Follow Through Shooting Technique
Many new long range shooters have asked me about Shot Follow Through, the ability to stay on the rifle scope with your eye opened, to follow the shot down range during the recoil of the shot. It’s an important skill to learn and master. Once you achieve the ability to get into the so called zone of concentration, often referred to as “the bubble”, you will notice that your group sizes not only shrink, but you are more able to follow the trace of the projectile downrange on its path to the target. If you are relatively new at long range shooting, or rifle shooting in general, the following article may help you. Remember, no matter how frustrated you get, the shooting sports are 80% MENTAL and 20% physical skill. This goes for most activities actually, from exercise, to racing to sky diving to shooting. Your mind, and your ability to control it, will make or break your efforts.
Trigger Control is an article unto itself, so I will only touch on it here. Trigger Control is critical to Follow Through; it is a link in the chain of events that leads to the ability to stay on the scope even with the most horrendously recoiling rifles. In short, with an unloaded and benched or bagged rifle, get into a good firing position, eye on the scope, reticle centered on a target down range or even a dot on your wall, and dry fire using proper breath control and sight alignment. Squeeze the trigger. Reset and Repeat. Do this over and over until you become very familiar with EXACTLY when the trigger breaks. Forget all that mindless crap about wanting to be surprised at the shot. It’s wrong. You want to know exactly when the trigger is going to break and how much pressure it takes to trip the sear. This is part of the mental conditioning required for real precision. Ultimately you want to be able to squeeze a trigger until you KNOW that any more pressure is going to trip the shot. This gives YOU, not some Zen or mystic shooting ideology, total control over the break and the shot. Know thy Trigger. The “surprised” thing, often mentioned in trigger control discussions, is a good training tool for the average shooter new to a firearm, as it emphasizes a smooth steady pull to the break. Smooth and Steady are good. We just want to take it one step further. Talking about “breaking glass” and “surprised at the shot” and all the rest of it is meaningless in as much as the only way to get better is to dry fire until you are intimately familiar with exactly when the trigger will trip and understand how much pressure it takes too smoothly activate the trigger while not disturbing your sight alignment. Once mastered, you can pull smoothly and even stop without having the rifle fire!
Now, onto Follow Through; Follow Through is 100% MENTAL. No matter how good your shooting position, unless you train your mind to control your body at recoil, in an effortless process of thought, you will be hard pressed to keep your eye on the scope. An analogy: Think of what it might be like the first time you go fast on a track in a car that you’ve never driven more than 80 mph on the street. Imagine you are doing 150 mph down the front straight. The world is a blur but you are one cool customer and think the girls are all watching and saying “wow, look at him go!” Then you see the brake markers up ahead, followed by a sharp corner that can only be taken at 60mph. You realize you have to decelerate from 150 mph to 60 mph in 300 feet! You know your brakes are capable. You know your car is capable. You know your tires are capable. The only issue in this scenario is your MIND. While you “know” that to get a good lap time, you have to NOT brake until the last possible second, your brain is SCREAMING O.M.F.G. I AM GOING TO DIE, RIGHT NOW!!!! That cement wall at the end of the straight is a killer and to hell with the girls and lap times! “I am slamming on the brakes NOW!” In other words, you have not acclimated your mind to the insane speed and braking forces. In the case of shooting and follow through, the RECOIL is now your gremlin. Like the tire wall, you think about the scope’s eye piece hitting your brain case housing. On the track, you overcome these fears by just going a little deeper into the markers each lap, braking a little later each time, until eventually you discover your mind has adapted to the speed and you can late brake like a madman and no one can follow you. Follow Through during recoil is much the same in that it’s A MENTAL EXCERSIZE.
You have to RELAX. Recoil cannot kill you. Even the massive .50 BMG sniper rifles, with their brutal concussive blast and stiff recoil, can be mastered. Mental concentration is the key, along with a good hold on the beast. Your concern is not recoil or muzzle jump, even though your mind is telling you otherwise. You can control those with proper techniques in terms of check weld and holding the stock. With Follow Through your primary number one FOCUS is on the TARGET. Keep your eye looking at that target and know in your mind that no matter what, prancing naked chicks, Nuclear War, or someone throwing rocks at the back of your head, that you are going to proper sight alignment and sight picture NO MATTER WHAT the world outside that circle of glass throws at you. MENTAL FOCUS. When you are squeezing the trigger, your sight alignment and sight picture are your world. You are just keeping all your powers of observation on that sight alignment and in your mind you should be thinking, almost at a sub- conscious level “I must keep my eye on the prize.” Find your Natural Respiratory Pause (another article), verify your sight alignment, squeeze, while doing nothing more than what you are already doing; Keeping the cross hairs aligned on the target.
It sounds crazy, but it really is just a mental exercise. CALM. You want to achieve a level of internal calm. Let the rifle buck. Let it jump under recoil. Let the noise wash over you. Nothing matters but staying in that mental bubble of calm and keeping your eye on the scope and vision on the target. With a good cheek weld, your head rise and fall, never breaking contact with the stock, as the rifle comes out of recoil. Eventually, you WILL, through repetition, get to the point where your eye will still be aligned with the scope during and after each shot, and if the target is far enough away, you may even see the bullet smack into the target or better still, be able to catch the trace of the projectile as it displaces air down range on its way to the target. It all sounds like voodoo, but that is the state of the human mind – in simple matters like this, if you THINK IT, you can DO IT. Telling yourself that the only thing that matters in that moment, in that space and time; is that you are never EVER taking your concentration off that target. Eventually your brain will adapt.
Now, if you are shooting a magnum, it is admittedly harder. Most people develop a flinch after about 15 rounds. Believe it or not, muzzle blast is often the factor involved here. Many long time shooters are relatively immune to recoil because they have mentally adapted to it to the point of ignoring it. But muzzle blast itself often catches the unwary. A muzzle brake will go a long way toward cheating your way through the response. It will obviously tame the recoil to manageable levels. But a real trick, and a cheap one, is to simply double up on your hearing protection. If you are still using those cheap foam ear plugs, get a good headset type ear muff and wear it OVER them. Doubling up on hearing protection will go a long way as well to taming your physical response. Your mind is simply reacting to INPUT. So limit the input. Wear ear plugs AND a headset. You will be surprised how much easier it is to maintain your “calm” and follow through on a shot. Try it with a normal rifle as well.
Finally, when going for pure precision shooting, give yourself two minutes between each shot. Why? Too develop the mental practice of CALM. The bubble everyone talks about. Shooting slowly and relaxing between shots means that each and every shot is an individual GOAL. Each shot is an entity unto itself and your job is to make sure that that shot is perfect. Don’t worry about groups, or the next shot, or the hot chick you want to bed after you leave the range. Just that one shot. It’s your world. Once you master that mental condition, your problem with follow through will swiftly go away. Recoil is nothing. It doesn’t really hurt in terms of physical damage, so there is nothing to actually fear about it. It’s just your mind reacting to stimulus.
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