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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?
  • 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
  • Summary

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.

What’s important

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.

No follow-through?

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?

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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.

Summary

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.

41 thoughts on “Follow-through, the secret of accuracy”

  1. BB
    One more thing to me needs added to what you are saying about follow through.

    You not only keep your eye on the target when the shot exits the barrel. You continue your hold till you know the projectile contacts what your aiming at. To me that is another part of follow through.

    Maybe that’s what you are saying I guess.

  2. BB,

    This article and GF1’s remark brought this to mind. I have heard that painting the interior of the rear of a pellet white will make it quite visible to the shooter as it goes down range. I can see where this would be of help to teach someone follow through if they were to use their sight picture to follow the pellet downrange.

        • Yogi
          I have done what you said with the sun. Pretty cool to watch.

          I will have to see if I still got the video of a .25 caliber pellet shot out at a 100 yards with my (I phone) scope adapter.

          You could see the pellet in flight all the way till impact.

  3. BB,

    Your comment concerning semiautos I have found to be so true for me. So often the shooting does tend to be sloppy. The second round rarely hits target because you are most often still recovering from the recoil. I prefer a smooth working bolt action over a semi any day. A single shot is even better. You have one shot. Make it count.

      • B.B.,

        I am in total agreement on your blog with regard to target shooting. I also agree that making one (the first) shot count makes us all better Marksman.
        When we move to practical/defensive shooting the “game” changes where only slightly more than one half of defensive shots result in elimination of the threat. From that statistic comes the Double Tap that the USCCA Instructor is teaching. Truth be told a triple on target is more certain of lethality but that becomes a liability in Court; since in tis day and age you are only to bring a halt to the threat and not ensure lethality in the defensive use of a gun.

        shootski

    • RR
      What I have found shooting semi auto air guns target shooting is I can stay on aim point without moving my hand to cock the bolt. That helps me keep my hold more consistent between shots.

      And remember the shooter is the one controlling the trigger. You can still take all the time you want between shots with a semi auto gun.

      Bottom line I can stay on aim point easier with a semi auto air gun then a bolt action gun.

  4. Achieving proper skeletal support for a given shooting position assures Natural Point of Aim. This, in conjunction with the shooter’s ability to concentrate while maintaining sight alignment (if not sight picture), leads to good follow through. The type of gun action is secondary. One good shot at a time, every time. Easy to write on paper- tough to do for many.

  5. B.B.,

    The comments praising repeaters and single-shots over semi-autos as actions that promote hold-over have me thinking. Holdover requires one to slow down at least a little. The shooter must be deliberate.

    You’ve commented on hold-over being very much a component in a combination of techniques such as breath control, triogger control and so on. I think this makes good sense. Each separate component promotes and allows the others. Being more deliberate and slower also makes repeating the hold and the process more obvious to the shooter. Do just one thing differently, and it stands out like a sore thumb.

    Michael

    • Michael,

      Could you define your understanding and usage of the term holdover in your writing below please.
      “Holdover requires one to slow down at least a little.”

      I believe holdover means something totally different for me.

      Thank you,

      shootski

      • shootski,
        I think Michael is using “hold-over” to mean what B.B. was calling “follow through”.
        For me, and I suspect for you, “hold-over” in shooting means holding an aim point above the target to allow for bullet drop.
        Since “hold over” can mean “continue for an extra period of time” (“The show was held over for an extra week.”), Michael’s version also makes sense.
        Cheers,
        Guy

  6. Fundamentals.

    Can’t think of a profession, discipline or hobby that we need to be reminded of fundamentals in order to be proficient.

    I have shooting days when I can’t get in the groove or stay in the groove. This requires me to run down my mental checklist of fundamentals. Great blog topic today.

