This week’s topic of discussion is going to center on how to observe impacts, not watch them! In other words as you go out and shoot you should be actively engaged in observing the results. Don’t fall into a sort of lull where you just hammer away at a target. Try to watch where the rounds land. Hit or miss is irrelevant. Observe impacts and adjust. Do what is necessary to center your hits on the target. We often enjoy the experience of hitting a target so much we just repeat the last shot. Then we get to enjoy the triumphant sensation of a hit again. Ask yourself where your shot landed! Maybe you should increase or decrease your hold or elevation, consider all of it!
Watch Vs Observe
I picked the featured image up at the top for a reason. It’s an older photo and it’s kind of cool. It also illustrates the point of this article. You can see from the impacts how shot up that target is. There are impact marks all over the steel. High and low as well as far and wide. Different calibers were used. At the time I was more concerned with just getting good enough to engage and hit a target. These days as I strive for higher levels of proficiency I’ve started to adopt some new habits.
One of those habits is forcing myself to observe the results of my firing solution. What’s the difference between watching and observing? Those words are synonyms and mean the same thing, right? In this context the difference is in your mental shooting process after you fire the rifle. If you’ve fallen into a habit of watching your impacts you will note a hit or a miss and little else. Ask yourself if that’s all the information you want to gain and retain from a shot through your rifle? Strive to observe impacts!
Being able to observe impacts means you’re actually processing information related to the result of your shot. Don’t just look to see whether you hit or missed. You can gain some proficiency just watching a shot. As long as you note how far you missed off the target you should be able to land a follow up. A lot of people, myself included, often stop processing information as soon as the hit is made. Is that really the way to do this? Where did you hit the target? If it’s anything other than dead center, there’s valuable information to be gleaned!
Observe Impacts and Advance
I have been out of competition for a while now. I was out a good part of last year with illness and only made it to one local match. I’ve got my first national level match in a while scheduled and I’ve been working on brushing up. One thing that I would ponder in the past is how guys get so good at wind calls. What really elevates you to that ‘next level’ of ability over being a good shot? What do those guys do that makes them great shots!? I believe a big part of it is those guys actually observe impacts.
They don’t stop recording information when they see an impact or hear the awesome ring of steel. They continue to process information all the way from the time they fire the first round up till the next shot. Then the process restarts itself. They look to see where on the target the round impacted. If it was off center, they modify their wind hold. This is no different than what most of us learn as we get started in this sport. We take a shot, often in the beginning it results in a miss. We observe how much we miss by and make a correction.
Competition Breeds Excellence
The fatal error is to stop processing that information when you make the hit. Don’t mentally check out of that target engagement and move on until you’ve processed all the available information. This way even if you hit the first target, you increase your odds of hitting the next one! Think about it! If you fire and hit a target at 500 yards and catch the edge, you hit it! Nice job! However, if the next target is at 800 yards, the same wind hold will likely be a miss. Even if you scale it up for the 800 yard distance, you were still off center. If you don’t increase or decrease your hold to center the impact, you’re throwing away great shooting information.
I find these conclusions to be especially accurate in competitive scenarios. Different target sizes, distances, and shooting positions all come into play. You have to really be strategic to be successful. Lots of guys engage shorter range targets first. The wind has less effect over the shorter flight time so the odds of a hit increase. What if the first two targets are really small? Maybe the third target on a stage is much bigger. While it sounds counter intuitive, the longer shot may make more sense. Especially if you score a hit and get good feedback on your wind call!
This applies to elevation as well as wind. If your rounds are hitting higher or lower than you expect them to then something is up! Either your firing solution is wrong or you have bad data in the equation. The muzzle velocity is wrong or changing. The rifle isn’t properly zeroed. You dialed the right range but you’re on the wrong target. Things like that happen all the time. Observe what happens then assess and process the results. Don’t fall into a habit of mentally moving on as soon as you see a hit!
Always be processing information when you head out shooting. Don’t get into a habit of lazy marksmanship. Unless you center punch every target you shoot at there is room for improvement! So observe the results of your firing solution. Make your best educated guess for a wind call and take the shot. Observe the results. Then take that information and use it to modify your next shot. It’s often said the definition of insanity is repeating the same actions over and over while expecting a different result.
Every shot you take should be done after processing all the information from the last one. You don’t necessarily have to change your hold every shot. Wind can be consistent at times. Just don’t ignore the information available to you. Before you fire the second shot ask yourself if the first one landed where you wanted it to. If it did, ask yourself if anything changed that might need adjustment. If it was a miss, obviously, make the adjustment and center punch that thing on the next round!