The Straight Dope

The RifleKraft Blog
by Chris Way
Keywords: musings, blog

I read so many lists and top ten posts I decided to take a crack at it in my own way.

Heres an off the cuff list in no particular order that I think can improve EVERYONES shooting:

1. Think:

Dont just adjust and correct a shot. You're not a circus monkey AND you're responsible for the bullet you just shot wherever it went.. know what happened, or figure it out.

2. Gear:

Do you want that new equipment because of good expensive marketing, or because it really works better?

Tell me what makes a rifle shoot well and explain why the thing you wanna buy does it better?

3. Some failure is growth fuel:

If you're afraid of failure you'll never get good. go to competitions with goals, tests, and personal objectives.. only one dudes gonna win and its probably not you. If you go with pre set goals and objectives you'll walk away a better shooter and level up regardless of rank.

4. Fundamentals first.

Don't outrun your fundamentals. If you apply them well and time out you're doing good; if you rush and throw shots you're not doing it right.

5. Dirty little #$%^:

I dont care how often you clean your barrel, but your trigger, bipod, tripod, scope, bolt, and other moving parts will eventually crap out on you if you dont clean them.. ask me how I know.

6. Video yourself:

You'll learn a lot about your fundamentals if you video yourself.

7. Be irreverent sometimes:

Fuck the old school.. pave the way to the next level by testing popular dogma and writing your own rules. I dont give a rats ass how long you've been shooting or how many trophies you have and no-one else should either.

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by Chris Way
Keywords: position, sniper, shooter, fundamentals, blog

Speaking to hunters, snipers, field shooters, and practical rifle competitors, the shooting stories and shooting conversations often circles back to the shot position to provide context for the difficulty, or interesting aspect, of a shot. It seems like the most interesting stories are preceded by the lead up to an unknown position and not from an anticipated one.

From the data obtained in the riflekraft project it is clear that hit probability for the average participant would benefit the most from skill development over any upgrades in gear or load.

To begin with lets point out that the average MOA of a baseline for all shooters measured is over 4. This means that from the point of aim the average shooter puts all shots within a 4” circle at 100Y after shooting 12 rounds from four positions.

Some people will quickly point out that equipment varies quite a lot between shooters. I don’t believe that the reason for this average is equipment.

I have a few factory rifles that can shoot an inch all day with any factory ammunition. In fact, as a conversational standard people often compare their rifles to the arbitrary inch standard. Many manufacturers guarantee sub ¾ and even sub ½ MOA and that’s also arguable. Firsthand experience on my part says many can’t back up their claim. I do think it’s safe to say that most modern guns can shoot to the inch standard. I am going to focus on 1” for now. So, assuming the average rifle in the project shot 1” with the rifle ammo combinations and the average baseline is 4” where’s the disconnect? The shooter.

I know some of you are now screaming at the computer saying that at distance the load matters more than anything because of SD and ES. So, let’s see what kind of SD and ES are required for a 6.5 Creedmoor load averaging 2700 fps, a 140-grain bullet with a G7 of .279, to produce a 40” group at 1000Y from a single hole at 100y. I didn’t spend a lot of time dorking out with ballistic calculators here. I spent just enough time to roughly figure how to go from an average drop of -313.66” to plus minus 20”; we would need an ES of around 140 FPS something.

In my personal tests with Hornady, Berger, PRIME, Federal, and Fiocchi factory loads I have seen as large as a 50FPS ES and much closer to 40 and below but never even half of what would be required to go to a 40” difference in ideal atmospheric conditions. I didn’t dork out with these calculations, just plugged-in velocities online and got a general idea, but I think that’s enough to justify fundamentals over hand loading in sub-1000-yard shooting.

I would argue that going to town loading for practical shooting competitions can be fascinating, but probably not get you the same gains as fundamental work.

But maybe you disagree.

If you do, make a post and tag me so we can chat about our different points of view!

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by Chris Way
Keywords: fundamentals, blog

Most shooters at some point in their learning process were told about the fundamentals of marksmanship. The variations tend to circle four or five aspects that have a profound influence on the final landing place of the bullet shot from the rifle in hand. The elements most commonly discussed are Position, sight picture, breath control, trigger manipulation, and follow through.

