Pistol match, Oct 20, 2009: the good and the bad

Last night after work I drove up to Bay City to Duncan’s Outdoors Shop to compete in a pistol league match. It’s the second one I’ve made it to, and shot some of my best…and worst scores.

National Match Course 1 Total
SF TF RF
95 91-2X 93-1X 279-3X
National Match Course 2 Total
SF TF RF
86 99-3X 92-2X 277-5X

Starting with a 95 was great. It’s been a long time since I’ve fired a 95 on a slow fire target. Maybe 10 years. There were 5 tens and 5 nines, which speaks to the consistency of the group.

As to what I did to bring about that score, all I can think of is that for each shot, I:

  • took some good deep breaths to counter a little match pressure I was feeling
  • closed my eyes, tipped my head up, and visualized what I wanted to see in the sight picture
  • during visualization, also mentally reminded myself on the grip (middle and ring fingers pushing towards me, thumb pushing towards target)

After that great target, I completely fell apart and shot a 91 in a timed fire! Yikes. I probably average a 97 in timed fires, and don’t have a record since I’ve been keeping track in June of shooting a timed fire target that low. Same story on the 92 rapid fire.

So why the low sustained fire scores? Lack of recent match experience. When I’ve been out to the range this past summer, my practices haven’t really included range commands with enforced 10 or 20 second strings.

Basically, I seem to have no confidence in my ability to know how much time I have for timed or rapid fires. I can’t think of a way to remedy this except to practice with enforced times.

So, I ordered a refurbished iPod shuffle and I’ll record range commands onto it (I already have them in iTunes) so I can play those commands to myself when I go out for practice.

How to aim with iron or open sights

A guy in his 50s a few benches to my right was thumbing .40 cal cartridges into a pistol magazine.

He had arrived when I was about to box up my gear and head home. But, I had seven rounds of .22 leftover, so instead of letting them roll around in my gun box, I loaded them into a magazine. I already had 10 shots in my paper target at 25 yards, so instead of causing problems with scoring that target, I decided to find something else to shoot at.

I rotated slightly to my right, raised my right arm, and lined up my iron sights on a 12-inch diameter steel disc about 125 yards away. It was painted yellow. As I steadied my breath, I raised my Ruger Mk II pistol a little to account for the bullet’s drop at this longer distance, and let off the first shot.

I was pleased to hear the distant ding of the hit against the steel plate. I released the remaining six shots and they each dinged off the plate. I was pleased, but, frankly, surprised. That was a fair dose of luck.

I packed up my guns, and let the the older man know that the line was safe for him to go down range.

I could tell he was curious where the dinging noises had come from. He was scanning the range right in front of us, but there was nothing metallic there.

“So, what were you shooting at just now?” he asked.

“See that yellow disc out there?” I pointed to the steel plate hanging at the 100 yard line.

He was incredulous, except that he had witnessed it. I felt fortunate that I was packing up and wouldn’t be pressured to repeat it, but, hey, why let on.

It turned out that he was a federal agent from downstate on vacation. I was pleased that a federal cop from downstate would have an appreciation for how a kid from the Upper Peninsula can handle a pistol. Strange vanities.

That was about twelve years ago, and while I don’t shoot as much now as I did then, I still appreciate the look of a good sight picture.

Aiming is one of the fundamentals of good shooting, right? But there is actually a lot of complexity to talking about it. There are many different kinds of sights, and some are electronic like red-dot scopes or laser sights. Those have the benefit of being completely obvious on how to use. Put the dot on the spot you want your shot to land. That’s all there is to it.

But for those without a dot, knowing your iron sights is pretty crucial.

I shot a dot-scope for a few years, but gave that up and went back to open sights on my pistols. I like them, and I like that it takes more practice and discipline to use them.

So, here’s what I know about shooting with iron sights.

The fundamentals are that you have a front sight, probably a block or a post, that makes an “I” shape and a notched rear sight that makes a “U” shape. You put the front sight right in the middle of the notch of the rear sight. The tops of the front and rear sights should line up perfectly, and the front sight should have the same amount of space within the rear sights to the left and right.

