Recently I decided to get into target shooting. I go to the range about 4-5 times a year, and shoot outdoors another 2-3 times a year. Most of it has been fairly ad hoc, throw the guns in the back of the truck and shoot at beer cans.
After almost ten years of this, I started to realize it wasn’t quite scratching an itch. That itch was the satisfaction of knowing I hit something, I knew where I was hitting it, and why. I was growing frustrated of shooting and not hitting, and of bringing a new rifle or handgun to the outdoors, not being able to get it on target, and having to wait another three or four months before I could even figure out why.
Gradually I started bringing AR500 targets and paper target stands on our trips. I got us to standardize on 100 yards and tried my best to ring the gong. My friends, especially those that couldn’t get on target, slowly blasted the targets apart. Undeterred, I threw the parts in the scrap heap and bought more.
It began to pay off. In 2015, under the impression that my friends and I were imminently going pig hunting, I quickly put together an AR-308 rifle whose sole requirement was hitting a pig-sized target at 100 yards. I threw a Leupold 3-9x scope on it and rang the gong at 200 yards with my first shot. I was happy.
Slowly, I began to realize what the itch really was. I wanted to shoot with precision. I wanted to put little holes in paper at long ranges. I didn’t have anything that really was up to the task: the ACOG on my AR-15, although 4x, didn’t have the magnification to see the target really well–at least with my older eyes. My AR-308 had a budget barrel that, although I had not tested, I knew was going to disappoint. It wasn’t the barrel’s fault–the requirement had only been to 100 yards. I needed something else.
One day I ended up at a local gun store and saw a Howa rifle on the rack. Howa rifles are some of the few small arms made in Japan. Howa is actually a precision toolmaking company; the rifle making is practically a side business for them. They also make assault rifles (the Type 64 and newer Type 89) for the Self Defense Forces. I’d always wanted a Howa, if only because they’re nice rifles and the novelty that they’re made in Japan.
I did a lot of reading up on the Howa before I bought one. Nobody has anything bad to say about them–an astonishing feat considering gun owners tend to be a picky, cranky, generally negative lot. I’ve read dozens of opinions and haven’t read one a single negative one on them yet–and that was probably someone who was digging in his heels and said he preferred a Remington 700 over a Howa.
Anyway. My Howa was a 1500 short action, .308 caliber, with a 22″ sporter barrel and a black Hogue OverMolded stock with aluminum column pillar bedding. The price was right, and I figured I could use it to get started in the world of long range shooting. Once I was done with it I could use it as a pig hunting rifle.
As for the scope, it came with a Nikko Sterling 3-9x. It seemed OK but I wanted a bit more magnification to see the holes in the targets at the local range. I also knew it was made in China and wanted a scope made in Japan to go with the Japanese rifle. Considering Japan is the third largest economy in the world, the combination of the two is remarkably rare.
I ended up getting a SWFA 10X mildot scope. SWFA is another brand that, like the Howa, it’s very difficult to find someone disparage online. It’s made in Japan, so it was a natural fit for my project. Built like a tank, tracks well, and it would really let me push out if I wanted to.
About that. The closure of the Sharps Park rifle range in Pacifica–which used to stretch out to 300 yards–made the closest rifle range Coyote Point. Unfortunately, Coyote Point has a limit of 100 yards and the range’s proximity to San Francisco International Airport means you have to shoot from a bench through a mailbox-type slot in a wall. It’s definitely not for everyone.
One hundred yards is not a long distance range. I’m quite aware of that. I’m not looking to start off shooting at 300 yards. That would be a bad idea. I just don’t have the skill. I have no formal training in this, learning mostly from books, web sites, and YouTube videos. Everything I’ve learned I could probably learn in an afternoon from a professional instructor, but this is San Francisco–there aren’t any around here.
Right now it’s important to focus on the basics and repeat them until they become second nature. I had to learn how to sit behind the rifle, instead of to the side. I had to learn to control my breathing, relax, and take things slowly. I had to find my natural point of aim on my own–and am still not entirely convinced I did it correctly.
Go slow, take your time, do it right. Continuous improvement. Repeat again and again and again. All of these things are much more important than shooting at long range–at least for now.
When I was a kid my parents made me take aikido. One of the reasons why I thought it was dumb was that we kept doing the same moves over and over again. I get it now.