Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Shooting Skills: Basics of Marksmanship

I was looking at some old pictures of my military days and it got me thinking about the many people I had the privilege of serving with. I also had the opportunity to train many good people how to shoot and how to keep up their skills at shooting. I like to think that I helped to save some individuals when they got in a tight spot in combat is some small way. These are some of the things I learned while teaching enlisted and officers on the shooting range.
One of the worst mistakes when being taught is having too much pride. Being unteachable because you “know”. Pride is one of the biggest problems to overcome as an instructor. Those with gun experience were the worst because they had bad habits that were difficult to change. Older people were difficult because sometimes their life experiences seem to teach them everything. I had less problem with younger guys and women. It’s easier to start fresh than try and rewrite people’s experiences. The best thing to have going into a course is humility and a desire to learn.
Trigger Control
The problem that I have learned is that even the wording is wrong. Hollywood and TV have taught that we “pull” a trigger. I always thought the better word description was “press”. Pulling a trigger to me is too much of a jerky motion. Even squeeze is not that great to me because it’s difficult just to squeeze one finger on your hand without the whole hand squeezing. Trigger press is simple and precise. Many people use the first joint of their index finger to shoot. I think there is less control and that is really what you need with a trigger, control. The pad of the tip of your index finger is what I have always taught. If the finger pad is squarely and flatly on the trigger you won’t jerk the weapon right or left. Using the joint is probably the most common bad habit brought to the range by experienced shooters. You can practice this with dry firing, a airsoft replica, or even holding a pencil with your non shooting hand and “squeezing the pencil with your shooting hand. The pencil should come straight back to you not to the side.
Sight Picture
This is the alignment of the front and rear sights. Sights on handguns are different than sights on a rifle and shotgun. Learn what your sight picture should be and be consistent with attaining it every time you shoot. If you are shooting a rifle your cheek should touch the rifle stock. This called the cheek weld. Doing this consistently in the same place every time you shoot will ensure the same sight picture. If you need to mark where to put your cheek this can easily be done with some masking tape.
Breath Control
Breathing is the cause of many a missed shot. There is a natural pause between when we exhale and before we take our next breath. Practice breathing in and out until you notice this pause. Before they take a shot, I instruct the trainees to breathe in, breathe out, and then fire during this natural pause. Some instructors will teach to take a breath, let it out slightly then pause and shoot. I was taught this until someone told me I was trying to make it too complicated. Just breathe naturally and use the natural pause. If you wait too long simply take another breath.
Shot Anticipation
This is a little harder to see when teaching shooting. Take away the other problems and that’s when it rears its ugly head. When your pattern is dispersed this often is the problem. It is the last problem on the list but is probably the easiest to correct. The shot should be a surprise and not anticipated. Sometimes anticipation comes when bracing for recoil. Eliminate this problem and you will see your groups get tighter and tighter. If you feel you are anticipating too much try taking the tension from the trigger. Every trigger has some “ride” before it actually shoots. Taking this slack out can help with anticipation.
These five things I put in this order of what I think is their importance. If you can master just these five things, you will become a true marksman. Review these often to ensure you have not lost some of these elements of shooting.
Semper Paratus
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