Having spent a lot of time discussing shooting with shooters from every walk of life I have noticed that most can account for these elements in their shot process and discuss them with relative ease. If pressed most shooters would agree that they are important, but many look around for someone else to use as an example of how they are employed incorrectly, because we tend to think that we have these basics down if were engaged in higher level activities like hunting, competition, work applications and such.

Enter the riflekraft data project.

Having access to thousands of shooters targetry doing the same thing provides some insights to averages and trends. One fascinating aspect of the data collected so far, and the data that continues to come in, is that more than likely most shooters are not applying the fundamentals of marksmanship consistently through all positions. Moreover, multiple targets reveal that more often than not, the fundamentals are applied inconsistently from day to day as well.

Could this apply to you? Probably. So lets discuss the fundamentals in a little more detail so that perhaps we can all reincorporate them into our training routines and get closer to the shooters we think we are or aspire to be!

Preface. The Riflekraft approach believes that you have to separate your rifles capabilities from your own shooting capabilities. What does this mean? It means that if you develop a load that shoots a .15” group at 100y that’s awesome and a great example of what your rifle is capable of. This is not any insight to how it will shoot in any other situation necessarily. We know this because we have seen thousands of targets entered and many of them have supporting data that the load shot for the test was sub half inch ammo. The average 12 shot Kraft Data target is currently just over 4”. This means that despite the ammo, the shooters involved in the project are losing accuracy in the application of correct fundamentals throughout the test.

This should be motivating. Fundamentals are easy to train. Training fundamentals will bring your shot groups closer to your rifles capabilities, and as a result increase your hit probability by huge proportions with considerably less effort if applied correctly.

So either go train your fundamentals or stand by for more about the individual elements and ideas to go along with them.

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by Chris Way
Keywords: loading, fundamentals, blog

I respect and admire people who have walked their own paths and along the way amassed so much life experience that when asked they can give you an explanation with an example from their life, first-hand. I try to be like those personal heroes in my own way. Even if it means doing things that aren’t as popular. Like investing a year to prepare for Assassins Way getting first-hand accounts of what works and what doesn’t.

One strength living this way has provided me is the ability to define clear left and right limits to what I’m capable of given any set of possible equipment choices. What if you end up needing to shoot factory, shoot a less optimal caliber, a heavy or a light rifle? Run 100 miles, climb a big rock, swim a long distance, travel through dangerous environments? I don’t want to take someones word for it when there’s so much to gain from figuring it out or at least validating it in the field.

So anyway, staying on track with this theme of bullets and speed, I established that there is a sweet spot for velocity among the calibers I shoot that deteriorates above and below that zone. What about the effects of velocity within that optimal zone? I mean the zone is over a hundred feet per second wide. My understanding of how people develop loads is that a good shooter will find a “node” in that spot where all of the factors seem to come together: group size, SD, ES, and stability… but what about just shooting the whole damn zone? Sounds nuts. Perfect.

The NRL hunter events are an exciting new series of competitions that allow shooters to test a broader set of individual skills in a variety of locations. The format is blind and asks that a shooter can locate, range, and engage targets on their own with minimal information provided.

The targets tend to be a little larger than the stricter precision rifle target sizes, but the added stress of doing more than just pulling a trigger layers in some very important elements to anyone who expects to use a rifle off of the training range. This seemed perfect for seeing a broader application of a rifle and load beyond a narrow competitive outlet like the PRS style stuff.

At the beta test for the NRL hunter series I shot factory ammo and felt like it had no detrimental effects on my performance. At what point did it though? Well, that’s hard to answer, but the thought came to me when running a ladder and shooting the initial velocity spread at a single aim point. What happened was a huge velocity ES in a group that was around .6”

What would happen if I loaded a spread that encompassed the whole sweet spot of my rifle? That’s what I did.

I loaded up rounds with optimized jump lengths so that at 100y the group was under an inch, but the velocity ES was very close to 100fps.

I heard that we weren’t going to be shooting much past 750 and based on ballistic calculators I assumed this spread amounted to about a .4mil or 10-11” spread at 750y which fit within the targets height. I found most targets to be a minimum of .6 tall and many a whole mil wide so really wasn’t concerned.