Proper sight alignment has the front sight in focus and rear sights slightly blurred.
Good sight alignment: Front sight in focus, rear sights slightly blurred. Focus on the front sight, not the target.

When you aim, you focus all your attention on the front sight, observing it’s alignment with the rear sight. The rear sight should be slightly blurred, but the front sight should be crystal clear. Study it. Meditate upon it. Let everything else vanish.

The front sight on my Clark .45 has a slight ding on the top right corner, and when the sun shines at a certain angle, it stands out to me. These are things that you only appreciate if you find yourself studying the geometry of a front sight for long enough. It’s a good thing.

Please note that I have not spoken about the target. If you find yourself looking at the target, you are probably not going to fire a good shot. This is the counter-intuitive part about aiming: in order to hit your target, you must not look at it. It is the front sight and its alignment with the rear sights that should have your attention.

Of course, as you acquire your sight picture, you will probably need to glance at the target in order to line up the sights in the first place, but once you have that, forget it and focus on the front sight.

Focus on the front sight.

Update: May 3, 2010

Here’s a nice image of a variety of types of open sights with a legend. This image does not show the rear sights and target blurred like they would be to your eye, but it’s still a nice resource.

Update: January 10, 2014

The illustration and ideas in this blog post have been included, with permission, on page 59 in a recently published book by Andrew Smotzer, Guns for Personal and Home Protection. Thanks Andy, and congratulations on the new book!

Update: October 21, 2016

This 12-minute video from Chris Sajnog is perhaps the best thing you can watch to understand what it means to focus on the front sight.

Pistol practice, Aug 15, 2009 and notes on iron sights for Ruger Mk II

I went to the Saginaw Field & Stream pistol range this morning and fired a practice 900 bullseye course with my Ruker Mk II .22.

A couple months ago I upgraded the iron sights on the gun. Up till this point I’ve shot with the original Ruger sights, except for a couple years in the 90s when I shot a dot scope. I ordered Bo-Mar style rear sights for the Ruger from a company called Champion. The sights are very high quality and the sight picture is great—a big improvement over the stock sights. I brought the gun to Dick Williams Gun Shop near Saginaw, MI and he installed the rear sight for me.

Unfortunately, when I brought the gun out to the range to zero it in, it turned out that the front sight wasn’t the right height: I maxed out the elevation adjustment and it was still shooting about 5 inches too high at 25 yards.

So, after emailing and calling Ruger’s customer support with no great luck, I called Clark Custom Guns and they suggested I try a different size front sight from Ruger. Clark had an extra in their shop, and I purchased it from them. It did the trick, and the gun is zeroed in beautifully.

This is one of those upgrades that I should have done years ago. The little improvement in the sight picture makes a world of difference.

While my slow fire scores this morning weren’t outstanding, I do feel like I’m on the cusp of really getting the 50 yard line figured out. Slow fire has been the bane of my scorecards for as long as I’ve shot bullseye pistol. Now that I have a really clean sight picture, I’ve been able to trust my minimum arc of movement. Sure, it’s probably all in my head, but it makes a difference. That phrase has almost become my mantra for each slow fire shot: “Trust your minimum arc of movement.”

Here are the scores for this morning’s practice.

Slow Fire National Match Course Timed Fire Rapid Fire Total
SF1 SF2 SF TF RF TF1 TF2 RF1 RF2
87-2X 93-1X 90-1X 100-5X 95-2X 98-4X 99-5X 93-1X 97-2X 852-23X

RF2 I shot as a 14 shot alibi. I had a stovepipe and was looking for a reason to fire off an odd set of 5 rounds.

Pistol practice, Apr 25, 2009

I hit the range again this morning for a practice 900 bullseye match. What a beautiful morning! I started just after 8 AM and was facing East, and the sunshine played a nice highlighting on my iron sights.

Gun: .22 caliber Ruger Mk II
Ammo: Winchester Super-X .22 long rifle standard velocity

Slow fires were at 50 yards, timed and rapid fires at 25 yards.

