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Marksmanship refers to the art or skill of using a firearm, such as a rifle or a pistol.
The basic fundamentals of marksmanship can be described in a number of ways.
Possibly the most succinct version of the principles of marksmanship is that used by the British and Australian Army:
The US Army similarly breaks marksmanship principles into four fundamentals, however states them more verbosely:
The weapon should point toward the target, without effort or strain. The ideal position is attained by "natural point of aim" in which no undue muscular tension is required to keep the sights on target.
In order to ascertain the natural point of aim (POA) and to adjust the natural POA to the desired POA the shooter undertakes a procedure called "test and adjust".
The test portion consists of the shooter closing their eyes and relaxing the grip on their weapon while still holding it in the firing position. The shooter then re-firms his grip and opens his eyes. Where the sights are now pointing is the natural POA.
To adjust the natural point of aim when shooting from the standing or squatting position, the shooter alters his/her position by moving his/her feet. With other positions, the shooter moves their body. For example, in the sitting position the shooter would move their backside. In the kneeling position the rear leg/foot is moved. Moving back foot (standing) or body (prone) forward generally lowers the point of aim. Moving it rearward raises the point of aim. Similarly, moving the rear foot or body to the right moves the point of aim left and vice versa. The shooter continues to test and adjust until the natural POA coincides with the target.
The rifle should never directly be rested on a hard surface such as a vehicle roof, window frame, rock or sandbag wall. Instead the support hand should rest on the hard surface and the rifle should rest on the support hand. The reason for this is that laying the rifle directly on a support will introduce changes to the vibration pattern of the rifle when firing. Placing the hand between the rifle and the support surface, reduces (but does not eliminate) the changes to the vibration patterns of the weapon.
Line of Sight: Some shooters consider aiming with a pistol more challenging than with a rifle due to the smaller sight radius - the distance between the rear and fore sights. The key is, as with shooting rifles, is to line up the front notch at the front of the pistol's slide within the two rear notches at the back of the pistol's slide. Do this, and almost every time your shot will hit its mark.
Control: Many shooters have problems with controlling the recoil of a pistol. This problem is not as often shared by rifle shooters due to the energy of the recoil of their rifles dissipating against their shoulders. However, when shooting a pistol it is far more difficult to control the weapon when it is just held by your hands as it often recoils up and back at the same time.
Posture/Stance: When firing a sidearm it is important, as with firing any weapon, to maintain a proper firing stance at all times. There are several wrong shooting stances that many shooters use obliviously. One common one is that of a shooter holding the pistol and slightly leaning away from the pistol as if afraid it will spring back and hit them in the face. This will not happen unless you let the pistol fly out of your grasp, or place your self directly behind it. A correct shooting stance includes a firm two handed grip, strong hand extending out towards target with the "weak" or support hand slightly pulling rearward as to "lock" in a stable platform for the pistol, knees bent and feet approximately shoulder width apart, upper body slightly leaning forward into firearm. By leaning forward, with the firearm held in such a manner the arms are stable and take up recoil better than not having a fully extended arm, the upper body also dissipates recoil much better, in conjunction with slightly bent knees and proper foot placement creating a very suitable firing platform for a the pistol. Resulting in an improvement in accuracy, and with better recoil management, the ability to put faster follow up shots on target
There are four basic positions for shooting rifles or carbines.
Other nonstandard positions include the squat ("rice paddy prone"), "speed kneeling" with both knees on the ground, and "supine", where the firer lies on his/her side, with the rifle lying on the bent lower leg; the sight is usually mounted on the end of the stock and as such the rifle is designed to be shot in this position only.
The grip or hold depends on the shooting discipline (i.e. what is allowed under the rules of competition) and what is practical. For instance, in the IPSC pistol discipline, the most used grip is two handed, although some stages will be designed such that the shot must be taken with either the weak or the strong hand only.
When gripping a handgun, "shake hands" with the grip. Take a firm and high grip, wrapping the three lower fingers around the grip with the trigger finger resting along the slide away from the trigger and trigger guard.
When using iron sights, the firer must focus on the tip of the foresight at the moment they release the shot. The rear sight and the target itself will not be in focus. This assists in assuring correct sight alignment.
Two methods of looking at the success of a shot group involve accuracy and precision, where accuracy is defined as 'the ability of a measurement to match the actual value of the quantity being measured,' and precision is defined as 'the ability of a measurement to be consistently reproduced' (www.dictionary.com).
Precision also referred to as "intrinsic accuracy", is measured by the group, where hitting close to bulls eye does not affect precision rather than the fact that all bullets in the group landed very close to one another. Hence, the smaller or "tighter" the group, the better the Precision.
Major factors that affect precision are:
The intrinsic accuracy (precision) of each of these components can be measured separately. The typical unit of measurement for rifles and scopes is MOA (Minute of Angle). There are 360 degrees in a full circle and 60 minutes per degree.