My first match had some technical equipment issues (I broke my rangefinder), and my second one didn’t have gear issues at all but I kind of lost it mentally toward the end. I am planning on shooting two more before the end of the season to round out the test and am highly optimistic that I can continue to perform better with any load within the velocity zone. The skills and tasks needed to perform at these events did not demand anything better, but it would be close to impossible to get factory ammo with tolerances as bad as the load I used; I have never seen factory shoot half as bad as the load I used.

In the end I need to shoot another few matches to draw more concrete conclusions, but from what I can tell from these tests, I am not going to worry about my load beyond a basic level of tolerances.

What matters? I believe 100% that in all of these competitive outlets that the winners have solid fundamentals of marksmanship. What the best shooters can do and get away with starts with the solid fundamentals they developed prior to how theyre competing now.

I think if people focused on fundamentals, not gadgets, we would be seeing the population of shooters in the top 20 zone of performance grow and competition turn into an actual sport instead of what it is now… which isn’t.

More to come about this in the future.

Until then, worry about fundamentals, not gear.

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by Chris Way
Keywords: fundamentals, blog

A couple of years ago I had an experience that lit an ember eventually growing into the test I will be elaborating on in the next two posts.

First, the back story:

I was shooting a two-day match and after day one decided to shoot some more since we had several extra hours of daylight and a separate range with steel out to distance. I was having fun and shot more ammo than I should have. Rookie mistake. Having some extra fun and training time ended up leaving me short on ammo for the next day. I was fortunate enough to get the remaining ammo from a shooter who had a bunch of factory ammo. I was grateful but also nervous about my data being off seeing that it was a completely different load from what I came with. I told Travis Ishida my concern and he said in typical Travis style “bro you’ll be so close it won’t matter” and although I didn’t believe him at all, I also wasn’t in a position to do much but shoot and see. I shot the last five stages, and my hit percentages were no different than the 15 prior stages of the match.

Travis was right.

It would take months and months to realize what Travis showed me though.

At this point in my shooting I had read all of Bryan Litz’s books, and loved them, they made a lot of sense to my scientific mind. Having been a good student for a large chunk of my life I felt like I knew what to do; I memorized them. I literally felt like going to a match was more about understanding ballistics and ironing out the load and equipment. Sadly, it’s easy to make the numbers work and provide a theoretical answer that makes sense only to find out that there is more to it. This wasn’t the first time in my life that reality chose to enter the room and offer up some commonsense clarity. Enter Ryan Cleckner.

After the weekend where Travis showed me something I hadn’t yet realized, I read Ryan Cleckners book. My first impression was that I wanted to call him up and argue with him. Have I mentioned I love to argue? I don’t know Ryan and didn’t have his number, so couldn’t call him to argue, but I would have had I had it. I went out and tested as much as I could to try to prove him wrong, but I realized that everything he wrote about was turning out to be true.

a shooter really can’t shoot at the level of detail we can argue about on the internet.

Ryan was right. Fucker.

In the end what I took away from the long-range shooting handbook was that a shooter really can’t shoot at the level of detail we can argue about on the internet. Hitting things with a bullet shot from a rifle starts to get easier when you listen to someone who has been down the road and knows the path laid out before you and can show you first-hand. The problem is people like that are harder to find than you’d think. A person who can not only combine the theory but offer advice from their own experience getting to where you want to go is a rare commodity these days.

Fast forward a bit.

You didn’t magically get 5, 12,..40 places better, you’re the same shooter probably shooting the same as you have been.

I had been training a lot using both Litz and Cleckners ideas and felt like my fundamentals were working for me rather than against me. I had been achieving success at matches but also developing a frustration at the larger match machinery. What I mean by this is that in reality there isn’t much of a yardstick when you measure match placement as a measure of skill growth. Match results are more a display of which good shooters didn’t come to the match than how well you’re improving as a shooter fundamentally. Think about it this way: If overnight the top 40 shooters in the country quit shooting nothing would change; matches would run as well as ever, for sure different people would get trophies, but other than that nothing would change for you as a shooter. You didn’t magically get 5, 12,..40 places better, you’re the same shooter probably shooting the same as you have been. What that means to me is that matches are better used as a medium through which we can test things and grow as shooters with no real concern about rank – focusing on hit percentages and measuring from a baseline metric like the Kraft Baselines. Also, my personal interests like many other shooters is growing as a rifleman, not necessarily as a purely competition focused shooter; Having said that, the best shooter can and should be able to perform at the top level in any situation – and the top do.

