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Error 404: File Not Found

One of the first real firearms training classes I attended was a MAG40 class with Massad Ayoob. I had read his articles in the various magazines, as well as heard him on numerous podcasts where I found out he would be coming to Utah to teach a class. Even now the amount of quality training coming to Utah is much better than it was back then, and I had to take advantage of the opportunity. I ended up selling a gun, and still really attended on a shoestring budget. For example, I didn’t have money to buy enough ammo for the whole class, so I shot two different guns during the class that used different calibers so I didn’t need to buy as much ammo. Like I said, it was a shoestring budget. Certainly there were many eye-opening experiences at class (like how terrible I was, and how much improvement I needed), but I want to focus on one phrase Mas used a few times. He mentioned getting experience doing things in practice so if it came time to use that particular technique, skill, etc. ‘for real’ your brain wouldn’t be left saying “error 404: file not found.” Clearly there is a line here between practicing absurd skills with no real world application and getting exposure to less-useful techniques that still might come up. My personal view is the less useful something is, the less focus I will spend training it. I will, however, get exposure to many things so I am at least aware of how it works, and will not be left hanging should I need a particular skill set in the future. This is a general principle that applies to all sorts of things, but today I will be connecting it to a few rifle techniques. I will show my results, but as always I highly recommend getting out and doing this yourself with your own gear to know exactly the results you should expect.

Zero/Offset

Where does your rifle hit at a certain distance? I don’t mean, “I can hit that massive B/C steel out to 200 yards.” I mean, where is your rifle shooting precisely? Like many people, I use a 200 yard zero with many rifles, and I am lucky enough to have access to a range where I can get out that far. You can see in the following picture what my bullets are doing from 5-100 yards with that zero. Notice the oft-repeated 50/200 zero is not quite right in my case. Some of that might be due to the 1.93” mount I am using, but even using standard height mounts I have seen some difference.

45 and 90 Degrees

I am referring here to shooting while your rifle, or more specifically your optic/irons, are not oriented straight up and down. Many people have tried this when working the popular VTAC barricade that requires you to angle the rifle to see the target through certain ports.

Shooting a rifle like this might be considered uncommon, or even unnecessary, by many. Remember that I am using this trip to the range to experience some less-common shooting problems, and file that information away should I need it in the future. Once again, with my 200 yard zero I shot 45 and 90 degrees from 5-100 yards. I also tried this at 200 while I was getting my initial zero, and the second picture illustrates the results. Notice the interesting progression of hits moving across the target from left to right as the distance increases. By the time I got back to 200, shots were hitting to the right of the target completely.

45 Degree Shots from 5-100 Yards
90 Degree Shots from 5-100 Yards

Ammunition Differences

How many of us practice with the same ammo we keep in the gun for “duty” use? I am guessing not many. And while getting cases of Speer gold dot, MK262, or Federal Fusion would be amazing, having to fund such an idea is out of the realm of reality for me, and many others. If we zero the gun for one type of ammunition, what is everything else doing? I decided to shoot my 55 grain xm193, 62 grain federal fusion, and 77 grain Magtech as a selection of ammo that many people might be using for practice and carry. I also shot several groups with a 55 grain federal commercial load with the Nosler Ballistic Tip. While you can see in the first picture the former three loads, the 55 grain Federal’s impact was over 4” left of the xm193! Note that this is not the fault of either ammo, they simply have different points of impact on the target, and anyone who is practicing and carrying different ammo should be aware of and should test this out yourself.

Groups with Federal Fusion 62 Grain, MagTech 77 Grain, and Federal XM193.  Note: disregard the 300 yard groups right of the center X shot during the zeroing process

Finally, we live in a time where there are many viable defensive ammunition options available. Although the groups were only three rounds each, I can confirm based on 5 and 10 round groups in the past that the Magtech 77 grain ammo is quite accurate, and most of my rifles shoot their best with it. It might be valuable to shoot a selection of viable carry ammo to find what shoots best with your particular equipment.

Suppressor Use

I have been forever spoiled by shooting rifles suppressed, and rarely shoot otherwise. Certainly there are cases, however, when the can comes off. What sort of impact difference do you see with or without a suppressor attached? Is the shift, if any, repeatable? Once again I used my trusty set of Sandman suppressors from Dead Air, the S and K, to test this myself. Beginning with the K (what I usually use) attached, I shot a group. I then alternated between the K and S, shooting a group unsuppressed between each. This allowed me to both check for shift and repeatability.

Sandman S and K.  Note the flash hiding endcap, a great upgrade for a short can.

The center higher group was unsuppressed, the lower left was the K, and the lower right was the S. Note there were two three round groups shot in each configuration. As I have measured in the past, the shift with both was repeatable, and minimal.

Minimal and Repeatable Shift with the S and K.

Conclusion

These are just a few examples of experiences you might want to have yourself when it comes to being familiar with your rifle, the ammo you use, and the optics/suppressors/etc. that might be part of your equipment.  One of the additional benefits of trying things like this out for yourself is the confidence you gain as a result.  As an example, the next time I find myself using a VTAC barricade, or needing to fire my rifle at an angle, I will do so with confidence because I know where those rounds will be hitting.  No longer will I try the frantic “shoot a bit left, right, high, and low” of the target, trying to see where the bullets are going.

I have always been more interested in pistols compared to rifles.  For me, a pistol is what I am carrying around, and am more likely to have access to should I need it.  I also felt like a lot of rifle training didn’t really take advantage of the increased precision and distance that a rifle could be used at.  Going beyond the close distance many people practice with rifles at, and exploring the unique challenges that show up with higher offsets, longer distances, etc. has opened the door for what standards I should hold for myself with a long gun.  Hopefully this article will inspire others to figure out the nuances of their own equipment, so none of us will experience the “Error 404: File Not Found” for real.

Nate Osborne
Range Manager
Nathan Osborne began a serious study of shooting in 2012 when taking the "Citizens use of Deadly Force" class with Massad Ayoob. Being able to drink from the fire-hose in class started a desire to learn as much as possible, and hopefully be a source of quality information to others. In addition to attending and working as staff with the Massad Ayoob Group, Nate has taken classes with John Chapman, Earnest Langdon, Chris Costa, and others, and will never be able to go to classes from every instructor on his 'to attend' list. He is also a Glock and S&W M&P Armorer.

Nate currently manages a gun range in Northern Utah while finishing a master's degree, and running a weekly practical pistol match.

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