Heresy: Fundamentals of Combat Riflecraft, Part Two
The rifleman has to learn how to relax, as much as possible, regardless of his firing position. Unnecessary muscle strain or tension will, amongst other things, result in trembling, which is transmitted to the rifle. This increase in the apparent “wobble” of the sight picture will result in either misses, or slower shot times, either of which will result in you getting dead.H
In any position of course, some muscular contraction is necessary to suspend the gun, but intentional, deliberate practice achieving a natural point-of-aim (NPOA) will allow the shooter to achieve a solid, steady, durable firing position as fast as possible, and still achieve consistent first-shot hits.
It’s an old platitude that, in the hands of a skilled user, a weapon becomes an extension of the user’s body. That’s not the “who-flung-poo kung fu, New Age Zen Ninja” bullshit it sounds like. In weaponscraft, it means that the shooter adopts his shooting position (whatever shooting position), so that his rifle naturally points at the intended target.
While learning to shoot accurately, fast, this means that the aspiring rifleman (or pistolero, for that matter), adjusts his body position until his NPOA coincides with his desired POI, every single time he mounts his weapon, before he bothers trying to take the shot. This allows him to avoid unnecessary muscular tension in aiming his rifle. If he has to push or pull the sights onto the target, he’s not using his NPOA, regardless of how small a movement is required. That means a) he’s using muscular tension, leading to trembling, leading to misses, or b) he’ll have to adjust his sight picture, after mounting the gun, causing him to be slower than necessary.
Speed in getting your weapon into a fight is absolutely critical. Some people have erroneously pointed out, there are no timers on the battlefield. While there are certainly probably not going to be any PACT timers present, there will be a far more important timer: the bad guy who is going to be trying like a motherfucker to beat you. Use a timer in your training to make sure you’re adequately fast, or getting closer to being adequately fast.
At the same time however, “you can’t miss fast enough to win a gunfight.” No matter what stage of learning you are at, take the time, from the very beginning, to develop your position in each firing position, to ensure that you’re shooting with the fundamentals: NPOA, solid shooting position, trigger squeeze, sight picture/sight alignment, grip, etc. Strive to acquire the tightest groups you can get. This will develop the critical accuracy that will remain, as you increase your speed, as long as you apply them consistently. In other words, “mount the gun, the exact same way, every single time.”
Shooting fast, close-quarters marksmanship drills is fun. Don’t misunderstand me, I genuinely love to ring steel at 400 and 500 meters, but I’m also as prone as the next guy to fuck off and run CQM drills. I’m reasonably good at them, and I love running my gun fast, just like any red-blooded, American man. If you’re not willing to do the “boring” stuff though, and work on developing precise, tiny, shot groups, you’re fucking yourself and your buddies.
You have to practice the shit you don’t like if you want to becomes a great rifleman. If you can’t shoot small, tight, accurate groups, from any shooting position, you haven’t mastered the fundamentals of marksmanship, and you don’t have what it takes to produce an accurate hit on demand. If you can’t do that, on demand, then you won’t be able to do that, on demand (ooh….that was deep, huh?). You are NOT going to suddenly make a shot that you’ve never been able to make in training, just because now, it’s “for real!”
Whether it’s 5 meters, 50 meters, or 500 meters, when all you can see of the enemy is the edge of his head and shoulder, and the muzzle of his weapon, along the side of a boulder or building corner, you’d sure as shit better be able to purchase an accurate shot, on demand.
Front Sight Focus
One of the biggest problems shooters have is shitty front sight focus, even with optics. I’m as guilty as anyone…and it’s a far more egregious sin on my part, because I genuinely know better.
At the end of any marksmanship training the HH6 and I do, here at the the SFOB, I always try and finish with some slow, aimed fire, for precision. This forces me to work on the fundamentals at a basic level, especially front sight focus.
As an example, yesterday, after an hour of pistol work and a half hour of rifle work, I sat down to shoot steel (half-scale IDPA silhouette) at 100 meters with my Glock 19 (actually, I smoked it at 200 before that, but only once out of a magazine). I can generally get anywhere from 75-90% hits when I do that. That’s a significantly smaller target, relatively speaking, than the A-zone on a full-size silhouette at 10 meters. Yet, when I start shooting for speed at 10M, I will–unless I consciously focus on going only as fast as I can get a CRISP front sight picture, blow one or two rounds per magazine.
