This article is intended to assist our fellow preppers with marksmanship. I have realized that with all the new interest in the prepper movement we have those that have never handled a firearm among us! I will start at the very basic level to help form a good foundation to build upon. For some this will be too basic or boring, however, they may see something of use. Some of this will also be story telling. I want the reader to get the “feel” for shooting, not just the science.
If you are new to firearms or less than an expert please give the following a read and see if you can give it a try. By building the proper skills with better methods you can be shooting better, sooner, and for less money. The skill of marksmanship can become a hobby, put food on the table, and save you or your family from those that would do harm so lets get some training going.
Why should you read this and follow what is suggested? Long ago, in a place far, far away I had the great honor of an assignment to the USAMU (Army Marksmanship Unit, or Army Shooting Team). For the sake of OPSEC some details will be skipped but lets say I had some experience along the way. I have to add that the Army did help polish my marksmanship skills but I arrived there an expert and it was all self taught to that point. The marksmanship instruction at basic training was unfortunately lacking back then. The final polish came from the coaches and peers at the elite USAMU.
I must give the safety brief: Misuse of a firearm is dangerous. It can result in property damage, serious injury and death. Always use hearing and eye protection. Treat firearms as if they are loaded. Keep firearms pointed in a safe direction and have a proper backstop for the ammunition being used. If you do not have a basic understanding of firearms and safe use of them then you should seek a basic safety class or other qualified training.
Terms used in this article include:
- Sight (s) – the fixtures or attachment which is viewed through to aim at the target.
- Sight Picture – the alignment of the sights and target as viewed by the shooter.
- Trigger – the lever or device which will initiate the discharge of the firearm.
- Bullseye – the very center ring of a target, maximum score area.
- Group – a set of bullet holes on a target, usually 3 or 5 to a set.
- Recoil – the rearward propulsion of the firearm as the bullet is fired.
- Flinch – an involuntary reaction to the recoil of a firearm.
- Safety – usually a push button or level which prevents or allows a firearm to be discharged.
It has been my anecdotal observation that we humans want the best, coolest, and biggest goodie. Functional and practical need not apply. We also want it new and we want it now. This is true of me too! Unfortunately this is usually the wrong way. That “arm chair commando” with a Barrett .50 BMG can’t hit a target at 200 yards but my .308 will reach out and touch someone at 800 yards. Skill wins. That skill starts by learning basics and building a solid foundation: Crawl, walk, run.
Get started with a BB gun or an Airsoft gun. Why get a BB gun? You can shoot it in your house if you live in an area that is not suitable to shooting outside. It is quiet. It is very inexpensive to shoot. There is no recoil to cause you to develop a flinch. I suggest a spring cocked BB gun such as the Daisy Buck or a manually compressed air type like I learned on, the Crosman 760 Pumpmaster. We are not looking to take big game just yet…what you need here is not fancy or powerful. This is the time to learn sight picture and trigger control. Oh, and if you learn on iron sights (not an optic) you can always advance later. If you start on an optic it will be difficult and frustrating to go back to the irons. Also get a proper target. There are hard foam target blocks and metal traps for BB gun shooting.
Now that you have acquired a functional BB gun let’s look at the sights. A blade sight has a single post in the front and two blades in the rear (also called a notch). For proper sight picture the top edge of the front sight should be placed between and even to the rear sight blades (or in the notch). The top of the three should be even and then placed in the center of the target. A peep sight will be similar except the rear sight is a circle. The top edge of the front sight goes in the center of the circle and that is then centered on the target. This sounds unusual, however, you now focus on the front sight. You should notice that the rear sight is slightly out of focus and the target will blur. This is crucial for later and you need to build the habit now. The issue is that your eye will focus to a specific distance like a camera. An object closer will be clear while one in the distance will be blurred. For practical marksmanship the front sight is clearly in focus while the rear sight is slightly out of focus and the target is not in focus. Simply center the sights in the blurred target.
