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4 Coaching

Coaching is the process of actively observing a shooter during the firing process to look for shooting errors that the firer themselves may not consciously know they are making. Marksmanship requires the consistent and proper application of the elements of employment. It is about doing the right thing, the same way, every shot. The small arms trainer is also the validation point for any questions during employment training. In most cases, once group training is completed, it will be the firer’s responsibility to realize and correct his own firing errors but this process can be made easier through the use of a coach.

There are Experienced coaches and Peer coaches. Although each should execute coaching the same way, Experienced coaches have a more thorough understanding of employment, are more personally skilled, and have more knowledge and practice in firing than the shooters they are coaching. Knowledge and skill does not necessarily come with rank or MOS, therefore Experienced coaches must demonstrate a heightened level of ability and this almost always requires successfully shooting something more stringent than routine qualification along with a formal instructor background. Personnel serving as experienced coaches should be carefully selected for their demonstrated firing ability as many inexperienced personnel will proclaim ability and expertise they don’t possess. Just as important is proven personal skill is the ability to convey information to firers of varying experience levels.

Experienced coaches are short supply throughout the Army as most personnel have never proven their skill beyond completing qualification. Even “expert” qualification results often fail to demonstrate genuine expertise. This lack of experienced coaches usually leads to one experienced coach watching multiple firers dependent upon the table or period of employment being fired. It often helps the experienced coach to make notes of errors they observe in shooters and discuss them after firing that group. It is often difficult for the coach to remember the errors that they observe in each and every firer.

Peer coaching, although generally not as effective as using an experienced coach, is still a very useful technique. Peer coaches are Soldiers coaching each other. Observing others and having others observe them increases the experience level of everyone. Initial attempts at helping another shooter will likely result in bad advice, such as things repeated from Basic training and other introductory experience, but trying to talk another shooter through the process while observing the results creates a feedback loop. This also helps bring observations to an experience coach. The act of coaching and observing others may help learn from mistakes and learn what works. Many people grasp instruction more deeply when they are coaching others than when they are simply told to do something. Most Soldiers will be limited by their level of training, which is limited to elementary introduction as found in basic training.

However, except for aiming, the peer coach can observe most of the important aspects of the elements of employment. To determine the unobservable errors of shooting, the coach and the firer must have an open dialog and there must be a relaxed environment for learning. The firer cannot be hesitant to ask questions of the coach and the coach must not become a stressor during firing.

Coaching Positions

The coach must have the ability to safely move around the firer to properly observe. There is no one ideal coaching position. The following will demonstrate the elements of shooting and how best to observe them as a coach.

For Stabilize, the coach observes how stable the shooter is by moving to different sides of the shooter. To observe the shooter’s non-firing elbow (to ensure it makes contact with the ground), the coach will need to be on the shooter’s non-firing side. To observe the cant of the weapon (the sights on the weapon should be pointing towards 12 o’clock position, not 11 or 1 o’clock positions), the coach will need to watch the relationship of the front sight to the barrel from behind the shooter. The coach should look for all the other aspects of good positions as outlined in chapter 6 of this publication. The coach should also observe the total amount of weapon movement on recoil. A good stable position will have minimal movement under recoil.

For Aiming, determine the aspects of the firer’s aiming (sight picture, sight alignment, point of focus) with a dialogue between the firer and the coach. Often, a shooter will not realize his aiming errors until he discovers them on his own. The only method a coach has to observe aiming errors is to use of an M16 sighting device but this device can only be used on rifles with carrying handle sights. Without the use of a sighting device, the coach must rely on drawings, discussions, or the use of an aiming card to determine where the firer is aiming on the target, his focus point during firing (which should be the front sight), and where his front sight was at the moment of firing in relation to the rear sight aperture and the point of aim on the target. The technique of having the firer call his shots should also be used. This technique involves calling the point on the target where the sights were located at the moment of firing and matching the point called with the impact locations on the target. Calling the shot helps the firer learn to focus on the front sight during the entire firing process. When optics are being used, the shooter can tell the coach where he was holding. This is of particular importance with the RCO. Coaches must insure the 300m aim point is used when zeroing at 25-m.

For Control, the ideal position to observe trigger control is from the non-firing side because the coach will have a better view of the speed of pull, finger position on the trigger, and release or pressure on the trigger after firing. The coach can look from behind the shooter to observe the barrel for lateral movement caused by slapping the trigger during firing.

Coaching Factors

All firing happens at the weapon. This means that the coach should be focused solely on the shooter during firing and not on what is happening down range. Do NOT look downrange.

There is no way for a coach to observe only the bullets impact on target and know what errors the firer made. The coach must watch the shooter during firing to determine errors and use the impacts to confirm their assumptions.

