26 October 2012

Marksmanship Matters

A few days ago Oleg Volk a post titled, "The misdirected fetish of marksmanship."

Oleg made a series of statements that I fully agree with.  But he left one thing out.

If you can't shoot, you aren't a (direct) threat.  If you aren't a direct threat, you aren't effective at grasping the very basis of all politics, violence is power.  Freedom comes from the barrel of a gun is a political sentiment, the truth is that VIOLENCE comes from the barrel of a gun.  At the end of the day all politics boils down to who has the violence and the will to use it to get what they want.

In every revolution, every insurgency, the "Powers That Be" always kill more of the "freedom fighters" than the freedom fighters kill of the professionally trained, government armed and supplied, killing war machine.  This is leaving aside the "military coup" so common in various circles.

Winning an insurgency, a revolution, is about staying in the fight.  Eventually the "Powers That Be" will decide to take their ball and go home.  It happened in Cuba, Vietnam, China, Russia, America, France (a couple of times before it stuck), Algiers, Zimbabwe, and even India and Malaysia (the Brits were smart enough to see the writing on the wall and got out before the cost was too dear).  In a Civil War it is about staying in the fight and wearing the other side down, such as in America or Ireland (or Britain back in the days of Cromwell).  Marksmanship has a role to play in any political fight that big.

Marksmanship is not a misdirected fetish unless it becomes separated from the rest of the necessities of political freedom.  Oleg is completely correct that marksmanship alone can become a fetish, but it is not worthless when taken part and parcel of a larger set of activities.

Joe Huffman asks quite often, "Why are Liberals so violent?" and the answer is that the power of the state is always naked violence.  Liberals are quite honest about how they would rule given no limits.  Conservatives are actually quite prudish, often going as far back as St. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas in trying to apply morality to violence.  Liberals are not handicapped by this veneer of morality, they are the unthinking barbarians of our political world, the Huns, Visigoths, or Vikings who pay no respect to their victims and lay no excuses for their actions.

It reminds me of the series "Rome" where an exchange between Marc Antony and a politician... pardon the paraphrase.

"We have the Senate, and all the men of quality on our side" The politician says.

Marc Antony replies, "And I have an angry mob that will dance in the ashes of the senate."

Marksmanship is the pursuit of a disciplined warrior.  The calm mind seeks small groups.  The pause between breaths when the universe stands still and the trigger clicks in slow motion.  Marksmanship can become a fetish, like the sword of a Mameluke or Samurai, but it can also be the distinguishing factor of a consummate warrior.

But never forget in the pursuit of marksmanship excellence, that it is truly the pursuit of more effective violence.  Marksmanship is not a totem to ward off evil, no object or ritual wards off evil, only the violent actions of those fighting against it.


Ryan said...

I liked that Oleg Volk post but think it is really towards the "Battle Rifle" fan boys with "far ambush" fantasies. Confusing the discrete skill of marksmanship with individual or small unit tactics is dangerous.

More to the point I think there is a valid question here. Where (quantifiable) is the point of diminishing returns on marksmanship training?

At what point does marksmanship stop being something Joe Guerrilla/ Rifleman needs and start being something only Tim the SDM (which is another topic in and of itself) or Jim the Sniper needs?

It's not that more shooting skills are a bad thing to have just that the time/energy/money can at some point be better spent elsewhere.

AM said...

Excellent question Ryan.

Marksmanship in peacetime should never stop.

In FC7 fantasy land marksmanship was a 3 week training event, either you learned precision rifle to support infantry tactics, or you learned grenades and subguns for up close work.

Someone else might have a different opinion, such as the US Army where BRM is a two week affair that culminates in a 300 meter popup range where a 57% hit rate on an E Type is a passing grade. The USMC disagrees and spends much more time training, and has a slightly higher qualification.

Pericles said...

In percentage terms, we devote about 10% of the training time to marksmanship related skills. In doctrine terms, the unit needs to be able to shoot, move, and communicate to fight. It also needs supply and leadership to remain viable to fight over time. failure in any of those five things will get a unit removed from the map very quickly.

Bret said...

Let us look at the battle rifle long range ambush concept. Steve Reichert, military sniper, literaly owned 800 yards in his area of operation. Jim Gililand made hits with a .308 at 1300 meters. the enemy simply could not close the distance without getting dead. I suggest Ryan research Simo Haha, Jim Hinson, Zaitsev. Pegahmagabow, Hathcock. Funny how the long range ambush worked so good we have done it all through the years.

Bret said...

