When it comes to equipment setup for some reason precision rifles tend to receive nothing much beyond a cursory suggestions in the ‘How To” department. I suspect this lack of attention may be due to the fact that professionally the ratio between the numbers of Riflemen or Assaulters to Snipers ranges from maybe 1 to 10 on the high end within the Special Operations community to perhaps 1 to 100 in the infantry line companies or larger Law Enforcement Agencies. That said you’d think that we as such a small community would have a better handle on the matter…but the fact that we have dudes showing up to training while trying to feed their Sniper rifles out of the back pocket of their blue jeans, is an indicator that this topic needs addressing.
“Mission Drives Gear”
Yes, our tasks and our purpose are what drives our equipment selection and organization, but I literally get nauseated just having to writing that cliché. Along with other greats like “train how you fight”, these annoy the absolute ever-living-f*ck out of me. It’s not because they’re completely false, but because they are often cop outs taken in lieu of actually turning on our brain. I hear these tactical catch phrases parroted by students repeatedly but when I press them for farther meaning all to often there’s not much of deeper understanding beyond “well, I watched so-and-so’s YouTube video.”
The Direct-Action Sniper Loadout
In this segment we’re going to confine our look at the setup and load out for snipers working in support of the Direct-Action mission set. Direct Action operations are defined as "short duration strikes or other small-scale offensive actions conducted in hostile, denied, or politically sensitive environments.". These missions employ specialized capabilities to seize, destroy, capture, recover or damage designated targets. Operations like these afford unit commanders a unique, versatile and flexible option in pursuit of Strategic, Operational or Tactically critical objectives.
As one can see the Direct-Action mission is not uniquely useful to only military operations. In fact, it’s measured use of force ensures operational perseverance, legitimacy and restraint, making it a versatile adaptation across the Law Enforcement and OGA communities. To better understand, let’s take a peek at what the sniper is doctrinally tasked within a DA operation.
"Direct Acton (DA) Sniper Teams are organized, trained and equipped units that conduct specialty focused missions that are commonly outside the normal response capabilities of a Departments, Agency or Service. Universally their goal and purpose are to provide commanders with an on call kinetic resolutions to barricade/hostage episodes, initiate service of high-risk warrants and provide proactive, reactive response to crisis incidents and point target interdiction. DA Sniper operations differ from traditional Sniper activities in the degree of risk, advanced operational techniques employed, individual skill requirements, and a heightened level of public/political oversight at levels beyond local or regional influence." (1)
Here we can see that delivering precision fires within close proximity of the Assault team or hostages and overmatch response beyond the range of the hostile forces is the primary function of Snipers within the DA operation. Additionally, the traditional role of observing and reporting information in support of the operational context still applies as well.
With the basic tasking of the Sniper within the DA mission defined we in fact can go about organizing the load out much the same way the Assault or Entry teams do. For that I am fan of using the traditional line system for designating and prioritizing equipment. This system breaks down the equipment by it relation to the direct tasks, as well as some of those task that are unimplied.
Line By Line
At a basic level, everything we carry should directly support the tasking by way of adding in our ability to project lethality or secure survivability. This system prioritizes the equipment based of their relation to operational focus and is broken down into 3 different categories or "lines" of kit. These lines can in such case need, be added or dropped as the situation dictates.
1st Line - Items within this group are what might be listed as “Mission Critical”. These are technology or systems that are the absolute requirement to conduct operations in-extremis or to insure the survival of the Individual Operator. While traditionally this could include everything right down to the Operators base clothing, for the sake of simplicity we’ll forego that, and confine 1st Line Kit to cover only the things carried on the belt.
*Note that the front of the belt (from hip to hip) is left mostly clear. While it is currently in vogue to run mags etc. extremely far forward, placement of those items can have a negative effect when assuming shooting positions often found in the Urban Environment.
Often referred to as a battle or pistol belt, this line serves as the basic loadout an Operator should don. There are obvious situations that the 1st line is inadequate at properly addressing but at a minimum, the 1st line is really just there to give the Operator a fighting chance. What goes on the belt SHOULD (and I cannot stress this enough) be MINIMAL. In many cases 1st Line Kit is worn only as a necessity to maximize mobility in low-threat environments or in situations of extreme peril where speed is security. As a Sniper supporting Direct Action the 1st Line kit reads as follows:
Secondary Sidearm – Worn at the 3 o’clock, this is your reserve parachute for DA operations. Chances of us actually needing it are pretty low and in many cases it's just there to make you feel better. There have actually been times when I have made the calculated risk of forgoing the pistol while running a gas gun during operations in the mountains, but during urban operations or while running a bolt gun I’ll usually opt for being strapped. The Glock 19 with weapon mounted light (because its 2020) has been my go-to for years, its a compact, lightweight, no frills affair. The matter of holster selection arises, but quite honestly it warrants its own post so stand by...
