Helping others learn to shoot helps us, too. My grandkids have gotten into the higher stages of shooting. As I was working with one, the questions I was asked that day got me thinking about the mistakes that even experienced shooters make. As I created a checklist for my grandchild, I realized that there were some areas where I could improve, too. Here are eight mistakes some shooters make, and how to avoid them.
1. Inconsistent Firearm Position
Do not cant or slightly rotate your firearm either clockwise or counterclockwise from the vertical. To easily see how this happens, set up a scoped rifle on a bench with the crosshair on the center of the target. Now slightly tip the rifle to either side, which obviously tilts the crosshair. What generally happens is that if tilted to the left, your shot will tend to hit to the lower left. If you're canting to the right, you'll hit to the lower right.
If you're using a rifle or shotgun, the stock must fit whoever uses it...in hot or cold weather. Why? With a jacket on, the stock that fit in the summer becomes too long now. What happens is that if you're fumbling to get it to feel right, you are not concentrating on taking the shot and the results may not be what you wanted.
2. Breathing Too Much or Too Little
I always tell my grand kids that if you're aiming and the front sight isn't moving at all, you are dead. They get a kick out of that! In reality, everyone has a "wobble." The best way to reduce that wobble is to focus in on slowly breathing, letting some out, holding it and slowly squeezing the trigger.
3. Inconsistent Placement of One's Finger on the Trigger
Through repetition, we memorize what works best for what we are doing, and this is why practice is important. Concerning the trigger finger, I always put the trigger on the fleshy part of the finger below the end of the nail and about a half inch before the first joint on that finger. This is the most sensitive part of the trigger finger, and gives me the feeling that is just right.
4. Moving Too Soon
Once you fire, continue looking at the target and do not pick up your head from the sight to see it break or where you hit. What can happen is that at times we pick up our head in anticipation even as we squeeze the trigger. What now happens is that the trigger pull and sight picture are not coordinated, which translates into a miss. The good and bad news is that we all have done that...with the good part being that we can stop that bad habit.
5. Not Relaxing
When someone worries about making mistakes, or is too relaxed or cocky, we tend to make those mistakes. What one “mess up” can do is shake you up, making it tough to relax and concentrate, then call for the target and do what you know you have done many times before. The best thing you can do is get "the mistake" out of your mind and move on mentally, since no one does their best when angry or upset.
6. Sleep Deprivation
This, along with hunger, can act to intensify stress, which affects how one performs. It has been shown that missing an hour of sleep is roughly equivalent to a martini on an empty stomach. This is why before a shooting competition, you should focus on getting a good night's sleep so you can wake up with the mindset to do your best.
7. Not Checking the Zero or Sight
When sighting-in any firearm, use a solid rest. Shoot three to five shots at the bullseye. If you're off, but the group is tight, it is probably the scope or sight, so make the adjustment and start over again. Yet, if you shoot an erratic group and all screws are tight and the rest is solid, the cause can be as simple as ammo.
8. Mixing Ammo
Take what we all have shot, .22 LR ammo! Years ago I was at the range with a friend who dumped partially filled boxes of ammo in a can and from there, loaded his rifle and fired. I took a dozen or so boxes of .22 LR ammo and shot 5 rounds through my T/C Contender scoped rifle at 25 yards. Most everything grouped well! The shock was the 6-inch spread in groups as to what brand of ammo/bullet weight and velocity. When I showed him my targets about a week later, he smiled and said it does make a difference, even in the rimfire. Stick with what works for you, your gun and your sighting system.