Regardless of where you stand on the inaccurate use of firearm nomenclature, it definitely separates the educated from the uneducated. Therefore, if one wishes to sound knowledgeable about the topic of firearms, one should understand the vocabulary[...]


In the Marine Corps, the fundamentals of marksmanship are known as aiming, breathing, and trigger control. U.S. Army rifle training list the fundamentals as steady position, aiming, breath control, and trigger control I'm going to take a different approach: body, sight, grip, recovery.[...]


Marksmanship is verbosely defined as the skilled manipulation of a firearm to consistently generate impact of fired projectiles on an intended location. More simply, marksmanship is the skill of accurately hitting a target with a firearm. [...]

If you are going [...]


As a Marine, I had four very important rules pounded into my brain housing group. We called them the Four Rifle Range Safety Rules. If a person follows these very simple rules when handling firearms, I believe most, if not all, accidental injuries can be avoided.[...]


Nordmenn (that's Norwegians for the rest of us) have a word for this sort of communion with nature: friluftsliv. Friluftsliv, which is pronounced free-loofts-liv, translates to open air life, or outdoor living[...]

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Hoplophilia Primer

With gun violence back in the headlines (not that it ever went away) I felt a need for an article to serve as an introduction to my version of firearm ownership. Owning and operating firearms continues to be a controversial issue in the United States of America and abroad regardless if it is currently on the A-list of hot button topics for politicians and activists/lobbyists. This article will serve as a primer for my audience. Beyond getting a feel for me and this site, greenhorn and veteran hoplophiles alike might gain erudition from this or may wish to bring additional insights or questions in the comments section below.

This is My Rifle, This is My Gun

While I did have limited experience with firearms in my youth from casual experiences in hunting and even competition shooting, my personal history with firearms really didn't begin until I enlisted in the United States Marine Corps during the late Nineties.

I had the best ASVAB[1] score one can get and had my pick of MOS[2], but my color blindness prevented me from doing much of the occupations that had initially caught my eye. I had even aced the Navy's nuclear propulsion tests and was initially signing on as a submarine squid until I had my MEPS[3] physical and discovered I was colorblind, much to my surprise (I had a reputation for being an artist).

It was at this point I decided that if I was going to enlist in a service, I should pick the best of the best. There's only one branch that fit the bill, and they were the few, the proud, the Marines. That, and the Corps definitely had the best looking uniforms. So I walked across the hall to speak with the leathernecks and asked what the most exciting occupational specialty available to me was.

The recruiter informed me about the Marine Corps Security Forces[4] and basically billed them as the S.W.A.T. team of the Corps... which was sort of true, but he forgot to mention that most MCSF jarheads spend all of their time standing post (i.e. walking the fence, guarding gates, etc.). But he sold me on it and my options were thin, and I wasn't going to be a clerk or a cook.

Of course, MCSF isn't exactly a primary MOS; it's a secondary, or miscellaneous occupational specialty. My primary MOS would be 0341, or mortarman. During Basic and Infantry training, I became well acquainted with both the M16[5] assault rifle as well as the M9[6] pistol. The Marines have a very successful marksmanship program, and I eventually went on to become a marksmanship coach.

Because of my MCSF and heavy weapons background, I'm familiar with a wide array of weapons beyond the standard issue rifle and pistol including: Mossberg M590[7] & Remington M870[8] shotguns, HK MP5[9] submachine gun, FN M249[10] SAW, FN M240G[11] machine gun, Browning M2[12] machine gun, GD Mk19[13] automatic grenade launcher, IMI SMAW[14], M252[15] 81mm mortar, and last, but not least, the M224[16] 60mm mortar (the heavy weapon I have the most experience with).

Towards the end of my enlistment, I picked up another secondary MOS as a Marksmanship Coach. At one period of time, I was running 300 Marines at a time through rifle qualifications. I spent many months at Stone Bay Rifle Range helping Marines zero their rifles and get on target. I spent several more directing lines of fire as the Tower NCO.

Those four short (in hindsight) and honorable years of service left me not only with significant training and application of squad tactics, hand-to-hand, non-lethal/riot control, CQB[17], MOUT[18], and marksmanship, it also instilled a healthy respect for the deadly capabilities of the firearm, it's history, and it's dual role as both a usurper and defender of liberty.

These days I tend to be an aficionado of American Old West firearms and often shoot things chambered in .45 Colt with mid 19th century designs (lever action rifles & single action revolvers). I only mention these things to illuminate my long and intensive relationship with the firearm.