Secondary Reload x1 – Worn at the 9-10 o’clock and yes only 1x because reality check: we won’t need 3x reloads for our pistol, so just stop already. With a Glock 19 that gives us 31 rounds (that's just with standard magazines), if you blow through that plus your primary, you might want to reconsider your life choices.
Primary Reload x1 – Worn just behind our secondary reload at the 9-8 o’clock, this should double the round count of what’s in the sniper rifle, which means we should be at least 20 rounds with a bolt gun or 40 with a gas gun. We can do God’s work with 20-40 rounds for a hot minute. Again to reiterate, the 1st Line load out is only about keeping you in the fight, not storming Omaha Beach.
Laser Range Finder – Worn at the 8-7 o’clock. Look, it’s 2020, if your job is to put metal on meat with a long gun and you don’t have an LRF, you’re wrong. Something small and light that will cover out to the maximum effective range of your Sniper system. I am a big fan of the Leica's as they’re simple and rugged. My old Leica 1200 reliably covers down on real world targets from 600-800 yards and is in the same category of indestructibility as the NOKIA 3310 cell phone - #Brick #Legendary.
Trauma Kit/IFAK – Worn at the 6 o’clock, so that we can get to it with either of our mangled little stumps that used to be called hands. This is for our “oh shit I’ve been shot/blown up moment!”. This is not Band-Aids for our booboos, we’re packing at least a tourniquet, chest seal, combat gauze, pressure dressings, 3.25-inch 14-gauge needles and nasal trumpet (I know you’re thinking there’s no way I’d ever needle D or have to give myself a nose hose, but I’ve seen dudes do it out of necessity). Tourniquets should also be placed where they can be reached by either hand, and remember two is one.
*Pro Tip: The beanie is the OG Gamechanger bag. Folded up and used to separate the gun from hard-hard contact, it excels at resting guns on things like fences and window sills.
Drop Pouch – Worn at the 7 or 5 o’clock. While this has a multiple purpose uses…Real Talk, bring some snacks or at the very least a water bottle, maybe a beanie and warm gloves. You’d be surprised at how long you can make a 12 oz water bottle stretch, and how comforting a beanie and gloves can be on a cold spring or fall night because realistically you don’t know how long this could end up going.
Compass/GPS – The one that I actually like to go wrist mounted with is the Garmin 401 (701's are hot as well with integrated Applied Ballistics). Its' necessity is kind of dependent on what capacity you're operating in. For example, on most Law Enforcement operations you could probably get away without it and work from your phone, but for MIL/OGA work I’d want one for sure.
(Little known fact, the plotting feature allows you to create a 10-digit polar plot from a saved waypoint. #talkonswiththequickness #alwaysmemorizetheGC'sinitials )
Knife – This one is needs to be simple and light. Much like your pistol, the chances of you using this Bad Larry for anything beyond opening MREs or hasty hidesite material prep are slim, so leave your Yarborough at home. The Colonel Blades NoVz G10 is my go-to, as it is a blade you can literally forget you're carrying until you need it.
Rear Bag - A small (3x6") rear bag clipped in on a carabiner like this TAB Gear V2 with light fill weighs ounces and has multiple uses, don't leave home without it. ("Repurposed" Crown Royal bags ARE authorized.)
Rappel Gloves and Monkey Tail - Gloves rated for rappel(ing)/fast roping are always handy to have if you're a higher speed operator and will come in to play with some stuff found in 3rd line kit. But honestly they are just super handy for dealing with things like broken glass or C-wire. The monkey tail like wise is handy clipping into things so you don't fall to your death, especial necessary if you're riding in helicopters often.
As we discussed earlier, 1st line load out is basic and it only is mean to allow the Direct-Action Sniper to project lethality and maintain survivability to a minimal degree. The temptation to load every MOLLE loop with extra pistol mags or accessory pouches containing “nice to haves” is real. However, once the belt crosses the threshold of 5-6 pounds, the ready convenience of the belt disappears and the chances of long-term hip and lower-back injury increase.
