We talk a lot about shooter consistency on this website and for good reason. Shooter consistency is really the name of the game when it comes to long range precision marksmanship. The reason for that has to do with elimination of variables, or a more fun way of saying, “Bettering my chances of a hit!” There are a lot of those variables that come into play depending on how far away the target is from the shooter. Things like varying wind speeds, temperature changes, consistency of the shooter’s ammunition, the amount of ranging error when you hit the target with a laser range finder, etc. All those variables will conspire to stack the odds of a hit against you. It can seem overwhelming at times, so people who are newer to the sport have asked, “How do you better your chances?”
Shooter Consistency Defined
The answer, is to do whatever you can to increase what I’m calling “Shooter Consistency.” I intend that term to apply to everything from a shooter’s breathing and body position, to his ammunition, his equipment, and how he interacts with his rifle. The name of the game is increasing your shooter consistency because that directly decreases the threat of those variables making your shot a less likely hit. An excellent book that highlights the effects of different variables on your probability of making a hit at various ranges is Accuracy and Precision for Long Range Shooting by Bryan Litz. It is a very good book and written by the head ballistician for Berger Bullets. He has a number of chapters that show how increasing your Shooter Consistency, whether that means taking the time to achieve more consistently performing ammunition, using a better range finder, or having a better ability to dope the wind, will dramatically increase or decrease your probability of a hit over a miss. You can find more information and excellent articles over at Applied Ballistics or purchase the book on Amazon.
The whole point of increasing shooter consistency is to make your life easier when you are trying to shoot at targets that happen to be placed at significant distance from your shooting position. Think of yourself like a guy at a Circus that is juggling plastic balls. Each of those balls is a variable. Some of those plastic balls are bigger and heavier than the others and that makes it harder to juggle them. Wind would be a large and heavy plastic ball. Accurate range information would be another of the large ones. A smaller ball might be comfort. The plan is to increase your shooter consistency, and thereby have one less of those plastic balls to juggle. Comfort for example, I promise if you have to lay prone and put your elbows down in some nasty shale or gravel it will affect how comfortable you are. The larger the discomfort, the heavier and larger that plastic ball is to try and juggle. If you add a set of elbow pads to your gear, now you don’t have to juggle the comfort ball. If you spend some extra time at your reloading bench working on your handloads to achieve maximum consistency, that is another plastic ball you don’t have to juggle. The more of these variables you can account for, and eliminate, the better off you are. Practice getting on your rifle in the same way every time so you don’t have to juggle body position. Practice using different techniques for ranging targets to ensure you get an accurate range and that would be another thing you don’t have to juggle. Obviously, the less you have to juggle, the easier life will be for you at the range.
Shooter Consistency Variables
Each skill, facet, variable, or concept of precision shooting that you can master, or at least attain a high level of confidence with, will reduce the number of things your mind has to juggle while you try to take a shot at a distant target. One of the easiest things to eliminate from your list of things to worry about is your gear. Your shooter consistency obviously can suffer from say magazine problems, ask me how I know! The first match I ever participated in I was using an aftermarket magazine that was designed to allow me to load my cartridges longer for better performance. The problem is, those magazines flat did not work. I had horrible feeding problems the whole weekend across a three day long match. It cost me many points where I ran out of time having to juggle mags and trying to reload for the third time because I had a feeding issue with the first two magazines. I had several times when the rifle flat out jammed and I had to remove the magazine and work on clearing the misaligned round before I could reload and attempt to re-engage the remaining targets. I had multiple stages where I timed out and didn’t even get a chance to take a shot at every target because of the magazine problems. That was a huge thing to juggle during my first match!
The first thing I did when I got back was to talk to the folks at Mile High Shooting and I got my hands on several genuine Accuracy International magazines for my rifle. We removed the firing pin from my bolt in the showroom and even with the longer loaded cartridges the rifle cycled through rounds I had loaded for the match without a hitch. The next time I attended a match, I didn’t have to juggle any magazine issues or problems with my gun jamming because I took the time to address that problem and I corrected it for good. I shot a lot better and didn’t time out on any stages at my next match because my gun was running properly. This is what I’m talking about. I increased my own personal shooter consistency by addressing an issue that was hurting my performance. As a result, it was one less thing to worry about in the future. This is also why I highly recommend that you go compete no matter what your interests are. If you are into benchrest or F class, go shoot it. If you like tactical rifle matches, do it. If you are into competitive pistol shooting or auto trap with a shotgun, go compete! Competition will teach you a lot, very quickly, about any weaknesses in your gear or your personal performance. Don’t be angry if you don’t perform as well as you want, just learn something from your shortfalls. Bring a notebook and take a few minutes at the end of the day and write down what you thought could have done better. Get a good night of rest and shoot better the next day. When you get home, review what you think needed improvement and start addressing those issues and you will improve your shooter consistency and your abilities as a shooter a lot faster than you thought possible.