[Nightforce 2016] Target Defilade Shooting and Harry Pope’s Legacy

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While at the Nightforce 2016 Industry Shoot, there were two incredibly interesting topics that piqued my curiosity. The first one was a drill that involved shooting at a target in defilade from your position. And the second was about am innovator in firearms development who has been all but forgotten about since his departure from it.

Defilade Precision “Plunging Fire” 

The defilade shooting drill was taught and explained by Bryan Morgan, one of the founders of CORE Shooting Solutions. The gentleman and the facility are an absolutely outstanding pair, with enough talent and physical property to conduct just about any sort of small arms training occurring under 1500 meters for multiple weapon systems. Bryan not only talks the talk, but walks it by competing nationally in PRS competitions.

Video is from Sniper’s Hide, and the website doesn’t have a Youtube channel, so I uploaded it up to Youtube-

 

The actual concept of this drill is very simple. In order to hit a target that you can see from one position, but cannot see from another, you need to adjust your scope (dial or hold) to a reference point somewhere above the target, and that you can see from a shooting position, in addition to from an observation position. You are measuring the distance horizontally and vertically from the target to the reference point, and are then essentially shooting at the reference point while actually intending the round to engage the target. It should be obvious that a shooter must have already adjusted for range through elevation, and is taking into account wind calls. Of course, the length of defilade or cover that the target is behind comes into play, if it is too high, then the trajectory of the round will not allow for a connection with the target, instead impacting the piece of cover.

But given the correct circumstances and proper measuring, this tactic allows a competent shooter with a capable rifle, to accurately hit a target that the shooter cannot even see from his shooting position. It sounds wacky, but it worked, perfectly and easily. Bryan Morgan, along with his instructor staff mentored around 30 shooters to hitting the “hidden target” every time. The observers made adjustments for wind calls, telling shooters when to hold on the reticle center, and when to adjust for left or right windage. Otherwise, it was simply aiming at the reference point that shooters could see from both positions.

plunging

Generally, it is always a given when working with firearms to “Know your Target and what lies beyond and in-between”. In addition to never discharging a firearm at something you cannot identify correctly, or even firing at an animal on a hunt when you know the shot won’t result in an as painless as possible death. However, this drill supersedes these rules in two situations that I can think of. The first one would be purely skills based. Being able to complete this drill on a shooters own, shows a high degree of competency and understanding of the rifle. Indeed, had Bryan Morgan and his staff not been there to show me, I would have taken me a long time to figure out how to successfully engage the hidden target. The second situation could be a Military/LE one, in that an assailant is behind a barricade at long range, where this kind of “Plunging Fire” shot can be used because attempting to bring the assailant down at all costs is a necessary measure.

harrypope

Harry Pope’s Legacy

Over the course of the event, during one of the accuracy talks by Bryan, the topic of left hand twist barrels came up, and their potential for superior accuracy. At first this is a puzzling concept, but once explained, it makes sense.

It begins with a competitive shooter and custom barrel maker from the Northeast United States named Harry Melville Pope (1861-1950). Pope graduated from MIT and began working for the families bicycle manufacturing business. At the same time he was a very avid and very good competitive shooter, competing in single shot Schuetzen rifle competitions. But the twist is that he made his own barrels to compete with. There were two things that were unique and set Pope’s barrels out from the rest; Left Hand Rifling, and Gain Twist (wherein the Twist Rate is tightened from the chamber (ex-8.5) to the muzzle (ex-7.5))

Harry Pope wasn’t the first shooter or designer to come up with Left Hand and Gain Twist barrels. Left Hand Twist barrels have always been a standard in the United Kingdom, every service rifle from the Brown Bess to the current L85 have been Left Hand Twist. However, Pope was the first competitive shooter to absolutely swear by the barrel design. Whether because of the design or his own skill, he went on to became a legend in competitive accuracy, his early 1900s records only surpassed in 1934. After competition, he was contracted to make barrels for Stevens, and then made barrels on his own, well into the 1930s and 40s, when he passed away in 1950. He was a bit of an eccentric, this passage describing his odd peculiarities

Inside the shop, you follow him down a narrow lane between dust-covered boxes, trunks, papers, yellowed magazines, toolkits, sheaves of rifle barrels, hogsheads of dusty gun stocks. A worn black leather couch is half buried under odds and ends. A small table, piled high with papers, looks like a haycock, white at the top and yellow toward the bottom. Pinned to it is a printed sign: “Don’t lean against this table. If these papers are spilled, there will be Hell to pay.”

The only flat object in the room that is not loaded down is a single board. Pope keeps it standing upright in a corner. Over two boxes, it forms an emergency table where he can lay his tools when working.

“You might think this is confusion,” he says as you reach his workbench, almost hidden under odds and ends, “but what looks like order to other people looks like contusion to me. This room is like a filing cabinet. I can put my hands on anything in it, even if I haven’t seen it for ten years. But if anybody moves something as much as three inches, it’s as good as lost.”

In the twenty-seven years he has been in the same building, he has washed his windows twice. He believes the accumulation of grime diffuses the light and enables him to see better. One of his windows he never will wash. It is covered with penciled notes. Half a dozen years ago, data he bad placed on a scrap of paper blew out the window. Afterwards, he made it a rule to jot down important notes on the walls or window where they can’t blow away.

Now to get into why his barrel techniques were effective. With any competitive shooting, especially long range precision rifle shooting, every little bit of input onto the firearm makes a difference. More so with long range, if one factor is off or overestimated, it could mean missing the target completely, instead of only by a few inches with handguns or airguns. And when it comes to placing rounds on target, accuracy and precision are two very different phenomenas, but what is equally important is consistency. Without consistency, there is no telling what a shooter did wrong, or right.

