This article originally appeared at Ammoland.
As I wrote this title, I have to admit I had a brief flashback to all those corny self-improvement programs that used to be all the rage. You know, things like “Twerk at Work: The 5-Minute Booty Buster Slimnastics Routine,” “Throw Your Weight Around With These Seismic Yoga Techniques,” and “How To Hold Back The Tears When Micro-Aggressed.”
But seriously, getting in touch with your inner natural point of aim is a real, legitimate, and practical endeavor – I swear! Just ask those folks who win bullseye pistol and high-power rifle matches, they’ll back me up on this. But just because those men and women who excel in slow and deliberate accuracy competitions use natural point of aim doesn’t mean you can’t make it work for you in faster and more spontaneous shooting applications.
While the concept of finding your natural point of aim most obviously applies to leisurely and careful rifle shooting, it brings home success in shotgun and pistol applications too. Before we get into that, however, let’s take a crack at defining exactly what I mean by natural point of aim.
The best way to illustrate the concept is with an imaginary example. Think about facing your target. For this exercise, position and type of gun don’t matter. You can be standing, sitting, or lying prone using a rifle, pistol or shotgun. Even though our scenario is imaginary here, your gun IS unloaded, right? Now, close your eyes, and raise whatever gun you have at hand to a “ready to shoot” position. Now open your eyes. Wherever your rifle, shotgun, or pistol is pointing at the moment you open your eyes is your natural aim point. Your bones, muscles, and brain gravitated to this position based on what “felt” natural to your noggin based on the structural makeup of your body parts.
Almost certainly, if you were holding a real gun, and aiming at a real target, your sights would not be exactly where you wanted them to be. If they are perfectly aligned on your first try, drop everything, go enter the Bianchi Cup, and place as many side bets as you can!
Our natural tendency when we find the sights aren’t where we want is to push the gun and make a perfect sight alignment so. Sure, this works and you can hit targets. However, you’re doing more work than you need and repeatable accuracy will suffer, especially as your muscles get fatigued. I would also argue that the process of raising your gun to a perfect sight picture will be a bit slower than if you started from a perfect natural point of aim position.
To make this natural point of aim work for you, think about moving your body parts so that the gun naturally aligns with your target without having to force it into position. To best understand how this applies, let’s take a quick look at rifle, shotgun, and handgun scenarios.
Shooting from a prone position is the best example case, although the concept applies equally well to sitting, kneeling and standing positions. Without looking at your target down range, close your eyes and settle into your natural shooting position. When ready, open your eyes to see where your sights are aligned relative to the target. If you’re off target, move the big heavy parts of your body to move the sights closer to the desired point of aim. Do not push the rifle into position with your arms and hands. After shifting your weight, close your eyes, take a breath or two, and open them. How’s the alignment now? If still off, repeat the process. When you think you’re in a perfect position, lower your rifle, relax for a second, close your eyes, and raise your rifle again. When you open your eyes, you should be pretty close to on target.
Obviously, you’re not going to go through these prone gymnastics every time you take a shot. The idea is to do it in practice so you condition your brain and body to assume something pretty darn close to natural point of aim perfection as you drop to the ground. With practice, you’ll be amazed at how close you can get to a perfect natural point of aim position when you see your target and hit the deck. If you have time, as in a hunting or competition situation, you can still make small body adjustments before firing the shot. That split second of positioning time investment may make the difference in getting a first shot hit.
To explain how natural point of aim works with shotguns, let’s explore a slightly different take on the subject. That would be fitting (adjusting) your gun to support your inherent natural point of aim. Everyone talks about shotgun fitting, and that sounds complex and extravagant. But what it really boils down to is making adjustments to your shotgun so that the barrel lines up perfectly with your natural line of sight when you raise it to shoulder.
The “close your eyes” test works here too. Using an unloaded shotgun, close your eyes and raise it to your shoulder. Now open your eyes. We’re not checking to see where it’s pointed, but how it aligns with your eyeball. Assuming that you practice enough to raise your gun to the exact same position relative to your shoulder and face every time, your eye should be looking exactly down the top of the barrel.
If your shotgun has a rib, you should not be able to see any part of the top of the rib surface. If you can, then your eye is too high relative to the bore, and your shots will naturally go higher than intended. If you see one side of the rib or the other, you’re going to miss to the side. The same applies if your eye ends up lower than the top plane of the rib, except that your shot pattern will impact lower than you want.
As with the rifle example, you can push the shotgun into the right position, but that’s asking for trouble over time. It’s far better to adjust your stock and/or butt pad until the barrel lines up perfectly with your eye every single time you shoulder it. Then, your shot will hit exactly where you look with no manual intervention required. Fortunately, most modern shotguns come with stock adjustment shims so you can do this at home.
Again, in a dynamic shooting scenario, you’re not going to fiddle around with finding your natural point of aim. The point is to use your time at the range to find the stance and position relative to the target that lines you up – naturally. Once found, the more your practice assuming a shooting stance that embraces your natural point of aim, the more it will be programmed into your brain. When you line up to a target and raise your gun, you’ll find your body in a better position to make the shot.
As with rifle, stance and position can be used to gain assistance from your natural point of aim. Experiment with moving your strong side foot backward or forward from your current stance. You just might find that your sights move vertically relative to the target as you adjust your feet.
As with shotguns, the gun itself may support or work against your natural point of aim. Different handguns have different grip angles and sizes. Try the “eyes closed” drill using an unloaded gun and safe backstop. Close your eyes and raise your handgun to target. Are the front and rear sights in the same plane or is one higher than the other? If not, you may want to try a gun with a different grip angle. For example, for me, Glocks naturally point a little high – I have to “force” the muzzle down a tad to get on target. Other guns with a more vertical grip angle end up closer to “on target” when I thrust the gun into position without thinking. For you, these results might be exactly opposite. That’s OK – we’re all constructed with different dimensions.
When you think about it, embracing your natural point of aim is a common sense concept. Why not take advantage of the way your eyes and body parts naturally want to operate? The more that you’re on target from the start, the more you can focus on other elements of shooting like trigger control.
Tom McHale is the author of the Insanely Practical Guides book series that guides new and experienced shooters alike in a fun, approachable, and practical way. His books are available in print and eBook format on Amazon. You can also find him on Google+, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.
“How To Hold Back The Tears When Micro-Aggressed.” …. Love this. Everyone gets a trophy.
It seems fair, right? I mean everyone SHOULD get a trophy. Because feelings! 🙂