A more relaxed wakeup this morning – still freezing cold, but don’t have to get up quite so early as yesterday. Breakfast, then head off around noon to get to the range. Plan is simple:
1230: Arrive at range, warm up
1255: Assemble kit
1330: Setup on line
1335: Prep time
Stretch first! Back will be sore!
Watch the sight picture!
I’m shattered though. It’s like the last day of Intershoot all over again. My aiming feels good, and the triggering feels smooth, but my legs just aren’t cooperating to give me a solid platform or a decent hold. My feet feel like I’m standing in a small pool of sweat in my boots, they feel like there’s no padding and they’re being pushed through the socks (the socks were an experiment all this week, I traded in my normal base layer socks for a pair of underarmour compression socks to try to counter the numbness I was getting in my feet around the 40-60 shot range in a match:
And no, this wasn’t Rob Bryden’s idea 😀
The experiment’s worked quite well at preventing numbness – I didn’t have a single problem with numb feet at any time, but they don’t give enough padding for the sole of the foot, so I might need to wear the base layer socks under the compression socks too. However, that won’t help the knees 😀 My knee was gone again by the end of the match – sore, unable to bend without pain, feeling like I’d pulled a hamstring.
I go through 23 shots with some difficulty (95 then 92 because of drift) but shot 24 was a seven, and mentally I gave up, I put down the rifle and walked away for a few minutes to get my head together. I came to the conclusion at that stage that the match was pretty much a lost cause in terms of a high score; and then I thought why not use the remainder of the match to test something – yesterday’s performance met the performance goals for the trip, and the match was pretty much shot, so why not at least learn something?
So I got back to the line and into position, and proceeded to try to shoot as fast as I could. Same shot routine as before, but take the shot as soon as it presents itself; no holding for any more than one to two seconds at most. The results were quite interesting.
There was a whanger of a flier in string four, but aside from that, the standard of shooting was higher over the next few strings. Looking especially at the decimal scores, slow shooting resulted in 99.5, 96.7; shooting fast gave 99.7, 98.8 and 99.6 despite my being more physically drained than the first two strings. It’s nothing that Matt and Geoff haven’t been telling me for a looooong time, but it’s so counter-intuitive that I never really could trust myself to do it; I was hoping that doing it here would give me sufficient confidence to do it in competition more often 😀
After the match, I got my name stitched on my Ireland team jacket (they had a chap there doing embroidery for Intershoot T-shirts and the like), and looked over the new Walther LG400 rifle (I’ve been worried for a while now that if any part of my rifle broke at a match, there’d be no way to get spare parts; Matt thinks I might change over rifles during my time away from the circuit). There aren’t many rifles I’d like; the LG400 is one of them:
We then got something to eat, watched and cheered on Ray in the finals, then packed our kit, hauled it back to the chalet, got changed and went out for a final team dinner in the local diner (lovely steak). After that, we walked back, packed away most of our kit for the morning and got some sleep. The next morning we had an early wakeup to take a team photo and bid farewell to Peter as he headed off; then we finished packing, cleaned down the chalet and hauled back to the airport by minivan.
Check-in at the KLM desk in Schipol took the guts of two hours to do. KL-bloody-M. And they tried to charge me excess baggage of €180 for the rifle instead of the €40 sports baggage charge – I pointed out that our tickets were booked via Aer Lingus and had the assistant call a colleague who sorted it out. It got to the point where the other airport staff were getting a bit narky with the girl on the checkin desk. Eventually we got through, got through security, and headed to the gate. And then Paul and I and Kealan took a few minutes to raid the duty-free for some gifts for home (married men can’t come home without gifts 😀 ). We barely made it back to gate in time! After that, the remainder of the trip back was incident-free and normal, we said our goodbyes in the airport and that was the end of the trip.
