How to Shoot a Rifle


December 2, 2012, 11:03 PM
. . .have a positive attitude and learn how to hold onto a rifle and you'll find success with just about anything you want to shoot.
This quote was taken from a different thread that I didn't want to hijack, but it reminded me of something.

I see a ton of threads with tips on how to shoot/handle a handgun for best accuracy. That information seems to be all over the net where shooting and/or guns is/are a topic. In contrast, I find very little information on shooting rifles well.

Growing up, I shot rifles (mostly 22s) almost exclusively, and I was a very accurate shot (not to toot my own horn). I used to shoot cigarette butts, soda can tabs, and those little green plastic army men at around 25 yards, all with relative ease. Now I struggle to do better than about 3 to 4-inch groups at 100 yards. The point is, now I'm a very poor shot with a rifle, whereas I do shoot handguns pretty well.

I'm wondering where I can find some pointers. I plan to pick up a 22 again so I can get back to basics without breaking the bank. Not counting attending an Appleseed, what can I do to improve?

Hope this makes sense. Thanks folks.

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December 2, 2012, 11:10 PM
Bobson - believe it or not, there are two things I reference when looking to improve my shooting scores:

1. The High - absolutely the best website for this on the entire internet.

2. The United States Marine Corps Rifle Marksmanship manual (which I believe is available at nearly any online book retailer, for a reasonable price).

If I need a quick answer, advice, or suggestion to a shooting problem, I come here.

If I feel like I'm forgetting one of the basics, or just want to make sure I'm considering all of the basics - I consult the Corps. They've been teaching 17 & 18 year olds kids to shoot for the better part of two centuries, and even an old dog like me can learn a new trick when I'm paying attention.

Good Luck!

Edit* - The three things I concentrate on every single time are: Sight Picture, Natural Point of Aim, and Trigger Control. Working on just those three things have increased my scores and my enjoyment. If I had to pick one to work on first, it would be sight picture...

December 2, 2012, 11:14 PM
My recommendation if you want to be a great shot is to get some professional instruction in the proper form before you go blow through 1,000 .22 rounds and form bad habits. An appleseed is a great start. It is easy to start shooting .22s at 25 yards and be accurate, but still make very bad habits that transfer over to higher caliber rifles and cause problems.

Art Eatman
December 2, 2012, 11:16 PM
Consistency of sight picture is one factor in achieving good groups. "Plinking" with a .22 is an excellent way to work on eye and trigger coordination and consistency in your method.

Nobody is a human benchrest--even though that was Harry Pope's nickname. You learn to anticipate the wobble when in a field position, and learn to tell your finger to press the trigger just before the sights come on to the target. It's the standard 0.2 second time lag for homo sapiens, the time between the brain's signal and the muscle's response.

1911 guy
December 3, 2012, 01:47 AM
If I were to start from the ground up, literally, I'd recommend working on these fundamentals every time you take out the .22:

NPOA. Move your feet. Muscling a rifle around will usually make a miss.

Support. Get bone under the rifle, for the same reaon as NPOA.

Mount. Consistency is the name of the game. Do it exactly the same way every time. Cheekweld, position of the eye behind the rear sight, where the butt goes in the pocket of your shoulder, all these must repeat.

Sight picture. Your entire existence dances on the top of that front sight.

Trigger control. Know how and when to break the shot as quickly and smoothly as possible.

Breath control. Your lungs change your entire upper body with every breath. Learning to flood the system with oxygen, then use a pause at the correct time will make elevation andjustment a lot easier.

December 3, 2012, 02:32 AM
What do you have against attending an Appleseed? No one teaches the fundamentals of rifle marksmanship better.

December 3, 2012, 09:12 AM

December 3, 2012, 10:59 AM
I would suggest buying a copy of "Art of the Rifle" by Jeff Cooper. Good discussion of shooting positions and their utility.

But, be warned. You will find next to nothing about shooting tiny groups from a bench in that book (or any other marksmanship manual worth a hoot)

December 3, 2012, 01:15 PM
If you bring your rifle up naturally and your sight picture is off to one side, move your feet rather than the rifle to align it.

Take advantage of any rest you can.

December 3, 2012, 01:29 PM
I struggle with accuracy too... I can shoot groups at 100 yards, but I know when I am lucky and I think I am luck more often than I should be.

December 3, 2012, 01:50 PM
Getting off the bench is really critical. So many are wedded to the wood these days. It's fine for checking loads and inherent accuracy of the rifle, but doesn't really tell you much about your own ability.

United States Marine Corps Rifle Marksmanship manual

And this is a great DVD for some basics:

I re-watch it every once in a while and always get good reminders

For a slightly older variation, this is a freebie from the Army:

Of course those are both a little dated compared with more modern techniques from competition and combat training. And nothing can replace hands-on training from an instructor who can give you direct attention. But that's not always easy to find. And for most of us the old bladed stances using an iron sighted rifle are perfectly functional for any situation.