Stay tuned for Direct-Action Sniper Loadout Parts 2 and Part 3 where we’ll be covering down on Mission Essential and Mission Enhancing kit.
Part 4 – How to set Ocular Focus
Last but not least in this series of setting up your precision rifle comes ocular focus. A quite a few people I’ve meet over the years of training have been perplexed by the purpose of Diopter located on the back of the optic, otherwise known as the ocular housing or bell. The best way to think of this ocular focus adjustment, is its function is setting the prescription of your optic to match your eye, much the same way the doctor sets the prescription for your eyeglasses. If you don’t take the time to set this adjustment, it can have some pretty painful results depending on the severity of the miss match.
To properly set the ocular focus, first we’ll need to turn the parallax adjustment all the way to infinity (that’s usually denoted by the sideways “8” for you crayon eaters). Next we’re going to back the ocular focus waaaaaaay out. There two types of adjustment that you’ll normally see. Fine and Quick. Quick adjustment oculars will allow you to traverse the range of adjustment in a few turns, but a fine adjustment will have you spinning for a while. Once you are backed out, go ahead and hop down behind the rifle and aim at a nice bright background that allows for high contras of the reticle.
Unless you happen to have some really bad eyes you should almost immediately see that the reticle is fuzz as hell. You’ll probably notice too that if you strain your eye hard enough that it will become a little bit clearer, and that straining of the ocular muscles is exactly what we want to avoid as this fatigue is unproductive for marksmanship and can have negative long-term effects.
The correctly focus reticle is seen above, if the reticle looks like the one below, then you'll need some adjusting.
From here having a buddy on hand will help out a bit and make it go much quicker, although theoretically you could do it by yourself if you have no friends. Basically, while lying behind the rifle, looking at that high contrast background, you’ll want your buddy to cover the optic either with a hand or paper so that it is dark as you look through the optic. Then when you’re ready they will remove the cover and you are looking to see if that reticle is instantly clean and crisply in focus. Key word is instantly, if given enough time (usually just a second or two), your eye will automatically begin to try and focus and that would defeat the whole process.
If that reticle isn’t good instantly, then you’ll need to adjust the ocular focus. If you have the fine adjustment, I’ll normally make 1 or 2 full rotations in, or those with the quick adjusting ocular focus you, can probably get away with a ¼ of a turn. Once adjusted this process of buddy assisted focus checking is then repeated as many times as necessary until you the reticle is presented to you in an instantly clean and crisp image.
It. Is. Finished!
Congratulations, with the ocular focus set you have completed the basic set up for your precision rifle! At this point I normally like to take a paint pen and place a witness mark on the any of the adjustments, like cross bolts, the ring caps and ocular adjustment ring. It is arguable and normally not necessary but it’s cheap insurance if something does come loose and will save you a lot of time and head scratching in the odd chance it does.
Part 3 – Optic Mounting
Optic mounting is a pretty critical step in rifle set up, if not done correctly you end up with things in the wrong place, things coming lose or even worse, things being broken. Simply put we have the two most important parts of our system, the rifle and the optic, so we need to be sure this is done right. With that said, the best way to start is by going down the checklist and making sure we have the right tools for the job.
Optic Mounting Check List
Now before we get into the technical aspect of mounting, let’s talk about the why. Some of you are probably saying to yourselves “Naw dawg, I’m good, no need to move anything!”. That may very well be the case but for some of you, I know you are just being lazy. The fact is, especially if you’ve just changed your length of pull and comb (as discussed in part 1 and 2), some of you will need to make some adjustments. Farther more don’t just assume that because you had some guy behind the gun counter at Bass Pro Shop or L.L. Bean or wherever, mount your optic, that you’ll be good…more often than not, it won’t be good.
If you are starting with an optic already set up in a mounted or rings, the first step is to take it all down. Reasoning here is we want to clean up the mounting hardware, particularly the ring cap screws, by removing any grit or old Loctite (if there even was any to begin with) before reapplying Loctite and re-torquing things. This is easily accomplished with a small glass bowl of Acetone*, simply drop your screws in so that they are fully submerged for about 20 minutes or so and that will help break that old stuff up. I if you have some additional crud that won’t break lose, a metal wire brush should nock the excess off before moving on.
*I shouldn’t have to say this but keep the acetone away from your
optics is not the best stuff for optical coatings and seals.
