OK, lets say you head to the range and after a couple of mags down the pipe your target looks like this....
Trouble is, you're not using your shotgun and you want to make it look like this...
What to do?
Well, chances are that you have either a HARDWARE or SOFTWARE problem, or a combination of both. What, did I turn this into a tech related blog? No. But if you look around the 'net, you will find that the terms hardware and software are often used in the shooting sports arena to describe two types of issues.
Hardware is the actual firearms and related accessories we use while we are shooting.
Folks, meet the "Geardo" courtesy of Bob On The Fob (SSG A.J. Merrifield, creator and one hell of a cartoon artist). This is pretty much the military equivalent of the "Mall Ninja"....every issue is related or solved by a piece of hardware. I have known several in my time and may have actually been one myself on occasion.
By using a logical progression of deduction trying to recreate the error with the same equipment, under the same conditions with a different user may confirm that a problem with the hardware does indeed exist (same methodology I use to help diagnosis technology issues at work). If so, a qualified gunsmith should be sought out to remedy the issue. However, most issues with bad shooting fall into another category...
Software are those things related to shooting that reside in the cranial space between our auditory sensors....that is stuff we keep in our memory related to shooting and the means in which we acquire these bits of shooting information to use later. The brain is over rated you say? Well let me remind you of this warrior you may know....the samurai.
Far from being just a swordsman, most Samurai were also well versed in philosophy and poetry and could read and write in times where illiteracy were quite common. This was done to help build a "complete warrior" who was guided by intellect as well as skill. His sword (katana...his hardware) was only as good as the mind that wielded control over the body that held it.
In my world (and it is a lovely place in the Fall I must say) this category is broken down into two areas:
In order to learn you got to be taught. Sometimes this training is done in a formal setting such as the military, LEO academy or private firearms instruction. Sometimes its informal done via written or audio/visual means. There is a lot of good training resources on the 'net for firearms (and a lot of bad ones as well!). Want a good, relatively cheap training event you can find locally across the US? Try an Appleseed event (www.appleseedinfo.org) to get a good solid foundation of rifle marksmanship - and as a bonus you will qualify to purchase a surplus M1 rifle from the CMP (see link on the right column) too! As long as the information is relayed effectively to the student the conduit is unimportant. What is important is that the student actively takes in what he is being taught and that the instructor looks for feedback that the student is understanding the material and can be validated by some type of performance standard based test. This is true even with self taught informal training out of a book, it does no good to read and understand what you are looking at in print if you can't take that and turn it into an actual usable skill. This brings us to my second part of Software....
A lot of us have spent time in the military. If you are like me you remember countless hours sitting on an empty rifle range on in a field dry firing your weapon going over the entire BRAS (breath-relax-aim-squeeze) cycle with a drill sergeant or other instructor...ad nausea! I often wondered why they needed to beat that into us so many times as a younger man. As I got older I realized it was to make sure that we had a solid foundation in rifle marksmanship to build other skills and tasks onto. A lot of folks talk about building "muscle memory" on the firing line where they automatically do things without thinking because they have repeated them so many times. Well, "muscle memory" is a misnomer as muscles don't actually have memory, matter of fact, like other tissue groups muscles break down and are replaced over time so any "memory" a muscle would learn would have to be relearned by new tissues over time. It the neurotransmitters and paths that become accustomed to sending signals to those particular muscle groups that gain memory. Its the brain being trained, not the muscle. Practice time is seldom wasted as long as it has some type of purpose and outcome. Instead of heading to the range to put a box of ammo into a target as fast as possible to be the "Billy-Badass-Of-the-Moment", take time to slow down and practice the basics of pistol or rifle marksmanship. Work on getting comfortable shooting for accuracy and then add speed, not the other way around. And practice does not only happen on a range, take the time to dry fire your weapon at home (after ensuring its clear of course and no ammo is in it or any magazines being used) to practice keeping your front sight steady, changing mags or drawing from concealment. I spend a least a couple of hours a month on the last bit there in my basement...er, man cave.
So where did all of this lead? Well, next time the X ring is out of reach for you...instead of going and spending your cash on new sights or a widget you probably don't need at the LGS, spend some of that cash on a class at your local range or on range time to slow down and analyse your issue. We have become a society used to the "quick fix" or "convenient" solution to a problem. Sometimes its better to slow down, fix a marksmanship issue correctly and then once you are assured your fundamentals are sound, spend some money on better hardware to improve on this foundation.