For a coach to properly observe all aspects of firing they must be able to observe the shooter, safely, from both sides and the back. There is no prescribed coaching position.

Coaching requires a relaxed atmosphere with open communication between the firer and the coach.

Finally, shooting errors are almost never caused by breathing, especially during zeroing and other slow fire shooting. Only an unskilled shooter and a poor coach insists this is a likely problem. Those proclaiming to “watch your breathing” should be excused from coaching as unskilled and assigned a detail away from the firing line so as to not contaminate the shooters with their faulty, unskilled assessments.

Shot Group Analysis

Shot group analysis involves the firer correlating the shots on paper with the mental image of how the shots looked when fired. An accurate analysis of the shot group cannot be made by merely looking at the holes in the paper. It is more important to observe the firer while they’re shooting than to try and analyze the target. All firing takes place at the weapon. The holes in the paper are only an indicator of where the barrel was pointed when the rifle was fired. When coaches are analyzing groups, they must question the firer about the group to make a determination of what caused the placement of the shots.

Observing the shooter must be accomplished before analyzing the target can become effective. Bullets strung vertically almost is never due to a breathing issue, nor do bullets strung horizontally absolutely indicate a trigger squeeze problem. Coaches must learn to identify shooter errors during firing and use the bullet’s impacts on target to confirm their observations.

There are often several firing errors that can be the cause of certain misplaced shots. The key to good coaching is becoming a shooting DETECTIVE. The coach needs to observe the shooter, question the shooter, look at the evidence down range, question the shooter again, make assumptions based upon the evidence available, and then act upon the evidence. Coach and shooter must have a free and open dialog with each other in a relaxed atmosphere.

If a Soldier learns to shoot poorly they will only be capable of shooting poorly.


Equal Opportunities

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Marksmanship programs have been the longest-serving and most equal opportunity compliant readiness resource in history.

Equal Opportunity programs are intended to direct and sustain a comprehensive effort to maximize human potential and to ensure fair treatment for all persons based solely on merit, fitness, and capability in support of readiness. The goals of the EO program are to provide equal opportunities and fair treatment for personnel without regard to race, color, gender, religion, national origin, and provide an environment free of unlawful discrimination.

The Army has long been a proponent of Equal Opportunity programs, often as an early adopter that is used as a model for other government agencies and businesses. No other readiness component in the Army has been offering equal opportunities for Soldiers longer than the marksmanship programs. Shooting programs removed barriers to race and gender decades before it was mainstream and long before the Army officially enacted a formal Equal Opportunity policy.

Cpt. Margaret Thompson Murdock was the first woman to win a medal in Shooting at the Summer Olympics and the first to win an individual open World Shooting Championship. In international competition, Murdock set four individual world records and nine team world records. She is a member of five halls of fame, including the USA Shooting Hall of Fame and the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame.

Cpt. Murdock started competing while attending college in Kansas. “My first year at K-State, I couldn’t shoot on the team because I was a female,” she says. “I could practice with the K-State team but I couldn’t be on the team. They got a new coach and he thought it would be a good idea for me to be on the team since I was shooting better than everyone else.”

As the US International Rifle Team captain, Cpt. Lanny Bassham entered the 1976 Olympics as the reigning World Champion and had took silver in the 1972 Olympics. At the ’76 Olympics Murdock tied for first place with Bassham. Bassham requested a shoot-off, even though this wasn’t allowed by current rules. Instead, judges were forced to break the tie of the 1200 point match. Murdock appealed for a second review of her targets. The two Americans sat together and waited. Bassham noted while the judges re-tallied scores, “I looked at her and said, ‘If this comes out a tie, it will be totally arbitrary that I beat you.’ ”

Both marksmen had experience with the rule. Because of it, Bassham had lost the 1974 world air-rifle championship, and Murdock had won her place on the Olympic team, after tying with John Writer in the Trials. “It has nothing to do with skill,” she said. “It’s just to save the officials the bother of a shoot-off.” Thus when the review Murdock had requested failed to break the tie, she and Bassham asked the International Olympic Committee whether two gold medals could be given but was denied. “I can’t be upset at any individual.” Bassham said. “Everything was done by the book. There was no discrimination against Margaret because she was a woman. Not here. If anyone is at fault it is me for not trying to change the tie-breaking rule in 1974.”

During the national anthem, Bassham pulled Murdock up to stand with him on the gold medal spot at the podium to share the victory platform with him as the flag was raised and the anthem played and the two stood together. “I wanted to show that I felt her performance had equaled mine,” said Bassham. “It was not an act of defiance but a personal thing. There was no way she deserved to stand lower while the national anthem was played.”

