Four Keys to Proficient Marksmanship

Actionable advice on improving your marksmanship is something we can all use now and then. As many of you know I am working towards personal goals of being able to compete in practical shooting sports like IDPA and 3 Gun. The path to excellence in these sports is grounded in mastery of the fundamentals.

The US Army has tried and true methods of training personnel for competency with firearms. They offer four focus areas that cover proficient rifle marksmanship: Steady Postion, Sight Picture, Breath Control and Trigger Press. Let’s break down each focus area with some details:  

Steady Position

  • Rifle Butt position: In the traditional stance the butt of the rifle should fit into the pocket of your shoulder. The position should be high enough to allow you to keep your head erect. Acceptable variations include moving the rifle towards the middle of your chest to align the sight plane more directly under your eye (creating a straighter line- right?)
  • Control hand placement: Fire control hand should have the same grip you maintain on a pistol. Higher grip is better- high enough to facilitate a smooth rearward press of the trigger. Control hand fingers below the trigger guard should also be slightly pulling the rifle to the rear- into your shoulder to help minimize recoil.
  • Cheek weld: you should be putting the rifle up the same way each time you shoulder it. As such the cheek-to-stock weld should be the goal of your training reps. First ensure you have good form by having someone spot you: neck should be relaxed, cheek should simply fall onto the stock. A good cheek weld provides a natural line of sight through the aperture of the rear sight to the front sight post.
  • Support:  use whatever you can to support both your position and the rifle- sandbags, debris, backpack are good options. If all else fails use your bones to create support. Be sure to relax into the position: your muscles should be relaxed since your bones are supporting the rifle.

Sight Picture


  • The front sight post should be centered in the rear sight. Your eye will naturally do this so be sure to look though the front sight- that’s why the rear sight is sometimes called a Ghost Ring. The tip of the front sight post should be on your point of aim.
  • Don’t be afraid to lean into the rifle- your nose should touch the back of the charging handle.

Breath Control 


  • When you breathe the rilfe will move. For that reason it’s important to learn and always train using a firing rhythm that incorporates breath control.
  • As shown above you should press (not squeeze) the trigger during your natural respiratory pause.
  • Once this becomes comfortable you can go faster by pressing the trigger at the top of your respiratory cycle and the bottom of the cycle. Or even holding your breath at will to accomplish this.

Trigger Press


  • It’s pretty much the same technique here as you use for a pistol. The goal being a consistent press of the trigger backward as straight as possible. Two common methods of finger placement ae depicted above (it doesn’t matter if you’re firing a shotgun, a rifle or a pistol- allure the same technique). The 1st joint method is what works best for me, YMMV.

  • Remember that trigger press is the last human input to the firearm before the shot breaks. All the steps above can be mastered and blowing this can cause a miss. That’s why practice is so very important- and remember that dry fire practice can happen whenever it’s convenient without a range trip. Just make sure to pull the blinds before you practice.

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