Why Johnny Can't Shoot Anymore


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Frohickey
January 10, 2003, 05:35 PM
Why Johnny Can't Shoot Anymore
(http://www.sftt.org/dwa/2003/1/8/4.html)
By R.J. Thomas

Up until the Vietnam War, Americans had been known as a nation of marksmen. From the French and Indian wars through the Korean conflict, those who opposed us on the battlefield suffered the consequences of our rifleman heritage.

Then about the time of the Vietnam War, our troops suddenly seemed unable to shoot any better than anyone else, and often, not as well. The reasons for the decline in our shooting capabilities, as reflected by the reported performance of our ground troops in Afghanistan, are multi-faceted, but definable and correctable.

From the 1600s continuing through the present, the population of the United States has been on a steady migration from rural to urban living. The mentality of rural or wilderness dwellers always focused on the necessity of good marksmanship. Whether for subsistence or defense, good shooters could keep their family fed or defend them from marauders if necessary.

Great rifles were built for these early marksmen, first by early German settlers, who set up shops around the Pennsylvania iron ore deposits. Later, these Pennsylvania rifles gained fame for their accuracy and killing power in the Kentucky Territory and across the Great Plains.

Gun makers such as Ballard, Sharps, Remington and Winchester carried on the traditions of the early German gunsmiths and built superbly accurate, powerful single-shot hunting rifles. These makers also built long-range competition rifles that were accurate beyond 1,000 yards. Meanwhile, Springfield Arsenal was building single-shot rifles for the U.S. military, chambered for the powerful 45-70 Government cartridge, which remained the primary service round from 1873-1889, when it was replaced by the smokeless 30 U.S. Army (30-40 Krag).

As the balance of the population began to shift from rural to urban settings in the early 1900s, so did the emphasis on great marksmanship. City folk continued to hunt under controlled seasons and bag limits, but mostly for sport. City dwellers also continued European-style competitions (Schutzen Matches) to keep their marksmanship skills sharp and display their shooting prowess against the rest of the world in open competition

Meanwhile, the country folk were still subsistence hunting and controlling predators, sometimes within the law, sometimes not. Great competitive marksmen also came from rural communities (particularly the Rocky Mountain States and California), as well as the eastern population centers. Americans were recognized as the best shooters in the world and shot for cash prizes up to $25,000 (a lot of loot in those days), as well as for numerous merchandise prizes.

However, all was not well for American shooters: Movements to take guns away from the general population and ban hunting (a blood sport) were already starting to make themselves heard. These anti-gun/anti-hunting groups, considered fringe lunatics by early Americans, have now gained considerable influence over our government and its policy, as we shall see.

The early U.S. military system recognized the importance of marksmanship among the ranks and often rewarded the best marksmen with additional money and advancement to positions of leadership.

Up through the 1940s, the Army conducted regular shooting sessions at the company level, the Navy at the fleet level and the Marines at the regimental and landing party level to determine the best shots in their ranks. The military as a whole encouraged shooting competition, and even the smallest units based in isolated locations practiced with their 1903 Springfield 30-06s on ranges that were required on all military installations. Every fort, base, installation and unit sent its best marksmen to represent their commands at regional, service (All-Army, All-Marine Corps etc.), and Inter-Service Matches, culminating in the National Championships at Camp Perry, Ohio. Competition between the branches of the U.S. military (particularly the Army and Marine Corps) for the honor of National Champion was ferocious and all of the services strongly supported the program.

By the 1950s, U.S. military leadership was already becoming enamored of high technology approaches to fighting wars. Military weapons designers had developed the great magazine-fed M-14 battle rifle from the innovative en bloc clip-fed M-1 Garand. While the training required to load and shoot the M-14 well was significantly less than that required for the M-1, marksmanship principles and the training required to attain excellence remained constant. The Army, Marines and to a lesser degree the Navy, supported marksmanship training and KD ranges up through the 1970s despite the high cost, but they were searching for a technological solution.

The only problem with marksmanship training was it was very expensive. Military leaders recognized that it took their finest NCOs to instill marksmanship principles in new recruits and to continue training throughout their careers to maintain peak effectiveness with their M-1s and later M-14s.

Additionally, Known Distance (KD) ranges took up a lot of valuable real estate and required expensive maintenance of the butts, targets and firing points. U.S. military leaders thought they found a technological solution to the high cost of marksmanship training (encouraged by bureaucratic bean counters) in the form of the M-16 rifle.

The M-16 offered the military services (with the exception of the Marines), at least a theoretical rationale to abandon their costly marksmanship programs. Based on computer-modeled battlefield scenarios, the military brass were convinced there would never be another war fought by grunts at ranges beyond 300 meters.

