Shooting Skills: Take a deep breath…

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…then let it out and read this to learn how to maximize on-target accuracy and consistency…


Glen Zediker


We’ve talked about what I call the “true fundamentals” of shooting. Put the sight on the target and pull the trigger without moving the sight… And we’ve talked about some of the mechanics, like natural point of aim, sight picture, and the trigger itself, that combine to assist this goal.

david tubb
Holding still sometimes takes more thought, and effort, than we might realize. Shooting well is a truly multi-faceted task that shooters like 11-time National Champion David Tubb have attended to through miniscule details, like being aware of the physical state continually while performing.

Another crucial and largely unknown element is controlling breathing. Right. That thing we do to stay awake and alive. Breathing can be a calculated technique among competitive shooters, and that is because the state of the body in the framework of making a shot is a defining element in the effectiveness of the shooting platform. That platform, by they way, is you!

I’ll break it down, and then offer a few suggestions on how to incorporate a better understanding of the dynamics of maintaining human oxygen supply.

When we are breathing when doing nothing in particular but living, we’re not taking the deepest breaths we can when we inhale, and we’re not expelling all the air we had when we exhale. We’re also not breathing in and out, in and out, in and out in constant successions. We breathe in to a comfortable level. Hold that a bit. We breathe out to a comfortable level. And then we hold that state for a bit. Then we very naturally breathe in again. These cycles are on a balanced rhythm, and a relatively shallow cycle. It’s a lot different than when we’re doing something strenuous, like running.

So. To fire a gun from our most stable state, make the trigger break in what shooting coaches call “the natural respiratory pause.” That’s the state between exhaling and inhaling. From a “human machine” standpoint, that’s when the body is most calm and stable.

breathing cycles for best shooting
Learn to use the natural pattern of your breathing to experience the most effective (steadiest) hold. When we breathe normally we don’t inhale as much air as we can hold and then blow it all out, and we also don’t breathe continually in and out, in and out. Rather, we simply inhale and exhale to levels that are comfortable to us. Take aim and fire the shot when you have reached what some call the “natural respiratory pause,” or the natural resting point prior to inhalation where we are “using” the oxygen we have retained.

It’s a narrow window. That window of opportunity varies widely depending on a lot of factors, but some experience dry-firing will show you where you stand.

When the body needs more oxygen, there are a few symptomatic results that get in the way of a steady hold. There are more eloquent ways to say it, but we get “the shakes.” The wobbles, the heaves and hos. It’s an unmistakable sensation. Visual acuity also diminishes. And, also, since we’re trying to finish something important (hit the target) anxiety takes over when we’re not getting cooperation between target and sight locations. Essentially, there’s an urge to slap the trigger and “get it over with.”

Do not “take a deep breath and hold it…” That supplies oxygen, to be sure. But it also creates tension in the body. Trying to keep that breath held has as bad an effect on stability as does trying to not breathe back in.

Breathing during a shot continually changes the location of the sight. Try it and you’ll see. Filling the lungs, emptying the lungs, both change the posture. From prone, it’s easy to see the effect on the vertical location of the sight. This, by the way, is the root of the “consistency” element of breathing. It’s very important to the goal to fire shot after shot after shot onto the same point.

Firing shots in succession, keep breathing, just time the shots with the natural pause. For a Rapid Fire event string in NRA High Power Rifle, which isn’t all that rapid (either 60 or 70 seconds to fire 10 rounds) I take a breath between each shot, and then settle down to my holding point. Now. Really rapid succession, like bam-bam-bam, it’s possible to fire quite a few well-directed rounds off of one pause. If that’s not enough, experiment with learning to take very shallow breaths in and out during the duration of the hose-down. I’ve used that “tactic” on very windy days when the standing position hold was a tad amount fluctuating, to avoid frequent restarts. It “works” for a couple of attempts to get a breakable sight picture, before muscle fatigue sets in.

Speaking of: there’s no question that the better physical condition someone is in, the better able they’ll be to extend a steady hold. Pulse also factors mightily: a beating heart moves the rifle. This is really evident shooting prone from a sling-supported position. A regular breathing pattern with no overt highs and lows combats heart rate increases. Taking in huge amounts of air prior to mounting up a rifle actually can backfire; that often causes a “spike” in body movement about 15 seconds afterward. Pulse quickens and becomes more intense when oxygen levels drop.

Main point here is do not “over-hold.” When you’re out of air, you’re out of time. Break it down, and start it again.


For more shooting tips and articles visit ZedikerPublishing.com; all are free to download. 

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