In June 2004 I was introduced to the sport of submachine gun competitions by a friend. I was instantly hooked and I fell in love with the sport that very first day. Since then I have traveled the country attending and shooting in sub-machine gun competitions ranging from small local matches in Florida to multiple day events such as the Indiana State Subgun Championship and the Knob Creek subgun nationals. During these events I have noticed, that like many other sports, there are a handful of competitors who usually dominate the top ranks and that many of those competitors apply similar techniques to help them succeed.
In this article I will discuss a few techniques and fundamental principals that help many of the top competitors shoot smoother and smarter to give them their competitive advantage. These techniques are not hard to learn and anyone can successfully apply these principals with practice and discipline.
A sub-machine gun competitor’s shooting posture seems to be the most important factor in the amount of muzzle rise felt after each shot breaks. With very few exceptions, the majority of sub-machine guns seem to handle best when shot with the shooter “squared to the target” so the chest of the shooter is facing directly at the target. The feet are a shoulders width apart and the dominant foot is moved back slightly. The shooters feet and chest should face toward the target. For pistol shooters, this posture is very similar to a isosceles shooting stance in regards to body position toward the target. The elbows are tucked in by rotating them down so they are not sticking out to the side in what is sometimes referred to as “chicken winging”.
One of the largest benefits of this stance is that when a shooter is squared up and firing, the recoil travels into the arms evenly distributing it across the upper body. The entire body is then able to act as a giant shock absorber dampening the recoil experienced with each shot as the force is more evenly distributed. Muzzle rise can be greatly reduced when shooting with this posture which allows the shooter to get the sights back on subsequent targets faster.
When a shooter stands bladed (support or “weak” shoulder closest to target) while shooting a subgun, recoil often pushes more on the side where the firearm stock is causing rotation of the upper torso. This causes the muzzle to rise up and move over to the right or left and as a result the competitor has to move the gun more to get the sights on to the next target. The competitor then ends up fighting the gun after each shot which in turn causes wasted movement and energy. Over longer courses of fire this extra movement can lead to fatigue as well as time lost. This time lost may not seem like much for engaging one or two targets but it can quickly add when dealing with larger courses of fire or multiple stages. Half a second extra on fifty targets just put you twenty-five seconds in the hole and out of contention.
Another advantage of this shooting posture is the ability of the shooter to move easily in any direction. This stance also allows for a broader field of view on each side of the target as opposed to a bladed stance where the shooter can not see what is beyond their support shoulder which could be their direction of travel.
The few exceptions to shooting squared up are those firearms with long stocks or other design features that make handling them when in a squared position hard to do. Some competitors feel the Swedish K, Thompson, and Beretta 38 fall into this category due to their longer stocks. This is of course dependent on the shooter and how the gun fits them.
Another important part of a proper shooting posture is a good solid “cheek weld”. A cheek weld is where the shooters cheek rests on the stock of the firearm when shooting. A good cheek weld is when the stock and cheek come together at the same place each and every time giving you a clear view of the sights. A good cheek weld should feel natural and unforced.
When at the range ask a friend to watch your cheek weld when you are firing a three to five round burst. Your cheek should not come off the stock while shooting. A common problem is that competitors will mount an optic or modify their firearm in a way which causes them to put their cheek and head in an unnatural position to be able to view their sights. This is fine for plinking in the back yard with friends but due to the unnatural position the head has to be in to get a sight picture, it is very hard to consistently sustain this posture in competition, especially on longer courses of fire or when having to shoot bursts.
tick… tock… tick… tock… Merriam Webster dictionary defines cadence as “the beat, time, or measure of rhythmical motion or activity” . When shooting multiple targets lined up together it helps to find your rhythm through the targets and to keep with it. For example if you had a plate rack with 6 plates on it once you start shooting them your cadence should be unbroken. If you hit the first target and miss the second, don’t re-shoot the one you missed, keep the rhythm and continue on to the third target and others until you get to the end… only pick up your missed shots after you finished the rest in that array.