Yesterday, in fact, I ran a simple reload drill:
Draw, fire two rounds to slide lock, execute a speed reload, and fire two more rounds.
The first three iterations of that drill that I ran, I blew the first round coming off my reload. Every-single-fucking-time. Now, by miss, I mean I was less than an inch outside of the A-zone, but that’s still a miss in my standards.
It happened, because I was fast as fuck, knew it, and wanted to go faster. My reload was seated before my spent mag hit the ground. That’s pretty god-damned fast…but if I fucking blow my shot, being fast is pointless. It would be easy enough for me to blow it off. “It was just training,” “I was trying to push myself,” blah, blah, blah, blah….
Here’s the secret though…if you actually see that your front sight (or reticle) is on target, at the moment your finger breaks the shot, it’s a mechanical impossibility to miss the shot (assuming your weapon is zeroed, etc). If you miss, it’s because your sights were not, in fact, on the target at the exact moment you broke the shot (yes, this covers jerking the trigger…think about it…).
Under the stress of a fight, with all the shit your brain will be trying to accept–trying to watch what the target is doing, looking for other bad guys, keeping track of where your buddies are, trying to fit your fat ass behind the little bitty pebble that is available for cover, and accepting that some motherfucker actually wants to kill you–it can be really easy to miss seeing that one critical element. You have to glue your vision to your front sight at the instant you are actually making the shot, regardless of distractions. If you can’t do that when no one is shooting at you, do you really think you’re going to be able to do it when they are?
Tying it together
I love working on my drawstroke and rifle presentations. It’s fast, it’s fun, it’s important, it’s simple, and it doesn’t require much effort or ammunition. Unfortunately, it’s too often misunderstood. Yes, it’s absolutely critical to shoot the other dude before he shoots you; that’s a given. A fast presentation however, as in the sheer speed of moving the gun isn’t what matters. A fast first shot is only a small portion of what makes a good, fast, presentation. Two things are important in your presentation, whether with rifle or pistol: a fast first hit and equally fast follow-on hits.
In order to achieve that fast first hit, your final position of your presentation must have the gun on target, without having to make adjustments to your position. This is why, when beginning how to do this shit the right way, we go “slow.” Take the time, every time you mount your weapon, to check and see if you’ve attained a NPOA (see the end of this article). The old mantra of “slow is smooth, and smooth is fast,” has become an over-used, misunderstood cliche. SGM Lamb has even taken the step of saying, “smooth is fast, but slow is just frickin’ slow.” He’s got a valid point, of course, but too many keyboard commandoes and internet insurgents have managed to misunderstand that one as well (that whole frame-of-reference thing is a motherfucker, ain’t it?).
At an applied level, in a fight, you’d damned sure better be able to put accurate fire on target in a goddamned hurry. In order to learn to do so however, you need to go slow enough to ensure that you’re doing shit the right way. Dialing in your presentation until it’s perfect means you should be able to fire the micro-second that your weapon stops moving. Fast follow-on hits will only be possible if your presentation ended in a position that will allow you to shoot multiple shots without magnifying the position due to recoil.
There’s no effective way to stop recoil. It’s simple physics, and absent divine intervention with the laws of nature and science on your behalf (and let’s face it, God really doesn’t love you that much), it’s physically impossible to stop recoil from happening. All we can do is recover from the recoil as precisely and consistently as we can, as fast as possible. This is accomplished by utilizing a solid, square firing position, with as much relaxation as possible in those muscles that are not actively suspending the gun. The most important goal of a good presentation, synergistic with natural point-of-aim and front sight focus, is that it puts the sight directly onto the target, and provides adequate, consistent muzzle control so that, at the end of the recoil cycle, the sights end up in the exact same spot they were in when the shot broke. It doesn’t matter how much the gun jumps from recoil, as long as it comes back to the exact same spot…every…single…time (on the same hand though, a lesser recoiling gun will move less, meaning it will return to that same spot in a shorter time).