December 3, 2012, 01:57 PM
I'll preface this by saying that I am a huge believer in books and believe one should begin their education in gunology by reading books, not by asking questions one at a time on the internet. There is a lot of BS floating around here and sometimes it's hard to separate the chaff from the wheat. There is only so much you can learn from books and message boards. I would recommend an Appleseed first and foremost. An NRA rifle course secondary.

December 3, 2012, 02:59 PM
I'm not the best rifle shot out there by any means mostly because I don't dust mine off enough & my thing is archery but I am a better shot than a friend of mine who asked me.

Most of it I tell him is trigger control as in a controlled squeeze instead of a jerk & proper sight alignment like was mentioned.

December 3, 2012, 10:20 PM
Are you talking offhand or all positions?

In Arizona you could probably find a High Power match. A lot of those guy will
help you if you call ahead of the match & explain you are in need of help. Basically set it up in advance.

Look for a Garand Clinic also.

You could also look for any other rifle match in your area that has a course of fire that matches what you want to do.

December 4, 2012, 01:41 PM
There's really no end of things to learn, so it always stays interesting. At the high end of competition there aren't just shooting clinics there are clinics about one particular position. My niece, who's rapidly reaching Olympic levels of skill, attended a weekend clinic where they spent something like 20 hours SOLELY on the prone position. The idea is that you cannot miss the bull even once in prone, so everything from the tip of your toe to the trigger finger has to be controlled precisely.

I'm a long way from that. A LONG way. But I can still get real benefit from observing and practicing. General fitness is also important to the discipline. I've even found yoga to be of considerable help esp. in positions that require more balancing like the squat (an extremely practical stance that's rarely used in the west--it cuts your profile in half and is very fast to get into and out of).

December 5, 2012, 06:35 PM
Learning the basics properly is essential. I recommend the NRA rifleman book and NRA or military training manuals. If you,seek advice try to find a NRA certified or 4-h shooting program instructor and get the basics right. Good basic videos endorsed by the NRA or other organization will help. I am very skeptical
Of non certified books, videos and instructors. Lots of misinformation out there.
As a multiple certified instructor and former military expert shot, I used to start my students with a pellet pistol to teach sight picture and trigger control. Next was proper mounting of a rifle with cheek weld, sight alignment, use of dominate eye, and posture. Then trigger control. Then the 4 basic positions. Only after this
Is practice shooting with pellet or BB guns. This is to learn to shoot without flinching and follow through. Only after considerable practice you work up to .22lr before high power or shotgun. Shotgun is taught differently.

December 6, 2012, 02:20 AM
Well I picked up a Marlin 60 yesterday. I'm going to try to get to the range saturday morning and put some lead on target. As far as those who mentioned an Appleseed, know that I have nothing against it. The problem is my schedule. Its difficult to get time off work, and I work weekends. I'm also a full time college student, and a husband and father. Just getting to the range more than once a month for 2-3 hours can sometimes be a burden. Not always, but sometimes. The truth is I dont get to spend nearly as much time with my family as I would like to, so the range often gets put aside when time does become available.

If I do make it to the range saturday before work, I'll focus on ensuring my form is consistent, sight alignment is spot on, and trigger control is smooth. As a side note, I plan to keep optics off this rifle indefinitely.

December 6, 2012, 03:48 AM
Congrats on a great choice of rifles. Good luck with your shooting.

.333 Nitro Express
December 6, 2012, 08:30 AM
Bobson, excellent question.

I would start by remarking that you shouldn't feel as bad as you do about your shooting. Shooting for groups at paper targets is somewhat different from trying to hit 3-D objects one at a time--as in your example of toy soldiers and soda can tabs; the former requires more technique and consistency between shots, while a good shooting instinct, more intuitive sight-placement and one-time concentration will make you do great with the latter.

As a hunter, I'd rather be good at hitting things than at shooting groups--although at one time I took my high-power rifle matches rather seriously. Anyway, here are a few pointers. I will apply them to shooting offhand, but they can be adapted for any kind of position and benching:

1 - Ensure your rifle is in fact accurate; if it shoots all over the place, no amount of technique on your part will make a difference. Ditto for the ammo you use, your sighting equipment, ect.

2 - Build confidence gradually. If you're frustrated with yourself and try to shoot 1 MOA, you'll tense up and produce a vicious cycle of failure and growing frustration. Set yourself realistic goals that get you to leave the range psyched and enthusiastic about your performance--don't forget to have fun.

