Learn the dismount: Rifles are carried—often with a sling—much more often than they are fired. It’s likely you’ll be carrying your rifle slung on your shoulder when you need it most. You should practice dismounting—removing the rifle from the slung position and getting on target—from at least two of the common carry positions and your right and left sides. You should be able to unsling the rifle bring it up and on target in less than two seconds. And you should be able to do this safely, without letting the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy.
Mount up: Shouldering your rifle correctly is one of the first steps to making a good shot. You should bring the comb of the stock up to the face (eye) first and then snug the buttstock into your shoulder. Practice with your eyes closed first. Then open your eyes and adjust your positioning to achieve a full view through the scope or a proper view of the sights. Then, repeat the eyes-off mounting to establish proprioception, which is another word for muscle memory.
Snap shots: Snap shooting is important for hunters, competitors and those fighting with a rifle. You might have to fend off a bad critter or a bad guy in a hurry. Practice bringing your rifle to bear for quick off-hand shots by choosing an aiming point and by keeping your eyes on that point while mounting your rifle. After you can do that consistently, practice mounting the rifle with your eyes closed and then open, and adjust. Repeat this to ingrain the proprioception.
Open both eyes: Try to keep both eyes open when shooting with a scope or open sights. This is easier at lower magnifications, but you should work to learn how high you can set the magnification while keeping both eyes in play. Keeping both eyes open provides you with a much larger field of peripheral vision, and this is always a good thing for a hunter, soldier or competitor.
Ready positions: Practice mounting your rifle from the ready positions you intend to use. You should be proficient at getting the rifle to your shoulder and on target quickly from low-ready, close-ready, high-ready and port arms.
Intermediate positions: More commonly referred to as field positions, these are the positions you and your rifle will attempt to get hits from while in the field. You should be able to move into these positions smoothly and quickly, and you should be able to transition from one position to the other effortlessly and without thought. Ideally, you should be able to get into any intermediate position in three steps or fewer.
Immediate action: Guns do not always work as intended. Occasionally, you can have a stoppage or failure to fire with even the simplest rifle actions. You need to know how to correct these issues immediately when they happen. You should not have to think about the solution to the problem. Skill at immediate action might save your life during a buffalo charge or help you win a shooting match.
Follow-through: One of the most overlooked aspects of basic marksmanship fundamentals is following through. Too often, shooters come off the trigger too soon. Force yourself to practice follow-through. Exaggerate holding the trigger back while at the same time reacquiring your sight picture. Only after you’ve achieved both, operate the action or reset the trigger on a semi-automatic rifle.
Run your gun: With manually cycling rifles such as bolts and lever actions, learn to cycle the action after the shot without ever removing the rifle from your shoulder. This greatly speeds up your recovery time and allows for a faster second or follow-up shot. With a bolt-action rifle where the bolt might hit you in the face when cycled, you can cant the rifle to the bolt side, keeping the stock’s toe in the shoulder. Then pivot the rifle back to your face as you close the bolt. You don’t remove a semi-automatic rifle from your shoulder between shots, and you should not do it with a manually cycled action, either.
Fast safety tips: Make disengaging your rifle’s safety a part of your mount. Disengage the safety as you bring the comb of the stock up to your face. Don’t do it too early, but at the same time, don’t wait until you have established a perfect mount on your shoulder. Take the safety off while you’re mounting the rifle, and make sure you practice this from every shooting position.
Optical Intelligence: You should become intimately familiar with your riflescope. You should be able to operate the magnification selector without looking at it. You should also know which directions result in up or down and left or right reticle movement on your windage and elevation turrets. The same goes for any illumination controls. Learn to operate your riflescope without taking your eyes off the target. (Remember the part about keeping both eyes open and better peripheral vision?)
Load and Unload: You might need to load your rifle while keeping your eyes on that leopard you just wounded. Or you might need to unload your rifle in the dark before you crawl down from that tree stand. Make sure you can load and unload your rifle—and that includes your rifle’s magazines—without looking. You can wear a blindfold and use dummy rounds to practice beforehand.
In 1997, Colonel Jeff Cooper, the founder of Gunsite Academy, wrote “The Art of the Rifle.” This book remains one of the best resources on rifle shooting for hunting, competition and even self-defense. Though Cooper passed in 2006, Gunsite’s rifle shooting doctrine is still largely influenced by what Cooper wrote 20 years ago.
Gunsite Academy instructor Il Ling New teaches many of the rifle courses at Gunsite and is an accomplished hunter. Here are a dozen sound lessons covered in the Gunsite 270 Rifle class. New considers these important if you want to perfect the art of the rifle. These tips apply to all types of rifle shooting, whether it’s a bolt action or AR-15.
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Don’t assume that because you grew up in a hunting family or were in the military that you truly know how to shoot and manage a rifle. I did both, and I did not know what I did not know. My rifle shooting improved measurably after taking the 270 Rifle course at Gunsite. These 12 tips might not seem that important, but they are. They work together to help you concentrate on the most important aspects of rifle shooting:
- Sight alignment
- Trigger control
Fast, accurate and precise rifle shooting is an art. Learn it or miss.
This article was originally published in “Ballistic” Fall 2017. To order a copy, visit outdoorgroupstore.com.
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