I think of marksmanship as a science, a martial art, and a craft (there’s a community aspect, but that’s for another day), all of which one can work towards “improving” in some shape or form, guided by whatever one’s definitions and parameters thereof might be. Incremental, continuous improvement often gets mentioned in the context of manufacturing processes, but lately I’ve been pondering how that might be applied to the practice of pew pew.
Measure the Behavior You Wish to Affect
One could think of firearms as binary thing. A gun is loaded, or not (but you treat it as if it were). You hit the target, or you miss. But there’s a truckload of metrics and measures that run right alongside bullets as they go from the chamber to the backstop. How many holes did you make in the “A” box of that USPSA target? How many aren’t in that box? How long did it take to make the shot once the timer went beep?
Never mind Dunkin Donuts; the world runs on numbers. Or perhaps the world simply run amok on its own, and we humans scavenge numbers in its chaotic wake.
Measure What Matters, Measure What You Can
That shot timer is on my future shopping list, so time-based metrics are currently outside scope. However, it’s pretty elementary to determine the percentage of hits on a paper target, and one can also calculate scores from bullseye rings.
I’ve been using the Mantis x10 training widget which measures the wobbles and jerks of a trigger press and spits out a score of how “good” that shot was. The last I looked, I’d recorded over 9000 “shots” with the Mantis data broken down by type of firearm, dry or live fire, and so on. As long as I remember to bring the x10 to the range, I can gather quantitative “shot quality” metrics.
Putting Theory into Practice?
Or it’s just another excuse to blow through ammo at the range!
Late last year, I completed the PST 103 course, and one of the handguns I’d used was the IWI Masada with a Holosun red dot optic. Early on day one, the optic started coming loose, so I ended up removing said sight and went with irons. A few weeks later, I reinstalled the red dot and went about zeroing it.
After a few cycles of calibration, I placed 10 shots against a 3" target at 10 yards:
Next, 30 rounds at 25 yards on a 20" bullseye:
With sufficient quantity of shots, you can eyeball an “average” pattern, and from this
<sarcasm>highly scientific observation
</sarcasm>, I made another set of windage adjustments to the red dot.
Taking a Break from Scoot’n’Shoot
A couple of weeks later, I returned to the range on the Green Deck. While ostensibly taking advantage of the open space to practice shooting and moving, I made 10 shots on a USPSA target at 25 yards to mix things up.
While looking less than spectacular, this 10 shot group is generally centered around the middle of the sheet. Because of the difference in targets and quantity of shots, it wouldn’t be an “apples to apples” comparison between this and the previous 25 yard course of fire.
Once More from the Breech
Fast forward another couple of weeks, and I’m back on the Blue Deck trying to get a more comparable set of data at 25 yards. Starting with a series of 6" target sets at 7, 10, and 15 yards (two courses of 10 shots at the longest distance), I’m able to get fairly consistent groups while going farther out.
Here’s that 20" bullseye target at 25 yards:
To repeat the experiment/experience from two visits ago, I made 30 shots against the same target at same distance with the same pistol.
Here are those 30 holes closer up:
Qualitatively this group looks “better” than the previous; however, as I’d neglected to tabulate scores for each, I can’t determine quantitative “improvements.” Boo, hiss.
I did record this session with the Mantis x10. I’d alternated live and dry fire sessions partly to stretch out the limited ammo supply.
But since I didn’t have Mantis numbers from the previous “30 at 25,” these numbers lack a baseline against which to compare. On the other hand, I do have a set of data against which to compare the next 25 yard session.
As to why the shot group might look better, it’s not like one spontaneously becomes less bad in a fortnight. I did do more dry fire practice before this recent session, but I would also need to document the “deltas” not necessarily to determine causality, but to record related, correlative factors.
Twenty-Five (Not Six to Four)
So why 25 yards? That’s a valid question, as my understanding of “common wisdom” puts defensive gun use scenarios taking place at 7 yards or closer. The Tueller Drill seems to have codified the magic number 7.
I’m not at the level of skill where I can nail a dime at 7 yards 100% of the time, but my groups at that range are consistently within 3 inches. Making use of the “minute of angle” idea, a 3" group at 7 yards would “spread out” to 6" at 14 yards, 9" at 21 yards, and so on. By increasing the distance, one magnifies the deviations which that would be harder to discern closer up.
Shooting for accuracy (as opposed to speed) at longer distances makes one more mindful of the trigger press, sight picture and alignment, and posture. In other words, you emphasize all the elements that make a good shot. I also find it to be quite meditative to focus deeply while engaging a 25 yard target.
While all this may not be an obvious starting point for adapting kaizen to one’s firearms craft, by establishing and recording metrics from one’s range visits, one establishes a system by which to measure and to improve one’s marksmanship.