Fine Points of the Seated Position

Many of us shoot 3-position events, whether in Appleseed or in CMP Rimfire Sporter. Here are some insights that will help you refine your sitting position. I think these will both make you more comfortable and raise your scores. If have haven’t read it already, do look through the Prone article (here), as some of the points below are based on the same principles.

Body angle to line of sight: You want to put your body at an angle such that when the rifle butt is in your shoulder pocket the stock is right next to your neck, under your cheek, so you can drop your head naturally onto the comb with good sight alignment. This is usually a bit more than the angle used in prone. If you have to lean your head sideways to reach the stock, you don’t have enough angle and your shoulder pocket is too far from your neck, as seen from the target. Also, if your support elbow is not under the rifle, you probably have too little angle.

Lean from the hips, not the waist: This is the single biggest-impact, most important point in this article. It is also the one that most beginning Appleseed shooters get wrong.  When you lean at the waist, your entire upper body is too high off the ground; the spine doesn’t have as much range of motion as the hips; and you are crushing your diaphragm against your abdominal organs.

All kinds of bad things happen when you curl your back, leaning at the waist to try and put your elbows on your knees: you can’t reach the knee with your trigger elbow; your neck is craned back to make the head upright enough to see through your sights; you may even be looking through the top of your glasses rather than the center; your breathing is constricted; your center of gravity is too far back so you feel unbalanced and can’t relax (in fact, you are unbalanced). Also, the recoil of a centerfire rifle will push you out of position, which could even be dangerous if you lose control of the muzzle.

All kinds of good things happen when you lean from the hips: the shoulders are lower because the lean is hinged from the hips so the entire spine is lower; your neck and head are in natural position because the entire spine is angled, not just the top half; breathing is easy because the diaphragm is not squeezed; your center of gravity is closer to your knees so that gravity makes you stable. Recoil doesn’t topple you; it pushes you into the ground like a tent peg.

To illustrate this, hold your forearm and hand straight up. Your wrist acts as the hips, and your first knuckles are the waist. Keeping your hand vertical, curl your fingers toward the palm. See how the fingertips are almost horizontal, but they are still much higher than your wrist? Now straighten your fingers and keeping your hand straight, bend at the wrist. Notice how little angle is required to lower your fingertips to the same point relative to your wrist.

How do you make sure to lean from the hips? Simple: when you first sit down, put your trigger hand on the ground and stick your butt out. Your upper body will naturally lean from the hips. Try to keep your back straight as you bend; then very little waist bend will be needed to plant your elbows solidly on the fronts of your knees. Your back will be slightly rounded, but you won’t look like Quasimodo. Depending on your build, it may also help to loosen your belt a notch (or two).

Knee height and leg support: You can’t hold your knees up using the adductor muscles. Even before you feel the strain your legs will tremble. The legs have to rest naturally. What if you are very flexible and your knees just flop to the ground? Answer: Use your boots as support for your legs, resting your outer shins on them. To get the right knee height, adjust how close your boots are to your ankles. The boots act as fulcrums for the levers of your shins. The constant is that your feet are on the ground. If your feet are too far apart, the fulcrum is close to your knee and you can’t get much height. If the boot is closer to your ankle, the leg angle is higher and so are the knees.

If you are using the open-leg position, be sure to extend your feet, ideally with the soles of your boots flat on the ground. Trying to hold your toes up with the shin muscles will set everything to trembling.

“Natural point of magazine”: Where to put your magazines?  We see shooters lose time fumbling for their mags in stages 2 and 3 of the AQT. During prep, drop your trigger hand naturally to the ground. Wherever it lands is where you want to put the mags. This is the “natural point of magazine” (term coined by Viriginia Appleseed Instructor Misawa). Orient the mags so that your hand grasps them just the way you want to hold them when you drop it. Figure out what works best for you, then do it consistently every time you shoot. The less minutia you have to think about, the easier it is to maintain your Rifleman’s Bubble and focus only on the target and front sight.

Relax: Just as in prone, if your position is right, you can relax your body and gravity will help you stay in position. If the position is uncomfortable, there is probably something wrong.

Be in shape: It’s a harsh fact, but the more there is of you between your spine and your navel, the harder it will be to assume a good sitting position. Sitting also requires good joint flexibility and stretched lower back, hip adductor muscles and hamstrings. If you really want to be good at this position, you will need to practice it regularly and exercise the muscles on which it relies. The crossed-ankle and open-leg positions can accommodate physical limitations, but they are less stable and therefore less accurate than the classic sitting position.

