Most shooters are gearheads. That’s all good. Me too. We all like all the tech. The ultimate goal of all the cool tech, after all, is that it (in some way) makes it easier to hit the target—and hit it faster and closer to its center.
Elevating shooting skill is a huge factor in anyone’s enjoyment and effectiveness. Also important: it’s a huge factor in how well we can evaluate the effectiveness of all the tech.
In these pages, we’ve talked about what I call the “true fundamentals” of shooting—put the sight on the target and pull the trigger without moving the sight.
We’ve also talked about some of the techniques and the mechanics, like natural point of aim and the trigger pull itself, that combine to assist this goal.
Another crucial and largely overlooked or unknown element is controlling breathing. Right. That thing we do to stay awake and alive.
Breathing is a calculated and rehearsed technique among serious competitive shooters, and that is because the state of the body in the framework of making a shot is a defining element in the effectiveness of the shooting platform. That platform is you!
I’ll break it down, and then offer a few suggestions on how to incorporate a better understanding of the dynamics of maintaining human oxygen supply.
Living To Breathe
When we are doing nothing in particular but living, we’re not taking the deepest breaths we can when we inhale, and we’re not expelling all the air we had when we exhale. We’re also not breathing in and out, in and out, in and out in constant successions.
We breathe into a comfortable level. Hold that a bit. We breathe out to a comfortable level. And then we hold that state for a bit. Then we very naturally breathe in again. These cycles are on a balanced rhythm and a relatively shallow sequence.
It’s different than when we’re doing something strenuous, like running or cycling or lifting weights.
So. To fire a gun from our most stable state, make the trigger break during what shooting coaches call “the natural respiratory pause.” That’s the state of transition between exhaling and inhaling.
From a “human-machine” standpoint, that’s when the body is most calm and stable.
It’s also a narrow window. That window of opportunity varies widely depending on a lot of factors, but some experience dry-firing will show you where you stand.
Breathing To Live
When the body needs more oxygen, there are a few unmistakable symptomatic results that get in the way of a steady hold. There may be more eloquent ways to say it, but we get “the shakes.” The wobbles, the heaves and hos. It’s an unmistakable sensation.
Visual acuity also diminishes. Plus, since we’re trying to finish something important (hit the target), anxiety increases and often takes over when we’re not getting cooperation between target and sight locations.
Essentially, there’s an urge to whack at the trigger and “get it over with.”
Do not “take a deep breath and hold it.” That supplies oxygen, to be sure. But it also creates tension in the body. Trying to keep that breath held has as bad an effect on stability—as does trying to not breathe back in.
Breathing during a shot continually changes the location of the sight. Try it and you’ll see. Filling the lungs, emptying the lungs, both change the posture, the body position (and gun position along with it).
From prone with a rifle, it’s easy to see the effect on the vertical location of the sight. This, by the way, is a root of the “consistency” element of breathing. It’s very important to the goal to fire shot after shot after shot onto the same point.
Firing shots in succession, keep breathing, just time the shots with the natural pause.
For a rapid-fire event string in an NRA high-power rifle, which isn’t all that rapid (either 60 or 70 seconds to fire 10 rounds), I take a breath between each shot.
It is also important to maintain a proper shooting stance and to not get distracted by firing faster than your skill level allows.
Then, I settle down to my holding point, again reaching the natural respiratory pause at the same consistent holding level as for the previous shot. Now, really rapid shots succession, like “bam-bam-bam.”
It’s possible to fire quite a few well-directed rounds off of one breathing pause. If that’s not enough, experiment with learning to take very shallow breaths in and out during the duration of the string.
I’ve used that “trick” on very windy days when my standing position hold was a challenge to avoid frequent restarts. It can work to launch another attempt to get a breakable sight picture, before muscle fatigue sets in.
More Breathing Tips
Speaking of, there’s no question that the better physical condition someone is in, the better able they’ll be to hold on to a steady hold for a longer time. Pulse also factors mightily. A beating heart moves the rifle.
This is really evident in shooting a rifle prone from a sling-supported position. The pulse quickens and becomes more intense when oxygen levels drop. Again, a regular breathing pattern with no overt highs and lows combats increases in the heart rate.
Taking in huge amounts of air prior to mounting up a rifle or pistol can backfire. That often causes a “spike” in body movement about 15 seconds afterward.
The main point here is do not “over-hold” your breath. When you’re out of air, you’re out of time. Give it up! Break it down, start it again. And keep breathing!
Do you have any breathing tips you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments below.