So tonight became a session with the RIKA to check to see (objectively) how the hold has improved, with some nice results.
Started off a bit late as work ran on, got into the kit, hooked up the RIKA and started dry-firing to get settled, then some warm-up shots to cernter myself, then fired some calibration shots for the RIKA:
Then we covered the screen of the RIKA (so I wouldn’t be distracted) and shot a few ten-shot strings:
My head was *not* in the game for that one 🙂 Took a few minutes, centered myself a little, and continued on:
And of course the RIKA didn’t capture that string properly (for some reason the software only recorded seven of the ten shots). So back to the line and put in another ten:
Not as good as the second string, but it did turn out to be instructive – you can clearly tell on the RIKA trace that that 7 is from the trigger, not the hold:
You can also see from comparing with earlier RIKA traces that the hold has gotten much, much better. For example, this was last night:
Okay, it’s a bit easier to see with just the trace from a single shot. So here’s a single average shot from last night:
And here’s one from three months ago:
The amplitude of the vertical wobble is about the same, but the left-right wobble is much less and so is the drift (the longer-term wobble caused by sway and other large position problems) – and that earlier graph was the best I could find from that session, but the one from last night was average – there were better ones than that last night:
I mean, that’s nearly textbook, right there. Now, to get that to happen every time…. 🙂
Back to training after the UCD August Open, and started with Matt and I having a talk about what went wrong in the Open. With the few days rest between the Open and tonight, there was a bit of perspective and we both came to the conclusion that while there are still small technical things to work on (like my trigger finger alignment), the main problem is a complete lack of proper mental preperation for the match.
Thing is, y’see, we’ve never really worked on mental prep before. Logistical planning for matches, yes; technical training, intensively yes; physical training yes; but mental training is the next thing for us to learn how to train in. When I started shooting air back in ’98, we didn’t know how to train people to shoot properly. Safely, yes – we weren’t exactly lax in the safety department at any time – but we just didn’t know how to train people. We’d show them the rifle, show them how to safely shoot, and then just let them repeat that until they got good or went home. We practiced, we didn’t train, and there is a very significant difference. Some individual shooters would go off and get coaching from outside the country, but that rarely works, if ever. At the time, we had a contract with a coach who’d come over to train the national squad once every 4-6 weeks, and he went blue in the face saying this over and again – you can’t train properly through this “masterclass” approach. You need to have your coach there on a far more regular basis, to see you progress, to see the failures, to see you under pressure and relaxed, and to figure out what route is the fastest from where you are to where you want to go.
Dirty little secret in target shooting – while good kit is important, you gain more points per euro spent if you spend the euro on good coaching than on any other possible outlay.
Which is why people drive hundreds of kilometres to get to WTSC – it’s not the range, it’s Matt and Geoff’s coaching.
However, we’ve spent the last decade going from not knowing how to train to knowing how to train physically and technically and how to do logistics; how to train mentally has always been the next step to take, but until now, we’ve never really been ready to take it. Now, we are, and now we’re taking that step. That’s going to be the next phase of training for me and Paul and Ashling and all the other WTSC shooters.
Though we will be fixing my trigger finger alignment too 😀
Anyway, after that rather productive chat, I kitted out and we just started shooting. Nothing specific, just shoot so Matt could watch the trigger finger again. Almost immediately, I could tell the difference between Sunday and tonight – my hips weren’t moving as much when they came forward at the start of the shot routine, and I noticed that that DURC dance (face the wall, hips square to the wall, then swing your hips from left to right repeatedly. It ain’t catchy, but every DURC airgun shooter seems to do it…) wasn’t happening because I was naturally moving my hip right slightly to load and then left properly to mount the rifle. In UCD, I’d had trouble with that – perhaps my stand wasn’t as well placed as I’d thought.
Some dry-firing to start, and after 20 mins or so, ten shots to check the sights:
Matt didn’t say anything, so I just kept on shooting, but I kicked it over into the first string because I’d moved the sights and wanted a clean target.
Matt still hadn’t said anything by this stage and I just figured what the hell, I’d shoot a match. Wasn’t planned or anything, and it didn’t feel like my position was as rock-solid as I’d like, but I wanted a baseline after Sunday’s mess.
