Follow Through, The Forgotten Fundamental

Instead of using "where were the sights" when the shot broke, ask yourself, "where ARE the sights" as that small change in verbiage, will affect the way you look at the shot.

Follow Through

The final act of firing the rifle is to follow through. As we said just a few seconds ago, pressing the trigger starts the machine and begins the bullet’s journey down the barrel. As with everything, this takes time. We have to allow the system the time to complete the cycle, so we have to follow through with our trigger press. This will assure the shooter they are not disturbing the rifle and the sights before the bullet has left the barrel. It’s a very simple concept. But many people, when focusing on precision, like to “tap” the trigger, allowing the finger to fly off the trigger shoe. At the same time, we don’t want to squeeze the finger and “crush” it to the rear because this also moves the rifle.

Follow through is simply holding the trigger to the rear until the recoil pulse has ended. We don’t want to be in such a hurry that we are rushing for the bolt to reload before the bullet has left the bore. It is possible to disturb the system and cause the round to deviate off target. You can beat the bullet, so follow through.

When the rifle is firing, picture it as a large tuning fork. If we are allowing the trigger mechanism to move during the vibration period, when the bullet is still in the barrel, we can adversely affect the vibrations thus changing the harmonics of the system from shot to shot. This is especially true with a larger caliber semi automatic platform. Our goal is consistency. Not following through is anything but consistent and it will cause deviations downrange. With the finger giving the same consistent pressure it took to break the shot, the shooter wants to maintain that 90 degree attitude of the finger nail and hold the trigger shoe to the rear.

Lastly, we want to continue to watch the reticle on the target. Before breaking the shot, a shooter will lose focus–thinking about all the fundamentals, one then another, then another. The last thing we want to mentally think about, and focus on, is the reticle on the target. We need to watch this throughout the entire firing process. Here is where you want to put the bullet. So it is here you need to focus. Observe the sights during the firing sequence. We already know what to do; we can press our finger without looking, we can break at our natural respiratory pause without thinking, and we can hold the trigger to the rear thanks to repetitive practice. So, the focus needs to be on the sights. If they are beginning to drift off target, we have to stop the process and reset. You’ll see it move, so if something is not correct, the sights will show you. Don’t fire, but reset.

Some people may blink, lose focus, subconsciously look inward, etc. There are a host of things we will think about as part of the firing task, but not in the correct order. So build the position and, when you are ready to shoot, focus on the sights and where they are in relationship to the target. Unsupported / Sling shooters will talk about calling their shots. Where were the sights when the shot broke. In supported shooting, especially on a bipod with a scope, the shooter should see the bullet intersect the target and know “where” the sights are the entire time. Follow the bullet to the target by watching the sights. Through a scope, this is entirely possible if your position is correct and you follow through with your shot. Follow through is often the forgotten fundamental.

Calling your Shot

We have gone through the fundamentals of marksmanship, so you can understand what it takes to successfully engage a target using a rifle. All this information is great as a theoretical exercise. But how do we know we are doing it right in our practical application? The best way is with a competent instructor to watch you shoot and correct any errors in your form. The next best way to know you are doing it right is “Calling your Shot”. Because telling you how to do something is not enough. We need to put it in practice and look at the end result, as it appears through the scope.

Calling your shot, again, comes from the competition world. It is very important to sling shooters. However, because we tend to do things slightly different we have to modify the way it was done in the past. Unsupported sling shooting means the body will react to recoil to higher degree than shooting from a supported position like off a bipod. Because we focus on being straight behind the rifle, and managing the recoil, we will have far less movement of the system. This is easy to see by watching a video of a successful tactical shooter. Video makes it clear just how little the rifle will actually move, allowing the shooter to remain on target. This will help the shooter fine tune their training and take target analysis beyond the target to their sight picture.

The most common expression when talking about calling your shot is:

“Where were the sights when the shot broke?”

It is expressed this way because the instructor was talking about unsupported sling shooting. The shooter will move with recoil and rock off target then roll back on, reacquiring their sight picture. In the 21st Century we do things slightly different, so we have to adjust this thinking to account for supported shooting. How we speak to ourselves matters. In this case, asking the question in the past tense is wrong.

The tactical shooter needs to ask, “Where are the sights when the shot broke?” It’s a small but important distinction that will begin to condition our mind towards the positive. It will force the shooter to focus on the sight picture during the critical moment when the shot is fired. Shooting is a game of milliseconds and if you divert your attention from the target, you risk drifting off target. In so many cases, the shooter will not even notice this. They will establish their sight picture, consider the crosshairs on target and then begin to think about something else. It’s during these moments where we miss the movement caused by a poor trigger press, or a subconscious shift in our body. We need to carefully watch the reticle so we can answer: where are our sights during the firing sequence? This is the modern, more effective way to call your shots. If the sights remain on target and we deviate from impacting at our expected location, we then need to examine the firing sequence so we identify the issue. Was it a case of letting a fundamental go; poor Natural Point of Aim; a failed Trigger press or lack of follow through? Or do we need to adjust our zero? Calling our shots will help identify any number of issues. It can even help in recognizing faulty equipment such as scope that fails to hold zero.

If we have practiced and trained our body to execute the fundamentals correctly, during live fire, the benefits will be immediately apparent. This also extends to positional shooting, from any position. Making this a part of the firing sequence will train you to be more effective.