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Ruger 10/22 v. Marlin 795

The Marlin 795 (together with its tube-fed cousin, the Model 60) is probably the second most common rifle seen on Appleseed lines, and is the 10/22’s biggest competitor in the market. The two rifles are very similar in purpose: Inexpensive, light, reasonably accurate semi-auto rifles. But Ruger and Marlin definitely take different paths to end up with similar performance. I recently acquired an older Marlin and have had a chance to compare it with our 10/22s.

Here’s a look at some of the differences (in OEM configuration, without modifications):

Marlin Ruger
Barrel fitment Cross-pinned Screwed-in retainer block
Last Shot Bolt Hold-Open Yes No
Auto bolt release Yes No
Scope mount 3/8” groove on receiver Screw-on rail
Magazine 10-round stick 10-round rotary
Magazine disconnect Yes No
Extractor Double Single
Length of pull 13.875” 13.5”

You don’t get a big variety of models with the Marlin: Just the basic rifle, in either black finish or stainless steel. If you want something special, whether it’s a compact size, target bull or heavy taper barrel, wood stock or different colors, you will be looking at 10/22s.

There are some very good action upgrades for the Marlin, specifically triggers and spring kits, which can make it more pleasant to shoot. But nothing close to the cornucopia of high-quality aftermarket goodies available for the 10/22.

Shooting Impressions

In terms of reliability and accuracy, the two rifles are very close. The Marlin might even be a fraction more accurate at 50 yards. The Marlin’s trigger has a very long take-up, probably because the trigger itself is attached to the trigger guard, which is separate from the action. But at least on this Marlin, the pull weight is about the same as on a 10/22 at around 7 lbs. The bolt release lever works with a simple push, which is much more convenient than Ruger’s locking release mechanism. The dual extractors remove unfired rounds effectively even if the chamber is dirty. Because of the magazine disconnect, you can not dry-fire the Marlin unless a magazine is in place – so you’d better be 100% certain that the mag is empty.

Cleaning and Maintenance

Here’s where the different action designs between the Marlin and the Ruger become important. Simply, the Marlin gets dirtier than the Ruger and it’s a PITA to clean.

One key reason is that in the Ruger, the magazine well is separate from and forward of the trigger group. When the bolt cycles back, the trigger group remains covered by the bolt and stays clean. The Marlin’s mag well is part of the action assembly and there is a large gap behind it. Soot and unburned powder are blown deep into the action, which gets very dirty and gritty quickly.

795 receiver bolt spring handle

The photo above shows (bottom to top) the Marlin 795 receiver, guide rod and spring, bolt, and bolt handle. Note that the lug for the guide rod is in the middle of the receiver – this prevents drilling a cleaning hole in the back of the receiver as many 10/22 owners have done.

Field-stripping for basic cleaning is similar between the two: loosen the action screws to remove the stock (first removing the trigger guard on the Marlin), remove the trigger assembly, then pull the bolt back and remove it. The bolt guide rod in the Marlin sits in a hole in the center of the bolt, rather than alongside as in the Ruger.  Because of this, the rod and spring are separate rather than captured in a subassembly. The spring is much longer than the rod, and you must be careful not to kink that spring when reinstalling the bolt or you’ll buy a new one.

795 trigger group top795 trigger group right side795 trigger group bottom

Photos above, top to bottom: Marlin 795 action group viewed from top, left side, and bottom.

1022 Trigger parts795 Trigger parts

The photos above show the fully disassembled trigger groups of the Ruger (top) and Marlin.

The Ruger’s trigger group design, from an engineering perspective, is efficient and elegant. The injection-molded trigger housing (cast aluminum on pre-2008 models) contains all the parts which are held in place by four pins. The trigger/disconnector/sear are in a nice subassembly, as is the hammer strut/spring. The Marlin looks like a Rube Goldberg machine, all stamped metal parts (except the hammer), pins and springs. The trigger and safety are attached to the trigger guard. The action group is an assembly of separate parts attached to cross-pins, all held together by two stamped plates fastened by several e-clips. The Ruger uses simple coil springs which are protected or captured. The Marlin’s sear spring and disconnector spring have odd shapes and won’t work right if you get them kinked while removing them.  The hammer spring is not captured in a subassembly. You need to make a special tool (using a paper clip) to keep it compressed during reassembly of the action. With practice, you can put it all together in about ten minutes. But it’s still a PITA to do.

