Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Chapter 13: Holy Shit

After we had eaten, I started Daise on the process of getting familiar with her weapon, I explained to her that because we were teaching her to use it in anger, we would approach the entire process from the point of view. This meant that we started out by deciding what would be the easiest and most effective way for her to carry concealed. After much discussion, and some hilarity from the peanut gallery, we agreed that if she were wearing pants, then it would be best for her slipped into the small of her back without a holster. If she were wearing a skirt or dress, then an inside-thigh holster would work.

I got on the phone to a guy I knew out in Alverstone that custom made holsters, and he said that he had a couple already made up that he would bring out to the range.

Once we had been through all of that, I started working with her on how to hold, draw, and fire. It was at least an hour after we started that she actually squeezed the trigger for the first time. The earmuffs reduced the impact for her I think, but the first round she squeezed off was still a surprise, and I had to remind her rather forcefully to keep the weapon pointed down-range. After that, it soon got routine. As with most novice shooters, once she got accustomed to the noise and recoil, she was fine.

We spent about an hour on the range, shooting from the standing position at first, and then walking through the combat range, using all the obstacles and cover, but with every shot and position discussed and planned. There was no attempt at speed or accuracy, beyond my insistence that she should take the time to aim every shot, but without wasting any time.

Daise did fairly well for a novice, managing to get the hang of the basics, but by the time we had been through the course twice, she had quite obviously reached saturation point.

I decided to stop while we were ahead, and then showed her how to fieldstrip the weapon and give it a basic cleaning.

"Rupert," Daise asked once she had re-assembled her weapon, "are we going to shoot the rifle as well?"

"Yes. That is a bit of a problem here. The 80 meter range is too short, and there is a rule that limits us to using ammunition no larger that the .22 long."

"Where will we shoot it then?"

"We have an arrangement with the farmer who owns the land just over that hill," I answered as I pointed at the low hill that ran parallel to the range. "He has an unofficial range there. The police don't worry about it, as most people will think that the sounds are coming from this range. Let's get everyone into the Land Rover and we'll head there now."

We got everyone loaded up, and I drove through the gate in the fence that separated the range from the farmer's lands. As I drove up the farm road, I got a call from Brian, the holster guy, and he said that he had been delayed but would meet us there.

It was no more than two kilometres along the farm road, over the hill and through a few fields of sugar cane, before we came to the firing point. We off loaded again, and Cpl Maseka, one of the guys working for Sgt Major Dhlamini, took the Land Rover on down to where the point that we set up the targets.

I showed Daise the classic rifleman's position and talked her through the process of sight picture and trigger squeeze. Once she had dry-fired a little, I explained to her the concept of automatic alignment.

"Look at it this way Daise," I started, "when you start shooting, your body is normally tensed up. As you fire more rounds, you start to relax. One of the most important concepts in shooting accurately is that you need to have a stable platform for the rifle, and you need to do everything the same each and every time. What happens is that you start off a little tense, but as you relax, you change the way you are lying without realising it. There is a little trick that we use that we have found increases consistency incredibly."

I made sure that she was lying correctly, with her legs spread flat and her elbows planted firmly to form a nice tri-angle holding her rifle.

"OK, now aim the rifle at that tree, make sure that it is lined up correctly with the cross-hair in your scope ... All right, now close your eyes and take five deep breaths. Right, now without changing anything open your eyes and take a look. Is your target still lined up correctly with you sights?"

"No, it seems as if I am aiming off to the left."

"Correct. Now the real trick is to not move your arms or the rifle, rather move your body to change where the rifle is pointing. That's it, squirm your body around and your rifle will follow. OK. Is it lined up again?"

"Yes. It's the same as it was before."

"Try it again. Close your eyes and take five deep breaths. Now open your eyes. Has it moved?"

"No. It's stayed in the same place."

"That's it. We call that 'Automatic Alignment'. When you are shooting at a target, that drift will change where you are aiming. The difference between your first shot and your last can be quite large, depending on how tense you were to start with. After a bit of practise, you will see that you can compensate for that so that you get it right from the first shot."

"Can I try that again?"