Holding your BB gun in the beginning should be done from a comfortable position. A good method at this point is while seated at a table. Just place your elbows on the table about shoulder width apart. Keep your finger off the trigger. Now with the stock against your shoulder you should look down the sights and see where the BB gun is pointed. Set your target up at that height about 10 feet away. We will see where the sights are set.
Verify you have a safe backstop and there is no one at risk and nothing there to get broken. Use eye protection. Use hearing protection if appropriate. Follow the loading instructions and use the lowest power setting possible. Don’t forget the safety. Place the center of the first pad of your trigger finger on the trigger. From a normal full breath, let the breath half way out and hold. Aim and then draw the trigger straight back while keeping the sight picture. Trigger control, also called trigger squeeze, is crucial. If you hold your breath too long you will start to shake and maybe get blurred vision. Just start over. After this first shot you need to verify the BB is somewhere on the target. If not, check that you loaded a BB in the gun. You can maybe move the target closer or add additional targets around the first (making a larger target) to see where the BB is going.
When you locate the hole from the BB and see that it is anywhere on the target you should shoot 3 more times. These three shots should be in succession and will be a “group”. At this point you should be able to follow the instructions to adjust the sights if the group is not centered around the bullseye. If the group is a bit wide or erratic you should not be concerned. With repeated practice and following the fundamentals the group will get smaller in size (called tight). When you get the group tight, maybe 1 inch, then move the target back another foot. Repeat the process. Add more power or pump the pressure higher as needed for the distance.
You are now getting three things from this basic exercise: 1. maintaining proper sight picture while you 2. practice trigger control and 3. shooting without developing a flinch. These are the rock solid foundation of marksmanship. The more time you invest in building these good habits is the better a marksman you will become.
Once you feel confident, you can move on to other firing positions such as prone or kneeling, and later advance to a larger caliber. I very highly recommend stepping your way up to the desired caliber, such as .22, then .223, then .308 or a similar size. Come back to a small caliber sometimes to keep the fundamentals working for you. What can happen by moving to a larger caliber too fast is that you will develop a flinch.
To polish your skills and find what you are doing wrong:
Reduced size targets: Instead of moving your targets further away, just make them smaller. A great example is the 25 meter M16 zero target. The target is a 300 meter target scaled down to be used to 25 meters. IMHO you can learn a lot more seeing your hits and misses at 25 meters instead of having no idea what happened 300 meters away. Once you master the smaller target then you can move your targets out further.
Checking trigger control: When I was in the Army there was an exercise to check your trigger control. It was called the “dime and washer” drill. The drill required an assistant. Verify your rifle is unloaded and cocked. Take a prone position holding the rifle like you are ready to shoot. Your assistant inserts a cleaning rod into the barrel 10-15 inches with a few inches left exposed. The assistant then balances a dime on the cleaning rod and lets go. You should be able to pull the trigger (audible click) dropping the hammer on the firing pin without the dime falling off.
Checking for flinch: There is a product usually called a “snap cap” and also sometimes called a dummy round. They can be used several ways but for this practice you should be at the range and ready to shoot. Have an assistant load the magazine for you without you seeing. The snap cap should be mixed in with the live ammunition. When the person firing gets to the snap cap and squeezes the trigger everyone will see how much flinch they have developed. Small caliber practice and dry-fire drills with the snap caps can be used to correct the bad habit.
FWIW: I had no formal firearms instruction as a youth. I got to shoot a few rounds through a relatives handgun once and shot a BB gun a few times. The big event came when I was given a BB gun as a gift. It was Crosman 760 PumpMaster. With no formal instruction I was left to learn the concepts of trigger control and sight picture on my own. The Crosman had an excellent trigger and no recoil so I did not develop bad habits while shooting it. Many years later, right around the time of a major competitive event, my Mother asked me if I remembered how I learned to shoot. I was a bit puzzled because no one taught me to shoot. She said “you used to shoot the bees”. I had forgot that we had a problem with the wood boring bees around the old farm house when I was growing up. I practiced and learned to shoot the bees out of the air!