Marksmanship, by Josh B., USMC

The Basics

There is a huge focus on stocking firearms, spare parts and ammunition, but using firearms and learning the fundamentals of marksmanship seem to have a little less importance. Not necessarily that it is not important to learn the fundamentals of marksmanship, but more to the fact that it takes quite a bit of dedication and on going training to become proficient using them. I find, being an NRA and USMC instructor, that some people share the idea that they are proficient because they “have been shooting their whole life”. Some of these people assume that they understand proper marksmanship simply because they’ve shot guns since they were kids, but in fact they know very little about the techniques involved in shooting accurately. Once the fundamentals have been learned correctly, then it is far more understandable to assume that they do in fact know how to accurately shoot a firearm. That is not to say that because they learned how to accurately shoot when they were younger, or recently, that the skill has not diminished from lack of actually shooting, and shooting correctly. I harp on shooting correctly because there are really three ways to shoot: Correctly, incorrectly, and somewhere in between these two where people get lucky by shooting the way they want to.

There is an acceptable series of fundamentals common to most shooting, and they are as follows.
-Sight Alignment
-Sight Picture
-Breath Control
-Trigger Squeeze

Some other factor when shooting rifles and shotguns include:
-Stock Weld
-Forward Hand Placement
-Bone support

Since this is a “educational” column, I will break down each component, and by the end of this and with a little practice, you should improve your marksmanship skills enough to pass this article on to your friends, or print it out and keep it as a reference!

Lets start with Grip. I comfortable, firm grip on the firearm is required to fire more than one shot. There are cases where a grip out of the ordinary can be accurate, as Bob Mundin displays during his exhibition shooting, but ask bob to shoot two aspirin flung in separate direction while holding his six-shooter upside down and surprise surprise he can’t do it. Your hand should be a little high on the back-strap, but not so high that you get slide-bite or cannot maneuver the hammer. The lower your hand is, the more room there is for the firearm to pivot. The higher the better!

Sight Alignment
Next we have sight alignment. Sight alignment is actually quite easy. Looking down the sights stare at the front sight. Take the tip of the front sight and line up the flat tip with the flat two notches in the back. Whilst staring at the front tip, keeping it flat with the rear sight, ensure that there is equal spacing on each side of the front sight in relation to the rear sight. Since we are presumably reading this article from a computer that has a keyboard, I’ll use the keyboard to give you an idea of what this should look like. Look at the letters F-G-H. Imagine the letter “G” is the front sight, and the letters “F” and “H” are the rear sight. You can now see that they align perfectly horizontally, vertically, and have equal spacing on each side of the letter “G”. If you’ve happened to be in the military, you may remember this: Sight alignment is: The clear tip of the front sight centered bother vertically and horizontally in the rear sight aperture sir! REMEMBER AIM WITH THE TIP OF THE FRONT SIGHT.

Sight picture
Sight picture seems to be one of the two biggest contributors to bad shots. I usually ask if someone can give me a quick guess to what sight picture should look like, and usually the answers is as expected, the exact opposite of what sight picture needs to be. So sight picture in a nutshell: The sights of the firearm, aligned on a target, while focusing on sight alignment. We know in sight alignment we have to focus on the front sight, and keeping it aligned to the rear sight. So how do we focus on 3 different things at the same time you ask? We don’t! Instead we use something that God gave us upon our creation: our imagination. I describe it as imagination because in my opinion it is. We focus on the front sight, we have some peripheral vision to help align the front sight to the rear sight. We then align our newly aligned sights and place them on the target, using some peripheral vision and our imagination. If we understand what our target is, then we can imagine where we need to place our sights to get a good hit, whether it be in the x-ring or the pumper. I’ve been called crazy before, until I take someone to the 3 and 6-hundred yard-line and they start popping balloons. It’s really quite amazing to see the excitement when someone pops a balloon at 3 and 6 hundred yards, just seconds after they say they can’t even see the balloon. Military Gurus: Sight picture is: THE CLEAR TIP OF THE FRONT SIGHT POST, CENTERED ON THE TARGET WHILE MAINTINING SIGHT ALIGNMENT, SIR!

Breath control
Breath control is a pretty easy step to get used to. You don’t hold your breath while shooting because after a few seconds it can cause tremors, and your body is in a uncomfortable muscle flexing posture. Go ahead and take a deep breath and hold it. You may notice that your actually flexing your abdomen and might even notice a hand tremor, or your sight beginning to blur. These are a couple reasons not to hold your breath. Instead, take a deep breath and let it out slowly, the time in between the breath you just let out and your next breath is your natural respiratory pause. It is during the pause that you must focus on taking the shot with a slow steady trigger squeeze.

