The primary goal of marksmanship is being able to hit what we are aiming at. Your purpose may be simple target shooting, hunting, or personal defense. Whatever the goal, a great deal of practice is needed. For most of American history, rifle marksmanship has been an essential skill, and it remains so today.
The rifle will save your life, win competitions, put meat on the table, and clear the homestead of dangerous animals. The rifle has greater range and energy than the handgun or shotgun, and it will prove a versatile all around firearm. It is unfortunate that I see a trend among many shooters—including those who should know better—of confusing survival skills with useful rifle shooting.
Taking a deer at 200 yards is a useful accomplishment. If you do not spend time hunting, but rather like to go to the range and expend hundreds of rounds of ammunition while performing game-based tactical movement, that is fine. Be cautioned and do not confuse this type of shooting with useful skills. The ones who really need that type of training have titles such as Special Agent, U.S. Marshal, or Private First Class. In the event of a zombie apocalypse on top of our present ignoramus apocalypse, you will be well trained.
The rifle as a hunting rifle must be accurate and powerful enough to take game cleanly. Taking game at extreme range or with an underpowered rifle is a stunt. If you are that good, my hat is off to you. I am very serious concerning hunting ethics.
I do not hunt for a trophy, although I realize the impact such hunts have on deserving guides and the local economy, both here and abroad. I own more than one AR-15 rifle and consider them a great recreational, target, personal defense, and varmint rifle. For deer-size game, I use the .308 Winchester, .300 Savage, and 7mm Remington Magnum.
I was lucky that my grandfather taught me to shoot using the affordable and light kicking .22 caliber rifle. There is no one solution to all of your needs, although a good .308 self-loader comes close. The .22 caliber rifle, however, is one rifle you must have. It should be the beginners’ rifle.
The Ruger American or the Ruger 10/22 are good choices. Ruger also offers made in America good quality, bolt-action rifles in the popular calibers. My choice is the .308 Winchester. This cartridge is accurate and has sufficient power for any game in America, depending on the user’s skill and the range. Federal Cartridge Company offers several loads allowing for good versatility. If you handload, the sky is the limit for custom-grade loads.
A quality optic is essential. You do not have to spend $1,000, but you will spend the price of the rifle for a quality optic with few exceptions. The Leopold riflescope is a good choice, and there are affordable options. TruGlo also offers affordable scopes that do the business for a modest price.
Service varies with different types of scopes, and you should purchase the best you can afford. Brightness, quality, and image clarity are important. The scope must be properly mounted before being sighted in. The elevation and windage adjustment is simple enough and may be done at 25 yards during the initial stage. Be certain to fire the rifle and scope combination at 100 yards to confirm the zero.
I generally set the zero one to two inches high at 100 yards depending upon what range the rifle will most likely be called on. Be certain the eyepiece comes to the eye comfortably and you have the correct eye relief. In the beginning, the shooter should use a solid bench rest firing position, firing from the bench and taking every advantage for accuracy. However, at some point, you will need to practice from a field firing position. Unless all you are preparing to do is punch paper…
Prone fire is the most stable, and not surprisingly, you may fire more accurately with the prone position than from a rest if you do it correctly. Align the rifle-bore center with the supporting structure of the body with the spine, inline as much as possible. Recoil energy will be absorbed by this structure. This natural support makes for a very solid firing position.
The gunstock should be solidly embedded into the shoulder. The support hand is forward on the forend without the arm touching the rifle. Keep the rifle steady, but not so hard a hold so that your body shakes. You are firing a single shot that must strike the mark, and this means a steady trigger press that is straight to the rear.
Some rifle trigger actions are heavier than others. First, take up the travel of the trigger. Then, slowly press the trigger straight to the rear. Keep the trigger to the rear for a moment. Then, release it and allow the trigger to reset. Remember that a slight movement, such as breathing, may move the crosshairs and throw the shot off.
Don’t forget, accuracy is how close you are to the object you are firing at. Precision is the closeness of the bullet impacts on the target. A properly sighted rifle should hit the target at 200 yards. That is accuracy. A precision rifle will place its shots into 1 MOA at 100 yards.
To properly sight the rifle, fire a group at 100 yards. Obviously, if the group is splayed about the target, something is wrong. If the group is 2 MOA or less, you are shooting to the rifle’s accuracy potential.
Observe the center of the three-shot groups you have fired. Next, adjust the scope so that the center of the group is on the center of the reticle. Elevation is moved up or down, windage left or right. Many of us prefer a sighting in process that gives us a rifle that is sighted for one inch, or 1.5-inch high at 100 yards (depending on the caliber). This allows the shooter to easily maintain a good probability of getting hits to 200 yards.
Hash marks on the reticle should be memorized for holdover, or hold under, at various ranges. As an example, the kill area of a deer-sized animal is generally regarded as eight inches. I prefer to err on the side of caution and the range at which you may get all of your shots in an eight-inch circle from a field position is the deadly range for the rifle and shooter. For some it may be 150 yards, for others a little more.
When firing off hand, the butt of the rifle must be firmly toed into the shoulder. The hand grasps the semi pistol grip or pistol grip and the support hand pulls the stock back into the shoulder. The body is bladed to the target. Surprisingly accurate fire may be done from the bladed standing position. However, I have found that for most shooters, the standing position’s accuracy deteriorates rapidly.
For a few aimed shots, the standing position is an excellent field position, but it isn’t for sustained fire. Remember, always bring the eye to the sights as the rifle is held rigidly, not the rifle moving to the eyes.
Keep your feet a shoulder apart. The offside leg is slightly forward. The knees should be flexed, allowing them to act as a shock absorber. The upper body is always more rigid than the lower body.
Standing against a barricade isn’t much different. I prefer not to lay my body against the barricade or wall. I prefer to be able to move out of the barricade quickly, if need be. Using a tree for support in the wild translates well. When you are firing from the barricade, be certain not to rest the barrel’s muzzle against the support. This may cause the shot to go wild.
Another firing position that is useful in the field is the kneeling position. This position may be adopted quickly with sufficient practice. The stance begins with the firing-side knee dropped to the ground. The support, or weak side, knee is raised. The support side elbow is placed on the upraised knee just forward of the point of the knee in the ideal firing position.
By kneeling back at a severe angle on the support side foot, you may have an even more stable position. If you are too heavy or stiff to do this properly, a great deal of work is ahead of you. As I have often said, if you are responsible for the safety of others, and cannot perform simple drills on demand due to a sprawl about the middle or a lack of practice, the family, friends, or children who rely on you are pretty much screwed.
I am no longer a young man, and the drills are more difficult than ever. I can master benchrest firing just fine, but then, who cannot? When moving into the prone or kneeling position, the bones creak. Arthritis and old injuries from battles with our protein fed ex-cons have left my joints sore and probably in need of replacement.
I have learned to throw my hips and body when rising. My son Captain Matthew Campbell recently gifted me with a handmade walking stick with certain custom work that he had included to make my walking and hikes not only easier, but in some cases, possible. Incorporating the stick into my shooting drills is in the works. When firing from prone, it isn’t difficult to rise by shoving my hands under my chest and pressing up. Thank God my upper body isn’t racked by such injuries and problems.
Rifle marksmanship isn’t easy, but it is essential. Practice getting into the firing position and dry fire as much as possible. Then, practice with the real thing and master the rifle. It may be the best gunmetal friend you have ever head.
Do you have a rifle marksmanship tip? What training or drills do you prefer to sharpen your rifle marksmanship skills? Share your answers in the comment section.
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