Strait out of the box or at least freshly clean, we can now move along to the mounting. This can kind of be a little tricky but the best rule of thumb here is don’t push the rings or mount all the way towards the front or back. On a bolt gun I like to set up the rings or mount with maybe 1-2 slots to spare from the front or rear of the receiver rail.
On gas guns this same methodology works well on large frame rifles like SR25/AR10s but on the small frame rifles it’s a pretty safe bet that due to the shorter receiver, you’ll want to push that front ring or the lead edge of that single piece mount all the way forward on the receiver. Additionally, if you're mounting an optic on a small frame rifle a cantilever mount is going to be your best friend in terms of allow you to make the most amount of adjustment here.
Once you get your rings or mount in place, make sure you slide them forward toward the front of the rifle so that the lugs are snug against the back of the rail slots. Reason being is that sometimes there is a little bit of play between the two and it’s better to take that out now rather that have the rings or mount shift on its own later. At this point a simple hand snugness on the mounting cross bolts will keep the rings or mount in place while we bust out the tools.
Torque to Spec
Getting down to business you’ll need to bust out your Inch/lbs. torque wrench for the next bit. The focus here in this article is mostly geared toward traditional ½ inch mounting cross bolts, which are still the most common, so if you're running something with smaller mounting cross bolts, you may need adapt to what torque setting you are using. Generally speaking, most ½ mounting cross bolts like those from Leupold, Nightforce, Badger Ordnance, etc. are going to require a setting of 55 to 65 in/lbs.
Once the wrench is set, torqueing cross bolts is a simple affair, just make sure you break the torque over at least twice on each cross bolt and reset the wrench back to “0” inch/lbs. so you don’t go a forget and try to torque your ring caps at 65 inch/lbs. because that will strip the treads.
Pro Tip - Back in the day most snipers didn’t carry a full deployment kit of tools in their rucks. Instead in order to save weight we found if you simply hand tight the mounting cross bolts and take a ½ crescent wrench and go a quarter of a turn farther… Ba Da Boom! You come right in at 65 inch/lbs. of torque.
With the rings or base set in place the next it’s time to set the optic up for proper eye relief. Setting proper eye relief, first involves turn the optic to its maximum magnification, then setting the optic into the rings or base and getting down behind the rifle with a fundamentally sound shooting position. It is best to aim at some sort of high contrasting background like a white wall.
Pro Tip – As exampled above, on most bolt action rifles if you bring the ocular housing in line with the rear tang of the action, you’ll likely be in the right ballpark +/- 0.5 inch. Same goes for gas guns, if you bring the ocular housing in line with the charging handle.
Once behind the rifle, as you slide the optic forward or back, you’ll see the shadow around the edge of the field of view grow or shrink. What we want is to have a nice clean edge all the way around the field of view. Again, you need to be at maximum magnification for optimizing this, so you’ll have the least amount of wiggle room in your optics eye box.
Pro Tip – Incorrect eye relief as exampled above, is easily diagnosed by the shadowing around the edges. The correct eye relief is seen below, with a clean crisp image all the way through the field of view.
With the eye relief set, we can emplace the ring caps and start tightening down the screws. Here we want to make sure there is a nice even gap on each side of the caps and we only need to go hand tight for the moment. Having this balanced gap will help when it comes to leveling.
Now there has been lots of different talk over the years as what is most important here and we could argue a bunch but for the sake of simplicity, we will keep this focused on achieving a mechanical level. Ultimately, we just need the optic/reticle to be level to the world, because as we make adjustments to the turrets or hold using the reticle, if the optic is not level then an elevation and windage error is induce in proportion to the drop. To accomplish this, we are simply going to level the rifle, then level the optic to the rifle, so that when you hold the rifle level, the optic is thus also level.
Here is where we bust out the leveling kit, in leu of such things like purpose-built levels, I’ve also used the level on my iPhone. As described above first things first, we level the rifle, usually off the action or the receiver rail. With the rifle level, go to the ring cap screws (which should be only hand tight) and loosen them just enough to allow the optic to rotate in the rings or mount. Now level the optic using the level as placed on the elevation turret.
With everything hand tight, take a quick moment and double check the level before we get wet and wild with the tread locker. From here we're going to go back through each screw one at a time and applying a single drop of thread locker to the treads and return the screw back to hand tight.
Once each screw has been tagged with thread locker and replaced, now is the time for the final torquing. Setting the wrench to 15in/lbs. we will proceed to torque, using the above image as reference. Starting at the front ring cap, tighten the front left screw to all the way to 15in/lbs. Then proceed to similarly tighten the back right screw. From there, move to the back ring cap and repeat the pattern, front left screw...then back right screw.