Trigger Squeeze
Trigger squeeze is another fundamental that can perish without practice. Proper trigger squeeze is achieved by depressing the trigger to the rear of it’s cycle without interrupting sight alignment and sight picture. There are several tools that aid in achieving good trigger squeeze beyond using a firearm. I like to use a strength gripper that has individual fingers that can be depressed, like guitar finger strength training aids. Even a simple spray bottle can help, it provides some resistance and pivots rearward just like a trigger on a firearm. Something that I’ve mentioned before is an air-soft gun, nothing fancy, preferably a cheap one from “Wally World”, ebay, or a sporting goods store. The key in training for trigger control is to depress the trigger to the rear while minimizing movement on the firearm. Simply watching your finger while using one of these training aids can help you understand how much extra movement there can be if there is little focus on trigger squeeze. Once the trigger “breaks”, engages the action after a set point, there should still be a slow steady rearward pressure on the trigger until you’re ready to start the cycle again. The break of the trigger should be somewhat of a surprise to the shooter, unless you know exactly how many PSI you put on the trigger and are a human pressure gauge, then the trigger should break at somewhat of a surprise. At this point we move on to Follow-through

Follow-through is the point that which the shot has been fired and you recover and start the process over for another shot. There should still some rearward pressure on the trigger, the sights may be a little out of alignment because of recoil, you may start to breath after your natural respiratory pause, and you start the shot process after your have reacquired the target. Follow-through is important because it is basically the foundation for a continuous shot process. The greatest example I can think of for shot process, is the bullseye rapid-fire portions of high-power rifle competitions. These guys have 60-70 seconds to fire 10 shots at the bullseye with a magazine change. Typically these shots are dead on, all kill-shots at 200 and 300 yards. There is also the infamous Rattle Battle at Camp Perry during the Nationals every year, this competition is quite the spectacle.

Stock Weld
Stock weld is the relationship of the shooter’s head, to the stock. Typically we don’t see the greatest shots from people without stock weld while shooting a rifle or shotgun, they usually just get lucky. Think of a sniper laying prone at 700 yards stalking his target. He’s hunkered down in his sniper hide, has his M40 resting firmly in his shoulder, and his head resting on the stock firmly but not so firm that it’s canting the rifle. That sounds like good stock weld to me. Now imagine your average terrorist walking around in the middle east firing at troops from the hip. Most likely he isn’t hitting much because not only is he missing stock weld, but most likely he has basically no marksmanship skills and fundamentals at all.

Forward Hand Placement
I’m not going to harp too much on forward hand placement, because each and every person has different abilities depending on their body. I wills ay that while shooting a rifle in the prone, you may have a little better luck if your forward hand is further from the action to support the weight of the rifle. The closer your hand is to the action of the rifle, the more off balance, and pivot-like movements you may encounter. You may also use a sling in combination with your forward hand placement as the military once taught the benefits of making a “loop-sling”, they’ve recently steered away from some of these traditional sling skills because of different equipment. My personal feelings are that they really are doing a disservice to the newer generations of soldiers by not instilling marksmanship skills into them like had been taught for so many years.

Bone Support
Bone support is pretty basic. It’s better to hold up the weight of the rifle by using your bones in a fashion that the rifle is naturally held up. The more muscle you use, the quicker your muscles tend to fatigue and twitch. Good bone support can be achieved by placing your support elbow in the crook of your knee, or in a sandbag. You’re basically making a bipod for the rifle using some angles that your arms will make without much effort or muscle support. Fatigued and twitching muscles aren’t the greatest for supporting rifles for long periods of time. Try holding a rifle out in front of you level to the ground. It won’t take much more than 30 seconds for you to notice some twitching or trembling, burning muscles, and maybe even some sharp pains. It doesn’t matter how big you are, it’s only a matter of time before you get fatigued.

Final Thoughts
Let me give you an example of how my shot process works, it’s not perfect by any means, but pretty darn close! Assuming I am ready to go and my safety is off:
I start out by identifying my target and what’s beyond/surrounding it(sounds sort of like a safety rule….) I then get a good grip on the firearm, I align the sights, align the sights on the target, take a deep breath and let it out slowly. I typically start my trigger control during my breath out, and move onto my respiratory pause at which point the trigger breaks. The firearm goes bang, at that point my trigger is still depressed and I begin to take another breath simultaneously releasing the trigger as well as starting to depress the trigger, then acquiring my sights and target, finally picking up the cycle once more.
There is plenty of information on marksmanship out there, it just needs to be sought and learned. Far too often someone buys or builds a firearm from watching youtube videos and then magically they are an operator(military type operator, not a phone operator) If you take anything from this information at all, please take this small bit of advice. Find an instructor that is providing training for a skill you desire to learn. Check their credentials, and give them a chance if they check out. Most likely (if they are experienced and knowledgeable) they can spot good and bad fundamentals you may have picked up along your path of learning how to shoot.