Letter Re: Marksmanship

Dear JWR,

The article on marksmanship by Josh B. was an excellent one and discussed all of the basic principals of good marksmanship except, in my opinion only, one. I have several years experience with three Law Enforcement agencies in training other Officers  how to shoot and have come to realize that the biggest factor in shooting accurately is mindset.

In a real shooting scenario, you will most likely have no control over your breathing, your  posture, your grip or your trigger squeeze. You may be out of breath, your heart rate may be through the roof, you may be proned out or shooting with your off hand from your off side and your grip may be wet or sweaty. That does not mean that you will be unable to shoot accurately. Yes, having all of those things certainly makes the process much easier but it does not mean that you are doomed to failure.

Proper sight picture and sight alignment is, of course, absolutely necessary. The gun is going to place the bullet on the spot where it is aimed at the time that it is discharged, regardless of how the shooter gets it there. Please don’t misunderstand, I’m not finding fault with Josh’s article, the points that he makes are all valid and are the ones that instructors are taught to watch and correct if a shooter has accuracy problems. The factor that isn’t taught, however, is mindset.

New and inexperienced shooters are often seen to jerk or pull the weapon in different directions, throwing the rounds off target at random. This after lengthy discussion of all of the points mentioned in Josh’s article. Even experienced shooters often throw rounds even after practicing all of the six points Josh mentions. This usually occurs because they have, maybe only briefly, lost mental control.

What I am calling mindset in this letter is difficult to describe, much less teach. To me, it is a combination of confidence, peace of mind and even a little arrogance. The shooter must have confidence that the weapon will perform as it has hundreds of times before, that he (the shooter) is satisfied that he is doing the correct thing when firing his weapon and is in control of the weapon and situation  and KNOWS that he has the ability to accurately place the shot. New shooters need to be taught that they have fired the weapon numerous times before without problems and that the weapon will make a loud noise and that it will move around in the shooter’s hand.  The shooter needs to recognize these things and to remove them completely from their mind as they prepare to fire. Experienced shooters should be reminded that they have fired numerous bullseyes before and that they can certainly do it again and that they are qualified  to place the shot with perfect accuracy.   

Again, great article by Josh and, with practice, all of us will improve our shooting ability. Prepare as if your life depended on it.  – Gary D.                                   

JWR Replies: The way to overcome stress while shooting is to intentionally inject some stress into your training. Go to high power matches. You will probably find yourself quite nervous at your first couple of events. Go hunting–a lot. “Buck fever” is a real phenomenon. Learn to overcome it. If you have access to a truly private range, for advanced training, set of firecrackers just a pace or two behind the shooter’s’ feet while they are shooting prone.