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GUNS Magazine April 2012 Digital Edition - Page 26
STORY: Massad Ayoob A reader writes to ask about breath control related to handgun shooting. Editor Jeff John assigns me to write it. (Yes, readers can ask. Feel free!) In conventional marksmanship, breath control is a cornerstone fundamental. In combat handgun shooting, not so much. Is that as it should be? thouGhts oN BreAth CoNtroL supposedly worked on techniques to allow their shooters to press their triggers in between heartbeats, since a high magnification scope on rifle or pistol will allow the shooter to see his reticle move very slightly with each beat of the heart. That level of control is beyond most of us. slow Fire, rapid Fire In bull’s-eye, I generally saw no more than one shot per breath in slow fire. Timed fire strings of five shots in 20 seconds would find some shooters holding their breath all the way through, and some taking a quick inhalation after the second or third shot. In rapid-fire strings of five shots in 10 seconds, most shooters would squeeze off all five on one sustained breath. When I shot PPC, the 50-yard stage consisted of four strings of fire (including a draw and three reloads) in 2 minutes, 45 seconds. Some careful shooters took a breath on every shot. I did OK with a breath every three shots or so. In the longer-range handgun disciplines—200-meter rams in the International Handgun Metallic Silhouette Association, or smaller steel critters at 100 paces in NRA Hunter Pistol—you can be sure the winners aren’t taking more than one shot per breath. At 100 paces, NRA Hunter Pistol Champ Terri Strayer (above) applies breath control as she aims her Contender .22. Mas’ mouth (above) is slightly open as he draws a Bob Lloyd-tuned S&W 686 en route to victory at an ICORE match. Key here: “Remember to breathe!” Breath control is critical in bull’s-eye shooting, seen here (below) at Camp Perry. The answer is, the importance of breath control varies with the need for precision, and with the balance between precision and speed. As a young puppy of a shooter decades ago, I was told emphatically that breath control was one of the cornerstones of good shooting. When we breathe, our chests expand or contract. When the chest moves, we have to remember that “the chest bone is connected to the shoulder bone, and the shoulder bone is connected to the arm bone,” as it were. Thus, the act of breathing moves the extended gun arm. You see it particularly in 1-handed shooting, such as standard American bull’s-eye and the Olympic pistol disciplines. We were taught to take a deep breath, let out a third to a half of it, and hold the rest as we focused on sight picture and trigger press. Five to 10 seconds was considered the sweet spot before the body was going to want more oxygen. I’ve been told on good authority that holding the breath too long can interfere with visual acuity. Some of the Olympic coaches Closer And Faster It has been said that in “combat shooting,” the definition of breath control is—“Gasp!” That may be a slight overstatement, at least in the sort of combat shooting where no one is shooting back, but it’s true that breath control is “different” there. USPSA or IDPA shooting is going to have some explosive physical exertion as you sprint between cover points. The key thinking here is starkly simple: remember to breathe! We humans have an errant instinct to hold our breath at what is often the worst possible time. I’ve seen many an amateur suck in a deep breath just before the start signal, lock it in… and forget to exhale. Martial arts instructors see the same in sparring. Sometimes, you can actually hear them make a “Hup!” sound as they go into vapor lock. 26 W W W. G U N S M A G A Z I N E . C O M • A P R I L 2 0 1 2