Letter Re: Marksmanship

That was an excellent article from Josh B. on Marksmanship. But as Gary D. pointed out, following those principles under stress can be a challenge. I thought I’d recommend a few stress inducers that I practice, which have improved my shooting skills.

Before I begin, I’d like to note that I’m an US Army Infantry veteran. That should not imply that I am an expert. In fact, the more I practice and learn about shooting, the more I’ve come to realize how little I learned back then. Yes, the taught me the fundamentals, but I’ve since realized there is always so much more to learn.

From my perspective shooting falls into two categories: short and long range. The definition between short and long range may vary between different people, but what I am talking about can be summed up as: snapshot vs time for getting into a natural point of aim. Training for each is very different. Most of what Josh B’s article refers to is establishing a Natural Point of Aim (NPOA), controlling breath, squeeze, etc, so I won’t rehash what he already wrote. BTW, when I talk about ‘snapshot’ I extend the definition into the type of target engagement that is usually covered in IPSC.

Let’s start by knowing the baseline. For snapshots, and for NPOA shooting, before adding stress, it would help greatly to identify how you shoot without stress. How long does it take you to shoot accurately? Write it down, with times and average MOA of groups. You should not rely on the feeling of improving. You should be able to see the numbers as you improve. X seconds quicker target engagement, Y MOA more accurate, and Z difference between stress and non-stress situations.

Stress training for NPOA shooting, can be as simple as picking a range lane next to the local ‘Rambo’ trying to shoot as many .308 rounds as possible while you try to shoot sub-MOA. Another stress could be added by having a friend randomly smack/tap you while shooting. Or better yet, have your wife tap you every time she thinks you are about to pull the trigger, and ask if it’s time to go home yet? If you can shoot sub-MOA with that going on, you’re a better man than me.

For snapshots, a buzzer really helps. Personally, I randomly have a snapshot target – about the size of the B zone in a IPSC target, placed from 25 to 100 meters out. Now, if you are using a buzzer during a busy range day, that can cause issues with recording the time difference, and at minimum it can just be darn unfriendly to your lane neighbor. A friend can better help with a tap and a timer, but there are other methods to improve snapshots.

If your range is limited, try the appleseed challenge targets at 25 meters. But if you are lucky your local range has a version of IPSC. That will be about some of the best practice that you can get. My local range has a version of IPSC that only allows for rifle or pistol at one time (different days). These challenges often include a change of target layouts, good guy/bad guy targets intermixed, different starting points including having to pickup and load a rifle after the buzzed rings, reloads, and other challenges such as having to pie a corner, or week side drills, often within the same target set. All of them are timed, and points taken off for misses and other procedural issues.

Under these IPSC like conditions you really get to see how much time is consumed via a messed up reload, or what stress does to your overall times. What’s your balance between speed and accuracy? Are you faster with your M1A or your HK91? Does a week and hold over the barrel improve your shooting, or hurt it? These things might be rifle dependent, but without real comparison times you are up to ‘guessing’ at the answer. In addition you can see how much you improve in time and accuracy when making gear changes.

Now a days, there’s probably more written about how to shoot, and how to improve shooting, than any other time in history. I don’t agree with everything written, but studying up on different styles of shooting, and trying them, can help you improve your overall rifle/pistol skills.

Here a are a few books and videos that I recommend:

1. Magpul Dynamics DVD series (Precision rifle, carbine, and pistol)
2. The Home Schooled Shootist: Training to Fight with a Carbine – by Joe Nobody. (There are some really great drills in this one. I just wish I had the land available to do them all); I’m also a fan of his ‘Holding Their Own’ novel series.
3. The Art Of The Rifle by Col. Jeff Cooper
4. Leather Sling and Shooting Positions by M/SGT James R. Owens (Ret)
5. Sight Alignment, Trigger Control & The Big Lie M/SGT James R. Owens (Ret)
6. Combined Arms Operations in Urban Terrain, FM 3-06.11. (A good overview of room clearing, and other urban specific shooting challenges) – BTW – great FM/ATTP for us veterans who still remember what the Berlin wall looked like. There’s been lots of advances in urban tactics since the good old days. And this manual covers many of them.

What kind of practical results can you expect? Since I started seriously studying, and practicing, a number of the drills from the list above, my results went from the middle of the pack in my local IPSC, to what is now usually between third and first place. That’s usually a jump of 15-20 positions. IPSC doesn’t focus too much on the use of cover, so it is important to remember that, and scarifies time for cover (in my opinion).

More important to me is that I have learned where I need to improve, and specifically how to improve. For example: my hardest target to get a A zone hit is after I have shot one target and have to transition to a second at a distance greater than about 2 meters. Even if there are more than one transition targets, it’s almost always that first transition that gets me. I just keep either over or under compensating. But I’ve gone from a “mis” to a D zone, to a C-B zone hit, within the same length of time. Dry fire transitions help the most here. Getting your body to stop on the second target, and have that stop point be sight aligned, turned out to be quite effective. Now I just need to time the trigger pull correctly.

Last, I’ve learned that when I think I shot way too slow, I usually end up with my best times, and best groups. That’s all about learning to compensate for adrenaline, and how it impacts your perception of time. There’s no way I could have identified specific skill set issues, and develop a plan to improve them, without practicing within a stressed environment.

Merry Christmas to all, – Robert from North Carolina