7 Steps to Better Rifle Marksmanship
How many people do you know who go to the range and turn money into noise? You know the type, they show up with their pistol, rifle, or shotgun and shoot it fast with little regard for accuracy. I used to be one of those guys when I was in my pre-teen and teenage years. At that time, I was more enamored with the novelty of going to the range, seeing brass fly and looking cool. It didn’t matter if I couldn’t hold a decent group, I could shoot fast. That was awesome, or so I thought. As I grew older, took more formalized marksmanship training at various shooting schools and eventually started paying for my own ammunition, I realized the importance of accuracy. I spent a lot of time behind a scoped rifle and developed this skill set to a respectable level. I also learned accuracy is a drug and chasing smaller and smaller 5 shot groups would become an addiction.
As an outdoorsman, it is important to be a jack-of-all-trades and have proficiency in using a wide range of tools. I’ve found students who are serious in self-defense training naturally gravitate toward learning firearms and those interested in long-term survival can’t deny the importance of an accurate and reliable .22. Even if a person isn’t interested in firearms for food procurement, many learn the satisfaction of punching holes in paper purely for fun. What needs to be taught and can’t be overstated is the importance of rifle marksmanship fundamentals. Even if you can’t get to the range to burn good repetitions, reading the following should help you visualize the steps you should take to tighten your groups and come closer to that impossible goal of accuracy.
To achieve optimal accuracy, a marksman should not fight the body’s natural point of aim. While shooting prone, this may mean lining up slightly offset to the target behind the rifle. To correct body alignment, note where the rifle settles after recoil. Align your body in a manner where the smallest amount of adjustment is necessary after each shot. We have a tendency to point, naturally, in the direction of what we’re focusing on. The less muscular input we use for alignment, the more accurate we will be.
A proper grip should feel like a firm handshake. Too much muscular input results in an inconsistent trigger pull. It’s important to learn how to squeeze with our trigger finger independently of our other fingers as a the added squeeze of the middle, ring, and pinky finger will affect where the rounds impact. Ideally, the trigger finger movement should be as isolated as possible to limit the movement of the rifle. Some shooters will prefer laying the thumb on the left side of the rifle and others will place it on the same side as the bolt. In either case, the grip should be consistent each time on the rifle.
Many optics are variable in power. Some shooters want instant feedback on their shot placement and instead of focusing on the reticle, they look at the target. Lower your magnification to the lowest setting to avoid this as well as the more noticeable wiggle your reticle will have during your breathing cycle. The lower the magnification, the more concentrated your focus will be. The magnification will also make your target appear smaller and it will force you to “aim small, miss small”. When shooting at hanging price tags (roughly 1 MOA in size) at 100 yds, the best accuracy I’ve had has been from dropping my magnification as low as it will go.
The human body is always in a state of moving. Learning to maximize your accuracy based on your breathing cycle is key. With a .22 rifle, this is a less expensive endeavor than with a larger centerfire rifle and the principles are exactly the same. Fire a 3-5 shot group at full lung, then half, then empty. Depending on your build, conditioning and other attributes, you’ll notice slight variances. Be consistent and go with the best results.
When you get behind the rifle, you should have a natural and relaxed body position. If your optic is mounted properly, you should not have to adjust your cheek forward, backward or side to side from where it naturally falls. The optic sight picture should be clear and not shaded or eclipsed. Your reticle should be crisp as you should hard focus on it.
Your trigger pull should be smooth from start to finish. Some shooters will use the last pad of their trigger finger on the very bottom of the trigger, some will use the second and keep their trigger finger parallel to barrel and others won’t have a routine at all. For repeatable accuracy, your trigger pull should be exactly the same each time. Some shooters suggest squeezing until the trigger “surprises” you. Controlling your firearm and sending rounds down range should never be a surprise. Know when your trigger will break with X amount of additional pressure.
After your shot breaks, stay on the trigger and reacquire your sights and target. Reset yourself and these steps in a logical order that provides you with better accuracy repeatable time after time. Don’t put stock in “lucky” shots. Prove your skill by putting round after round on top of one another. I’m not impressed with hitting a target once out of a box of 20 rounds. It is more impressive when not one shot out of 20 misses its mark.
I don’t know anyone who shoots competitively who is satisfied with their accuracy and performance. Groups can always be tighter and anyone who says, “I never miss” is likely dishonest about their ability. Accuracy increases the odds each round sent down range will reach its target. The greater the chance of that, the better the odds are you will have food on the table or bragging rights among your friends.