To shoot accurately, fast, don’t “hold” the gun. It’s got to be an extension of your body. There’s no tension in the muscles beyond supporting the weapon in position. You’re not muscling the sights onto the target, because you’re utilizing your natural point-of-aim. Lean into the gun and let the gun keep you from falling forward. At the same time, your support hand should be grabbing as much of the gun as possible, and holding it in position, to keep it from getting launched forward, off your shoulder.
That is the “secret” of shooting accurately, fast. Timing is not a specific rhythm of cadence. It’s not a certain number of shots per second. Trying to time your shots in this manner, instead of letting your vision time your shots, WILL NOT WORK. In order to shoot at the speed required when being slower than multiple bad guys means you being dead, we cannot rely on the slow, deliberate trigger squeeze we learn in traditional, competition target shooting. At the same time however, we can’t “trap” the trigger, trying to force the shot to break at a given time. That results, invariably, with jerking the trigger, which would result in your sights NOT being on target at the moment the shot breaks. The actual break of the trigger needs to become almost subconscious. Through proper, slow, deliberate training, it becomes tied to what the eye sees.
This ties, synergistically (imagine THAT shit, huh?), and directly, to everything we’ve discussed thus far in regards to the fundamentals of marksmanship and natural point-of-aim, solid presentations, and getting solid, accurate hits in a hurry. Look at the specific aiming point on the target (“Aim small, miss small.” As much as I hate quoting cinema for training mantras, that is one of my two favorites. The other one, completely unrelated to this article, is from the excerpted scenes from “Shooter” with Mark Wahlberg….”Camouflage is what you do when you get there.”), mount the gun, and if you’ve practiced all of your fundamentals properly, you’ll see that your front sight–or reticle–is exactly where it should be, as your finger breaks the shot.
Cool, Bad-Ass Ninja Killer Training Tip
To accomplish NPOA in training, every time you acquire a good, solid firing position (regardless of whether it’s prone, rice paddy prone, seated, kneeling, standing, or some “jackass” position), stop for a moment and close your eyes. Breathe through a couple of natural respiratory cycles, then re-open your eyes and see where your sights are located in relation to your intended POI. Instead of pushing the sights to the aiming point, adjust your entire body position/stance, to re-align the sights. Repeat this process until you’ve achieved a solid NPOA and make a mental note of how it feels.
Repeat this drill, every-single-time-you-mount-your-weapon, regardless of firing position. You’ll quickly find that it doesn’t take any time at all, because you’ll discover that you’re naturally assuming a position that takes advantage of NPOA, every time, the first time. This single drill, if practiced religiously, will go further, faster, towards getting you solid, accurate shots, fast, than all the “up drills” you can do.
Epilogue: “Jackass” Shooting Positions
(Okay, it’s technically not really an epilogue, but I’ve always wanted to write an epilogue, so piss off!)
There is a lot of emphasis placed, in a lot of “tactical” shooting videos and courses on what Colonel Cooper called “jackass” positions. These are variations of the basic positions, or alternative positions. There’s nothing wrong with learning some alternative positions like the SBU prone and and the urban prone, etc.
Here’s the rub though, based on my experience, and the experience of pretty much every other dude with experience that I’ve discussed the subject with…
If you can’t get solid, accurate hits, fast, from the prone, squatting, kneeling, and standing, you’re not going to get solid, accurate hits, fast, from any of the “jackass” positions. On the same hand, if you CAN get solid, accurate hits, fast, from the fundamental positions, you’re going to be able to get solid, accurate hits, fast, from the jackass positions when you need them. I’ve shot from some pretty fucked up positions, none of which I’d previously practiced, and I generally got hits from them. If I didn’t, it wouldn’t have mattered what position I was shooting from, I’d have missed.
If you want to practice some high-speed, cool guy shit you saw on a video somewhere, whether from a major trainer, or on YouTube, more power to you, but recognize that, if you can’t get hits from the prone, you’re not going to get hits from the “jackass” positions, so you probably ought to focus on the fundamentals first.