An Inalienable Right?

in·al·ien·a·ble /inˈālēənəbəl/
adjective:  Unable to be taken away from or given away by the possessor: "inalienable human rights."
I'm not totally convinced the right to bear arms is an inalienable right in the sense that it is something that should never be taken away from a person. I think it's inalienable from the perspective of society, but I can certainly see situations where an individual can, and should, be stripped of the right to carry or own firearms. I see a need for legislation that allows us to make it difficult for the wrong people to legally obtain and carry firearms as well as vigorously prosecute those who unlawfully operate firearms

However, I think the Second Amendment[20] of the Constitution of the United States of America is vital for our liberty. This concept goes beyond the individual hunting, sporting, or self-defense precepts. The right of the people to bear arms ensures our ability as citizens to protect our liberty against the tyranny of a government that no longer has its people's best interests at heart.

I think the gravity of the responsibility that the Second Amendment places upon the people is often lost on the pro-firearm community. Yes, our community quickly froths at the mouth at the mere mention of limitation upon our rights to own and carry, but I feel that many fail to understand the big picture and refuse to understand where our opponents are coming from. It is a problem that exists on both sides of the battlefield, but is far worse with gun-rights activists, which prevents rational discourse and leads to behavior and labels unbecoming of the otherwise well-meaning citizens dug in on both sides.

Hoplophile's Requirements of Responsible Firearm Ownership

I think it behooves the firearm community to embrace a standard of responsibility among ourselves and hold each other to these standards. I have drafted four simple requirements that responsible firearm owners should meet. If you can't abide by these simple rules, maybe you shouldn't own a firearm.
  • Respect firearms' capacity for deadliness
  • Understand proper operation, maintenance, & care of your firearms
  • Practice the fundamentals of marksmanship with your firearms
  • Engage in appropriate activities with your firearms
The requirements are listed in the order of precedence. For example, you should understand and respect the fact that a weapon is dangerous and always treat it as such (please see Firearm Safety) before you operate it. Respecting its deadliness also means you keep the firearm secure and don't put it in just anybody's hands. You should know how to operate and maintain your weapon before you actually fire it, so RTFM[21]. You should practice putting lead on target before you attempt any other kind of lawful activity (such as hunting) with your firearm.

To do anything less would be irresponsible firearm ownership and I would not object to the State stripping your right to possess or carry firearms away from you... after due process, of course.

Hoplophile's Guidelines for Competent Hoplophilia

The above Requirements of Responsible Firearm Ownership applies to all firearm owners, but as soon as an owner decides to become a vocal proponent of "gun rights," then they should follow my five guidelines for competent hoplophilia. You only harm the cause and community if you come off sounding like an uneducated delinquent.
  • Research the history, the laws, & the data
  • Understand the opposing viewpoint
  • Study the logic of arguments & debating
  • Teach & inform your fellow firearm owners
  • Articulate your point civilly
These guidelines may not be as self-evident as the Requirements of Responsibility above, so I'll take a little more time to explain them.

Research, Research, Research

In order to know the issue, you're going to have to research. You cannot rely on the words of your friends, family, or Fox News. Research. Read the legislation and the laws for yourself. Read about the history of firearms and of conflict in general. Understand how superior firepower, tactics, and strategy dictate history. See and interpret the data yourself.

This might need to be its own Guideline, but don't lie to yourself. Do not twist data or make uninformed hypotheses just to fit your needs and agenda. This is the most important part of research. Research your feelings and really understand why you have the opinion you do. Keep diving down by asking yourself "why" until you get to the bottom.

Play the Devil's Advocate

We need to understand the opposing viewpoint. What is the underlying goal of their stance? Research again, only this time gather evidence that supports their argument. Try to convince yourself that their argument has merit, your argument will either become stronger or it will crumble. If it crumbles, then maybe you need to abandon that argument.

Apply Logic, Avoid Fallacies

Know how to create compelling arguments while eliminating logical fallacies[22] from them. Identify problems common in arguments from the community and fix your own. Test your arguments against what you learned from researching the opposition's stance. Do not appeal to emotion. Do not create red herrings.

Spread Information & Improve the Community

Don't stop with yourself; be sure to eliminate misinformation in the community. Pass along current events and developments in legislation. Contact your congressmen. Improve the voice of the community by calling out fallacious arguments. Don't let our easily-riled compatriots rage on opponents; ensure everyone keeps the discussion civil.