Because disassembling the Marlin action is so much fun, most owners advise not taking it apart for cleaning, but to spray it down with solvent or brake cleaner, maybe hit it with a toothbrush, and blow it out with compressed air. I tried that method and it does a poor job of cleaning. The sticky soot and powder need to be scrubbed and wiped off each surface. The gunk that collects in corners and between the metal parts is what hurts functioning, and it won’t come out with mere spraying and superficial brushing. I suppose an ultrasonic cleaner would work great – how many of us have one lying around?

The Marlin’s polymer bolt buffer is part of the action assembly. Over a few years, it will dry out, become brittle, and break, dropping pieces into the action which then malfunctions. (I have personally had to replace two of these on friends’ rifles.) A replacement buffer costs around $20. For the 10/22, you can get a Kidd or a urethane buffer from a number of suppliers that lasts forever, for about $6.

The bottom line: While the Marlin is a good-shooting rifle, from a total ownership satisfaction perspective I MUCH prefer the 10/22.

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Review: Gunsmither Bolt Bar

Last week I purchased a “Bolt Bar” from Gunsmither Tools. I’ve tried it out and have some comments. Bottom line: I recommend using this tool for bolt removal/installation for anyone who has challenges with finger strength or dexterity; and I recommend its extractor tool for everyone.

(Disclosure: I bought the tool from the Tandemkross website and have not communicated with them or Gunsmithertools in the writing of this review.)

Bolt Bar closeup

Holding bolt handle back

Holding extractor plunger back

Hooked on rear of bolt

The Bolt Bar is one of those tools whose concept and design transcend the simplicity of its material and manufacturing. When you get it, you might say, “Well that’s obvious.” But we didn’t come up with the idea, Joe Beary of Gunsmither did. The Bolt Bar is a 7-inch long strip of aluminum with two bends, and two roll pins sticking out from one side. It does two jobs:

  • Make it easy to push the bolt handle back, and to hold the bolt handle in place while removing or installing the bolt.
  • Make it easy to pull back the extractor plunger and hold it in place for removal and installation of the extractor.

The Bolt Bar has a few quirks but once you learn it, it works very well. For myself, I prefer my own method of using my fingers to remove the bolt, because I can better feel what is happening with the parts and it goes faster. The video below compares using the Bolt Bar to my “standard” method of using two hands and careful finger placement to do the job:

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An Easy Way to Learn the Bolt Release

Many, in fact most, 10/22 owners do not modify their bolt locks for “auto release” function. I have worked with many shooters, not only beginners but also long-time owners, who struggle with locking and closing the bolts on their 10/22s.This was the subject of one of our first posts, and this post shows the inner workings of the bolt lock/release: How the 10/22 Bolt Lock/Release Works
Here is an easy way to learn how to operate the bolt release, and for instructors to teach it:

Think of operating the bolt lock as four separate steps:

Back: pull the bolt back and hold it there.

Up: press the bolt lock lever up.

Release: release the bolt to go forward in a controlled manner.

Down: release the bolt lock lever.

Now make easy-to-remember acronyms from these four steps.

To lock the bolt open, B-U-R-D (pronounced “bird”):

Back (hold it there)
Up (and hold the lever up)
Release (you will feel the bolt catch on the bolt lock)
Down

To close the bolt, B-U-D-R (pronounced “butter”):

Back
Up
Down
Release

When you break the task down into these four separate steps, it become easy to learn, and foolproof.

I hope this is helpful.

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Decibullz Ear Plugs

For years I wore Howard Leight electronic earmuffs for shooting. I like the hearing enhancement for normal sounds, and they muffle gun shots fairly well (but not a Barrett .50 BMG from the side), but after a few hours they start to hurt, especially where they press the temples of my shooting glasses into my skull bones.

For the last couple of months I’ve been using a great alternative – Decibullz custom-molded plastic ear plugs (www.decibullz.com).

Decibullz 1

 

The molded piece is made of a thermoset plastic that softens in hot water. Following the directions, I made a pair of plugs in about 20 minutes that fit perfectly. One thing I really liked is that if you don’t like the fit, you can soften them in hot water and remold, just as when they were new. They are rated up to 31 dB noise reduction, but of course that depends on how well you fit them in the molding process. Mine work at least as well as the muffs and are a whole lot more comfortable. They even fit comfortably inside my motorcycle helmet.

