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Boomershoot Clinic

After Action Review
April 2001


To all the Clinic shooters.  

I hope you all had fun on Sunday and used some of your lessons learned from our clinic and firing on Saturday to blow up some targets.  I also hope that you arrived safely at your homes on Sunday.  Before getting into some of my observations from our training on Saturday, let me assure every one of you that the weather conditions we worked in on Saturday were pretty rough and I appreciate your efforts during the rain and cold.  

Optics and Equipment 

Mike gave a pretty thorough run down on optics and I suggest you all print out his articles on Joe’s Boomershoot Web Page.  For the new shooters, you have fired your first Boomershoot and you are in a much better position to evaluate optics and equipment than before, so use your experience while reading Mikes two articles and this AAR.  

Optics:  My personal opinion on the type of optic that is most directed towards the Boomershoot will be a 16 – 24X target scope with fine cross hairs and either 1/8 or ¼ Minute of Angle adjustment for elevation and windage.   This type of scope will normally have a ‘parallax’ adjustment on them, either in the form of a knob on the side of the scope or by adjusting the objective lens itself.  A parallax or “focus” adjustment on the side of the rifle is easier to use than one on the objective lens but if you get a good scope, it will have some type of parallax adjustment.  Do not confuse “taking out” parallax with the ocular lens focus.  The ocular lens “focus” means you screw the ocular lens in or out so the cross hairs become clear in your eye.  Parallax adjustment means you are literally focusing the optic so the target is clear.   If you dearly love that hunting scope you use but don’t love having to use a coin to adjust elevation and windage, remember what Mike said about the Stony Point Target knobs you can buy and put on your favorite hunting scope.  Being able to adjust elevation and windage by hand is much easier and faster than using a coin or screwdriver while staring at the index marks on the optic.  I think you have all found that holding off for the small boomer’s is not the way to go and that exact elevation and windage with a center of mass hold is easier on you and uses less ammunition.     

Bases / Rings:  As Mike said, a steel base with a good set of steel rings is the way to go.  You can get aluminum bases with aluminum rings as well but don’t mix the two.  I recommend a steel one-piece base and steel rings that you can remove from the base.  Jim Cloward in North Seattle (206 632-2072) makes a great one-piece steel base and probably makes rings as well, or he can give you some good advice on the types of rings that fit his base.  His steel base has notches on it so you can put your scope at various distances down your rifle for a perfect fit to you.  Being able to place your optic at varying distances from your eye is a very sound idea as your head position changes in relation to the sights when you assume different firing positions such as prone, seated, or bench rest.    

Rifle Types: As for the rifles used – Joe used some milk cartons that were big enough at the far ranges for a decent rifle with decent loads, a decent optic and a decent shooter.  I think his targets were just right in terms of size and his explosive composition was absolutely perfect.  However if you think your hunting rifle will smoke those targets, you probably know by now that you are wrong.  Joe’s targets were good enough for a decent “Match Rifle” and not a Scout Rifle, a hunting rifle, or even a match grade gas operated rifle.  Lets face it – if your rifle and ammunition is not capable of holding his target size that is about a minute of angle at any range, you are hitting that target by statistical probability rather than skill.   

This year I shot my “Over the Course” .308 Match Rifle with my Leupold Mk IV 16X scope.  It has mil dots but we didn’t use them as the targets were too small and the winds were very slight so holding off with mils was not necessary.  For your information, the most I used for windage was between a minute and a half left or right from a “no wind” zero so there wasn’t that much wind on Sunday.  I shot my own 185-grain “VLD” bullets hand loaded to about 2600 fps.  This load holds ¾ MOA or less very consistently, which is fine for my purposes.  

