I like to tell our clients as they come to the firing line: “Bring your rifle, your ammo, and your notebook… And if you’re going to forget any of those three things, forget the rifle.”
We can tell who the serious riflemen are by watching who takes good notes. If a guy comes to the firing line without a notebook, odds are overwhelming that he’s not applying enough intellect to the task for him to ever become a true American Rifleman.
We can’t force you to take notes, and if you just don’t want to, we’ll guide you through the class, you’ll hit your targets and probably enjoy yourself. We do want to see folks have a good time. But beyond that, we want to see at least a fair percentage of those folks who are serious enough about long range riflery to take copious notes. This group will benefit greatly from keeping a detailed log book. These are the guys who will serve our nation well if (God forbid) we have a conflict within our borders.
What kind of notes should you take?
Your handwritten trajectory, in 20 yard increments, out to a bit beyond the distance you expect to shoot needs to be in that book. Adjusted trajectory notes for varied temperatures or elevation changes should also be in that book.
A series of impacts that are markedly higher or lower than the proven trajectory chart indicates they should be need to be recorded in the notebook. Always indicate wind speed and direction for all shots–but especially for shots that are landing well high, or well low of the target with typical data dialed. (Wind can lift shots, or push them down in some situations).
You’ll want your particular load data, with either the lot number of the factory ammunition, or the lot numbers of the powder and bullets you’re using (powder in particular). You’ll also want to record measured velocity of your load on different outings, and any velocity changes you experience when transitioning to another lot of ammo or loading components (for hand loaders). It is not uncommon to experience velocity variations in different temperatures, especially with some powders which are more sensitive to temperature changes.
You should keep the best log possible of the number of shots down the barrel of your rifle. Keep any maintenance you do to the rifle recorded in your notebook. Keep a record of the torque values on the action screws, scope base screws, and scope ring screws. Any changes you make to the rifle, scope, or scope mounting hardware should also be noted.
Every entry in your notebook should have a date, location, and time of day, temperature and other significant weather conditions (rainy, overcast, sunny, position of sun) written with it. Include general direction of fire (north, south, NW, SE, etc)…
Logging the impact location of shots fired, and whether they hit or miss your target can be very helpful in piecing together patterns which could help you increase you hit count–simply by studying your notebook entries. Always note the direction of the sun relative to the shot direction. Light conditions, and direction of the sun will often have an effect on your aim. As a rule, in brightly lit skies you’ll hit a bit low, and in dim light, the shot can go high. How high or low? Generally not more than a minute of angle, or .3 mils. But of course that can put you over or under a small target at longer ranges. Keeping notes on the data you have to dial on a particular day, with the temperature, lighting and wind hold needed to hit the target will be helpful as you review your results later on.
If your light wind 100 yard zero needs to be re-set on a particular day of shooting, there could be different reasons for that, ranging from loose scope hardware (a quality steel base and rings are well worth the money), a faulty scope erector and spring (internal), a large temperature swing effecting the powder’s burn rate significantly enough to move your point of impact at 100 yards (POI)… or the light conditions as mentioned earlier. Show the sun direction, and indicate whether the sky is overcast or clear. Soon you’ll be able to see a pattern emerge, such as “my shots go .2 mils high at 600 yards when the sky is overcast and it’s a bit dark… and they go .2 mils low when the sun is out bright and the sky is clear.
Keeping a range diagram (range card) for the area where you shoot, with distances to the different landmarks downrange is an extremely good idea.
Noting when the last battery change occurred in any battery powered devices you routinely use is something else you should have in your notes. (You should always have analog solutions for any shot you may need to make–never rely solely on electronic shot solutions. We call these guys cyber-shooters)… 😮 🙂
Note your general physical condition and wellness as you log your shots. Indicate whether you believe you were “in the zone” (so to speak) or having difficulty keeping things steady. This could relate to what you had to eat not long before the shooting session (caffeine, or lack thereof if you’re used to a lot of coffee), or a food that is giving you indigestion. Seriously, stuff like that will influence how well you shoot.
There are many other things you’ll likely want to record in your notebook which won’t be mentioned here. Just know that if it could be relevant, it’s better to write it down than not to.
What kind of notebook?
Some folks like graph paper pages with 1/8 or 1/4 inch squares (shown above).
You might have already noted that I didn’t use the phrase “data book” and that was perhaps by design. You really don’t need the tacti-cool data book like you see advertised for 40 or more dollars. Most of the pages in those things are all but useless (yeah, but they make me feel like John Lee Swagger!)… I get it. 🙂
A quality notebook of midsize (about 5×7 inches) with strong paper is really all you’ll need. Ruled sheets, or 1/4″ graph paper is good. And, very importantly, you’ll want to keep a second copy of your notebook safe at home just in case something happens to the main book–then you’ll have a back up that will allow you to re-create your notes. Rewriting your notes in your back-up notebook will actually help you remember things even better.
A larger book can be used as your back up book which you keep at home or in some other safe location. The large book can hold data on multiple rifles, and serve as back-up for various individual notebooks which would be kept with their corresponding rifles.
The Miquelrius 400 page 6×8 bound journal (shown above) is a sturdy and very spacious book that would work well as a back-up note book. In addition to duplicating your smaller note books for your individual rifle and load, this book has plenty of room for other observations you might want to add.
A small ruler or protractor (and a protractor can be used for estimating shot angle) can be kept with the notebook. At least 2 good pens like Bic or Papermate should be kept as well. That said, I have found that pencil notes don’t “bleed” on the pages if the book gets wet. There are products such as Write In The Rain notebooks which come with a special pen that you might choose to take initial notes on if you know you’re going to be working in wet weather. Transfer those notes to the primary note book and back-up notebook as soon as possible afterward.
You don’t have to go by any particular format for your note keeping. Just make your notes and drawings in a way that you can understand.
Last pic… an example of a note page in the back-up notebook. Studies have shown that the mere act of writing down information will help you recall that information even if you don’t refer back to the notes. So take good notes! It’ll make you a better rifleman, without a doubt. This pic is of one page of the entry for the session being recorded. Shot impacts and target sketches will be added on facing page.