Shaking while shooting

No Fear in Accuracy

Well-Known Member
Nov 15, 2001
Some of you guys may get a "Buck or Moose Fever" when you see one. We know it is important for us to remain calm while shooting in long range. When your hand hold on the grip, you will see the crosshair shaking, no problem for 200 yards but over 600 yards or more. How can we prevent this? Do you think the front rest (and Harris bipod) and rear bags will steady the rifle? Will it reduce a lot or you will still see the crosshair some movement and you will have to know when to squeeze the trigger when the time is right?
-Denny G.

Here's how I do it and I don't notice any shaking.

I don't "hold" the rifle on the grip, it's more of a place to rest my hand, I don't grip the rifle. I "load" the bipod by pressing forward into the bipod with my right shoulder, it's not a significant amount of pressure just enough to take up any slack and enough so I can reproduce the shoulder pressure on repeat shots. I use a "sand sock" as a rear rest, it's a homemade rest, a bag of plastic hobby beads inside two women's kneehigh socks with a thick man's sock on the outside. It's easy to shape and controls elevation very well, to adjust elevation just adjust the amount of squeezing grip the sock with the non-grip hand. I don't see any shaking in the crosshairs when I'm setup.
I use a similar technique to Dave's and have also essentially trained myself to evaluate crosshair movement on the target - if it is present and can't be controlled or minimized I don't let the shot off. This even works under hunting situations, but not all the time naturally.

I rely on Harris bipods a lot and recently started toting the Nightforce shooting tripod as much as possible - it is very good for prone and sitting shots. I use it in conjunction with Underwood sticks under the toe of the butt - so steady that I can actually take my hands off the rifle and it just sits on target.

If crosshair movement is excessive you should try to get your breathing controlled, change your grip (either tighter or looser), get a more secure rest or simply refrain from shooting. Dave's point regarding holding the rifle is a good one - some LR instructors suggest techniques like keeping the palm cupped with no direct contact with the pistol grip, others suggest a very firm hold on anything from .308 Win upward in recoil. We should all develope styles that work, preferably based on solid marksmanship basics.

I have developed the habit of evaluating crosshair movement on the target prior to all long shots, it becomes natural and part of the shooting process. If crosshair movement subtends more than the vital area of the critter we should not shoot - you can actually start to equate the movement into inches with practice. I did just that a while back on a bedded antelope buck that was facing directly at me at pretty fair distance - I could see that the crosshairs sat on his chest with no more than a couple of inches of movement - bullet went through the top of his heart.

I never used to check actual crosshair movement as a key aspect of breaking a shot. Not sure about other guys but I used to try to let the shot go at an optimum moment if I just could not hold perfectly steady. Not a good idea, get a better rest and hold.

Those are my thoughts, interested to hear what some of the other fellows feel about this.
I use a modified camera tripod or Harris in front and backpack in the rear two of which I always have with me hunting. I have no Harris on my Ruger 416wby so the spotting scope is interchanged with the modified top for a shot at beyond 400yds. Crosshairs are rock steady this way. Up to 400yds a tree to pinch the fore grip to and a wide stance gives me plenty of stability for moose.

I don't know about anyone else but getting my heart rate down is what I start focusing on as soon as I see one, even before I know it's legal. If I don't It takes me another 30 seconds or so to become still and relaxed, and trust me that's no small task without a muzzle brake and a 400gn bullet leaving at 2550fps in a prone position, but it is very rewarding when that shot is flawlessy exicuted.

I try to see myself at the range with no pressure, If that doesn't work the opposite, like it's a life or death shot, that and the adrenaline sort of give me tunnel vision concentration. Without confidence in my equipment and repeatabile ability to hit at any distance to 750yds so far, I would always be nervous and never be confident of that first shot.

It takes alot of time and work to consistantly hit at longrange and I have alot of respect for those who learn the ins and outs of it. Without a solid rest your wasting your time and effort at LR. If you can not calm yourself and be STILL, an accurate rifle and load will be worthless and your chance at the animal will be gone. Perfect practice, makes perfect. Follow through, and call your shots. I say if you are surprised when the bullet flies you've done your job.
Are you saying that you barely "touch" the rifle? It sounds like a "free recoil" in Heavy Gun class. The only thing you touch is the trigger. Only the bags hold the gun instead of you, correct? I mean you still have to hold both hands on the rifle but very lightly to prevent from falling off after you fired. The rifle rear butt is touch slightly on your shoulder like...say "less than 3/8 of an inch?"