Now return to the front ring cap and tighten the front right screw, then move to the back left screw of the front cap. From there, move to the back ring cap and repeat the pattern, front right screw...then back left screw. Lastly repeat the whole pattern one final time and triple check the level. If everything is still good, then congratulations you now have a properly mounted optic!
Stay tune for Precision Rifle Setup Part 4 (yes there's more) where we will be covering the commonly overlooked practice of setting ocular focus.
Part 2 – Height of Comb
In the last article we talked about the importance of the length of pull, today we are going to talk about setting the height of comb. When I say height of comb what I mean is, where your eyeball sits as your face rest on the stock of the rifle (or your cheek risers for those of you with chassis, who realized its now 2020). This is incredibly important that this height is at a level that allows your eyeball to rest naturally in line with the “eye box” of the optic (more on that in a second), so that you can consistently and repeatedly mount the rifle the same way every time you get behind it.
From here the easiest way to start, is to hop on the rifle (shouldn’t have to remind you to make sure its unloaded first but then again its 2020), and see where your face comes to rest as is, some of you might be the lucky ones that won’t require an adjustments. Now before go farther, allow to explain what part of your face we’re talking about, just so we are all on the same page.
What you are looking to drop on that stock is your zygomatic bone, it’s the part just above the squishy part of your face on the way up to your ocular cavity. If you got some chunk rolled up in there that’s fine but it’s important to anchor off of that prominent bone structure. As you face comes to rest on the stock, close your eyes and take a couple of relaxing breaths. Now open them up and let’s examine what you have going on.
This probably the most common issues that seems to pop up, you’ve opened your eyes and you see this fuzzy blur along the bottom of the ocular lens as you attempt to gain a sight picture or maybe even worse, you can’t see at all!
In a past life you’d be temped to float your head slightly to bring your eye up into the optic. But remember this is precision rifle we’re talking about and in doing so you’ll be using muscular tension, which if you know anything about Fundamentals of Marksmanship, muscular tension is not conducive to being consistent or repeatable. Essentially what you head is doing is bobbing around all "Willy Nilly" between shots and at that means your eyeball is in a different spot every time, preventing you from ever having the same sight alinement twice (which makes shooting stuff hard).
So, what to do? Well we need to bring that eyeball up to alignment with the Y axis of the optic. If you have an adjustable chassis system, this like the length of pull should be easy. For those of you still stuck in the last century, or running a basic bitch AR15/SR25 platform, stand by because its about to be arts and craft time.
Now don’t get me wrong, I actually really like the looks and feels of a traditional rifle stock but not all of them lend themselves with adjustable features. Which means we need to grab that foam and duct tape because we need add some material in order to raise that zygomatic to where it needs to be.
Here’s the material list you need:
Step 1. Building the “Saddle” – This piece is going to be the lead actor to star in your one-man production titled "Save yourself the embarrassment and buy a chassis". In the example we’re using some old mouse pads because everyone probably a couple lying around somewheres and of course recycling is good for the planet.
Additionally, another one of my favorite options are SAM splints which are only like $12 on Amazon. Regardless though, you are going to want to fold the saddle over the stock and cut it so the ends almost touch.
Step 2. Cutting the “Shims” – Here we want to cut a series of shims about ½ inch wide and the same length as the saddle to build up inside in order to raise it to the correct height. Cut about 4-5 shims to start but the higher you have to go, the more of these Bad Larry’s you’ll need.
You may might be tempted to cut the corners and just layer the stock with extra saddle, instead of cutting shims but often times this buildup of material ends up pushing the shooters face out too far of the way laterally left or right.
Step 3. Stack’em Up – With all the parts cut, now we build. First you going to want to open and move the bolt/charging handle all way to the rear to insure the action can still function. Then take a strip double sided tape and lay it across the top of the crest of the comb. This will help keep them in place. At this point go ahead and continue making this double sided tape/foam shim sandwich until you come to the correct height.
Step 4. It’s a Wrap! – Finally, when you’ve gained the correct height, grab the saddle and place it over your stack of shims. Being careful not to misalign that sweet stack of goodness, give it one or two good wraps with the duct tape to keep it in place. This should compress the saddle a little bit, so double check that the height is still good.
Then if you are still looking good, commence to wrapping that Bad Mama Jama!