At this point I had to take a short break for five minutes – my right knee was in a fair amount of pain (I couldn’t bend it) and my feet were going numb. Unfortunately, this was the point where I noticed the score, and between that and the physical fun, things just went downhill fast…
And at this point, I’m thinking “Feck. Just shoot another 95/96 here and I’m looking at a new PB in the mid-70s” which is of course, the stupidest thing in the world to be thinking. It wasn’t helping that my knee was now telling me that it was formally considering seceding from the rest of me and filing for independent recognition with the UN on the grounds of inhumane treatment (I hyperextended that joint rather badly a few years back and it’s never really forgotten or forgiven me for that). The next nine shots got progressively harder and more disappointing, and the tenth was pretty much everything I had to give…
So there we go. Another MQS, under rather imperfect circumstances physically. Kindof proves Matt’s point – I was far more rested and in far less pain on Sunday, but my head wasn’t relaxed and centered and so my performance was dire; tonight I was in agony at the end, hungry and tired after a long day of work, and I still managed a 70 despite two tail-end strings that were ridiculously bad.
Talking about it with Matt afterwards, we both agree that even with the ridiculously bad suit and shoes I’m using now, there’s a 580 there for the taking. Going over the actual shots and looking at the scores, there’s a good six or seven 9.9/9.8 type shots that just squeaked out, and an 8.9 at the start – that’s not even counting the falling apart shots in the last strings. So there’s a new goal – get that 580 in the current suit. Once I do that, and change up to a proper new suit, well, that should be another few points of a jump 🙂
First match since the holiday and the rust is showing…
My balance was all over the place, and things just refused to settle down. Anxiety levels were high, but it’s that annoying kind of anxiety that you can’t see as anxiety when it’s happening; think of it as just a generally heightened level of mental tension rather than anything specific – like the way you sometimes realise your shoulders are so tense that they’re touching your earlobes, but you didn’t have any one specific muscle in pain?
The sight picture problem from the July Open was completely gone though, thanks to the efforts of the UCD folk who spent the morning installing new lighting, and to moving to a new firing point (the ones in the center have more ambient lighting than the ones at either end because of the difficulty in mounting lights safely downrange). So that was a welcome relief, but it did just highlight the poor hold in the position 🙁
End result was that despite good logistical prep, despite decent time management, despite taking a break to talk with Matt and Geoff half-way through, despite lots of dry-firing and settling at the start, things just refused to calm down and settle into place the way they’ve done in training.
Matt says it’ll come, and so does everyone else, and I know they’re right – it’s just that knowing it’ll happen doesn’t make waiting for it any easier 😀
On the upside, Ashling set a brand new PB of 375 (that’s the ladies MQS, which is a nice result after such a short stint of training with Matt), and Paul blew everyone away with a new PB of 589 (up from 577 in less than a month – proof that it does come when you train long enough…) And Emma is coming back to training as well, and will be coming out to WTSC to train with us on Friday nights, so the WTSC gang is getting better and getting bigger again, which is nice to see after a few years of a lull…
It took ten years, and the last push has taken eight months of hard work, both physically (I’ve lost over 30lb), mentally (lots of visualisation exercises, and lots of not listening to my own head), technically (3hrs on the range, 3 days a week, plus matches on the weekends and time training at home) and even financially (buying new kit and the like – and there’s more of that coming). It’s taken hard work and time from Matt and Geoff with coaching, but finally – I hit the MQS score of 570 in men’s air rifle tonight 🙂
(Excuse the 120-67 totals in strings 4 and 5, didn’t hit the “next series” button on the megalink fast enough)
Groups were pretty okay:
Scores histogram’s pretty okay as well:
And there’s still room to improve easily enough – that 91 for example, is down to my head being thrown, and there are two 8.9s in there (hell, cleaning the rifle could cause those…).
But to be honest, I’m still too busy celebrating finally hitting the MQS (and setting a new PB, natch) to worry for now 🙂
A pretty good evening’s training tonight. Got to the range around half seven and after the normal breathing exercises (look, if you drive for an hour in Irish traffic to get to the range, some deep breathing is pretty mandatory to get rid of the terror or urge to kill, depending on which end of the traffic you were on), some dry-firing for an hour or so, working on focussing on the process instead of the result. And of course, some chat over the latest toys in the Centra/MEC catalog with the others 😀
Friday nights are turning into the club training night again, with Matt, myself, Paul and Ashling now training regularly there, which is nice to see again.
Adjusted the jacket a bit as well – I’ve not been bothering with the fourth and fifth buttons on the jacket as when I started back late last year, they wouldn’t close properly. 30lb lost since then, so I’ve shot with the fourth closed, but I noticed that while the belly’s not the problem anymore, the shape of the jacket is still all wrong, and it was fighting the position and my breathing; moved the button about an inch with Matt’s help and suddenly it’s gone from fighting me to working with me. Excellent. More dry-firing..
