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Skill Set: Becoming a Rifleman – or Woman

Thursday, February 9, 2017 8:45
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Aaron Spuler is a firearms enthusiast and recreational shooter. Follow more or his work at The Weapon Blog

Originally published in the February 9, 2017 edition of The Shooting Wire (

This week I’m running a Precision Rifle course for a group of law enforcement officers. I haven’t written about rifle work in a long time, especially precision shooting with bolt action rifles, so since it’s on my mind I decided to devote this column to some thoughts on it.

There are a lot of people that think rifle-shooting means working from a bench or firing from prone with a bipod. To truly learn how to use a rifle in the field you’re going to need to break out of your comfort zone. This means learning how to manipulate the rifle and be able to shoot it accurately from any position.

What’s there to learning about manipulating a bolt-action rifle? Loading a bolt gun may seem simple. Feed the rounds into the box magazine in the stock. Loading it without having to look at it, and depress the rounds in the magazine so you can get that one extra round into the chamber takes time and practice. Keeping it loaded is another important skill. You fire two hits; open the bolt and feed it a couple more to keep it topped off. It’s always better to load when you want to as opposed to when you have to.

You have to learn the various positions, and how they apply in the field. There’s offhand shooting, and “Olympic” offhand, blading the body more than usual and bracing the support arm against the upper body for stability. There are variations of kneeling, sitting and prone. One should be efficient at all these “traditional” firing positions. Then you get into what Jeff Cooper called “jackass” positions, variations of the traditional positions, plus learning how to brace or rest against objects in your environment to for stability and accuracy.

Accuracy is defined by distance and/or size of the target. Being a rifleman means you know what position you need so when you press the trigger you get a good hit. At the same time you’re learning what your capabilities are, and when a shot is beyond your abilities. The best way to practice these skills is dry practice.

During live fire drills accept the fact that you will have “bad” shots. Forget those and focus on the “good” hits. As with any skill your performance is based on your mindset. The more you think about the good stiff, what you did right, the better your performance will be.

If lying in prone and shooting with a bipod or sitting on a bench and firing small groups is your thing that’s cool. To become a true rifleman – or woman – you’re going to invest some time and become disciplined. The great thing about today is that you can get extremely accurate rifles from Remington, Savage, Ruger and others without having to spend a fortune. The same goes for glass or optics. You don’t want to buy the cheapest thing out there, but it’s not necessary to spend a fortune to get good clear glass.

Once you get good it’s time to start testing ammunition. Again, we’re living in a great time; it’s highly likely you’ll be able to find an accurate round for your rifle without the need for hand loading.

These skills apply to all rifle work. It doesn’t’ matter if you’re shooting a .22 at fifty yards or a high-power rifle at several hundred yards. With time, dedication and discipline you too can become a rifleman, or woman.

Tiger McKee is director of Shootrite Firearms Academy, located in northern Alabama. He is the author of ‘The Book of Two Guns‘ – writes for several firearms/tactical publications, and is featured on GunTalk’s DVD, ‘Fighting With The 1911‘ – McKee’s new book, AR Skills and Drills, is available now.


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