And as far as the battle rifle concept goes. There are quite a few .308 caliber rifles, not just sniper rifles deployed now. I watched an episode of shoot out where a team of rangers was pinned down by a soviet pkm belt fed from long range. The rangers had to call in 3 air strikes to get him. What they could have done with Sgt. York, a simple country hick who could shoot a rifle?

RegT said...

Never having been trained in combat, but having read a great deal from a wide variety of sources, I can only offer the thought that - depending upon terrain and the assets available to the attacking force - being able to be effective at long range (800+) would seem to be more than slightly useful. If you can take out their communications, the officers/non-coms directing that force before they are in range themselves, that could be a significant force multiplier.

I would think a decent sniper or SDM could tip the scales - understanding that indirect fire or air assets could also ruin their whole day.

Anonymous said...

IMO he was wrong tactically but right politically/socially.


AM said...


None of the famous snipers you mentioned changed the outcome of the war. Zaitsev was a hero for propaganda purposes and became a casualty to a mine, Hathcock was burned in an APC fire (and the Communists took South Vietnam), Simo Haya still couldn't take back the territory from the Soviet Juggernaut in the Winter War.

That is the point that Oleg was making, that alone marksmanship is nothing but a fetish for those who can't see the bigger picture.

A better example wouldn't be historic snipers, but SGT Alvin York. His civil training in marksmanship was directly the cause of his effectiveness on the battlefield.

Bret said...

I think Oleg should take a look at Simo Haha. when the Russians have to turn a battalion loose on one man, that is effective. and the russians then left finland, and the long range sniping was significant. I agree that it is not the end in and of itself, but being able to shoot that well is not a deficit. Jack Hinson did not win the civil war, but he damn sure made his corner of it un inhabitable for yankees.

Bret said...

We will simply have to agree to disagree because history is full of famous marksman who made their mark. Bat Masterson at adobe Wells, Bill Hickock, John Wesley Hardin. these men were exceptional shooters and there is no substitute for marksmanship. No the snipers wont when the war by themselves. but would you rather a squad of nat guard guys who barely qualify or 3 or four sniper grade shooters with you?

Bret said...

Also recall one famous shooter who did change the whole world. He changed the course of history and shaped a destiny by one act. He was one man. And he had a more profound effect on the world that virtually anything else. His action changed us forever. He was Lee Harvey Oswald

AM said...


You are confusing tactics with strategy. Tactically we won in Vietnam, strategically we lost.

If you want to win the war you need to think strategically on the long term operational goals. Marksmanship is useful as a tactical tool, but whether or not there is any benefit to having that tool is null and void if you lose.

Simo Haya was an amazing man, so was Carlos Hathcock. Both Finland and the USA lost the wars they fought in. That is the point that Oleg made, and one that I agree with.

California Midwesterner said...


Bat Masterson didn't fire the shot at Adobe Walls.

It was Billy Dixon, and he was known to say afterward that the shot (something in excess of 1300yd, IIRC, with iron sights) was a lucky hit, not an expression of skill.

And what did it accomplish in the end? Yeah, he downed 1 opponent. But that didn't really make a difference in pacifying the American West.

You're using examples of men who may have made a difference in some individual fights...but not one whit of difference in the overall scheme of things.
Yes, the ability to make hits is important to the individual combatant.
Other things are far more important to prevailing in the larger struggle, though.

Anonymous said...

FWIW, I think Oleg swung and missed, having proven the point for the 3,486,241st time that "amateurs discuss tactics, professionals discuss logistics".
With a total roster of some 3M or so active, reserve, guard, federal and local agents, of whom far less than 1/4 are actual battle-ready "teeth" rather than logistical "tail", squaring off against a nation of 20M deer hunters, marksmanship isn't a fetish. It's an inexorable deathblow. And as you noted, the historical record of regulars vs. insurgents looks worse than the batting average of a National League pitcher.
Marksmanship isn't going to win any more wars -on its own - than daylight precision bombing or divisional airborne assaults have, or will.
But it'd be damned silly to throw the baby out with the bathwater just because it can't do everything.
If he wanted to talk about "The Fetish Of Death Ray Gunnery", O.V. could have made a much better case. Picking on a legitimate needful skill is defeatist, unrealistic, and pointless.

AM said...


I'll bet on my supply Sargent being a better killer than the guy who buys one box of ammo a year to zero his deer rifle and then hunt with.

The 20 million deer hunters aren't organized into an effective fighting force, nor are they supplied with the worlds most effective military supply chain. Nor are they supported with overhead imagery in real time, indirect fire support, or close combat aviation.

