Wolfe Publishing Group

    Solid Advice on Offhand Shooting

    Several issues back, in the Black Powder Cartridge News, we ran the text from an old article written by master gunsmith and Schuetzen competitor Harry Pope, which detailed his thoughts on shooting from the offhand position. We received much favorable comment, enough so that it seemed like further recommendations from other riflemen would be well received. One of our favorite books on shooting techniques in general was written by Capt. Edward C. Crossman and titled Military and Sporting Rifle Shooting.

    We are fortunate enough to have two copies, an original first-edition copy signed by the author, as well as one of the excellent reprints done some years ago by Wolfe Publishing. Originals and reprints are somewhat readily available on the various Internet used book sites; our original copy came from a musty old bookshop in Leadville, Colorado. Regardless of where you may find a copy of this excellent book by Crossman, do not hesitate to put one in your shooting library, as it is chock-full of excellent information.

    We have re-printed some of Crossman’s excellent advice and comments here in the hope that it will be of help to those riflemen who are attempting to master the demanding discipline of shooting from the offhand position.

    There is plenty of good advice and solid tips for the rifleman who would attempt offhand shooting, especially in the Schuetzen style, from experts who backed up their opinions with good scores shot in competition. I hope that some of this will help you in your own efforts at offhand shooting; I know that it has certainly helped me with mine. I think that of all the things presented in Crossman’s comments, the emphasis on dry-firing practice has been the most helpful for me. Good offhand shooting has to be done almost automatically by the subconscious mind, much as we would ride a bicycle or type on a keyboard. The only way to get to this sort of relaxed concentration is through regular practice, both dry-firing and with live ammunition. When the trigger breaks as the sights swing onto the target – without you consciously thinking about it – then you have truly become an offhand rifleman.

    Selected Excerpts from Military and Sporting Rifle Shooting

    by Capt. Edward C. Crossman

    The shooter going seriously into the Free Rifle game must first divest himself of any ideas as to offhand shooting from his military or hunting rifle practice…

    When a heavy rifle, such as the Free variety, is held offhand by means of palm rest and pronged buttplate, the right hand, contrary to the case with an ordinary rifle, does no work at all except to tickle the trigger. This is one of the chief differences to bear in mind. The point of balance of the Free rifle is well in front of the junction of the palm rest. Supported at this point alone the violent muzzle-heavy distribution of the weight pulls down the muzzle and likewise swings up the butt-end. The Free rifle butt plate, however, is made with a long extension toe, running roughly parallel with the bore, and as much as five inches long. When this slips back into the arm-pit and the rifle is held by palm rest, the toe or extension prevents the butt from rising and the muzzle from dropping.

    Typical offhand position used by Scheutzen riflemen when using the palm rest and hooked buttplate.
    Typical offhand position used by Scheutzen riflemen when using the palm rest and hooked buttplate.

    The butt plates are invariably made adjustable in the direction to and from the heel. Some of the Swiss are alleged to have micrometer graduations so the plate may be set just so and no so’er. When the plate is set correctly, and the palm rest is placed at the right height, the rifle points naturally at the target without any dislocation of the hip on which the weight of the rifle is actually taken and without any “histing” of the shoulder to raise or lower the butt through the butt plate prong.

    The palm rest, in its ideal form, can be adjusted for height, for angle to and from the rifleman and for location or attachment at the rifle itself. Also, it must have no wobble when set. Some of them are fixed, as on my Springfield type Free gun, some of them are hinged to give with the recoiling rifle, as on my Martini. I see no objection to the fixed type.

    The one used by our Free rifle teams prior to the adoption of the Martini, consisted of a cork ball three inches in diameter, at the end of a threaded rod permitting adjusting the ball for height on this rod and with a knurled locking nut above the ball. The rod was fastened to a notched lug plate which in turn was riveted to the inside of the Springfield magazine, the attachment being the center of said magazine in the direction to and from the butt plate. This notched lug and bolt through it permitted adjustment of the palm rest for angle with the rifle…

    The use of the set trigger is entirely different from the ordinary rifleman’s conception of wrapping a digit firmly around the trigger and taking out most of the weight of the pull and depending upon the automatic release obtained through long practice, which brain and finger confer on him, at the right time.

    The first and safe rule is after setting the trigger, which should be done only when the rifle is pointed at one’s own target, is to put the trigger finger around the front of the guard and keep it there until the rifle has settled down.

    Then negotiations may be opened with the set-trigger.

    Some old time shots “pulled” the set trigger by sliding the finger along and across it, but headed generally for the muzzle and not for the butt.

    Others maintained a light, feathery touch, trying to pray the rifle off at the right time. Sometimes prayer has remarkable answers.

    According to the dope passed along by that enthusiastic and fine shot, Walter Stokes, one time world champion in the Free Rifle game, and who barn-stormed Switzerland under the auspices of the Swiss team after winning the championship, the Swiss rifleman steadies his finger against some portion of the guard, and then maintains a constant beat or flutter of the trigger finger, very lightly touching the trigger each time and running two or three vibrations per second. When the sight is right he adds just a trifle to this weight of beat, and the rifle is fired.