"Ok, stand up first, pick a different target, and then lie down and aim."

I watched as Daise went through the procedure. I was waiting to see something that I needed to correct, but there was nothing. Her position was perfect; she was completely stable; she held the rifle correctly, with it pulled firmly into her shoulder; and she did the automatic alignment quickly and easily. I thought that this was going to be interesting. I had taught many novices to shoot and I could remember each and every one of the very few who had caught on this quickly. All of those had ended up shooting with some distinction in the Bisley and Service Shooting competitions.

Cpl Maseka got back at this point, reporting that as usual he had set out six standard targets, each at one hundred meter separations: from five hundred meters out to a thousand, with a sixth one at two hundred meters.

"Daise, we have a target out at two hundred meters. Let's give that a try and see how well it goes, OK?"

"Ok, I don't mind. I like the way that the rifle feels. I didn't like the pistol at all. It was too heavy for me and hurt my wrists. The rifle feels nice; I like the wood instead of metal."

"Ok, the range is clear. Lie down and I will give you the first clip for you to load."

I watched carefully as Daise set herself up. When I handed her the clip of ten rounds, she managed to load them into the magazine from the top of the rifle, and waited with the bolt back.

"Fire all ten rounds at the target in your own time. There is no rush. Just take it easy, focus, think of your breathing; sight picture; automatic alignment and don't forget to squeeze the trigger."

Sgt Major Dhlamini had his binoculars to his eyes, and was watching the target. I was more interested in watching how Daise handled the weapon than in how well she shot. She slid the bolt forward, pushing the first round into the chamber, without any trouble. I watched her trigger finger carefully, and saw her take up the slack on the two stage trigger, before she started her breathing cycle: large breath in, out, in again, then half out and her finger squeezed the trigger beautifully. She didn't flinch or wince and without pause, racked the bolt back and forward again and was lined up and breathing.

"Holy Shit!" I heard from behind me and I turned to see Sgt Major Dhlamini had a stunned expression on his face, as I lifted my binoculars to look at the target, the second round went off, and I heard the bolt cycling again. I couldn't see anything on the two hundred meter target; if I hadn't heard the Sgt Major's exclamation, I would have thought that she had missed the target completely, so I looked again. Still nothing. I shifted to the five hundred meter target just as the third round went off. 'Holy Shit' was definitely not expressive enough. There were three holes in the centre of the black bull's eye, and as I watched, a fourth one appeared. I dropped the binoculars and watched Daise again. As I did so, I started getting goose flesh; I could see that she had dropped completely 'into the zone'. She was completely focused and it looked as if this was something that she had been doing all her life. The shots were coming closer and closer together as she got faster; her elbows were completely still, not budging from where she had planted them; she was using the tiniest, most efficient movements of her forearms to cycle the bolt and she had cut down on her breathing cycle so that once the round was seated in the breech, she did only the one half breath: she was timing her breathing cycle to happen while she was cycling the bolt. These were all indicators of a great shotist with this weapon, and it normally took months or years to teach people to shoot like this, if they ever learnt. What was really amazing though is that a lot of these things she was doing instinctively: no one had taught them to her. I turned my head to the Sgt Major, reached out and tugged on his sleeve to get his attention, and put my finger on my lips to show him that he shouldn't say anything. He just nodded his head in acknowledgement and carried on watching the target.

"Was that OK?' Daise asked after she had shot her tenth round and pulled the bolt back to leave the breech open.

"Sure," I replied, not wanting to her to know that there was anything special about what she had done. "Let's try again on a target a bit further way. You OK with that?"


I gave her the next ten rounds, and told her to go ahead whenever she was ready. I hadn't really explained to her that while the rifle could shoot out to 3000 yards (2743.2m), it was only rated as effective out to 500 yards (457.2m), so according to the specifications, she had already shot a 'possible' at beyond the rated effective range. I had learnt from prior experience that when people don't know what is possible, they could often exceed your expectations.

