MISSING THE SHOW
A few weeks ago, I went back to the range. For about the past 12 months, I had only been shooting for speed and an acceptable margin of accuracy. My “acceptable” margin of accuracy was usually B-C zone on an IPSC target. Most of the time, I was testing this speed and accuracy at a minimum distance of 25 meters. A normal drill would be: draw fire one or two from 25 yards at a par time on a B-C zone steel target. As a friend and world renowned pistol shooter says, “If you can’t do it 6 times in a row, then you can’t do it.” I became capable of hitting an B-C zone steel target at 25 yards in 1.2 seconds from the holster. I would very often hover around .09-1.0, but to meet the standard of “consistent”, 1.2 was my par. When running a draw fire 2 at 25 yards, my time was 1.4. I would often hover around 1.29-1.3, but again, to hit twice on an B-C zone steel at 25 my time was 1.4. I decided that after almost a full year of “acceptable” accuracy, it was time to dial in accuracy again. What I found was disturbing, and enlightening at the same time.
- B-C Zone Steel from DEFENSE TARGETS
- Gun: Gen 4 Glock 34
- Sights: Dawson Precision Adjustable Flat Black Rear/Fiber optic front (RED)
Ammunition: Freedom Munitions 115gr Reman
- Weather: Partly cloudy, Temp: 34 F
- Time: 1100 EST
- Reference: “Practical Shooting” by Brian Enos
- Target: NRA B-8 Repair Center
I took a trip to the range and began shooting B8 repair center bullseye targets at 25 yards. The B8 is my go-to accuracy target. The repair center has scoring rings with the following dimensions: X-1.695”, 10-3.36”, 9- 5.54”, 8-8.0”, 7-11.0”, 6-14.8”, and 5-19.68”. The target looks relatively large until you’re trying to put 9mm rounds into the X ring at 25 yards. I began by shooting strings of 5 rounds slow fire from the 25-yard line. I immediately saw that by only shooting IPSC paper and steel targets that my accuracy had suffered greatly. I was able to put 3/5 rounds in the X-9 ring. My other two rounds would normally hit in the 8 ring with one or two impacting in the 7 ring. The impacts were normally left of center. There are a variety of reasons this can happen, and those will be addressed later on as to not venture down that rabbit hole. Not being able to put 5 out of 5 rounds inside of a 5.54” circle at 25 yards is NOT an acceptable level of accuracy for me. For reference, the “A” zone chest of an IPSC target is 5.906” wide and 11.024” tall. Seeing that I was shooting slow fire, I was not comfortable with that accuracy for a competition standard, nor would I accept that for “combat accuracy”(whatever that means to you).
I decided to go back to the accuracy drawing board. I referenced the book “Practical Shooting” by Brian Enos and the expert opinion of TEAM RSF USPSA Captain Mike Keevil to address some accuracy training. The decision was made to shoot bench rested at distance on a B8 target. The idea of shooting bench rested is to be able to really SEE what the heck is happening by isolating the only two things that really matter in accuracy…SIGHTS and TRIGGER. I set up a bench 35 yards away from the B8 target. At first, I began shooting strings of 5 rounds. I would fire 5 rounds slowly with one eye open, and two eyes open. The idea is to be able to focus on a straight back trigger press and to SEE the sights lift off of the target when the shot breaks and to be able to call my shots. What I found was astounding. Even though I thought I knew, I NO IDEA what was going on with my sights.
The first 25-30 rounds were awful. It was a combination of shooting with one eye closed (which I never do), over relaxing my hands and tensing up my body that lent to poor an inconsistent trigger press. Part 2 will specifically address the trigger management, so let’s focus on the sights. I would shoot 5 rounds and check my work. What I thought were good shots at 35 yards were NOT what the target showed. Needless to say, I was floored. How could I shoot 3/5 in the black standing unsupported at 25 with relative ease, but have rounds in the 7 ring from a bench at 35? The answer…I had no idea what I was doing.
