Letter Re: Zen and the Art of Basic Rifle Marksmanship


Thanks again for the great job on your blog.In reading the recent excellent article forwarded by Doc in South Carolina titled “Zen and the Art of Basic Rifle Marksmanship,” a few additional thoughts came to mind.

I recall my father teaching us boys how to shoot at ages 11-12. We used a break-open pellet gun, similar to the Gamo that I now own (now with a scope on it), to shoot at a small target mounted on a pellet trap, which was in turn mounted on a large and thick piece of plywood.  Our instruction was carried out in the dining room of our apartment located on the base at Ramstein AFB, Germany.  Some might just be cringing at the thought of practicing in one’s dining room, but as Doc implied, if you cannot do it safely, you maybe hadn’t oughta be doin’ it, at all.

So it was in our dining room there on an Air Force base that our father, a fighter pilot and an avid rifle hunter, shotgunner, and hand loader, taught us the basic formal shooting positions, which, as described in the article, included prone, kneeling, and standing.  There he taught, as the author suggests, the art of breathing, trigger squeeze, and concentration on the front sight, as well as the creation of stability “triangles” by the use of ones bones (as opposed to muscles) to create structural braces for each shooting position.

However, not described in the article is one of the most useful and stable of all positions, second only to prone, and that is sitting.  That position is begun from standing by plopping down on one’s buttocks at an acute angle to the target, and then placing the elbows forward of the spread knees.  Incidentally, the “formal” sitting position such as we were taught in the USMC, that is, sitting with legs crossed and ankles tucked in under the thighs, is almost useless in a field situation, as it requires a nearly flat surface, a wonderfully lithe and agile body, and time to properly attain.  However, the sitting position as has been used routinely by soldiers and Marines in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam (my war), and by numerous hunters,  is one taken with legs spread and used to create the stability “triangles” mentioned above.  It is useful on flat ground as well as inclines, and can be obtained very quickly.  Of course in a tactical situation, its use could be limited by the necessity to be behind adequate cover, but that is true of all positions.  As the author states, a prone position is favored for its near rock-solid stability, and can usually be obtained behind low cover.  Nevertheless, the sitting position is inherently stable, and much more so by far than either kneeling or standing, and should be considered.  I feel sure that the author is writing in the context, perhaps, of a “running gun fight,” in which plopping down on one’s buttocks is likely too slow to allow subsequent rapid movement, which event favors the kneeling position. However, in that case the squatting, or “Rice Paddy Prone” position might also be used.  But for those times, particularly while hunting, where a relatively quick and very stable position is desired for a really precise shot, the sitting position is an alternative worthy of consideration.

Further, for the best discussion I have ever read or heard, including the excellent instruction that we received in the USMC, see Col. Jeff Cooper’s book The Art Of The Rifle. It is arguably his finest work, this among his many fine writings.  It is not a book about equipment nor hardware. It is about how to use a rifle, and in this respect is much in line with Doc’s article.  It is recommended for shooters of all ages and experience, for there is always  more to learn.  While it is not a substitute for formal “live” training, it is about the next best thing. – Two Dogs in West Virginia Lt.Col. USMCR (ret.)