How developing a training program will improve your shooting
By Mark V. Lonsdale
As much as we would like to believe that there are “naturals” in any sport, and we hope that we may have at least some natural ability, in reality, improvement is a long slow process of many small steps. As the old expression goes, “The longest journey begins with a single step.” But after that, you have to keep stepping and staying on the track.
So the goal of a stepped training plan is to get from “A” to “B” with as fewer mis-steps as possible. “A” being where you are now, and “B” being placing at a club match, state match, or national level event. “C” could be actually winning at the national level or making the Olympic team. In other words, the goal is to keep moving forward while not straying off the path to success or being distracted by the inconsequential.
At the risk of contradicting myself, in the early days of many sports, individuals did emerge with natural athletic ability, coordination, or aptitude. This is not to say they were a “natural” at a particular sport, but because of genetics or physique, they had developed to a point where their athletic ability could be put to good use on the sports field. But if you studied these same individuals, you would find that they still required training and coaching, while suffering their share of set-backs, injuries and failures. Remember, failure is the fuel for success.
Applying this to shooting sports, we now have the opportunity to learn from the champions who went before us and to learn from their successes and failures. The failures in particular, since when we win, we often chalk one up for the team but don’t take the time to analyze why we won. We may even put it down to “having a good day” or just “being on my game.” But when we lose, we invariably give it a lot of thought, vex over it, and analyze what went wrong, so that we do not make the same mistakes. However, just knowing what went wrong is not enough – we must get back to the range to validate our findings and correct those errors. Post event training is almost more important than pre-event training for the aspiring shooter.
Christie Tubb-Stallter competing in the inaugural ELR Central World Record attempts
On occasions the problem may be in our equipment so we will invest in a better rifle, a new barrel, better optics, or adjust our load. But in long range shooting, most competitive shooters go into the game with tried and proven equipment, if not by them then by other top shooters. When aspiring shooters ask me what rifle or scope they should get for a particular discipline, I will generally steer then towards what the champions are using and winning with. For me personally, my preferences usually run two deep, in that I am always working with two different but proven systems. For example, I will often build two rifles for the same disciple but one will be on a Stiller action and the other on a Kelbly; one will have a Bartlein barrel and the other a Krieger, but of the same profile, length and twist rate. Both may have McMillan stocks but one an A5 and the other an XiT or A6. For optics, any shooter would be happy with a Nightforce ATACR or a Leupold Mark 5HD – both of superb quality.
ELR 375 CheyTac built on a Stiller TAC-408 action, McMillan A5 Super Magnum stock, topped with a Nightforce ATACR 7-35x56mm with a Tremor3 reticle. Running Cutting Edge 400 Lazers and Peterson brass.
By staying with quality hardware, the shooter is eliminating any excuses associated with his or her equipment and gaining confidence by buying the best. Then it comes down to practice and training. The shooter that not only practices more, but practices smarter will eventually draw ahead in any competition. Granted, it may take a year or two, but the training and dedication will eventually pay dividends. The athlete who practices more, and thinks he is practicing harder, may not improve as fast as the athlete who practices a little less, but is on a structured training regime that is broken into multiple attainable goals. Another expression you will hear in the gym, “Train smart not hard”
Nate Stallter winning the 2018 ELR-C World Record attempt going 3 for 3 at 2,011 yards – January 2018
This step process is built around training with a purpose. Each training session should be planned out so that the shooter has specific goals or identified weaknesses that need work. In a shooting sport that requires both speed and accuracy, the shooter must have a balanced training program that develops both of these simultaneously. This can be done by shooting as accurately as possible, and then increasing speed until the accuracy begins to suffer. For example, if a PRS shooters must be able to engage multiple 12” steel gongs at 600 yards, they can begin by first hitting each gong slow fire from a barricade. Once they have a high level of confidence that they can hit every time, then they can use a timer to begin shooting faster and faster until they miss. That will give them a base line of how fast they can shoot and still hit 12” at 600 yards. This can then be repeated from the various shooting positions used, and at varying ranges, replicating actual match formats.
For other shooting sports such as extreme long range shooting (ELR), a training progression may begin with load testing and chronographing, and then advance into prone shooting for accuracy at increasing distances. It takes time to break in a new rifle, getting the stock adjusted just right, possibly changing muzzle brakes, playing around with bipods and bags, developing loads, and just developing a general comfort and confidence behind the rifle. This could take several trips to the range over weeks or even months.
Derek Rodgers and Paul Phillips preparing for the 2018 King of 2 Mile in Raton, New Mexico
Once the rifle is dialed in, the next goal will be to validate ballistic data out passed 1,500 yards to 2,000 or 2,500, depending on range availability. After that, it is important to practice the exact match format, such as King of 2 Miles, where there are tight time limits to shoot the required number of shots and then transition to the next target, dial in the dope, find and engage, all the time adjusting for misses or wind.
The overarching goal being to not waist time and ammunition with unstructured practice. Each practice session should be planned in advance with very specific goals and standards. Trust me when I tell you, structured step-plan training programs work for almost every sport, so it will definitely help you reach your future shooting goals.
“Without Effort, there is no Progress”
“Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard”