Friday, March 7, 2008

Part Four: Firing the Shot

Courtesy of Fred's M14 Stocks (


If you’re still with us, you’ve taken an important first step – a baby step, but a vital step nonetheless -- towards becoming a Rifleman. Persistence, even from behind that computer monitor, is one of the very few absolutely indispensable abilities that one must have in order to shoot well.

You’ll still have to get out to that 25m range in your backyard (What? You haven’t built one yet? Sheesh….) and actually shoot that rifle, but the fact that you are here reading this post means that you are sufficiently humble and educable so as to try something other than “your way or the highway.”

Believe ol’ Fred when he tells you – your humility and teachability makes you very much one of the chosen few. Good work at controlling your ego and being willing to learn.

Now, to work. Today’s topic is the much neglected process of actually sighting and firing the rifle.

Seems pretty easy, right? Load the darned thing, point it, take the safety off, aim it, and pull the trigger.

Don’t get me wrong. You can do it that way and, at least some of the time, make the bullet go where you want it to go.

Some of the time.

At pretty short distances.

But the difference between a Rifleman and an ordinary shooter is that the Rifleman can put his shots where he wants them to go from any position at any range from 25 meters to 500 yards.

To do that consistently, you have to be a bit more rigorous in how you fire the shot.

One other comment -- experience has shown that where a shooter memorizes the steps below, and then repeats the steps quietly as he actually aims and shoots his rifle, these steps become second nature. As they become second nature, improvements in your shooting will “magically” appear.

“Magically”, that is, if you think hard work, perseverance, and practice constitute “magic”. Come to think of it, to most so-called Americans in these decadent times, maybe those virtues are “magic”, after all.

So what are the steps?

1. SIGHT ALIGNMENT -- Line up the front and rear sights: Simply center the front sight in the rear sight. If you are shooting a rifle with a “peep sight” (more correctly, an “rear aperture sight”), you’ll make sure that you are holding the rifle such that the top of the front sight post is in the center of the opening in the rear aperture sight. If you are shooting a rifle with traditional open sights, you’ll want the front sight post to be located in the center of the rear sight notch, with the top of the front sight post no higher or lower than the top of the rear sight.

Those of you with a scope (which is cheating at this point of the game, by the way) have your sights aligned for you by the scope. Take off that glass now and learn to shoot well without it. Once you know how to do that, you can use that scope, but not be dependent on it. It’s one thing to have a broken scope ruin a hunting trip. It’s another thing to be fighting for Liberty and suddenly lose your effectiveness ‘cuz your scope’s front lens got crushed as you dove for cover. Think Boris from that UN convoy will give you a “do-over”?

In the words of Clint Smith, owner of Thunder Ranch [one of the country’s premier practical shooting schools; see], “Two weeks after the balloon goes up, iron sights will rule the world.”

‘Nuff said.

2. SIGHT PICTURE -- Keeping the sights lined up, bring them onto the target: You have two basic choices in accomplishing this step. First way is to use your muscles and fight your body’s natural alignment so as to bring the sights onto the target. That’ll work – maybe – as long as you can

a) use the same amount of muscle power to force your body into the exact same position for each shot (remembering, of course, that even the “Quick and Dirty” single-sheet Army Qualification Test will require 40 shots), and

b) keep your muscles from growing tired and starting to tremble as you fight your body in keeping your sights on target.

Being a bit stubborn himself, Fred knows that there are lots of you guys that’ll try it your way, fight your body’s natural position, and get frustrated at the difficulties in shooting a good score. The smart ones out of that crowd will admit defeat early and join the really smart guys who were ready to learn the right way in the first place.

Your second choice – the right way – is to enlist your body’s help in holding the sights steady on target. It’s called the “natural point of aim” (NPOA) technique and it’s the secret to rapid and consistent improvement in shooting. We’ll talk more about it next time, but for now, just understand that by moving your body position so that your rifle points naturally at the target, you will eliminate muscle fatigue and improve accuracy dramatically.

Those of you that want to read ahead can read the section in the Rifleman’s Guide on NPOA. You do have a copy of the Guide (, right?

3. RESPIRATORY PAUSE – Deep breath, exhale, hold breath as front sight touches bottom of target: Take a deep breath, let it out slowly, and watch how the front sight dips, then rises as you exhale. Let the front sight rise as you exhale until it barely touches the bottom of the bull’s eye. Now, hold your breath. You have just used a natural act - breathing - to establish your correct elevation.

4A. FOCUS YOUR EYE -- Focus your eye on the front sight: It may be a little hard to do at first, as you naturally want to look at the target. But overcome the temptation and keep your eyes focused on the front sight, even if it means that the target gets blurry. -

4B. FOCUS YOUR MIND – Keep front sight on target: Your concentration should be on “keeping that front sight on the target”. It may help for you to consciously repeat, “front sight on target, front sight on target.” This is the big one!

5. TRIGGER SQUEEZE – Squeeze straight back while front sight stays on target: Here is the tricky part. While you are doing both parts of step 4, you’ll take up the slack and squeeze the trigger straight back. At the same time, you MUST keep your concentration on the front sight! Don’t let the front sight off the target; if it does move off target, gently bring it back on target, while continuing to squeeze the trigger. Of course, just to keep it interesting, you are still holding your breath from step 3’s Respiratory Pause.

You are trying to do three tasks at once. It’s not gonna be natural for most people. However, if you want to be a Rifleman, you have to burn through what seems unnatural until it becomes routine.

Of the three steps, the most important piece is to keep the front sight on the target! This is the part where practice really pays off, and practice is the only way that all three steps [respiratory pause, front sight focus, and trigger squeeze] come together to produce a Rifleman.

Remember: there simply is no substitute for either actual shooting “by the numbers” at the range, “dry firing” [more next time], or a combination thereof.

6. FOLLOW THROUGH -- Sighting eye open, take mental picture of where sights were when rifle discharged, and follow through with trigger: When your rifle fires, you MUST keep your sighting eye open. Without that step, you cannot “call the shot”, or predict, via that mental picture, where the bullet will actually strike the target. If you can’t call the shot, you won’t ever be able to tell whether the shot was bad because you did something wrong, or whether the shot did not go to the aiming point because your sights need adjustment.

The final part of this step – “follow through” – is important, too. If you are concentrating on keeping your front sight on the target, and you continue to concentrate on following through with your trigger squeeze after the rifle discharges, you will greatly reduce the chance that you will move the rifle and duff the shot before the bullet leaves the muzzle. Believe it or not, it happens!

A few more suggestions here at the end:

Make a copy of this post and keep it where you do your reading. Read it slowly, once a night. Think about the concepts, and the reasons behind the concepts.
Write each step down on a 3” x 5” index card. Carry the card with you in your shirt pocket. Read it whenever you get the chance, thinking about the step and the reasons behind it.
Memorize the steps until you can recite them without assistance. A Rifleman has these steps memorized not because he likes to memorize things, but because he knows that the six steps to firing the shot are the key to consistent accuracy.
Finally, grab your rifle and some ammo, and get out to the range. Very slowly at first, put each step into action as you fire each shot at those 1” black squares at 25m/82 feet. Talk to yourself. Be encouraging. Remember why you are doing all of this work. Be confident in your role as a student learning to defend yourself, your family, and your country from those who would oppress them. Have faith in your ability, through methodical hard work and practice, to become a Rifleman.

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