Slow Fire National Match Course Timed Fire Rapid Fire Total
SF1 SF2 SF TF RF TF1 TF2 RF1 RF2
79-0X 83-1X 91-2X 93-2X 97-1X 93-0X 94-2X 90-3X 90-1X 810-12X

So, other than the Slow Fire of the NMC, it was a rough practice!

The Saginaw Field & Stream Club, where I shot, has a really nice 50 yard bullseye pistol range. I feel very fortunate to be a member there.

I put the remaining 10 rounds through a hybridized High Standard Victor. It had been working poorly, but my father brought it to the High Standard folks at the national championships at Camp Perry last year and they replaced the spring in the slide.

It looks like that was the problem, because those 10 shots all functioned great. Previously, I couldn’t get off 3 rounds without a malfunction.

I plan to shoot the High Standard for my next practice outing.

First pistol practice of the season!

I made it to the range today! The afternoon was sunny and seemed like it was in the high 30s. My fingers were stiff on the cold pistol, but the lighting was beautiful and the wind was light. This was the first time I’ve shot at the Saginaw Field & Stream club. It has an excellent 50 yard pistol range.

I had a small mixture of .22 ammo, which I shot in this order:  50 rounds of Remington Target (standard velocity lead), 5 rounds of Federal Lightning (high-velocity jacketed hollow-point), and the remaining 35 rounds were Remington Thunderbolt (high-velocity jacketed).

Thoughts on the ammo

This was the first time I’ve shot Remington Target rounds, and, frankly, they were great. They felt very consistent and they functioned reliably in my old Ruger Mk II.

The Federal ammo was cheap stuff, and, oh man, was it bad. Of the 5 rounds, 3 stovepiped. And, they felt very inconsistent. The Remington Thunderbolts are also cheap stuff, but they were consistent and functioned fine.

I ran through a practice 900 match (conventional bullseye pistol).

So, here’s how I shot.

Slow Fire National Match Course Timed Fire Rapid Fire Total
SF1 SF2 SF TF RF TF1 TF2 RF1 RF2
88-2X 88-1X 81-0X 93-2X 97-3X 94-3X 93-3X 97-1X 91-1X 822-15X

That adds up to 822-15X (out of 900 possible). Average score of 91.3.

Really, I had no right to shoot that well, since I haven’t practiced at all for over a year. So, this is a good benchmark to start the season with.

I hope to get out to the range every week, starting in mid-April, and I would like to compete in at least a couple matches by the end of the outdoor season.

The Google AdSense conundrum

I have a little side project over at rangelistings.com. The site contains a page for each state with a map of where shooting ranges in that state are.

This is the first time I’ve posted advertisements on a site I’ve created, and I’ve run into a compelling question on how to make the ads more effective.

The ads that show up are on-topic, generally. However, an effective ad speaks to the audience, not to a topic, right?

I intend the audience for the rangelistings.com site to be shooters who are looking for places to shoot. Perhaps they, as in my recent case, are moving and want to to find shooting facilities in their new area.

Here is a sampling of the first lines of ads that show up for one of the state pages currently:

  • Personal Security Online
  • Monitored Security Alarms
  • Personal Security Device
  • How to Defend Yourself
  • Self Defense Pepper Spray

Topically speaking, those are all geared towards self-defense in some fashion. For an audience of shooters, one of them even seems silly (would I rather use pepper spray or a .45 for self-defense?).

So, what ads would be better suited to result in people visiting the site actually clicking on them? Here are a few ideas that I think would work better:

  • Ammo: big selection, low price
  • Gunsmithing classes
  • IPSC videos
  • Gun parts and shooting supplies
  • 1500+ gun auctions right now

So, ammo, gun parts, and gun auctions have little to do with the actual words listed on the pages of the site, but from the context of the people visiting the site, they actually make sense.

The site just launched, and Google hasn’t even fully indexed it yet, so I’ll not be hasty. However, I’d like to see the ad revenue at least pay for domain registration and hosting fees, and ads that actually appeal to the audience would sure push that goal forward.