"Mechanical Accuracy" refers to the accuracy of the rifle and the ammunition. The accuracy of a given weapon will actually be equal to the square root of the sum of the squares of the dispersion caused by each individual factor, such as weapon, ammunition, shooter skill, weather, etc. For example, if a rifle is capable of performing at 0.5 MOA, but the ammunition you are using is only capable of 1.1 MOA, the accuracy of the weapon and ammunition combination will be the square root of 0.5^2 + 1.1^2, or approximately 1.2 MOA. However, if the shooter is only capable of 4 MOA, then using this ammunition and rifle, the average MOA will be [0.5^2 + 1.1^2 +4^2]^0.5 = @4.2 MOA, in perfect weather.
We have the least control over the weather and other environmental factors. We have the most control over the accuracy of the individual shooter. Do not be overly concerned about upgrading your rifle or ammunition (to a lower MOA) until your own MOA approaches a similar degree of accuracy.
The intrinsic accuracy of all these components is measured by the tightness of the group as discussed below.
The ability to hit the target (as opposed to shooting a small group) is probably the more commonly perceived measure of accuracy amongst new or non shooters. This technique can be referred to as practical accuracy, because, generally speaking in field shooting, hitting the target is the point of the practice of shooting. This accuracy is a measure of the shooter's ability to cause the group to hit the target, by adjusting the point of aim. The operation or exercise of causing the group to fall on the target, by adjusting the point of aim, is called "application of fire". As with any weapon when firing and aiming for your target you must know that the bullet gradually moves downward when fired so when aiming at a target it is best to aim a little above it to get an accurate shot at your target.
Without precision, or repeatability of the above-mentioned components of precision, a high degree of accuracy is nearly impossible. In order to accurately strike a target, the shooter must adjust the aim to account for several variables, and to the extent the repeatability of the firearm or conditions is poor, this adjustment becomes correspondingly uncertain --- in other words, with poor precision the shooter simply will have to guess. For example, suppose a given cartridge produces a wide and unpredictable variation in muzzle velocity, and that all other elements of the firearm are highly precise. In this case, the shooter has very little idea of where the shot will go, as the amount of drop for which to compensate is highly uncertain, and the shooter will simply have to hope for the best.
Firearms are considered ineffective beyond the distance a carefully fired shot is guaranteed to strike the target. At longer ranges, a miss could occur that might endanger the marksman's mission. In those instances, other weapons may be preferred over marksmen/snipers equipped with special sniper rifles, even though the situation may be an otherwise ideal job for a sniper.
For example, in counter-sniper roles a sniper might spot a target that is out of range for a sniper rifle, and so the sniper may need to call upon a machine gunner to attack it. A machine gun using the same ammunition as the sniper rifle can be effective at a much greater range due to lower accuracy requirements for effective use.
Here is a simplified example to illustrate why, counter-intuitively, a less accurate weapon of the same calibre may actually have a greater effective range than a sniper rifle: For human targets in military sniping, snipers aim at a "target circle". The equations that describe the approximate relationships between range, accuracy, and the target circle, as used in this section, are as follows:
Also note that "target circle" is used exclusively even when "cone of fire" or "group size" may technically be more accurate. These terms have subtle differences that are not important for the purpose of this section, and they are left out to avoid introducing unnecessary complexity in illustrations and examples that have been intentionally simplified.
The target circle is typically about 8 inches in diameter, corresponding to an imaginary circle on the vital area of a person's chest. For a common sniper rifle capable of 1 MOA accuracy, the maximum effective range (the range at which the bullet impact point is guaranteed to be within an 8-inch circle on the first shot) is about 800 meters.
In contrast, a machine gun using the same ammunition with a low accuracy of only 6 MOA will typically have a greater maximum effective range of about 1,100 meters. At that range and accuracy, a machine gun has a larger target circle of about 66 inches. The machine gun's target circle is much larger due to its rapid fire capability, which allows a machine gun to strike with one or more hits and numerous misses at random locations within the target circle.
While a machine gun's large target circle means that its effective range can be longer than a sniper rifle's, note that the design of a weapon is more likely to determine its effective range than the maximum range of its ammunition. The maximum range of common 7.62 × 51 mm NATO ammunition is a comparatively large 3,725 meters, and both machine guns and sniper rifles are not able to use even half of the maximum range of the ammunition effectively, largely due to unpredictable atmospheric disturbance of the bullet's flight path. The maximum range is much larger than the maximum effective range. The corresponding disadvantage is that the machine gun may need to fire dozens, and perhaps hundreds of rounds before scoring a hit.
A group is defined as a series of shots fired at the same POA, or point of aim, from the same position and hold. Generally speaking three shots is the minimum considered necessary to form a group and groups of three, five, ten or more are commonly used for measuring accuracy for testing and comparative purposes. Generally speaking the more shots fired in a group, the more useful the data is for comparative purposes.
