“Shooting well with the rifle is the highest kind of skill, for the rifle is the queen of weapons: and it is a difficult art to learn.” Theodore Roosevelt, Hunting Trips Of A Ranchman
While I agree with Mr. Roosevelt that shooting well is the highest kind of skill I do not believe it is a difficult art to learn. If the basics are learned correctly and applied consistently the majority of individuals will become capable shooters. This is demonstrated, by both male and female Marines, on a regular basis in Marine Corps boot camp. For many years the record for boot camp qualification score was held by a female Marine, Private Anita Lobos.
The Marine method of teaching the basics of proper shooting starts with the acronym BRASS (B=Breath, R=Relax, A=Aim, S=Stop, S=Squeeze). Following this simple formula will improve accuracy regardless of the type of shooting you are doing. BRASS is about creating a synchronized rhythm leading to consistent shot placement.
BREATH– You wouldn’t think this is as difficult as it proves for most of us, yet it is one of the most overlooked aspects of the shot process. The natural action of taking in oxygen can make the difference between meat on the table and a trophy on the wall or a long walk for nothing but fresh air and frustration. Frequently shooters will over-hold their breath until they are literally blue in the face, depleting the body and muscles of oxygen. This causes you to shake and creating wild inaccuracy. On the other extreme shooters will become so excited they hyperventilate, commonly known as “Buck Fever”. Breath naturally, don’t overthink it. Most shooters go through a phase of overanalysis of all aspects of their shooting technique. This can lead them to attempt strange breathing patterns. In my experience the most effective pattern is simply to breath in naturally and slowly exhale, until the sight is properly aligned with the target. At this point simply relax, aim, stop exhaling and squeeze the trigger. By using proper breath control you can control the rise and fall of the sight. This can be practiced at home, ensure your firearm is unloaded, point in a safe direction with a proper backstop (just in case) and practice breath control. Observe the movement of the weapon sights as you inhale and exhale.
RELAX– Again you wouldn’t think this is difficult, but for some reason many shooters become tense when they are shooting. As the body tenses the muscles become rigid and inflexible, movement becomes jerky rather than fluid. This can create a tendency to hurry the shot. Perhaps it is anticipation of the noise or recoil. Perhaps they are worried about missing the shot rather than concentating on making the shot. Relaxation and breath control are interrelated. Proper breathing technique helps the body and muscles relax. Relaxation minimizes distractions and increases focus. Proper shooting technique includes a firm but relaxed grip on the firearm. Don’t white knuckle the weapon, overgripping will cause you to shake, affecting the rest of the shot sequence. A technique I have found to be highly effective is closing my eyes and visualizing the shot sequence from start to finish. It helps relax my body and clear my mind. At times the shooter will be in position too long. It is necessary to let the muzzle come down and rest, then restart the shot sequence. This is one of the hardest things for all shooters to do, but better to start over than hurry the shot, causing a miss. With consistent practice it is possible to develop a relaxed rhythm which will lead to greater accuracy.
AIM– Frequently shooters suffer from a lack of understanding of the proper use of the sight system on their weapon. They don’t understand or have misconceptions about proper sight alignment/sight picture, natural point of aim. To be an effective shooter you must understand the proper alignment of the rear sight, the front sight, and the placement of the sights on the target. When using iron sights you should focus on the front sight. It should be a clear distinct image. The rear sight and the target should be fuzzy or indistinct compared to the front sight. To establish your natural point of aim you should aim in relax and close your eyes, when you open them the sights will be at your natural point of aim. Adjust your body position until you line the sights up correctly on your target.
STOP– This is simply a momentary pause before the trigger is pulled and the round is fired. This is when all the elements come together. Exhaling is momentarily paused, the muscles are relaxed, the sights are properly aligned with the target… STOP. Stop all breathing, muscle and sight movement and squeeze the trigger. The body is at its stillest point, ensuring greatest accuracy. This moment only lasts a second or two before fatigue sets in. This is one of the most difficult shooting skills to learn and must be practiced over and over, literally thousands of times to create muscle memory. It should become a consistent, subconcious act.
SQUEEZE-The trigger of the firearm should never be jerked or pulled, it should be squeezed straight back, firmly but gently. The sound of the shot should be a surprise. I use the center of the pad of the index finger, roughly even with the nail bed of the finger to squeeze the trigger. It allows me to move the trigger back in the straightest line possible, minimizing movement of the weapon. Do not use the joint of the finger as it will cause the weapon to move slightly to the side during the trigger squeeze, affecting the placement of the shot. As with all other elements of the shot this movement must be practiced repeatedly to create consistency and muscle memory.
During initial rifle training the Marines spend a week doing nothing but “Snapping In”. This is simply repetitive non-firing excercises with the weapon to create muscle memory and proper shooting technique. Most of us don’t have the luxury of time to spend snapping in, or a large drill instructor to ensure it is done correctly, but we can all invest time at the range practicing with our weapons of choice. You do not need to put rounds down range to improve your shooting you can just concentrate on practicing BRASS. Remember the phrase “Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.” Take your time learning the proper techniques and speed will come as your technique develops. The time invested will be worth it and will be reflected in an accurate shot.