Build Your House

Oct 9, 2019

The first time I heard the expression “build your house” was during a training session at the now-legendary FTW ranch and shooting academy down in Texas. It didn’t resonate much with me at the time. Between near triple digit heat and humidity, I was too-busy guzzling water and looking for shade to absorb the lesson I now treat as part of my personal doctrine.

The “build your house” lesson that triggered the realization that support can come from almost anywhere- including yourself. Not all of us, unfortunately, can get into that position.

Actually, I have always believed it; just never verbalized it. Even as a kid learning to shoot from my father, I was always told “get steady -however you can” before taking a shot. When you’re young, stable platforms aren’t that difficult- once you get your mind right. And what kid hasn’t instinctively leaned on a tree, crouched behind a rock, or dropped to a prone position to get a better shot?

As you get older (and less elastic), you start listening to “experts” - on how to do things you thought you already knew how to do. With considerably more than a half-century of “help” from others, I have seen my elbows move closer or further from my core, depending on what I was trying to shoot. If I was trying to shoot offhand precision, I was told to bring my body tight. If it were 3-gun, I was told to “get long” on my rifle with my support side so I could swing faster.

So, I’ve done what I suspect several of you do: I learned to adjust positions, depending on what worked for me in the particular situation. It makes a lot more sense to “get tight” on a rifle with a short forearm than it does to grab a hot barrel.

But this “build a house” thing has staying power, because it works.

If you’re solid in your shooting foundation, you’ll make more hits. I’ve found that if my foundation’s solid, I can generally overcome oxygen deprivation, exhaustion or many of the other things that impede good shooting- including an adrenaline dump.

That’s why I try to experiment with different things when I’m working on how to “build my house” in the field. I’ve shot from the sides and forks of trees, tops of rocks and my own pack tossed quickly down in front of me. Whatever makes you more stable without endangering anyone around you is fair game.

Sometimes, however, I’ve found that my colleagues are better shooters because, well, they’re less concerned with how they look than how they shoot.

For example:

Jerry Miculek is one of the best shots -ever-but on an otherwise unproductive handgun hunting trip with him I learned that the great shooters never miss the chance to get more support -even if he’s in a bit of a silly position (Above). On a long-range hunting event with Eric Poole (middle) the former military sniper taught me that even a fellow shooter is fair game when you need a support (below). The other shooter put a hand on the front of the barrel, giving Eric an even more solid support for a “routine” 475-yard shot -which he made. And finally (bottom) even the vehicle that transports you to the range can provide support in the shooting bays. Yes, the shooting bag is sitting on the scissor jack from the car.

In other words, when your goal is to hit your target, you should sublimate everything else and concentrate on what helps you make the shot.

Then breathe, squeeze and follow through.

Simple, huh?

—Jim Shepherd