In a TEOTWAWKI situation, the ability to shoot accurately from a distance could be the difference between eating healthy high protein game, and not eating at all, or it could be the difference between protecting your loved ones, and being raided and attacked by bandits.
Beyond just being able to shoot accurately, learning to be a marksman teaches focus, patience, determination, and consistency – valuable skills for any survivalist and in any survival situation.
In marksmanship, the goal is to minimize the input of your body on the firing action of the gun. Imagine that you are relaxing your muscles and building a stack of solid, stable bones to rest your rifle on. The only muscular input should be the slow and steady squeezing of your trigger finger.
Contrary to popular believe among many recreational shooters and hunters, myself at one point included, the primary purpose of a sling is not to carry your rifle over your shoulder. The primary purpose of a sling is as a support to steady your rifle without the use of a tripod.
There are several types of slings, and a lot of different ways to use them. I’ll go over two variations on how to use them. The first is fast and can be easily be transitioned to while on the move, while using the sling to carry your rifle. The second takes more time to set-up, but is much more accurate.
While your sling is attached at two points, on the forestock and near the butt, pick up your with the sling loosely dangling over the outside of your forward arm. Slide the elbow of your forward arm into the sling and hold it at angle that puts tension on the sling and stabilizes the rifle. Adjust the length of your sling to get the right amount of tension.
To set up a more accurate shot, remove the sling attachment from the butt of your rifle, slacken the sling inside the buckle and slide your forward arm through the loop created by loosening the buckle. You want to use this loop so that pulling on the rifle will tighten the loop and keep in it place. Place the loop as high on your arm as possible. Your forward hand should slide in between the sling and the forestock of the rifle, and when in position the sling should be taught against the back of your forward hand to create a secure position.
There are a variety of different positions that you can intelligently assume while firing a rifle. Your choice will largely depend on a combination of time and distance. The most accurate positions take more time to set up, and the least accurate positions take less time to set up. At shorter distances to your target, you are more likely to have been seen, and more likely to be in a hurry. At farther distances to your target you are more likely to be un-detected and have more time to set up your shot.
If you are having any trouble lining up the sights while you are in any of these positions, you may need to check your eye dominance. Just because you are right handed doesn’t mean that you are right eye dominant. To test your dominance hold both hands out in front of you with your arms straight. Overlap the fingers of your right hand with the fingers of your left hand, and overlap the thumb of your right hand with the thumb of your left hand. There should be a hole that you can see through, put an object at a distance in that hole. With both eyes open, bring your hands closer to your face until your hands hit your face, keeping the object centered in the hole. Your hands should end up coming to one eye or the other. That eye is your dominant eye. If your dominant eye is your right eye, your right hand is your trigger hand. If your dominant eye is your left eye, your left hand is your trigger hand.
There are two things that you should do in all positions. First, the forestock of the rifle rests on the open palm of your non-trigger hand. The rifle should rest more or less along the lifeline crease in your palm. You want to minimize your input on the rifle, gripping the forestock introduces unnecessary and unstable muscular support into your firing system. Second, crane your neck forward and place your cheek on the stock of the rifle. You should be in a good position to see the sights, and when the rifle recoils, your head should go up with the rifle, instead of the rifle bashing into your forehead. It’s especially obvious when someone with an improperly setup scope forgets to do this step, usually a newbie at the beginning of shooting season. They end up with a circular scope shaped cut on their forehead. Don’t let this be you, setup a consistent, safe, and repeatable position every time.
The most basic shooting position is the standing position. In the standing position I like to put my feet a little bit wider than shoulder width, to make a good solid base. The elbow of your trigger arm should be up, and your trigger arm should be parallel to the ground. Try it. You’ll notice that as you lift your elbow, your shoulder creates a nice pocket to hold the butt of your rifle firmly in place. The last thing you want to happen is the rifle to slide off of your shoulder from recoil as it’s fired. Your shot will be terrible, and you might end up hurting yourself. Plant your foot on your trigger side. Pivot your front foot around to make adjustment left to right. To move altitude adjustments, move your front foot out and in, or adjust the placement of your hand on the forestock.
The next shooting position is the sitting or kneeling position. There are a lot of variations in this position, and I recommend you practice getting up and down with your unloaded rifle to figure out what works best for you. The overall principles remain, create a solid stable base, with loads on your bones, not your muscles, to set your rifle on top of. I’ll go into the position I use the most, and is arguably the best sitting position. You will need to wiggle around and make adjustments to make any seated seated position work for you. Cross your feet with the trigger side foot in first. Ideally, your boots should support your legs in this position. The back of your upper arm, just above the elbows should rest on your thighs or knees. If you try to rest the pointy part of your elbow on your thighs or knees you’ll slide around it you won’t be able to fire a consistent shot. If you are having trouble getting into this position, begin to uncross your legs, and even put them out in front of you with your knees up in the air if you have to.