I gladly recommend these plugs. (Note, I bought them on Amazon and have had no communication with the maker.) They come in a variety of colors.

A couple of years ago I tried some Radians DIY molded plugs, which are made of some kind of resin that cures on your ear. They never hardened and it took about three hours to clean the sticky gook out of my ears.

One thing to be careful about: since they soften at relatively low temperature, I would not leave them in a hot car for any length of time. Last week I left my first pair of Decibullz in a pants pocket and they went through the laundry. In the dryer they melted onto some other clothes and were ruined.  The ones in the photo are my second pair, which I made today. They fit perfectly and safely inside the case for my shooting glasses.

Decibullz 2

 

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Volquartsen Target Trigger

I’ve never liked the  OEM plastic trigger blade on my 10/22. It feels like it’s bending when I press it; the curved, ribbed face makes it way too easy to pull to the side rather than straight back; and the over-travel is terrible leading to a long, weak reset.

Last Friday at the Nation’s Gun Show in Chantilly, Virginia I met Alan Hinchcliffe, the owner of Rimfire Sports & Custom, and bought a Volquartsen trigger. Rimfire Sports (rimfiresports.com) is a great on-line store for all sorts of upgrade parts for 10/22s and Ruger Mk II/III and 22/45 pistols. Their prices are nearly always the lowest I’ve found, especially when you include their free shipping. I’ve bought a number of items there online, most recently a trigger and sear kit for a Ruger 22/45 (which I’ll be reviewing in another post soon).

Here’s a video I made showing the trigger compared to the OEM, as well as the complete installation process:

The new trigger does everything I wanted from it:

  • the machined aluminum trigger is light and stiff. It feels like a direct connection to the sear. It’s like the difference between a 1970’s slushbox automatic transmission and a short-throw 5-speed manual.
  • The straight blade and flat, smooth face contribute to a direct, straight-back motion. The straight blade allows placing the finger lower on the trigger. The leverage effect makes the pull feel lighter.
  • The adjustable over-travel stop screw is just great. Now the trigger moves hardly more than 1/16″ from let-off to stop. Reset is smooth and feels more positive. The improved movement is shown in the video.

Bottom line: If you are upgrading your trigger group with drop-in parts, this is a good one to use. I also looked at the Tactical Innovations trigger, but the long, beveled edges of the trigger face have the same effect as the  curved OEM trigger, and it does not include the over-travel stop screw.

Note: This upgrade makes my home-made trigger stop article from last year obsolete. For about $25, this is a much better solution in every way.

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It’s Appleseed Season!

We are now in the full swing of Project Appleseed markmanship/history events all over the USA. Every weekend from now through November, there will be dozens of shoots in different states. I’ve been an Appleseed instructor for about four years now, doing 12-15  events per year in Virginia and neighboring states. I heard a comment yesterday from a CMP small-arms firing school instructor to the effect that Appleseed teaches shooting even better than they do.

Teaching Appleseeds is my second-favorite shooting pastime, perhaps even more fun than doing my own shooting. It is so gratifying to see a student, whether a beginner or a Marine, growing in confidence and skill and the look of pure joy when he or she gains total command over the rifle and shoots accurately. Learning rifle marksmanship gives us a personal connection to the experience of those farmers, craftsmen, merchants and ministers who risked everything for their – and our – freedom.

The 10/22 is the most popular rifle among Appleseeders. It allows you to concentrate on your skills without the distractions of noise and recoil. The 10-round magazine works best, but BX-25s can be used successfully. Any sighting system is welcome and can qualify for the Rifleman patch. (I do think that a scope makes it much easier than with iron sights but the older my eyes get the more I like scopes.) If you have physical limitations, worry not. Appleseed is adaptive and we’ll make the experience fit your abilities.

Bring as many friends and family as you can. The more people who learn the story of April 19, 1775, the better our chance of saving the country.

Project Appleseed is a nationwide 501c3 organization which seeks to restore the ethic of active citizenship among all Americans, in order to preserve the constitutional republic our Founders bequeathed to us. It is a non-partisan, educational program.  Every Appleseed instructor is an unpaid volunteer. Appleseed conducts weekend events which combine instruction in rifle marksmanship and firearm safety with inspiring stories of our country’s founding. The goal of the program is to give students the skills, motivation, and confidence to participate actively in public affairs at all levels – to act as citizens, not subjects, as the Founders intended. Full information on Project Appleseed can be found at http://appleseedusa.org

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