Basic Rifle Marksmanship (BRM) Series for your AR15- Intro

“The rifle is a weapon. Let there be no mistake about that. It is a tool of power, and thus dependent completely upon the moral stature of its user. It is equally useful in securing meat for the table, destroying group enemies on the battlefield, and resisting tyranny, because a citizenry armed with rifles simply cannot be tyrannized.

The rifle itself has no moral stature, since it has no will of its own. Naturally, it may be used by evil men for evil purposes, but there are more good men than evil, and while the latter cannot be persuaded to the path of righteousness by propaganda, they can certainly be corrected by good men with rifles.”

-Colonel Jeff Cooper

Basic Shooting Positions

Right off the bat, this is going to be a very basic. So after you read the following you can go and practice it and wow your friends and colleagues with your amazing jump in Basic Rifle Marksmanship (BRM). So before you go and drop some serious money to make your new AR-15 as accurate as possible why not first work on making yourself as accurate as possible? Odds are your AR can out shoot you. Your goal will be to out shoot your ammo (depending on ammo used) before looking at your rifle. If you get to the point that you can master the fundamentals where you can out shoot your rifle then you will be in a rare class.

Before we get into shooting positions we need to talk just a touch about a few other aspects that go into the basics. Breathing, trigger control and sight alignment and sight picture.

Sight Alignment and Sight Picture
Sight Alignment is just that, having your sight lined up properly. With an AR-15 that typically means that the front sight post is exactly in the middle of the rear peep sight. The wings will be visible and should be of equal distance in the rear peep.

sight-alignment

Then comes sight picture, having the sights aligned properly and then properly placed on your target. As I tell my kids, “The tip of your front sight in the center of the circle on the center of the target.”

But what about the different kind of sight pictures? Did you know there was more than one? There are quite a few actually but I’ll only mention two. The “Center Hold” and the “6 o’clock hold”

The “Center Hold” means that the tip of your front sight post intersects half way through your intended Point Of Impact (POI). Or another way or saying it, if you are aiming at the “X” of a bull’s-eye, your front sight post will cut the bottom half of the “X” off and all you’ll see is your front sight post and a “V” sitting atop it.

center-hold

The “6 o’clock hold” means that the tip of your front sight post would be aligned at the bottom of the “X-Ring” with your POI being in the center of the “X”.

6-oclock

I prefer the “Center Hold” or as close to that as I can get with surplus type ammo and iron sights.

More on different sight pictures can be found here from the AMU.

A quick note here; guns don’t shoot in a straight line and bullets don’t fly in a straight line. Your sights sit atop your barrel and create an axis that intersects with your intended target as your bullet falls towards the earth. Your bullet never rises out of the muzzle, you are simply holding your barrel higher than your target with the aid of your sights.

(Photo credit ZRXC77)
trajectory-with-sight-illustration-from-zrxc77

To confuse the subject, there are often 2 “Zeros”. When you zero at say 50 yards your bullet is still traveling up from the ground and will reach a max arch and start falling back to earth. It will intersect your 50 yard zero again around 219 yards.

With a 50/200 yards zero as it’s commonly referred to your Point of Impact (POI) will be plus or minus 2”s of your Point of Aim (POA) out to approximately 200 yards.

More on AR-15 iron sights can be found here

So what are you suppose to be focusing on while aiming? The front sight post? The Target? Both?

Answer- the front sight post. The human eye cannot focus on 2 objects at once. What I do is find my target with my rifle shouldered but without my cheek in place. Once I find my target with both eyes open I lower my cheek into position on the stock and confirm my Point of Aim (POA) is on that target I was looking at then adjust my focus to my front sight post. I find that helps me after staring through the sights for so long and eye fatigue starts to set in, it helps to refresh my focus. This will also help you with the “Snap Shot” (not covered here).

To help with focusing on the front sight post a trick I have learned over the years is to paint the front sight post white (red or yellow also works). I recently learned to take that a step further and etch a thin line through that painted front sight post. From the top corner take a knife, paper clip or safety pin, doesn’t matter and remove a thin line of paint bringing the black back out. This will give you something specific to focus on. The black line on your front sight post.

tools
white-fsp
stripe-fsp
stripe

The tip of your front sight in the center of your circle on the center of your target.

At some point you may find you are limited by your Front Sight Post. When that occurs, because you will be practicing so much right? You can always change out that front sight post with these smaller options from KNS. Once you have gotten to this point you will probably have looked up all the MOA differences among the front sight post so I will not cover that.

KNS FSP

Eye Dominance– How to find it? Pick an object on the other side of the room. Point your finger on it and with both eyes open aim at it. Now close one eye. Did your finger move? If yes, try your other eye. If it doesn’t move when you close your eye then that is your dominant eye.

