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Shooting Technique

My name is Dwight Scifres and recently I was asked to write an article for Donna Blair (mamaflinter) on shooting technique for a beginning shooter. I will take the time to tell you a little about myself to help you understand my background and maybe give you some confidence in the technique I will describe. I served in the U.S. Marines, one of the Military Occupational Specialties that I held was Basic Marksmanship Instructor. I also was a competition hi-power rifle shooter in the Marines. In 1985 I was a shooting member of the Post and Station championship rifle team. I have also held a NRA certification as a smallbore rifle coach. I have competed in hi-power rifle, centerfire pistol, trap and skeet. I have been shooting for thirty six years and reloading for twenty six years.So hopefully I have learned a little bit about hitting targets in my lifetime, but I am always willing to learn more.
I wrote the following lesson initially for Doug's Message Board under the Thread of "Shooting Technique". This is a thread I started at the request of other shooters to address different aspects of marksmanship and is a mix of beginning,intermediate, to advanced shooting lessons as well as questions,answers and comments.
That being said, of all the fundamentals of shooting, I believe that Sight Alignment and Sight Picture are the two most basic, important, and least understood of all the fundamentals. I encourage you to read the article and hope you will find it informative and helpful. Remember, Safety First !! My best regards, Dwight Scifres aka " Rifleman"
First, the bulk of what I will cover here will be in relation to using iron sights. I will address scopes a little towards the end.

Sight alignment and sight picture are two terms that are quite often used interchangably and also taught as one and the same. But it is critical to know that they are two different and distinct things, and that the shooter who understands the difference will be more successful,and progress faster than the shooter who is still confused on this subject.

SIGHT ALIGNMENT- Sight alignment is simply the proper alignment of the front and rear sights of the weapon. The front sight and the rear sight are always aligned somewhere..... the third aspect of this equation is the shooter's eye.
With an aperture sight (peep sight), correct sight alignment is obtained when the tip, of the front sight post is centered both horizonally and vertically in the rear sight aperture. (Did I say the tip? )
Sight alignment with a post front sight and blade rear sight (commonly called open sights) is correct when the top of the front sight post is even with the top of the rear sight, and there is an equal amount of light on both sides between the front sight post and the rear sight. Sight alignment has absolutely nothing to do with the target. Sight alignment always exists on the rifle/pistol in question. It is the shooter's job to find it. What do I mean? Well, the front sight is solidly in place. The rear sight is solidly in place. So they are always aligned, the critical part is incorporating the third part, the shooter's eye. What I mean to say here, and am having a difficult time expressing, is that sight alignment is quite often taught as something that the shooter has to make happen, and to a certain extent this is true. But if the front and rear sights are solidly in place, are not they always in alignment with each other? (Excepting, of course, a damaged weapon or something of that nature.) So even though I am teaching the same thing as is commonly taught as sight alignment, I don't like to think of it as much as something we make happen as much as I like to think of it as something we FIND. Okay. now that you are totally confused, I can move on with confidence . The shooter, by utilizing things such as proper stock weld, positioning and eye relief, finds the position that allows him/her to SEE the PERFECT alignment of the sights. Now, assuming the weapon is already zeroed (sighted in) correctly, the shooter can see where the round will strike. For instance, let's say I am using an ar-15 with aperture sights. I place my head on the stock firmly, but not hard, looking through the rear sight. Now it is possible to look through the rear sight and not even see the front sight. But by adjusting my position, head, stock weld, and eye relief, I must come to the point where I see the front sight TIP sitting squarely in the rear sight aperture. So even though the rifle always had sight alignment, for our purposes it is obtained when we find it.
Enough of that already .
Sight alignment must be perfect!
Sight alignment must be perfect!
Sight alignment must be perfect!
Remember that, shooter. Even the smallest error in sight alignment will result in a progressively larger error at the target. You can have the target in the center of the rear sight, but with the front sight not centered, you will miss. Why? Because even though what you see is the target, that is not what the rifle "sees". It is not pointed at the bullseye, and unless you are using a rifle that is not zeroed or is inaccurate, your rifle will shoot where it is pointed.

