I think we can agree that being able to shoot straight is one of the most important ingredients in our hunting journey.
However, there are FAR too many articles that don’t address the basic fundamentals of marksmanship.
Did you know…
With the right fundamental systems, you’ll be able to bag an animal and hit your target EVERY time you step up to fire?
In this post, we’re going to show you our step-by-step approach for marksmanship and how you can start shooting like an expert Army Marksman.
I first learned how to shoot when I went hunting with my dad and cousins as a child.
My formal weapons education began at the US Army Fort Benning School of Infantry.
Later I went to a long-range shooting school in the army (Squad Designated Marksmanship.)
I attended many other shooting schools as well.
And I have trained many others over the last 13 years.
One thing I have learned is that most students (new and old) need to focus their training on the fundamentals.
Per the US Army School of Infantry in Fort Benning Georgia, there are four rules of basic rifle marksmanship.
They are as follows:
One: Steady position
It is commonplace for shooting schools to joke that the most stable thing in the world is the ground (ha…ha.)
Although no one ever laughs at this joke, it does help you understand the concept:
If you were to lay the rifle on the ground while pointing at the target, the round could leave the barrel without any human error (like shaking the gun too much.)
The point to be made with the lame joke is that the more the gun is in contact with the ground, the more steady it will be…
…this is why shooting sticks are so popular.
Think about this sequence:
If you shoot with only one foot on the ground, doing a warrior III pose, you will not be very steady…
If you shoot with two feet on the ground (and not doing a warrior III pose) you’ll be slightly more steady.
Two feet and two shooting sticks are even more steady.
Your whole body laying on the ground, with the gun resting on a backpack, is even steadier.
Get the picture?
So, the first rule of rifle marksmanship is getting steady.
The further you shoot the more steady you must be.
Army training taught me a few rules of thumb about body orientation and shooting distances that I’ve found invaluable in my hunting adventures.
I’d recommend you write them down as well:
Freestanding shots or only good for 100 yards or less…
…kneeling is good for 200 yards…
…and sitting for 300 yards.
If you want to shoot beyond 300, you should be prone.
If it’s good enough for the pros, it’s good enough for you (even as a beginner) to get started.
Aiming is the process of aligning the barrel with the target.
There are many different sights used on rifles, but the most common these days is a scope.
A rifle should be zeroed, which is the process of aligning the reticle (i.e. crosshairs) of a scope with the point of impact of the round.
To see how to properly zero your rifle, check out our post.
Once the rifle is zeroed (or sighted in) you should be able to trust that without taking wind or range into consideration, the round will impact where the reticle is centered.
A fundamental part of aiming is eye-placement consistency: having your eye on the same place of the rifle every time you shoot.
Do you ever see Steph Curry have a different elbow placement every time he’s breaking three-point shooting records?
No, because that would lead to inconsistent results.
Excellent marksmanship is consistent.
If you were to shoot with iron sights (aka those cool looking alignment tools you see if you’re playing Counter-Strike) and you held your head an inch closer to the sight when you were sitting…
…or an inch further when you were prone, then you would expect a different point of impact for each shooting position.
It sounds like basic advice, but don’t be fooled.
I’ve seen too many shooters get cocky and then deviate from these basics…
… and guess what…
That’s when they start missing shots.
Follow this advice to avoid being that guy.
In order to hold your head in the same place every time you shoot, soldiers are encouraged to do the following:
Put the corner of the charging handle against the middle of your nose.
This helps ensure your head is in the same place every time.
Riflescopes today are designed so that you need to have your eye in the center of the scope in order to see through it.
If the eye is not centered, you see a lot of black around the object. This is to make it easier to aim.
There is still room for error with scopes though.
Our post on the Minute of Angle can tell you more about how to compensate for that.
There is another problem with parallax.
But that is a subject for another time.
Breathing is often overlooked because it usually gets lumped in with aiming, but it really deserves its own section.
Here’s the deal:
The purpose of breathing is to set up your internal cadence for shooting and calm your heart rate.
This is important to understand.
It’s a self-reinforcing feedback loop that encourages calmness while taking your shot (try using the term self-reinforcing feedback loop at a party or board meeting. If you use it right, it’s a real panty-dropper.)
The main takeaway is that you should pause your breath for the shot.
This is not holding your breath, but pausing.
I do this cadence, and it’s worked like a charm:
Breath in, breath halfway out, pause and then shoot.
Breath in, breath halfway out, pause and then shoot.
Simple, powerful, and reliable.
If you have paused for more than 13 seconds, you’re holding your breath.
Holding your breath will cause shakiness since your brain thinks it’s being deprived of oxygen.
Then, it starts to panic due to lack of oxygen…
…and real shocker here, that is not conducive to aiming or having a steady position.
No more than 13 seconds.
Four: Trigger Squeeze
Countless articles have been written about trigger squeeze, so we’re not reinventing the wheel here.
But there are some key fundamentals that we want to hammer home.
The goal when pulling the trigger is to do so without moving the gun.
This is best accomplished by adding gradual pressure to the trigger until you get the “surprise brake,” and the gun goes off without you having the opportunity to move the gun off target.
Some people say to have the tip of the finger on the trigger, some say the meaty portion of the finger, and I’ve met guys who swear by using their first knuckle.
Frankly, this is splitting hairs and there are great shooters who use both.
Figure out what works for you and use that method.
Whichever method you choose, do it consistently.
Dry Fire Practice
Sometimes going in dry isn’t a bad thing… well… at least in terms of becoming an expert marksman.
Dry fire practice is not a fundamental of marksmanship, but it is one of the best and most cost-effective ways to reinforce the fundamentals we discussed above.
Dry fire means having an unloaded rifle, getting a steady position, aiming at a safe target, pausing your breath, and squeezing the trigger.
In the army, we had to place a cleaning rod in the barrel of our gun, balance a dime on the cleaning rod, and then pull the trigger without the dime falling off the rod.
This drill may be one of the best practices you can do to prepare for real shooting.
Plus, you can do it anywhere.
Once you can hold steady on a target, pause your breath, and squeeze the trigger without moving the gun, you’re ready to shoot real bullets.
One final thought on this subject is the concept of “follow through.”
Once the trigger is pulled, the gun will recoil into the body.
The shooter should know exactly where the sights were when the trigger broke, and then the shooter should try to bring the sights back to the target, before taking their cheek off of the stock.
With new shooters and “experienced” shooters, I often see that, as they absorb the recoil, they are already bringing their head away from the gun and looking downrange to see where their round impacted.
The new shooter is thinking about where the round hit before the trigger is pulled.
If the new shooter focused on the task at hand (i.e. taking the shot!) they would be less prone to making minor movement mistakes as the trigger brakes.
And once the smoke settles, you can look for where the round impacted.
Think of your golf buddy getting pumped to “crush” the ball off of the first hole.
New driver in hand, he steps up to take said “crushing” swing, pulling his head up to see the arc on his “awesome” drive…
…only for it to be shanking into the parking lot and putting a hole in the windshield of some guy’s Tesla.
Whereas, if he’d kept his focus on the ball, he’d have a decent drive!
The same concept applies here.
Don’t get jumpy!
Keep your focus on taking the shot and commit to follow through- each and every time.
To sum it all up, we’re going to throw it back to YOU!
You have the tools and resources to become a master marksman.
We’re ready to help you take this step and master the shot.
The only real question is…
If you are, post below with comments!