Daise set up within a couple of minutes, loading the clip into the magazine and settling down into her firing position. She squeezed off the first shot within about three minutes of me throwing her the clip. This time I was watching the target at six hundred meters when she squeezed off the shot, and I was disappointed for a second when I saw that nothing had hit the target. A sharp gasping inhalation from the Sgt Major made me realise that I had under-estimated her again, so I shifted the binocs on to the next targets one by one until I reached the target out at a thousand meters. Now it was my turn ... three rounds so far, all on the target would have been impressive enough, but they were all dead centre and the grouping so far was within three centimetres of each other. I kept an eye of the target for all ten shots this time, and all ten of them were within that same grouping. I was stunned; this was world-class shooting. I knew that there the conditions were perfect, with no wind and the light coming from directly behind the firing point, but still, without any corrections to the sights, measuring of the wind, gauging of distance or any of the other things that a marksman will normally take into consideration, she was hitting exactly what she shot at out at a distance of a kilometre.

"How did I do, was that OK?" Daise asked when she was finished.

"How did it feel?" I asked her in return.

"Like I was reaching out to touch the target," she replied. "I could feel each round hitting where I aimed it, except for the first one. That one was funny, after that it was OK."

I lifted the binoculars to my eyes again and took another look at the target. Now I realised what had happened, she had shot her first round a little low, then she had compensated for the longer range by lifting her aiming point. If I discounted the first round, then her grouping was half what I thought it had been. 'Dammit, ' I thought to myself, 'she corrected instinctively.'

"You did very well Daise. The reason your first round was strange to you was because you were shooting at a much longer range, so you need to aim slightly higher to allow the bullet to drop down to hit where you want it. You sorted that out though, and all the rest of your shots were perfectly on target. Well done, that was great shooting."

I heard an approaching vehicle, so I told Daise to pick up her rifle, and she owned it now beyond a doubt, while we found out who it was. It turned out to be Brian arriving at last in his Toyota Landcruiser. He pulled up in a cloud of dust and hauled his bulk out of the driver's seat.

"Howzit man, you still dragging your carcass around in the pile of crap?' I greeted him.

"Well, this pile of crap is what you will need to pull your hunk of junk out of the mud if you ever dare to drive it off-road," was his typical rejoinder.

I introduced Daise to Brian, and explained to her that Brian was just jealous because he couldn't afford to buy a Land Rover. She got the joke and, I think, understood the affection that was disguised by the abusive banter.

"Brian, before we look at what you've brought, there is something that I need to show Daise. Could I ask you to shoot a clip at the 1000 meter target?"

"Sure, with the Emily?"

"Yes. Let's just wait till Cpl Maseka gets back from replacing the target, then you can put ten on it for me, OK?"


I explained to Daise that Brian was a very good shot, and had won the national lee-Enfield competition for the last three years in a row.

We didn't wait for more than a few minutes before the range was clear, with Cpl Maseka parking the Land Rover next to Brian's Toyota. I motioned at Daise's rifle and Brian took it from her and was soon in the prone position. I handed him a clip and in short order he had loaded and then fired all ten rounds. We waited without speaking for Cpl Maseka to fetch the target.

Once I had both targets in my hands, I handed them to Brian. "What do you think of this?" I asked him.

"Holy Shit!"

"I see you and the Sgt Major have been comparing notes?"

"What?" Brian asked as he looked up from the targets. I waved it away as unimportant. "Who shot this, her?"


"Where did you learn to shoot Daise?" Brian asked her.

"Right here. Rupert showed me how just now."

"And how many rounds did you shoot?"

"Ten into that closer target," she said as she pointed at the five hundred meter target, "and then ten into that target."

Brian looked at me and just raised his eyebrows. "Can I have her for my team for the next shoot?" he asked.

I laughed, and decided to explain to Daise. "You have just been paid a compliment of the highest order; Brian is trying to tell you in his own way that you are a better shot than he is."

Daise blushed. "I just did as you told me, it was nothing special."

"Ok," I said," then maybe we need to extend you a little. You want to shoot some more?"

"Sure," said Daise and listened while I told Cpl Maseka to place targets out at five hundred meter intervals out to three thousand meters. While he did that, Brian and I explained to Daise the technique for adjusting your aim for distance.

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