The object of a bench rest
is to provide a stable and repeatable platform for executing
a string of shots. True enough. Is that not also exactly
what the prone position can do? Bill Pullum and Frank T.
Hanenkrat say the prone position should provide a sight
picture that is motionless and that an experienced shooter
should easily be able to hold a scoped rifle on the inside
of a single .22 caliber bullet hole at 50 meters. A .22
caliber bullet hole at 50 meters is less than a half-minute
of angle. In comparison, the 10-ring on a UIT target is one
full minute and the 10-ring on the 600yard NRA Highpower
Rifle target is about two minutes. To achieve this
half-minute hold, it is necessary to learn and employ what
the U.S. Army Sniper Training Manual calls the three
elements of a good position: bone support, muscular
relaxation, and natural point of aim.
Bone support and muscular
relaxation provide a system in which the weight of the rifle
is transferred from bone to bone, and ultimately to the
ground, without being interrupted by any special muscular
effort. It is very important to understand this concept. If
one were standing on a street corner and decided to
unconditionally relax every muscle, the body would collapse
into a heap. It is easy to agree, however, that standing can
be done while remaining fully relaxed. Standing, after all,
is something routinely performed without any special effort.
This is exactly the sort of relaxation that is required in
the prone position.
The third component is a
natural point of aim. Using the bench rest example again, no
shooter would lower the point of impact by pressing down on
the rifle while trying to slowly pull the trigger. Rather,
the front rest or rear bag would be adjusted in preparation
for making the shot. One could also visualize a mannequin
with a rifle glued in place. The mannequin's natural point
of aim is what it is. The only possible way to get the rifle
on target would be to move the mannequin and, therefore, the
rifle, right or left, up or down - just like the bench rest.
The prone shooter, then, must learn to similarly adjust
their point of aim.
In order to achieve a
solid prone position that allows the shooter to maintain the
proper bone support and muscular relaxation, it is necessary
to learn the basic principles of the position. It is
interesting to note that there are widely differing ideas
about this perfect prone position amongst top scoring
shooters. However, according to Pullum and Hanenkrat, this
is not the least bit strange. They explain that, within
reasonable bounds, specialized variations based on physical
size and other factors are to be expected. Nevertheless, the
basics are not to be overlooked, and variations that violate
the three elements of a good position must be avoided.
The basic principles can
be thought of in several logical groups. These groups are
the left arm and hand; the right arm and hand; the legs and
spine; and the head and neck. The discussion begins with the
left arm, hand, sling and handstop.
Position of the Left Elbow
World-class prone shooter
Ernest Vande Zande says the most common error prone shooters
make is developing a position where the left elbow is not
extended far enough forward. The left elbow should be fully
extended and set just to the left of the rifle. The
placement of the left elbow should not be the enabling
factor for building a "high" or "low"
prone position. "High" and "low" prone
positions are just what they sound like. A "high"
position is one in which the left hand and indeed the entire
position is high off the ground relative to what would be
the lowest possible legal position. Moving the left elbow
farther out to lower the position or closer to the body to
lift the position is a mistake.
The left elbow is the
single foundation point of the entire position. Everything
else is adjusted and oriented around this point.
Position and Configuration
of the Sling
The sling running from the
upper left arm to a point on the rifle near the left hand
forms a triangle with the upper left arm and left forearm.
The sling must transmit the rifle's weight to the bone in
the upper left arm, thus removing the need for the muscles
in the left arm to hold this weight. The sling should be
made of a material that does not stretch and is as wide as
the rules allow. A sling that stretches will allow the
position to creep and become increasingly difficult to
maintain without extra muscular effort. The sling can also
slip down the upper arm if it is not adjusted snugly and
held in place with some type of keeper. This can likewise
degrade the position or cut off the flow of blood. Most
shooting jackets have some type of hook, ring or strap on
the top of the left arm expressly for this purpose. A heavy
button sewn to the sleeve just below the sling will work
just as well. A wider sling is less likely to cut off the
blood flow as it spreads the weight of the system over a
larger area of the upper arm.
The sling should be placed
either high or low on the arm, but not in the middle. The
brachial artery can become compressed between the sling and
the bone when the sling is placed in the middle of the upper
arm. A "high" prone position usually works best
with the sling higher on the arm, and, conversely, a
"low" prone position usually works best with the
sling lower on the arm.
The sling should extend
from the upper arm in a straight line on the inside of the
left wrist. It should then pass flatly under the wrist and
back of the hand to the connection point on the rifle.
Pullum and Hanenkrat remind shooters to remove their
wristwatch. It may also be necessary to adjust the cuff of
the shooting jacket and/or the shooting glove under the
sling at this point. It is certain that any extra bulk from
a watchband or heavy jacket seam will become a distraction
under continued pressure from the sling.
