Perishable Skills

I know I have probably mentioned this before on this blog but shooting is a perishable skill. You have to practice, regularly, if you want to have those skills when your life depends on them…or, the lives of your loved ones.

As many times as I have read this…

As many times as I have said this…

As many times as I have written this…

I still fall into the trap of neglecting these skills too. The Tuesday after Christmas Moose (my son in law) and I made it out to the range. Assuming I could pick up right where I left off on the rifle range (about a year ago) I was loaded down with three different rifles and several different loads for each to test out. Instead of groupings I was getting something that was more like the pattern from a shotgun. I wish I could claim that this performance was some awe inspiring distance…nope. All were within 100 yards.

As my frustration with my performance grew, the number of mistakes I made increased as well. Squeezing the trigger morphed into jerking the trigger as soon as the crosshairs intersected the bulls eye. Shots were rushed and breathing was ragged. At one point I had my .30-30 hitting dead on only to find my shots scattered across the paper after reloading because someone (guess who) had forgotten to properly tighten the screws holding the mount to the rail…

It was a great day with Moose and I was at a nice range with nice weather so the day wasn’t a total loss. Plus, I identified my skill deficiency on paper targets rather than live animals. (We have a hunting trip planned for February)

As is often the case, after finding my skills lacking, I looked to fix the problem with hardware. I was immediately shopping for a new rifle, with a different action in a different caliber. I almost convinced myself that a bolt gun in .308 would fix my problems and I would be right back on target. Fortunately, God was looking out for me and all the examples of the rifles that I had decided would fix my problems were out of stock locally after the Christmas rush.

To be honest I did spend some money on the problem. The trigger on the AR lower

ALG Advanced Combat Trigger
ALG Advanced Combat Trigger

I use for hunting is a cheap parts kit special and there was some creep and grittiness.  For $69 the ALG Advanced Combat Trigger (ACT) is a great solution. The creep is gone and so is the grittiness. It is a standard (sort of) mil-spec trigger and hammer but everything has been polished and treated with a slippery coating. The kit comes with two springs. One a little lighter and results in a lighter than mil-spec trigger pull, probably around 4 pounds. The second spring is a bit heavier and results in a 5.5 pound trigger pull (on the light side but within the military specification of 5.5-9.5 pounds. The lighter spring works fine on the hunting ammo I use but does result in a light primer strike and FTF on about 1 in 5 rounds using cheap steel-cased Wolf ammo. This is a worthwhile trade off that I can live with for now.

WWG Happy Trigger
WWG Happy Trigger

I also ordered a Happy Trigger from Wild West Guns for my Marlin 336. This trigger eliminates the “floppy trigger syndrome” that affects later model Marlin lever guns. It also reduces the trigger pull to a consistent 4 pounds. Down significantly from the current 8 pounds (or so) that seems to vary with the rifle’s mood.

So, I did invest in some hardware upgrades to help me with my accuracy but these were upgrades I had been considering for some time and probably would have done, at some point, regardless of the issues I had on the range last week.

The more important investment I made was time (and money) on the range. I spent a few hours yesterday testing the new trigger and three different loads in my AR. Once I got a feel for the loads and how they performed (six to twelve rounds of each) I spend the rest of the time with my primary hunting load focusing on the basics; sight picture, follow through, trigger squeeze, and breathing. I also spent a little time dry firing to help with those things and to help avoid developing any sort of flinch. A couple of hours, $20 in range fees/targets and another $30 in ammo paid off.

Final Target
Final Target

The round in the bottom left was my first shot  of the string and I obviously pulled it down and to the right. The four in the upper right were next with the crosshairs centered on the bullseye. The shot in the lower left of the bullseye was me (over)correcting the point of aim. That’s four shots within a two inch circle at 100 yards and all six within four inches. I still have some work to do but considering how bad my previous outing had been I am pretty happy with it. I am hoping to make it back out to the range again next weekend and at least two more times before our hunting trip.

I need to be able to pull this off each and every time without thought or drama. I need to be able to do this when the adrenaline is pumping and I have a big boar or an eating sized hog in the crosshairs. I need to be able to do this when I am cold, hungry and tired. This needs to be second nature. In short I need to practice and maintain this perishable skill.

God bless.

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