The most accurate shooting position is known as the prone position, because you’ll be lying prone on your stomach in this position. Rest your elbows on the ground, and put your forward non-trigger elbow as directly under the stock of the rifle as possible to minimize horizontal movement. You’ll find that you shoot in a diagonal pattern when your elbow is not directly under the stock. Place your trigger-side elbow in a comfortable place that allows you to make a hand-shake grip on the trigger. The trigger-side leg should be bent up as high as possible, while your non-trigger-side leg should be straight in line with your body. This configuration will put you a bit on your side and create some space under your stomach so that your breathing doesn’t lift you off the ground and move your position around. Use your trigger-side elbow as your pivot point and move the rest of your body around to find your aim.
Before we get into firing the rifle, no marksmanship survival guide would be complete without a gun safety lesson. If you aren’t handling your rifle safely, and accidentally injure yourself or those around you, you’ll be compromising your chances of survival.
The most important thing to remember is never point the muzzle of your rifle at something that you are not prepared to destroy, be it a wall, plant, wildlife, or human. As long as you do this, you’ll be safe, even with an accidental misfire of the rifle.
When your rifle is not in use, it should be unloaded, the bolt should be open, and there should ideally be a chamber flag in the chamber so it is clear and obvious that there are no rounds in the chamber or magazine.
When your rifle is loaded, your finger should never be on the trigger until your sights are on the target.
This is by no means a complete list of safety considerations, but basic guidelines to help keep you safe. It’s more intended as a reminder to people with shooting experience. If you have no shooting experience, I recommend getting some basic training at your local range or gun store.
Steps to firing a shot
The Appleseed firearms training organization does a really good job of breaking this down into six steps, the most important of which, and the one which will make you better than 95% of all other shooters out there is to squeeeeeeeeze (not pull) the trigger, and hold it back – more on that later.
First step is sight alignment, how this actually looks will vary based on the types of sites you have. Basically, this means line up the front and rear sites while you are in a shooting position.
Next, create a sight picture. Again, there are a few different ways you can do this, but I prefer the six o’clock hold. In a six o’clock hold you put the target directly above the front site. The benefit of putting the target above the sight is that you can always see the target, even when the target is 400 meters away. With a center-mass hold, with a target at 400 meters, your sight will likely cover the target, making it difficult to see when you are aiming high.
Once you’ve got your sights aligned and a sight picture, it’s time for a respiratory pause. The best time to pause is at the bottom of your exhale. At this point in your respiratory cycle, your body is at its most relaxed and you will fire the most consistent shot.
Next, focus your eye on the front sight while you focus your mind on keeping the front sight on the target. The saying here is “shoot the fuzz,” because your target will be fuzzy. Learn to get comfortable doing this. It’s the most accurate way to shoot, and one of the most difficult parts of firing a shot to master.
Now you are ready to begin firing the shot. Start to squeeze the trigger with the pad of your index finger. It should be in more or less a “C” shape, and the only part of the trigger finger that should touch any part of the gun is the fingertip pad below the first knuckle. It’s common to catch beginners and experienced shooters alike, dragging the side of their finger along the stock, also known as, “dragging wood”. I say you are ready to “begin” firing the shot, because you never decide it’s time to shoot. If you are squeezing the trigger properly, the actual fire of the shot will be a surprise. It will just happen whenever you’ve squeezed enough to fire off the shot.
Finally, just because you squeezed the trigger and the round is going off, doesn’t mean you are done. It takes time for the powder to burn, the gas to expand, and the bullet to leave the end of the rifle. During that time, you can’t be influencing the rifle or you will be throwing off all of the hard work you’ve put into the shot. So what do you do? Hold the trigger back! This possibly the single most important thing you can do. Keep the trigger in the pulled position until you are ready to fire again. And while you are doing that, look at your sights and call where your shot went. You might learn something.
Natural Point of Aim
Natural Point of Aim is the position your body is in when it is completely relaxed while holding the rifle. This is the direction the shot with fire naturally. It’s the most stable, consistent, and reliable position you can use over a course of fire. Any position where your muscles are used to keep the sights on target is not your natural point of aim, will not be as accurate, and will lead to unnecessary fatigue over the course of fire.
The best way to find your natural point of aim is to get in position, put your sights on target, close your eyes, relax, take several deep breaths, and open your eyes again. If your sights are still on target, you are likely in your Natural Point of Aim. If not, adjust your body position until you are on target again, and repeat the process until you remain on target after closing your eyes and relaxing.
One great way to test your Natural Point of Aim, that Appleseeders will certainly be familiar with, is “Carding the Sights”. You’ll need a friend to hold a credit card or driver license between your sights after you’ve lined up your sights on target, while you repeat the above drill but with your eyes open. You may find that you get more honest results this way, as you’re not subconsciously pulling the sights back on target.