The use, utility and merit
of cuff-type slings are left to the reader to discover.
The Hand Stop / Sling
On the "service
rifle," the sling swivel is fixed and the shooter's
prone position must be built around that fact. The length of
the sling and, therefore, the height of the position are
governed to a great extent by this fixed point. This is not
necessarily the case when using a "match rifle." A
match rifle may provide an adjustable hand stop that allows
the position to be adjusted to any number of possible
configurations. A good starting point for an adjustable hand
stop is to arrange it so that the distance from the rifle
butt to the trigger is the same as the distance between the
hand stop and the trigger.
The position of the hand
stop and length of the sling will govern the shape of the
supporting triangle discussed earlier and raise or lower the
position. These adjustments should not be initially tinkered
with in order to achieve some desired higher or lower
position. Rather, a stable position should be sought and
then simply labeled as high or low. The point needs to be
made that the position of any single element of the prone
position affects all others. The arm bone is connected to
the shoulder bone, to use a juvenile example. If after some
experience with a particular position one is convinced that
higher or lower might be better, then proceed to experiment
There are as many
different types of hand stops as there are hands. Try
several. Finally choose the one that is the most comfortable
for the longest period of time. Using a hand stop that hurts
like the devil just because Lonnes Wigger uses that type
will only help Lonnes - not that he actually needs any help.
When using multiple rifles, use the same type of hand stop
on all of them, if possible.
The Left Hand
The left hand and wrist
must be kept straight, as any bending will cause extra
muscles to be used and set up a springing motion that
affects recoil. It is also important not to grasp the rifle
with the fingers of the left hand. Any force exerted by the
left hand will change recoil from shot to shot and thus the
bullet's impact on the target. One may also unconsciously
"finger" the rifle the last little bit onto the
target when aligning the sights. This will result in shots
that look and feel clean but are off call. Just as the
trigger releases the supporting fingers relax and the rifle
springs back to the true natural point of aim.
Once a stable position is
established, record the length of the sling, the position of
the sling on the upper arm, and the position of the hand
stop. Index numbers are found stamped in many commercially
available slings. If this is not the case, a simple black
line marked with a "P" for prone can be employed.
Many rifles equipped with an adjustable hand stop are
similarly indexed. This notwithstanding, a piece of tape or
any other suitable mark may be substituted.
As an extra note: If a
journal is not currently being maintained - start one now.
The Legs and Spine
The position should be
oriented so that the spine is straight and relaxed. The left
leg should be parallel to the spine with the toe of the left
foot pointed in towards the position. The right leg should
be brought up to about a 450 angle with the lower
part parallel with the left leg and the toe of the right
foot pointing out and away from the position. The angle of
the right leg controls the relationship of the right
shoulder to the center of the position and by moving the
chest up and down, can control the effect of breathing. The
individual shooter is invited to experiment with the right
leg through the entire range of motion. It is an interesting
experiment to set oneself in position and then observe the
position of the right shoulder and chest as the right leg is
swung through the entire possible range. A home video camera
can be most illuminating in this particular exercise, as
well as allowing general analysis of the position.
Ultimately, one will determine the position of the right leg
that is most stable and results in the least disturbance of
the front sight from pulse beat.
The Right Elbow
In Full Metal Jacket, a
stern faced drill instructor growls, "Move the rifle
around your head, not your head around the rifle!"
Exactly the same thing applies to the right elbow. The
placement of the right elbow must be governed by the
position of the rifle. To imitate the drill instructor,
"Move the elbow to the rifle, not the rifle to the
elbow." To achieve this, the shooter must grip the
rifle with the right hand first and then plant the right
elbow. It is also important to allow the right arm to relax
normally when planting the elbow. No extra muscular effort
should be used to pull or push the position into place.
Special care should be
taken to guarantee that the right elbow does not slide
around. A sheet of course grit sand Ppaper or emory paper
should be in your shooter's equipment box. As needed, the
surface of the elbow pad or shooting mat can be roughed up
to improve friction.
The Right Hand
The grip of the right hand
should be just strong enough to hold it in place on the
rifle. The fingers should be firm but not tight. The United
States Army Sniper Training Manual explains that one will
close the whole hand while pulling the trigger if the grip
is not firm enough. This action of closing the hand along
with pulling the trigger will move the rifle off target as
the shot is being fired. A simple exercise will clearly show
this action. While in the prone position with an empty
chamber and un-cocked rifle, sight on an appropriate and
safe target. With the right hand intentionally loose, pull
the trigger and close the grip on the rifle snugly as one
action. Notice the wild movement of the front sight. Next,
try the same exercise while concentrating on not allowing
the front sight to move. Difficult? Probably impossible. One
might also extend this exercise using the correct technique
to discover the best possible grip and hand position. This
will be one that allows the trigger to be pulled straight
back without disturbing the sights.