Maintain Your Composure

Don't shout at people (and don't write in all-caps). Don't feed the trolls and spell/grammar check your written statements. Don't try to intimidate fellow citizens who disagree with you. These people are our neighbors, friends, and family.


I enjoy firearms and would like to be able to continue this little hobby I call hoplophilia. Help us keep our right to bear arms by being a responsible and competent firearm owner. I hope this has given you a taste of the kinds of things I want to do with this tool and you want to read more. Keep your sights on target, I'll be back with more.


[1] ASVAB is the acronym for the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery. A test administered to determine qualification for enlistment.
[2] MOS, or Military Occupation Specialties are codes that categorize career fields.
[3] MEPS, or Military Entrance Processing Station is where medical pre-screens and contract signing occur.
[4] Marine Corps Security Forces provide force protect and anti-terrorism for high value naval installations.
[5] The Colt M16 was the standard issue rifle of the United States military during my service. It fires a 5.56x45mm NATO cartridge.
[6] The Beretta M9 pistol is currently the standard issue sidearm of the United States military. It fires a 9x19mm Parabellum cartridge.
[7] The 12 gauge Mossberg M590 is a shotgun still in service with the United States military.
[8] The 12 gauge Remington M870 is another shotgun still in service with the United States military.
[9] Heckler & Kock's MP5 is a submachine gun that uses the same round as the M9.
[10] The Fabrique Nationale  M249 Squad Automatic Weapon is a light machine gun in service with the US Military. It utilizes the same round as the M16 but is belt fed.
[11] The FN M240G currently sees service as a crew-served medium machine gun in the US military. It fires the 7.62x54mm NATO cartridge.
[12] The Browning M2 heavy machine gun, firing the massive .50 BMG cartridge, has been in service with the US military since 1933.
[13] The Mk19 is a crew-served, belt-fed automatic grenade launcher in service with the US military.
[14] The SMAW, or Shoulder-launched Multipurpose Assault Weapon, is a rocket launcher primarily used for busting bunkers and secondarily against armor.
[15] The M252 mortar is a smooth bore, muzzle-loading, high angle of fire weapon used for indirect fire.
[16] The M224 is the M252's little brother and even shares the same sight unit.
[17] CQB is an acronym for Close Quarters Battles and is comparable to SWAT of civilian police.
[18] MOUT is an acronym for Military Operations in Urban Terrain.
[19] PTSD is yet another acronym standing for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, a common issue among veterans.
[20] The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution states: "A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."
[21] RTFM stands for Read The Fucking Manual... do you like acronyms yet?
[22] Logical fallacies are improper reasoning and argumentation... which usually happens when someone has not done their research or becomes enraged.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Friluftsliv - An Outdoor Lifestyle

Walk away quietly in any direction and taste the freedom of the mountaineer. Camp out among the grasses and gentians of glacial meadows, in craggy garden nooks full of nature's darlings. Climb the mountains and get their good tidings, Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves. As age comes on, one source of enjoyment after another is closed, but nature's sources never fail. - John Muir, Our National Parks

The Civilization Affliction

The Ever-Growing Urban Sprawl
I occasionally find myself growing depressed and my thoughts shrinking into the shadowy recesses of my mind. This darkness that grinds away at my sanity is often precipitated by the unending enterprise that is my career, my wife's career, my child's school and extracurricular activities, and general interaction with people (especially when behind the wheel). Otherwise known as civilization.

All the technology and the industry and their by-product, pollution, be it noise, air, light, water, or otherwise, drains me of vigor and humor and makes me dream of homicide and destruction. The most insidious quality about the poison that is civilization is its capacity to sneak up on me and erode my well-being at such a gradual pace that I do not realize the injury until it has bored a deep wound into my psyche.

Once I have diagnosed my malady, I know exactly which remedy to prescribe: a dose of wilderness. When I reconnect with nature by camping, hiking, or just simply sitting on a log surrounded by the serenity of the forest, my mind and body are rejuvenated. The process is much like molting; just as the snake sheds its scaly skin, I slough off the bitter husk of civilization.

If it were possible to untangle myself from the greasy tendrils of civilization, I would leave it all behind and find a nice piece of wilderness to permanently call my home, my own Walden Pond. Until that dream can be fulfilled, I will just be content with integrating nature into my life whenever and wherever I can. Bike in the local state park. Camp in the national forest. Take vacations to wild places.

