Three Letters Re: Basic Rifle Marksmanship–Is It That Basic?

That was a great article on marksmanship and very relevant for me as this last weekend I participated in an Appleseed shoot.  The instructors are volunteers who did a great job (and refused any monetary tips).  It is a great organization!  They covered many of the topics you mentioned in this article.  For the first time in my life I feel like I finally have the fundamentals necessary to be a skilled shooter.

I’ve grown up plinking with BB guns and .22 rimfires all my life and have always been a decent shot.  Assuming 95% of your readers will say ‘duh!’ to one of my biggest lessons learned over the weekend but when acquiring the target I would keep the sights exactly on target throughout my breathing cycle.  I was using a lot of muscle control to keep it on target.  I learned to allow the sight to drift up during inhalation and as I reach the bottom of my breath it should naturally fall back precisely where I wanted it. 

I had also always looked at a sling as just a way to carry my gun and have my arms free.  The instructors took us through a variety of methods that used the sling to stabilize the gun while shooting.  My favorite is to detach the sling from the stock, create a loop and slide it over your upper arm. This technique made the gun extremely stable. 

Not only do you get to practice shooting but they also give great stories on American history.  We were amazing marksmen back during the War of Independence.  The British wore their redcoats as did the officers but the officer’s colors weren’t nearly as faded as the typical solider and so the officers made for easy targets.  The disproportionate number of officers lost in battle was a testament to the militia’s marksmanship.

I started the weekend shooting fairly well and by the end of the day I was shooting much tighter patterns.  One woman thee had never touched the gun and as we were going through safety at the beginning of the day she asked what the muzzle was.  Her first shots were all over the target.  By the end of the day she was doing very well.  Check out the Appleseed program.  I wish this country was full of marksmen again! Regards, – James K.


I feel compelled to respond to the post regarding rifle marksmanship. Sticking with the M16/AR-15/AR-10 family, my major points of contention include the reloading drill, malfunction handling, trigger-pull advice, and accuracy standard.

Firstly, the reloading drill described is that which is commonly taught for pistols, raising the weapon into your “workspace”, while allowing you to use your peripheral vision to guide the magazine into the pistol without taking your eyes off the target. Not only would raising a rifle in this manner be awkward (even with practice), it will be slow – much slower than with a handgun. Further, the difference between tactical and combat reloads should be discussed. A tactical reload is executed before the weapon runs dry, whenever you feel you have a second to top off the rifle with a spare mag. It is not done when a bad guy is staring at you, so you have the luxury of retaining the mag either in a magazine or dump pouch. The fresh magazine should be in your weak hand before you release the depleted mag in case your situation rapidly changes…you don’t want to have a bad guy pop around the corner when the mag well is empty and you’re still reaching for another magazine. A proper tactical reload involves gripping the depleted magazine, releasing it with the trigger finger, immediately inserting fresh magazine, then securing depleted or empty magazine, and it is easy to hold two AR/M16 mags in one hand using a “index finger and thumb” grip on the full magazines (bottom of magazine in your palm), and grabbing the partial mag between your index and middle finger This nearly eliminates the time you are standing there with, at best, one round in your rifle. The combat or speed reload is to be used when the weapon runs dry and a threat still exists in your immediate vicinity – drop the magazine using your trigger finger as soon as you feel the recoil buffer lock to the rear, while reaching for a fresh magazine with your weak hand. Better to lose or damage a magazine than catch a round in the chest because you took an extra second or two to fumble with your pouches.

Both of these drills should be executed with the weapon still in [the pocket of] your shoulder, pointed down range. Please note that he tactical reload works well with an AR-15/M16 because the magazine is easy to grasp with the support hand before it is released and falling through the air; it is not advisable for handguns or non-AR family rifles that don’t allow you to use your otherwise unoccupied trigger finger to eject the magazine.

Next, I take issue with the advised malfunction drill. “Immediate action” is sufficient to fix many malfunctions (failure to feed being relatively common, as it is possible to bump the mag release on
cover/obstructions). The memory aid we use is “tap, rack, bang” – slap the bottom of the magazine with your support hand to ensure it is fully seated, charge the weapon with the same hand while canting the weapon to take a quick glance at the ejection port/chamber area – and if you see no brass traffic jam, pull the trigger. If no “bang”, execute “remedial action”, releasing the magazine into your support hand, tilting the ejection port 45 degrees toward the deck, and operating the charging handle three or four times while shaking the weapon in an effort to clear a double feed or other malfunction. If one were to attempt an immediate action as advised, and the magazine has not been seated, “pulling the charging handle several times” will not solve your problem, as the bolt will continue to slide over the top of the next cartridge in the magazine. If the weapon experienced a partial-feed, pulling the charging handle once should eject a round and chamber another. If it double-fed or experienced another sort of jam, you have probably just made the problem worse with your multiple (and unnecessary) charging attempts. If “tap, rack, bang” doesn’t work – and it takes about 1.5 seconds to execute – take cover and pull the magazine for remedial action.