Master Sergeant James R.
Owens instructs shooters that the position of the right hand
must be such that the trigger finger is able to move without
touching the rifle stock. The finger touching or brushing on
the stock during trigger pull is called, "dragging
wood." This makes it impossible to pull the trigger
straight back or in a fashion that does not disturb the
sights. According to Master Sergeant Owens, a symptom of
this is a group of shots strung out horizontally.
The United States Army
Sniper Training Manual agrees with Master Sergeant Owens,
and further states that touching any part of the rifle -
including the trigger guard - even at a slight angle will
disturb the sights.
The Right Shoulder
The butt plate should be
placed close to the neck and have as much contact with the
shoulder as possible. The larger the contact area is between
the shoulder and the butt plate, the less likely it will be
for the rifle to slide around and require constant
adjustment. It will also be easier to keep a consistent cant
angle if the butt plate has a large contact area. A rifle
supported by the very top or bottom of the butt plate is
free to swing on the pivot point created by the small
contact area. The pressure on the butt plate should be equal
to the pressure on the hand stop. This pressure should be
adjusted by adjusting the length of the stock rather than
the position of the hand stop or length of the sling. Recall
that the position of the hand stop and length of the sling
should be used to adjust the height of the position and
front sight. According to the Small Arms Marksmanship Manual
of the Bureau of Naval Personnel, insufficient pressure on
the butt plate is the main cause of most weaknesses in the
prone position. The upper body and right shoulder should be
as close to the ground as possible. If a match rifle is
being used, the height of the butt plate can be adjusted to
help improve the amount of shoulder contact and pressure.
The Head Position
Generally, in the prone
position, the cheek piece will be set such that the top of
it is in line with the axis of the bore. With this in mind,
the cheek piece should be adjusted to allow the head to rest
in a natural position without straining the neck or shoulder
muscles. A proper head position, in addition to being
natural and relaxed, should allow the shooter to look
through the sights without obstruction from the bridge of
the nose or eyebrows. The position of the shooter's head can
be quickly referenced using the sight picture. The position
and relative size of the front sight as seen through the
rear sight should appear exactly the same every time the
head is positioned on the cheek piece.
In an article published in
InSights, Joseph Roberts, Jr. says that seeing your sights
the same way every time will keep you from making sight
alignment errors. There is an explanation of sight alignment
verses sight picture in the appendix. Ernest Vande Zande
says that it is also important to move the cheek piece up
and down with the rear sight. Keeping journal entries for
how much the sight physically moves when adjusted from one
yard-line to the next is key. If the rear sight moves
one-quarter inch to move from 300 to 500 yards for example,
the cheek piece should also be moved one-quarter inch. It
should be understood that the physics of recoil include the
weight of the head on the rifle. If during the first shot
the head is being held up off of the rifle in order to align
the sights and then during the next shot the head is pressed
down firmly, the recoil will be different. This changing
cheek pressure, and resulting different recoil, will cause
the shots to be strung out across the target.
Stay within the rules
Recall any position must
pass the test of remaining legal under the rules. It is the
duty of every shooter to know and understand the rules. A
visit from a match official in the middle of a string of
shots can be pretty distracting. Pushing the envelope of
legal is begging for a challenge.
A. Sight Alignment vs. Sight Picture
Sight alignment error has a far
greater effect on where a shot hits the target than does
sight picture. The reason for this is that sight alignment
is angular while sight picture is parallel. If you aim three
inches off center (a parallel error), your shot will be
three inches off at all ranges. If you misalign by three
minutes (an angular measurement) a 600-yard shot will be
three minutes (approximately 18 inches) off.
B. Canting the Rifle
Each one-degree of cant results in
a 1/4 minute change in impact. The use of a spirit level on
a Match Rifle can prevent canting or maintain a constant
C. The Spotting Scope
According to N. Kalinichenko, the
spotting scope can be just as fatiguing on the eyes as the
sight picture. He suggests in his September 1970 American
Rifleman article, How the Soviets View Aiming Problems,
that the same color filter be used on the spotting scope as
is currently being used for the rear sight.
D. Pulse Beat
Pulse beat is the motion of the
position generated by the beating of the heart. As the heart
pumps blood through the vascular system, the pressure in
that system changes and causes blood vessels to expand and
contract with this change in pressure.
* About the author
JD Hicks holds a U.S. record in
Highpower Prone, is a High Master in Highpower Rifle and
Long Range Rifle and has won State championships in three