WHAT JUST HAPPENED?!?!
Sights are an interesting thing. Enos says there are 5 types of sight focus. For this exercise, I was attempting to use type 5 sight focus. The abridged version of this focus is a clear front sight centered and leveled in a slightly unfocused rear sight notch on top of a fuzzy target. This is type 5 focus is what most people are taught is how to see sights at every distance for every shot; however, type 5 focus has a specific application. Difficult shots/extreme distance. The definitions of difficult and distance will vary according to experience and skill level. JJ Racaza’s opinion of a difficult or extreme distance shot is not the same as what mine is. But I digress…
I decided to continue to shoot the drill, but with a few changes. In part 1 of this article, I’ll address the sights, part 2 will address trigger. So, sights– I can’t tell you why I decided to shoot the first part of that drill with one eye closed. I reckon it was because I mentally reverted back to shooting a rifle prone for extreme accuracy with a magnified optic, which I do regularly. When I shoot in that manner, I close an eye. That is the only thing that I can come up with. For the remainder of the drill, I shot with both eyes open and one round at a time. It should be noted that I am not against shooting with an eye closed for extremely difficult shots or at extreme distances. This drill was about accuracy, but not just shooting accurately. I know, that sounds strange, but bear with me. Shooting a drill in this manner allowed me to verify my ability to accurately call each shot every time. What I saw over the next 75 rounds was amazing. I had been “Missing the Show”.
MISSING THE SHOW
I re-assumed my bench rested shooting position with some changes to my grip and trigger management (discussed in part 2). The other thing I did was open both of my eyes. This can sometimes be difficult. You really just need to make yourself do it. Having both eyes open just allows you to see more. (No kidding, right?) But the thing is, what exactly are you trying to see? * **DISCLAIMER: NOT ADDRESSING TACTICS***Sight management in a nutshell. What are they doing? Where are they sitting? Are they moving? Where are they when the shot breaks? Where on the target are they REALLY at when sight lift happens? Was I able to see the sight lift and come back down? Did the gun track straight up, up and left, or up and right? All of these things are very important. It’s what is called “The Show”, that is everything that is happening with the sights and how they are displayed on the target before, during, and after the shooting cycle.
TWO IS ONE, ONE IS NONE
By shooting with both of my eyes open, I was able to reduce the massive amount of sensory input on my shooting eye. This allowed me to actually SEE my sights. As I began to shoot the drill again one round at a time, I realized how much I was missing. I could truly focus on a clear front sight with two eyes. The clarity of the sight and my ability to place it correctly (centered and level) in the rear sight notch was increased dramatically. Not to say that I couldn’t do it with one eye closed, but having both eyes open allowed me to do it almost effortlessly. I noticed then how much I had been struggling with managing my sights using only one eye. I was relying on single sensory input to do too much. See the front sight clearly, see the rear sight notch, place the front sight tip centered in the rear sight notch, ensure that the front sight is flush across the top of the rear sight notch, maintain that sight alignment and establish a good sight picture, make any micro-corrections to my sight alignment, continue to focus on a clear front sight tip, observe perfect sight alignment/sight picture while the shot breaks, note where the sight picture was when the sights lifted off of the target. THAT IS A TON OF…STUFF!!! Shooting with only one eye open was making me miss the show. Both eyes seeing what was happening allowed me to be able to focus on the sight while observing everything else that was going on. I could really see the sights and where they were sitting on the target. I could accurately call where my sights were when the shot broke. I was able to observe sight lift from the last place the front sight was placed on the target. Watching sight lift over and over again is more important than I ever realized with a pistol. Being able to call a shot as a hit or miss cuts down the time required to assess accuracy based on impacts versus knowing where the sights were when the shot broke. This translates into much shorter split times after a miss. Let’s take steel for an example. How many times while shooting steel have you shot and expected a hit, only to not hear the “ding” of the round hitting steel? You were so supremely confident the shot was a hit, you drove the sights to the next target, only to have to return the sights to the original piece of steel to make up the miss? I know I’ve done it. And I’ve watched top level shooters do it. That is all wasted time. Confirmation of the shot on steel should not be made by hearing the “ding”, it should be made by seeing your sights lift off of the target. It’s all made easier by being able to see what the hell is going on.