The M-16 offered reduced recoil (a consideration for our kinder, gentler co-ed recruits), an increased volume of automatic fire and an increased number of rounds in a standard loadout. All of this added up to theoretical increased Probability of Hits (PH) on adversaries on the premise that if you shoot more bullets faster, you are bound to more often hit something - a seriously flawed theory. An additional economic benefit of the M-16/5.56 cartridge was it had a shorter range-over-flight requirement than the old 30-06 cartridge for which the KD ranges had originally been built.

So one direct consequence of the M-16's arrival was that marksmanship training and competition programs began losing vital financial support from the military leadership.

All over the country, bases began to review the cost of maintaining ranges. Local commanders found that they could open up this valuable real estate for important functions like golf courses, new landing strips or a host of other uses such as blank fire tactics training villages.

Another force working against military marksmanship was the rise of environmental regulations (particularly the frequently-mandated Environmental Impact Statement [EIS] required for any major base construction project).

Even in that last bastion of marksmanship, the Marine Corps, the heat was on base commanders to shut down ranges wherever possible. One of the ranges on MCB Camp Pendleton (the only 1,000-yard KD range in Southern California) was closed by the base biologist (an anti-gun hippie) because he felt the loud rifle reports would disturb the breeding habits of the California Black Vireos nesting in the nearby willows of Pulgas Creek. Of course, nobody was allowed to point out that the Vireos had been nesting there for 50 years with rifles banging away the whole time, to no ill effect on the birds.

Lest one should think this was a rare example of protective enthusiasm, this same environmentalist nitwit held up the construction of a Navy SEAL .50-caliber sniper range on MCB Pendleton for three years while conducting an EIS on the negative impact the range would have on the habitat of the Whitefooted Kangaroo Rat. The irony of that particular whole study was the rats actually preferred the backside of impact area berms for their burrowing areas, so more rat habitat was created by the range's existence.

The stories are the same all over the country for all of the armed services. Civilian residential encroachment on base borders, politically-correct anti-gun politicians (the Imperial Beach Navy SEAL Range was shut down because illegals crossing the Tijuana River could potentially wander into the impact area), and environmentalists placing the welfare of various birds, rodents and amphibians before training requirements for troops, must be brought to a halt.

Once the Army abandoned the concept of a grunt with a battle rifle capable of hitting targets out to several hundred yards, marksmanship training was on a slippery slope.

Today, the brass seem determined to try and develop "shoot-and-forget" weapons, and their motivation appears driven more to avoid the high costs of marksmanship training and range maintenance than to improve soldier effectiveness in combat. Recently, there have even been evaluations of videogame substitutes for KD range training, with which the recruit aims a mock M-16 at a video screen displaying different-sized enemy soldier icons to represent differing ranges. A good video game player can tear this training device up, but when a real rifle is put in his hands, the results on KD range targets are often abysmal.

But as the Afghanistan "lessons learned" clearly show, if the U.S. military still wants to fight protracted rifle battles at long range, it needs to put the emphasis back on marksmanship, re-establish live-fire KD ranges and provide the troops effective and sustained marksmanship training with weapons capable of reaching out and touching someone.

R.J. Thomas is a Contributing Editor of DefenseWatch. He can be reached at win70shooter@hotmail.com.

----

:cuss: Too many bean counters, and desk-bound generals that are always looking for the magic 'bullet'/weapon system. :cuss:

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bogie
January 10, 2003, 05:41 PM
A rifle is a defensive support item to be used by a guy with a radio.

Navy joe
January 10, 2003, 05:57 PM
I thought the article was going to be a look at why marksmanship in America declined, but the writer stopped looking at society changes in about the early 20th century. He just dis-jointed all that stuff on there to fluff up his core idea, an ad hom attack on the M-16 rifle in general.

A dedicated rifleman can do what he needs to do with pretty much any rifle he's been handed in America's military in the 20th century. If he's really good today his M-16 will get taken away and he will get a dedicated marksman weapon of some description.

The writer could have chosen to talk about how it is no longer acceptable to get your marksman merit badge in the scouts, the 4-H club doesn't even do shooting anymore, and rifle clubs in high schools are regarded as a relic of days gone by. He could have talked about how Sally soccer mom is too scared to get her kids that first rifle or air rifle, convinced that guns are bad and that somebody else will fight her wars while her babies go to college. Additionally the writer forgot to mention that hunting has been so vilified in the popular dialogue that no one is left in Sally's family to take the kids hunting. He didn't mention that kids can't even talk about their guns at school these days, just like they would rather stay inside and play Medal of Honor on their video game system than go out and shoot their BB gun or wander the woods and fields. No, he didn't mention that fact. It's all the military's fault for closing ranges and adopting the M-16. Yeah, that's it.
:rolleyes:

Still Learning
January 10, 2003, 06:45 PM
I agree the writer diverged from what I thought was the meat of the issue when he switched his attention from the urbanization of America to changes in military training. Not that I disagree with his reporting of those changes, just that it's not all of the story.

