To group, or not to group?


‘Target shooting is easy’

‘I just need to be able to hit the target’

‘I am never going to shoot at a still target in a combat situation’

‘We need to practice real combat shooting’

The above are all statements made by many soldiers when confronted about regular target practice at the shooting range who think target shooting is beneath them. This type of thinking is shallow, unprofessional and could get themselves or their mates killed. We should always be striving to be better at what we do, especially at such a basic soldier skill such as marksmanship.

 If we want to be good at shooting (and we need to because it is at the core of our profession), it all starts with the basic marksmanship principles, if you don’t know them off the top of your head, then memorise them now. They are as follows:

  1. The position and hold must be firm enough to support the weapon – you must be stable in your position, the recoil from the weapon must not unbalance you in anyway.
  2. The weapon must point naturally at the target without any undue physical effort – this is one of the most important principles, you must make every effort to naturally align to the target every shot. This may require you to move your foot or a body part, not twist to get on target.
  3. Sight and alignment must be correct – take the time to get your zero correct, and use your shooters log to understand your points of aim for different target types at different distances. Know exactly where your bullet is going to go. 
  4. The shot must be released and followed through without disturbing the weapon – the shot is not finished as soon as you pull the trigger, you must allow the weapon to finish its cycle. Do not release the trigger until the weapon has settled.

For every shot you release, these principles must be adhered to in order to give you the best performance. Though there is a caveat, these principles are not magic, if you apply these you will not instantly become a sniper. They require constant practice, revision and adjustment. But as long as you have them in mind while shooting you will get better. They will even eventually become second nature and you will find that you will adhere to them automatically.

Jerry Miculek talks indirectly about each principle in the video below, which demonstrates how important the marksmanship principles are to achieving the perfect shot.

I have hammered home about the marksmanship principles, but this article is about the importance of the group! Don’t worry, they are linked, very much so.

A group is three or more shots fired from the same position at the same point of aim, and is designed to test the firer’s application of the four marksmanship principles – it sets a baseline for your ability! Grouping is important for all shooters, combat or not, and if you are consistently improving in your grouping then you know that your ability to apply the marksmanship principles is increasing.

When you are consistent you can begin to apply these principles in other positions, then when alternating positions between shots, and then you can speed it up. It never just stops at the prone position at 100m.

The video below of Jerry Miculek demonstrates that even the most experienced shooters will ensure their position is set before they release the shot, even though it seems fluid.

So how does this relate to combat shooting? You have to start at the basics, and when these become muscle memory you will continue to improve and build on them. Add more weight to your body (it will change the way you hold the weapon), change your fatigue state (in a combat situation you will have a much higher heart rate, practice in this state), start your group from an unprepared position (being able to take your first shot accurately from an unprepared state is important to regain initiative). You will build your experience level and improve your ability to shoot over time and your understanding of how to apply the basic principles in each situation.

Comments (1)

This warms my heart. Spot on Eli. Be brilliant at the basics and you win the fight. Once the marksmanship principles and grouping is second nature, a shooter should focus on other techniques that stabilise the platform (them). Techniques for arousal reduction that better enable them to discriminate targets and optimise each shot.

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