You don’t need a custom made rifle to enjoy yourselves at the Boomershoot but you do need a rifle that will hold 1 MOA of accuracy with the ammo you are shooting.  ¾ MOA would be preferable but “out of the box” varmint or target rifles will normally hold 1 MOA with store bought Federal or Winchester Match.  I have not seen one single service rifle that will hold that type of accuracy unless a very experienced and competent gunsmith who knows that service rifle perfectly has built it.  There are very few gunsmiths who know the M-14 or M-1 to that degree of precision.  The only two I know of in Washington State who can do an exceptional job with the service rifle is Don Manning who runs “Shooters Supply” in Yakima, and Jim Cloward in North Seattle.  You will spend a bundle to get a service grade M-1 or M-1A to shoot one minute of angle or less, and the maintenance costs to keep that rifle in order will be high.  

Unless you want to get a custom rifle, you may be limited in your choices “out of the box” to the Remington Varmint Special / PSS, the Winchester Varmint Special, or the Ruger Target M-77 in either 5.56 or 7.62.   Yes, these rifles can come in other calibers but given all of the other calibers, your options concerning match grade store bought ammunition are extremely limited and the 5.56 / 7.62 have proven their accuracy to a high degree of perfection in recent years for the ranges Joe uses.  Note – none of these rifles are designed for “Over the Course” High Power competition but are fine for prone matches.  The price ranges of these rifles are between $700 and $900 dollars depending on where you buy them, and all have the level of precision that is sufficient for the Boomershoot targets – provided you feed them with the ammunition that is accurate enough to give you hits on the small targets. 

Commercial Ammo:  Many Boomershooters buy commercial ammunition instead of hand loading.  For the rifles I have described, commercial “Match” ammunition will hold a minute or less.  Some rifles like certain types of hunting ammunition just as much as they like the match grade ammunition so don’t write off the less expensive commercial hunting loads either.  The only thing about hunting ammo is that you will buy many different types before you find one that is a tack driver with your rifle.  I would be very comfortable to buy one of the rifles I described and fire Winchester or Federal match ammo out of it with a very high degree of confidence in its accuracy.  

7.62 vs 5.56 for Boomers:  Most Boomershooters use a 30 caliber and most will use the .308 (7.62 NATO) cartridge.  Developments in the 5.56 arena over the last ten years has put this caliber into the spotlight in terms of its low recoil and extremely fine accuracy.  However, remember that we are looking at the 75 and 80 grain 5.56 bullets when talking about this accuracy at 500 yards plus.  No company will dare make any commercial 80 grain 5.56 match ammunition because it is pushing the limits of pressures and thus liability.  Federal does make the outstanding 75 grain 5.56 match and unless the winds really kick up, this load would be just as good as a 175 grain Federal Match .308 cartridge to the ranges Joe sets targets.   The 80 grain 5.56 loads would be extremely good for the Boomershoot but that will be a hand loading proposition and this AAR is more intended for those who don’t want to get heavily involved in precision shooting but would rather buy the ammo and have fun. 

The Shooter 

You can’t buy marksmanship skills so this one won’t cost you a penny.  Precision shooting is not particularly complex.  You point the rifle and you pull the trigger.  If you have a good zero on your rifle and your ammunition / rifle combination is able to hold the size of the boomer target – you only have to do two things to hit that target.  Pull the trigger when the barrel is pointed at the target.  I viewed Sunday as a “trigger game”.  There was not that much wind to cause a-lot of trouble so if you had a good zero and you saw your cross hairs were on that target – all you had to do was to pull the trigger without moving your cross hairs off the target.  

There was not a lot of time in the clinic and I emphasized you being able to call your shot and then make some rational decisions concerning that shot you took.  If you called a center shot and the shot went low – you may need some elevation.  If you called your shot low and it went low – you don’t need elevation but rather need to keep the cross hair pointed in the target when you pull the trigger.  A shooter can make no rational decision unless he can call his shot so I emphasized training your eyes to see.  I think many of you now know that it doesn’t take much movement for the shot to miss and much of this movement is because you see perfection then tense your muscles while pulling the trigger – thus pointing your barrel away from your target when the shot is fired.  How to contend with this? 