Educational programs can make a difference. And to Navy Joe: In Oklahoma we still have 4-H and FFA shooting programs. Admittedly, not every 4-H club or FFA chapter in the state has these programs, but many do. I do agree with your assessment that it was an opportunity to slight the M16. I chose an AR as my personal carbine but that does not mean I think it's an adequate choice for a military battle rifle.

I don't believe we are ever going to return to the days when America is considered a nation of riflemen but I do think we can improve our position in this area by encouraging and supporting youth shooting programs.

Just my thoughts.

Greg L
January 10, 2003, 06:49 PM
NJ,

The 4H in this area is fairly active in shooting sports (I help out at the range when they are there at the same time that I am). Also the local Scout troop just got a nice grant from the NRA to build a range shelter at their range (the local CMP is run through the troop also). So there are pockets of freedom out there but I agree that they are shrinking.

Greg

Nightcrawler
January 10, 2003, 08:33 PM
A rifle is a defensive support item to be used by a guy with a radio.

Artillery isn't always available. It verymuch depends where you are, how far you are ahead of the enemy, their proximity to you, etc.

Oh, and from my own personal experience, radios break. (A 20 year old PRC-77 seems especially prone, but I digress.)

None of the new technology should be used an excuse for not training troops how to shoot.

El Tejon
January 10, 2003, 09:13 PM
"These kids today can't shoot. Why back in my day . . ." Same old saw.

Feh, urbanisation or "modern society" as the reason the new recruits can't shoot. And class why was the NRA formed in 1870?:rolleyes:

Joe Demko
January 10, 2003, 10:33 PM
Johnny never could shoot. We have a long history of owning guns in the US, but the idea that we are a nation of riflemen is hogwash. I've read enough letters and reports from officers and NCO's (Civil War on up) carping about the unbelievably poor shooting skills among recruits to buy into that particular myth, no matter how much the shooting fraternity may cherish it.

El Tejon
January 10, 2003, 10:59 PM
Golgo, exactly. The silly gun shop myth every barefoot "kuntree boy" with bad dental hygene is an outstanding shot is rubbish that will not die. The NRA was formed to combat this myth and provide a framework for instruction.

Ownership does not equate to comptence, nor does a lack of shoes and dental floss.

I beleive this myth ties into the notion that some people are too cool to train and the ignorant notion that education is unwarranted for whatever reason--envy, stupidity, etc.

4v50 Gary
January 10, 2003, 11:27 PM
From my readings of our Colonial period (French-Indian War) up to and including our Civil War, I must concur with Golgo-13. Before anyone flames me, that's in excess of 250 books. While the American settlers on the frontier were almost always proficient with firearms, the City dweller less so. Farmers seemed to be more proficient too since it was both a means of recreation, harvesting nature's bounty, and controlling varmints.

During the Revolution, the rifle was an almost unknown firearm in the New England states. While there were a few gunsmiths who could make rifles, the vast majority of New Englanders had old muskets or fowlers - all smoothbores. The riflemen who served at the Siege of Boston came from Penn., Virginia (which at that time also included West Virginia & Kentucky) and perhaps Maryland. Notwithstanding this, the Revolutionary War was won by the musket armed regular and not the rifleman. Lt. Col. Simcoe (Queen's Rangers): The riflemen, however dexterous in the use of their arm, were by no mean the most formidable of the rebel troops; their not being armed with bayonets, permitted their opponents to take liberties with them wich otherwise would hav been highly improper." (A Journal of the Operations of the Queen's Rangers by Simcoe at pages 236-237).

The Civil War saw a lot of men who only through practice became proficient with their guns. S. Millet Thompson wrote in his history of the Thirteenth New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry how poorly they were at target practice even after a year of service. "There are 250 guns, and the men fire 20 rounds per gun - 5000 shots - and the irreverent affirm that the vicinity of the target is the safest place to be found within a circuit of half a mile. Reed of [Co] E wants o show the Regiment, 'Ow they fire hin the Hold Hinglish Harmy.' He steps to the front, holds the guns at arm-s length, fires - and double up like an old jacknife, a rod back in the brush. The boys have given him a kicking gun... Col. Stevens sends him off to camp; and we turn him into a mess-cook, a good one too, the best in camp." They became better only after being introduced to trench warfare (well, if you shoot at a loophole long enough, you'll eventually find the hold - if you survive). However, some units were poor shots because they were composed of immigrants who did not handle a gun or had limited experience with one until arriving in America. The "Dutch" as the Germans were called comes to mind. For these units, it was a matter of on-the-job training.

