January 03, 2011
By emily fortier
The process of becoming a better rifleman starts with you making the
conscious decision to learn how to effectively wield a rifle.
By David Fortier
Photography: Emily Fortier
The process of becoming truly proficient with a rifle is both relatively simple and relatively hard. It starts with you making the conscious decision to learn how to effectively wield a rifle.
That's the easy part. The hard part is having the strength of character to actually drive on when it becomes more hard work than fun. Make no mistake, any bump on the log can be a man with a rifle, but becoming a rifleman takes hard work, dedication, and perseverance. If it's something you hunger for, you can attain it.
I wish I could tell you everything you need to know to become an expert rifleman in this short article. Unfortunately that's not reality. What I can do is exhort you to get started and give you an outline of points to follow.
If you follow these points you'll be well on your way to becoming a better rifleman. The only thing you'll have to supply is the desire and drive to improve your skills.
1) About 95 percent of shooting is mental, so the most important thing to remember is having the right mental attitude. This should include being safety conscious, focusing on the task at hand, and having a positive "can-do" attitude. Always treat all firearms with the respect they are due. When it comes to shooting, you need to be able to focus on making each shot and block out distractions, and you need to believe in yourself and your ability to make a shot.
2) While shooting is 95 percent mental, physical strength and endurance are also important. Strengthening, endurance, and stretching exercises will enable you to get into shooting positions more easily and will also help your offhand shooting. Weightlifting will not yield the greatest benefits; swimming and bicycling do the most to improve a shooting athlete's performance.
3) Quality professional instruction, more than anything else, can help you quickly and dramatically improve your skills. Nothing beats professional training at a quality firearms school. Quality books and videos on shooting, especially those by dedicated competition shooters and LE/military marksmen, can also be of great help.
4) Setting realistic and attainable goals, both short term and long term, allows you to plot your progress, slap yourself on the back, and push on. A short-term goal should be something you can work towards, such as improving your sitting position. As you attain one short-term goal set another. A long-term goal should be much harder, such as earning your Master shooter's rating in NRA High Power. The idea here is to monitor your progress and continually strive for improvement.
5) Rather than simply going to the range and blasting away, structure your practice time. Spend time dry-firing as a warm up. Then fire a set number of groups offhand, kneeling, sitting, and prone. Fire for precision, and then do some speed drills. Work at putting the group exactly where you want it. Practice reloading, and put some movement to your drills to get your heart rate and breathing up. Shoot at both known and unknown distances. Shoot in all types of weather. And keep notes of your performance in a logbook.
6) One critical task a rifleman must be able to perform is correctly estimating the distance to his target. I recommend using three methods: visually, through the use of a reticle, and via a laser rangefinder. These methods verify and complement one another. Use the laser rangefinder to hone your ability to estimate range by visually estimating the range and only then hitting the target with the laser rangefinder. Also l
earn how to use a scope's rangefinding reticle.
7) Being able to read wind is equally important. You can learn to accurately estimate wind velocity by using wind flags. Run them out in 20-yard intervals on your range, and then watch them. You'll quickly see that wind is constantly changing but tends to run in cycles. Standing next to a wind flag with a wind meter will allow you to visually calibrate that flag and allow you to "see" what a 2-, 5-, 8-, or 20-mph wind looks and feels like. Then you can watch how that wind affects surrounding grass and trees.
8) Use a benchrest when zeroing a rifle, testing new loads, or checking for intrinsic accuracy, but after that get away from it! Learn how to properly use a loop sling. The sling can significantly increase your stability, and thus your accuracy. Practice with it sitting, kneeling, and prone. And forget the old adage, "if you can hit an eight-inch paper plate offhand at 100 yards, that's plenty good!" The 200-yard offhand X-ring in NRA High Power is 2.75 inches, and that's a better goal to aim for.
9) Probably the single most important tool an aspiring rifleman can have is a highly accurate .22 LR rifle. With a superbly accurate .22 rimfire you can practice a lot at a fraction of the cost of centerfire ammunition. I recommend you pick a fairly heavy rifle that has the capability to have match-type sights as well as a scope installed. I practice offhand and sitting at 50 yards and prone at 100 yards. Use the rimfire rifle to refine your positions, shooting technique, and ability to read wind and accurately estimate distances.
10) If you're really interested in continually improving your ability with a rifle, then I urge you to get involved in some form of competitive shooting. By participating in any type of formal competition shooting, including NRA High Power, NRA Small Bore, Benchrest, and Biathlon, you can learn what your weaknesses are, and it will put pressure on you to perform. In doing so it will help you grow as a rifleman.
11) You will never reach your full potential without a centerfire rifle capable of greater accuracy than you are. Whether you're into hunting, tactical training, or just blasting ammo with friends, you should purchase a superbly accurate rifle in either .223 or .308. It doesn't have to be expensive, but it does have to be accurate (five rounds into less than 1 MOA every time). It should be the rifle you become intimately familiar with. Spend hours dry-firing it (using a snap-cap) and getting in and out of shooting positions with it. Take it to the range and put it to work.
12) You will get further and enjoy the journey more if you bring a friend along. A friend will push you when you need to be pushed, encourage you when you're struggling, and congratulate you when you've done well. Become a rifleman yourself, and help a friend to become one as well.