The key to improved markspersonship is developing a good group, defining a good sight picture that works for you, and good execution on the line. The first two can be accomplished on a shooting bench, and should be. But the last one, good execution, can only be accomplished by practice and actual competition.
Alright, so we have a good group and it's not in the center of our target - what'a we do?
Before we start hacking, sawing and soldering on our piece, lets examine what sight picture we are using. The figures illustrate the four sight pictures I use with my Civil War ordnance. The sight picture is the same on my Enfield Rifle, Carbine and Remington Pistol. Figure 1 is the time honored "Apple-On-A-Post" sight picture. The top of the front sight is even with the top of the rear sight notch, and the bottom of the target rests on top of the front sight. Many shooters use this sight picture. Figure 2 is the "Dead Center" hold. The front sight is in the exact center of the target, and the top of the front sight is level with the top of the rear sight notch. A Dead Center hold is great if you are going to be switching between N- SSA and NMLRA targets, because the bullseyes are different sizes. Figure 3 is a variation of the Dead Center hold, which I call "The Cradle" because the target is cradled by the rear and front sights. The equatorial center of the target is level with the top of the rear sight, and the top of the front sight is at the south pole of the target. Figure 4 presents another sight picture I call "Low-Dead-Center". The top of the front sight is still on the exact center of the target, but the target sits lower in the rear sight notch.
What difference does it make what sight picture you use? I'm glad you asked that question.
Because skirmishing is an outdoor sport, enjoyed and endured in all weather, hard sight adjustments cannot always be accomplished as required. At Fort Shenandoah, on a blistering hot day, you can see the heat waves rippling upwards between the line and the 100-yard targets. This rising heat will hold your bullet up longer, and requires a sight adjustment to compensate. The only thing you can do is know the different sight pictures that work for you and adapt.
I do not shoot the "Apple-on-a-Post" sight picture well. I wobble like a sailor on shore and can't keep the front sight centered. I prefer to "Cradle" my target, and this is the sight picture I start with. I switch between the other sight pictures as needed.
In order to know intuitively which sight picture to use, or change to, you need to know several of your sight characteristics. For instance, the sight radius on my Whitacre barrel is 22 inches. My front sight height is 7/16", and the rear sight notch is 4/16" deep. I can use this data to determine field corrections to my sight picture. If I shoot 3 sighters on my 50- yard target, and they group about 6 inches low and I am using a sight picture like Figure 3, I can raise the shot location by switching to a sight picture like Figure 1. By adding about 2/16" of front sight, which is what I am doing by changing sight pictures, I will raise my group about 8 inches. One practice shot on the sighter just to check, and I'm of to the races on my target. As a matter of fact, I know that the difference between the top of my rear sight notch and the bottom of my rear sight notch can equate to impact point movement of 9 inches on my pistol, 6 inches on my carbine and 8 inches on my 2-bander.
Groups aren't always off just up or down. Knowing the size of targets will help you adjust your "windage". For example, the bullseye on a 50-yard N-SSA Musket/Carbine target is 4 inches. This is also the approximate size of a clay pigeon. If there is one of those good stiff Frederick County breezes blowin' from left-to-right, you might find your shoots grouping out in the 6 and 7 ring at about 4 or 5 o'clock. It's a tight group, just wayward. The sight picture adaption here involves holding at 9 o'clock on the bullseye or target. BUSTED BIRD!
Most N-SSA targets like pots, cups, cans, tiles and pigeons are in the 4 inch range. KNOW YOUR ENEMY. How much shot placement movement can you effect by holding half a target higher? Half a target more to the left? Knowing these answers will make you a better skirmisher because you will be able to adapt to more situations without actually physically moving sights. Knowledge of your weapons vital sight characteristics, and how they equate to bullet impact movement down range, is a key to skirmishing success. As I just showed you, I can move my shot placement almost a foot by changing sight picture alone - throw in holding in different places on the target and it is even a greater range of movement. Actually altering sights is a last resort. Try these tips first. And don't forget to use the chart provided with the September 1992 column. Keep a copy with your shooting box for quick reference.
One thing I think that can impact greatly on performance is the physical size of your sights. I like my front sight appear to be just as wide as a 50-yard pigeon, or a 25-yard pigeon for pistol. (NOTE: Take a pair of dividers and hold them out at arms length, and adjust the arms until the pigeon just fits inside. This is how wide your front sight should be.) If I'm off a little left or right, I want to see the target peeping around my front sight to warn me. With my sight radius, that means a front sight on my 2-bander of just under 1/16 of an inch. Also, I like to have a groove in the bottom of my rear sight notch that is also as wide as a bullseye or pigeon. It helps me line up my front sight, and gives me a little more room to adjust at the bottom of the sight, or just shows more of the front sight when I have to use a low hold. Try different sight shapes if you think your current sight doesn't suit your style of sighting.
Later on, we'll talk about physically altering sights.
While I was at Ft. Shenandoah for the 87th National, I ran into Bill Osborne of Lodgewood Mfg. Bill and I discussed the Enfield replacement plates which were one of the topics of my May 1993 column. Bill had just got in some Enfield plates, and I managed to horse trade for one. It is a perfect replacement, and drops right in to my Enfield Musketoon, Rifle and Musket plate reliefs. Bill told me that these plates, marked "L. A. CO", are proper for the popular 3-band Enfield musket carried by many reenactors and skirmishers, and should be on all future Euro Arms production of that arm starting in the near future. At about $25.00 plus shipping, it is a real value. Call Bill at Lodgewood 414-473-5444 or send a fax to 414-473-8970 for more info. These plates are great, and I hope to see more Enfield style plates with other markings soon.
Until the next time - shoot safe and have fun.
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