By: Serena Juchnowski
Finally – you are on your belly!
The two-hundred yard standing and sitting stages are over. Prone is the most stable position, as one has the most contact points with the ground when lying on it. Just as in the standing position, triangles are important, because they stabilize your position. There are a variety of prone positions in use, and I have seen even the most unorthodox positions work for some people.
‘You Should Be Able to Fall Asleep’
Building a stable and comfortable prone position is essential to good and consistent scores. As it was explained to me, “You should be able to fall asleep in your prone position.” In other words, it should be extremely comfortable; you should not be losing blood flow in your arms or suffering from extreme muscle fatigue, both of which are very common in poorly built positions.
Both the three-hundred and six-hundred-yard stages are fired from the prone position. To start building your prone position, lie down with the rifle, having the elbow of your non-firing hand firmly set on your shooting mat in front of your chest. Your other elbow should be on the ground close to your body, with the butt of the rifle in your shoulder. The sling should be fastened to the rifle and tight around the arm of your non-firing hand. The sling should be located so that it’s not restricting blood flow or caught on a muscle. If it is on a muscle, you may feel pulse in the sling, which will show as a consistent up and down movement of your rifle and sights.
The sling should be taut, not so tight that the position is acutely painful, but not so loose that you are using muscle to support the weight of the rifle. A good way to see if a sling is taut is to have someone lightly press on the long part of the sling. It should move down only slightly, then pop back into place, hardly moving at all. Another way to test this, just as in the sitting position, is for someone to press gently against the shoulder of the firing hand of the shooter. The shooter should rock forward slightly and back, the muzzle settling very quickly.
Keep in mind that a tight sling is important, but there is such a thing as too tight of a sling. Also realize that every person’s body is different. When one has a correctly rigged sling, it may cause some muscle fatigue and leave the arm it was fastened on feeling constricted and slightly sore. This is normal. With time and muscle memory, you will become accustomed to your sling and position and will no longer feel that fatigue, or if you do, only rarely. When a sling is too tight, you feel acute pain that makes it feel nearly impossible to break the shot with any level of accuracy.
Straight and Cocked Leg Prone
The two most common positions are straight leg and cocked leg prone. In straight legged prone, both of your legs are stretched out behind you. In cocked leg prone, the knee on the same side as your firing hand (right knee for right-handed shooters, left knee for left-handed shooters) is brought up on an angle.
In both positions, you want to have as many contact points with the ground as possible. (Please note that the magazine may not rest on the ground in competition.) This means that you want to avoid balancing the tips of your toes on the ground. This can cause your feet to wobble or increase muscle strain. It is best to try to lay your feet as flat as comfortably possible. Regardless of which position you use, your mat should be at a slight angle to the target, and thus your body will be as well.
When you get your sling situated, look through the scope or sights on your rifle and establish your natural point of aim. To do this, close your eyes and open them. Your sights should be directly lined up over the target. If they are not, you need to shift your body left or right to correct this. Once you do this, you may find that you are above or below the target. To adjust this, move the elbow of your firing hand closer and further away from your body. This will help you to get the correct height.
Once you have worked to build an effective position, and know where your elbows should be, you can spend more time setting up the spotting scope. It is essential to have a good position before worrying about this. The spotting scope should be set up so that you can look through it without moving out of position. You should not have to strain your neck to look through it, and you should be able to look through it with your non-dominant eye to reduce eye strain.
Consistency Is Imperative
When in the prone positon, your sling may loosen or slide down your arm. If this happens, stop. Do not keep shooting unless you have almost no time left to finish your shots. Take the time to make the rifle safe, adjust your sling, and get back into position. Be sure to check natural point of aim again before you continue firing.
Consistency is imperative. Place your head on the stock and the stock in your shoulder in the same places and in the same ways every time. Not doing so will change the impact of your shot. Wind also plays a factor, but one should not focus on wind reading until he or she establishes a stable prone position. If all shots are horizontal, or on a “waterline” on the target, then one has reached the point where he or she can start working on reading wind. You have to solve one problem at a time. If you are having elevation issues with your shots, something is likely wrong.
When you are in the prone position for a significant amount of time, your arm may begin to hurt, and you may begin to feel fatigued. To help relieve this, try setting the butt of your rifle on the mat between shots and putting your weight on top of it. (This does not apply during a rapid-fire string.) This takes the tension off of the sling and the pressure off of your arm for a few moments. Oftentimes, one’s head is also restricted. Be sure to take a moment to look down and let your neck stretch out between shots. This will help increase blood flow to your brain and reduce fatigue.
With thirty shots of the fifty shot National Match course being prone, it is imperative that one perform well from the prone position. Even a talented standing shooter can lose his or her edge at the 600-yard line.
Always remember the basics of building a good position, because what works best can change over time for each person.
Serena Juchnowski is a high power service rifle competitor and regular contributor to Junior Shooters magazine, writing from Ohio. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.