  7. BB, This is great stuff, thanks for sharing. I’m shooting a 16x scope on a .177pcp pistol at 32 yards.
    Its a challenge to get a steady hold. I think that I would like even more optical power, but I notice if I dont look thru the shot after I fire, it is hard to know what to correct. Sort of like teaching a dog, if you wait even a few moments after an incident, the dog will quickly not understand what I ‘m hollering about. You speak of reaquiring the target, but as I use a rest, even the tiny impact of the hammer will affect my holds aimpoint.
    Just breaking, or attempting to break the sear will move it as well. My breathing does too, and the Bandit trigger is no Rekord trigger, but the follow thru helps me isolate whats working and whats not. On a good day(no wind) all 9 in a dime, but is more likely a nickel, and a quarter sized group is pretty easy to do too. Do sporting triggers require a different technique than a lighter target trigger?
    I tend to try and feel the sear, as opposed to just breaking it, quickly.
    as an aside, I once slipped out of my clip in style racing pedals on my bike because even with a high spring force setting, too much lube eliminated some mechanical friction, so too much body english(motion) was a bad thing for me, and I crashed hard. The lube did make the pedals nice and smooth, too smooth, i popped out of them.
    Rob

  8. B.B., good blog today. I have tired to convey this to my sons. The same can be said in basketball. I played high school ball and coached a few years of little league basketball. Follow through on your shot in basketball will help so much.

    Doc.

  9. When I was doing a lot of duck hunting as a kid, I had a pump shotgun. I was a poor shot. I decided to buy a cheap single shot shotgun so I would focus on the one shot. After a few trips I became a decent shot. I never have been a good shot with a shotgun. I now think being left eye dominant and right handed was a big part of my poor shooting with a shotgun.

    Using the single shot shotgun really helped me focus on each shot including follow through. I also learned to take a moment to get a better shot. I will never be a good quick shot with a shotgun well not with a rifle either.

    When shooting targets with a pellet gun I usually know how well each shot was by where the gun is pointing after the shot.

    Sometimes I tell myself I can guide the pellet to the target after it leaves the barrel by holding the sights on the target. That trick helps with follow through.

    Don

    • Don
      You needed to do some practicing with a single shot 410 at some running rabbits.

      I bet after a month of that you would of been a great shot with a 12 or 20 gauge. And yep did duck hinting. My dad and his buddy was big into that when I was a kid.

      I’m pretty sure all my shotgun shooting I did growing up with all 4 gauges I have shot. 410, 12, 20 and 16 gauge that it has made the .50 caliber Wingshot ll one of my favorite shotguns that I have owned.

      I have always said this. Practice with hard shots and the other closer shots will be easier when you take them.

      • If I was going to get back into hunting with a shotgun I would first shift to left handed so I could use my dominant left eye. I think it would take a lot of shells for me to become proficient. I do have a single shot 410 that I may try left handed. Changing over 60 years of right-handed shooting feels like more effort than it is worth.

        I do shoot a pistol left handed or at least left eye quite a bit so maybe the shotgun would be worth a try. Maybe I will try a few clay pigeons left handed this year. I don’t expect much as my reaction time is getting slower each year.

        Don

        • Don
          If you give it a try with your 410 let me know.

          I’m left handed and right eye dominant and have shot right handed all my life. It is hard for me to shoot a rifle left handed. I have tried. It just feels very uncomfortable. Now a pistol I can shoot either left or right handed though.

          • GF1,
            I’m exactly the same as you, left handed and right eye dominant. Actually, the vision in my left eye is mostly peripheral. I do shoot a bow left handed though, for the same reason. I am what they call ambidextrous.
            Geo

  10. Geo
    I’m ambidextrous too.

    I shoot a bow right handed. Not left handed.

    I can shoot a pistol and a sling shot either hand. Probably people say that ain’t right but I can do it.

    Rifle is a definite right hand shot.

  11. BB,

    In my experience follow trough is very important in safety. If you are not doing that then there is a moment when you do not have your gun under control. If you follow through than there is a natural change to the next shot or the reloading of the gun and never a moment that you do not have your gun under control.

    @Gunfun,
    I also do shoot pistol with both hands as I have acquired left- and right-hanged match pistols over the years. What I noticed is that when I learn to shoot better with one hand than that carries over to the other hand. I have to train then both regularly for this effect.
    I never shot guns other than right-handed, I will give it a try though.

    Regards,

    August

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