Shooting and the Fragile Ego

by Hubert Townsend

We had finished our fundamentals of marksmanship lecture/demonstrations and were preparing to move from the bleachers to the firing line to group and zero the soldiers’ M16 rifles.

A young female soldier took me aside privately and told me that she had a history of trouble with qualifying and that she thought that she was flinching and could we help her. She was assured that we would be right next to her before the first shot and nip her problem in the bud.

Flinching is the bane of the marksman. The human nervous system doesn’t like loud noises, especially in front of its face and even more so if it is unexpected. So, we avoid that minor psychological shock that this startle reflex gives us by jerking the trigger just about when we feel it is going to give way and fire the firearm. Unfortunately, this minor twitch will move the rifle enough to disturb the aim before the bullet can even leave the barrel. There are many methods and mental tricks to help overcome this disgusting subconscious action, one of which is followthrough, holding the trigger back to the rear for a moment, then releasing it slowly and feeling the trigger mechanism pushing ones finger forward without bouncing off of it.

Since confirmed flinchers have never done this, I put her into a rock solid prone position, ensured she was aiming properly on the target and then asked her “Has shooting this rifle ever hurt you?” “No” Okay then. You are going to close your eyes and keep em closed. Relax your finger on the trigger and I will fire it with mine on top of yours and show you exactly what this should feel and sound like.” And I did that three times.

Wow, what results! All three holes were right in the middle of the target, grouping about three cm from 25 meters distance.

“Lord almighty, look what you did shooting blind. I don’t think you need me any more” and I left to work with some males up the line that had unacceptable shot groups, none of whom had brought this to our attention.

This female soldier’s willingness to acknowledge failure and to seek help got me to thinking. After assisting in training over 30,000 troops with small arms, I can only remember two males ever voluntarily taking the same “help me” attitude. And both of these were mature, over 50 years old types.

Male soldiers never come up to us to request assistance or advice, but their presence soon becomes obvious when those who have met the standards are off the range and these “no gos” are still shooting.

For some reason, a male’s ego gets intimately associated with his shooting prowess or lack thereof and he’ll find all kinds of excuses or avoidance mechanisms for his poor performance instead of coming out of denial and seeking good advice.

I have witnessed this situation over and over and it has led to the following thoughts (being a political kind of guy); What would happen to our society if next election the great Shooter-In-The-Sky decreed that only women (excluding Hillary) can hold political office? Would the ladies’ innate spirit of cooperation, seeking help, establishing consensus and conflict avoidance give us a better government?

A state legislator wrote that, “It’s all about the power, baby.” Perhaps this attitude would give way to a more productive working together for the common good without regard for petty fiefdoms. Or as Governor Freudenthal put it at a candidate’s meeting-“It doesn’t matter who gets the credit as long as it gets done.” Wait a minute. He’s a guy. Perhaps there is hope after all.

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