(Pro Tip – If you’re a right handed shooter you are going to want to wrap towards the left, this way you’ll have some resistance against those weighty pork chop cheeks and it will prevent from your arts and craft project from sliding off to the right).
By this time some of you with the AR15/SR25 Platforms may have realized this isn’t working out to well because either the charging handle prevents you from getting your cheek piece far enough forward or when you go to wrap your stock the locking mechanism gets in the way. Solutions are as follows and they will involve a monetary investment to some degree greater than we’ve already discussed.
For fix stock options your best bet is the Magpul PRS, while it expensive and a bit heavy, it is also the most solid and durable option. As for carbine stocks again, we look to our most benevolent masters at Magpul and opt for the CTR, with the LaRue Tactical RISR. The RISR may be high enough as is but even if it not you are probably pretty close and adding a shim via double sided tape or Velcro usually does the trick.
While it is pretty rare, this does happen from time to time. So, what if you find the height of your comb too high? Well…there is not much you can do in terms of stock mods if you are already bottomed out. The answer here in this case is you’ll need to bring the optic up to you eye via the mounts. If you can read between the lines here, I’m telling you to find a taller set of rings or mount.
Figuring out how much height you need to come up can be tricky, but here is my best advice. If you have only a bit of shadowing, say 50% or less along the top of the ocular lens, then I’d opt for at least mounts or rings that sit no more than a ¼ of an inch higher.
If you are more than 50% shadow or if you are squishing your face all the way down and you still got nothing, then you’ll want to look at least ½ inch of come ups in your new mounts.
But What About My Eye Relief?!?!
Fret not young grasshoppers. As some of you may vary well have noticed after changing your length of pull from Part 1 and now the height of comb of the stock in Part 2, you no longer now have a nice clean sight picture when you peer through your ocular lens. It probably looks something like this:
If that is in fact the case for you, grab your wrenches and Loctite and standby for "Precision Rifle Set Up - Part 3 – Optic Mounting". Even if it looks good the rest of you probably are going to want to tag along as well, knowledge is power!
Part 1 – Length of Pull
(and now with 100% more video)
When it comes to shooting Precision Rifles probably one of the most overlooked aspects is proper gun set up. Strangely enough its sometimes one of the easiest and most economical aspects a shooter can correct in terms of accuracy and precision gained per dollar and time spent. What follows is a step by step tutorial regarding precision rifle gun set up, keep in mind that every one’s body is different, every one’s equipment may vary and every one’s purpose is subjective to their own needs.
That being said, the methods outlined in this guide have been tried and trued over the course of hundreds of classes and thousands of students and should get you pretty stinking close. You may be reading this and come across parts and think “Oh, that probably doesn’t apply to me.” I’d encourage you for you own sake, to stuff that ego out of the way for a minute. While yes, there are always exceptions to the rules (trust me if you teach this stuff long enough you’ll see exceptions to everything) but chances are, if you think you’re exceptional…you’re probably not.
Lastly some of you are going to find out that you are financially and emotionally invested into equipment just can’t do what it needs to do. This sucks, and I hate being the one to break the news to you but sometimes the answer is going to be found in your check book. There is nothing more painful than watching defiant shooters launch dollar bill, after dollar bill down range in what appears to be an act of self spite because they won’t spend the money to fix themselves. If you truly want to succeed, sometimes just taking some time and saving up your pennies for the right option is the greatest act of self love.
Length of Pull
First stop on precision rifle set up is going to be setting the rifles length of pull. “Length of pull” is in the simplest terms, the length of the rifle from the butt of the rifle (or the end of the stock), as it rests in the shoulder pocket, to the trigger finger as it rests naturally in a perpendicular fashion on the trigger. Sounds simple enough right? Yet if we screw this portion up it has a cascading effect of problems that are going to prevent us from being able to properly interface with the rifle, so let’s take a how to avoid that.
One of first big issues we see with setting the length of pull is most shooters have improper body position and while we are mainly discussing prone, these fundamentals apply across all positions. All to often we see shooters get behind the rifle and “blading” off their shoulders and body in what I refer to as the “little green army man pose”. This body position has its roots grounded in the traditional NRA High-power/Service Rifle style shooting but it places some hard limitations on practical use for the modern precision rifleman.
