State of the American Rifleman

A commenter from the previous post questioned whether America is still a nation of riflemen and if most modern Americans have an aversion to the hard work it takes to become skilled in the use of the rifle. I’ve noticed that what seems to count as marksmanship training these days is to spend money on equipment. I would be interested to know what the ratio is of people with sub-moa rifles to people who can reliably hit a paper plate offhand at 100 yards. It’s a shame to have all that nice gear out there with no one who knows how to use it.

There are probably several societal factors involved in the decline of marksmanship. Marketing dominates over honesty. Actors are elevated over the real people they play. Needs are not understood because wants are so easily fulfilled. Handouts are advertised while hard work is derided. Specialists flourish in the absence of common sense. We have, as a nation, lost our hunger and drive, and lack substance of character. I hear or say on a daily basis that the world is upside down, and I believe that it’s true.

Is it possible that less is better? Was my grandpa any worse off for having just a 30-06? I don’t think he worried too much about brand or style. He was more concerned with taking it in the woods and doing stuff with it. Likewise, our forefathers probably didn’t have the luxury of acquiring a collection. They were too busy working with what they had doing real stuff that needed to be done.

Consider the professionals who use firearms in the course of their day. In fact, consider only the top 1% of those people. Most are issued a standard piece and trained to use it. Is it the specific make or model that makes them so good? I would guess that it’s all the hard work that makes them so good. The piece itself is just a means to an end.

Work is the essence of the acquisition of skill. We are taught from almost the beginning that sugar is pleasant, TV is pleasant, fitting in is pleasant, prizes are pleasant, but work is most decidedly unpleasant (and that old people are stupid and backwards). We all realize on some level that to get good at shooting we will need to work, but I think we put that off while maintaining a holding pattern in “preparation mode”. “How can I get started if I don’t even have the stuff I need to do it with? ” After “stuff” is acquired, we learn that the stuff we have is not good enough. Then we get more and better stuff, and learn that it won’t do for X application. Then new stuff comes out, making the old stuff obsolete. It’s easy to play this game, because so much stuff is available, and honestly, it’s fun to get stuff.

What would you do if you really had to get something done with inadequate resources and your life depended on it? I think that you would find a way to accomplish what you needed to accomplish. We treat our shooting equipment as a plethora of specialized tools, similar to the way we treat information and opinions as worthy only if they are the product of some PhD “expert”.

In the past, a man with common sense was capable of accomplishing all the necessities of life through the application of hard work and common sense. There weren’t a lot of experts, and they didn’t seem to need them. When a person with initiative and common sense meets a new problem, he can generally work his way through it (probably even without Google). When a group of experts get together to solve a problem, they create a blue ribbon panel to discuss it a lot. Then they figure out how to acquire funding to serve their own ends while not solving the problem, and perhaps making it worse.

Working on the fundamentals of marksmanship creates the equivalent of common sense in a shooter. Through this work, the shooter will understand his own strengths and weaknesses. He will learn how to use what he has to full effect, rather than be intimidated that it may not be the best. He will learn to apply the fundamentals in response to unfamiliar situations. He will actually be capable of doing something instead of just impotently possessing things.

I can’t speak as someone who is immune to the problems we face, but hopefully I can take my own advice.  At some point maybe we’ll realize that we’re chasing our tails instead of going after something worthy of pursuit.  Thanks for reading.

27 thoughts on “State of the American Rifleman

  1. I recently took a well-known gun blogger to task for his statement that “today’s modern rifles, gear and ammo makes distance marksmanship a doddle.” To these self-anointed firearms intelligentsia, “marksmanship” is indeed having the right gear (i.e. the gear sold by their sponsors or the manufacturers that give them free test guns and ammo….). Sad.

    A shooter I know recently spent several months using an 80 year old K98 Israeli Mauser in NRA High Power competition, and was able to tease out an “Expert” class score. If he were willing to mount target sights (low-tech apertures) on it, I have no doubt he could shoot a Master score with it. Most of the firearms bloggers can’t even do that with a $6000 rifle.

    I also agree you have hit on a problem in American culture. I call it the loss of “will to self-actualize.” This crosses all socioeconomic classes and races.

    • I have kept up on your blog. I’m blaming you for my desire of an Israeli Mauser. The FN you linked to was beautiful. But since I should probably concentrate on shooting for now, I’ll just hold off.

      That’s inspiring work for a rifle with open sights. That would be impressive even with apertures or a scope.

