Consistency Counts

If I had to identify one characteristic which makes one person a better shooter than another, it would be consistency. The two other contributors to good shooting, attitude and confidence, are both derivatives of consistency. Without consistency, all else fails.

Consistency starts with good, clean equipment. Your musket, carbine or pistol should be kept clean and in excellent working order. If you haven't used it for a while, pull it out of wraps and check for rust. And clean it.

Consistency continues with a load you have developed that produces the best group your particular weapon can shoot. It takes a lot of work to find the best recipe for your piece, but the result will be better shooting through consistency. Try different bullet types and weights; if your barrel is more than 30 inches long, you might try using FF instead of FFF powder. Then, when you find a load that shoots 3 inch groups or less at 50 yards, you reached a good starting point. A consistent load means identical powder charges measured with a powder measure, not a scoop. A consistent load means bullets with weights with-in 3 or 4 grains of each other, and we're talking a 500 grain bullet here. Consistent loads, made up of well cast bullets and identical powder charges, are a key ingredient in consistent shooting.

A clean weapon, shooting identical loads round after round, needs a consistent sight picture every shot. Regardless of your sight structure, to be a good shooter you need to a consistent sight picture every time. This is actually the first time athletic ability; hand-eye coordination to be specific, plays a role. Anyone has the ability to craft excellent loads and possess a clean, well-maintained weapon.

Practicing your sight picture at home is easy. If you have a place where you can go and snap caps without injuring anyone else, try and snap 30 or 40 caps a week. Please remember safety. Don't snap caps around pets or the unprotected eyes and ears of friends or family. Most of us can find a time and a place suitable for practice. The key to snapping caps for practice is to hold a consistent sight picture every time, and practice squeezing of each shot evenly.

How many times have you heard a good shooter say a particular shot was high to the right, or low to left, or somewhere else off line? A good shooter knows when he pulls the trigger what his sight picture was, and therefore knows where that shot went. The reason he knows is because he knows his musket was clean, he knows he's shooting consistent loads, and the controlling variable therefore was his sight picture.

Holding a steady aim and squeezing off consistent shots is an easily acquired athletic skill, much easier than crosscourt backhands or sand trap shots to master. Weekly cap snapping, combined with actual target shooting once a month, will lead to improved performance in about four months. And the longer and more you practice, the better you can get.

A consistent stance is also important. If you hold your weapon differently each shot, each shot will travel differently. Find a comfortable, balanced stance and learn to raise your loaded weapon into that position each time. Here again, experimentation and practice are necessary.

Having developed consistent loads and the ability to hold a consistent sight picture, you will need to develope a consistent attitude. Chances are, if your shooting is inconsistent then so is your attitude. This is where actual shooting practice comes in. You are going to be a better shooter, if you follow these steps, before you know you are better. Live practice will demonstrate your improved ability. Once I developed better loads, etc., it took me a while to develope a better, more consistent attitude. Usually, my concentration fails somewhere between the first and tenth shot, and I have a very noticeable half-inch hole out in the 5 or 6 ring. Well, the other day I was competing at the Territorial and shot 5 times at a target and couldn't see one darn hole. In a temporary departure from my newly acquired consistent attitude, I wondered where in the heck I was shooting. A quick perusal through my spotting scope showed five holes in the black and reinstated my new attitude. The point is, it will take longer to develope and cling to consistent mental habits then it will to develope consistent physical habits. This takes us to our last point - confidence. Confidence can only come after consistency and attitude. If you do everything well, and your attitude is such that you know you have prepared and you know you can succeed, confidence will follow.

You need to start on the physical part now, and the mental part will be slowly reinforced and eventually will become habitual.

After you begin to develope more consistent habits, each errant shot should be analyzed. Was the sight picture what it should have been? Were you really concentrating on that shot? Did you change your lead? Is your powder measure properly set? And before you know it, you will be one of those good shooters who calls his errant shots correctly before he unshoulders his gun, because you will have consistency and the proper attitude and confidence. Until the next time, shoot safely and have fun.

(c) 1991 by Tom Kelley
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