Of Fjords & Friluftsliv

Geiranger Fjord, Norway
Nordmenn (that's Norwegians for the rest of us) have a word for this sort of communion with nature: friluftsliv. Friluftsliv, which is pronounced free-loofts-liv, translates to open air life, or outdoor living, but is one of those terms that really is much more complex than its translantion... much like schadenfreude or zeitgeist.

The generic meaning of friluftsliv is more about living in a manner that is spent appreciating and experiencing nature. What specifically that experience and appreciation takes form as is different for everyone, with traditions varying from family to family. It also seems to be unconcerned with accomplishment. Reaching the summit of a difficult climb is less important than feeling the texture of the mountain. Nature is not something to be conquered, but something to embrace, to become a part of.

Friluftsliv is even a course Norwegian students can take in school and one can even receive a degree[1] in it from Volda University. While friluftsliv is entrenched in Norwegian culture today and their Nordic outdoorsman (and Viking) heritage certainly made it its mark on their Scandinavian DNA, the concept is rather recent in their history.

The culture of friluftsliv was nurtured by the Outdoor Recreation Act of 1957 [2] wherein the ancient Nordic tradition of allemannsretten was made law. Allemannsretten loosely translates to "freedom to roam" but can be read literally as "all men's right." This tradition-made-law allows anyone access and passage to private uncultivated land (or even cultivated land during winter months) and the right to camp for two days (only on uncultivated property) as long as reasonable rules are abided by.

Allowing anyone to roam the wilderness has helped Norway develop a culture of nature in a nation where everyone can see the mountain, forest, and ocean with little effort. Perhaps friluftsliv is the secret to Norway's consistent appearance at the top of the World Happiness Report [3] and Human Development Index [4].

No Trespassing

Violators Will Be Shot, Survivors Will Be Shot Again
Practicing the Nordic tradition of allemannsretten in American would prove difficult at best and fatal at worst. American culture seems predominantly more about taking than sharing; drive through any rural area and you will surely be greeted by "no trespassing" signs on every other tree or fence post.

This cultural DNA can no doubt be attributed to Manifest Destiny [5] and the Right of Discovery [6][7] before it that many Christian Europeans declared when establishing colonies in the already populated Americas. After a few centuries of warring with the indigenous peoples and with each other, a sense of territorial defense was ingrained into our society.

I'm not saying this is good or bad, just that it is different from Norwegian sentiments. Besides, I can certainly appreciate wanting to keep Americans out of my backyard. However, American cultural mores like our preference for large personal space and keeping property private make another American cultural touchstone even more important.

America's Best Idea

Roosevelt Arch at Yellowstone National Park
Wallace Stegner, and American historian, author, and environmentalist, once said national parks were "the best idea we ever had." His words would later be immortalized in Ken Burn's impressive documentary, The National Parks: America's Best Idea [8]. I am inclined to agree with Mr. Stegner. America has created a priceless legacy by protecting some of our wildest places and most breathtaking vistas and making them publicly accessible.

Unlike Norway, where everyone seems to have a mountain-rimmed fjord in their backyard, the various biomes of America are spread far and wide, increasing the hardship to get out and experience various parts of nature. However, our wild places are no less spectacular and are more diverse: from tropical wetlands to high deserts and from temperate rainforests to snowy peaks. America has it covered.

It is a challenging task to describe my love for these wild places that have been set aside for everyone's enjoyment. National (and state) parks promote the American version of friluftsliv and I am grateful for the accessibility. I hope they stand strong as unmovable objects against the unstoppable force that is the inevitable march of civilization because I desperately require them for healthy escapes.


[1] Friluftsliv Bachelor Degree at Volda University
[2] Outdoor Recreation Act of 1957
[3] Columbia University Earth Institute's World Happiness Report
[4] United Nation's Human Development Index (Wikipedia synopsis)
[5] Manifest Destiny
[6] Papal Doctrine of Discovery
[7] SCOTUS Discovery Doctrine
[8] The National Parks: America's Best Idea on PBS

Friday, January 9, 2015

Basic Firearm Nomenclature

I have to admit that I am a pedant. Being somewhat overzealous about correcting small and large infractions of grammar and spelling is one of my character flaws. This stodgy behavior carries over into the realm of firearms when people use terminology wrong. Regardless of where you stand on the inaccurate use of firearm nomenclature, it definitely separates the educated from the uneducated. Therefore, if one wishes to sound knowledgeable about the topic of firearms, one should understand the vocabulary.

Clip or Magazine?

