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The Long Game is a new series designed to improve your long-range-shooting skills. This story is the eighth installment.

Up to this point in The Long Game, we’ve mostly focused on gear. Now we’re transitioning to the vital skill of shooting from the prone position. One of the most important axioms of rifle shooting is that the closer you get to the ground, the more accurate you will be. While shooting from a seated bench rest might be the most comfortable, it is not the steadiest. Front and rear sandbags on a shooting bench do a great job at holding the rifle, but, when seated, you’re in a poor position to steady your body. In the prone position, you can fully relax your body, so you can fully concentrate on sight alignment, breathing, and the trigger press.

Prone Position Body Alignment

To get in the proper prone position, lie behind your rifle so your body is in line with the muzzle. You do not want to be positioned slightly to one side or with your leg bent; you’re not trying to look like one of those little plastic army men you played with as a child. Your body should be straight behind the rifle.

This position does several things. It keeps you from unconsciously imparting strain into your position and the rifle, and it is the best position to reduce, standardize, and manage recoil. Next, slide forward so that the butt of the rifle is tucked into the hollow between your shoulder and collar bone. You should then push into the rifle—not with your shoulder but with your entire body—until you have put enough pressure on the rifle so it can remain supported on the bipod and your shoulder alone. This is called loading the bipod. It tames recoil and creates a solid launch platform. Now, spread your legs so your feet are slightly more than shoulder width apart. You also want to point your toes outward. Do not dig your toes into the ground, as that will also impart movement and stress into your position.

Next, place your shooting hand on the grip of the rifle, but do not wrap your thumb around the rifle’s grip. Due to sympathetic response, humans have a tendency to squeeze with their entire hand when they’re moving only one finger. Your support hand should be grasping the small shooting bag you’ve positioned under the rifle’s butt stock. This allows you to make very slight elevation corrections by squeezing the bag.

Natural Point of Aim

Now, while down in the prone position, look through the rifle scope, align the reticle with the target, and close your eyes. Take a breath and open your eyes. Ideally your reticle should still be positioned on the target. If it is not, your shooting position is stressed, and you have not established a natural point of aim. You do not correct this by trying to muscle the rifle into position. Get up, start all over, and reestablish your prone position by making the necessary corrections based on where your reticle was when you opened your eyes. Your natural point of aim also applies to elevation. The difference is in how you make the correction from the prone position. You do this by adjusting the height of the bipod.

While in the prone position, take the time to perfect the stock’s length of pull so you’re comfortable and can reach the trigger and press it without any stress. Also, adjust the height of the comb so you can comfortably rest your head and obtain a good cheek weld that will allow you to look through the riflescope and see the full reticle without any black shading around the edges. These stock adjustments are generally a one-time thing. However, terrain and the angle to the target may require both to be fine-tuned. Make notes in your logbook about these adjustments as they pertain to certain conditions.

Proper Recoil from the Prone Position

When done correctly, the rifle will recoil straight back and return to the pre-shot position. This gets you back on target faster, and allows you to observe the bullet’s impact, and to execute a follow up shot before the conditions—in particular, the wind—change.

Now that you know how to shoot your rifle, you need to correctly zero it. Any guesses as to what we’ll cover in Part 9?

Previous Installments in The Long Game