Define Things:  First – you need to define the physical act of shooting in quantifiable and factual terms you understand and can work on.  I define shooting as ‘aligning the sights with my eye perfectly and consistently’, ‘pointing the perfectly aligned system of sights and eye (barrel) at my target to the degree of precision I need for success’, and finally ‘moving my trigger finger without pointing that system away from my target’.  The first two concern how precisely you can see what the Army calls “Sight Alignment” and “Sight Picture”.  The third concerns “Trigger Pull”.  If I fail to achieve my standards, I can review my shot in terms of “Were the sights perfectly aligned with my eye?”  “Was that aligned system pointed to the degree of precision I needed?” “Did I pull the trigger without moving that system away from my target?”  The point to be made is that if you want to improve – define the physical act of shooting for yourself and if you have a problem identify what part of your definition the problem effected and take action to correct that problem.  Don’t try to correct more than one thing at one time.  Work on that one thing until you have it under control then move on. 

Train Your Eyes to See:  Second – train your eyes to see perfection and to call your shot.  Calling your shot means you can see where the cross hairs were in relation to your target the instant the shot went off.  If you have a good mechanical zero on your rifle, you should expect the bullet to go where you “called” it.  Training your eyes to see also means you are training yourself to see more perfection in your sight alignment and sight picture – thus increasing your consistency and accuracy.  However calling your shot is so important to precision shooting that without this ability, you will just not go anywhere. 

Make Practical Decisions: Third – Troubleshoot your performance, make a decision and execute that decision.  I break this down into Mechanical or Human error.  Mechanical issues concern zeros and the ability of your rifle, ammunition, and sighting system to consistently hold the size target you are shooting at.  Human issues concern the human influence you can put on your rifle that effect how well you keep it pointed at the target and how well you have pulled the trigger.  If your shot goes to your call – you don’t have a mechanical problem.  If your shot does not go to call – you have a mechanical problem.  If your shot goes to your call but it missed the target – you influenced that shot yourself.  If your shot missed the target and did not go to your call – you have both a mechanical and human issue.  Determine what issue is most effecting your shooting and correct it if it is a problem.  Then move on to another issue.  Shooting is a constant effort in perfecting either human or mechanical performance.  What ever you do – make a decision and execute the decision. 

Supported Positions 

I shot from the prone but note I also put down some of the plywood backing of our zero targets to lie on.  As some of you have now found out, lying in a farm field that is filled with clumps of thick grass doesn’t lead to comfort or stability.  I used two of the 6X6 blocks of wood that we anchored our zero targets with as a support for the sand bags that my forend rested on while in the prone.  I tried one block but it wasn’t tall enough so I used two that I pounded into the ground with rebar, thus making them very securely fixed so they wouldn’t move.  I then put one or two shot bags filled with sand on those two stacked and anchored blocks to rest the forend on.  If the target was in the valley, I used one sand bag.  If the targets were on the hill, I used two sand bags.  I based this on laying down on the plywood sheets and getting into my usual prone position, then using some shot bags under the toe of the stock to support it in my natural position and finally building up the sand bags under the forend until the rifle was pointed at the target I wanted to shoot.  It did take some few seconds to arrange the sand bags so my rifle was pointed precisely into the target.  Thus all I had to do was roll into my position and do some fine-tuning with the support to get very steady holds without “muscling” the rifle on to the target.  All I had to concentrate on was a good trigger pull and by eliminating all other variables in the position, I could concentrate on my trigger pull over all else.  

Be Smarter than the Sand Bag:  I fired from a prone supported position.  Some fired from bench rest supported positions.  Note the word “supported”.  A supported position does two things for you.  It aligns the sights with your eyes, and it points the aligned system (your barrel) perfectly at your target.   All you have to do is then move the trigger without moving the barrel.  If your supported position does not align the sights with your eyes or point the barrel for you – then you are not using the supported position to your advantage.  Sand bags, rifle rests, and bipods are generally pretty stupid so you have to force them to fit your individual and natural body position.  If you let them force you into a contorted body position that is unnatural for your body, then you are demonstrating that sand bags are smarter than you are.  Remember that if shooting were a game for say Boeing or Microsoft engineers for example, the Infantry would be unable to do its duty.  Force that sand bag, bipod, or rifle rest to do your bidding and all you have to do is move your trigger finger an inch against five pounds of pressure.  Think about this for a minute and the next time you set up a bench rest position – why not set it up to fit you perfectly before you shoot.  If you need more elevation on the barrel for a shot up that hill, why not raise the rifle rest or put another sand bag under the forend?  Adjust your support so it fits you and points your barrel before you go pulling a trigger and I bet you will get significantly better results.  