3 - The key to grouping is as simple as it is difficult to achieve: the minimalism of maximum consistency between shots. This includes not only the sight picture, but how you squeeze the trigger, where your non-trigger hand is, where on your shoulder the rifle rests, at what point in the cycle of your breathing you release the shot, how much of the recoil you absorb before you "stop" the rifle with your body. Be aware of each of these and develop a routine.

4 - As others have said, use your muscles as little as possible and your skeleton (and/or bench) as much as possible. Your shooting stance should be one where the rifle points directly and naturally at the target, without you correcting its direction vertically or horizontally with your muscles. Muscles are big variables and variables are anathema to consistency. A good test is to close your eyes and let the rifle point where it wants to: open them, and if the rifle is off to either side, move your feet--repeat until the rifle points where it should. If an accurate rifle could be magically suspended in the air and pull its own trigger, it would shoot fantastic groups--try to remember that and approach that feel as much as humanly possible.

5 - Keep both your eyes open, and follow up the shots as you would in golf, archery or shotgunning.

6 - As an extension of the previous point, learn to call the shots. At every shot you fire, call where you think it landed, and have a spotter (best) verify that, or at least look through your spotting scope to see if you were right. This is a key skill for accurate shooting, and one that will also ruthlessly eliminate any flinching. And don't "chase the spotter," but try to keep your shots always at the same point of aim.

7 - If you have access to a place where you can have some plinking fun, do it occasionally, so that rifle-shooting does not become an obsession for accuracy--again, keep it fun.

I very much second the idea of the USMC Marksmanship Manual as a great read for anyone wanting to get serious with rifle shooting. Anyway, I hope this helps, and (once more) HAVE FUN!

December 6, 2012, 05:42 PM
As far as those who mentioned an Appleseed, know that I have nothing against it. The problem is my schedule. Its difficult to get time off work, and I work weekends. I'm also a full time college student, and a husband and father. Just getting to the range more than once a month for 2-3 hours can sometimes be a burden. Not always, but sometimes. The truth is I dont get to spend nearly as much time with my family as I would like to, so the range often gets put aside when time does become available.

As a side note, I plan to keep optics off this rifle indefinitely.

I understand how working weekends can certainly make it difficult to attend an Appleseed event. I've been working weekends this year and half of my weekends off were scheduled around Appleseed shoots (instructing) Is your Wife friendly to the idea of attending an Appleseed with you though? Are the kids old enough to join? Seriously, Appleseed is a great family event and here in Michigan we have whole families attend all the time. As long as the kids are old enough to safely handle a rifle and take instruction most Shoot Bosses should have no problem. Many instructors also have loaner 22's if you don't have a rifle for everyone, just get in touch with the instructors in your state on the Appleseed forums.

Until life works out that an Appleseed event is in the cards however, try this:
Search YouTube for "rifle marksmanship training - M1 Garand" a guy who goes by "gladcamper" (not me) has posted the whole series. Four or five videos I think. This is the same basic program that Appleseed teaches. It worked in WWII and it works today. You will need sling swivels and a GI web sling as it really helps steady things though.

Keep shooting iron sights as long as your eyes allow! I love my irons, but have to concede that on overcast days or shooting something in a shadow a low magnification scope is a huge benefit. Anyways, get some tech soghts for that Marlin 22. They are worlds better than the iron sights Marlin gave the rifle and priced reasonably.

Cee Zee
December 6, 2012, 06:50 PM
My dad was my expert instructor. Then I was given the chance to work out every mistake I made by the same dad who realized the value in being able to hit what you aim at. Art certainly hit on something by talking about anticipating your own movements when you're shooting off hand. Over time I developed the technique of basically forcing the rifle into the right position at just the right time and most importantly, pulling the trigger when I got there. It's impossible to hold on a moving target perfectly so anticipating your shots and when to pull the trigger is crucial. We laughed at people who shot from rests when I was a kid. It seemed like cheating to me and my brothers. Our shooting was about killing little animals because they can be tasty.

Of course we did do plenty of plinking just for the fun of it but a lot of that was shooting .22's at pop cans we tossed in the air. If you hit one just right you can knock it on up in the air a little more and shoot it again. My brother gives me heck for shooting off a rest today still. But I have discovered the enjoyment of shooting a really tight groups.

We knew a lot of great shooters when I was a kid. Several had been riflemen in WWII with one even being a sniper which was a rare thing for WWII. Plus everyone was into bird hunting which meant practicing shooting clays with a shotgun. That's the place we actually learned how to shoot something on the move. We just transferred that ability over to rifles after a while.

If you didn't grow up in a place where guns were entertainment, HD and grocery getters then it's good to find someone who can teach you things. We all have to learn those things at some point. And it's never too late to start with firearms IMO.