SIGHT PICTURE - Sight picture is where we incorporate the target into the equation. Proper sight picture is obtained when we take our PERFECT sight alignment and place it on or below the bull. (Depending, of course, on what type of sight picture we are using. This will vary with rifle type and the nature of the shooting we are doing.)
Sight picture only has to be good. , (remember wobble area?)
It goes like this. We are still using our ar-15 and we are going to use a center mass hold. We take the perfect sight alignment that we have found and place the tip of the front sight in the center of the bull. We will notice that if we are doing things right, the sight alignment is maintained by our postion as perfect, but the sight picture is not because although the front sight tip remains centered in the rear sight, it still moves around inside and maybe even outside the bull. Well, why it is neccessary to have perfect sight alignment and it is nice to have perfect sight picture, this rarely happens. Unless we are shooting off the bench or you are already something of a trained shooter firing from the prone or sitting in a sling supported position. So what do we do? We shoot ! As long as we have perfect sight alignment, and the front sight tip is somewhere in the bull, we will hit the bull, and that's the name of the game.
So as long as we have perfect sight alignment and a good sight picture, we will hit the bull. ,Sure did take me along time to explain something so simple. (I answer to Rock, too, by the way.) We continue. Everything we do from position, to stock weld,to trigger control, to breathing, to eye relief, you name it, it is all centered to accomplish this- Find perfect sight
alignment, maintain it, find good sight picture and maintain them both long enough to fire the shot without disturbing either. I use to tell the especially noteworthy rocks in my class that it did not matter if they rode a unicycle sucking on a popsicle. When the rifle discharges, as long as they had perfect sight alignment and good sight picture, they would hit the bull. BUT since this is virtually impossible to accomplish, we teach all the other fundamentals relative to shooting. Why? Simple, so they can could find and maintain perfect sight alignment and good sight picture until the rifle actually discharges.
Now this brings up a good question. Since the eye can only focus on one visual plane at a time, what do we focus on? The front sight, rear sight or the target? I am so glad you asked. It is so encouraging to me when I know you are paying attention.
The correct answer is the front sight. The key to understanding this is also found in part in the explanation above of sight alignment and sight picture.
I will try to explain. First, demonstrate to yourself that indeed the eye can only focus on one focal plane (or distance) at a time. Look out the window at a distant object focusing on it until you see it as clearly as possible. Now raise your thumb in between the object and your eye and focus on it. Hmmm, I bet the distant object becomes blurry. Now focus hard on the distant object, the thumb becomes blurry. So there you go.
Now that we have demonstrated that the eye cannot focus on two different focal planes at once, it is a bygone conclusion that it would also be impossible to focus on three.
So since we can only focus on one, the question remains. Which one? The target, the front sight tip, or the rear sight. Well, like I said earlier, the front sight. Now the why. Since it is critical to have perfect sight alignment and only good sight picture, we want to put the bulk of our effort in finding and maintaining that perfect sight alignment. Since sight alignment does not incorporate the target, that automatically rules out the target as our object of focus. Also since the eye will automatically "center" an object, the rear sight becomes less critical then the front. In practice, it becomes quite simple. You put the sharp and focused front sight tip, centered horizonally and vertically in the fuzzy rear sight. Then you place the sharp and focused front sight tip, which is centered in the fuzzy rear sight, in the center of the fuzzy target. It works guys! I know for those of you to who this is new it might sound a little funny, but if you want to shoot minute of angle groups with your iron sights, this is how it is done.
Do we ever focus on the target or rear sight? Yes, but just long enough to confirm alignment. This is split second with practice. But the focus always comes back to the front sight tip, and stays there as the shot is fired.

So how does this apply to scopes? Well as you may have heard before, the primary benefit of using a scope is not target magnification. (But it sure is nice, isn't it ) It is the fact that it puts the target and the aiming device (reticle) on the same focal plane. So we can actually have a focus on both. The difference no longer becomes focus as much as it becomes a matter of concentration of holding the crosshairs on a specific spot. I also recommend that new shooters learn to shoot with iron sights first. This will make you a better and more complete shooter. You just never know, someday you maybe on the hunt of a lifetime and have  scope failure and must  rely on your irons. Better to be prepared.
I hope you have enjoyed the article and feel free to drop me a line over on Doug's message board. (The link for this forum can be found by going to the "related links" page on this site)
Have a safe and good time learning to shoot well, sincerely, Dwight Scifres