And then after the dry-firing, some live-firing, and I noticed the sights were off, deep in the 8-ring, which was odd as yesterday they were fine. I adjusted them, and shot a ten-shot string for score:
Not perfect, the sights were a few clicks out at the start (about six in total – the Free is about 9-10 clicks per ring), but after I recovered that, the rest were fairly on target. If I’d shot the string with the sights on, it’d have been a 99. Not bad for a crummy jacket…
Of course, never a night without finding a new problem – while taking the rifle apart, I noticed that the Free rearsight, even though it was clamped to the rail securely, was not flat on the rail – it was tipped ever so slightly backwards (I think it’s because it won’t sit flat on a surface due to its design, and the clamp doesn’t drag it down and forward as you tighten it). Which, if it’s not tipping a consistent amount – and I don’t see how it could be – would explain why I keep having to adjust my sights on the same range without changing the rifle setup in between days.
Oh well. From now on, when assembling the rifle, press down on the front of the MEC rearsight, then tighten the clamp. Kinda wish that was in the thing’s manual…
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.
UCD was an utter disaster for me. A complete kick to the gut. The groups were so haywire that I was sure there was some sort of deep problem with my match prep or shot routine, and that would mean that months of work was wasted.
So last night, the objective was simple – find the cause of the problem. I thought it’d take all night. I set up the firing point just as I had in UCD, and killed the lights at mid-range and the near end of the range to simulate the lighting in UCD (which is much darker than WTSC because it’s a larger space and damned hard to light properly):
And I’m sitting there behind that, in the chair putting on my boots when I spot the problem. See, normally in WTSC I train on that firing point because I have the RIKA set up there and it saves time. But when I set up normally, it looks like this:
Spot the difference? Here, look at the UCD setup in the same lighting:
Hint: It’s the ruler. The two floor panels come together to form a reference line of sorts that I’d been using subconsciously while training, but while that line is parallel to the line to the target, it’s about four inches forward of it. So when I laid down the ruler in UCD and built the position around that, I was building the position perfectly — but four inches to the left of where it should have been.
There’s an upside to this — ie. it’s a simple fix. But it’s really annoying that such a small stupid mistake cost so much.
So having a hypothesis that made sense, now was time to test it. First off, ten shots in the UCD setup:
And the RIKA traces:
Then ten shots in the normal WTSC setup:
And the RIKA traces:
Ignoring fliers, the normal WTSC setup group is smaller (it’s offset, but ignore that, the sights aren’t dialled in between strings), but not by a heck of a lot. But I’ve not shot since sunday, so I have more energy and maybe that’s making the earlier shots better? So five more shots in the UCD setup, because now I’m getting tired and the extra energy that might be compensating for bad setup isn’t there anymore:
And the RIKA traces:
I thought that was reasonably good supporting evidence, if not conclusive. And then I remembered that Matt had been ticked at a small flick out to the right he’d been seeing in my shooting all last week, and I wondered if I was still misaligned; so just for fun, I moved my position even more to the right of the target line:
The idea is to be as sure as I can be that the rifle’s plumb line (a vertical line down to the floor from the barrel when in position) is intersecting the line to the target. And this new position seemed to work very well – my balance in position felt much better, and while my triggering was awful a lot of the time, that’s a seperate problem. I’ll be trying this position more in the sessions to come, but I’m quite hopeful for it. Ten shots taken at the end of the session, while tired, looked like this:
And the RIKA traces:
Shot seven, when you ignore the RIKA calibration drift (it was actually a 10.4) is what gives me the most hope, especially when I recall that my shooting suit is old and doesn’t fit right, and that I was tired 😀
Yesterday was a shorter training run than tuesdays, only about an hour or so spent shooting on the line, but there were non-shooting activities to get through as well, with cleaning the rifle with my new cleaning kit (more on that in another post) and adding a weight at the muzzle end of the barrel.