      Why does anyone need to self-actualize anymore? There are diversions and drugs for that now, right?

  2. I belong to a rifle and pistol club that has some serious shooters for members but unfortunately most who belong just shoot from the bench.

    We are in an urban area outdoors and have baffles to protect for shots leaving the range which may contribute to most members shooting just from the bench with rests. I enjoy reloading and shooting from the bench for accuracy also but try to spend most of my time practicing offhand with 22LR, .223, or .308.

    In just 3 generations our country has changed drastically from half the population living in urban areas to almost complete urbanization.

    Every chance I get I take my 16-year old son out to the East Texas forests to hunt. Hunting is in all of our blood, our ancestors had to hunt to live. It’s instinctual, it is as natural as breathing to us. Unfortunately many of us have lost that part of the human collective. The hunt envigorates life, the hunt stimulates adrenaline, the hunt provides sustanence.

    I look forward to my trips to the range, I go at least once every 2 weeks if not more often. It’s fun, it’s a challenge, and it makes me better prepared for the hunt. Those who go to the range to sit on a bench with a rest do not know what they are missing out on. Offhand practice makes you a much better shooter. Shooting sitting or prone with just a sling as support teaches the shooter self-reliance.

    I am constantly amazed at how many older (55+years) shooters are so much better than younger shooters. The older shooters were mostly trained in the military before 1980 and it shows how the doctrine has changed.

    I have great respect for the American Rifleman, there are just not as many as there used to be. Let us try our best to build those numbers.

    • Hi Ron. I think that to build those numbers, those of us who do work on actually shooting are going to need to make our practice into the norm. If you look at the gun culture today, the gun magazines, the forums, the blogs, everything revolves around trying out new gear. Jack O’Connor, Elmer Keith, Townsend Whelen, and Jeff Cooper are gone. It takes me about 10 minutes from receiving my issue of American Rifleman to throwing it in the garbage. There’s not much there to read. Plenty of ads and plenty of gear reviews though.

      Right now we have a bunch of people out there who don’t know what they don’t know. There’s no perception that they lack any skill at all. What passes for rifle shooting today is rifle shopping, and that’s really as far as most people are willing to go. Maybe it’s too intimidating to even try, because it creates the possibility (likelihood) of failure, and we can’t have that now, can we?

    • We use homosote target backers at my range. I shoot at the centers of the targets, but at the 50 and 75 foot distances I also go for the staples holding the paper in place. I do reasonably well, considering I’m using a bolt-action .22 with Tech sights, firing offhand.
      I don’t own a single scope for my .22 rifles…

  3. Nice post. I think that’s one of the best things I’ve seen you write.

    I especially like this quote: “Consider the professionals who use firearms in the course of their day. In fact, consider only the top 1% of those people. Most are issued a standard piece and trained to use it. Is it the specific make or model that makes them so good? I would guess that it’s all the hard work that makes them so good. The piece itself is just a means to an end.”

    Bingo. Americans are gearheads to the core. You don’t have to instruct very long before you find this out. They always need that next piece of gear, or the more accurate rifle, that will let their true competence show. Not a chance. This makes me think of Rob Leatham, truly one of the best pistol shots in the last 20 years. He can hit with the truly horrid SD as effectively as he can with a classy 1911. The gear indeed has relative importance, but is secondary. It pales compared to the initiative it takes to do something, and to do it as well as it can be done with all of the factors actively in play.

    All of that being said, the state of the American Rifleman is pretty sad. I’ve worked on plenty of rifles and most of their owners cannot shoot up to the quality of their gear. I get more excited about the guy with his lever rifle that can manage 2 – 2.5 MOA than the guy with a sub MOA target grade AR that can’t do much better. Who would you prefer to have as a hunting partner if you really, really needed that venison?

    • I read a story of the early days of the Soviet army. There was a firing line of men with Mosin Nagant revolvers. One of the trainees complained to the supervising officer that his gun was defective, because he wasn’t hitting anywhere near the center of the target.
      Without a word, the officer took the weapon, emptied the spent shells, reloaded, and proceeded to score six bullseyes, proving that it’s the shooter, not the gun at fault.

      • I remember having a trainee in Fort Sill, OK, having trouble putting a group together on paper. I think he read or was told that the M16 wasn’t a good rifle for accuracy, needed lots of bullets.

        So, I got a magazine of three rounds and put them on target, in a group that could be covered by a dime… he quit complaining about the rifle and started working on his steady hold factors and such.

