I’ve had a saying I coined over a decade ago that I like to use when discussing hand-loading procedures, chronograph numbers, and such. The target is the final arbiter. No matter what the experts tell you, no matter what the chronograph says… the target gets the final say. If the groups are tight, and remain tight at long range, you have a good load. It’s really that simple.
And we like to apply this same manner of thinking to how the shooter lays prone behind the rifle. If the target is being reliably hit, and if the shooter is seeing impacts in his/her rifle scope at distance, then the position is good.
These days, it is considered heresy in some circles to lay at an angle to your rifle. Instructors walk down the firing line dragging shooters into a linear position behind their rifles. “Recoil control” is the most often given reason. And in truth, recoil control must be accomplished in some way, or the rifle (and rifle scope) move off the target area on recoil, and the strike cannot be seen. If you can’t see your bullet miss left of the target, you have no idea what to do for a follow up shot. Controlling recoil is absolutely necessary in order for you to see your missed impacts, and get back on the gun and get a hit on the second shot.
But is it always necessary for the shooter to be perfectly straight behind the rifle in order to accomplish this? I believe not. In fact, I have seen more than a few shooters suffer from being persuaded (or forced, in some cases) to lay straight behind the rifle.
What is often over-looked is the fact that the “straight behind the rifle” prone position is a relatively new recommendation. In decades past, a slight angle to the body/rifle line was in vogue. And that worked then, and still does today.
What you need is a comfortable position behind your rifle, which allows you to execute the shots well, and which also allows you to see your impacts in the scope’s field of view. Must this position be linear to the rifle? No. Experience has shown us time and time again that shooting position behind the rifle can vary, quite widely, from one excellent shooter to the next. I’m reminded of one of the earlier shooting matches we hosted. One shooter laid behind his rifle at quite a severe angle, around forty-five degrees or so. Each time he would come to the line to shoot, two “tactically schooled” fellows were putting their thumbs and forefingers on their foreheads, in an L shape, sort of “double entendre” meaning “L” for “loser” and also to mock the shooter’s position behind his rifle. But the problem for them was, that shooter beat them both, and won the match!
We have long since decided to allow a shooter to find a comfortable, and *safe* position behind the rifle that works. Our anatomies are not all the same, and for some folks, an angle to the rifle is the best position. If you cannot get comfortable behind the rifle, you cannot shoot well. Again–as long as the targets are being reliably hit, and the shooter is seeing impacts at distance in the scope’s field of view, all is well.
We have found that a “relaxed” approach to instruction is most often the best way for the shooter to learn. As we watch each shooter on the firing line, it’s amazing how quickly a person can sort out a quite functional firing position if we simply give them some basic guidelines (with reasonable parameters) and let them work with the bipod, the rear bag–and yes, the angle at which they approach the rifle. When they’re not shooting well, and/or they’re not seeing their impacts, then it’s time to consider moving their position on the rifle, or having them work with the rear bag, more bipod load, etc.
If you attend one of our shooting classes, please don’t mistake our approach. If you’ve watched the ankle-kickers in some tacti-cool circles instruct on the firing lines, you may come expecting more of the same. But in the end, the target has the final say-so as to how we’ll you’re really doing.