Trigger squeeze. A puff of dust. A miss?! What a letdown. Misses happen; it's all part of shooting. I've always been a firm believer in focusing on the positive. So, what can we learn from a miss or a poor group on paper? A lot! Let me explain. While a bragging-sized group on paper builds confidence in our guns, ammo, and shooting ability (off a bench), it falls short in preparing the shooter for the rigors and stress of field and competition shooting.
Today, I'll discuss creating a mental checklist—a system I show up-and-coming sharpshooters—for high-performance results. Don't worry; once you've committed 'the checklist' to memory, it takes only a fraction of a second and delivers better hits downrange.
BUILDING CONSISTENCY IN YOUR SHOOTING
It's fair to say consistency is critical to good shooting. In theory, we could put every shot through the same hole if absolutely everything was identical. But in real life, each shot is slightly different. This is where the checklist shines. It helps us, as shooters, establish repeatable techniques that minimize human error. Any time we can do that, it shows on the target.
I've been shooting, coaching, and observing others long enough to often tell a good shot from the not-so-good ones well before looking at the target. Poor technique is most apparent with new shooters who struggle with all the components of delivering a good shot, like natural alignment, a stable shooting position, breathing, trigger control, and follow-through.
Consistency should be taught early to new shooters.
One common mistake is something I call gophering. The shooter pops their head up and away from the cheek rest as soon as they break the shot to see whether they hit. It occurs with reactive, paper, and live targets and leads to poor shots. Ironically, observing impacts is easier using a riflescope's magnification, plus it promotes consistent follow-through and translates into better groups. I've teased my students about hitting them on the head with a foam pool noodle every time they pop up too quickly after the shot (like the Whack-a-Mole arcade game, but for training shooters). We all laugh, but they know I'm only halfway kidding. I guarantee scores will increase by remembering the fundamentals of marksmanship and confirming them for every shot. MDT purposefully designs chassis ergonomics that promote excellent shooting form and deliver a stable platform. When the stock and grip fit perfectly, the essential elements fall into place naturally.
THE SHOOTER’S CHECKLIST
Remember: The goal is consistency; pick a method that works for you and delivers the best results, then stick to it.
#1 Scope Dials and Zoom: Turn your turrets back to the zeroed position, and reset the focus for closer targets. I learned this one the hard way. I lined up and delivered the 'perfect' shot only to sail the bullet over the top of the target; my previous shot had been at a much farther target. Now, I habitually dial the turrets back to zero (both elevation and windage) and adjust the focus (parallax) for closer targets. In the heat of competition, checking the turret position wastes precious time.
High magnification sometimes costs hunters a shot at an animal because they spend too long searching for it in the field of view. By keeping the zoom at its lowest setting in a variable power optic, finding the target is much easier. If needed, zooming in for a precise shot is a better option after acquiring the target through the optic.
#2 Body Alignment: Position your feet, shoulders, and head to aim at the target naturally, without muscling the rifle into place. In competition, think about this before coming up to the firing line. Quickly check your alignment at the line and adjust as necessary. Alignment is the secret to good shooting. All factors in shooting matter, but excellent alignment can compensate for jerking the trigger or poor follow-through, so it's essential to take the time to get it right.
#3 The Hold: A rifle with a customized length of pull, a comfortably positioned cheek rest, and a pistol grip that promotes a smooth trigger squeeze are all critical. MDT stocks are fully adjustable for an optimum fit, making this part easy. With new shooters, I first customize the stock fit and then instill shot-to-shot consistency by using a piece of masking tape on the stock to remind them where to place their head and a marker line on their trigger finger to illustrate its proper positioning.
Note: Your rifle's fit will change depending on how many layers you wear. In the summer, it will require a longer length of pull than in the winter while wearing a bulky jacket, for example.
#4 The Support: This refers to one of the basic marksmanship principles, "the position and hold must be firm enough to support the rifle." At this point, when setting up for the shot, the savvy shooter double-checks the supports. Is the barricade stop anchored firmly? Are the bipod legs secure and loaded (forward tension) to absorb recoil? Can I use my body or a sandbag to better support the rifle? Take every advantage you can for maximum stability.
#5 Aiming: Focusing and confirming the correct holdover marks in the scope are quick and essential steps. Remember to adjust or hold accordingly if you've made a wind correction and the wind has changed.
#6 Trigger Squeeze: There's not much to be said here. Squeezing rather than jerking the trigger keeps the rifle pointed at the point of aim. Lots of training and dry fire practice develop good habits, ones you'll use when every shot counts.
#7 Follow-through: The concept of holding the rifle still for a few seconds after the shot and allowing the bullet to exit the muzzle is tough to teach, but it makes a world of difference. Without follow-through, it is possible to move the rifle enough from the point of aim that we don't hit the target.
There are times when you simply cannot miss.
So there you have it, a seven-part list for better shooting. I use and teach this checklist mantra as an ultra-quick reminder of the steps I need to be consistent, which results in shooting my best. Through the long winter months, I encourage you to take this list and make it your own. Add the steps that make you a better shooter, and practice whenever you can.
MINDSET AND HUMAN PERFORMANCE RESOURCES FROM MDT
- Keep Calm and Shoot On: How to Manage Stress
- Maximize Performance with Mental Imagery
- Mastering The Mental Game Of PRS: An Easy Way To Achieve A Higher Score
- Coyote School - The Easy Path
- Impact Shooting Confidence Kills
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lowell Strauss began shooting at a young age, eliminating pests from his family's farm. Later he started hunting, then offseason target shooting. His fascination with guns and how they work led him to join the Canadian Forces Primary Reserves, where he trained and served five years as a Weapons Technician. Lowell is currently a hunter and firearms safety instructor, target shooting and biathlon coach, and a full-time freelance writer and photographer focusing on shooting sports and the outdoors. IG and Facebook: @straussoutdoors @theBallisticsLab