Rifle Marksmanship: The Missing 40 Percent

"(Shooters) can lose 40 percent of their fine motor skills. I agree with this, and then some."

remington 670 rifle
The Remington 760Remington

I swear by my ancient red Bonanza loading press that I recently read a book by two gents who ran the SEAL Sniper School and got some unique insights into the mental aspects of marksmanship. All the candidates at the school are qualified SEALS, and are selected for their skill as riflemen, and the washout rate is still high. I’ve heard the school described as “nightmarishly difficult.” As the authors point out, all you need is one bad morning and you’re gone.

One of the claims I believe I read in the book is that, under stress, riflemen can lose 40 percent of their fine motor skills. I agree with this, and then some. The problem is that, in re-reading the book to verify that 40 percent figure, I can’t find it, so maybe I’m imagining the whole thing. If so, I apologize to everyone in the world in advance.

But again, I think it’s a pretty accurate estimate. Under stress, people can become fumble fingered and worse. Over this past weekend, I got to be Range Safety Officer at a competition where I saw many fingers fumbling. The match was shot at 100 yards, offhand, low gun between shots, no sling, scope no higher than 4X, 5 rounds at a life-sized coyote target that could rise up out of any of four positions in the pits and stayed up for 6 seconds. There was dirty snow on the ground, and the coyote target was digital black and white, so it was hard to see the thing when it came up. Only one person shot a perfect score.

Since I was hovering over the competitors, waiting for them to do something unsafe, I got to watch them closely, and discovered that I could tell what kind of score they were shooting just by looking at them and watching them hyperventilate, take their eyes off the pit to look at their rifle, fumble with the safety, fumble with reloading, try and clear the rifle after it fumbled, and so on.

These were the guys who lost 40 percent, or more, and dishonored themselves. The people who did well stepped up to the line as though it was just another day at the office, took one deep breath, looked downrange all the time, wasted no motion, did not fiddle, fumble, or freeze, and did not have to clear their rifles because their rifles fed (an absolutely amazing number of rifles don’t feed).

My favorite competitor used a Remington 760 pump. He’s a very skillful and cold-blooded shooter who is a former Army officer (Captain, Armor) and he snapped those rounds in and out of there with military precision. It reminded me of what good, and underrated, rifles the 760 and 7600 are. That old 760 made the average bolt-action look like a blunt instrument.

How does one avoid losing 40 percent of your skill? Glad you asked. Practice. Think out what you have to do beforehand and develop a routine that involves the fewest number of movements. Then, practice it over and over and over.

Also, it helps to see if your rifle works. If it doesn’t, get it fixed.