Thursday, February 9, 2012

How to Shoot Like GI Joe

When it comes to pulling the trigger, no doubt the US armed forces are some of the best shooters in the world. Here's a look at how to shoot like a bona-fide GI Joe- not the Channing Tatum knock off. The principles of marksmanship are the same for shooting a Boy Scout .22 all the way through the Barrett .50 cal sniper rifle. It takes repetition and patience, but shooting a gun is a skill anyone can learn. Seriously: anyone.

I'll spare you the drill sergeant attitude, but try to pass along the other good stuff the angry men in Smokey the Bear hats passed along to me. The absolute first thing is safety. There isn't anything inherently dangerous about guns. They're not magic. They don't erupt volumes of fire when you're not looking. They're machines. Tools that do what they're told. So that puts all the responsibility on you, the user.

  • Muzzle awareness: Don't let the end of your firearm point at anything you aren't willing to destroy. There's a famous anonymous quote that simply states: "Friendly fire isn't."
  • Treat the weapon as if it's loaded. Always. When you first take possession of the firearm, check to make sure the safety is on and the chamber is clear- meaning the trigger is locked and there are are no bullets in the gun. If you don't know what you're doing have someone who does know help. 
  • You're not a movie star. Keep your finger out of the trigger well until you're ready to fire.
  • Keep the weapon pointed down range or at the targets.
  • Know what's behind your target. Always shoot into a backstop.
Now on to the stuff you actually wanted to read:

Step 1 Steady Position
If you skip this step you'll never be a marksman. Starting with a firm foundation is key to accuracy. Get in a comfortable firing position. Typical firing positions are prone, kneeling, and standing. If you're at a range crusty old NRA activist (otherwise known as the range safety officer) will probably make you sit at a bench and fire- just get as stable as you can on those.
  • Prone- Lay on the ground in as straight a line as possible kick your legs out at an approximate 45 degree angle like the Joe in the picture above. Keep your heels down and toes out. Prop yourself up on your elbows and keep them tucked in about a shoulder width apart. Place your hands comfortably on the rifle. 
  • Kneeling- With your left foot planted firmly on the ground (right if you're left handed) place your opposite foot behind it so that the sole of your shoe is perpendicular to the ground. Squat down as low as you comfortably can. Place the elbow of your non-firing hand on your thigh OR place your tricep on your knee, so you get the most stability. You want bone to muscle contact, not bone on bone.
  • Kneeling Unsupported Position
  • Standing- stand with your feet, hips, and shoulders squared off to the target. Bend your knees slightly and hold the rifle comfortably.
 If you have a support like a sandbag or a stump, rest the rifle on that to help steady your position.

Now place the butt stock of the rifle into the pocket of your shoulder. It's that area where your pecs, deltoids, and clavicle meet. Make sure that the stock is pressed firmly into that area. Any space just allows the rifle to kick you harder than it should and you'll have a nice bruise.

Lower your cheek on to the stock of the rifle. This will make what's known as a "cheek weld". Once in this position use your hand to measure the placement on the stock so you can come back to the same exact position on the rifle every time you shoot. Once you've got the cheek weld, don't break it unless you're done firing. When you're starting out it doesn't hurt to check your placement between shots with your non-firing hand.

The foundation is almost ready. Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths and let your muscles relax. Muscle tension causes poor shot placement. When you open your eyes you should be looking down your sights at what's known as your natural point of aim- or where its most comfortable for your body to aim. Adjust your position slightly and repeat this process until your natural point of aim is where you want to hit your target.

Step 2 Sight Picture
This step is highly dependent on your rifle. Each manufacturer has different iron sights on the weapon. Consult your manual or the gun owner for how the sights should be aligned. Focus on the front sight post and let the target and the rear sight post get fuzzy.

If you're using optics such as a hunting scope or a red dot sight this is a little easier- what you see through the optic is what you'll hit.

Step 3 Proper Breathing
Breathing is an often overlooked step when new recruits fire their weapon. Usually we don't have to think about it much, but the slight movement our breathing makes can significantly alter where the round impacts at 300 yards.

Listen to your breathing pattern. You'll want to fire between your exhale and your next inhale. Breathe normally and when you've exhaled, hold your breath until the shot is fired.

Step 4 Trigger Squeeze
Once you've put the first three steps together, you're ready to fire. Place your finger at a point on the trigger that is most comfortable for you. Some people like to fire with the pad of their index finger, others like it on the first joint, and others prefer the trigger lay between the second and third joint. Shooter's preference. Pick one and stick with it.

Move the weapon's safety selector switch from safe to semi/fire. You're now ready to throw lead down range.

Without breathing, slowly squeeze the trigger. The moment the trigger releases the hammer to fire the round should come as a surprise. When you anticipate the round going off your body tenses up and you ruin your foundation all the way back in step one, thus throwing your shot off course. Hold the trigger down for 2-3 seconds. When you release it you should hear a click. Holding the squeeze creates less movement while the round is traveling down your barrel thus keeping course true to the moment when you squeezed the trigger.

Rookie Mistakes
Don't look where your shots are impacting and adjust fire. This is called "Kentucky windage," and it's a crutch. Group ten shots in a 2" circle at 25 yards and use the center of that circle to adjust your sights- not your aim. If you can't group 10 shots at 25 yards in a 2" circle you need to focus on each step of the fundamentals. Have a friend watch for mistakes.

If your shots are all lining up in a vertical dispersion pattern your breathing is is he issue. Exhale. Hold. Fire. Inhale. Repeat. Try to breath as naturally as possible with the exception of holding your breath. You're not free diving or playing Call of Duty so don't suck in a bunch of air before you hold your breath.

If your shots are in a horizontal dispersion pattern your trigger squeeze is most likely the issue. Pull the trigger slowly and don't anticipate the shot.

If your shots don't have a pattern, your groupings seem random, or you need a dinner plate size circle to get all your shots in your sight picture is changing. Keep your face in the exact same place each time you fire the rife. This is one of the most common mistakes new shooters make.

These methods are tried and true by the infantrymen of the US Army. It's not easy to earn the coveted expert rifleman badge, but with practice and determination you can make that rifle a highly effective tool.

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