  4. Lot of Fiber in what you said and it needs to be chewed and digested,should be made into a range handout pamphlet

  5. As Pete said, “Appleseed!” In fact RWVA may soon be the only outfit left if there is any truth to this.

    So if CMP goes away what happens? Will we be left with a bunch of overly macho knuckleheads who buy expensive rifles and obtain no skills. Is “Barbie for men” what it is all about? Is the rifle no longer a tool of the citizen and patriot? Say it ain’t so Joe. If it gets to the point that rifles are thought of as fashion accesories I’m giving it up.

    • At some point people with rifles (as opposed to ‘riflemen’) should be exposed to some simple informal drills that test or build skill, as a fun game between friends. The rifle bounce, or some such similar, that tests away-from-the-bench position shooting. If you can throw in range estimation and wind reading so much the better. Shoot for bragging rights or whatever. Ease them in without them really knowing what you’re getting them into, at first. There are ways.

  6. Excellent article! I have to admit that I am guilty to the fact that I love the modern sporting guns- ARs, AKs, but can not do well at the range. I have my excuses. Part of which is that I wanted to spend what little money I have on getting the collection built before they may be taken off the shelf, because of current political climates, over money for the needed ammo. Another is that I am a grad student and work full time while raising a family. Time has not been abundant the last few years and will continue to be tight at least until I graduate next year. So those trips to the range are few and far between. But I have just about all gear I need and have been realizing that I need to pay my dues and put in the work. Thank you for the motivational article. Keep up the good work, keep schooling us, and don’t give up on us gear heads.

    • Don’t feel too bad. I can’t claim to be free of the desire to collect stuff either. I think there is a point at which a person needs to pick something and get really good with it. It’s good to have quality stuff, but it’s better to be able to really understand the difference between the quality and the crap, to know what features are necessary and which ones are gimmicks, and to make choices in gear based on experience rather than trying to have the tail wag the dog.

      A lousy shooter won’t benefit from a quality system, but a great shooter can make do with something very rudimentary, as evidenced by Jewish Marksman’s comment.

      • As Jeff Cooper wrote, “With a rusty old Mauser, a man knows he has to hold and squeeze.”
        Even if it’s not rusty.

      • I think age and the sudden realization that THE END is going to peel your cold dead fingers from the rifle – will give you freedom to choose which was best, you like the most, and can do your best with.

        Kind of like romance, you know what it is really and the hormonal urges don’t hold trumps.

        Only five rifles of only two calibers, and four pistols of two calibers – and since 22LR fits both categories only three types of general ammunition. Now to get really good with those firearms and their feed.

  7. When a group of experts get together to solve a problem, they *land on the moon*.

    Your rifle was designed by an engineer, not someone with “common sense”. The machinery to make it was designed using science and math, not gumption. The bullets it fires were made by robots, not old-timey work ethic.

    This kind of folksy disregard for the *work* that people put into becoming experts makes your argument weaker, not stronger.

    • I had in mind the kind of “experts” that show up on TV with a liberal agenda that people accept because of the letters behind their name, or the political class who feel the need to micromanage other peoples’ lives. I will have to concede that I did not consider all the possibilities of interpretation of the word before putting this out. I was not thinking of NASA or the people that designed my Model 70.

  8. I cannot agree more with your sentiments. Indeed, it’s sometimes not easy to separate acquiring “stuff” from the rest of our marksmanship pursuits. Unfortunately, we have allowed many of those around us (the barbies for men camp) to equate hoarding stuff to being a competent shooter, let alone a rifleman. It’s become acceptable to simply BUY a rifle, rather than OWN a rifle (with real skill to use it). The belief that you cannot effectively shoot without X scope or Y “latest greatest” gadget/enhancement is absurd. Of course, they fall in line with, and advocate for, whatever the marketing people say is “cool”. As, apparently, being rifleman is not.

    It’s an individual pursuit, that takes much time, effort, and dedication. In a world of quick fixes, cheap replacements and instant gratification; that’s a hard sell.

    Happily, there are at least a few of us who still believe in the importance of the rifleman, and the pursuit of one’s own desire to become one. The author of this blog, and the series of well worded responses, illustrate that. It remains our duty to help bring the gear heads, barbie-men, and other would-be rifle fashionistas into the fold, and help guide them to the desire to learn how to be rifleman. We cannot teach them, though we can help them, but they must want it for themselves.

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