Monday, April 27, 2015

Collecting Thoughts - CFDA

Work with me here for a minute.  Take your gaze off the computer and look at something across the room.  Point your finger at it.  Maybe a light switch, or the dog, or a stop sign across the street.  Simple, isn't it?  You've been pointing at things all your life.

The earliest guns had no sights.  None whatsoever.  You pointed the barrel at whatever you wanted to hit, and lit it off.  Hitting was mainly an attribute of luck.  Immediately, we decided that wasn't worth a crap, and we started putting sights on guns.  At first, those sights were relatively crude, but they increased the probability of hitting by an order of magnitude.  As times progressed, the sights got better and better and today we're blessed with fine, accurate firearms sporting adjustable sights, and even optical wonders that increase our hit probability to the point where hitting a reasonable target is not a matter of art, but a matter of science.

I've been shooting all my life and reloading for several decades.  I consider myself a fairly good shot, and a better than average handloader. I've studied the practice and I've followed the procedures and I feel like I have a pretty good handle on the shooting disciplines.  I'm not world-class by any means, but I have won the odd trophy when the other shooters were somewhere else, doing something else.

This past February, a couple of cousins started talking to me about the Cowboy Fast Draw game. I went out and tried it, and immediately got hooked.  We use Colt clones or Ruger Vaqueros, in .45 Colt,  and while other replicas are allowed, it's safe to say that those two revolvers dominate the game.  Both of those are fixed-sight single action revolvers like the handguns most prevalent in the 1880s.  The holsters are from the time period, and the practitioners dress in garb from the era (or modern Working Cowboy, ie, boots, trousers, long-sleeved shirts, and hats).  We use wax bullets and primer loads.

The object of the game is to draw your revolver, cock it and hit a 24" target at 21 feet.   Sounds easy, right?  Sure it is.  That's the beauty of the game.  The guy next to you on the line is trying to hit that target too, and faster than you, so timers are used to measure the time, down to the thousandth of a second.  It's fast, but only hits count, because that timer is hooked to the target and doesn't stop until a bullet strikes it.

This is reactive shooting, you're drawing and firing and trying to hit a 24" target 21 feet away.  We're not using the sights, we're pointing the revolver, and you'd think it would be easy, but it's not.  I've been shooting handguns for almost 40 years, I understand the Weaver, and the Isosceles, and the flash sight picture.  I've been running and gunning my whole life and none of that is helping me with this game.

I've been handloading for several decades, and that doesn't help with this game, except that I understand AVG, ES and SD.  Even though we're using shotgun primers and wax bullets, some of that knowledge should be helpful.  And, we're not using the sights, we're pointing the revolver, but knowing where the gun is shooting the bullets (POI) should be a big help.  Like other shooting games, you can't miss fast enough to win.  Only hits count, so you've got to know where your gun is shooting.

The one way to absolutely know that is to use the device that the manufacturer so thoughtfully included on the gun.  We might not use them in competition, but it's certainly useful to know where the gun is shooting relative to the sights.  So, yessterday afternoon, Milady and I broke out the chronograph to learn a little about the science of our new game.  What we found was illuminating.

For the record, both Milady and I shoot Ruger Vaqueros with the 4.62" barrel.  Our ammo is standard CFDA brass, with Deadeye EZ Loader wax bullets powered by Rio 209 primers.  A series of shots across the chronograph promptly showed me that the muzzle velocity of that wax pill is 609.1 fps avg, with an SD of 20.5 fps.  It's a mild load with very little report or recoil.  Earlier tests in still air showed that the little bullet would travel less than 40 yards and it runs out of momentum quickly.

I was using the sights to get the bullet across the chronograph, and a look at the target showed me something really interesting.  Be reminded that I was aiming at that top bullet strike from another contest, and look where my shots went.

They're all down in te lower left quadrant of that big old target, at about 7:00.  That tells me a lot, and it tells me why I've been missing that big ol' 24" circle.  My gun shoots low, way low, and if I want a better opportunity to hit the target at speed, I'd better be pointing at the upper right of the target, about 1:00.  That's good information.  If the gun is shooting at the lower left quadrant of the target, I don't need to handicap myself by pointing at the center of the target.

Milady was sitting, watching all this, and she wanted to know where her gun was shooting, so we loaded some ammo, and let her fly.

Not as low, but certainly off to the left.  I can't account for the two fliers (and neither can she) but it looks as if her revolver is shooting a little low and to the left.  We can account for this with any number of variables, but if she wants to hit the target consistently, this is good information.

She and I are both neophytes at this game, and we'll do a lot more practicing, thinking, refining our technique, but we've got a good basis now, and we've learned a few things in an hour of slow shooting, using sights, in the backyard.

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