“Never throughout history has a man who lived a life of ease left a name worth remembering.” — Theodore Roosevelt
I’ve said several times that the best use of this newsletter is to take your questions and ideas and provide some answers and responses to get us thinking, talking, and making this sport better. I’ve received lots of good questions and talking points. (And I need MORE! Email me your ideas, insights, and questions!!!) This week I chose four great questions and will do my best to provide a little value and maybe even a coherent answer!
QUESTION #1 – EXERCISE
I think health should be an important topic. I know I should do some kind of exercise in the morning before work whether it’s just stretching or core exercises. Do you do any kind of stretching or workout before/during a match? If so, what do you find to be the most important or beneficial to life and/or silhouette?
I chose this as the first question to answer to start with this disclaimer: I am not an expert on physical fitness or diet or much of anything. The vast majority of what I will write in this newsletter and every one to come is not advice as much as explaining what I do and what works for me. I’m not saying that you should do what I do; and I am not saying that you need to do what I do to be a great silhouette shooter. With that said, here we go:
With silhouette competition, my philosophy is that I show up to every championship match completely prepared. If shooting silhouette all over North America is important enough to sacrifice the expense and time away from my family, it is important enough to put in the effort to be 100% prepared to perform at every single match. In addition, I am blessed to have a great friend and spotter, Jerry, who is willing to spend his time traveling all over the place with me and perform flawlessly behind the spotting scope for me. I owe it to him to be prepared and ready to shoot the best I possibly can. There is a level of obsession in every single sport in the world and silhouette shooters are no different.
Years ago, I discovered that I shoot better when my fitness is good. I raced bicycles for years before I became a competitive shooter and I was able to experiment with various levels of fitness and how those levels affected my shooting. Once I became convinced that good fitness helped shooting, part of my preparation became keeping myself in shape. (I’m leaving out all the benefits that fitness has on everyday life – obviously it’s better to be in good shape and we all need regular exercise). So, this is my routine:
To feel properly prepared for championship matches, I shoot my rifle, ride my bicycle, and lift weights EVERY DAY. I’m not saying that this is necessary; this is what I do. Every day I ride my road bike at least 30 miles; then I do a full-body kettlebell weightlifting workout. I also shoot, usually with a 10-meter airgun. I like to shoot 10 shots in between intense sets of presses or swings with the kettlebell. It forces me to shoot with a very elevated heart rate and I’m usually pretty fatigued after riding the bike and doing the kettlebell set.
Of course, I’d likely do this even if I wasn’t a competitive shooter but it has now become a habit and I believe it helps my shooting. I love putting in the work every day and wearing myself out every day and falling asleep ten seconds after my head hits the pillow. Shooting silhouette is not easy; but I believe that making it harder in training makes it easier on match day.
My fitness took a mayor step backward in 2022 due to some unforeseen circumstances; and I believe it hurt my shooting. That’s behind me now and I’m back to my normal routine and finally starting to get back into shape and I see it in the practice sessions and the club matches.
Again, 30-mile bicycle rides and intense full-body kettlebell workouts every day are NOT required to shoot a rifle well; and I don’t even recommend doing what I do. However, to answer the question regarding what I find to be beneficial to shooting (and everyday life), I highly recommend some form of cardiovascular exercise that is low enough intensity that you can do it every day. And I recommend that you do it every day. I personally believe that the perfect every day cardiovascular exercise is WALKING. If you get out and walk every day, as far and as long as you can (build it up over time); and you commit to doing it every day and going farther and longer; not only will your silhouette scores get better, but your overall health will get better, too. Walk down your street, around your block, through the park, through the woods, up the hills, down the hills all over town and back again. Do it while you talk on the phone, scroll Facebook (watch where you’re going!), listen to audiobooks and podcasts, read this newsletter, talk to your spouse or your kids or anyone you can get to walk with you. Develop the habit of walking, A LOT (and practice shooting every day) and let me know how much your scores have improved after a year!
To finish off answering the question – my kettlebell routine works my core, especially my back, and I believe a strong back is very beneficial to shooting offhand – so I recommend some weightlifting a few times a week (doesn’t have to be every day) to develop back/core strength and overall strength. I do not have the expertise to recommend specific exercises or workouts but I’m sure there are good ones (probably shooting-specific ones) to be found on the internet. (Be careful and learn perfect form with any weightlifting program!!!)
QUESTION #2 – EATING
I’ve read articles saying you should eat easy-to-digest foods during a match. What do you like to eat the morning of a match or during a match? What about Alcohol?
Shooting silhouette requires our brains to operate on both a conscious and subconscious level to go through the shooting process and break quality shots that knock down targets. In addition, our entire bodies are using energy working throughout a full day of shooting trying to be precise. Every cell in our bodies, especially in our brains, need energy in the form of SUGAR to efficiently perform all these functions. So, while shooting (and for most of my everyday diet) I eat lots of carbohydrates and not a lot of fat. I also drink TONS of water during matches because our bodies need to be hydrated to do any type of high-performance activity.