Going hand in hand with your cadence is the notion that you don’t wait for your target to fall before shooting the next one. You should not care if the target falls when shooting it unless the course of fire specifies otherwise. If it did fall, great, if it didn’t you’ll pick it up when you finish the rest of the targets in order as stated in the cadence section. Your focus should be on your sights and the target, the trigger pull and then on to the NEXT target the second the bullet leaves the barrel. Once the shot breaks, get on to the next target as smoothly as possible. It’s just a mental thing so if you fix your mind and your bullets will follow.
It’s a Submachine Gun, Shoot It Like One!
Repeat after me, “It is OK to shoot more than one round on a target”. Your gun is capable of putting multiple rounds down range at a time with ONE trigger pull. Many competitors have gotten used to the old notion that being a good subgun shooter meant they could fire single shots from their gun while it was in full auto mode. Courses of fire seemed to cater to this notion and in the end the winner of the “submachine gun competition” was the person who could shoot their gun like a semi-auto the best. It seems kind of silly in retrospect but that’s how things progressed for a while and they have now come a full 180 degrees back in the other direction. Some event coordinators are now seeking out targets that urge the competitors to use their firearm as intended. We are now back to celebrating the uniqueness of our firearms at each competition in brilliant bursts down range.
Lets suppose you are faced with a hard set target such as a heavy set pepper popper like those seen at the recent Knob Creek competitions. LET IT RIP!!! Some shooters seem to need to be given permission to send a burst of full auto fire down range. Why? I have no idea, but if you need it I give you permission to let loose. Go ahead… SHOOT THE HELL OUT OF IT. If your posture and grip are solid and your sights are on target you can put enough rounds where you need to neutralize any target in one trigger pull.
I sometimes practice shooting a single, double, triple, quadruple and then a 5 round burst one after another. A good drill to hone this skill as well as trigger control is to have a shooting buddy yell out the number of shots you need to put on the target so it’s a surprise. “Four!” … “two!”… “three”. This drill is a lot of fun on a steel plate or three at 10 or 15 yards. To mix it up a bit, paint a few targets different colors and have your buddy say a color and a number of rounds, “Yellow three, blue two!”. This drill is both fun and it will help sharpen your skill set.
One example I can find that demonstrates a decent cadence, not waiting for targets to fall and shooting doubles and triples when needed is from the 2007 Indiana State Subgun match. This video is of the author and to date this is one of my better performances on any single stage. It’s not perfect but it worked out for me on this day. It ended up being the fastest time on this stage for the match.
Is That The Dalai Llama Meditating Over There?
It’s the big day of the competition and you’ve paid your match entry fee, you’ve practiced your skills and put together a game plan for success . You have a lot invested in this opportunity and you can feel the pre-run anxiety and it’s almost getting the better of you. Part of you just wants it to all be over and as you’re at the starting position and the range officer says “is the shooter ready?” you start to say YES…..
STOP RIGHT THERE!!! Your answer should be “No, please give me a moment” but too often the shooter says “Yes, shooter is ready”. Why? Nerves, anxiety and stress. This is one of those few times in life you are absolutely entitled and encouraged to be selfish. This is YOUR run. You paid to shoot this match and within reason you are allowed as much time as you need to focus yourself and to push the nerves down and get your mind in the game. I’ve never seen or heard of a range officer telling a competitor to “hurry up and shoot” before a run.
This moment is your time so find your “happy place” and do what you have to do to calm down and focus. Only tell the range officer you are ready when you are truly ready. Once that buzzer goes beep there is no turning back so don’t sabotage yourself by rushing and ruining your best chance for success. I often tell the range officer to hold on for a moment while I close my eyes and take a deep breath. I then open my eyes and go over the course of fire target by target right then and there in my head. It usually takes only a few seconds and then I give the nod… *BEEP* Game on… You have to find what works best for you but the top competitors in all sports are able to either subdue or harness their pre-run anxiety into focus. Find what works for you and stick with it!
Focus Young Jedi
As stated earlier we all get nervous and a bit of pre-run anxiety, it’s only natural. Murphy’s law says at the least opportune time things can, and will, go wrong. I suspect Murphy was one of the first subgun competitors. The simple fact is that chances are you will run into something unexpected after the timer goes *BEEP*. You drop a magazine, your gun goes click when it should go bang, double feed, fail to extract, fail to eject, smoke in the eyes, malfunctions, malfunctions, malfunctions…. The difference between the top competitors and the rest of the pack is that when something bad happens, they focus on the fastest solution to the problem and move on.