The question is, how?

(And I’m not thrilled with the idea of subjugating the content of the website in order to twist the ads that show up. That’s pretty backwards.)

Any good ideas out there?

Is it Spring yet? I got stuck on a muddy road.

The weather today was sunny, blue sky and mid-forties. The Winter is long, and on days like today, it is easy to think the season has changed. No dice.

I’m sick. Some sinus, upper-bronchial thing. I left work a little early; I was in no shape to start writing an XML schema. At home I decided the most therapeutic thing was for me was to go to a shooting range. Makes sense, right?

So, I transferred an extra gun into my box, scrounged up a single paper target (25 yd slow-fire target), found 5 rounds of .22 and 15 rounds of .45, and left. Yeah, not exactly geared-up for a good shooting session, but I think Spring-fever may have set in.

So I get to the club and the long dirt road to the pistol range is pretty mucky. So naturally I gunned the engine and took my chances.

Well, the mud won.

I finally gave up trying to drive out, and walked down to the pistol range from where I heard shots. An amiable guy in a pick-up truck with a tow strap gladly pulled me out.

Shooters rule.

I left the club without hitting the range. I can’t wait till the mud dries.

XML file of shooting ranges in Michigan

As another small step in this process of manipulating a data set to upload to Google Maps, I took the cleaned XHTML I had from a few days ago, and used TextWrangler to do some quick search and replaces on the source code in order to produce this XML file.
ranges-data.xml

Next, I think, I’ll load this XML file into PHP using the simplexml features which will make it easy to run the data through a PHP-based GeoCoding processor that I’m sure I can dig up. The goal is to transcode the addresses of the ranges into latitude/longitude points, which seem to be required pieces of data for the KML file I’m trying to piece together.

I may at the same time output the whole thing into KML format, since I’ll be in there with the data nodes anyway.

Sample KML structure for the shooting ranges data

And here is a sample of what the intended shooting ranges KML feed will look like.

And here is a sample of what the intended shooting ranges KML feed will look like.

A couple notes:

  • the Placemark node will repeat for every shooting range
  • I’ll have to find a way to process the address information and generate latitude/longitude points—there are bound to be problems when the GeoCoder will have trouble parsing an address, though I’ve gone through this before on a prior Web development project
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<kml xmlns="http://earth.google.com/kml/2.1">
<Document>
<name>Shooting ranges in Michigan</name>
<description><![CDATA[Places to shoot in Michigan: Public/DNR ranges, shooting clubs, and businesses with firing ranges available.]]></description>

<Placemark>
<name>Flushing Rifle &amp; Pistol Club</name>
<description><![CDATA[165 Industrial Dr., Flushing, MI 48433<br>http://www.flushingrifleandpistol.com/<br>]]></description>
<Point>
<coordinates>-83.866898,43.068909,0.000000</coordinates>
</Point>
</Placemark>

<!-- Repeat Placemark for each range -->

</Document>
</kml>

Clean XHTML of shooting ranges data

My goal is to upload a comprehensive list of shooting ranges to Google Maps (see prior posting). So, to accomplish this, here are the steps I’ve thought of.

My goal is to upload a comprehensive list of shooting ranges to Google Maps (see prior posting).

Why? I just think it would be cool to visualize places to shoot in Michigan.

Plus, once they are in there, I can see next steps, like creating a custom map of just the ranges that host matches for the Central Michigan Rifle and Pistol League shoots.

So, to accomplish this, here are the steps I’ve thought of.

  1. Clean the source code from the NRA page of ranges in Michigan into a valid codebase that can be more easily parsed
  2. Create a prototype of the form that data needs to take to be uploaded to a Google Map (looks like a KML file will do)
  3. Write an XSL document to use to transform the cleaned code (#1) to match the structure for the KML doc (#2)
  4. Run the XSL tranformation and then upload the resulting KML document to Google Maps

Just for the record, here’s the cleaned source code (#1): 2007.12.16-shooting-ranges.html