About 90% of my shooting is from the prone position, as follows.

My right hand (I'm right handed and right eye dominant) loosely holds the palm swell, there is no real grip and I don't worry about the rifle getting away from me. I have some "non-skid" tape type stuff on the palm swell, it's cut into small pieces and placed under the positions that my finger tips and thumb occupy when properly positioned, this gives me a good tactile feel for when I'm properly positioned (It's just for positioning when shooting prone but provides a good grip surface when shooting "off-hand").

My right cheek is loosely on the rifle, I have a pad to adjust the comb height. I like the comb high enough so that while completely relaxed on the stock my eye is still centered on the scope. Basically, I could sleep in the prone position with my head on the rifle and still have a perfect sight picture when I open my eyes.

My left hand DOES NOT touch the rifle, it's on the sand sock that's UNDER the butt of the rifle, the sand sock is not at any time between the butt plate and my shoulder, it's not a recoil absorbsion device.

I apply enough shoulder pressure on the rifle butt to take the slack out of the bipod system. I don't tense-up but stay completely relaxed and "ride" with the rifle's recoil, sort of "free recoil" but my shoulder actually touches the rifle. I feel this forward pressure is necessary as it allows the me to control ALL points of pressure on the rifle. I believe that by not "loading" the bipod there is an unknown introduced, the unknown being the amount of recoil travel before all surfaces make contact.

I shoot ALL rifles in this manner, even the heavy recoil 338 Lapua and 338 RUM with the 300 Sierras.

I position my body directly (or as near directly as possible) behind and in-line with the rifle. This reduces some of the torquing that occurs when the shooter is positioned at an angle behind the rifle. Also, I feel that when shooting in the in-line manner the rifle returns to zero in most cases unlike the sideways jump usually experienced when shooting with an angled position. The shoulder MUST be positioned in the same place on the butt plate for ALL shots. We know about the "pocket" on the shoulder and placing the butt firmly there but the position I'm refering to is the shoulders' position reletive to the toe and heel. If the shoulder is too low on the butt and the contact is mainly on the "toe" of the butt the rifle will recoil with a bit more upward movement "jump", I prefer to have the butt a little low and have a bit more "heel" on my shoulder, this I feel make the rifle recoil straight to the rear and reduces "jump". However it's placed on and in the shoulder the butt pressure and position my be consistent.

Here's a photo of a good in-line position behind the rifle, notice no left hand on the rifle.
thanks for the detailed descriptionI knew I had to change my own ways if I wanted to shoot >300y.I always thought I had to hold the front of the stock in my left hand to prevent the recoiling rifle to injure my eye socket and forehead.What would you say to such immature belief,or what do people wrong that get whacked?
2:I heard that one should push the rifle butt firmly into ones shoulder,among other things to minimize trauma from a recoiling rifle

thanks for further enlightenmend
If you put some pressure into the shoulder and squeeze the grip firm between your palm and three fingers on your trigger hand, my thumb to the side, the gun will push back and just slightly rise when fired, if you don't hold firm pressure to your shoulder it will just get a running start at YOU, NOT GOOD. If you do hold tight you move WITH the gun. My 416wby with no brake is a recoil monster, but hold tight, move with it and it's quite differant.

[ 12-21-2001: Message edited by: Brent ]
All excellent answers...

First of all, the only way you will ever eliminate the movement is if you are dead, but that ain't no fun.

I have found that breath control is the most important item to learn.

Second is to evaluate the movement you see, and time your shot (when possible) at the optimum moment when your sight picture is perfect.

As for the grip, off the bench I do not "grip" the forestock. It rests in a cradle, and my hand is there just to steady my body, not my rifle. Sometimes I don't use my off hand to even touch the front of the rifle, but rather use it under the butt of the stock to center the rifle on my shoulder.

