The Long Plod to Proficiency
Notes on marksmanship training
by Darryl Davis

Military elite performance for real or as in the movie is astonishing and inspiring. Its magnetism has led to clutter up thinking on rifles and their use.

A gifted British officer, trying to introduce rifle use in the Army during the American Revolution, got terribly confused and thought military elite performance had something to do with it. (No rifles in Britain or in settled areas in the Colonies, just in the near and remote Colonial exurbs.) No rifles in New Jersey. Because his head was turned by the fixation on military elites, he set back thought of rifles in the British Army for 25 years, even though the British High Command were severely alarmed by the non-military, personal rifles used by Colonial Rustics, who were all regarded as extremely dangerous and threatening. Well, they were, even though some were middle-aged and lacking in teeth.

The British introduction of the Baker Rifle was a bad, monkey-see imitation of the American rustic’s super rifle, getting the rifle wrong and with no idea of how the natives achieved Proficiency.

The rifle-shooting learning curve comes up quickly in the Equipment Familiarity part of the curve, and then the curve goes “flat.” It really levels off. All armies stop there with rifle training, as what is the point? The flattening is in fact the beginning of the long duration when a different set of skills are learned. After this Long Plod, all (ALL) go to reside somewhere in Proficiency. Getting there quickest is done by firing a large number of carefully-fired shots and inspecting each result. It is like learning the violin.

Armies think Proficiency is something spontaneous, or like having perfect pitch. Instead, an army finds either a quick learner or someone bringing skills in from civilian life. It is the number of careful shots fired. Slow learners fire more shots and they just take a little more time to get to Proficiency, but get there they do. Armies consider it something associated with having a military elite profile. Rubbish. I have seen a thin, short, very myopic middle-aged woman at a pistol range make one little hole with her M1911 Colt .45 automatic pistol. At an outdoor range, I have seen a genuine blue-haired old lady, with glasses to match, make a disturbingly large number of holes in the black at a thousand (1000) yards.

Keep all the military at the range at slow-fire and eventually the whole lot will plod to Proficiency and shoot about as well as the snipers. The track record of Proficient civilians put in the army and thrust into live-fire is 1.5 shots per hit/kill. This is the Hermann Phenomenon, first observed over 200 years ago. The record is stable through astounding equipment changes, because it is something one learns on the Long Plod to Proficiency.

The henchman to seeing ability to shoot coming only from military elites is the magnetic fixation on hardware. Hardware is important as learning should be done on a reasonably accurate rifle with adjustable sights. Audie Murphy learned on a single-shot .22. Sergeant York learned on a 19th Century caplock with fixed sights. Other than that, the key is the number of shots fired.

The Long Plod to Proficiency has been made by one army in the past, but no one noticed. It was an accident. They were training for short range rapid fire, and slow fire at all ranges was in the course of fire. The officer corps did not notice that the slow fire scores had slowly risen to Proficiency, which calls for big changes in infantry doings. After the war, the officer corps and the historians missed it.