Specifically, during matches I eat Clif Bars (white chocolate macadamia nut flavor-yum!) pretty much all day as I feel that I need them. I also force myself to drink lots of water. During the U.S. smallbore national championships this year, I drank more than six gallons of water during the matches over three days of shooting.
SUGAR (carbohydrates) and WATER!!! Again, I am not recommending anything, I’m just telling you what I do!
As far as alcohol, I have a two drink limit (usually beer). I drink those two beers alone just before I’m called to the line to shoot. I’M KIDDING! Two drinks max per day AFTER the shooting is done for the day.
QUESTION #3 – ADJUSTING POSITION
Dustin, I line up, shoulder the rifle, set it, and open my eyes. Now I need to adjust up or down. What is the best way? Move back foot forward or back as to what adjustment you need? Now what if I have to move left or right? Move back foot toes right or left, thus pivoting on my heel? That is what I have been trying to do and adjust on every animal. Am I barking up the wrong tree? Please advise.
Natural point of aim (NPA) is very important and we will probably have an entire post about it one day. This question specifically asks about adjusting position to get the NPA correct. I personally don’t believe that there is a “best way” to make this adjustment. You need to be: (1) comfortable, and (2) aiming at the target you’re trying to shoot. Whatever it takes to get to this position is fine. When I pick up the rifle during the ready command I can almost immediately tell if my NPA is correct. (NEVER take a shot while fighting your NPA – NEVER!) If it’s way off, I re-adjust my feet to get it close. If it’s close, I can usually get it right with a slight adjustment of my support arm (left arm for a right-handed shooter) or a very slight twist of my torso.
So, for bigger adjustments, you’re going to need to reposition your feet whichever way gets you where you need to be. You may move your front or back foot left or right to move your position left or right; you might put your feet a little closer together to aim a little higher; or spread them out to aim a little lower. Whatever works.
For smaller adjustments, you might twist slightly left or right. Not too much, if you’re twisting to the point you’re fighting it, you need to move your feet. Pushing your support elbow down some will get you aiming lower and picking it up a bit will get you higher. You are going to have to determine whether you can correct with slight movements or you need to move your feet. Don’t be scared to move those feet! Do what you need to do to get your NPA correct.
The person that asked this question said he/she adjusts on every target. I don’t usually find an adjustment on each target necessary. It certainly could be, depending on the range and the target setup. The important thing to remember is that you don’t HAVE to re-adjust for every target. It’s perfectly fine to feel that you have a good NPA on each of a bank of five targets. It’s perfectly fine to feel that you don’t. Don’t feel locked in to adjusting or not adjusting. If the NPA is good, roll with it; if not, adjust it.
QUESTION #4 – AR SILHOUETTE?
Dustin, I have been pondering an AR platform highpower silhouette rifle and that got me to thinking about highpower silhouette match participation. Do you think there may be a resource of new shooters if we where to work harder on making the sport known to the AR crowd? It is the rifle platform that holds the most interest for the most shooters these days and is certainly capable of being competitive in the Highpower class as well as Hunter class.
My simple answer to this question is YES! I do believe that there are AR shooters out there that would shoot both highpower and smallbore silhouette and I believe we need to reach out to those groups and let them know that the greatest shooting sport on earth is here and they can bring their ARs out to shoot it.
I will admit that I don’t know a lot about AR rifles. I don’t think they are as well-suited for the type of shooting I do as bolt action rifles so I don’t spend much time with the one I have. However, we want as many shooters enjoying silhouette as we can get so what do we need to do to get these AR guys and girls to the silhouette range? I’m all for it!
I think the Hunter Rifle stock rule could be problematic for an AR. My guess is that anyone trying to get an AR certified in Hunter would be told that the grip amounts to a thumbhole. We would never turn anyone away from a club match for that reason and I’d even argue that a state or regional match should allow an AR in Hunter. I believe that the auto-loading action and the less-than-ideal offhand stock more than offsets any advantage that a “thumbhole” stock gives (there is basically none). But, the rules are the rules so lets hear from the match directors and competitors around the world in the comments. Is an AR legal in Hunter Rifle? If not, what should we do to make it work?
I plan to talk more about this in a later post, but I’ll give a preview now. Down here in the southern region of the U.S. we are working on developing a “Short Course Highpower Silhouette” game with half-scale targets set at 100, 150, 200 & 250 meters. We have considered that this would be a perfect game to allow AR shooters to shoot their .223s in silhouette. Of course, we will need bullet and velocity restrictions to avoid target damage but we are hoping that there will be enough AR15 shooters out there that will join us when we can get a few good Short Course Highpower matches going.
Thanks for these great questions! Please continue to email me your questions and ideas for discussion. Also, we all want to hear your opinions so comment down below your thoughts on these topics!
We are heading to beautiful Zwolle, Louisiana this weekend for the 47th Annual Louisiana Highpower Silhouette state championship. This is always one of the most fun matches of the year and I can’t wait to get up there and mix it up with some great shooters and friends. I hope to see lots of you there and if you cant be with us I hope you get to shoot a match somewhere this weekend.
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