Marksmanship on Paper

     I’ve always loved recreational shooting. I spent a good bit of my meager earnings on .22 ammo during middle and high school and destroyed copious quantities of soda cans, empty 12 gauge shells, rotten produce and the occasional paper target. In hind site I wish I had spent more time punching holes in paper than splattering rotten apples all over the back yard.
     Targets that produce a visible, dynamic result when hit provide instant feedback that seems to fill an instinctive need. When the bullet finds it’s mark the target moves, disintegrates, explodes, splatters or otherwise ceases to exist as it previously did, provided a sense of achieving an objective. But such targets are lacking in worthwhile data. They simply provide all or nothing feedback; you either hit the target or didn’t. If your marksmanship is ten for ten than this is fine, but most of us miss from time to time and some of us, at least under certain conditions, miss a whole lot more. Wouldn’t it be great to know just what was going on with those misses? If you’re only off by 1/8th of an inch that means something. If you are off by four inches that means something totally different. The only way to figure out what the story is is with plain ol’ paper targets.
      Paper targets have lots of advantages. They are easy to transport to the range, are cheap, provide reference points, don’t make a mess and best of all they can be kept for future reference. If you aren’t keeping at least some of your paper, you should be. After a shooting session sit down with your targets and make some notes. I like to jot down gun, cartridge and load and distance at the very least. It is also helpful to note the date, temperature info (single words like “hot” and “cold” are fine) and perhaps most critical, wind conditions relative to the target. A strong wind blowing perpendicular to your bullet’s path can have a profound effect on trajectory, even at 100 yards. After making some notes it’s time to gather empirical data: measurements. You can get as extreme as you like with measuring group size and if you want to be particularly precise you’ll need calipers and good quality targets designed to punch a clean edge. But for most of us any paper will suffice and a plain ruler in 1/16th gradations is plenty. Group size is probably the single most important aspect of shooting rifles and pistols and keeping measurements on hand for different loads can be invaluable for referencing performance.
     Keeping paper targets filed away is easy, particularly if you use standard 8 1/2 by 11 inch paper. They easily fit in a file folder and can be stored on a book shelf, in a file cabinet or gun safe. There are plenty of such targets available in gun shops but you can easily make your own with a pad of graph paper. You can buy a pad of 50 or 100 sheets for a fraction of the cost of a comparable number of pre-printed targets. I like paper with 1/4 inch squares best. It makes it easy to draw one inch squares for different shooting situations. A square in the middle with four additional squares oriented at the corners makes an excellent sighting-in and long-range target. A magic marker works well for filling is squares but can sometimes bleed through the paper, causing it to wrinkle or tear easily. I prefer a dark pencil instead. A simple No.2 works fine for most situations but sometimes a darker lead is better. Softer is also better because it allows you to shade in a sight-spot faster. For these specialized pencils you’ll probably have to visit an art supply store or order online, but a well-stocked hardware store should have charcoal pencils of a usable quality.
     Paper may not have the panache of other targets but is a valuable learning tool. The recordable, quantifiable feedback yielded by a paper target allows the shooter to asses performance and make changes when necessary. Knowing what your bullets are doing will make you a more confident marksman which goes a long way toward putting meat in the freezer. You won’t get that kind of confidence from missing five out of ten soda cans.

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