To better understand the art of shooting I needed a better grasp on the line between Litz and Cleckner – where the art and science form a performance line and the real riflemen are formed: that is how several of the tests I ran, including the idea for this practical load test.

Instead of shooting 6creed as I had been up to this point, I switched to 6br. I decided to do this because it’s a hell of a lot easier to load for and the barrel life was better, and I had basically shot out the barrel I was using so needed a new barrel anyway. Either way it set the stage because it’s such an easy cartridge to load for.

At the time the test began I was shooting around 82/84% using a 6br at a velocity averaging 2850. Initially the drop in velocity was unintentional as my chronograph started to have issues and we discovered it was shooting a little slower than expected. The idea to continue slowing down the velocity jumped out and it seemed like a fun experiment. The final push to commit came when I went to a match and planned to shoot several days before the match so made fire formers to shoot and ended up shooting the match ammo before the match – committing to the use of fire formers in the match.

So, the data reflects matches where I shot the following velocities 2840, 2780, 2750, 2720, 2670, 2620, 2600. All of the loads were sub 1/3” and achieved benchmark kraft numbers that showed they shot as well or better as time went by than the last. My hit percentages went from 82% to 65% linearly with a decrease in velocity. I found this linear relationship fascinating and got excited to try hard each time to see if I could reverse the trend with skill and slow rounds.

I never could.

There are a lot of take-aways, but the main ones are that the 6br/a has a sweet spot of about 150fps wide where it shoots optimally. The velocities are between 2750 and 2900 in Colorado, but I found the 2780-2840 bracket the most consistent when shooting baseline comparisons to the slower loads.

Above the sweet spot you start to get pressure and my experience with that is that pressure broke two triggers, so I stopped messing with that. The downside, for me, is the bullet seems less predictable toward to 2600 zone. At the slow speeds I not only saw a larger effect from wind, but also started to miss vertically much more than normal.

In fact, I shot the NRL finale with the slowest load and really struggled not only to make wind calls but also hit from an elevation standpoint. I thought it was my data because missing over and under targets as much as I had was not normal. I don’t think it was data in retrospect, I think it was just a consequence of slow rounds. To get some perspective, I confirmed this by shooting the remaining rounds along-side a normalized load of 2800fps and I saw the same split.

Whatever the reason, something weird happens in the 2580-2640 range when you’re shooting past 600yards or so. Maybe someone can explain why vertical came into the equation at these slower speeds as well.

This first set of tests confirmed that you can take it too slow and that there is a zone where performance is optimized. At least for me.

The second set of tests were about how much ES can you get away with within that optimal zone. I was again surprised with the results.

Coming soon:

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by Chris Way
Keywords: fundamentals, blog

This blog is a dedicated medium through which I plan to share my personal thoughts about the tests I conducted over the past year and beyond; scientific or not. The opinions and conclusions I share are 100% biased and subjective to my experiences. I have a tendency of putting my foot in my mouth and this is a safe space to do that. For a more formal list of articles there's a developing library of articles on the subscription side detailing the fundamentals of marksmanship and correlated effects from the data we are analyzing. Most of the datapoint will automatically link to your profiles and offer suggestions for improvement based on your personal tendencies; this blog isn't that.

So, let’s get started.

A year ago, I committed to a competition called Assassins Way, a month-long field competition that is designed to test a variety of field craft, rifle craft, and other skills a well-rounded shooter should know. The gear requirements however are such that you have to carry your load for the entire month through multiple states and biomes. No swapping out gear, replacing items, etc. Knowing the demands of being out in the field for a long time, I gave myself a year to test equipment, techniques, and learn the stuff that I didn’t have a good grasp on in order to leverage myself toward a top finish.

