Illustration of gun site alignment

Shooting (Better)

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By Glen Zediker:

Most gun folks are gearheads. Me too. We like all the tech, and the industry, and its published works, are devoted to tech. However! The ultimate goal of all the zoot-capri tech, after all, is that it, in some way, makes it easier to hit the target, faster and closer to its center. Elevating shooting skill is a big factor in anyone’s enjoyment, and effectiveness, and also important, it’s a very big factor in how well we can evaluate the true value of the tech. It’s how to know the difference.

When most of us get started shooting, it’s “informal,” which, to me, might most usually center around a .22lr and targets we found. The thrill of seeing a can jump endures. You stuck the sight on the can, pulled the trigger at the same time, and “pwaaang.” Got a hit. As a competitive shooter, at some point (and it’s usually sooner than later) we get an education in just how difficult shooting can be. Hitting a target at distance, with the wind and the light factoring mightily, involves a whopping lot of math and science. No doubt. All the science and math behind making an accurate shot relies mostly on knowledge. However, the true fundamentals, the most basic elements, are stupidly simple, and completely necessary on each and every shot ever fired: put the sights on the target, and then pull the trigger without moving the sights.

Over the next few weeks, I’d iike to “look back” on rifle shooting fundamentals. There’s plenty of tech ahead too, though, so don’t worry.

(I’m assuming for this next that your rifle has an arrangement akin to an AR15 or other mil-style rifle, that is: aperture rear sight, post front sight.)

The “put the sights on the target” part is pretty simple, but a defining element is often overlooked (literally). If it’s an iron-sight system (any iron sight system on any firearm), focus on the front sight. No matter the distance, or the target. It truly does not matter how the target appears through the sighting system. It can be perfectly clear, or something akin to a gray blob. Doesn’t matter. If you can see the front sight clearly, you can shoot a good group. “Scientifically” it really has to do with interpolating alignment, but test for proof by firing groups looking at the front sight, and looking at the target. Then you tell me.

To get the “sight picture,” the aligned relationship between rear sight, front sight, and target, I center the top of the front post in the center of the rear aperture. That’s whether I’m using a 6-o’clock hold (sight post holding at the bottom of a bullseye) or a center-hold (sight post centered on a bullseye, or other target). It’s a clearer image looking straight through the aperture.

“Sight alignment,” meaning the centered location of the front sight within the frame of the rear sight, matters a whopping lot when firing a handgun, but it honestly doesn’t really matter all that much to rifle shooting… Whoa. I’ll get comments on that one. But as long as you can see the front sight, and put that on the target, you’ll hit the target. (What I just said on sight alignment needs another article to clarify, and I will…) Hint: the rear aperture isn’t really shifting position, it’s only the eye. Again, handguns are different. Even a teeny error in front/rear sight alignment is a big error on target.
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Illustration of gun site alignment

If you want to shoot good groups with an iron sight, it only matters that the front sight is as clear and sharp as it can be. It’s great when we can see it all in focus, but if the rear aperture and target are fuzzy, it just truly does not matter. A smaller size rear aperture helps keep the target clearer. But trust yourself. We are pretty good at finding the centers of things, like blurry targets; just remember that focusing on the front sight is the key. Peripheral awareness is entirely sufficient to complete a sight picture.

Glen Zediker shooting the AR-15

It is of utmost importance to keep the eyes open for the entire duration of a shot. Flinch, in my experience, comes mostly from noise and muzzle blast, not recoil. It’s the eye blinking that hurts. If the eye blinks at the moment of firing, maybe it’s not so bad, but if there is blinking in anticipation of the blast (that’s flinch), there’s a lot of rifle movement potential even in that brief moment. If your eyes are closed, you don’t honestly know where the sight is. Avoiding this reaction, which is natural instinct for self-preservation, requires intent and will. It’s not much different than holding a firecracker in your hand and calmly watching it pop. I teach folks to watch for the orange of the muzzle flash: if you can see the front sight silhouetted against that, you’re not blinking.

Glen is a card-carrying NRA High Master competitive shooter and earned that classification in NRA High Power Rifle using an AR15 Service Rifle. For more, and more shooting tips, check out ZedikerPublishing.com, and Midsouth Shooters Supply’s selection of Glen Zediker Books.

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4 thoughts on “Shooting (Better)”

  1. Great job! I enjoy reading anything Glen has to say. As a long time bullseye pistol competitor I have to say that he knows his stuff! If more people would listen to what he has to say, they would shoot much better.

  2. It may be obvious, but tendencies to flinch are reduced quite a lot by regular practice, making your use of even a heavy or powerful firearm about as second nature as driving a car. Shooting only two or three times a year in short visits to the range keeps one from really getting used to the feel of the firearm. The goal is to shoot regularly enough that the noise and kick cease to bother the shooter, or even to be particularly noticed. Of course, reloading cartridges helps keep the price down, as well as ensure consistent loads, but in any event it is important to get beyond the price concerns and other hesitations so that one feels free to fire more rounds and really get into the sport rather than remaining a dilettante. Changing from one gun to another renews a degree of unfamiliarity as well, like driving an unfamiliar car. Each experience needs to become ingrained and natural in its own special way, through adequate and frequent hands-on repetition. Meanwhile, also obviously, increased ease and quality of performance with a firearm must never become confused with a casual attitude in handling the firearm.

  3. I agree with all that. By the way, I wrote this article sort of as a test to see if folks are interested in this sort of topic here on the MId South Blog. Looks like I’ll be doing more material for the newsletter each issue, and please let me know the sorts of things you all are, and aren’t, interested in. A while back, some expressed an interest in learning more about some “target shooting” basics. My background is competitive shooting, and I have a few things to share. Even more than handloading, though, there’s a whopping lot of ideas and opinions on “what matters,” but I try to keep it basic.

  4. Also by the way: I apologize for being a tad-amount absent from responding to these posts over the past few weeks. I’ve been working hard as I can to get my new book, Top-Grade Ammo actually finished and done. It’s been sitting too long and needed only a little more attention. Well. I did. It’s leaving for the printer tomorrow (!), and I’ll keep you posted as to its availability.

    Thanks for your patience.

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