How shooting competition defends the Red, White, and YOU!

One of the principles behind the Firearm User Network is that organized shooting events bring out the best in our shooters and their equipment.  By hosting formal events, we learn what techniques are consistently best, what equipment works, and who really knows what they are talking about.

The only way you can develop skill is by actually doing something.  With marksmanship, that means getting your butt out to the range and burning powder on a regular basis in an organized fashion.  There is no other way.

By happy coincidence, marksmanship principles learned will apply to all shooting situations.  For example, as a hunter, the best way to mastering field shooting is by competing in simulated field courses as used at HunterShooter events.  But, failing that, you can learn more about your skills by shooting in a variety of events.

In 1999 I was a new member of the US Army Reserve Small Arms Training Team (SATT).  This unit specialized in small arms instruction and supported the All Reserve Competitive Marksmanship Program.  The majority of the shooting they sponsored is of the conventional, Camp Perry type.

If you had asked me a few years prior to joining this unit, I would have said that the Conventional type of shooting does nothing to promote marksmanship in the military.  Up until that point, my only formal shooting experience was of the practical variety (USPSA, IDPA, etc.) On my very first mission with the unit I was shown how wrong I was.

SATT sent a team to train several units deploying overseas to Kosovo and Bosnia on their automatic rifles (M249) and crew served weapons (M2, Mk19).  For a number of soldiers, this was their first time ever firing these weapons.  In fact, one unit was literally unpacking their weapons from the shipping crates.

During the instructor rehearsal, I learned that a few of the shooter-instructors hadn’t touched some of these weapons in a year.  I was shocked and concerned.  How will these instructors competently teach other soldiers?

As it turns out, I shouldn’t have been worried.  Not only did we successfully train and qualify everyone, we qualified an additional platoon-sized element and ended up finishing two days ahead of schedule!

There are several reasons why, but one of them is the simple fact that these instructors were serious, proven, high-level shooters in formal, nationally-recognized competitive programs.  They are not only good at their job, they like it.  During down time, we inevitably were talking about shooting and matches. This is the difference between a parrot (someone who merely repeats what someone else told him to say) and a professor (a person with deep, personal understanding.) Read more: Parrots or Professors.

On the range, the soldiers received accurate, decisive help and were shooting well from the get-go.  On the Mk19 range, I watched shooter-instructors give immediate corrections to students.  In most cases, the instructors could determine deflection and elevation in mils out to 1500 meters and have the student on target with one adjustment.  After doping wind, these instructors had students getting hits on their first burst out to 800 meters.  This can be tough enough using 7X Steiner binos with a mil reticle.  These guys were doing it with unaided vision.

I asked one of them how they could make such accurate estimates without optical help.  “One mil is about a four minute adjustment”, he said.  The President’s Hundred tab on his shoulder told me he could probably make the calculations in his sleep.

During my military career, I’ve seen other military “instructors” at a loss trying to help a student successfully zero rifles at 25 meters.  This was a refreshing change of pace.

I’ve heard many times that conventional shooting is “irrelevant” and has no direct benefit to the soldier or hunter.  While the specific courses of fire may have a gamesman’s element, the fact is, if you can regularly shoot a high score on any challenging course it means you have an innate understanding of the shooting process.

The lesson I learned here: Good marksmen are good marksmen.  While the disciplines differ, a good shooter has put the time into learning what constitutes good shooting.  You can harp about the importance of sight picture and trigger control all day and memorize ballistic tables, but if never bother to practice in some fashion and demonstrate a high level of skill regularly, you don’t really know anything.

It is interesting to note that SATT later became the SARG and allowed a huge influx of unqualified personnel. The ranks were allowed to swell up with soldiers with no competitive shooting or other useful marksmanship background, such as drill sergeants. At the same time many of the competition shooters were squeezed out. Needless to say, these novice level marksmen killed off the effectiveness of the unit and it no longer exists. Don’t make the same mistake!