Overall the total is two new Irish records, five shooters hit the MQS scores (and the sixth missed it by a point and set an Irish record in the process), three competition personal bests, two international debuts, and a team medal. That was a good trip 🙂
When I started shooting (back in ’94), the sights on the smallbore rifle I started out with(Ah, DURC#8, I remember it well 😀 ) looked like this:
Over the next few years, we got more fancy-looking sights, but they all had one thing in common with these, and that was that the sight remained upright relative to the rail on the rifle, so that the elevation knob (marked with T and H above) operated in the vertical plane defined by the rifle stock and the windage knob (L and R) at right angles to this. This makes a lot of sense if your rifle is held vertically (and indeed, many top shooters now have upright rifles when in position, abandoning older principles of shooting to maintain that, such as keeping your head upright). However, if – like me – you cant the rifle (ie, tilt it towards you), your elevation knob is now working at an angle. This was why I paid a bit extra when I first bought my rifles to get the fancy schmancy sights:
The reason was fairly simple – while the 6827 sights above are fixed, these 7020 sights rotate, allowing you to cant the rifle and have your sights upright, like so:
This becomes useful when you have to adjust those sights, for when you’re grouping well, but the center of the group is off to one side of the target. With the sights upright like this, all you have to do is figure out how far left or right you are and how far up or down you are on the target, and adjust the sights directly. But with the fixed sights above, you have to play with angles in your head and try to remember how many clicks up and how many clicks over it takes to move the shot horizontally on the target. Which, in a match, is a pain in the fundament.
Hence the hassle with the MEC Free rearsight. It’s a lovely bit of kit, but it doesn’t cant 🙁
So when the rifle is in position, the rearsight is canted, and that means it’s back to guesswork again. And to add insult to injury, it has two windage knobs – one on either side as you can see – which is lovely and symmetrical, but can lead to confusion when you adjust the wrong one in the heat of a match and move the shots in the wrong direction (because, being on a common axle, they of course have different senses when seen from different sides – you’ll note the earlier sights avoid this by having only one windage knob). And the elevation knob , being under the sight instead of on top of it, also confuses your mental model of how the sight adjusts.
It’s not exactly rocket science, it’s more along the lines of “No, your other left…”, but who needs that in a match? Especially when it costs points and time and mental calm to get it wrong?
Hence a bit of experimentation this evening to make sure I had the sense of how the adjustments work correct in my head:
That’s two shots, then 30 clicks left and one shot, 30 up + 30 left and one shot, 30 up + 60 right and one shot, and 60 down and one last shot, which landed back in the central group, so I’m happy enough with that. This done, a bit of computer graphics fun later, and I have this printed out on a handy reference card to keep with me at the firing point (and yes, in colour – colour printers are a bloody useful thing!):
Still only approximate, but good enough for government work…
After last Friday’s thoughts on trigger weight, today was the put-it-into-practice day. Reduced the trigger weight down to the 20-40g range (no gauge to measure exactly I’m afraid). Then adjusted six other things to get the same length of pull on both stages and weight on the first stage of the trigger that I had before and to ensure the sear engagement was correct – the match 54 trigger Anschutz uses is definitely excellent, but adjusting it isn’t really a tweak-one-screw-and-you’re-done sort of job…
Once that was done, it was a lot of dry-firing to get used to the new trigger weight. It’s a pretty large change since the triggering is such a major thing in target shooting, but it was going reasonably well after a half-hour or so. But the ten-shot series shot at the end wasn’t so great, something else crept in (Matt thinks there was a problem in my sight picture, I think I might just have been tired – it had been a rather longish day at work before coming out to WTSC).
Either way, we get to do this again on Thursday and Friday, just dry-firing and visualising and dry-firing and firing the occasional live shot just to check on things. Change one major thing, shoot a hundred shots to see if it’s worth shooting the next nine hundred to properly test it…
Some (well, it should be most, but I’m not there yet) days aren’t about experimenting and changing stuff, but just practicing what we’ve changed. Today was one of those days. Just dry-firing and visualising, and more dry-firing. At the end of the night, fired one live shot to check all was well.
Seemed okay to me.
We did find though, while comparing triggers on the Steyr LG100 and my Anschutz 2002CA that my trigger was set very heavy compared to the others – somewhere around the 80-100g level or so. Next time, that has to get dialled down – a lighter trigger would mean a smoother release and less of the pulling off to one side we’ve been seeing in the RIKA.