This is probably my biggest peeve. Calling a magazine a clip. When used in fiction by persons who are supposed to be familiar with firearms, I immediately flip the table and exit stage right. A magazine is a device that stores ammunition and feeds the cartridges into a repeating firearm. They are responsible for making the stored cartridges available to the action to be loaded into the chamber.

Using a clip to load the integral magazine of an SKS
There are many different types of magazines and most of them use a spring and follower (often incorporating a partial shape of the cartridge the corresponding firearm is chambered) to move the cartridges into position for the action. In the case of many air guns, gravity is used to position ball ammunition into place from the ammunition reservoir.

Glock Magazine Diagram


Magazines come in many types and may be detachable or integral (fixed). Some magazines may be loaded with clips, either by inserting a clip of ammunition into the magazine or via a speed loading device.

AR-15 Box Magzine


Box magazines are the most common type found in rifles and pistols today. The detachable box magazines are found in almost all autoloading pistols (the C-96 Broomhandle Mauser being an exception) and modern service-style rifles. Fixed or integral box magazines are usually found in bolt-action rifles and older design service-style rifles (many SKS rifles and the venerable M1 Garand, which also used clips to load the magazine). There are a couple of variations on the vertical box magazine worth mentioning: casket and horizontal box magazines.

The casket gets its name from the shape, where the part that feeds inside the magazine well is thinner than the rest of the body which utilizes a quad-stack design to considerably increase capacity. The FN P-90 personal defense weapon uses a horizontal feed box magazine, but this author thinks vertical and horizontal is a misnomer.

Technically, some rifles accept so-called vertical box magazines in a horizontal position (such as the famous WWII British Sten) and even on top (similar to the FN P-90, except the magazine is still vertical). I personally believe the terminology on how cartridges feed out of the magazine should be linear or perpendicular while vertical and horizontal should be used for magazine orientation while bottom, side, or top can be used to describe where on the firearm a magazine is accepted. But again, that's the pedant in me.

Beta Saddle Drum Magazine


Drum magazines differ from box magazines in that they store ammunition in a cylindrical fashion. Standard drum magazines store the cartridges parallel to the axis of feed rotation. All drum magazines I'm aware of are detachable and the firearms they attach to often accept box magazines. The advantage of drum (and rotary) magazines is their capacity to length ratio. Their disadvantages are their weight and occasional awkwardness. Not to mention the often time-consuming process of loading (many need to be disassembled, loaded, reassembled, and finally wound). But hey, you wanted the capacity so you don't need to reload, right?

Drum magazines also have several variations: helical, pan, saddle, and snail drum magazines. Helical magazines widen the drum so that cartridges follow a spiral path and thus extends the capacity, Pan magazines store the cartridges perpendicular to the axis of feed rotation, are usually top-mounted, and can sometimes accept clips (such as the Imperial Japanese Army Type 89 machine gun). Saddle drum split the ammunition into two drums on either side of the magazine well, thus reducing the overall height, but making the magazine significantly wider. Snail magazines look like have of a saddle drum and can feel very lopsided.

Rotary Magazine


Rotary magazines are well-known for their use in the popular Ruger 10/22 rimfire rifle. They differ from box magazine in their use of a torsion spring actuated sprocket. They also tend to have a lower capacity than box magazines but may also be detachable or integral.
SRM 1016 Detachable Tubular Magazine


Tubular magazine are popular on pump and lever action shotguns and rifles. They are often fixed, but some recent innovative shotguns, such as the SRM 1216, provide a detachable magazine.
Magazine & Clip Differences


Clips simply store multiple cartridges of ammunition together as a unit. What separates clips from magazines is the lack of a feeding mechanism. There are several types of clips.
Stripper Clips


Often called a stripper clip in reference to action one takes to charge a magazine with it. Stripper clips are often used with speed loader tools on modern magazines but the process for charging the magazine involves aligning the clip pushing down on the cartridges to load the magazine, thus stripping the clip of rounds.
En Bloc Clips

En Bloc

The en bloc clip is used to charge fixed magazines in older service rifles such as the M1 Garand and Mauser. Unlike a charger clip, the entire clip is placed inside the magazine and is often ejected (or able to be pushed out by a new clip) once all the ammunition is spent.
Moon Clips


Moon clips are used to speed load and extract revolvers and are ring shaped, like the moon. Since they also come in semi-circular versions there are also half-moon clips (which usually require two to fully reload).
Cartridge Diagram

Bullet or Cartridge?

