Updated: Dec 9, 2022
In sports like baseball, basketball and golf, follow-through plays a big role in the technique aspect of the game Almost all physical activities have some sort of follow-through. But what about rifle shooting? Is there such a thing as follow-through while shooting a rifle?
Absolutely! Follow-through is one of the most important aspects of technique a shooter can do to improve their precision and accuracy while shooting. Follow-through is completely free yet incredibly valuable. All the shooter has to do is be mindful of what they are doing and follow a few basic principles.
In short range Benchrest there are two main shooting styles; Pinning, and Free Recoil. Pinning a rifle means you put your shoulder into the buttstock until the forend of the rifle hits the front stop. You keep applying some degree of pressure on the buttstock while you pull the trigger. Free Recoil essentially means you do not touch the rifle except your finger on the trigger. Both of those styles have many variances that fit the shooter’s philosophy. Some shooters pick one style and never change while others change their style based on the weather conditions.
I am going to attempt to teach follow-through by breaking it down into three components: hand, shoulder, and head. It is important to understand that in short range Benchrest, you are not holding the rifle like a traditional rifle. No matter which style you use, the front of the rifle (forend) is supported by the front rest and the back of the rifle is supported by the back rest.
During a Benchrest match, I lightly place the tip of my index finger towards the bottom of the trigger. The triggers on my competition rifles are set slightly under 2 oz. Through the many thousands of rounds I have shot with these triggers, I can feel the trigger on my finger yet not have the rifle go off. Once the condition I want shows up, I simply think about pulling the finger backwards and the round is fired. The benefit of these super light triggers is there is no movement in anything other than just a slight twitch in the finger. This slight movement is virtually unnoticeable even with slow motion photography. It is a pretty cool thing to shoot a 2 oz trigger.
The vast majority of the time, I shoot a slight variance of Free-Recoil. I do not want my shoulder to influence the rifle, yet I also do not want the rifle to have a long runway to ram into my shoulder. When I am at the bench, I want my shirt touching the buttstock but not my skin. There should be no movement in my shoulder until the recoil of the rifle makes it move.
When I shoot, I look through the scope with both eyes open. When I focus with my left eye, I am looking at the wind flags and overall conditions on the range. When I focus with my right eye, I am looking at the target and for mirage. Interestingly, some shooters have binocular vision. They have the ability to focus with both eyes at the same time. When the round is fired, I try and see the impact of the bullet on the paper through the scope. Due to the recoil of the 30BR, I very seldom see the impact. However, when I am really focused, I can see the crosshairs move with the recoil of the rifle. Without moving my head, I immediately switch my focus back to the flags to see if there was any change and to confirm my condition. Again, my head should not move until the recoil makes it move.
In Benchrest, my style is very simple. I do not want to influence the gun in any way until well after the bullet has left the barrel. The easiest way for me to not influence the rifle is to not be touching the rifle. In other words, I am letting the gun do the work. Below is a video taken of me at a Benchrest match in 2020. I did not know this video was being taken so it is a great example of what my form really looks like during a competition.
So how does this relate to hunting? Time to Connect the Dots
Regardless of the style of trigger, you should place only the first part of your index finger on the trigger. I have seen people stick their whole finger through the trigger guard. Not only is this a safety issue, but the tip of your finger is a lot more sensitive giving you a better feel on the trigger.
Quite possibly, the most important part of follow through is the way you pull the trigger. Once your sights are where you want them, the trigger pull should be controlled and deliberate. You should not be slapping the trigger. The only thing that should move is your trigger finger. The rifle should surprise, but not scare, you when the round is fired.
Since this is a hunting rifle, you cannot shoot free recoil. Your shoulder is acting like the rear rest holding the buttstock of the rifle up. The rifle should be in a comfortable position tucked into the shoulder. As in Benchrest, your shoulder should not move until the recoil makes it move.
The greater the recoil of the rifle, the more shoulder pressure I will put into the rifle. This increased pressure will help me from being bit by the scope. I learned that lesson the hard way (several times) and have the scars to prove it. The drawback of this increased in shoulder pressure is a higher chance of the scope picking up my heart beat causing the crosshairs to move while aiming.
Your head follows the same rules as in Benchrest; it should be comfortable and not move until the recoil makes it move. Shooting with both eyes open has many advantages, but takes some practice to get used to. My suggestion; practice with both eyes open, but only try that on live game once you feel comfortable. One of the most common mistakes is when a shooter snaps their head up to see if they hit what they were shooting at. When that happens, it is almost impossible to have correct follow-through.
As in Benchrest – you should have a simple shooting process. You should not mentally be going through a dozen steps while that buck of a lifetime is giving you a shot. During those pressure type situations, your brain might not work correctly. My hunting process has four steps: Get the target in the sight picture (Scope) – take the safety off (Safety) – fine tune the aim (Aim) – let the gun do the work (Let). Use this process as a template to create your own. The simpler your process, the better you will be able to follow it.
Below is a video showing correct follow-through with a hunting rifle. I almost always use some sort of front rest while hunting. In this video I am practicing using a monopod. The rifle is a Rem 788 chambered in .22-250, Krieger barrel with a Timney trigger set at a crisp 2 lbs.
There are two great ways to find out if you have correct follow-through. One is to videotape yourself and watch the replay in slow motion. “Film watching” is a great way to see flaws in your technique. Look for any movement before the recoil of the rifle. Another way to grade your follow-through is to dry fire your rifle. Make sure your rifle is unloaded, then cock (engage) the action. While aiming at the target through your sites, pull the trigger. Did the sights move? If so, you need to adjust your form or adjust/replace your trigger. Having a quality trigger should be at the top of your list if you truly care about accuracy and precision. (More information about that topic will be covered in an upcoming blog)
As in most sports, follow-through when shooting a rifle is very important. With correct practice, you will instantly realize if you had correct follow-through on a shot. You will not have to look at the target to know if you scored a hit, you will already know based on how the shot felt. A simple rule to follow when shooting; let the rifle do the work. I hope I was able to Connect the Dots on the important aspects of follow-through. Until next time, enjoy the experience.