Gold Medal Rifle Shooting
Tips You Can Work On at Home
by SFC Jason Parker
United States Army Marksmanship Unit
International Rifle Team
Welcome back the to the “pro tip” column for GunsAmerica Magazine from the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit (USAMU). This is our fourth article for GunsAmerica and if you haven’t been following the previous columns from the USAMU you should take a look. There is a lot of good information in them.
My name is SFC Jason Parker and I shoot on the US Army Marksmanship Unit International Rifle team. We are currently in the middle of a very busy competitive shooting season and our team has done very well. So far in 2010 our team has combined to win 6 International World Cup Medals and captured 2 National Championship titles. We have seven shooters that will be competing at the World Shooting Championship in Munich later this summer. In case you are interested in our results you can follow all of the USAMU’s highlights on Facebook.
This month’s article is about some general shooting tips to help improve your marksmanship skills. No matter what kind of weapon you will be shooting, whether it’s a rifle, pistol, or shotgun, there is one way to improve. Practice. I once had a coach that told me that the best way to get to Carnegie Hall was to practice. I have applied these simple words of wisdom to many aspects of my life and they have always proven to be true. Even if you are already a good shot, practicing more often will improve your shot accuracy, guaranteed.
Start by recording in a journal the things that you have tried and how well they worked as well as ideas that you would like to learn more about. I like to start my journal with an idea of the skills I think a perfect shooter would have. Then I work on each of those skills that I came up with one at a time. They could be as easy as a perfect trigger squeeze or as complex as working up a load for your cartridge. Some of the things on my list are a solid shooting position, knowing how wind and mirage affects the bullet, physical conditioning, and visualization. Your list can be as long as you want it to be, just work on one skill at a time. A new shooter should start with the basics and work up from there.
There are plenty of things you can do right in your home to improve your shooting without even going out to the firing range. Since I’m a rifle shooter I will focus on the drills that I use to get ready for competition, but these drills can be used for just about any kind of weapon you can imagine.
The easiest drills are holding and dry firing exercises. You can do these by laying down in your living room while watching TV and get plenty of practice without even breaking a sweat. These drills will improve your shooting drastically while lowering your cost in ammunition and barrels.
Before you begin your dry firing, focus on getting into a proper firing position. There are three elements that you have to have in a good firing position: Support, Muscle Relaxation and Natural Point of Aim. Make sure your body and your weapon are fully supported so you are not using unnecessary muscles to hold up the rifle. The more muscles you use, the more the rifle will move. There will always be some muscles working to hold the rifle and control recoil, but you should be practicing to eliminate any unwanted movements in your muzzle.
Once you have built the support necessary to hold your rifle and have proper muscle relaxation, your rifle will be pointing at something, but not necessarily your target. You will need to adjust your body, while maintaining your good firing position, to point directly at your target.
An easy way to check your natural point of aim is to get into position, place your head on the stock, close your eyes, relax, take a couple deep breaths and open your eyes. Once you see where the rifle is pointing make the necessary adjustments with your body and repeat this exercise until the rifle is pointing at your target.
Now that you have acquired your natural point of aim pay special attention to where your firing and non firing hands are placed, as well as your elbows, cheek placement on the stock and where the stock is fits in your shoulder. All these can be adjusted to make the firing position more comfortable for the individual shooter.
Now you are ready to start dry firing. (Caution: Always check that the rifle is unloaded before doing this.) The idea is to fire the rifle without the muzzle moving at all during the execution of the shot. Put your finger naturally on the trigger and squeeze straight to the rear of the rifle. If you are putting too much of the length of your finger, or just using the very tip of your finger on the trigger you can influence the shot to the left or right.
This training will go a long way to getting you prepared for the range and performing a perfect shot over long distances. I can give dozens of examples of people that spend hundreds of dollars on accurized rifles and high end scopes, but they wonder why they still are not able to shoot good shots consistently. The reason is that they jerk the trigger or have very poor follow thru once the rifle goes off. Poor trigger control is guaranteed to ruin an otherwise good shot every time.
Another tried and true method to improving your shooting is by using the powerful method of visualization. This is a creative means to develop imagination that can positively transform any situation in life. I start by getting in a comfortable position and do some deep breathing. Once I’m relaxed I will think of the scenario that I want to succeed at. Sometimes it’s winning a big competition, other times I’m in my hunting stand with a big buck in my sights. Either way this will get you mentally prepared for your shot of a lifetime. Once you see it in your head, you are more likely to execute your shot correctly when it matters the most.
Now that you have done your homework you are ready to go to the firing range. The first thing you should do is to inspect your equipment. There is nothing more frustrating than wasting an hour on the range only to find out your scope is loose. Look for loose action screws and check the barrel to make sure that it is clean and there are no foreign objects in it. After you have verified that your equipment is in proper condition, you can focus on the skills that you want to improve.
I recommend that you practice shooting from different positions. This way you will be prepared for any kind of shot that might come across. Start by sighting in your rifle from the bench. You can buy a good inexpensive rifle rest that can help you do this. If you don’t want to spend the money on a rest you can make one out of a sand bag or even use your back pack. Just remember to check to be sure that nothing is touching the barrel of the rifle. Anything that touches the barrel can change the point of impact drastically from shot to shot.
When you are shooting off the rest there are a few things you can do to get more accurate shots. Firmly pull the rifle into your shoulder with your firing hand. The last thing that you want is for a big caliber rifle to build up speed before slamming into your shoulder. You should also ensure that you have proper eye relief, which is the distance between your eye and the rear sight or scope. You do not want the rear sight or scope to hit your eyebrow or glasses when the rifle recoils.
Now that you have safely set up your equipment and sighted in, you can begin to practice the skills you have listed in your journal. You should set a goal for each skill that you practice. Once you have mastered it, write down what you have learned in your journal and then you can move on to the next skill. You may be able to practice several skills in one session or you may only work on one. Always revisit these skills because practice makes perfect. This will make you more confident when you have to fire your shot under pressure.
Once you have mastered the basic skills of building a solid position, trigger control and sight alignment, you can move on to more technically demanding skills such as reading the wind and mirage or working up a perfect load for your rifle.
I hope these “pro tips” help you to improve your marksmanship skills and make shooting more enjoyable. Remember to always keep your journal so you don’t repeat your mistakes and keep practicing. See you at Carnegie Hall.