If we then think of standard barrels with a Right Hand twist, where are the harmonics of that barrel, and in extension the firearm going? If the bullet is spinning to the right, then the actual barrel and rifle will be vibrating towards the right as well. If you are a right handed shooter (there is a 70-95 percent chance that you are), then this means the rifle will be recoiling away from you. Back to consistency, if a rifle is constantly jumping out of its natural position and you constantly bringing it back into position, how is this at all consistent? Of course, I am talking about a metric that is very difficult to measure, and probably isn’t even noticeable at target results under 800 meters or so. But with a Left Handed Twist barrel, the rifle will be recoiling into your cheek, instead of away from it. This means instead of the rifle popping out of position, it is instead pushing itself into position, maintaining maximum consistency of position in between shots.

There is also the effect of Left Hand Twist with Spin Drift and the Coriolis Effect. With Right Hand Twist barrels, there is a tendency for bullets spinning right, to deviate towards the right of a target. Again, this is only recognizable at extreme long range, and far over what most shooters shoot at. But with a bullet spinning to the left and in the northern hemisphere, the spin drift is helping to cancel out some of the factors that affect at ranges over 1000 meters.

I honestly don’t have the technical knowledge to discuss external ballistics at longer ranges, but Sniper’s Hide has an excellent write up on this very topic. He boils the benefits of both Left Hand Twist and Gain Twist to these four advantages-

1. You controlled the depth of the lands and grooves and progressively twisted the rifling so not to deform the bullet

2.The slight change in angle of rifling in connection with choke boring effectually shuts off any escape of gas and prevents gas cutting, which is another cause of imperfect delivery.

3. You had it turn left for a right handed shooter so the rifle recoiled towards the centerline of the shooter’s body.

4. At longer distances, you play the Spin Drift against the Coriolis Effect instead of compounding them together.

And an excellent video explaining the concepts-



Miles V

Former Infantry Marine, and currently studying at Indiana University. I’ve written for Small Arms Review and Small Arms Defense Journal, and have had a teenie tiny photo that appeared in GQ. Specifically, I’m very interested in small arms history, development, and Military/LE usage within the Middle East, and Central Asia.

If you want to reach out, let me know about an error I’ve made, something I can add to the post, or just talk guns and how much Grunts love naps, hit me up at miles@tfb.tv


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  • noob

    Plunging fire with an unguided bullet! I had no idea that anyone had pulled this off without a machine gun or an explosive projectile.

    Also i hope Pope’s workshop has been preserved or rebuilt in replica.

    It would be a cool museum

    • DGR

      It was commonly accepted back in WW1 and before. You would mass a column of infantry and then volley fire. Was never really successful but you saw rifles designed with sights out to these extreme ranges for that reason. At 1600 yards your 30-06 or 8mm bullet is probably traveling vertically enough to hit a guy in a trench, providing you magically got your range correct with iron sights. But ever since the advent of small unit tactics in favor of column movements, the theory of rifles as indirect fire weapons has been extinct. Some armies used it for awhile longer, because tradition, but it has not had a legitimate real world application since the development of indirect artillery.

    • Tassiebush

      Well the replica was exact until someone knocked over those papers and misplaced some items by a few inches.

  • DGR

    What is this? Did we enter a time warp and its 1916 again? Why are we using rifles as indirect fire weapons? This baffles my mind. If they are actually teaching this as an applicable skill, then they need to be publically ridiculed. I get it if its a “just for fun” thing, then we can just ridicule them for violating the most basic element of firearm safety. But seriously, this is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard of.
    As for the attempt at justification in the article, provide a single example where this has been used, or someone died because this technique wasn’t used, and ill buy it. What’s next in this chain? A central snipers nest, and patrol units just call in for indirect rifle fire to hit the BGs? Or maybe we just need to teach people how to fire rifles vertically to hit targets on the other side of the wall?

    • NineWays

      Terry Cross has cited an example of this being used by Tennessee Highway Patrol to neutralize a violent suspect that was obscured by a barricade. A spotter had eyes on the target, but the sniper had no line of sight. They worked together to get the sniper on target.

      • DGR

        Link to a story or more background by chance? I would be very curious to read the story.

    • Bierstadt54

      Teaching an old military rifle skill is the dumbest thing you’ve ever heard of? I suppose we should welcome you to the internet, because I’m pretty sure you must not have been here before. lol

  • 22winmag

    Discussing bankshots with buckshot on hard surfaces to get the guy around the corner might be a little more constructive than this.

  • The Rambling Historian

    “Left Hand Twist barrels have always been a standard in the United Kingdom, every service rifle from the Brown Bess to the current L85 have been Left Hand Twist.”

    Might want to correct this given the Brown Bess is a smoothbore musket and thus has no rifling. 😉

  • Ed J

    You are the only gun writer I can remember who has correctly used the word “pique” instead of the horrendous “peak.” Thank you, sir. The internet is now a better place.

  • gunsandrockets

    I’m certainly just a dilettante and no expert, but it seems to me that left handed rifling would tend to rotate the rifle to the right (not yaw to the left), and right handed rifling would tend to rotate the rifle to the left (not yaw to the right), based upon simple newtonian 3rd law of motion.

  • Tassiebush

    By the sound of his workshop I’ve got all the ordered chaos and none of the talent of that man going on.

  • Tassiebush

    This is a very cool topic Miles! I recall this video sort of covering similar stuff https://youtu.be/Puz8MeTxvpw
    I can sort of imagine how this could be used along with a well set out range card showing all the pre tested hold offs/holdovers to hit targets concealed behind cover but in anticipated positions or to enable someone with a rifle to provide support at extreme range. Maybe even just as a planned retreat. Or it could just be a way to escape retaliation. I could totally see a “civilian” spotter calling shots for a peer hidden behind a hill out of town covering a doorway or something similar.