It isn't accurate to say that we were always a nation of rifleman. A nation of gunowners and shooters, yes, but not a nation of riflemen. It would be more accurate to say that our frontier riflemen led the westward expansion of America. From the relief of Fort Pitt in 1763, the settling of Ohio, the ceding of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois respectively from the Red Man, Lewis & Clark's Corp of Discovery, the Fur Traders, etc. all the way to the Pacific Ocean was made possible by riflemen. It would also be accurate to say that for the majority of our history, we've had riflemen.

Pendragon
January 11, 2003, 06:23 AM
I am with Navy Joe. I thought the article would be about the decline in shooters, but it was just another tired hit piece fired at the M16

However, I find it totally believeable that the old country boys were not always the best shots...

Cal4D4
January 11, 2003, 12:36 PM
In the vein of what the article started as...

Marksmanship takes practice. Lots of practice. For every kid that fires 100 rounds of BBs/wk (barely a single session) there are thousands of kids who practice hundreds of baseball throws, soccer kicks or basketball shots. The whole TV and school culture is pretty much dedicated to squashing gunsports in general. So why can't Johnny shoot?

TheLastBoyScout
January 12, 2003, 11:22 PM
Its the rifleMAN that makes the rifle dangerous, not the other way around, and the Marines train with M16A2s at 500 yd KD ranges in addition to combat oriented courses

Jeff White
January 13, 2003, 12:24 AM
Golgo-13, El Tejon and 4v50Gary are all correct. I'd much rather teach the cityslicker kid who never touched a real rifle before then the barefoot, country bumpkin with poor dental hygene that El Tejon refers to, who has 10 or more years of bad habits to overcome.

The author of the article knows very little about the history of marksmanship training in the U.S. Army. The Army still shoots on KD ranges. In fact Appendix A of FM 23-9 M16A1 and M16A2 Rifle Marksmanship dated July 1989 calls for 8 hours of downrange feed back fired either on a KD range (if available) or field fire range if a KD range isn't available.

Now don't get me wrong, there are a lot of things that the Army could do to improve it's marksmanship training. But RJ Thomas is full of it..and not ideas to make things better. Just another luddite who has either never humped a 90 lb ruck for days at a time or who did it so long ago, he's forgotten what it's like.

The only official reports I've seen come out of Afghanistan are critical of the marksmanship training received by support troops not the Infantry. Perhaps Mr. Thomas would like to go to Ft Benning and run through ARM (Advanced Rifle Marksmanship) with a class of recruits. Wonder how well he'd do?

Jeff

Jeff White
January 13, 2003, 12:25 AM
Golgo-13, El Tejon and 4v50Gary are all correct. I'd much rather teach the cityslicker kid who never touched a real rifle before then the barefoot, country bumpkin with poor dental hygene that El Tejon refers to, who has 10 or more years of bad habits to overcome.

The author of the article knows very little about the history of marksmanship training in the U.S. Army. The Army still shoots on KD ranges. In fact Appendix A of FM 23-9 M16A1 and M16A2 Rifle Marksmanship dated July 1989 calls for 8 hours of downrange feed back fired either on a KD range (if available) or field fire range if a KD range isn't available.

Now don't get me wrong, there are a lot of things that the Army could do to improve it's marksmanship training. But RJ Thomas is full of it..and not ideas to make things better. Just another luddite who has either never humped a 90 lb ruck for days at a time or who did it so long ago, he's forgotten what it's like.

The only official reports I've seen come out of Afghanistan are critical of the marksmanship training received by support troops not the Infantry. Perhaps Mr. Thomas would like to go to Ft Benning and run through ARM (Advanced Rifle Marksmanship) with a class of recruits. Wonder how well he'd do?

Jeff

Jeff White
January 13, 2003, 12:27 AM
Golgo-13, El Tejon and 4v50Gary are all correct. I'd much rather teach the cityslicker kid who never touched a real rifle before then the barefoot, country bumpkin with poor dental hygene that El Tejon refers to, who has 10 or more years of bad habits to overcome.

The author of the article knows very little about the history of marksmanship training in the U.S. Army. The Army still shoots on KD ranges. In fact Appendix A of FM 23-9 M16A1 and M16A2 Rifle Marksmanship dated July 1989 calls for 8 hours of downrange feed back fired either on a KD range (if available) or field fire range if a KD range isn't available.

Now don't get me wrong, there are a lot of things that the Army could do to improve it's marksmanship training. But RJ Thomas is full of it..and not ideas to make things better. Just another luddite who has either never humped a 90 lb ruck for days at a time or who did it so long ago, he's forgotten what it's like.

The only official reports I've seen come out of Afghanistan are critical of the marksmanship training received by support troops not the Infantry. Perhaps Mr. Thomas would like to go to Ft Benning and run through ARM (Advanced Rifle Marksmanship) with a class of recruits. Wonder how well he'd do?

Jeff

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