PURPOSE DRIVEN SIGHTING
There’s no way that I can explain the 5 types of sight focus as well as Brian Enos, so I’m not even going to try. Buy the book or download it on an audible book. Chances are you’ll have to read/listen to it about 100 times. Every time you do, you will probably hear or understand something you missed last time. I do want to take the time to address what it means to employ sight focus, specifically pertaining to single round accuracy untimed. I decided to shoot this drill with both eyes open, and one eye closed. I found that shooting with both eyes open allowed me to see more of what was happening with my gun and sights, and their relationship with the target and sight lift. Am I saying that the ONLY way to shoot is with both eyes open? No. There are absolutely times where you need to close an eye ensuring very precise shots. Imagine having to take a single A zone head shot on an IPSC target at 25-30 yards. I would probably close an eye. If the target becomes multiple shots at the A zone chest at the same distance, I’ll probably shoot with both eyes open. A very smart and experienced firearm instructor once told me, “The difference between a professional and an amateur is that a professional knows what he can get away with.” The individual shooter’s decision on what method of sight focus to use depends on the purpose for the shot. By understanding what you are attempting to achieve, you decide what sight focus to use. This can be applied to both competition and real world. How many of us have been told that to sight a pistol you want “A clear front sight post”? Probably almost all of us. But does that type of sight focus make sense for a 4-8 round non-standard response drill at 7 yards? I think no. As we develop in our shooting, we also have to make a conscious effort to develop our understanding of when and where to apply different techniques and types of sight focus. For me, there is a proximity limit. For example, past distance X, I cannot accurately engage a target with both eyes open. I know that when I am shooting at distance X, I need to choose a different method of sighting. This also applies to rhythm and cadence, which we will go into in the future. The world of pistol shooting is complex. What works in one situation may not be the best answer for all situations.
ISOLATE AND IMPROVE
Shooting this drill was about accuracy, but not just shooting accurately. I wanted to shoot accurately, don’t get me wrong. Hitting the “X” ring every time at 35 yards would have been great. But more important was being able to call my hits every time a shot broke. The point of this drill was to catch “the show”. If I had shot 100 rounds and hit the “X” ring 100% of the time, but I wasn’t sure where my sights lifted off the target, I would not have learned as much as I did. Strive for accuracy, but more so as in accurately calling your shots. If you’re able to hit 100/100 in the “X” ring, AWESOME…as long as you watch your sights lift off the same spot every time. Sometimes, we get so wrapped up in shooting, we don’t see what is happening. The idea of training is to build individual skills. Those skills are then combined and trained to build a skill set. I wouldn’t expect someone to get into a race car and compete in the Daytona 500 without first learning how to start a car and put it into gear. Why is it that in firearms training, people go from 0-100 almost immediately? Learn the fundamentals. Master them. THEN start increasing the complexity and speed. What is really gained from going to the range and blasting away at steel targets at mach Jesus if you don’t really understand what is going on each and every shot? Achieving mastery of individual skills will help prevent a performance plateau. All too often, myself included, shooters decide to “train” outside of their capabilities. Shooting fast is cool, but shooting fast and accurately is way better. So next time you go to the range, make a plan to work on mastering a skill. However, don’t become one dimensional. By that, I mean don’t pick one drill or benchmark training assessment to evaluate yourself. Create different training plans and execute those plans. Try to see what is happening. Break the shooting down to the smallest level you possibly can. If you have questions, ASK. Try to understand what you’re doing out there. Understanding what’s happening allows you to self-diagnose your deficiencies and design a plan to improve them. Isolate those deficiencies and improve them. I hope this helped. Now get out there and train.