Friday’s training is best summed up in one single shot:
(Excuse the speed being off, screen capture software wasn’t quite on the ball today)
Seems my approach is okay, and my hold is okay, and even my triggering is fine (some of the time) but my release (deciding to pull the trigger, rather than the actual pull itself) is just shite.
Lots of mental exercises needed for that one.
Meanwhile, move the buttons in by about two inches on the jacket and I’m getting a little more support from it now. Still rubbish, and it’s still going in a barbecue pit with a pint of petrol and a match, but at least I’m not in as much pain at the end of the night’s training now.
Last night was originally going to be for endurance training. The idea was simple enough – dryfire to get set into position, then fire a hundred shots (basicly just empty the shakerbox of pellets). Do this on a tuesday and there’s time to recover before the match this sunday.
In the end though, it didn’t quite work out that way. There was still a test of endurance (I think I was in position for an hour and 45 minutes before taking a quick break to stretch, and in total I was on the line shooting for a little over two hours), and today everything hurts, as you’d expect, but Matt noticed that I was still having issues with the trigger, and so we tried addressing that instead.
As you can see, the triggering (the blue line) dives right out of the hold area and the shot lands away from where we were holding the rifle. Not good.
The original trigger setup was right back in towards the pistol grip – to the point where I had to dremel out a cutout on the pistol grip to allow the trigger to be pulled at all:
Matt now moved that trigger far forward, and altered the angle it was set at. After some experimentation and a lot of shooting, this is the new trigger setup:
And yes, that trigger angle is deeply unorthodox. However, because of the cant I hold the rifle at and the natural angle my hand is at and the angle my index finger is at to the hand when it’s curled, that setup works to give a solid contact point for the finger and a clean trigger release.
Shots are getting hinky there at the very end, but otherwise, not a bad result for two hours of work. Next time will be dry-firing and then more dry-firing and more hold-with-periheperal-vision training.
Also, a new blinder type got tested:
It works quite well, and it’s a definite improvement on the earlier blinders, but its not quite perfect yet. Need to get some sort of adhesive tape that allows a lot of light through, but not much in the way of an image. Still, that’ll do for the match on sunday if I don’t make a better one before then…
Friday was a pretty good day’s training, but that peak performance level felt just out of reach, thanks to various things going sideways.
Early start, got to the range around ten to seven or so, meeting up with Paul at the door of the range. Usual startup – the yoga mat is really helping with the warmup and while going from the cobra to the downward facing dog postures looks daft, it’s really efficient at getting the muscles that you use in position all warmed up. It’s also spectacularly efficient in making you look daft and alarming everyone with the noises it creates…
That done, I took a few minutes to run twenty shots through the new chronograph, then got set up for RIKA training. First ten shots were standard, look-where-you’re-going stuff and went really well (would have gone better if the sights had been tweaked though – hardware problem #1):
And the RIKA traces showed that this would have been an outstanding string if I’d tweaked those sights. (Again, the RIKA’s calibration is drifting, so watch the traces, not the points of impact, which are almost random at this point):
Not bad, though getting a bit hinky at the end – shot eight was a bad trigger and shot nine wasn’t great either, but that could have been a decent 96-97 if the sights had been on. I have no idea what happened to shot 6. At all. The RIKA trace was fine, with really good hold, trigger release and follow-through, but the shot was an 8.8. I really, really have no idea what happened there. For all I know it could have been bad ammo (which would be the first time I’ve seen a verifiable case of that in the last few years). Mind you, if it was bad ammo, and it can do that much damage to a really good shot execution, then I really need to get a selection box of pellets and test out sizes (which isn’t that easy in Ireland, but there’s got to be some way to do that…).
Next up was ten shots fired with the target and RIKA screens turned away, and it felt like a decent string – no really hairy shots, all with pretty good holds and good approaches:
Er, wtf? 0.0?