    However, the plan is apparently not unknown to the American shot…Harry Pope says: “The best way when aiming is to keep touching the trigger with the tip of the finger, then when the sight swings deep into the bull, a little harder touch lets it off. The object of doing this is to avoid sympathetic movements of the other fingers at the same time, which disturbs the aim.”

    A constant and light flutter, however, keeps the holding muscles from butting into the game as they try to do when one tightens up on a motionless trigger-finger; even the slight amount to touch off a set-trigger. It will work, however, only when the set-trigger is used as one should be used, set so light that the weight to fire it is nearly immeasurable.

    I have tried the plan out and am sold on it. It requires a bit of practice, and at times one gets a shot which he did not order at that instant, but it never results in one of those wild, grab shots which beset the best of us. It should not be commenced until the rifle swings have narrowed down to safe limits.

    Walter Stokes concerning some offhand shooting refinements wrote to me some time ago:

    As to the chief cause of the horizontal swings which you mention, I advance the following advice: The remedy is to be found in daily aiming and snapping practice, for the cause is the inadequacy in the function of the semi-circular canals of the inner ear in maintaining the desired bodily balance. Constant training at balancing yourself upon your feet, in shooting position, is all that will produce great improvement. The really fine offhand shot finds himself almost in a class by himself just because he possesses to a remarkable degree this power of almost perfectly balancing his body. Hartmann and Lienhardt, the two Swiss who smashed all records this year, do a great amount of aiming drill daily; actually their hands are calloused heavily at every point where they touch the rifle firmly, calloused from handling the rifle so constantly.

    What I have said to you about aiming drill is the big secret of success at the Free Rifle game. You cannot get by with the same amount of training that suffices at the military and small bore games.

    And Larry Nuesslein writes to me that: “In the Free Rifle game at Perry in 1923, I shot one of the Remington outfits. This had a Model 1922 Standard Stock. I used my own palm rest on this rifle which was of the hinged type and was mounted on the front end of the magazine floor plate. I think the rifle weighed on the palm rest something like 16 pounds. I do not know what it would pull down on the muzzle when supported at the palm rest. Personally, I always weigh my rifle at the palm rest and fasten it on the rifle so that it will give me approximately 16 to 18 pounds. The position is determined very easily by holding the rifle at the butt end and taping the palm rest to the rifle and then let the palm rest support the weight of the rifle on a scale. You will find by shifting the rest backward or forward it will vary the weight.

    I do not like the rigid rest. I always use the hinged type and the one that I use has been purchased from Peterson of Denver. It cost me $8.00 which I think is a little too much money for it. I always have the palm rest so that it slopes toward the body. In shooting I stand nearly erect with my shoulders and hips drooped slightly in sort of a relaxed position. This helps my hip to protrude. I rest my elbow on my hip and my left side is facing the target. The butt end of the rifle rests against my arm. My feet are approximately 15 inches apart. The left leg is straight up and down and the right leg is touching the ground very lightly and simply acts as a balance. It is about two inches forward of my left leg.

    The most important thing of all, I find, is not to use any great amount of effort in getting your body lined up on the bullseye. I try to assume a position that allows me to relax, and lets the gun point directly at the target, and I attempt to let it off when the sights are in line. I have never had any luck in trying to hold hard. This seems to make the rifle tremble considerably. If you can control this tremble by relaxing you are able to get much better pulls.

    I have been doing a very large amount of offhand shooting for the past three or four months. Most of my practice has been with a .22 caliber Schuetzen rifle. The outfit I am shooting has a Winchester action with a heavy No. 4 octagon Peterson barrel. This has proven to be a very fine combination and it will shoot well under an inch at 50 yards with good ammunition. I do not have any trouble making 47’s and 48’s offhand on the 50-yard prone target.”

    I can add but one thing these sharks seem to have left out, but which they know full well and practice. It is most important for the high-strung and nervous type individual who sits on the edge of chairs, stands around on his toes and holds the bed up by main strength and willpower when he sleeps. This is the importance of complete relaxation between shots with deep easy breathing, as contrasted with the tense anxiety to see what the value of the shot is going to be and probably plotting it in the scorebook and changing the sight and worrying all the while.

    Shooting a rifle, particularly offhand, is a fight, a matter of intense nervous concentration and fight to fool the muscles into remaining relaxed quiescent while another small set is monkeying with a little slip of steel which is going to produce a bellow and a kick; an maybe a rotten shot on the paper. The effect, no matter how indifferent the individual may feel as to recoil and noise, is not unlike trying to remain entirely relaxed and easy while tickling the ear of a chap who is going to smack you violently in the shoulder and yell at you when you carry it far enough. Did this comparison ever occur to you?

    Wolfe Publishing Group