As for trigger pull, short-stroking is well and good for match shooting or firing deliberately on a target that is not poised to kill you, but it is not for saving time – if you’re trying to save “precious
milliseconds”, the implied condition is that your life may be saved by shortening the time between shots. If fractions of a second truly matter, trying to “slowly” short-stroke a trigger is counter-productive
and failing to reset it properly may get you shot. Slightly “jerking” the trigger is not likely to impact accuracy to a degree that will make a difference on a human-size target inside 100 yards. Short-stroking is
a deliberate shooting technique that should not be integrated with “combat marksmanship” training – it violates the “KISS” method.

In zeroing, I’d advise beginning at 25 yards/meters in order to ensure you’re at least “close”, especially if you don’t have the luxury of a 5’x5′ target board. It’s not necessary to fine tune at this range, but
if your rifle’s sights are significantly out of adjustment, you may be “chasing the paper” for a bit at 100 yards. Typically two or three rounds at 25 yards is sufficient before moving out to longer range. I am
worried that many inexperienced shooters will be discouraged by the 1 MOA “standard” in the previous letter – we are preparing for the unpleasant possibility of shooting people with an AR-15; if your weapon comes from the factory capable of firing 1 MOA, great. However, a 4-5 MOA battle-rifle or carbine will pretty consistently put a round in someone’s torso out to nearly 500 yards – which will be under rare circumstances anyway. More accuracy is better, but don’t beat yourself up over it – you’re not going to be required to shoot for the ten ring when a bad guy is down range trying to kill you. We are not talking about taking 800 yard head shots with our .308 “sniper” rifles. If you’re shooting for score, tight groups take a higher priority. If you just need to put a 5.56 through somebody’s lungs at 200 yards, don’t sweat it that you shot a four inch group on the range last week. Semper Fi, – Missouri Marine

Hi Mr. Rawles,
 I really enjoyed reading the Basic Rifle Marksmanship article.  It contains a large amount of good information but if I may I would like to offer a different take on some of what the author states.  He states that in your stance your dominant or strong leg should be slightly forward.  It has been my experience in both handgun and long gun shooting that your strong or dominant leg should be slightly behind your non-dominant leg.  This is a much more comfortable shooting stance and helps to keep your balance while absorbing recoil.  As for magazine changes he recommends pointing the rifle muzzle towards the sky while keeping your eyes on target.  I would advocate keeping your eyes and muzzle on target while executing your mag change.  Magazine changes can be critical to winning a gunfight and should be practiced often with your weapon of choice.  Many weapons are constructed so an empty mag drops free and why catch an empty mag when milliseconds are critical?  Let it drop and be reaching for your reload.  As for malfunctions I didn’t see anything about the most common malfunction which is a stovepipe.  A stovepipe, which is an empty shell casing that didn’t fully eject and usually sticking out at about a 90* angle is easily cleared by sweeping it out with your hand.
Lastly, I would like to offer a different approach when shooting from behind cover.  The author recommends getting up tight to the cover and placing your support hand against the building and using it to support your rifle.  When you brace against the building consider that your muzzle will be extending beyond the corner you’re shooting from and you can’t see around that corner.  This will leave your muzzle hanging out there subject to being grabbed.  When you get close to your cover it also becomes necessary to expose more of yourself to return fire.  Next time you go to the range try standing off 2-3 feet off of your cover.  The cover isn’t any less effective now that you’re a few feet behind it rather than right on top of it. You’ll find that less of you is exposed as you slice the pie and address targets from the outside in.  It also eliminates the opportunity for someone to grab your muzzle from the other side of the cover or barricade.  These are just another way of doing things.  I don’t claim to have the way just another method for our readers to try. – Carl L.

JWR Replies: I’d only add the proviso that those who are preparing to survive a major societal disruption (like most Rawlesian preppers) have more of “Third World” view of logistics. Unlike current circumstances–where there is a reliable supply of replacement magazines on short notice–we may have to adapt to an economy of scarcity. Magazines will become priceless and almost irreplaceable. A magazine that gets lost or scrunched will be cause for alarm or even mourning. I therefore recommend:

A.) Practice using a dump pouch, for empties. In TEOTWAWKI, saving you magazines will be worth that extra second, in all but the most dire lead conversations.
B.) Buy only top-quality magazines, selected for strength and durability. (For example, if you own an AR-15, your primary “carry” magazines should be HK steel “Maritime” magazines rather than the relatively fragile USGI alloy magazines, or buy PMAG polymer magazines which are famous for their strength.)
C.) Stack your spare magazines deep. You can never have too many. (And any that are truly excess to your needs will be very desirable for barter.) and,
D.) If you have an M1 Garand or other rife that automatically ejects clips or links off into the weeds, then buy a very large quantity of spares.