Simply put most of us are not slinging into 18lbs .223s and gluing ourselves to a shooting mat, so that we can slow fire 1 round a minute, across the golf course, with wind flags, at large, high contrast targets. Instead the modern rifleman, whether a match shooter or professional tactical shooter, often must contend with shooting engagements that require shooters to quickly assume positions that provide not only stability but also durability and sustainably through the recoil impulse(s). Thus the proper body position (prone) around which we will build the length of pull is shown here.
The shoulders are mostly squared to the gun/target line. The spine runs parallel to the bore line. Feet and legs are extended out naturally, with toes out and heels down. This provides not only a stable body position but also allows quick and easy adjustments to the nature point of aim, as well as placing the mass of the shooters body to absorb and dissipate the recoil impulse in a symmetrical fashion that provides the shooters natural point of aim the necessary durability and sustainably through the recoil impulse(s).
Armed with an understanding of what proper body position is, let us return to the question at hand, How to properly set the length of pull? As rules go generally, the larger you are the longer your length of pull will be. Average lengths of pull vary from rifle to rifle but for most adults you’ll probably be in the typically range from 12.5” on the short end up to 14”. At 6’5” 240lbs, I run right around 13.25” 13.5”, here is a picture of three different rifles I own. As you can see the length of pull changes very little from one platform to another.
Ultimately the length of pull is that going to fit you best is going to be determined by your individual proportions. The quickest method to achieve a proper length of pull is to follow the "Rudy’s Rule" of 90/90. Simply measure from the crook of your elbow opened to 90 degrees, to the trigger finger as it rest, opened to 90 degrees perpendicular across the trigger.
As seen in the picture the whole goal of the properly set length of pull is to allow the trigger finger to rest naturally perpendicular to the trigger, when the rifle is placed in the shoulder pocket of a shooter, assuming a fundamentally sound body position.
But what if it is not?
Unfortunately some of us are going to find that our rifles length of pull don’t fit us. Generally I will say if you can get within ½ inch or so of your correct length of pull, you’ll still be alright. But if here is what happens when your too long.
Here we have the too long of a length of pull example. Biggest thing to see here is the trigger finger begins to “blade” off the trigger at a non-perpendicular angle, which means as you begin to try a press the trigger straight and to the rear, you stand a pretty good chance of inducing lateral movement into the rifle. Additional excessive length of pulls usually compromise the head position in relation to the optic and its not uncommon to see a shooter begin to blade their body in an attempt to “crawl” up the stock towards the better sight picture. This naturally compromises the durability of the shooters body position when subjected to recoil.
Going in the other direction of too short of a length of pull, we run into is trigger finger beginning to “hook” of the trigger at a non-perpendicular angle. Which just like having too long of a length of pull we can’t really press that trigger cleanly, straight and to the the rear. Additional too short length of pulls usually compromise the head position in relation to the optic and its not uncommon to see a shooter begin to kink their neck back in an attempt to “crawl” back along the stock away from the optic towards the better sight picture. This naturally compromises the sustainability of the shooters body position as it quickly causes shooter fatigue.
So crux of the problem is now what to do if your rifle doesn’t have a proper length of pull. If you have a rifle with an adjustable length of pull then the simplest part is to place the rifle in the crook of you elbow and extend or shorten the length of pull until the trigger finger rest perpendicular on the trigger. Most AR15s/SR25s with the carbine buttstocks are a quick click, fixed stock rifles are best up graded to something along the lines of the Magpul PRS. There are a couple of other similar options to the Magpul but to be honest, of all the options I've used/seen, its the most rugged.
Like wise most modern rifle chassis will allow for easy adjustments as well. On traditional style rifle stocks you may find this length of pull adjustment more difficult, if the stock doesn't have the dedicated hardware. If too long of a length of pull is present, then material must be removed in order to facilitate a proper fit and I’ll be honest for most of us this something best left to a gunsmith. Additionally the too short length of pull, needs to be corrected with the addition of material. While there are variety of aftermarket add on options, cheaper options like the “Limb Saver”, have a tendency to not stay put under any real shooting schedule...ask me how I know.
If You found this segment useful, stay tune for the next post:
"Precision Rifle Setup - Part 2 - Height of Comb"
Recently I have found myself speaking with colleagues and lamenting about how precision shooters all too often mislabel various phenomenon’s surrounding precision rifles. Often this ignorance at best leads to a misuse of a terms, but at its worse, it can lead to improper technique and loss of life in the professional realm. The “cold bore” phenomena are exactly such a hot button topic that instills much confusion thanks to the hundreds if not thousands of self-reported anecdotal opinions of amateur shooters.