Turns out, the paper tape from the megalink had hit off the RIKA sensor and tripod, doubled back and fed back up into the megalink. End result, one very confused target and the last two shots at least were utter silliness. Still, it started well enough…
So Matt extracted the tape from the target, set everything up again, we fired off a few more rounds in calibration exercises, and then did Matt’s new exercise (well, new to my training plan, anyone from WTSC will remember it as the “shooting at the stars” exercise). The idea is to approach to target and hold as normal, then look off to the right of the target (or left, if you’re a left-handed shooter). You then keep your focus there, maintaining the hold with the periheperal vision only, and then fire and follow-through, all on periheperal vision. The results… were pretty much as you’d expect:
Traces show it pretty clearly as well – mostly it’s okay, but if the hold wasn’t set up correctly, the NPA heads right off to the right as soon as the focus leaves the target:
But the payoff comes when you take then next few shots after the exercise:
Yes, I know, but ignore the last four shots where my back is having fun and my mental focus is being worked on by Matt, Paul and Aisling chatting about rifles in the background (which is disturbingly effective at being disturbing, by the way). All three of the first, focussed shots landed in the same hole and the traces tell the story nicely:
Very tight holds, very clean trigger releases, very even follow-through. No NPA problems. Matt’s exercise really does work on focussing the attention on the NPA during the setup of the position.
So, one week to the next match out in UCD. Three days training left. Almost all of which will be dry-firing and working on Matt’s exercise. And trying to sort out the blinder design – I tried a different kind of tape on the perspex than scotch tape and it worked really well. Trying ordinary sellotape next. There’s a happy medium in here and I’m going to find it…
As to the match itself, the plan’s simple enough:
Be on the first detail;
Have porridge for breakfast;
Get there early;
Warm up and set up kit before prep time starts;
Check sights for correct apertures for the lighting on the UCDRC range;
Check buttplate height as UCDRC’s targets are slightly lower than the WTSC targets;
Set up position in relation to shooting stand (as practiced) and dry-fire throughout prep time;
Turn away the monitor and only check every few shots for any required changes to sights;
Stay hydrated during the match;
Tweak rearsight arpeture as required during the match;
Use both side blinders and the older earplugs to keep out distracting noises/sights;
The goal is to try to shoot all 60 shots with the right shot routine, the right mental focus, and running all the in-position checks against balance and inner position as I go (I deliberately don’t have a target score in mind for this match, and won’t until I get my new shooting suit).
This evening’s training was a bit of a trial for tomorrow more than anything else. Yesterday’s shooting with my eyes shut was a good indicator that there was something wrong, but the air pressure problem prevented any real diagnosis, and the more I thought about it, the less I could see it doing to help because I couldn’t tell if it was bad triggering or bad hold that caused the problem. So today, I wanted to set up the Rika to see what my hold looked like. I didn’t quite think this through though, and wound up trying to set up the Rika after warming up – while still in full kit. If ISSF think the “penguin walk” is a bad thing, they’ve not seen the penguin try to get over a 3′ table while in full kit…
Anyway. Finally got the Rika set up. For those who don’t shoot, the Rika is an electronic training aid, made up of three main parts: the target, which has two small infra-red LEDs on it and which holds a normal paper target and sits down the range in the usual place or as close to it as you can get:
Then there’s a sensor that’s slung under the barrel of the rifle, and an interface box that’s basicly all the magic electronics that interprets the sensor and gives a very basic (two-line dot-matrix) interface.
This interface box plugs into the PC and that’s where the real magic happens…
But, while that video trace is really useful, it’s not the only data the software can give you…
And these statistics (and a few others) can be run over groups of shots as well as individual shots.
So tomorrow’s plan is to shoot a few strings with Matt observing to get some baseline data and see how things are going. An evaluation day, in other words…
One of the fun things about being in a club that’s been around a while is that some interesting stuff builds up in the historical archives. I’ve an interesting bit or two from the archives to put up on this blog but I thought I’d start with last night’s fun, the Vickers Jubilee.
I’m generally not an admirer of firearms, oddly enough. I’m a great fan of target shooting, but oohing and aahing over a firearm makes as much sense to me as oohing and aahing over a shovel. But there have been exceptions – for example, there was a display case of early target shooting muskets in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam a few years ago, which had so much filigree and enamel work done that they were more a cross of painting and sculpture than they were firearms:
And some firearms have been so optimised for function that the craftsmanship displayed has a kind of intrinsic aesthetic beauty, something that you can appreciate as a separate thing from what the craft itself actually is. For example, one particular target shooting .223 rifle out in the Midlands has had so much work done on its trigger by its owner that it is now every bit as crisp and clean a trigger release as any match rifle; yet the trigger unit itself is just a standard one, polished and worked to perfection over long hours in the workshop.
