I think that offhand shooting is a very important part of the shooting discipline. Especially since we now see at least one offhand lane on each Field Target course that we shoot in the U.S. these days. Given that offhand is popular among match directors, it should be a pretty important part of your practice routine as well.
I used to practice primarily seated airgun shooting from the standard seated Field Target position. It is comfortable to me to shoot from the seated position and obviously easier than offhand or kneeling. So, I guess laziness took over and I would just go out and shoot a zillion shots from the seated position. Then when match day rolled around, I would go out and find at least one or two forced position lanes on every course. Usually one offhand and one kneeling lane is the norm. At first I was an average 50-60% offhand shooter and that meant that I was dropping a lot of shots on those lanes. Since most of our courses here in the South usually have three targets per lane or six shots per lane, that translates to 10% of a 60 shot match being offhand. Then if you add a kneeling lane, well there’s 20% of the match between the two lanes! Wow, that can add up fast… After using the practice techniques in this article, my offhand game has vastly improved. At the 2010 National match, I only missed one forced position shot out of twenty four on the course!
So, after shooting Field Target for a while, I realized that I needed to do something about my offhand game. My plan was simple. I forced myself to start practicing offhand every time that I practiced seated shooting. I tried to make it a point to simply shoot offhand first to get comfortable with the position. After a few days of offhand practice, I noticed that there were a few points that I should concentrate on in preparation for taking an offhand shot.
First is a good foot position. When approaching an offhand lane on a Field Target Course, find a comfortable position for your feet. Clear the sticks, rocks or other debris away with your feet so that they are flat on the ground. Spread your legs to a position so that your feet are about shoulder width apart. Give yourself a slight angle to the target. I like to align my left leg and shoulder in line with the target. That puts me almost facing the lane to the right of me as I set up for an offhand shot. Then, I try to use a good arm lock into my left side. If possible, you are looking for bone-to-bone contact here, so as to not use any more muscle than is necessary to hold the rifle in place. You will have to experiment with this to get the most comfort out of your position. I also find myself locking my left wrest with a bend in it as I sit my rifle on the palm of my hand. The right arm needs to be pretty loose as the left does most of the work. This is my basic position, so keep in mind that you will have to experiment to get comfortable with how things work best for you.
Once you have the position, I recommend that you start with an easy Field Target to get accustomed to shooting offhand. I would say that you should start with a full size 1 1/2″ kz (“kill zone”) at 25 yards or less. Practice the position that you find the most comfortable while shooting this target, over and over and over. Once you are hitting the kz 10 out of 10 shots, move it out another 5 yards.
Remember, there are several things going on here when you practice. Besides setting up a muscle memory that your body will get accustomed to, you are also working on coordinating the shot with your brain. In order to shoot offhand well, you must coordinate what you see through the scope with your trigger finger. When you are trying to place that reticle on the kz, you will most likely see the reticle moving from side to side, up and down as your sway around. Usually, most misses are caused by a lag in the reaction time to SEEING the reticle aligned, but your brain reacting a little too slow and the trigger finger pulling a split second too late. So, by practicing these easy shots on a big kz, you are training your hand – eye coordination to do this offhand task.
You should get to a point that you can consistently hit that big kz at 35 yards 10 out of 10 shots with relative ease. You may be able to do it right away or it may take some practice. Either way, practice this exercise before moving on to the next step. Once you are comfortable with the easy shots, the next step is to move that kz out. I recommend moving that big kz out to 50 yards for advanced practice. This is when you are getting serious about offhand shooting. Before every major match, I try to spend a few hours during the preceding week working on this 50 yard offhand shot. My goal here is to reach that same 10 out of 10 hits. Take your time with a little rest in between shots, but don’t take too long. Remember, at a big match you are going to be racing the timer.
I like to use a target that is self resetting or spinning for offhand practice. These spinners are very nice as they do not require you to reset them, just shoot until you’re done! Click on the photo below to learn more about these spinners.
When working on the 50 yard offhand shot, you need to consider a couple of variables. One of the most important variables is the wind. You are going to need to be able to shoot offhand well enough that you can align the shot and make the proper wind hold off at the same time. I don’t want to get into the mechanics of wind doping in the segment, so I’ll leave that for another time. Just know that you must determine the wind direction and velocity to hold accordingly.
Now, once you are getting pretty proficient knocking down that 50 yard full size kz while shooting offhand, I would challenge you to try this. Set up a 1/2″ kz at 20 yards and start practicing making that shot offhand. Then move it out to 25 yards and do the same thing. You might think right now that it is impossible, but I assure you that it is not. As a matter of fact, the World Field Target match in South Africa in 2009 came down to a similar offhand shot. If I’m not mistaken, it was a 23 yard offhand shot with an approximately 1/2″ kz! I also understand that the two shooters ended up having to finish that shot in the kneeling position after they both missed it while shooting offhand. Now, just think, if it had been you in their position after all of this offhand practice that you are about to do, you just might have ended that day with a World Championship win!
Good luck and happy shooting!