When is an ‘Expert’ not an expert? What is the difference? The military, police and civilian shooters throw terms like “Sharpshooter” and “Expert” around and they do NOT always mean the same thing. Even within the NRA, Classification and Qualification are very different.
The normal rating scheme goes like this:
  1. High Master
  2. Master
  3. Expert
  4. Sharpshooter
  5. Marksman
Other organizations use a letter scheme instead. For example, USPSA (United States Practical Shooting Association) Classification starts at ‘D’ class, up to ‘A’ class, then Master and Grand Master. The Amateur Trapshooting Association has D to A, then ‘AA’ and ‘AAA’
Military shooting badges are worn on the dress uniform with this order of importance:
  1. Distinguished Rifleman
  2. Distinguished Pistol Shot
  3. Silver EIC (20 or more “Leg” points)
  4. Bronze EIC (any number of earned “Leg” points)
  5. Expert
  6. Sharpshooter
  7. Marksman

However, a civilian “Sharpshooter” rating is almost always much more difficult to earn than a current military “Expert” qualification!  Because most public sector marksmanship training is originally derived from organized civilian shooting, the names are the same and have stuck. Here’s the breakdown.

First, there are the the rankings used to describe Classification in competitive shooting, such as the Conventional events recognized by the NRA. Those rankings are only earned by competing against other shooters in events tracked by the NRA, specifically, the event has to be an Approved or Registered tournament. When a competition shooter talks about being a “Master Class” shooter (or “Sharpshooter” or “Expert”) that’s what they mean.

An “Expert” Classification earned this way (not to mention “Master”, “High Master”/”Grand Master”) through open competition is the most challenging rating to earn and requires the most shooting skill.

The Distinguished Rifleman or Pistol Shot badge is a different award earned by accumulating 30 “Leg” points over your competitive shooting career in Service Rifle or Service Pistol matches. Called Excellence in Competition, these points are only awarded at EIC events recognized by the Civilian Marksmanship Program, US Army, and/or US Marine Corps.  It can be very hard to earn and is quite prestigious.

Winchester/NRA Marksmanship Qualification is a self paced program designed to let shooters improve their shooting skills and track their progress by successfully firing certain set drills on prescribed courses of fire. This program is entirely self paced and the NRA does not actually track or officially award the qualification levels. It’s all pretty much on the honor system.

The self-paced program has value as it gives concrete goals to work towards and, more importantly, gives a way to track shooting progress. It was designed to prepare a marksman for higher level organized shooting, such as competition. However, a “Distinguished Expert” on a Marksmanship Qualification Program course is roughly equal to a high level “Sharpshooter” Classification in competition. There are other Qualification programs available.

Lastly, is Qualification within the military and police departments. Despite sharing names, military and police qualification is the lowest skill level of all. Most public-sector shooting courses were originally derived from organized civilian events. That’s why the qualification and classification rating names are the same. However, while competition shooters have progressively improved over the decades and have made their standards more challenging, most military and police departments courses have allowed non-marksmen to handle training and have downgraded the standards. Thus, an “Expert” rating (not to mention Sharpshooter or Marksman) on an Army, Marine, or police qualification course is the lowest rating of all.

Also consider the size of the targets used:

BLUF: The entire EIC target demonstrated is smaller than than USMC qualification targets. As shown, miss that scores zero in competition still scores 80% (4 points) during USMC qualification.

Another excellent break down of qualifications and the targets used:

If you have never participated in organized shooting, the best recommendation is:

  1. Take a good entry level class or find a well organized shooting club hosting regular events.
  2. Try a self-paced MarksmanshipQualification program to give you a baseline idea of where your skills are at.
  3. If you are interested in really becoming a good shot, take up competitive shooting. Winning, high level competition shooters are the best marksmen. Shoot with them.