Shooting with the Vickers gave that sense of excellent craftsmanship and more – this rifle is simply not from our time. Originally manufactured in 1939, it hails from a time when craftsmanship standards were somewhat higher than today and manufacturing philosophy was not the same as it is today. This is evident almost no matter where you look on the rifle, in both fine details and gross features.
For example, in all modern rifles, the barrel is pinned, clamped, or otherwise connected to the receiver; this allows replacement barrels to be swapped in. This is done fairly often for fullbore rifles, some calibres more than others; but infrequently for smallbore, if ever.
The reason that we have this design feature at all in modern smallbore rifles is advertised as the ability to allow high-end shooters to replace barrels after hundreds of thousands of rounds have finally begun to erode the barrel, or in case of accidental damage — but really, its purpose is to allow for manufacturing defects in a barrel to not require the entire rifle be scrapped, and to allow separate manufacturing of barrel and receiver, thus increasing production rates and flexibility (so you can have a barrel made in one factory mated to a receiver made in another, or whatever works out cheapest for the manufacturer).
On the Vickers however, as you can see, the action and the barrel are all one piece of metal. To hell with manufacturing a hundred barrels, throwing away the three or four that aren’t up to snuff and making rifles with all the rest; this is the Waterford crystal approach, where you make a rifle in one piece and if it’s not up to snuff, it gets scrapped. There’s more investment on the part of the gunsmith here, and a higher requirement for skill and precision from the gunsmith. And with much of the rifle being handmade or handfinished, that’s more and more evident as you start looking for it.
It’s also fascinating to see alternative engineering approaches to problems. For example, in modern rearsights, the iris is like that on a camera, with several leaves that come together to create an iris that’s infinitely adustable over a set range. You can dial in whatever iris setting you want; this is very useful in an outdoor match or an indoor one if the lighting is a bit nonstandard. But the mechanics of such an iris, while relatively easy to create today with CNC milling and CAD design and laser-cut metal parts, were quite expensive in 1939; so the Vickers uses a more low-tech solution which nevertheless works quite well: behind the rearsight eyecup, there’s a small rotatable indexed wheel with several holes of varying sizes drilled into it.
So when you’re looking through the rearsight iris, you are effectively getting one of a few preset iris settings. It’s not as flexible as the modern system, but it does have several advantages over our modern leaf-type irises:
It’s a lot cheaper to manufacture
It’s a lot more robust and reliable; leaf-types can break and need repair, a hole in a piece of metal is pretty much unbreakable
There are far fewer possible settings, leaving the shooter less to get his head caught up in. The sights do the minimum that’s required to give the shooter what he needs; they are not suffering from feature-creep!
The rearsight is much physically smaller and thinner than a leaf-type can be easily made to be; modern rearsights like the MEC Free sight and the Centra Spy are trying to get back to this small rearsight model and top shooters are snapping them up like hotcakes; but the Jubilee was there in 1939…
So some Vickers engineer out there achieved 70 years ago, what todays MEC and Centra engineers are now trying to achieve again today. It’s somewhat ironic.
The sights are not the only design trend that Vickers had in 1939 that we’re only seeing crop up again today. The stock itself is lightweight and ambidextrous, making the rifle usable for juniors, ladies, left- and right-handed shooters, equally. Universal design in 1939?! Today you can find several rifles that are ambidextrous in the catalogs, but only because it’s become one of the modern design trends – ten years ago your choices were far more limited.