The weight proved awkward – we didn’t have any of the over-barrel weights I was hoping to use and my anschutz-specific barrel weight (the only one I have to hand) is on a shelf over the workbench in DURC which is awkward when you’re in WTSC 😀 I scoured around looking for unused weights but didn’t find anything that would fit, and then I found some leftover lead from when we were making up the weights for my home training setup (which is a wooden stock weighed with lead to let me do balance work at home). A bit of rolling and a lot of electrical tape later and viola, a standard WTSC bodge job homemade barrel weight 🙂
Some of the more observant readers may have noticed that this homemade contraption is hanging a little low and that the air cylinder appears to be closer to the barrel than the edge of the weight… and they’d be correct. On dissassembling the rifle after training, I found that the weight prevented removal of the cylinder, and as you can see, it’s taped in place. So out with the penknife, cut away all the tape, then rework the weight so that it’s thinner underneath and all the weight’s up above the barrel:
The air cylinder can now be inserted and removed at will, and as soon as the match on Sunday’s over, I’ll get something a little less… homemade sorted out.
The idea behind doing this in the first place was simple enough – a little weight out at the far end of the barrel will add to the barrel’s inertia and make it easier to reduce side-to-side wobble in the hold. Allegedly. In theory. I have to say that I think there was an improvement, but it’ll take more RIKA time tonight to tell for sure and to quantify it. I’ll have to shoot on better shooting days than last night (when my position and hold didn’t feel as solid as they have on other days) in order to confirm it.
However, last night did have some good results. I was working on the hold initially, but Matt changed focus a few shots in after noticing that when I was settling towards the pre-aim, the RIKA showed me hovering off to the top right of the target, and then moving in during the preaim; and then as I was dropping my head to the cheekpiece, moving out to the right again. After a while of looking at it, I noticed that during my preaim, I’m lining up a spot on the rearsight and the center of the foresight ring with a plumbline down from the bull; but because of the shape of my face, when I drop my cheek to the cheekpiece, it pushes the rifle out the right slightly. The fix seemed simple; now, instead of the foresight ring being on the plumbline, I use the gap between the foresight ring and the right-hand-side cant bar in the foresight tunnel:
With that change made, the preaim is a little finickier, but the aim gets much better. The results show this:
The two nines were fliers shot before the changes to the preaim, as the RIKA shows:
Again, ignore the score values as the RIKA calibration was a tad off:
And here are the traces, looking at the hold:
And looking at the approach:
Long gap there between shots #3 and #4 as we changed the pre-aim routine (and started the RIKA saving the last 30 seconds before the shot instead of the last 10). And then there’s the really good bit of the evening, between shots #8 and #9. There’s a hole in my mental game where I catch sight of a string of tens and think “just one more…” and then promptly stuff it up and shoot an eight. We’ve been working on that too – it’s why the shot routine has morphed into a series of changes and checks, along the lines of “Do step 1; check step 1; only go on to step 2 if step 1 passes the check” and so on. Tonight it worked for the first time – it was hairy and difficult and nearly didn’t several times, but eventually I was able to rely on the checklist approach to get me through the shot and put in a decent execution (and was rewarded with a 10.0). That is the part of the evening I’m really chuffed with.
So tonight, we’re going to test the new routine a bit more, and also shoot on the RIKA with a few different foresight sizes – that group above was shot with a 3.8 foresight (which is a wee bit small for those who don’t shoot much air rifle, it’s as low as my foresight can adjust to, and normally you just use that for training and shoot a match on a higher setting). We need to shoot some shots on the RIKA at 3.8, 4.0, 4.2 and 4.4 to get an idea of what the effect on the hold will be. Given that you normally set the foresight according to the range lighting, it’s worth knowing what the different sizes will do to the hold; though I’m reasonably sure that the change in lighting might also be a factor in the hold…
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).
After a few comments on the blinders made up the last day (thanks to David and Liam), I’ve dumped the 0.25mm PTFE side blinders. The thinness of the material meant that the side blinder wouldn’t stop curling round and that’d get me hauled up by EC on the line 🙁
So 0.5mm PTFE instead, and all’s well.
Also, I got some new material for the non-aiming eye blinder, 0.5mm perspex. The idea was to try to get the maximum amount of light through (the perspex is transparent). The idea was to get a blinder like Hannah’s here:
The problem now is to find a way to fuzz up the image. First attempt is to use scotch tape and doesn’t work too badly, but I’ll keep looking because it lets in as much as the PTFE and if so, why not just use the PTFE.
The single piece of tape doesn’t work quite so well – the alignment has to be just right or it all goes sideways…
And when fully obscured, it might as well be PTFE. But it works…
Meanwhile, the dry-firing on the RIKA is improving from the last day, but the RIKA’s calibration is drifting to the left within ten rounds 🙁
Readjusted calibration and shot the next series with eyes closed for the second either side of trigger release.