Breathing

If you are not set up in a good shooting position then breathing is going to create a lot of movement and depending on the position may not even be comfortable enough maintain. Breathing should create only one movement pattern. Up and down. That’s it. So if you are not seeing your sights move up and down when in position, stop and find what you need to do to correct your position so your sights are moving up and down with each breath. Now this isn’t completely true, everyone has a “wobble area”. But if you are in a good bone supported position then breathing will create less movement. Your “wobble area” is more prominent the further off the ground you get. Standing of course being the most influenced by your “wobble area” just accept it and learn to use it or at least minimize its effects.

There are a few different techniques but they all follow the same basic principle. Breathe so your sights are moving up and down and when you are ready, hold your breath for just a few seconds and pull the trigger. The goal is to do this while in a Natural Respiratory Pause. If you start chicken necking then you took too long. I also find that if you hold too long your vision may blur. You get roughly a 10-15 second window. There is lots written on this window but basically it boils down to 10-15 seconds total time with roughly 5 seconds of fairly motionless time in which you need to break your shot. Some say that you only get about 8 seconds before your eyes will blur and loose focus on the front sight. In reality you simply need to see what works for you. The longer you hold your breath the smaller that window gets until you need to catch back up on breathing. If your vision starts to blur, just stop. Catch back up on breathing and start over. Do not rush your shot.

Normal breathing cycle

(Not my photo- Ultimate Sniper Maj. John L. Plaster)
normal-breathing-cycle

For the purpose of this we will focus on the Empty Lung portion of the breathing cycle. Most often referred to as the “Natural Respiratory Pause”.

(Not my photo- Ultimate Sniper Maj. John L. Plaster)
nrpcycle

Empty Lung– in-out, at the end our breathing out a natural respiratory pause will occur and you hold that pause bring your sights still and steady on your target and you pull the trigger straight back.

(Not my photo- Ultimate Sniper Maj. John L. Plaster)
empty-nrp

Now along with this, you can adapt to 2 other breathing patterns if they so suit your needs. Lungs completely full or partially full. You will have to figure out if that is necessary for your position and distance. The goal is that if you are shooting groups and you are using an alternative-breathing pattern that you make it exactly the same for each shot taken. Why empty lung can lead to a more easily replicated position, which means more consistency. If doing the partially full method hold your breath on the exhale.

(Not my photo- Ultimate Sniper Maj. John L. Plaster)
3quarters
(Not my photo- Ultimate Sniper Maj. John L. Plaster)
halffull-nrp
Grip

Pretty simple on a AR, grab it high. Just like with a pistol you want the web between your index (trigger finger) and your thumb to be as high up on the grip as comfortable. Typically you will always have your thumb wrapped around the grip. There maybe occasions that you will not but if you are reading up on basics then you are not doing that kind of shooting. Depending the style of grip and the size of your hand you will then have to take into account placement of your trigger finger.

proper-grip-1

grip2

proper-grip
Because…

Trigger Control

Trigger control, more important than you think it is? If you are not working your trigger just right then you are sabotaging anything and everything you did up to that point. The basics of trigger control is placing your finger correctly on the trigger. You do NOT hook the trigger past the crease of your first and second joint.

too-much-finger
too-much-finger1
too-much-finger-side

You want to place your trigger finger to contact the trigger somewhere between that 1st joint and the middle of the tip of the finger. Where is up to the shooter depending on hand size, rifle grip etc.

Confusing? Well if you look at your trigger finger and look at your fingernail. The spot at which your fingernail starts, directly opposite of that spot on the pad of your trigger finger is the “ideal” position to contact the trigger.

Correct Trigger Finger Placement- Middle of pad
middle
middle-1

Incorrect Trigger Finger Placement- Too little finger
too-little-finger
too-little-finger-1

But depending on hand size etc from that point to the 1st joint is good. This will change depending on the rifle and grip as well. In regards to the AR-15 some would even say that the crease of the 1st joint is best and the finger touching the frame is inconsequential.

joint
joint2
fibger-against-the-receiver

That kind of contradicts the statement below…

The trigger finger should not rest against the side of the stock or grip. There should be a space between the trigger finger and the stock/grip to avoid the tendency to push against the rifle and therefore the trigger.

Finger off the receiver
finger-off-receiver

The goal is a perfect, repeatable trigger pull, straight back to the rear of the rifle. If while in the trigger pulling process you see your sights moving, stop, correct and continue in that 10-15 second window. If needed, stop, maintain pressure on the trigger, take another breath, fix your sights and then continue to finish your trigger pull- straight back.

There are some different schools of thought on how much trigger finger to place on the trigger and resting the trigger finger against the stock/grip. For general basics I recommend getting plenty of trigger time in the traditional method before you venture off and try different grips/trigger finger placements. Then dry fire a lot and shoot a lot of groups with both and see what works best for you. The traditional method will translate to other rifles more readily.

