Whether you’re a military professional, a serious competitor or a tactically-minded shooting enthusiast, putting rounds on target, exactly where you want, is why you spend hours on the range working on your technique.
If you’re the competitive type—and I know you are—your goal is to get even better. Granted, what works for you may not work well for someone else. However, as a long-time (nationally ranked) competitor in 2-Gun and 3-Gun shooting competitions, my five-minute tips may help you shoot faster and more accurately when the pressure is on.
As any shooter knows, even the slightest unwanted body movement from recoil can affect your ability to get back on target. That’s why a strong shooting stance is so critical to speed and accuracy. So, how can you tell if your shooting stance is providing enough of a stable platform to absorb recoil? Try this:
In your normal shooting stance, shoot a five-round string as fast as possible while still maintaining accuracy. If you get pushed back from recoil to the point you step back with either foot, your stance needs some work.
“ … how can you tell if your shooting stance is providing enough of a stable platform to absorb recoil?”
Narrowing it down further, while shooting the rapid string of fire, also make note if your toes lift up at all while shooting. Even if it’s just the tips of your toes lifting up in your shoes, it indicates the recoil is pushing you off balance.
To fix this, deepen your shooting stance. Start out in your normal shooting stance, then take an additional eight- to 12-inch step forward with your non-firing side leg. Ensure your hips are generally squared toward the primary direction you will be shooting. This stance lowers your center of gravity and balances your weight against the force of the recoil, allowing you to settle the gun faster and get back on target.
2ADJUST YOUR STOCK
The adjustable buttstock found on the majority of AR-15 and M4-style carbines is a handy feature. The length can be easily adjusted to fit the needs of the individual shooter, and collapsed for confined spaces or storage.
The problem with this adjustability is many shooters are unsure of how to determine the correct length for optimal shooting performance. Adjusting the stock too short means you can’t pull it far enough into your shoulder, resulting in the rifle bouncing off during recoil, and leading to a slower rate of fire or larger shot groups—or both.
Adjusting it too long means you must angle the firing shoulder back to get your cheek on the stock. This creates a bladed upper torso profile, making it hard to create a solid purchase for the buttstock against your shoulder.
“ … many shooters are unsure of how to determine the correct length for optimal shooting performance.”
Aside from shooting every stock length to see which feels and shoots the best, how can you tell the correct length? Here’s how I do it:
While holding the rifle by the pistol grip in your firing hand, adjust the stock to the point where the back of the buttstock touches your joint between your biceps and forearm. Doing this will give you about a 90-percent solution to the best length. (This is 90 and not 100 percent because there will always be other variables—such as optics placement, buttstock design, type of iron sights, etc.—to account for.)
Once you have adjusted the buttstock length, mount the rifle and drop your firing hand off the grip. Using just your supporting hand, pull the rifle back into your shoulder. You should be able to keep your shoulder square, providing a good pocket for the stock to rest in. Plus, your cheek should settle about midpoint on the buffer tube, with your eyes two to three inches from the charging handle — the ideal eye relief for a lot of optics.
The one variation to this method is when shooting in body armor. Because there is added bulk, adjusting the buttstock out to where it is one-inch short of touching the biceps has proven to be a reliable sweet spot for stock length.
3A SUPPORT-HAND CHANGE
Increased shooting speed with an AR-15-type rifle is a good thing, but only if you can still maintain good hits. Most often, shooters focus on the support arm as the key to shooting fast and accurately—with strong opinions on whether the C-clamp position or the V-clamp hold is superior.
While the non-firing arm should be doing 95-percent of the work supporting the rifle, my technique focuses on repositioning the firing arm away from the classic relaxed shooting position, in which it hangs somewhat loosely. Instead, try pinning it to your side while shooting.
Pinning it to your side helps isolate your firing arm from movement during the trigger pull, and from movement passed from the shoulder via recoil. With pistol shooting, it’s common to hear about the involuntary flexing of the fingers on your shooting hand while your trigger finger is working. It’s the same principle with rifles.
“Pinning [your arm] to your side helps isolate your firing arm from movement during the trigger pull …”
When you are pulling the trigger as fast as you can on an AR, have you ever noticed your hand or wrist moving around as well? This slight involuntary movement can greatly affect your accuracy via the slight pushing or pulling caused by rapid trigger manipulation. Any movement from the recoil of the weapon against your shoulder naturally transfers to your firing arm and, again, causes movement on the rifle.
This method of pinning your support arm down against your side may take some getting used to. Usually, excessive muscle tension is something to avoid when shooting. So, forcibly keeping your elbow pressed against your side might seem at odds with effective shooting. Surprisingly, it’s not.
Try this: Set up a quick multi-target drill, and shoot two or three targets with two rounds each at mid-range (seven to 10 meters) for time. Shoot the traditional method of elbow relaxed down; then try the elbow pinned against your side. Multiple targets are important, because a single target, even with long strings of fire, does not create the challenge of moving the gun and settling it on a different point.
I believe you will find it’s a lot easier to keep your rifle on target, and it settles more quickly during transitions to new targets, resulting in faster, more accurate shots. By the way, this technique will work with just about any support hand grip.
4A NEW GRIP
My last tip has to do with increasing pistol accuracy with small or long-range targets at six-inch plates, and head shots at distances over 10 yards, etc.
One of the reason shooters “jerk” the trigger is because they flex the rest of their fingers on the firing hand while manipulating the trigger. (The reason right-hand shooters tend to jerk rounds left while shooting is because the rest of their fingers are flexing, dragging the pistol to the left.)
A technique to help relax those fingers, and more importantly, separate them from your trigger finger, is to straighten then relax the thumb on your firing hand. This technique works best for those difficult shots where you would already have to slow down and take that extra fraction of a second to ensure proper sight alignment and sight picture.
Before you take the shot, try straightening your shooting hand’s thumb and completely relaxing it. You may find when you break the shot, your ability to press evenly back on the trigger has increased, and your tendency to jerk or pull off target is less than when you use the traditional “thumbs down” grip.
Again this technique is something to try for those harder shots in which you find yourself naturally slowing down to engage. For everything else, I still recommend the traditional thumbs-down grip. Remember, you can always switch between keeping your thumbs down, and relaxing and straightening your firing thumb, depending on difficulty of the shot in a course of fire.
The only “wrong” techniques are the ones that don’t help you hit the target. If going into a full gymnastic split or back flip during each shot produced 100-percent hits at lighting speed, I would be doing them all the time.
“If going into a full gymnastic split or back flip during each shot produced 100-percent hits at lighting speed, I would be doing them all the time.“
While the classic shooting techniques do work very well, sometimes it’s good to try a little tweaking here and there to see if a small five-minute adjustment can make a huge improvement in your speed and accuracy with the rifle and pistol.
Name: Jeff Gurwitch
Hometown: Stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C.
Years of Competitive Shooting: 13
Membership: Member of Adams Arms Shooting Team Since 2007. He was a member of the 1st Special Warfare 3-Gun Team representing the U.S. Army Special Forces, and has been a full team member since 2010.
Editor’s Note: A version of this article first appeared in the November 2016 print issue of World of Firepower Magazine.