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Mastering Marksmanship: The Four Essential Principles for Perfecting Your Shot

Whether you're an Olympic-level competitive shooter or just getting into the firearms hobby and looking to become a better shot, there are four fundamental aspects of marksmanship that must be followed in order to be an effective shot. These principles revolve around eliminating variables and cultivating a consistent approach. In this blog post, we'll help you hone your abilities and become a formidable shooter capable of hitting your targets at the maximum effective range of your weapon system (and then some). We'll start with a pneumonic to help you remember what they are:

The P.A.S.T. Rule

 

Position

Position and hold must be firm enough to support the rifle

Alignment

The rifle must point naturally at the target without any physical effort

Sight

Sight alignment (Aiming) must be correct

Trigger

Shot must be released and followed through without disturbing the position

 

Shooting accurately is all about eliminating variables. Everything from your position, to how you hold the rifle, your breathing, and your trigger squeeze must all be done in a way that you are able to replicate each shot. This means that each shot you fire must be as close as possible your previous shots. Consistency is key.

 

Coming from a military and competitive shooting background, these were the principles we learned as we began our career. They can be applied on any rifle from a .22 plinker up to a .50 cal. We actually recommend new shooters starting with a .22 just to get the basics down without hurting your wallet too much before advancing to larger caliber rifles, but feel free to start with whatever you have available like an AR15 or even a 9mm pistol.

 

Note that these principles are in the context of range or competition shooting. On a two-way range, the best position to have is any position that provides adequate support for the weapon system and allows you to effectively aim and engage a threat, but if you find yourself in that position, odds are you’ve already learned the basics. In a future blog post, we'll cover more in-depth topics such as breathing, aiming off, and incorporating run-downs and a higher heart rate.

 

#1: Position and hold must be firm enough to support the rifle

 “Rather than relying on muscular strength, adopt a relaxed stance that utilizes your natural posture and skeletal system for support. This foundational element ensures stability and consistency in your shooting position.”


Olympic air rifle shooter Lucas Kozeniesky aiming his rifle at a target during a competition
Olympic shooters aren't on a two-way range, but they still follow the same four fundamentals. Notice how how he keeps his arms tucked in and leans rearward towards his center of mass to minimize muscular fatigure and rely more on his skeletal system to maintain his point of aim.

 

One of the most common mistakes most new shooters make is using their muscles to hold the weapon up. This increases the strain on your body which increases oxygen consumption, which increases your breathing and heart rate, and can easily create fatigue. Instead, utilize your skeletal structure to support the weapon rather than trying to tough it out. You can easily test this out for yourself: adopt a kneeling position, then try to hold your weapon up as you would from the standing position, then try it again while resting your weapon or support hand elbow on your knee. You should immediately notice a difference in how quickly you fatigue and holding a point of aim becomes difficult.


The more consistent you are with your positions the less variables you need to factor in during the shot. Using your skeletal structure instead of your musculature to hold the weapon allows you to maintain the shooting position for longer without unnecessarily increasing your muscle fatigue and oxygen consumption, both of which are additional variables.

 

#2: The rifle must point naturally at the target without any physical effort


“Don’t muscle the weapon."

 

British Army sniper looking through the sight of his weapon and aiming at the target from the sitting position
Notice how the shooter has aligned his body so that his rifle points naturally towards the target from the sitting position.

Once you’ve adopted a firm position capable of holding the rifle, it’s time to make sure the rifle points naturally at the target without any physical effort. This is where you iron out all the smaller issues and muscle strains that you might not notice yourself doing. Using the basics from the first principle, it’s time to test and adjust your position. This can be broken down into four easy steps:


  1. Take up your point of aim (look through your sight), then close your eyes

  2. Take one or two deep breaths, relax your body, then open your eyes

  3. If your point of aim has shifted, that means you were using your muscles (physical effort) to keep the rifle on target. To fix this, DON'T force the weapon into alignment. Instead, simply shift your whole body until the weapon points naturally at the target.

  4. Repeat as necessary aka "test and adjust"


Body alignment can be summed up by the saying “from the ground up” in regard to adopting and adjusting your position. If you’re in a kneeling position and your aim is off, don’t muscle the weapon into position; shift your entire body a bit to either the left or the right until the weapon points naturally at the target.

 

#3: Sight alignment (Aiming) must be correct


“Ensure your dominant eye is in a straight line with the rear sight, the front sight, and your target.”

 

Rifle scope reticles showing proper and improper rifle sight alignment and level
Adjust your head or sight position until it looks like the example in the top left. Make sure you check for level as well.

Sight alignment is a simpler way of saying “ensure your dominant eye is in a straight line with the rear sight, the front sight, and your target.” At close range this won’t be noticeable, but as your target distance increases, even a minute misalignment can mean the difference between a hit or a miss. Part of this is also sight picture. Ensure that when you’re aiming down your sights you have the iron sights lined up properly and the weapon isn't canted to either side. If you have an optic, make sure it’s positioned properly on the weapon to eliminate as much parallax as possible (you’ll notice this as a black ring around the edges of the sight) and make sure you're not canted (pro tip - use your target frame or backstop as a reference level). If you have any of these issues you’re introducing a non-repeatable variable, and as we know by now, shooting is all about eliminating variables.

 

There are some nuances of sight picture, such as "placing the post on the target" which will result in a slightly blurry crosshair but actually increases precision. You should also embrace the concept of "aim small, miss small" by targeting specific points rather than broad areas, increasing your accuracy by ensuring even a miss on your point of aim will equate to an effective hit on target.

 

#4: Shot must be released and followed through without disturbing the position


"Trigger Mastery." 


Example drawing of a proper vs improper weapon trigger pull
A "straight back" trigger pull is critical so as to avoid disturbing your hold. Finger placement may depend on trigger weight and individual preference.

Proper trigger control is essential as it is the last thing you do before releasing your shot and if done improperly can cause a significant change to your point of impact, usually to the left or right of your point of aim. The principles of trigger control can be summed up by the 5 S's:


  1. Smooth - consistent movement, don't move in increments

  2. Steady - maintain pressure and slowly increase

  3. Subconscious - maintain your point of aim and let the shot surprise you

  4. Squeeze - don't jerk the trigger; squeeze and hold

  5. Straight back - ensure you're applying pressure directly rearward


The trigger should be squeezed in a smooth, steady, straight back motion until it meets its breaking point and the shot is released subconsciously as you maintain your point of aim. If you jerk the trigger, you’re adding in the variable of uncontrolled and inconsistent movement each time you fire. This means it’s impossible to recreate the same shot every time. If you anticipate the shot release, your body will naturally tense up and cause you to flinch, potentially causing you to jerk the weapon off target.

 

A correct follow-through allows you to take another shot right away if needed. The thing to remember here is “Reset - Slack out”. Once you’ve completed your first shot, the instinct is to completely release the trigger - a lot of new shooters even remove their finger from the trigger guard completely. Instead, “Reset” by allowing our trigger finger to go forward slightly until you feel the sear engage on the trigger again. This is allowing the “Slack out” of the trigger. Pressure is still applied to the trigger but just enough to maintain it near the breaking point without firing the weapon a second time. This gives you the ability to conduct a quick follow-up shot if necessary.


Conclusion


By mastering these four fundamentals – maintaining a stable position, working with natural body alignment, perfecting sight alignment and sight picture, and mastering trigger manipulation – you pave the way for consistent and precise shooting. In the world of marksmanship, it's the shooter's skill and adherence to these basics that ultimately make the difference, not the gear.

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