Why get all worked up? Contrary to popular belief, being a professional Sniper simply means your paid occupation is to end bad guy behavior kinetically through the incorporation of precision shooting (among two dozen other tasks). The reality is that while some Snipers may become Subject Matter Experts given enough time to mature, the vast majority of professional Snipers, particularly in the Law Enforcement community, are operating with less than 5 years of experience and in some cases, certification training lasting all of about 40 hours.
Given those numbers the danger of young professional Snipers becoming inundated with false ideology about cold bore theory from amateur opinions posted in online forums, or the constant regurgitation of information from outdated manuals, is quite real. While the list of factors effecting shot placement during low percentage exposure engagements is long, for some reason cold bore shift remains a murky topic.
Continually we’ve seen or heard opinions on the matter of cold bore range along a spectrum from “cold bore is a myth", to “I need to strip my bore down to metal after every time I shoot so I can duplicate my cold bore shot”. For the professional Sniper our first shot, especially during low percentage exposure engagements, is a high-risk event. Comprehension and mitigation of cold bore shift is a paramount task, there are no do overs, mulligans or alibis in our line of work.
Context and Terminology
So, where do we stand? Cold bore theory is a real thing! If you’re an operational professional sniper and you’re unaware of what cold bore is or how to document it, then someone as failed you. If that’s the case grab a notebook and standby as we come to terms with the concept of cold bore, in the context of the modern day Sniper.
For starters defining terminology is indicative of concise communication, as is understanding of the core principles of the theories in question. Theories are narratives used help clarify the experience via known facts. Scientific knowledge is tentative and is by its nature subject to be superseded with new data. The following theories admittedly represent an overlap between both real-world experience and academic research and documentation. In general, they are brief yet distinct sets of knowledge, based off decades of professional peer-to-peer centric experience.
Cold Bore Shift - Is a consistent and repeatable deviation between a point of impact and the desired point of aim, that occurs when the rifle has been fired in a state in which the temperature of the bore and the ambient environmental temperature is the same. As the rifle (barrel, action, bolt, etc.) is heated upon the firing of the first round, there is a possibility that some rifles can have an uneven compression of materials. This then creates a slight change in the dimensional characteristics between those parts, as it is heated beyond ambient temperatures.
Clean Bore Shift - Is an inconsistent and therefor unrepeatable deviation between a point of impact and the desired point of aim, that occurs only after rifle has cleaned be and then fired. During the cleaning process carbon and copper deposits are often removed, essentially changing the inner dimensions of the bore. Also, inconsistent friction coefficients can appear due to residue left from cleaning agents.
Cold Shooter - Is an inconsistent and therefore unrepeatable deviation between a point of impact and the desired point of aim, that occurs due to the shooters inability to engage the rifle in a consistent physical manner. This can manifest itself in variety of ways, ranging from inconsistencies in the shooter’s head/eye placement, inconsistencies with trigger control, and inconsistencies with the shooters body position.
As one can see, anyone of the above phenomenon, or even combination thereof could be misidentified by the amateur as root cause for deviation in predicting shot solutions. The main key words regarding “cold bore” are consistent and repeatable. Conversely as stated, individual rifles or systems may present no significant deviations observable, leading a shooter to conclude that such phenomena are nothing more than hyped myths.
Now if you’re a cold shooter, or that guy who thinks scrubbing his bore down to metal every 20 rounds is a great idea, then this mapping process isn't going to help you. However, the tracking and recording of cold bore shifts is a relatively simple process and again, absolutely paramount considering the high-risk nature of shot placement during low percentage exposure engagements that snipers face.
(Note: The following examples are modeled off a typical professional sniper, firing duty grade .308 Winchester, zeroed at 100 yards, with a precision capability of 1 MOA.)
Step 1: With the a previously zeroed rifle and fouled bore (turrets set to “0/0”) that has been allowed to cool to ambient temperature, assume a good prone position and fire one round at the left target.
Step 2: Shifting your point of aim to the right target, fire 4 rounds to determine a mean point of impact.
Cold bore shift is indeed a real thing, not to be confused with a “Cold Shooter” or Clean Bore” phenomenon. Cold bore shift is a consistent and repeatable event. Cold bore shift is not prevalent in every rifle but failure to understand, identify and/or track a rifle with cold bore shift is negligence on the behalf of a professional sniper and a potential liability during sniper employment.
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Understanding Cold Bore