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 "Off Hand Rifle Shooting" by H.M. Pope

Introduction by Ned Roberts;

From about 1888 to the late 1920’s, Harry Pope and Dr. W. G. Hudson were two of the most skillful, most expert offhand riflemen in the United States, and it’s extremely doubtful if there were any riflemen in Germany, Switzerland or any other country who could make higher offhand scores at 200 yards or 200 meters than either of these famous experts. In 1904, H. M. Pope had made six 10-shot scores of 97 and 21 of 96 at 200 yards offhand on the Standard American Target, while Dr. Hudson had made at least one 10-shot score of 99 out of a possible 100 on the same target at 200 yards offhand, as well as a 100 shot score of 922 out of a possible 1,000 on the Standard American Target. Pope had then made ten 3-shot scores of 74 out of a possible 75 on the German Ring Target at 200 yards offhand, and Dr. Hudson had made nearly as many equally high 3-shot scores on that target. All of these very high scores by Pope and Hudson were made at regular matches and in the presence of many witnesses.

In the July 1st 1922 issue of “ARMS AND THE MAN” we find such an excellent article on “Off Hand Rifle Shooting” by H. M. Pope quoted herewith:

“This is written with the hope that it will help riflemen generally to make better offhand scores; it is based upon my many years’ association with the best offhand shooters that this country has ever produced, as well as my long experience with riflemaking, and may help others to ultimate victory.

The Palm Rest. This is by no means the contemptible toy that most shooters imagine, but to most men a very useful article – an equalizer of men’s physical peculiarities and differences.

The very first thing to do on a strange range is to properly adjust the palm rest for length, endeavoring to shoot from one shooting stand only so that various uneven footings will not effect the elevation of the rifle. To do this one must stand at the firing point where one is to shoot, in a perfectly natural easy position, directing the rifle toward the target. Close your eyes as you settle into a perfectly natural position, then open the eyes and the sights should point level with the bullseye without the shooter having to bend the body either forward or back; if it does not, change the length of the palm rest until it comes up just right.

The proper position of the palm rest is important; it should be neither too close to the receiver nor too far away. If too close the left hand has to support too much weight; also movements of the holding arm will move the muzzle too rapidly. In other words, the control is bad; also the excessive weight tires one sooner. It must not be forgotten that the weight that the left hand is holding is considerably in excess of the rifle itself, due to the center of gravity of the rifle being outside of the support. If the palm rest is too far forward the weight of the rifle tends to force the palm rest open and away from the body. It should be so that the weight tends to close it together, without pull of the arm toward the body. The palm rest should not rest in the palm, but on the heel of the hand so as to avoid the flexibility of the palm and its muscular movements; in short the rest and forearm in proper relation to one another is a direct strut from the rifle to the hip without any muscular change of length. The left hand should be in perfectly natural position and with fingers lightly closed on the knob.

Position. This again will vary somewhat with individuals, but must be perfectly natural, easy and free from muscular strain. The weight should be about evenly distributed on both legs, which should be straightened out and not too far apart, as this means muscular strain, while the bones should carry the weight. As the writer stands, the feet are at an angle of about 60 degrees the left foot about 50 degrees with the line of fire, the right a little back or square in the line of fire, the heels 7 inches apart. Don’t Straddle.

In getting into position it is extremely important that one gets so set that the natural easy position directs the rifle at the bullseye; we have already set our palm rest to do so, therefore now in aiming let the rifle come to its natural position; then if, looking over the sights, it is right or left, rock backward letting the left leg hang, swing the body so the rifle will point at the bull, then rock forward letting the right hang down naturally and you will now find that the rifle points itself at the bull merely by assuming a perfectly easy position without muscular strain. If not perfectly set of course, one can direct the rifle to a considerable angle at either side, but when the nerves relax control of the strained muscles to the slightest degree, the muscles assume a natural position and the rifle swings off.

Aiming and Pulling. In a match of considerable length one should never try to pull every shot dead central. It can’t be done, and to try to do so only results in fatigue and wild shooting. No matter how expert, one practically never holds perfectly still; there is always a swing or tremor. Don’t outhold your wind, try to pull the first time your sights swing slowly into a position that you can pull cleanly, to score slightly above your average score. In doing this you avoid wild shots and many times you get off practically on center.

A good score is not made by a large number of perfect shots, but by the absence of poor ones. It does not pay to try to pull centers unless nothing else will do in a tight place, then be careful. If the sights will not settle before you feel short of breath, put the rifle down and breath very slowly and deeply two or three times; swallow your guts and try again. Be sure that you pull this important shot on a slow swing and with a perfectly clean pull.

The set trigger should not be extremely fine, but should be perfectly clean without any kick to the finger when it lets go. The trigger guard or lever should bring the trigger finger into such a position that a long forward reach is not necessary. The thumb should be along the side of the stock, not over it; in fact it should form a gauge to keep the trigger finger in such a position that the tip of the finger comes naturally just onto the trigger. This position you must learn to shot well; the finger cannot be away from the trigger when you want to pull, but in contact with it. The best way when aiming is to keep touching the trigger with the tip of the finger, then when the sight swings deep into the bull, a little bit harder touch lets it off. The object of doing this is to avoid sympathetic movements of the other fingers at the same time which disturb the aim. It is very hard to make a quick movement of one finger without also moving the adjacent fingers more of less, which movement disturbs the aim.

In aiming the rifle, the left arm should be along side, the elbow resting on the hip bone if you are so built; if not, then along side on the short ribs - not in front over the heart and stomach, which cramps the breathing and heart action. The right arm should have the elbow well up, not against the side; this pulls the chest open and gives the lungs more capacity; it also allows the use of a straighter stock, and a rifle with a straight stock shoots more uniformly than one with much drop.

