Follow-through, the secret of accuracy
This report covers:
- What’s important
- Is follow-through learned or natural?
- I started out young
- No follow-through?
- A natural shooter
- Diana 350 Magnum
- Will you have to work at following-through?
- Advancing in 10-meter pistol
- The opposite of follow-through
- The artillery hold
In this report we look at one of the most important facets of accuracy, yet the one that is seldom discussed — follow-through. Learn to do it well and watch your scores climb.
We know there are several important components of accuracy. Breathing control assures that we will be as steady on target as possible. Trigger control works hand-in-hand with the sight picture, so the shot goes off when the sights are correctly aligned. And with airguns the hold is also quite important, as we have discovered. But if we remain on target after the shot for a little bit, we say we have followed-through, and that puts the cherry on top of the accuracy sundae.
Is follow-through learned or natural?
It’s both. A “natural” shot will follow through every time. But you can also learn to do it.
I started out young
In the mid-1950s I was taught to shoot by the National Rifle Association. The course lasted several weeks. It started with gun safety, range commands and proper gun-handling etiquette. Following that we participated in a triangulation exercise that I have described several times in this blog. The results of that exercise told the instructors that we understood the correct sight picture and were ready to shoot live ammunition. But before we did we were told to do one more thing. Immediately after the shot we were to acquire the sight picture on the target for a next shot. We didn’t shoot that next shot very many times, but we were always taught to reacquire the sight picture. Though we didn’t understand what we were doing until later, we were learning to follow-through after each shot.
Here is a short film that explains the technique quite well.
Someone has defined follow-through as, “The continued application of the fundamentals of marksmanship until the bullet has exited the barrel.” And 12-time national pistol champion Bruce Zins says there is no such thing as follow-through. Given that definition I would have to agree with him. But that is not the definition of follow-through. Someone who didn’t understand shooting made that one up and it is meaningless, because you cannot apply the fundamentals of marksmanship until the bullet leaves the muzzle — the bullet leaves well before you are able to do anything cognizant. So, what is follow-through?
Follow-through means maintaining the proper sight picture and hold right up to the instant of firing. To the shooter it seems as if he continues aiming at the target after the shot is taken, but with a centerfire rifle the recoil moves you off the target. Even a low-recoiling cartridge like the .223 Remington fired in a rifle with a semiautomatic action recoils too much to remain on target with a perfect sight picture. You can come close with a .22 rimfire cartridge, and with some airguns the recoil is so minimal that staying on target through the shot it possible, but that is about the extent of what can be done. Maybe that is what the person who made up that definition meant to say, but if so he missed the mark.
Why did the coach in the video teach his pupil to reacquire the target after the shot? He did because that is a good way to train the shooter to stay on target through the shot. It keeps them focused on the sight picture. Even when recoil makes it impossible to do so, training that way keeps the shooter aligned with the target until the instant that the gun fires and begins to move in recoil — and THAT is what follow-through is!
A natural shooter
Now I want to talk about some guns that I have many times called natural shooters. These are the guns (both firearms and airguns) that “hang” so well that the shooter feels he or she cannot miss. I think for me the Diana model 27 is such an airgun. And my M1903A3 Springfield rifle is such a firearm for me. But my M1 Garand is not a natural shooter in my hands. The Springfield lobs shot after shot into the same place, while I have to work to get the Garand to do the same thing.
You know, I have told you several times that I learn as much from this blog as anyone. Today is such a time, because until I had to define it for you, I didn’t appreciate that it was follow-through that made some of my guns into what I am calling natural shooters.
Diana 350 Magnum
The Diana 350 Magnum is a case in point. When I tested it in 2006 I found it to be large and powerful — a pellet rifle that cocks with 36 pounds of effort. That’s hardly the specification for an all-day shooter! But that air rifle did “hang” just right for me, so when I shot it I did very well. My 03A3 Springfield kicks pretty hard, but it also drops the bullets in where I want them. The Garand can, too, but I have to work to make it happen. The Garand feels fat and clunky in my hands and is not a natural shooter for me. I know that it is very accurate, but like I say, I have to work at it.
Will you have to work at following-through?
How does this bode for you? Will you ever get to a point where you don’t have to work so hard to follow through and your accuracy improves? I think the answer is a qualified yes. Natural shooters like Annie Oakley probably follow-through as a natural course of things. I am saying it’s just what they do. Regular people like B.B. Pelletier have to work at it. But the more you work at it the more accustomed you become to doing it. Let me tell you a story.
Advancing in 10-meter pistol
In past reports I have told you that as I trained to shoot 10-meter pistol my scores advanced in increments. My 60-shot average score (with 600 possible) went from 350 to the high 400s. Then it jumped to 515 and then again to 535. When I quit competing I was on the cusp of another advancement to an average of 545 out of 600 possible. I actually knew when the last advance took place. I was able to see that, as the result of follow-through, my score was increasing. One day, as I was calling my shots (saying what score I thought my shot had just achieved), I stopped calling eights and was only calling nines and tens. Occasionally I would throw one, but instead of being a 6 it would be an 8.
Why was I able to do this? Because I was seeing the front sight in relation to the bull at the moment the pistol fired. I KNEW what each shot scored because I have seen thousands of shots just like it before. That ability to “call the shot” comes with follow-through.
The opposite of follow-through
There are several opposites of follow-through. One is the shooter who wants a semi-auto so he can get off a fast second shot. That sounds very sportsmanlike, but it gets out of control too easily. He is not careful with his shots because he knows he has more. His trigger gets ahead of his mind.
Another opposite is the guy who wants to get his shot off as fast as possible so he can get on to the next one. Sometimes this guy is surprised when the gun doesn’t fire when it should but he catches himself swinging it to the next target anyway.
The third opposite is the person who closes their eyes as they pull the trigger. They are tensing for the recoil they know is about to come. As they do they will probably pull the muzzle of the gun down and away from their shooting hand. If they are a right-handed shooter their shots will be low and to the left. This is very common with handguns that are shot one-handed.
When any one of these actions is subtle the shooter will not be aware he is doing it. This is where coaches will insert dummy rounds at intervals to let the shooter catch himself in the act.
The artillery hold
The classic artillery hold where you don’t constrain the air rifle from recoiling but allow it to move as much as it wants to is a great way to employ follow-through. If you do it as it was designed, you have to follow-through. No other outcome is possible.
While an accurate airgun and all the well-known shooting techniques are certainly important, good follow-through will always improve things. It’s that seldom-spoken trait that makes the difference between good and great.