Last week my unit ran through the annual rifle qual on a 300 meter pop up range. 20 rounds prone supported, 10 rounds prone unsupported, 10 rounds kneeling. Targets ranged from 50 to 300 meters. 50 and 100 meter targets are "Head and Shoulder" targets, 150 and beyond were the "Crazy Ivan" targets. The "Crazy Ivan" is slightly thinner than an E-type, and is therefore a better target to simulate actual enemy soldiers.
I shot a 37 out of 40, which was a score bested by my shooting buddy who failed to engage a target and shot a 39 out of 40. I rushed the trigger three times, he waited too long setting up the shot once. I've shot 40 for 40 a few times before (twice with an M16A2 with irons, once with an M4 and ACOG), and was disappointed in my performance this week. This time I was using an M4 with an Aimpoint CompM2 on top (or M68 for those who insist on the .mil designation).
Don't get me wrong, just because I haven't been training on that setup since 2007 is no excuse for poor marksmanship on my part. Using a red dot sight is stupid easy even if it is dang near impossible to get a solid cheek weld with one on an M4, and the targets are huge (human sized) in comparison to the black on a High Power target.
So my ego is a little bruised, I know I can do better and yet I didn't. However, this has given me some reflecting on how I've trained, and how to focus my training in the future. So what follows is my meandering thoughts on rifle marksmanship.
Since getting back from Afghanistan and getting back into High Power matches I feel like a noob all over again. I started this year with a 617, followed by a 667, followed by a 630 (albeit with some huge screwups on my part for that score, such as shooting at the wrong target). None of those scores are enough to even qualify above NRA marksman. I shoot "expert" darn near every time on an Army qualification course but can't even get ranked as a "sharpshooter" by the NRA? Why is that?
Well for one thing, the scoring is different. On an Army qual range, it is binary, a hit is a hit and a miss is a miss. On a High Power range, you can miss the target but if you hit you have rings 5 through 10, so your score is a bit more analogue. So I can hit the target every time and still not qualify above "marksman" because my shots are not very "precise." Precision is the name of the game, and right now I don't have it.
When I shoot High Power, my best strings are always rapid fire sitting and rapid fire prone, why? Because they most closely resemble the Army Qual Tables that I've been shooting since basic training (in the previous century to you young whippersnappers). I am very good at concentrating to engage a target rapidly in a short period of time. I am not very good at standing slow fire or prone slow fire. The rhythm of those events is much newer to my experience.
The Army trained me pretty well for rapidly engaging targets (and on a qual range I was often the first one to fire when a target appeared) using a battlesight zero. At 200 and 300 yards my rapid fire scores are fairly decent (often above 180). What the Army didn't train me for was slow fire, mastering the zen art of doing the exact same thing every time and doing it well.
So far my training for slow fire has been dry fire. I think that I will start adding all the other accoutrements to my training routine. Instead of focusing just on sight picture and trigger pull, I'll use snap caps and a cartridge box to re-create the entire ritual of shooting slow fire. Get my mind and body used to every motion, how long it takes to go from loading to firing to loading again. I know I can shoot precisely, I just need to get used to doing it the High Power way, feeling comfortable with each motion so that I'm not fumbling with the ammo or bolt release, just on the shot.
The old saying, "It is much easier to teach a Soldier to shoot than a Shooter to soldier" is becoming less and less true to me. We can collapse basic training into 6 weeks if necessary to push people to the front lines, but to truly train to mastery of rifle marksmanship? That is taking me significantly longer. Sure beats golf though.