Some people talk to themselves or the range officer when things go wrong. Some people swear and elongate curses at the gun or magazine in question. “Daaaaaaaaaaaaaaamn it” or “Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat theeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee hell!” seem to pop up a lot along with one I still spit out in cases of frustration “you’ve gotta beeee KIDDING ME”. Guess what your brain isn’t doing when you are talking? It isn’t focused on the problem at hand. It is however giving the range officer and score keeper some free entertainment as the clock ticks along. Clear the problem , safely and quickly and do it right the first time. Too often competitors watch their entire game plan go down in flames because they allowed a minor issue such as a dropped magazine or failure to eject turn into a long drawn out series of mistakes. Sometimes the winner is the person who cleared a malfunction the fastest and got back on track and often the losers are the people who gave up or were overcome by frustration.
To this day I still stand in awe of competitor CJ Roberts who, at the 2008 Indiana State Subgun Championship, had a very odd malfunction with his full size Uzi. He tried all of the usual techniques for clearing the malfunction to no avail. So what did he do? He showed the gun clear to the range officer and disassembled the gun right then and there looking for the problem. He popped off the top cover, pulled the bolt and found and removed a mutilated piece of brass that was causing the issue, and he then reassembled and finished his run. CJ didn’t win a trophy for that run but he did manage to finish in the middle of the pack and taught those in attendance a valuable lesson. Keep your eye on the prize and never give up.
Where In The Hell Am I Hitting?
Everything else means nothing if you can’t hit what you are aiming at. Although subguns come with varying zeros from the factory many top competitors zero their firearms at 25 yards. The reason for this is that the change in point of aim and point of impact is going to be very small between 7yards and 50 yards with a 25 yard zero. At closer distances your point of impact will be lower than your point of aim due the offset of the sights from the barrel. It is your responsibility as a competitor to know how your point of impact will change at different distances. Go to the range, confirm your zero and then shoot at the same spot on a paper target from point blank out to 40 yards in 10 yard increments.
The truth be told where you zero your gun doesn’t matter as long as you can accurately engage all the targets on any given course of fire. As of the time of this article being written the current courses of fire have targets from point blank range to 40 yards out depending on the event. Paul Winters who coordinates the Knob Creek National match has been known from time to time to stick a target out in the 30-40 yard range on occasion to mix things up.
You may want to ask yourself if you can you hit the head of a pepper popper at thirty yards with the first shot and then put two rounds through a three inch circle at two yards? If you can say yes to them both then you should have no problem hitting everything in between.
Open Bolt Guns: Open bolt guns should be zeroed standing using your natural shooting stance. Due to the “bolt lurch” in many open bolt sub guns if you zero them while on a bench or supported the point of aim point of impact will be off when shot from a non supported position. Bolt lurch is the shooter feeling the movement of the bolt traveling the length of the receiver when firing.
Closed bolt guns can be zeroed from a bench or supported position.
Sight in with both open and closed bolt guns should be done in semi-auto mode if available and you should remember to follow through with the trigger (hold the trigger to the rear after each shot, don’t bounce it) if possible. There are a handful of guns that do not have semi-auto mode but their rate of fire is usually slow enough that there really is no need for one.
I hope these observations lend a little insight into some of the techniques and tactics being used by the top competitors in this wonderful sport. The best advice I was ever given about shooting was to “do what works best for you”. We are all different shapes,sizes and shooters. Sometimes old dogs do better with old tricks. Find what works best for you and practice it. Sometimes we need to start all over to break bad habits and sometimes we just need to stick with what’s always worked regardless of the current trends or new innovations. Only you know you. Be honest with yourself in regards to your performance and your ability.
There is much more discuss on this topic but for now this is a good starting point. I look forward to seeing you at one of the many great subgun competitions going on across the country every month. Shoot safe and smooth and share your sport ! -Todd