Most of what I did was test equipment and challenge dogma embedded in the art of long range and field shooting to see for myself if they were true or old wives tales. Many of the tests went against my own scientific mind to validate accepted beliefs, and also just for shits because I like to go against the grain.

Nevertheless, the year had many twists and turns, ups and downs, but in the end I am farther then where I aimed to be. I am confident about what I will use and how I will approach this event as a competitor looking to win.

So, lets rewind a year.

One of the first posts I made online was about overall loadout considerations. Even if you haven’t carried a huge pack with weeks of equipment and food in it, you can imagine that a 22lb competition rifle is probably not an ideal choice, so the question that arose of what weight is ideal for an event like this.

With my background in adventure racing and climbing I was less concerned initially with equipment than I was in choosing a rifle build and caliber that would fit the bill for unknown distance shooting. I also thought it would be a quick process to make a decision and run with it. I was wrong.

Fairly quickly I developed a test to compare different weight rifles. It was an early paper test that is now the predecessor of the RifleKraft target. Within a few days I found that the popular theme of adding weight for competition definitely allowed me to shoot smaller groups from a variety of positions off of a bag.

As a competitive person, and sometimes a hot head, I didn’t like not being able to shoot any rifle as well as another. Rather than accept that I was better with a 20lb rifle than a 16lb rifle I started to diagnose why. The reason quickly revealed itself: I lacked the proper fundamentals. Sure, I had some great results, in fact in a 15-month period I received 7 trophies but all of that was meaningless now. I realized I wasn’t as good as I thought I was.

I have seen top level shooters pick up light rifles and shoot just as good or better. Most of the top competitors spent decades working their fundamentals. Most of the top competitoprs are the top because they have nearly perfect fundamentals and use weight to gain an extra percentage point or two. If a shooter with poor fundamentals adds weight not only do they not develop fundamentals, but they seem to confuse what the pros are doing as what they need to do. This happens in sports, shooting, and probably any activity that has skill and equipment involved in a competitive setting.

Having seen it in climbing and other outlets I decided to double down on fundamentals.

The Kraft was born and you know that part. I had ok fundamentals, but they lacked in comparison to the top-level competitors. They still do I imagine, but I’m getting better.

Now I can take a 10lb rifle, 14, 16, 18, 20, 22, 25 and shoot the same kraft baseline with 6 bra, 6.5 Creedmoor, and 6.5 prc. I shot a lot and focused on shooting fundamentals for a year neglecting most other skills, but fundamentals are called that for a reason.

So, does weight matter? Yes, kind of. If you have solid fundamentals it could provide a small percentage boost, but if you lack fundamentals it could deteriorate your skillsets and confuse what you need to do to improve.

Unfortunately due to covid Assassins Way was postponed until 2022, which gives me even more time to prepare. When the time comes, I plan to use a 10-12lb rifle simply for the sake of being able to move more efficiently across terrain and not smoke my legs. I shoot the same now with a light rifle so I have no concern about an advantage weight might add. In Assassins Way the advantage of a light rifle far outweighs the small increase in hit percentage on small targets such that it’s a non issue for me.

In NRL PRS style, which I mainly do for training and testing because there aren’t enough other outlets, I believe that the 16-18lb range is ideal for the speed of stabilizing positions under a short time; heavier than that for me really has no measurable influence on hit percentages as identified during the competition season. As an example of some of the tests I conducted, I shot 6 PRS and NRL national matches in the last year with decreasing weight in my chassis from 20 to 14lbs at each event. Because I also decreased bullet velocity concurrently at these events I always show baselines with what I dubbed a competition speed load to verify group sizes were consistent and thus differentiated between chassis weight and bullet speeds. Remember these were just my tests so I know you need to isolate one variable not two, but there aren’t that many comps and I wanted to do it this way (suck it).

I noticed no real change in hit percentage with rifle weight vs lad velocity which has a substantial influence as I broke a minimum threshold (future post.

So, to make a short story long, adding weight doesn’t help my shooting all that much, but It could help grow sexy biceps if that’s the real goal.

Take Away Weight conclusion: With good fundamentals, weight offers a small boost in performance but for the less experienced shooter it’s a crutch that will ultimately come back to bite you.

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