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Zen and the Art of Basic Rifle Marksmanship, by Doc in South Carolina

So, you’ve decided to prepare for WTSHTF [1] because you want you and/or your family to be safe. And to more adequately defend your safety, you’ve read every survival book and blog ever written. You’ve stockpiled non-hybrid seeds, bought a brand new shortwave radio (while still paying for your smart phone with some sort of “survival” app, no doubt), stacked fifty pound bags of whole grains about your bedroom as both emergency food and added fortification, and bought the most expensive and elaborate firearms recommended by whichever “Mall Ninja [2]” managed to bombard the ill-informed public with the most convincing (albeit speculative) argument. I jest…(kind of). Stockpiling necessary supplies is an outstanding idea (I’m doing it). And SurvivalBlog.com is a reliable source of valuable information in a world where reliability and value of information is rare. However, what I’ve noticed about most “survival” sites, excluding SurvivalBlog, is that everyone out there seems to have the best idea for what weapon you should purchase to protect you and your family. If you want to trust the opinion of a stranger with little weapons training and even less knowledge of you and the situations you may potentially encounter, that’s your call. But I’m not going to do that. I can’t pretend to know what you may personally experience in the future. Some situations call for not only different weapons, but the employment of completely different tactics all together to address them. I can’t cover them all in 1,500 words. I won’t even try. What I can tell you is, as a former U.S. soldier, I know a lot about what it’s like to have to work with what you have (ever cleaned an M16 with a battle buddies tampons? I have…). Which is why in both my weapons collection and my preparedness I follow one simple philosophy, “Any weapon is better than no weapon.” Don’t misunderstand, weapon selection is very important. For example, I don’t recommend a .22 LR as an anti-personnel weapon. Great for small game, but grossly inadequate for self-defense. However, I’d gladly plink at an assailant with a “poodle-shooter” than throw rocks at them. My confidence (and lack of desire to scour the globe looking for the most over-priced H&K USP or Winchester Model 70 I can find) comes from one simple asset:

TRAINING! My point here is you aren’t going to die if you can’t afford a registered select-fire M16 with an ACOG [3] and an assortment of accessories you aren’t trained to use and will most likely never be in a situation to need in the first place. And you don’t have to pay top dollar for a competition grade over-priced Model 1911, for crisis or grid-down defense, a less expensive G.I. [4] style one will work, trust me. You also don’t need a venerable arsenal of weapons. Nothing wrong with having a large number of weapons (I do), but there is an old adage in the shooting community that says, “Beware the man with one gun, as he probably knows how to use it.” And that is why I’m writing this. Lots of people are more than happy to tell you what or how many guns you “need.” But you only need one person to tell you how to use the one you have. And that information is far more valuable than a shopping list written for you by someone else. A dozen people can tell you to go spend $1,500 on a Kimber Tactical Warrior Elite with Crimson Trace laser grips (or whatever). Unless someone teaches you to use it effectively, it’s just an expensive paperweight. And you end up just as dead.

Now, why am I qualified to talk about marksmanship? Well, I’ll expound on that a little bit. I am an honorably discharged veteran of the United States Army. I served as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD [5]) Technician. Like all soldiers, I am Infantry qualified. Rifle marksmanship is paramount. Also, as an EOD tech, I am trained in handgun employment and long-range, big-bore rifle shooting, as well. And my credentials as an “expert” hang proudly on the dress uniform that I used to wear. And I have trained over 200 hard-charging, fighting men and women who use the guidance I gave them to defend themselves, others, and (to some extent) American freedom in countries across the globe. If that doesn’t qualify me, I don’t know what does. So, (since you’re still reading), let’s get started. First, as I can not presume to know what kind of weapon you have. I’m going to discuss rifles. Because, rifles are the most versatile of the three primary options you will have. Also, this will be covering the basic use of a rifle with iron sights. The fundamentals are basically the same for use of a hunting weapon with an optic (scope), but scopes get dropped, bumped, and damaged with real world use. So, they may not always be your option, even if you have them. Also, as a side note, most popular hunting rifles aren’t equipped with factory iron sights, so if a hunting rifle is all you have, then protect that optic! For a diagram of parts for your rifle, see your owner’s manual [6]. And remember, you will have to practice this before TEOTWAWKI [7].

Firing position – There are three major firing positions: standing (off-hand), knelling, and lying (prone). I recommend the prone position to start, as it is the most stable. However, it is not always an option in a real situation. Kneeling is a rapidly obtainable position if on the move, and more stable than off-hand (standing). But, we’re going to shoot prone for starters, until you get the hang of the basics. Stack two or three sandbags forward of your body, halfway between you and the muzzle of your weapon. These won’t be there WTSHTF, so don’t rest your weapon on them. Only your hand, if you must.

Now, you have your rifle, your sandbags, and a stable firing position.. There are a few more things. We call them “fundamentals.” They must be practiced religiously until they become muscle memory.

Sight picture – Proper sight picture is important. Whether it’s standard, notch-type sights, or a military-style “peep” sight. We’re talking fundamentals, though. So, whatever your sights look like, you must align the front and rear sights, first. Practice this anywhere (unload the weapon and keep your finger off the trigger. If I have to tell you to follow basic firearm safety, you probably aren’t smart enough to survive a socioeconomic collapse…). Focus on your front sight. That’s the key. Now, lets add the target. When you sight your rifle, your front and rear sight should be aligned, with the front sight covering your target. Your front sight should be clearly in focus, and your target should be a blurry silhouette. If your target is in focus and your front sight is blurry, you’re doing it wrong. But, don’t touch off that first round yet. There’s more.

Breathing – I know, you breath a million times a day without thinking about it, right? How ‘bout you chill out and maybe you’ll learn something today, “High-speed.” Notice that breathing while shouldering your rifle moves the sights? See, there’s a reason this is part of the fundamentals of marksmanship. You can’t stop your breathing. Breathing moves you off target, though. That’s okay. We can work with that. It’s simple, you have to fire when your sights are on target. That should be around the middle of your breathing cycle. Inhale deeply, let it out until you’re on target, hold it, fire, exhale, repeat. If you hold it too long, you’ll fatigue and begin to shake, so practice it. You’ll get the hang of it. One more fundamental.

Trigger squeeze – That’s right… “squeeze.” Yanking or jerking the trigger will pull your shot off target. Misses are a waste of ammo. It only takes three muscle to squeeze the trigger properly. Not your whole arm. You want to apply smooth, even pressure straight back on the trigger. Don’t worry about speed. It’ll come with practice. Remember, “Slow is smooth. Smooth is fast.” Also, don’t wrap the trigger with your finger. Use the first pad of your finger only. And don’t anticipate the shot. It’ll be a more accurate shot if the discharge surprises you.

That’s about it, folks. It’s easy. And accurate rifle shots not only defend your home, but can put food on your table. Seek formal training if you have the option. Shooting is best learned with an instructor correcting your errors as you make them. Also, you cannot learn to fire a rifle accurately by reading. It takes practice. Lots of it! Shooting is also a perishable skill. If you shot at cans with your grandfather 20 years ago, and haven’t picked up a weapon since, you probably need to brush up. But don’t worry. If too much trigger-time could kill you, I’d be dead. Happy shooting. Once, you’re all stocked up as Mr. Rawles has instructed, and are proficient with your weapon, you can just sit back and enjoy TEOTWAWKI [7].