Incorrect usage of the term bullet may be even more common than clip, but it doesn't quite set off my pedantic rage (as much). A bullet is merely the projectile that is propelled from the business end of a firearm. Before being fired, yet after being seated, and while in a packaged form that can be called ammunition that is loaded into a magazine or stored on a clip, a bullet is part of a larger assembly called a cartridge or round.

A cartridge consists of many components other than the bullet including the case (which when empty is often called brass), a powder charge, and a primer. It's an important distinction, because if you purchase a box of bullets, you better have a loading press.

Assault Rifle or Semi-Automatic Rifle?

An assault rifle is different from a sporting or semi-automatic rifle in the fact that it must be capable of selective fire (which also separates assault rifles from the even more menacing machine gun). Selective fire means that it can operate in at least one semi-automatic mode and one automatic mode (either burst, full, or both). It must also have a detachable magazine.

Some other features are used (such as being an individual weapon instead of crew-served, effective range, and intermediate cartridge power) to distinguish it from other military firearms such as a battle or sniper rifle.

It's a common misconception that the AR in AR-15 stands for Assault Rifle, but it does not. Instead, it stands for ArmaLite Rifle, the company that originally developed it. I think most people who misuse assault rifle really want to say assault weapon because they are referring to United States legal definitions of weapons that were originally regulated by the NFA[1] in response to the Prohibition-era gangland crime and the iconic Thompson sub-machine gun, known colloquially as the Tommy Gun.

Assault weapons, as defined by the now expired Federal AWB[2] must be a semi-automatic firearm that accepts a detachable magazine and two or more of the following features (however individual states may have expanded definitions):
  • bayonet mount
  • flash suppressor or threaded barrel designed to accommodate a flash suppressor
  • folding or telescoping stock
  • grenade launcher
  • pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon

Accidental Discharge or Negligent Discharge?

An accidental discharge is the unexpected and undesirable discharge (firing) of a firearm caused by circumstances beyond the control of the handler, This terminology misuse is often employed by those who were mishandling firearms in order to smokescreen their negligence. If the firearm safety rules are being followed, there hopefully will not be any injury. Unfortunately, unplanned firearm discharges are most often negligent discharges and are caused by failing to observe the firearm safety rules.

Silencer or Suppressor?

I have yet to hear a firearm (as in a weapon that launches a projectile via explosive force) that was completely silenced. The correct nomenclature is suppressor, as it merely reduces decibels, but even the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms uses the silencer misnomer on their official forms and documents[3].
.The 45 Colt (left) & the .45 Schofield (right)

.45 Long Colt or .45 Colt?

For the cowboy action shooters out there, the iconic pistol cartridge that won the west is technically just .45 Colt as there is not, nor has there ever been a .45 Short Colt. However, there is a historical context in that the .45 Colt was often referred to the Long Colt in order to differentiate it from the other popular .45 caliber cartridge of the era, the .45 Schofield (which was shorter).


[1] National Firearms Act of 1936
[2] Federal Assault Weapons Ban of 1994
[3] ATF's Silencer FAQ

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Fundamentals of Marksmanship

Hoplophilia's Marksmanship Series

In the Marine Corps, the fundamentals of marksmanship are known as aiming, breathing, and trigger control. If you graduated from U.S. Army rifle training, they list the fundamentals as steady position, aiming, breath control, and trigger control (I'm mildly surprised there isn't an acronym for that: STAB). Both curricula are competent, but I'm going to take a different approach: body, sight, grip, recovery.


Perhaps the most dynamic of the marksmanship fundamentals, a shooter's body provides the foundation that supports the firearm. Equipment and stance are variables that change between different firearms, diverse environments, and depending on the particular circumstance or objective. However, regardless of these variables, the body should support the firearm in a manner that provides a natural point of aim.


When practicing and zeroing your firearm, it is important to wear the same clothing and gear you intend on wearing in the field. For police and security, this means wearing your ballistic vest, uniform, and any other tactical equipment you normally wear while on duty. For hunters, it means stepping into those thick overalls and winterized gear you'll be using to keep warm in the wilderness.

All the time at the range will become far less valuable as the additional layers of equipment will change the way you hold your firearm and throw off your point of aim, thus making your battle sight zero (BZO) inaccurate. That initial round may be well off target and force you to adjust or compensate when in a critical moment.


A shooter's stance, or position, is the manner in which the body supports the firearm. A stance should provide a stable platform for precise and accurate fire. A more solid position reduces sight movement, allows for faster recovery from recoil, and makes for more consistent shooting. While aiming a firearm, the shooter should avoid tensing the body and train non-engaged muscles to relax; this helps reduce unnecessary strain and movement.