Observer Value 

Having an observer there to watch your trace and at least tell you where your shots are going is a necessity for the shoot.  You will not be able to perform without an observer in this type of shooting so accept the necessity for an observer, as having one is mission essential for success.  You can make your own decisions concerning how your observer can observe for you but I would rather the observer give me corrections based on my calls than hear something like “you went way left.”  For Mike and myself, I gave Mike my call and he gave me corrections in minutes of angle, then given these corrections Mike waited for the wind conditions he was looking for prior to telling me to shoot.  This technique requires a very experienced observer and since Mike has this experience and trusted my calls and equipment, it worked for us.  Remember that Mike and I have also shot together for many years and we understand precisely what each other is doing.  The average Boomershooter does not have such a background of experience so let me offer this to you observers. 

You Got to be Able to See:  Use a spotting scope that functions.  We found out that star gazing mirror scopes don’t work in rain so accept the fact that you will spend at least $200.00 on a spotting scope.  In the North West, Otto Weber has several varieties that High Power Shooters use, so look up Otto Weber at and take a look at the types and prices.  You can get by with the $200.00 model if you are shooting infrequently.  It will work for the Boomershoots.   You will use this scope to read bullet trace and mirage.  You will also need a scope stand for it and a simple and cheap camera tripod will do the trick for the Boomershoots in an instant. 

You Got to be Able to See (Part II):  You can’t do your job unless you can see the bullet trace and impact.  As a minimum you must be able to see one of the two.  Between the two – bullet trace may be the better option as sometimes the ground is such that you can’t see impact if a miss occurs.  If you want to maximize your ability to see trace and give some sound feedback, set up your scope behind the shooter, in line with the axis of his barrel, and about three feet above his barrel.  If the shooter is on a bench, you may want to stand so the scope can be higher than his barrel.  Why higher?  Because when the rifle fires it kicks up dust and does put out some smoke that can obscure your vision.  I don’t recommend observing from a side of the shooter either, as it is very difficult to read trace that is going in on an angle to your line of sight.  Don’t think you will read trace if your scope is set up on the same bench as the shooter.    Not only will the movement of the bench when the rifle is fired block out your vision, your leaning on the bench will damage the shooters hold.  So, suck it up and get the right gear so your scope can be above and behind the shooters rifle barrel.  

See the Same Target:  Ensure you are looking at the same target as the shooter.  It is best for the observer to direct the shooter to a specific target but remember that chances are your spotting scope is more powerful than the optic on the rifle and you are above the shooter so what you see in detail, the shooter may not see in the same detail.  Talk to the shooter and make sure he is aiming at the same target you are looking at. 

Minutes of Angle:  Know Minutes of Angle and know how many minutes of angle equals how many inches at the ranges you are firing.  If the shooter wants you to correct in mils, one mil equals just under 3 ½ minutes of angle.  I would not use mil holds on the small boomer targets and would rather correct in minutes of angle on my scope but either way – you can’t give a correction unless you know how a minute of angle relates to the range you are firing. 

Minutes of Angle (Part II):  Know Minutes of Angle and how they relate to range.  The data book I provided gives a good start in terms of how much elevation is needed to move between distances.  If the shooter knows what he needs for the ranges Joe was using, let him use what he knows.  If he doesn’t have a clue, look in that data book and determine about how much he must come up in his elevation.  It will be close enough so you can pick up his trace or his impact although it will never be right on the money. 