As for the firing hand, I do not wrap my thumb around the grip, but rather keep it on the "outside". Lower three fingers and palm are used as a platform for the trigger finger.

In a hunting situation I always try to find some inanimate object to rest upon. I do use the off hand and the forearm, with a light grip, not to hold the rifle on target, but to control it during recoil. (The more you try to hold a rifle, the more it will wander.)

I use a conventional wrap-around grip for the shooting hand, with the minimum amount of pressure required to control the gun. Trigger pull is exactly that...I "pull" the trigger, not squeeze it as many suggest. When you squeeze a trigger it causes movement of the gun...when you pull it oyu are using only that one finger...
Again thanks for personal descriptions,
there seems to be a variety of preferences as everywhere.Still I wonder whether there are "best" gun holds.
1: there seems to be a clear difference of opinion as to the amount of rifle hold and I would appreciate setting my concern to rest:
Dave seems to suggest that he balances the rifle between bipod and butt sandsack,his hands do not hold the rifle at all,he just pulls the trigger: in this setting my question is repeated:I would expect the rifle to kick up(hurting your head and more) as well as back.
2:the following 2 contributors seem to apply a gentle hold onto the rifle stock,which is what I always did(not necessarily correct because I do)To recapitulate the 2 elements of the "hold" a:gently clamp the fore-end to prevent the rifle from kicking up
ush into your shoulder to take up any slack so the recoil doesnt get "a running start"
c:that business of letting your shoulder move back c the recoiling rifle sounds good
I just dont know how my body or nervous system manages that,we are talking of a split second whack,I truly believe my upper body aint that fast "to move with it".

But taking my presumption to the (il)logical end: can one fire a magnum parked in front of ones eyes by 3", by just pulling the trigger and not holding onto the rifle at all- and walk away smiling every time?
I am just to scared to try it


Hah... I like the last part. "Not holding the rifle at all and walk away smiling?
It will tell you that you will need 67lb rifle instead of 10-16lb rifle. Not touching the rifle at all? I think he meant just barely touch it and your shoulder will touch the rear butt slightly. It would be nice if you have a portable viewfinder that hook up with the scope and nothing to worry about 3" eye relief. Maybe you have seen that in Marines and Nikon for spotting scope.
The way that we hold our rifles is simply according to how hard the **** thing kicks. .223's light shoulder contact, use left hand to work the sandbag for elevation. (Even a .223 will bruise your shoulder if you shoot enough - as in 6-800 rounds in a good day shooting prairie dogs)

.308's similar, but pull back a bit more with the right hand, fairly firm contact so the sucker can't move backward. Important to always hold the rifle the same, shot to shot.

Magnums - left hand on forearm fairly tightly to control upward movement in particular, suck the rascal back and try to roll with it or it will hurt you - either a scope-kiss or a bruised shoulder (or sternum if it is not in the right spot). I am talking light .338's, .30 cal and up Weatherby's etc.

In fact you must consider the weight and caliber of any rifle before you shoot it, otherwise you may end up hurting - worst scope-kiss I have ever seen took 13 stitches.

The heavy (14 lb and up) .300 Win. LR rifles don't require the forearm hold, nor do most heavy shooters that have brakes (eg. we shot a heavy .338 Lapua a bunch without holding the forend).

Continuity is important, in hold, cheek-weld, breathing, trigger control all the marksmanship stuff that makes a bullet fly where you want it to.

It's not as bad as you think, the first time I shot without holding on to the foregrip I thought the muzzle would plant it self in the dirt behind me, the scope taking a channel out of my face in the process. It just aint so. You just have to DO it. Keep the scope a little farther away the first few times until you realise how tight to hold into your shoulder. The scope will come to your eye but not enough to get you IF you hold it SNUG. I GUARANTEE you the muzzle will come up no more than 1 foot, more than likely 4 to 6 inches if you hold down and in on the trigger hand. I find I'm much more stable with both hands at the rear, one under the other or under the stock for elevation control, that's why I shoot this way.
Thanks brothers,
you answered my question,I shall shoot like I always did:giving enough clamping power to prevent serious journeys into my face.
Never had any problem c the 338Mag,the 300RUM
is just a little more kick maybe.
Thanks for keeping me healthy

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