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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

How to Approach Shooting

I am a basic Marine who has been blessed with learning marksmanship from some of the best practitioners in the business of shooting. No, I am not a sniper or a silent but deadly snake eater from a recon unit who is speaking from high atop a lofty pillar to the masses. Simply, I am a regular guy (with very little prior experience) who is well trained in the art of marksmanship who feels comfortable with a gun in his hand. Furthermore, I simply enjoy shooting and am fortunate enough to be able to do it as part of my working life. Like everyone else who reads this web site, the present and future state of our society concerns me. As a result, I vowed that I would contribute something to this that might help people with similar views/concerns.

While at a gun show recently, I was personally overwhelmed by the volume and cost of the high tech firearms and accessories available to the public. Most of it was truly amazing stuff. Laser range finders, laser sights, holographic sights, night vision scopes and ultra bright lights name just a few of the accessories that one can attach to a weapon to become more lethal. However, this stuff was amazingly expensive and complicated to use. I also found that many of the vendors really didn’t know their own products. Unfortunately, many were there only to make a buck and take advantage of the new hot gun market that has been created by the recent election results. This bothered me because I wondered what a novice shooter would think while swimming around in this sea of cool, yet complex stuff? They would most likely believe that one must attach all kinds of expensive accessories to a gun in order to be proficient with a weapon. They would also think that they have to spend all of their savings (assuming they have savings) to upgrade their guns to achieve great results. While I cannot endorse the quality and effectiveness of any type of accessory for a gun, I can tell you that they have a place and they are amazingly lethal when put in the right hands. Moreover, I also cannot endorse any type of weapon. Yet, I can also tell you that the accessories and the guns are only as good as the person shooting them. In other words, technology can neither teach marksmanship nor can it cure poor marksmanship. Remember, the United States military killed lots of enemy with M1 Garands and Model 1911 pistols equipped with iron sights. You need to learn the fundamentals…basics will always pay huge dividends. My goal is to throw out some of my thoughts to give beginning shooters reading this web site an idea of what direction to go in order to learn to shoot:

1. Take a class. Go to an indoor range and take a class from a certified NRA instructor. Pull out an advertisement in the classifieds or put a flyer up at a local range seeking marksmanship instruction from someone in law enforcement or the military. We are out there in large numbers. I would teach someone in exchange for a burger on a free Saturday. If you find the right person, it shouldn’t cost you too much. Here are some of the things to look for when you are receiving instruction (these can apply to rifle and pistol and are in no particular order except safety): safety, trigger control, grip, stances/positions, sight alignment, sight picture and breathing…just to name a few. There are no secrets, only basic techniques. Demand the basics. If someone wants to come right out of the chute and start teaching advanced techniques, either force them to take a few steps back or get another instructor. Basics, Basics, Basics.

2. Start small. Every learning process starts off with one small step and should progress toward refinement as a student masters the fundamentals. Go buy or rent a .22 pistol, get some cheap rounds and let someone show you the proper way to shoot it. Once you have a small caliber weapon mastered at a very low price, you will truly be amazed at how easily you can cross apply those skills to a more powerful weapon. On many civilian ranges I have observed multitudes of clowns brandishing large caliber weapons, shooting expensive tactical/competition ammo and deploying zero common sense. Due to their abject ignorance, they can’t put a round on paper because they are too concerned about the sexiness of the gun that they are shooting. Meanwhile, two lanes down, I am getting a 14 year old first time shooter to hold a 4 inch group with 9mm reloads. Starting with a .44 Magnum or a Desert Eagle will not teach you anything but how to fail or how to get killed. Shooting is not sexy and it is not a fashion statement. It is designed for one thing…to kill. Start at the bottom and work up. It is worth it in the end.

3. Dry Fire/Snap In: Snapping in (practicing without rounds off of the range) is something that Marines do at boot camp for countless hours before stepping foot on a live fire range. This process also continues in the squad bays at night to help young recruits refine positions and work out the kinks. Ask anyone who is a really good shot. They will tell you that you can improve your shooting for free without expending a single round by dry firing and snapping in. There are many different exercises you can do to enhance this. Shooters place quarters or spent rounds on top of the pistol and see if they can dry fire the weapon without said item falling off. It enhances your trigger control and your confidence. Bottom line, it gets the weapon in your hand and allows you to practice and commit proper technique to muscle memory without leaving the house. ALWAYS CHECK YOUR WEAPON TO ENSURE THAT IT IS NOT LOADED PRIOR TO HANDLING IT! READ THAT AGAIN.

4. Get further training: Once you feel confident and you have some cash, enlist the help of one of the tactical shooting schools to hone your skills. Again, just like transferring basic shooting skills from a .22 to a .45, you will be amazed at how smoothly good fundamentals apply to solid tactical shooting. There are arguments on both sides of this, but I will tell you that building a solid foundation is not only critical, but it is easy and can be done at a reasonable price. Don’t fall victim to believing that you have to spend substantial amounts of money to become a great shooter.

As a public service, I would like to include the four safety rules that are pounded into the heads of recruits. I do not bleed green and do not put these in this article to somehow snub people from the other services. These are the only rules that I know. I have taught them to novice shooters in the civilian world, and I can attest to how well they work. If everyone internalized these and followed them, we would not have accidents with weapons. They are brilliant in their simplicity. I wish that we still worked on a level that was this cut and dry. Here they are:
1. Treat every weapon as if it were loaded.
2. Never point a weapon at anything that you do not intend to shoot.
3. Keep your finger straight and off the trigger until you are ready to fire.
4. Keep your weapon on safe until you intend to fire.
Read them and teach them!

I cannot possibly hope to teach anyone how to shoot in an article. I simply believe that there is a lot of confusion out there for those who want to arm themselves against some of the dangers that lurk in our society. For them, I hope that this little compilation helps dispel some myths and provides a useful roadmap to get started. Thanks for reading.


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