That leads us to Dry Fire practice and this will help you more than anything you can strap to your rifle (initially), more on that later. Which also leads us right into Follow Through but proper follow through can not be achieved unless proper shooting position has been achieved. More on that later as well.

Finally Back to Basic Shooting Positions
Prone, sitting, kneeling, standing and that’s it. All of these have variations but here we are only going to focus on the most basic fundamentals. There are plenty of people out there that have way more experience than me when it comes to shooting with bipods etc. and most basic AR-15 will not have bipods so I will not be covering that. Oh and a quick rule to follow, always make your contacts Hard (Bone) to Soft (Muscle), you can reverse that if your position needs you to, no worries. The point is that hard to hard contacts do not allow for a good position of support to absorb recoil. Hard to hard contacts in general will roll too easily and degrade your accuracy potential. I will expand on this just slightly in describing the shooting positions. Some of what makes up a good shooting position is Bone Support. What does that mean? Well quite simply it means if your bones don’t conform to the position then it’s not a good position. You can’t muscle yourself into a good position. Being in a good shooting position means relying and taking advantage of the body’s natural ability to absorb recoil. Just look at the collarbone, go a head and feel it, where it connects at the shoulder it creates a natural cup which just happens to be perfect for a rifle stock. In every position this pocket will present itself.

Muscle Relaxation– Simple, relax. If you have gotten the bone support correct then you will not have to muscle yourself to hold your rifle where you want it. If you find yourself having to flex and strain to hold your sights where you want them, you need to stop and identify why you are not utilizing correct bone support. I will qualify this with this statement; this is more for target shooting in some instances. More on that later.

Natural Point of Aim– And all of the that leads right into the Natural Point of Aim (NPOA)! After you have corrected the bone support and muscular relaxation aspects of your positions foundation you can test the natural point of aim. What is this? This when you can breath easy, fully relaxed and your sights move up and down on your intended target, exactly where you want to shoot. If you are not, you adjust your position ever so slightly until your sight meets the above requirements. Close your eyes, breath, open them, are you still tracking vertically exactly where you want to hit? If yes, you have achieved a Natural Point of Aim. If not, repeat the steps until you have. The goal is that you can close your eyes, take some breaths and when you open them, you are still on target. You’ll know it too after you start shooting and your sights kick up and land right back where you had them. That is the sweet spot.

A quick word here. As said earlier, Prone, Sitting, Kneeling and Standing, that’s it. Amongst these you have certain positions that are more suited for “Target” shooting and in some instances, required for some competitions. Others are more suited for “Field” shooting where some aspects/rules are bent.

Head Position/Cheek Weld– Before we jump into the actual positions lets talk about the head position/cheek weld. This is a very important aspect of rifle marksmanship. This is the most crucial aspect to maintain consistent repeatability. This dictates what your sight picture is going to be. The more consistent this position the more consistent your sight picture will be. Many a debate has been held on just exactly where on an AR15 you place your cheek. NTCH (Nose To Charging Handle) is a common and popular method. Always placing your nose to touch the charging handle is an easily repeatable head position.

I personally don’t like it. I keep my stock fully extended and do not crane my neck just to maintain my NTCH. I keep my head in the same position as if I was in a fighting stance, with or without the rifle, with or with out a pistol. I’ll move it right to slightly to make contact with the stock but not over extend it forward to achieve NTCH. I’ve tried both and I don’t use NTCH. If that works for you, use what works. I feel that people needlessly shorten the stock on the AR15 causing them to shoot much too cramped. This has to do with a shooter using a “Length of Pull” (LoP) that is too short.

Length of Pull– As a good starting point your LoP is the distance from the point where the trigger finger makes contact with the trigger to where the stock touches the crease in the bicep/elbow. This should create a 90-degree angle between your forearm and upper arm.

Correct
correct-lop-a4
correct-lopa4-cheek

correct-lopm4
correct-lop-cheek-m4

Incorrect
incorrect-lop-m4
ntchm4

I mention head position because this will not change much in any position you will assume when shooting. Being able to maintain a consistent sight picture is key to good marksmanship.

Also, understand that if you are mounting a scope and all your zeroing is done from the bench rest you may find you can’t look through your scope very well once you leave the bench rest. I suggest all zeroing should be done from the prone, even if you are using a rest. You may find that you set your scope too far to the rear.

I know that was a lot but it’s a needed start before we can get into the actual positions. Stay with me and we will get into it next post with Prone!

2 thoughts on “Basic Rifle Marksmanship (BRM) Series for your AR15- Intro

  1. I appreciate the pictures…especially about LOP and using the start of your nail as a reference point. Definitely got some new things to try!

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