Rifle marksmanship is one of the handful of skills that everyone in the military needs to master. It doesn’t matter if you’re an infantryman, a special operator, or an admin clerk in the Reserves, everyone needs to master the fundamentals of marksmanship.
Being well-versed in marksmanship is what makes all of America’s warfighters, without exception, deadly in combat. If that wasn’t enough of an incentive, it’s also the one badge that every troop, service-wide, wears to signify their combat prowess. The marksmanship badge holds enough weight that a young private with expert could easily flex on a senior NCO with just a pizza box.
Here’s what you need to know:
Don’t: overthink it
There are just four things (outside of the obvious safety concerns) to worry about while you’re firing a weapon. These four basic components are drilled into every Army recruit’s head while at basic and they’ve been incorporated into marching cadences: steady, aim, breathe, fire. This should be your mental checklist before you take a shot.
Are you and the weapon in a steady position? Are the sights properly aligned to ensure accuracy? Are you breathing normally and timing your shots accordingly? Is your finger comfortably aligned with your trigger so you can pull it straight back?
Do: practice as much as you can
There are countless drills that you can do if your armorer lets you draw your weapon. For example, there’s the famous “washer and dime” drill. You can test how well you’re following the 4 fundamentals mentioned above by placing a single washer or dime on the barrel of an unloaded rifle. If your stance is good, your aiming isn’t jerky, your breathing is regular, and your trigger squeeze is solid, the balancing dime shouldn’t fall when you pull the trigger.
In the absence of your rifle, as odd as it sounds, you can still get some “range” time at your local arcade. If you spend your entire attention on the four fundamentals, playing some coin-operated shooter video game can be great practice. You’ll have to worry less about aiming, though — those machines are almost always misaligned.
Don’t: rush zeroing
No two people will have the same sight picture, so you need to zero your almost nearly every time. Even something as slight as adjusting where you place your cheek against the buttstock will readjust the sight picture.
Even if you’ve spent the entire afternoon getting everything to surgeon-level precision, do it again. Endure whatever asschewing you’ll get from higher ups and belittlement from your peers because you’re not hurrying along.
Firing a weapon is meditative for some people. Leave your stresses and worries at the bleachers because, right now, it’s just you and your firearm. In that brief moment when the range safety calls your lane hot, all you need to think about is hitting the target.
Don’t be intimidated by your weapon. You’re almost certainly safe if you’re on the opposite side of the barrel. There will be a bit of a kick when you fire — that’s normal. If you start anticipating the kick, you’re going to screw up all the four fundamentals because you’ll be more worried about how your weapon nudges your shoulder.
Enjoy the fact that you’re not spending your own money on ammunition or range time. If you miss a target, who cares? Don’t waste ammo trying to shoot that target a second time. The Army’s rifle qualification is 40 targets with 40 rounds. If you fire and the target doesn’t go down, don’t spend two more rounds trying to hit it or else you just screwed yourself out of two more potential hits.
Don’t: panic if your weapon jams
There’re plenty of different ways that your weapon might act up, preventing you from putting more rounds down range. The easiest fix is simply slapping the bottom of your lowest-bidder magazine to ensure that the next round enters the chamber.
If it’s something that takes more than a few seconds to fix yourself, simply clear your weapon and place it on the sandbags. Explain what happened to the nearest range safety officer and you’ll probably get another crack at qualifications next round.
Do: clean your weapon afterwords
There’s a very good reason that they tell you to clean every single crevice of your rifle every time. A rifle is made up of many tiny, precise mechanisms that need to be perfectly clean and in order to avoid any kind of malfunction. A small carbon build-up can wreck the chamber of a rifle worse than any kind of mud.
On the bright side, while you’re taking your weapon apart and cleaning it thoroughly, you’ll grow a deeper understanding of how these little parts all work in relation to one another. Before you know it, you’ll think of your rifle as an extension of your body.