Usually, the more points of contact between the weapon, body, and rigid structures produces more stability; however, there is also usually a trade-off between stability and mobility (firing from the prone position with a rifle is commonly considered the most stable stance). Stability may be sacrificed for mobility depending on the shooter's role and environment.


Breathing causes the body to move, which in turn imposes movement on the point of aim of the firearm. The body and sight picture will settle during the natural respiratory pause. This pause occurs for 1-3 seconds after exhaling and before inhaling. During this pause a shooter should take the shot. This is where practice and knowing your weapon becomes vital, as a long trigger pull may require the shooter to begin squeezing the trigger before the natural respiratory pause.

A shooter can artificially extend this pause for a few more seconds by holding their breath. However, overextending the natural respirator pause will elicit trembling as an oxygen deficit will occur in the muscles. Role and environment may prevent proper breath control, but knowing that if affects sight picture is still critical.

Natural Point of Aim

Ideally, once in a stance, the firearm should naturally rest with its point of aim on target. If this is not the case, and if role and environment allow, a shooter should adjust their stance or grip to ensure a natural point of aim. Achieving a natural point of aim reduce muscle tension which promotes faster recoil recovery and improves consistency.

A shooter can test for natural point of aim by snapping into position and ensuring proper sight picture and alignment. The shooter then closes their eyes, inhales, exhales, and opens their eyes upon the natural respiratory pause. If sight picture remains unchanged, natural point of aim has been achieved.


Probably the most important fundamental of marksmanship is sight. Issues with sight are also the hardest to diagnose as trainers cannot actually see what a shooter is seeing (yet, given enough time, there will no doubt be technology that supports this). Unless a shooter can establish proper sighting techniques and implement them consistently, then frustration and failure will soon follow.

Eye Relief

The distance between the rear sight aperture and the aiming eye is known as eye relief. When firing from a rifle, eye relief is dependent on stock weld, which is the firm point of contact between the cheek and the stock of the rifle. Regardless if firing long guns or side arms, the head should be as erect as possible as eyes function best when looking in their natural forward position. Though eye relief will vary between stances, it is important to maintain the same eye relief while firing from a particular stance. Changing eye relief changes the point of aim and therefore disrupts consistency.
Sight Alignment

When using iron sights, sight alignment is the horizontal and vertical relationship between forward and rear sights. If the sight uses a front post/blade and rear notch, like most pistols, the top of the front post needs to be flush with the top of the rear sight. When a circular rear aperture is present, like standard military rifles, the top of the front post needs to be centered within the aperture. The front sight also needs to be centered left to right within the rear sight. Sight alignment should not vary between sight adjustments.
Sight Picture

Sight picture is the placement of properly aligned sights on the target as well as the point of focus. The top of front sight is placed either centered on the target, known as center mass, or placed tangent to the bottom of the target, known as six o'clock hold or the lollipop method. The latter six o'clock hold method is usually preferred as it provides the most consistent sight picture.

During aiming, the shooter usually shifts focus between the rear sight (to ensure proper sight alignment), the front sight post (for proper sight picture), and the target (to observe additional threats or results from previous shots). Depending on the role and environment, the shooter may need to focus more downrange, but the optimum sight picture requires the shooter to focus on the front sight, known as a clear front sight tip. If the shooter is focusing on the target, there is a larger margin error due to the inherent blur of the out-of-focus front sight.


All the shooting action happens in the strong-side hand which holds the grip and activates the trigger. Offhand placement falls more under stance than it does grip, since how and where the offhand is used varies widely by role and environment.

Hand Placement

A firm grip is a prerequisite for effective trigger control, but the shooter should not engage the grip with more force than necessary for the trigger to be pulled without disturbing sight. This excessive force, also known as a death grip, can cause the firearm to be unsteady as it wobbles under muscle strain.

In order to obtain an appropriate grip, the shooter should position the natural "V" shape formed by the index finger and thumb of the strong-side hand high on the grip. It sometimes described as shaking hands with the grip.

Trigger Control

There are many nuances that fall under the domain of trigger control including finger placement, the pull, and reset. Finger placement is determined by the strength of the shooter and weight the of the trigger pull. Generally, the pad of the finger is placed on the trigger to prevent lateral movement, but for firearms with heavy trigger pulls, such as double-action revolvers, the first joint may need be used.