December 6, 2012, 07:13 PM
3 to 4 inch groups is not bad for some rifle/ammo combinations. Even a scoped bolt action hunting rifle shooting cheap ammo may print 3 to 4 inches when bench rested.

First make sure that your gun and ammo combo is capable of printing the kind of groups you desire. Shoot off a bench with a sandbag under the butt for a solid rest. You may need to buy match ammo.

Once you find the right combination, you can then measure your ability shooting from the various positions.

Cee Zee
December 6, 2012, 09:36 PM
3 to 4 inch groups is not bad for some rifle/ammo combinations

I've seen information that said the venerable H&H rifles that are so incredibly expensive and have been the choice of big game hunters dating back to the turn of the 20th century would actually only group at about 3-4 inches at 100 yards. When asked about this an H&H spokesman supposedly said that was plenty good enough and that power and reliability were bigger concerns. That gave me even more reason to trust my SKS, which has been incredibly reliable over the years and has plenty of power for the intended targets of that rifle which would be other humans. I certainly don't want to shoot another human but a 7.62 x 39 is enough to disable a person at 300 yards or so. Beyond that distance the rifle isn't good for much but inside 100 yards, the distance it is most likely to be used, it is an incredibly good choice for SD and any other option except target shooting. I can easily hit a 1"-2" group at 50 yards which would certainly discourage 99.9% of bad guys looking to attack me in my home. If the bad guys are farther away I'll get another rifle. But that seems very unlikely except under the most extreme scenarios and I don't expect that to happen any time soon unless this whole Mayan calendar deal pops up. And if that happens we won't have a chance anyway. So just in case I don't get to do this later, bye everybody! :D

Random Discharge
December 6, 2012, 09:44 PM
Since range time is difficult, have you considered an air rifle? With a silent pellet trap (box filled with electrical duct seal to hold your targets and catch your pellets) and ~35 feet of indoor room, you can get in a lot of fundamentals practice at 10 meters for not much time with an air rifle. For starters, you can delete the time it takes to commute to and from a range.

You don't want a sporting goods store "1000 fps" break barrel spring or nitro piston rifle for this. Something that gives about 600 real fps with wad cutter pellets is the ticket. Maybe an HW30S, QB78, Crosman Challenger, etc. Careful though, its addictive.

December 6, 2012, 09:47 PM
Do you know how to get into a god position standing, seated, kneeling, and prone?

Do you know the 6 steps to firing the shot?

December 7, 2012, 12:49 AM
Do you know how to get into a god position standing, seated, kneeling, and prone?

Do you know the 6 steps to firing the shot?
I doubt it, and no. I'm gonna read up on that USMC guide a few people mentioned, and watch those videos by gladcamper tonight.

Regarding sling swivels, my Marlin 60 doesn't have any, or holes in the stock. I chose the wood stock model because tbe composite felt cheap. How can I drill the sling swivels without damaging or ruining the rifle?

Cee Zee
December 7, 2012, 03:41 AM
Uncle Mikes sells a kit to add the swivels to your 60. If you have a laminated stock though I'd think twice about it. It depends on exactly which laminated stock you have. Some were pretty flimsy and will crack if you drill a hole in the center of them. Most are pretty strong but the salt and pepper stock for example is pretty soft IMO. But it does come with a swivel and studs.

It's best to countersink the inside of the stock so your nut on the inside will fit down inside the wood and won't contact the barrel. Contact with the barrel can cause accuracy issues. Marlin barrels always contact the stocks but they do it all the way up and down the stock. If you change that to where it only makes contact at the point the stud is installed you could have harmonics issues which means less accuracy unless you get super lucky. It could actually make your accuracy better but the odds are very high against that happening.

You might look for that swivel kit on this web page (

December 7, 2012, 05:33 AM
Go youtube and search for markmanship. There some outstanding USMC marksmanship training videos that have been uploaded. The basic are the foundations of all shooting and as much as it pains this old USAF SP to admit it, no service does a better job of teaching marksmanship than Uncle Sam's Misguided Children.
Here is a link to start you off,

happy shooting

December 7, 2012, 01:27 PM
Even if you can't make it to an Appleseed, there are some good vids on youtube from Appleseed instructors explaining lots of the fundamentals, as they are taught at weekend events. FYI the Appleseed curriculum is based largely on USMC basic rifle marksmanship, so you will see a lot of overlap if you look at any of their materials. You can buy Appleseed targets from the Appleseed store, which are good for gauging your progress. Get some Quick and Dirty AQT's and keep at it until you can shoot 210 or better.

Lots of dry fire, WITH PROPER FUNDAMENTALS, is key to good marksmanship. Get your NPOA on a wall socket or something, and dry fire until your arms are numb from all of the positions. I know of no better way to improve your marksmanship.

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