Despite the left’s false platitudes that firearms are the cause of the high murder rates in some areas of the US, as if they committed the crimes themselves, a firearm will only ever hit that at which it is aimed. Successful use of a firearm, whether it be in war, sport, or practice depends upon the correct utilization of the sighting system on the weapon, and, in this article, I’ll cover the four basic types of sights, how to properly use them, and the first two steps in firing a shot.
We’ve now covered introductions to pistols, shotguns, and rifles, along with some articles on carrying concealed and safety, so we are now going to move on into actual use of firearms. Although I will continue to delve into types of weapons and even specific guns themselves in articles, further discussion of the tools loses import when there is no discussion of the art. Before we can get into ballistics and in-depth discussion of ammunition, we need to discuss shooting itself.
Firing The Shot
Most novices assume that you simply point the gun at your target and pull the trigger and you will almost always hit him. This isn’t true for stormtroopers in Star Wars, and it fortunately isn’t true for the majority of criminal thugs shooting “gangsta style.”
I primarily teach rifle shooting, and, as it is the area in which I have the most expertise, and most of its lessons can transfer to pistols, we will discuss rifle shooting. The best way to learn to shoot is good instruction from an experienced teacher, and practice using a .22 rifle or other low recoil rifle until the basics are mastered.
Depending on your organization, there are a different number of “steps” in firing a shot, but they all mean the same thing. I will list them here.
- Sight Alignment
- Sight Picture
- Squeeze the trigger
- Follow Through
The first four are often lumped together into just Sight Picture, and the last two together are considered Trigger Control. If you have a good sight picture when the shot breaks, and if you have good trigger control, your bullet WILL go where you want it to go, assuming the rifle and ammo are functioning correctly in all areas. We will leave the breathing and focus for the next article, and concentrate today on Sight Alignment and Sight Picture.
“But Luke, my sights ARE aligned! See?” a student might comment to me. Yes, assuming you have tightened all the bolts, your scope may be firmly on its rings, or your irons may be properly on the front and back of the sight radius indeed. However, your HEAD is not aligned to the sights, and, unless you do that the right way, the same way, every time, you may miss, even though you saw a good sight picture.
The way you position your head on a rifle stock involves two things, charmingly called “turkey neck” and “cheek weld.” Turkey neck is a reminder for you to extend your neck and get your face close to the sights. If you extend your head to the (comfortable) maximum, you will be consistent.
Note that there is also something called “eye relief.” It is far too common for scopes to be mounted too far back, and a student gets up and close to it, and the recoil gives you a nice ring around your eye. This is called “scoping” and is one reason you should always wear safety glasses. Proper eye relief, which means that the scope is where it needs to be so that it is the proper distance out from your eye when your head is in the right spot on the stock, is essential. More on determining eye relief in a bit.
Cheek weld is the other method to insure repeatability. You want to tuck that stock under your cheekbone so it is always in the same spot. Your scope may be too high, and often is, as stocks are usually set for irons. You should always put the scope as low as you can on a rifle as long as it will clear. There are riser pads available to adjust “comb height” (which is what this is called) as well as inserts and movable pieces in the better stocks to do it for you.
There are two basic types of sights: irons and optics. Iron sights are made up of a front and a rear sight that you align with your eye to make a combined sight picture. The front sight is typically a blade of some thickness, or a thin blade with a pin on top. The rear sight is either an open V of metal with a notch, or a round disc with a hole through which you look. The former are called “open sights” and the latter are called “peep” or, more properly, “aperture” sights.
Proper alignment of open sights involves centering the blade of the front sight in the notch of the rear sight, with the tops of both sights being equal. For aperture sights, center the top edge of the front sight blade directly across the middle of the aperture.
Optics are traditional scopes, red dot scopes, and holographic sights like EOTechs and AimPoints. To get proper sight alignment on a scope, you need to see the reticule in the middle clearly (the crosshairs), and have no blackness anywhere in the optic field. If you have a black ring around the field of view, but you can still see out the middle, you are either too close to the scope, or too far away; move your head. If you see that blackness, but the view is also off to the side, or up or down, you need to move your head in those directions as well.
Red dot scopes are the same, but, due to their more “scout” style positioning, you won’t see black around them. The modern holographic reflex sights allow the user to not actually have good sight alignment because the crosshairs moves its reflection with you as you move. These last are fabulous sights, and many professionals use them. I recommend learning on irons, or at least a traditional scope, so that you can master the shooting before you use a reflex sight.
This is actually easier to describe and do than sight alignment. Once you have your head welded to that stock, and are looking through the sights, you have to point the gun where you want the bullets to go. There are two schools of thought on this, and you should use both at varying times.
We need four terms here. Point of aim, point of impact, center hold, and 6 o’clock hold. Point of aim is where you are aiming, obviously. Point of impact is where the bullet lands. Ideally, your sights will be set up so that the bullet flies true regarding right and left, and has enough upwards tilt to counteract gravity. (If you truly set your sights zeroed to the barrel, at any range, the bullet would be below it at least some amount due to gravity.)
Here’s the money. Center hold versus 6 o’clock hold. Center hold is best used for scopes. Line those crosshairs dead over the center of the target and let fly. Center hold also works on no-bullshit combat pistols. Center the target up just over the top of the front sight, or right behind it, and let fly.
6 o’clock hold is for precision shooting at range. You set your sights up so that you aim at the base of the target (i.e. 6 o clock on a clock face) and the bullet hits in the middle. You do this so that the blade of the sight does not obscure the target as it raises and lowers due to breathing.
Reflex sights should be set for center hold. Lasers, which we haven’t discussed yet, should be set for center hold as well.
I teach riflery to new shooters and experienced ones. The experienced ones wonder why we do not adjust sights often until hours into the course. The reason is that it is much more important for you to put together a good shot group that is somewhere on the target than it is to adjust the sights.
It’s a question of accuracy versus precision. The Boy Scouts teach that accuracy is whether or not the group is centered on the bullseye, and precision is how tight the group is. Appleseed and Revere’s Riders teach that the software problems (your head and shooting) have to be fixed before the hardware (the sights of the gun.)
However, we will talk mechanical adjustments here briefly, and get into what we call IMC (Inches, Minutes, Clicks) in a future article. The simplest mechanical sight has a fixed front blade, and a fixed rear notch, and the gun shoots where it will. The next up is drift adjustable rear sights, and you tap (with a brass punch) them left or right (go the same direction as you want the bullet to go). Some rear sights have spring loaded wedges to raise them or lower them as needed.
Adjustable mechanical sights can be “clicked” with a screwdriver or similar vertically and horizontally. Some front sights are also adjustable for height. The most advanced mechanical sights are “zeroable” which means you can set them to be on at a certain distance, and that will match an adjustable drum that you can turn to be on target at longer ranges. These sights also can be dialed in for wind compensation as well, and will be the subject of future articles.
Scopes have click adjustable dials that can be used to move the crosshair to the bullet impact point at whatever range you want. This is “sighting in” and not “zeroing.” Zeroing, just like iron sights, requires you to set the sighting turret system to “zero” at whatever range you want, and most scopes are just able to be sighted in, not zeroed, unless you can move the turret separately.
This should help with the fundamentals of aiming a rifle (and a pistol, and I guess a rifle-sighted combat shotgun, too.) In future articles, we’ll cover trigger control, IMC, ballistics, zeroing, and correction, as well as the basics of bullet and powder choices. Be safe.