If 20 million deer hunters took to the field to fight the 3 million Active and Reserve military, plus the 1 million Law Enforcement, we are looking at a 5:1 Hunter to .Gov numbers advantage. That is about the same as what we face going into Iraq both times (roughly).

As a mental exercise, what would be required to support 20 million deer hunters (so they don't get cold, hungry, or too sick to fight) if the did take to the field?

It is something that I have thought about quite a bit, and if I were to lead an army of hunters (the old "Army of Davids" that Kim Du Toit used to support) then I would first have to drill them into shape to actually take orders and fight as a team. As John Mosby likes to say, it is closing with the enemy that decisively wins an engagement, and that requires fire and maneuver. Fire and maneuver requires command and control, which requires disciplined individuals working together.

pdxr13 said...

Lee Harvey Oswald may have been instrumental in losing the VietNam war, because Kennedy was not enthusiastic about it.

Assuming that LHO was the or a shooter, naturally.

There are accurate self-loading rifles of standard pattern available, esp. M14/M1a or FAL types, which are every-time 8" diameter hits at 600 Yards and regular hits at 800M using GMM factory ammo (assuming no time to develop/tune specific load for each rifle). This won't support "mass-fire" tactics, but is accurate quick-fire at pretty good range. More PT needed to hump a 12# beast (+ mags, + ammo) instead of a 4.5# PDW.

Mission commander will decide on correct mix of equipment based on need/availability. Options are good to have, and need to be planned for by the future auxiliary.

Pericles said...

One million men with rifles is not a million man army.

I can train someone to be an infantryman in 30 days. But, team leaders, squad leaders, and such require not only training, but experience.

The problemis more critical as you go up the food chain. The Army invests about 6 months in taking a new 2LT with limited military experience nad trying to make him a platoon leader. A good company commander with have years of experience, and a good battalion commander yet more. Besides the cultural issues, one of the reasons we can't build ann army in Iraq or Afghanistan is that there is no short cut to that good 10 years of experience minimum that it takes to be a good battalion commander ....

Then there is the challenge of integrating communications, logistics, and fire support into all of that not even national Gueard units perform well unless that have a period of time to get up to speed, or a leadership with active duty experience.

RegT said...

My thanks to AM and all the folks that commented. I think I finally may have a dim understanding of what you all have been saying: even if a Marksman helps win a small unit action, he isn't going to make a significant difference in a war.

Given that, I still believe a nation of riflemen is a better resource for a successful insurgency than a nation of Europeans or others who have no experience of guns and shooting. We will still require training, but as the old DCM observed, _some_ familiarity with shooting is quite useful, and contributed to what produced our SGT Yorks.

Seadragonconquerer said...

Just a minor correction. Stalin's original goal in the Winter War was complete annexation, re-establishing the pre-1918 Imperial colony. Thanks to the Finns' successful resistance in the first phase of the war, Hitler became "interested" in the situation and warned off the Russians. Stalin eventually went for a negotiated settlement, merely hijacking some strategic land around Leningrad and the Bothnian Isthmus. The Finns, sharpshooters included, saved their Nation.

Anonymous said...

The point about one box of ammo deer hunters sort of begs the question about the actual tactical importance of marksmanship, no?

And in Iraq, all those AK-47s weren't turned on us at once, nor held by anyone uniformly opposed to us? Such a mad minute nationwide would have been a scene reminiscent of Custer's Last Stand.

And with all due respect, suppose your supply Sgt. is Jessica Lynch, and the PAO is busy elsewhere?
And what if someone not thrilled with the .gov sends half a dozen semi-trailers with AMFO poo bombs to park in the antennae farms at Ft. Meade etc. one fine sunny day? (And just how strong *is* the base defense garrison there, or the drone pilots' trailers in Nevada, BTW? One hopes Al Queda hasn't the resources to try to find out...)
Realtime imagery and remote control drone strikes are going to be a mite scarce thereafter if they are found wanting.
Rebuilding uplinks will, I think, require far more effort than constructing the wherewithal to whack-a-mole them right back to scrap, and every bit of effort to prevent it ties up troops for their defense, building new facilities, troops to defend the convoys of parts, etc. Ad infinitum.

I'm looking at what a few $B has gotten us in return for airline and airport security; latest reports point to very expensive window dressing, and the newly-won right to be sexually molested while our luggage is looted. And no actual security whatsoever. All for the expenditure of a few hundred $K, and 19 relatively unimportant guys. (And whom, had they hit the UN building and the Federal Reserve instead of the WTC and Pentagon, would likely have schools named after them in 5 or 10 states, to listen to these intarwebz.)