Wind Holds:  The data book I gave out has a section on how to correct for winds in terms of minutes of angle.  The problem most infrequent shooters have is determining how fast the wind is blowing.  I don’t think we had any wind speed faster than 4 MPH on Sunday morning although I don’t know about the afternoon.  Most new shooters will overestimate the wind speed unless they have had to deal with winds on a daily basis.  The best way to train on how fast the wind speed is blowing is to stand in it and make an estimation then compare your estimation to an anemometer.  In this manner you can pretty quickly train yourself on estimating wind speed.  As the winds were not that bad on Sunday morning, Mike was using the small range flags that Joe put on his reflectors to dope the winds for me.  

Giving Corrections (Analysis and Communications):  This is the heart and soul of it and all the stuff above is of no value if you don’t work with your shooter and get him into the target.  The shooter cannot read his own trace through his scope and his view of dirt getting kicked up by a target is fleeting.  An observer who is sitting there and is not involved in getting that shooter on to his target is either doing so because the shooter doesn’t want his input, the observer can’t see anything because his scope is useless or he is not in a position where he can see something, or the observer is scared to say anything.   The bottom line here is that without an observer who can see where your bullets are going and at least tell you where they are going – you won’t hit too many six inch tall milk cartons at 650 yards.  

In the Army, the shooter has few duties.  He will give the observer a “mil” on the target then do precisely what the observer tells him to do in terms of elevation and wind holds.  He fires the shot, gives a call, and recovers for a potential of a follow on shot.  The observer estimates the range, tells the shooter what elevation he wants, gives the shooter a wind call then gives a correction if needed based on watching the trace and the shooters call.  This can be pretty rough if the shooter doesn’t trust or like the observer but in the military a shooters job is to do what his observer tells him to do.  The military way of doing business is not too well received by civilians who want to learn something but also want to have some fun, so let me suggest the following ideas for you to consider when working with your shooter.  Remember that the goal is to get you on to a very small target at pretty long ranges so communicating information is absolutely vital. 

Determine before shooting how the shooter wants his feedback.  Some will just want you to tell them where their shots went so give it to them but do so in some unit of measurement such as inches, feet, minutes of angle, or mils.  

Be simple in your talk.  There is no need to confuse each other so just keep the dialogue simple. 

Use visual means to communicate if needed.  If you want, keep a record of the shots taken at the target in the data book I gave you so you can show the shooter where all of his shots went.  I can assure you that after five or six shots that miss, the shooter would certainly like to know where his shots went.  You can put that data page in front of him with his shots marked and that will do the trick. 

Cut it off.  Shooters can get fixated on hitting some small milk carton at some range and will continue to fire at it like a gambler thinking his next quarter will give him the jackpot on a slot machine.  There comes a time where it is best to cut it off on a target and move to another target.  Who knows why you are having problems with that one target.  Maybe it was a piece of carton that was already blown up or maybe you are hitting all around it but there comes a time to stop shooting at it and move to another target.  This isn’t competition and your life doesn’t depend on it so when you have shot enough at one target and are getting frustrated, break it off, relax, get a new target and then go for it.  Joe runs a fantastic shoot as he has enough targets for everyone and you are not being placed under any sort of pressure.  Aside from getting my initial zero on the 200-yard boomers Joe sets for each of us, I will cut it off after five shots and move to another target.  Take a minute and troubleshoot what is going on then move to another target and regain your focus.  Take my word for it, cutting it off after a certain point will bring better results later on. 

Next Year 

If Joe runs another shoot next year and I am able to run another clinic, I will focus my clinic specifically on how to contend with the Boomershoot.  My clinic will probably focus on three things. 

Supported position development with the bench and from the prone. 
Shooter / Observer Dialogue.
Zeroing and obtaining zeros at 200, 250, 300, 400, 500, and 600 yards.  We will shoot on steel and boomers at these ranges and this training will be directed towards marksmanship skills.

Once again I want to thank those of you who went to this year’s Clinic and Shoot, and I hope that you review what happened in terms of the things Mike and I went over with you in class and on the range.  Please do make some decisions on your shooting skills and work to perfect your own techniques.  I am always available for advice or training so do not hesitate to ask if you have a question. 

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Gene Econ
Lacey Washington
(360) 459-3848

Last modified: February 06, 2006