What is the measure of a good rifleman?


Last night I ran across another thread over at Arfcom that I thought posed an interesting question. The poster asked members what skill level and standards do they think makes some one a competent and skilled “rifleman.” AS you know, this is an evergreen subject for me. For years I have pondered on this question and tried to have a framework of what i think makes some one a skilled rifleman. Below I am going to share some of the comments from the various worthies who gave their two cents in the thread for your consideration and discussion.

Before we get to that I wanted to set some parameters real quick for some reasons we will talk about in a second part. In this case lets think of Rifleman to be understood as skill with a rifle and ability to hit a target with a variety of rifles or even carbines. This ( for now) will not include skills or training that only defines the rifleman as a combat infantryman, i.e. small unit tactics etc. Also no military qual award that designates one a “rifleman” nor the use of an NRA skill level for something like service rifle or any highpower shooting sport. At least for now. In part 2 of this, I will give you my ideas of what abilities I personally consider a “rifleman” to have. SO lets take a look at some arfcom responses and as always I am eager to hear your thoughts in the comments because this time I will probably add them to my own in part 2.

So here we start off with the original posted questions

“What metrics would you use to gauge who is a good (not necessarily superior–but moderately accomplished/experienced) rifleman? Talking modern calibers here in a tight rifle. What position?

I’m thinking stuff like:
Be able to make a hit on a grapefruit, offhand, at 100yds.
Shoot a 2 MoA 3-shot group at 100yds from a field position given 2 attempts.
Hit a dinner plate at modest mid-range distances (say 400yds–something that requires correcting for elevation). “

1.” Be able to consistently hit a human torso sized target within the effective range of the rifle. Position is dictated by conditions (enemy fire, terrain etc) Prone is always superior for accuracy but not always available. “

2.” I like Pat McNamara’s BRM drill shot on B-8 centers at 50 yards.

5 rounds standing, 5 rounds sitting, 5 rounds kneeling, and 5 rounds prone. All four positions shot on their own target so you see what position needs work. No time limit.”

3.”Hitting a 10″ target at 100yd offhand.”

4.” From the Prone position, using Mark 1 Eyeball, I’ve hit ±85% (witnessed) at 400 yards”

5. “ Hitting what your aiming at makes for a good rifleman.” What seems like a smart ass remark really gets to the heart of the matter in my opinion

6. “Open sights. No scope. I’m classified as sharpshooter for NRA service rifle matches. 2 Bronze metals at Camp Perry for the Garand matches “ OK? very impressive for shooting known distance bullseye targets in a formalized sport with specialize equipment. Not so impressive in the real world though where targets are not in clearly marked lanes at exact known distance with sighter shots allowed before hand. Too specialized though I do respect the accomplishment.

7. ” Stop using groups for crying out loud.

What makes a “good” shooter? Hits on field targets in field conditions with no prior knowledge of course of fire and 1-2 rounds per target. Rating of “good” goes up as target size goes down and/or weapon system mismatch goes up. Higher rating for early hits. Start with torso targets and go smaller from there. Measures are relative to the conditions of the day and possible positions.

Some practical courses accomplish this measure, depending on level of gaming/comms/coordination possible between team members. Very few, if any “standardized” NRA games prepare shooters for these conditions, if you think about it. It’s really fun to watch top shooters with only NRA game or bench shooting experience show up to an event with these kind of practical penalties and get schooled by failure to read & adapt.
I like this guy’s thinking very much. Very much.

8. “My personal litmus test for myself is:

Pistol: Headshots at 10 yards, body shots on a 2/3rd USPSA steel target at 25 yards.
Rifle: Head shots at 25 yards, body shots offhand at 100 on a USPSA steel target, body shots prone out to point blank range on the 2/3rd size USPSA steel target.

This is what I consider the bare minimum of “good.” I know many folks who can do much better than that, but I also see even more people who struggle to shoot one foot groups at 50 from the bench with an AR15 ”

9. “From a “grab a gun” condition, be able to make the rifle ready and successfully engage a moving exposed human TGT within 50yds

* Same as above, on a partially exposed static human TGT after running to cover.

* First round hits on 18″ sils from kneeling position at 400yds

If you can do these things, you can fight, defend, and hunt – the 3 most practical uses for a rifle.

10. “Be able to use their weapon to it’s maximum effective range in reasonable conditions and realistic positions. “They should be able to outshoot their rifle as a rack-grade. “

11 .“If you’ve never been an NRA-classified shooter (high master, master, expert, etc.) then chances are you’re not really fully developed.

A good rifleman? You need a reliable rifle, ammo, a sling/carrying strap, and cleaning gear at a minimum. It doesn’t matter what kind of rifle it is really. It must be sighted in and you must have a basic idea of its zero and it’s trajectory. You must be able to shoot from the bench, standing, prone, sitting, and crouching”

12. “A rifleman -He has a rifle when and where it is needed.

He knows how to use his rifle.

He can hit what needs to be hit when it needs to be hit.

He can get to where he needs to be to be effective, that includes running (or skiing).

He does the above while the adrenaline is rushing, his heart is pumping out of his chest and his lungs are sucking for air.”

OK, so there is some selected comments. Some good ones in there. I will link to the thread if you want to see them all, It’s a short 2 page thread. Let’s hear your comments and we will pick this up tomorrow or the next day for part 2.



