My goal here is to fill a hole often left in training both new shooters, and seasoned shooters. All too often people ignore the basics, either because they never learned them, or because they are too caught up in the latest and greatest “tactic”. When it is all said and done shooting on a solid foundation, with proper fundamentals of marksmanship is key to success (and potentially survival). The following are the items I hit on every time I shoot, or introduce someone to shooting. I used these fundamentals long before enlisting in the United States Army, but found when I got there that the Army’s BRM (Basic Rifle Marksmanship) program was based on the very same points, in fact every major marksmanship program I’m aware of uses the same fundamentals.
The first major hurdle to a good foundation is just that, your foundation. By foundation, I’m talking about your personal shooting position and firing grip. You need a solid position and grip regardless of what firearm you’re firing, be it a rifle, pistol, shotgun, or M203 grenade launcher. Your firing position needs to be comfortable, and natural. It must also be solid. Whatever position you take up, strive for consistency, together with the other fundamentals, this consistency will pay in dividends on your target.
Once you find a position that is comfortable to you, check your natural point of aim. That is, the position at which you can be jostled or moved, with your eyes closed, and when you settle back into your position and open your eyes, you are still on target. Practice your grip and position to your natural point of aim and it will eventually become a thing of muscle memory. For myself personally, there is a specific position in the prone, and seated with my M16A2 in which I know by feel (both in and out of body armor) that puts my rifle on target with my line of sight. The same goes for pistol shooting in a modified weaver stance, there is an ingrained position where I know my sight picture will naturally line up.
This moves us on to the next fundamental, sight picture. Now, this will vary based on your style of sights, and weapon system. For this, I’ll go with a standard post and notch system. I will get this out of the way early – front sight, front sight, front sight. This goes for any iron sight system I can think of – focus on the front sight. Your rear sight should be slightly blurry and your front sight crisp and centered in your target, the top edge of your front and rear sights should be lined up. In time I will put some images of proper sight alignment, but for now a quick Google on the topic should turn up good information.
Your breathing pattern is important to marksmanship, erratic breathing will adversely impact your position, ability to focus clearly on your sight picture, and your trigger pull, ultimately resulting in a poor shot. This is not to say firing accurately under stress in impossible, far from it. In the Army we practice stress fires, by putting on full battle gear, and running at times several miles to targets where we have a two minute limit to engage 40 targets. It is important to be aware of how your breathing relates to your shooting. There is a natural pause between each breath, and this pause is the ideal time to execute your trigger squeeze. You do not need to hold your breath, just be aware of the natural pauses between each breath, and use these pauses to fire in.
Finally, you have your trigger squeeze, if you botch this part, the chances of hitting even a well aimed shot from a steady position, with proper breathing decrease greatly. The trigger squeeze should be accomplished through smooth constant pressure on the trigger, in one fluid motion, directly rearward to the trigger stop. There are many philosophies as to which portion of the finger to use, personally, I use the pad of my finger before the first joint.
Combine these fundamentals to make a good foundation as a shooter, and your results will show it. When training new shooters, introduce them properly, cover safety first, and then move to the fundamentals. Later, I will write about some techniques one can use to practice the fundamentals, and obtain muscle memory without range fees and ammunition costs being a factor.