Breathing. It is extremely important that you pay careful attention to this. One should breathe slowly and deeply. Do not allow yourself to breath fast, as it tends to make the pulse rapid, which in turn affects the aim. If one is shooting continuous scores with fixed ammunition, one is apt to get short of breath before the score is finished, and the pulse goes up. This is because the blood is robbed of the necessary oxygen when holding the breath. We compensate for this by deep low breathing, making the whole surface of the lungs work instead of a small portion of the same in ordinary use. As I lift my rifle to aim, I lift it high and fill my lungs fully; as I begin to settle I breathe nearly empty, then as the aim begins to settle, I breathe about half full and hold the breath till I fire; then at once begin breathing again deeply and slowly.

Weight of Rifle. For the finest offhand shooting, the rifle must be muzzle heavy. This is not, as most shooters suppose, wholly in the weight of the rifle, but in the disposition of the weight; as much weight as possible should be in the barrel. Weight in the stock and butt plate is useless except in absorbing the recoil. The use of a heavy butt plate is to be condemned. While it tends to balance the rifle when the same is carried free, its weight is entirely on the right shoulder in shooting and does not in any way change the weight supported on the left hand, in fact the rifle at the shoulder is a second–class lever in which the power is the weight of the rifle concentrated at the center of gravity, which should be well beyond the left hand. The fulcrum is the shoulder, and the work is the weight held by the left hand. If the center of gravity is in front of the left hand, then the weight held in the left hand is greater than the rifle. If the center of gravity is behind the left hand, the weight will be less than the weight of the rifle. It is necessary to hold a reasonable amount of weight on the left hand in order that the swing of the rifle may be slow and give one time to pull. It is possible to build a rifle to weigh 12 or 20 pounds and have it hold exactly the same. In other words except to absorb recoil, the shooting weight of a rifle is not what the rifle actually is, but how the weight is distributed. Anyone can prove these facts for themselves, as I have done for many years for my customers, by simply holding the rifle by the butt plate so that it will not overturn on a small platform scale, first weighing the rifle itself, then by supporting it at various places to see what the left hand actually holds, and not forgetting before you finish to tie a couple of points or so onto the butt plate in order to convince yourself that it has absolutely no effect on the weight held by the left hand, and there has no effect on the shooting balance of the rifle and no influence in slowing the movement of the muzzle in aiming.

Stock. The stock should be as straight as possible to conform with comfort. The cheek piece should be high enough so the when the eye is in line with the sights as it presses firmly against the cheek, as this materially helps steady the rifle. The cheek piece if hollowed should have no projection in front, but a straight run for the rifle recoils an appreciable amount before the bullet leaves the muzzle, and any projection rolls the rifle as it drives back and disturbs the aim, and this drive-back and roll will vary with uneven holds; consequently the bullet direction also varies and you get shots where you do not expect them. It is very important that the butt stock should be tight. A loose butt stock will scatter shots badly; so also will anything else loose, though to a lesser extent.

Telescope. This absolutely must be focused at the distance you intend to shoot. The eye lens should be focused first by looking at a blank sheet of paper or on a clear sky so that the cross hairs are dead black and distinct. This is never changed unless your eyesight changes. Focusing for distance is done with the object lens or intermediate lens only. Use plain paper or clear sky so the there is no object seen to confuse you. It is probable that different people will require different eye adjustments as they would spectacles. Set the telescope, on or off the rifle, on something so it will point on the target and not move easily. Then look through it and move the eye around quickly in every direction as far as you can see clearly, and notice whether the cross hairs appear to be stationary on the target; they should not appear to move at all. If they do, the telescope must be focused by loosening the front lens or the intermediate lens, moving it very slightly in or out until repeated trials show that the cross hairs do not appear to move, then tighten it carefully and look again to be sure you did not move it in tightening. This is the only position that will give correct shooting. It also should be the position of clearest vision, but it matters very little whether the vision is perfectly distinct or not, the cross hairs must be still.

In putting the glass onto the rifle, be sure the tube is wiped clean where it bears on the sides and slightly greased. Be very sure that the mounts and blocks are absolutely clean where they come together and that they are carefully tightened; I use a dime for a screwdriver. This makes them sufficiently tight without strain.

Keep a careful record of the readings of your telescope on different ranges and on different guns; you will then have no trouble shifting from one range or gun to the other. Once in a while test your telescope and mounts to see that everything is secure. Place the gun on something solid so that you can see through the telescope which is suppose to be properly tightened on it, look through the telescope and at the same time tap on the tube with a lead pencil; you will see the cross hairs jump with each tap, but they should come back each time to absolutely the same place. If they do not, something is loose, either with the mounts, or inside the scope. This happens, and any decent shooting is then simply impossible and a good gun and ammunition gets blamed instead of a faulty scope or mounts.

After each shot return your telescope to its proper position from which the recoil had jarred it. To do this, never take hold of the rear end and pull it back, but place the left forefinger on the barrel ahead of the telescope and slide the finger gently to place, the telescope will then come back each time to its proper place.

You may think a big fellow like you can hold as long as you like, but you can’t do it. I am a little fellow, but I can shoot rings around most large shooters. It is not the size and strength that count, but the nerve and judgment. With these instructions and a lot of careful practice you can attain in a short time what it took me years to learn. Study these methods and shoot all you can. Carefully note everything you do and you will find your work improving. Pay attention to the details.

Good luck be with you.

H. M. Pope”


 

 

 
 
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