With regard to Marksmanship, breathing gets a lot of attention when people want to learn how to shoot farther than most people think is possible. It is important as a fundamental of marksmanship but it is actually a lot simpler to do properly than some of the other marksmanship fundamentals. All you really need to do as a new shooter learning how to shoot long range with regard to breathing is adopt a method of breathing that allows for consistency, and break your shot at the same point in the breathing cycle. Sounds easy, right? It is! The problem is the ‘grandpappy’ methods of marksmanship that a lot of people learn while growing up.
Great Marksmanship – Dispensing with Improper Breathing Methods
Everybody who had a relative teach them shooting at distance has probably heard some variation of the ‘take two breaths and hold it’ plan for breathing before breaking a shot on a rifle aimed at something far away. This is the main issue with long range shooting in general. It isn’t that doing it right is mystical or so difficult that only a few people can manage, the problem is all the bad habits learned along the way. Just like when talking about Natural Point of Aim your body is most comfortable and relaxed with a certain rate of breathing. Don’t try to alter that.
If you are breathing comfortably, maintain the same pace, don’t try to alter it by slowing it down, speeding it up, or whatever else. Just maintain what your body already wants to do, but monitor it. Take the rate of breathing out of your body’s autonomous control and move it to where you are consciously monitoring how quickly you inhale and exhale.
When should you hold your breath then? That’s what people want to know. Easy answer is never! Don’t hold your breath. If you do it will cause issues for you and your marksmanship skills will suffer. Your eyes will flutter and twitch, you will feel anxious and pressured as your body starts impressing the fact that you aren’t breathing onto the forefront of your consciousness. You have other things you need to be thinking about, so why clutter up what’s on the board with things you don’t need to actively monitor? I myself have not quite mastered the timing of breaking a shot at precisely the same instant in my breathing cycle that some of the really talented shooters have been able to do. I typically do pause my breathing, but I’m not holding my breath. If you want to know the difference, it’s time.
I will pause my breathing for all of the time it takes to do a three count, if I haven’t broken the shot I will pause my trigger squeeze, then I will resume breathing and allow my natural breathing cycle to take over again. When it feels normal and consistent I will pause again and continue my trigger squeeze. I’ve watched some video on the subject from marksmanship instructors far more experienced and knowledgeable on the subject than I am. I’ve heard the expression ‘don’t push a bad shot’ used to describe trying to hasten a shot before you have to resume your natural breathing cycle. Just don’t do it. If you try to race and catch the perfect shot it will get away, you have to allow it to come to you.
Marksmanship Skill – Breaking the Shot at the Same Point of the Respiratory Cycle
So I mentioned pausing my breathing cycle, now let’s discuss when to do that. You want to pause your breathing cycle at the bottom. When your lungs are empty and you have exhaled the capacity of your lungs just like you normally do. The reason you want to do that relates to your ability to interpret how much air is in your lungs. What does having your lungs full halfway feel like? Does it feel the same as having them 49% full? What about 43%? How much air is inside your lungs is a difficult thing to quantify. What feels the same every time, and what is very easy to establish, is when there is no air inside your lungs. Good marksmanship skills are attained through consistency so you have to find a consistent time to break the shot!
Another reason this is an important aspect of marksmanship has to do with your body position. As you inhale your lungs expand to allow you to store oxygen in your chest cavity. You have seen your dog, your wife, husband, whoever as they sleep, right? Their chest rises and falls as they inhale and exhale. That same thing is happening as you lay prone on the ground and breath. If you try to pause your respiratory cycle somewhere in the middle, it’s hard to tell just where it is that you paused it. This also means that your lungs have inflated to varying degrees, and thus moved your chest varying amounts up off the ground or down closer to it. That changes your relationship with the rifle and the angle your eyeball is aligned with the rear of the scope. The name of the marksmanship game is consistency.
So to finish this up, don’t over think it and don’t over complicate an otherwise simple concept of marksmanship. Allow your natural breathing cycle to continue, make note of where your respiratory pause is at the bottom of the cycle after you exhale, and work your way through your trigger press with the goal of breaking the shot during that natural respiratory pause. You can extend it a little to aid in the timing but don’t go more than a three count without pausing the trigger squeeze and allowing your breathing cycle to continue unaltered for a few breaths. You want your oxygen levels to stay consistent and you don’t want to ‘push a bad shot’!
If you are interested in some professional instruction on the subject that you can check out from home, I highly recommend you head over to Sniper’s Hide and register for the online training. The owner is an outstanding instructor and describes these concepts, and several that are far beyond our ability to teach to others, in an easy to understand way with excellent video quality and written summaries of the topics. The going price for that training is less than $15.00 USD per month and a bargain any way you slice it. The Sniper’s Hide website can be accessed at http://snipershide.scout.com/