  1. This wasn’t in relation to being a rifleman per se but my dad when talking about hunting said #3 up there. The reasoning was if you can’t hit a 10″ circle at 100yds off hand then you have no business out there because you probably won’t have an ethical kill, just end up wounding the poor creature.
    Granted that was VERY general and I would think a slightly more detailed description is warranted but I always felt Like that was a good place to start for newnies. Once you can do that no problem then we’ll start with the more detailed skills.

  2. For a fellow who marksmanship is hunting only; the mark of the marksman(see what I did there?) is the ability to humanely kill his quarry.

    That being said, I guess my practical definition would be the ability to hit with iron sights using his or her nation’s service rifle a man sized target at 100 yards off hand. And with an issued optical sight, a man sized target at 200 yards. Further more, he would need to be competent with care and cleaning of his nation’s issued service rifle.

  3. I’d say that a rifleman should be able to hit a man-sized target off-hand at 200 yards with iron sights, and a ground squirrel or prairie dog at 200 yards with a scoped varmint rifle from a supported position, first shot. I’ve done the latter many, many, many times. Thousands, in fact. I’ve taken off-hand shots with a 1903A3 at a B-27 target at 200 yards plenty of times.

    The biggest problem I see for most people in rifle shooting is that they don’t pay attention to the fundamentals. They really don’t co-ordinate their breath control, sight control and trigger control, never mind more subtle points like NPA or proper use of a sling (or even having a real sling on their rifle instead of a POS carrying strap).

    • DG—

      I’m looking to set up a bolt gun as a deer/elk rifle. Can you recommend a good sling that would work as a carrying strap also?

      I’ve got a couple of Magpul tactical slings that I’ve tried to make work as precision rifle slings, but it hasn’t been a successful experiment so far.

      • As Shawn points out, the 1907 leather sling is still the standard for a real shooting sling (modulo the specialized leather slings used on competition rifles).

        All my rifles with slings use 1907-style slings. I’ve tried the varithane (ie, plastic/synthetic) slings, and I found I prefer the leather 1907’s. Some 1907 slings will need to be softened up a tad with some neetsfoot oil (or other leather treatment) to make them more comfortable to use.

        I like Turner Saddlery’s slings. There are others.

        If you want to learn how to use a 1907 sling on a rifle, I highly recommend M/Sgt’s (USMC) Jim Owen’s book on the subject.

        Some people object that proper use of a 1907 sling is “too much work.” Well, it is a bit of work. But the improvement in results from using a sling can be profound.

  4. My experience has been that the truth is seen in the field. Sure, you need technical skills learned at the square range, but then you need to be able to apply those skills to kill your target, whether man or game, in field conditions within the effective range of your weapon regardless of season weather or terrain.

    I’ve seen many fine range shooters miss their target when it’s moving and obscured at the end of the day after they’ve climbed a hill and the range is unsure and the light is bad and theur heart is pounding.

    Know yourself. Know your weapon. Shoot within your capabilities. Don’t shoot when can’t make a clean kill. Kill what you’re shooting at.

    • “Shoot within your capabilities.”

      This is really important. You’re not really good at anything until you know your capabilities.

  5. I read that thread also. The only answer to the question is ‘It depends’. There is so much variety in rifle shooting that a person can be ‘good’ in several aspects yet greatly incompetent in others.

    Being ‘good’ with a bolt action at 600 yards does not mean one can adequately run an AR against ‘hostile’ targets at 50 yards or vice versa. Those skills are very different. So are the many types of hunting or the many types of target/competition shooting. If the shooters only goal is personal satisfaction then placing an empty can on a fence post and hitting it from 20 steps is ‘good’ if it makes him happy. The poster needs to think more about what he wants to achieve, what his own goals are, to become more specific about his own needs or desires.

    • “The poster needs to think more about what he wants to achieve, what his own goals are, to become more specific about his own needs or desires.”

      There is a lot of overlap here with questions of “fitness.” Fit for what? Do you want to be able to keep up with your friends at basketball, or be able to climb power poles to put food on the table for another 20 years till retirement? Those are different problems with different solutions, even if the two solutions have a lot of overlap.

      Similarly, if you’re planning to go to war, then the ability to run your rifle at speed (safety on/off, mag changes, rapid shots) is vital. If you fire one round per year at a deer for the freezer, not so much. There is a lot of overlap in the riflery skills needed, but they just aren’t the same thing.

      There’s an important lesson here about humility, too: just because you are an excellent hunter doesn’t mean that you don’t have anything to learn from a bench rest shooter about single-hole accuracy, or from a Marine about rapid mag changes. And vice-versa, of course.

  6. I think it was Jeff Cooper who said a good rifleman is able to shoot to the capability of their rifle.

    For me, the standard comes down to being able to hit what I’m aiming for in any condition, from an appropriate position, and at any range within the rifle’s capabilities. Timing is more flexible, but it really depends on how long the target is exposed.

    Of course, quantifying all of that is a bigger chore. But from an idealistic standpoint, that’s the goal.

  7. I think a lot of the commentors on the thread, and a few here on this specific article, are working from overly-exclusive definitions. From the beginning of this article: “Rifleman to be understood as skill with a rifle and ability to hit a target with a variety of rifles or even carbines.” It merely talks about hitting targets, at distance, with a rifle. And that’s fine.

    To be a good hunter at anything beyond 50 yards, you need to have some level of marksmanship, but you also need skills that aren’t involved in marksmanship. To be a good infantryman you probably need to be a good marksman, but just like the hunter, you need other skills that have nothing to do with marksmanship. Don’t get your specific application of marksmanship mixed in with your definition and standards.


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