot up. I am now a "reformed non-focuser" and will talk to anyone who will listen.
During my advanced class in High Power, I show a series of color slides, about 15 of them on rapid fire groups. Each group is different and there is a reason the group is the way it is. I show each slide twice. The first time I put the slide up for about 15-20 seconds without saying anything. The student looks at each group and tries to recognize his or her groups. The second time, we talk about what causes the group, and how to correct it.
The first time I ran this part of the class, I was running through the first set. When we came to the slide that looks like Figure 9, about 75% of the faces in the audience lit up. I said, "Oh, you recognize your group." The second time I gave that class, we had close to 100 people, and again, about 75% of the faces lit up.
The cause of having a group like that is, improper focus. There is a second reason and I will cover it in that section.
With the sun or a strong light behind and above your shoulders, put your right hand at arm's length and down at a 45 degree angle with your index finger extended and the fingerprints facing you. Place your left elbow against your side and place your left hand in front of your body. (This gives the proper distance between fingers). Again extend the index finger with the print facing you. Make sure the finger on your left hand does not block the view of the finger on the right hand. The two fingers should be close together in the line of sight, positioned so you can see both at the same time. The fingers should be 10-12 inches apart.
Focus your vision on the finger closest to you until you can see the finger prints. You can still see the other finger, but you cannot see the prints. Shift your focus to the finger on the right hand and focus on the prints; you can still see the other finger, but you cannot see the prints. THE HUMAN EYE CANNOT FOCUS ON TWO OBJECTS AT DIFFERENT DISTANCES AT THE SAME TIME!!!
You can rapidly shift your focus from one finger to the other and convince yourself you are focusing on both -- YOU ARE NOT.
Another example, as you are watching a movie or TV program, the camera is focused on the person standing closest to it and the image is sharp and clear. The person standing in the distance (3 or 4 feet away) is blurred - you can see hem but they are not clear. The cameraman changes the focus as the other person starts to speak, that person becomes clear and you see the one nearest the camera start to go out of focus. Because of the distance, the camera, like the human eye, cannot focus on the two objects at the same time. They can be seen but not focused.
Let's apply this to shooting.
In the aiming process, we start with your eye. I have already covered eye relief, keeping the eye the same distance from the rear sight each time. The ideal situation calls for your head to be erect and you looking straight through the rear sight, but, due to the different positions, this is not always possible. Your head may be down and you are looking through the top portion of your glasses.
Most people recommend you shoot with both eyes open. They say closing the left eye puts a strain on the right eye. After awhile, you get a slight quiver in the muscles around the eye. I tried shooting with both eyes open and did just as well as with one eye closed. It felt so strange that it bothered me. (Thirty year habits are hard to break.)
The line of sight goes from the eye, through the rear sight aperture (the mind forms the imaginary cross hairs). The front sight post is then brought into the line of sight and correctly aligned with the imaginary cross hairs. By placing the aiming black in the final stages of the process, and forming the sight picture, you have the process taught to most people.
Little or no attention is given to the proper focus. The front sight post is the proper place to focus and is critical to good shooting and scores. Picture the front sight post as the finger closes to you and the aiming black as the finger furthest away. Even if it is 200 yards, 300 yards or 600 yards, you must always focus on the front sight post!!
Remember I said I had trouble holding the elevation at 600 yards. Well, after someone told me about the finger print experiment I tried something. (I'll skip the hard way I took at the time.) After blackening your sights, take a number two pencil and draw a diagonal line on your front post. (See Figure 10.) This acts as the finger prints, and when in focus, will not allow you to focus on the target.
Once I started focusing on my front sight post, I also went to a "center hold." I put the post into the aiming black and let my position take over. I did not try to get it absolutely perfect. You close the bolt, put the rifle into your shoulder, check your number board, take your breath as you put the front sight post into the black, and focus on the pencil mark as you squeeze off the shot.
My elevation problems reduced tremendously. In fact, they came down to almost X-ring size. I could pay more attention to the wind. I thought, "if this works at 600 yards, it should work at 300." It did. How about 200 yards - surprise again, it did.
We fired a match at Twenty Nine Palms, CA. My first ten shots off-hand were all in the black. I had two tens and eight shots were nines. I realized I had been focusing on the target. I even remembered seeing the orange scoring disk. After I gave myself a mental drop kick, I fired the second ten shots, this time focusing on the front sight post. They were all in the black, eight tens and Xs and two nines. Changing the focus brought in the wide shots. From that day on I have been like a reformed alcoholic. I preach focusing to anyone who will listen. Shooting leg matches, up to that time, I had three bronze medals. After I started focusing, I got a silver and a gold medal, to go Distinguished.
You can tell if your focus is correct by your "call." Calling predicts where the shot will be on the target, based on how your sight alignment and sight picture looked. If you called it a ten at six, and it is a ten at six, then you are on call. If you called it a ten at six, and it is a ten at twelve, then you are off call and you should adjust your sights. A young lady on the Marine Corps Team last year said it very well, "If your shot is within your call, your focus is correct. If it is outside your call, your focus is incorrect."
For Chapter Three Click HERE
Sample Chapters Available: (1,
2, 3 and