There are no headspacing issues. None. The falling-block design just doesn’t have that problem. Nor do you have problems with lock times, the falling-block trigger mechanism has the fastest lock time of any rifle action bar the modern rotating-block and metal storm designs, neither of which are really target shooting mechanisms! In fact, lets look at that trigger mechanism for a moment:
How robust is that? Compared to the match 54 trigger, this thing is a solid hunk of steel fit to be used as a hammer! And once put to that use, you would almost expect it to be unaffected when it returned to its original job as a trigger. In action, its feel is wonderfully crisp and precise, if much heavier than modern triggers. It feels like it breaks around the 1lb to 2lb level, though I’ve not taken a trigger gauge to it. But look at how few moving parts there are – there are, in total, five components, though to be fair one does house four more including the main spring and the firing pin.
It’s hard to explain how wonderfully elegant this trigger mechanism is without showing the modern counterpart, so here’s a look at the Match 54 trigger (the nearly ubiquitous trigger in modern match rifles):
Doesn’t look too complex there, with everything nicely coloured, but that diagram is masking several things to just show the operational parts. Contrast the number of parts in the Vickers trigger above with the number in the Match 54 trigger as shown in the user’s manual below:
Now, granted, the Match 54 does have significant advantages over the Martini action trigger. It is far more adjustable, as the first diagram shows, allowing for a very custom trigger setup. Whatever the shooter’s preference is, the Match 54 can probably cater to it, whereas the Martini allows for some adjustment of trigger weight, but not much, and that’s about it really. And the Match 54 can operate at far lower trigger weights reliably; the Martini is never going to get much below the 1lb-2lb level and remain utterly reliable. That doesn’t mean that it’s an impediment however — as a few minutes of shooting without any jacket or sling will show you, the trigger is more than good enough to get the job done:
In fact, that’s the thing about the Vickers that jumps out at you and slaps you round the face a few times — if you’re looking for a club gun, one you will train someone to shoot on, there really isn’t anything better than the Vickers being made today. It blows every current match rifle out of the water in terms of suitability for beginners. Think about it:
This is an ambidextrous stock, so that’s the left and right handers taken care of with one rifle, saving money for the club.
It’s safe, with a trigger that’s hard to set off accidentally.
It’s perfectly accurate and doesn’t suffer from any of the problems with esoteric things like headspacing and the like that modern match rifles have.
The accessory rail is compatible with all the modern handstops and doodads, so you don’t have to convert those over if you move up to a more modern rifle.
The sights are robust enough to work well after seventy years, though you do have to adapt to their working in the opposite sense to the german sights we’ve all been using for the last few decades; but that’s a trivial adaptation.
The rifle itself is very lightweight, making it suited for juniors and seniors in both genders.
It’s monumentally uncomplicated. You can take the trigger apart completely without a single tool beyond a ballpoint pen to poke out the pins (and if your fingernails are up to it, you don’t even need that). You can take this rifle to the firing point, take it into less than a dozen pieces to show a beginner how it all works, reassemble it and fire it, all in about quarter of an hour. The depth of understanding a beginner can gain from this is enormous and you just cannot do this with a modern rifle – too many parts, too many tools needed, and you’re sunk if you lose even one tiny little grub screw, which on a range is a near-certainty.
It’s reliable. Look, this thing was made in 1939, it’s passed through at least two owners before DURC got their hands on it, and it was a club gun for college students for years until it was retired in 1990; and after all that use and abuse and wear and tear, it took less than a half-hour of pottering before it was back and ready to go into service again drilling out the ten as if it was only made last tuesday and hasn’t gotten properly warmed up yet. And it’s built as though the design spec said it had to be usable as a hammer every other weekday. Compare this with the incredibly delicate handling needed with some modern rifles like the Hammerli AR30 or the like. This may well be the single most reliable firearm I have ever picked up.
And then to all that you add the last point, the clincher for money-starved clubs everywhere during the recession: the cost. Granted, you can only get them second-hand. Granted, the easiest place to find them is the back room of any UK gunshop, which may not be terribly convenient. And granted, sooner or later these things are going to become collectors items. But right now, a Vickers Jubilee can be picked up second-hand for about €60.
No, not a misprint. Sixty (six-zero) euro.
How the heck Anschutz and the other manufacturers are supposed to compete with that for a club or beginners rifle, I don’t know, unless it’s through hoping noone’s ever heard of the Vickers. It really is the most impressive little unassuming firearm I’ve seen in a very long time.