A proper trigger pull consists of a smooth, steady squeeze to the rear without lateral pressure that will cause disruption to sight. Disruption to sight caused by poor trigger pull is known as jerking the trigger. The discharge, or break, should actually surprise the shooter thus averting the flinching and tensing of the body, known as anticipation. A practiced shooter can learn to take the slack, or creep, out of the trigger while establishing sight promoting quicker shots.

Finally, the shooter needs to allow the trigger to reset after the break. The trigger finger should only move far enough to allow the action to reset which allows for faster recovery and follow-up shots. The shooter should attempt to reduce overtravel, which is the additional movement the trigger can make after the break.


Proper recovery allows the shooter to re-engage the target or engage additional targets quickly and accurately. Recovery is essentially following through after the break, managing recoil, and re-establishing sight.

Follow Through

Even though a bullet's velocity makes its travel through the barrel take mere milliseconds, it is important to continue the application of the fundamentals of marksmanship after the break. Doing so will improve consistency and allow the shooter to follow-up with additional accuracy shots.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Marksmanship: Precision & Accuracy

Marksmanship is verbosely defined as the skilled manipulation of a firearm to consistently generate impact of fired projectiles on an intended location. More simply, marksmanship is the skill of accurately hitting a target with a firearm. This will be the first in a series discussing marksmanship, but before we get into the techniques, we should discuss some basic concepts: precision & accuracy.

Marksmanship can be evaluated with two metrics, precision and accuracy. Accuracy is the degree of veracity (hitting the desire mark) while precision is the degree of consistency (repeatability of results). Key to being able to measure these metrics is the concept of a group, which is simply a series of shots fired under the same conditions.


A group is a series of at least three shots fired from the same stance, point of aim, grip, and eye relief. Typically, the greater number of shots a group contains the more useful the data becomes. From a coaching perspective, a higher number of rounds in the black can help inspire confidence.

The types of information that can be pulled from group data and comparison include the affects of wind, poor trigger control, and poor natural point of aim among others, but I'll cover how to identify and correct improperly executed fundamentals of marksmanship in a future article.

Groups are measured by the angular dispersion of the shots, or the distance between the two farthest impacts. The most precise method to measure the distance between two shots is to measure from the outside of each impact and then subtract the diameter of the bullet (be sure both values are in metric or imperial units before subtracting). Angular dispersion measured by the length of the distance is reported alongside the range of the target. For example: a 1 inch group at 100 yards or in the shorthand for of 1"@100yds.

Minutes of Angle

Angular dispersion can also be measured by minutes of arc, or minute of angle (MOA) as the industry refers to it. A minute is an angular measurement that is equal to 1/60 of one degree[1], much like a minute of time is also 1/60 of an hour. As a historical aside, the minute has survived since the Babylonians performed astronomical calculations with the sexagesimal (base-60) system[2].

The width of a minute of angle at 100 yards is equal to 1.047 inches. Since MOA at 100 yards is very close to exactly 1 inch, many shooters use a simplified version known as SMOA (shooter's minute of angle) for calculating adjustments during fire where SMOA equals 1 inch at 100 yards. SMOA is fine for short range work, but may be error prone for precision fire beyond 1000 yards.

Because MOA is an angular measurement, it is independent of the resolution of range. So at 200 yards, 1 SMOA is equal to 2 inches; 300 yards 1 SMOA is 3 inches, ad infinitum. This makes it easy to extrapolate group sizes for different ranges. So theoretically, a 2 inch group at 100 yards would open up to 4 inches at 200 yards, but keep in mind the group is still only 2 SMOA. Ryan Cleckner of the National Shooting Sports Foundation talks more about MOA in the excellent video above.

High Precision - Low Accuracy


Precision is the measurement of the group and is independent of how close that group is to the desired target. It is a measurement of consistency and reproducibility. It is the most important metric of marksmanship as once a firearm and shooter can reliably create tight groups, bring those groups to bear on target is a relatively simple affair.

Low Precision - High Accuracy


Accuracy is the measurement of how close the group is to the desired target. Ideally, shots are both accurate and precise, as one without the other is ineffective. However, once a shooter obtains a precise group, one only needs to adjust the point of aim to bring precision to bear on the target. This is why most sights and optics have adjustments in MOA.

Next: Fundamentals

The next article in this series will deal with the fundamentals of marksmanship: breathing, trigger control, sight alignment/picture, and position.


[1] Minute of arc is a measurement of angle.
[2] Babylon mathematics gave us minutes and seconds.
[3] The science of accuracy & precision.
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