I'm putting my chips down against Leviathan should there be a contest. Call me sentimental.

Joe Sixpack said...

It's probably due to the fact that I'm a luddite that I can't comprehend how the Feds would survive an insurgency for very long at all.
Draw all their troops and equipment home? Impossible speaking geo-politically.
Even if you fielded every man and woman of law enforcement and the armed forces (including desk jockeys and near-retirees), you'd still be stretched so thin as to be useless.
Suddenly the local police stations start to get burned to the ground. Road blocks are ambushed. Politicians sap their own resources by insisting on having a cadre of armed guards at all times (because they end up dead otherwise).
We're not just talking about insurgents here. When the bullets start flying and nobody's being actively held to account then every asswipe and his buddies are going to be gunning down Johnny Law for nothing more than his six shooter, and while resources are diverted to the sheriff's aid then the other side of town will be getting hammered twice as hard by insurgents and criminals alike.
Take a look at the Rodney King riots. Imagine that happening EVERYWHERE. When you CAN'T draw officers from elsewhere because they're dealing with their own crap, and the thugs don't get tired and go home because they know that shit's NOT going to go back to normal in a week or two.
This reply went way longer than expected.
To summarise, there are not enough functional fedgoons to maintain order in the cities letalone the sticks.
If marksmanship is overstated, that's because (like deer-hunting) the difficulty will be in finding a mark. Not being outmaneuvered by a dozens of them.

ebd10 said...

An army of deer hunters vs. a professional military? It would be a slaughter. In a stand-up fight.

On the other hand, if we're talking about an internal struggle in which we, the armed, must resist a tyrannical government, there are other considerations. First of all, there is no "us" and "them". They are "us", we are "them". It's one thing to identify someone of a different race, nationality, or uniform. It's quite another to have to look for the person that may be your next door neighbor.

Marksmanship? How many homicides go unsolved in a city like Detroit? How often does someone get shot and no one saw the shooter? Now imagine if someone possessed the capability to hit a 10-inch circle from 800 meters away? Especially if that someone was the owner of a specialty handgun, or a rifle that easily breaks down for concealment?

Moreover, the nature of the military and LE make them easy targets; a uniform or a badge simply indicates where the next supply of weapons and ammo are kept.

Think of it; the Irish republican Army had, at its peak, a couple of hundred active members. How many millions of dollars, thousands of troops, and years of fighting did the Brits invest in ending that conflict? How much sooner would it have ended if the fighting were in London?

In facing down a tyrannical government, the American citizen has certain disadvantages; C and C, logistics, and intel. However, he also has certain advantages: anonymity, an innate understanding of the foe, possibly military training, and, most likely, a weapon he is familiar with. Those that have the will to use them, will prove formidable

AM said...

Did the IRA win?

ebd10 said...

Time will tell...


Quote: "On Feb. 5, 2010, with the signing of the Hillsborough Castle Agreement, Gordon Brown of Britain and Brian Cowen, prime ministers of England and Ireland, respectively, created a breakthrough in the Northern Ireland peace process. According to the terms of the accord, Britain will hand over control of the six counties' police and justice system to Northern Ireland. The shift to local control of the courts, prosecution system, and police has been the most important and contentious of the issues plaguing the tenuous power-sharing government. The agreement passed its first test on March 9, when the Northern Ireland Assembly voted its support 88–17, setting the stage for the April 12 power transfer deadline. "For the first time, we can look forward to policing and justice powers being exercised by democratic institutions on a cross-community basis in Northern Ireland," Cowen said."

The relevant difference is that the Irish were fighting a foreign invader. Here? The only difference will be government vs. non-government.

AM said...


Did the IRA cause that through violence, or was it a political solution?

All of this is the after affects of the Good Friday Accords from 14 years ago. Heck, after an initial victory the IRA fell into a civil war between factions way back in the 1920s.

So if you consider 4 generations worth of fighting men come and gone in the time the IRA started until the current political process, by all means lay the victory wreath at their feet. I do not share that opinion.

Without a decisive victory it is hard to pinpoint when violence positively affects politics.

Anonymous said...

The problem I see is everybody is looking at this as a classical insurgency. Why? 20 million deer hunters do what? Do they engage in fire and manuever to get the deer?

No. They assassinate the forest rats. Sure, some of the gubmint rats would be tough to get. But not most. As noted, there simply aren't enough folks to guard 'em all.