Certain shooting disciplines, styles, shooter accuracy, or experience may define the number of shots required for a group in their competitions or practice (as in teaching trigger control). It may also benefit newer shooters to use a higher round count group, to increase their probability at placing multiple rounds together(encuraging confidence) , and highlighting the ones that have "pulled", to reinforce what has been learned earlier in the fundamentals.
The group is a measure of the angular dispersion of a series of rounds. There are two methods commonly used to describe a group:
It is important to remember that both methods describe the same thing, i.e. the angular dispersion of the shots. Generally speaking MOA is the preferred way to describe a group as it is a single range neutral number.
For most purposes shooters approximate 1 MOA to be a group of 1 inch at 100 yards which is accurate enough for all but the most precise measurements.
Note however that the size of a group may vary at different ranges, e.g. a rifle may fire 4 MOA at 100 m but fire 2 MOA at 600 m. Reasons for this might include different stability at different ranges in the trajectory. However despite this when comparing accuracy it is usual to discuss the size of the group at a given range, often 100 m. Also despite the fact that, in reality, the accuracy of a rifle may vary at different ranges, it is common to interpolate the accuracy of a rifle at one range from the known accuracy at another range. I.e. it is commonly assumed that a rifle that shoots 1 MOA when measured at 100 yards, i.e. a 1 inch group at 100 yards, will still shoot 1 MOA at 200 yards, i.e. a 2 inch group at 200 yards.
As indicated above, the group is the measure of the intrinsic accuracy of a rifle, ammunition, shooter or some other component in the shooting combination in a given set of conditions. By this we mean the accuracy potential of the combination when ignoring, removing or otherwise canceling, as far as possible (perhaps by conducting all testing in the same environment at the same time), external factors, such as weather.
The size of the group is in fact a measure of the consistency of rifle, ammunition and shooter. The smaller the group, the more potentially accurate the variable or variables being measured. This is because the smaller the group is the greater the chance of a round striking the same place as previous shots fired in the group. Here's the way to measure a group accurately: You need a caliper (digital-readout calipers are much easier to use than dial-readout models) and the ability to subtract. First, measure the outside spread of the two widest shots in the group. Then, subtract from that figure the diameter of the bullet you're shooting. Let's say you take your .270 and shoot a group that measures 1.313 inches. Subtract from it .277, which is the actual diameter of the bullet, and you get 1.036 inches, which is your group size.
A group does not measure the ability of a rifle/marksman/ammunition or any other single component or combination of components to actually hit a target.
The accuracy of small arms fire is affected by several factors. These include:
The mechanical accuracy of the rifle is affected by several factors including:
The mechanical accuracy of the ammunition is dependent on several factors including:
There are several environmental (weather) factors that affect accuracy. These include:
When a rifle is fired the state of the rifle changes. Most of these changes are not perceptible to human senses, yet each of them has a real and definite effect on the accuracy potential of the rifle. For example when the rifle is fired the barrel flexes along its axis. This flexing is called whip. In order to obtain maximum accuracy this whip should be as consistent as possible each time the shot is fired. One way of achieving this is to minimize the whip. This can be done by stiffening the barrel, a condition usually achieved by adding more material to the barrel, i.e. making it heavier. In some cases the rifle is fitted with longitudinal flutes (ie grooves cut into the barrel along its length). These flutes increase the stiffness of the barrel, while reducing the weight - or at least reducing the weight compared to a solid barrel of similar stiffness. At the same time the barrel flexes along its length, the muzzle of the rifle moves, probably in a circle or oval, but possibly in some other pattern, across a plane at right angles to the bore. Maximum accuracy demands that the round leaves the muzzle at the same position on this plane every shot. Many factors affect the pattern described by the muzzle on this plane, the most controllable of which is the pressure exerted on the barrel by the receiver and the stock.
Application of fire is the act of applying a group to a target.
I.e. is the ability of the combination of rifle, shooter and ammunition to place the group where desired.
Zeroing is the act of mechanically aligning the point of impact with the point of aim at a given range.
Holdover is the practice of aiming at a point other than the desired point of impact (POI) to allow for factors such as range, weather, zero (in particular the range at which the weapons is zeroed, but also perhaps to allow for the fact that a weapon may have been zeroed for a person other than the current firer).
Sight may be adjusted to allow for lateral movement. Wind may affect the round and range, resulting in a vertical drop of the round in flight. By adjusting the sights at the time of firing, the need to apply holdover can be reduced or entirely eliminated.
The initial author of this page was formally trained in marksmanship in the Australian Army. Therefore the terminology and definitions on this page are strongly influenced by Australian and Commonwealth terminology. In addition the page has a military orientation. Some of the information may not be useful in a purely civilian context, however the basic terminology and techniques discussed should be helpful to any shooter.
Extensive reference was made to the following:
Firearm User Network - Organization for practicing marksmanship