In 2010, Army marksman Sherri Jo Gallagher was the second woman in history to be crowned the U.S. National High Power Champion, posting a record-breaking score of 2396-161x out of 2400 that still stands as the highest score ever posted at this event. She took eight of the twelve match trophies that make up the annual national championship and bested the previous record of 2389-138x set by High Power legend David Tubb in 2003. In addition, she also won the 2003 ICFRA Worlds long range match at Bisley.

Sergeant Gallagher comes from a family of shooters and has had a rifle in her hands since she was young. Her mother, Nancy Tompkins-Gallagher, is a previous High Power Rifle champion, the first woman to do so, winning the national championship in 1998. Nancy also won the famed Wimbledon Cup in 1993. Sister Michelle Gallagher has won the Wimbledon Cup five times, her first time at age 16, as well as the overall Long Range Championship. By comparison, famed Marine sniper Carlos Hathcock “only” won the Cup once.

Preparing for Camp Perry and other matches falls in line well with what all members of the Army Marksmanship Programs do. “We spend most of our time in the off season training up soldiers,” Sgt. Gallagher said.

Equal opportunity polices demand treating all personnel and others without discrimination, especially on the basis of their sex, race, or age. In addition to being a critical skill for Soldier readiness, marksmanship programs have been creating equal opportunities decades before EO programs were formalized.

New Zeroing Procedures

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3 zero new process

The Army’s previous training doctrine attempted a simplified approach to zeroing that tried to be successful without having to explain concepts that are important to marksmanship, gunnery, and a basic understanding of ballistics. As explained in FC 23-11 Unit Rifle Marksmanship Training Guide doctrine developed through World War 2 and used through the Viet Nam era started with a 1,000-inch range. Up through the end of the 1970s, the Army used bullseye-type targets intended to maximize consistent sight picture. The last of those was the so-called Canadian bull.

This target was in use when the M14 and M16 were both in service. Set at 25 meters (1,000 inches) the grid has squares at two minutes in size. The aim point is fairly obvious at 6 o’clock and centered at the white square, making for a consistent mark, especially with iron sights. Doctrine then was to establish a 250 meter zero, which requires two different points of impact for the M14 compared to the M16. Note the two Xs. The top X above the mark is the intended impact for the M14 and the bottom X below is for the M16.

The target doesn’t explain any of this. While it’s a great mark and grid for knowledgeable shooters, this does not describe most Soldiers and the Army found most personnel didn’t understand how to use this.

There are two ways to fix such a deficiency: The first is to teach everyone in the Army units of angular measurement and basic ballistics to insure understanding among personnel down to the unit level. The second approach is to develop a method that eliminates the need to know or understand any of this. The Army chose the second option.

A silhouette was chosen over a more refined aiming mark because it mimics the targets used in qualification and the field, not because it’s ideal for zeroing. The M16A1 rear sight had two apertures: The normal height one intended for a 250 meter zero and a second, taller aperture marked with an “L” setting for longer range shots past 300 meters. With an M16A1, a 250 meter zero intersects initially at 42 meters. The taller “L” aperture is about three minutes higher and an initial intersection of 25 meters yields a 375 meter zero. This allowed personnel to shoot point of aim for point of impact at 25 meters on a scaled silhouette that appears like a full-size silhouette at 250 meters. Using the “L” aperture at 25 meters and then flipping back yields a 250 meter zero. While the M16A1 sights were in one-minute increments, no attempt was made to teach that. In fact, the zero target has drawings and arrows directing what and how to spin the sights as needed. No understanding of the why or how was deemed necessary.

This worked fine, until the M16A2 was released. While useful for marksmanship, the A2 sight design is lost on novice shooters. Worse, it ruins that one square=one click simplicity with the A1. Rather than explain these facts, the target was redesigned to take this into account and the provision to go up one click on the rear sight for 25-meter zeroing was made. While not a perfect solution, it was deemed close enough given the novice skill levels of most Soldiers to manage to pass routine, basic qualification.

Simplicity was retained for a while, until the M16A4 and M4 was adopted. The removable rear sight is in half minute increments instead of full minute clicks. Unless mounted on an M4, with its shorter sight radius which moves the point of impact further with each click. Again, no attempt was made to explain any of this to rank-and-file Soldiers. This complicated things a bit but a dual-sided zero target with different size grid squares tried to retain the original simplicity without the need to educate Soldiers about why.

This was fine… up until technology ruined everything.

As the Army trudged into the 21st Century, a host of new aiming devices, lasers, optics, and mounting systems became available. Equipment intended to help Soldiers become more effective destroyed the no-explanation approach used for zeroing as each unique combination of weapon, device, and mounting demanded a unique offset.

In response, the Army released the Small Arms Integration Book. Consisting of 448 pages of instructions and charts, the SAIB provided zeroing and offset data for all the then-current options. The problem was the Army had spent the past two decades trying to eliminate the need to understand units of angular measurement and basic ballistics to the point – for simplicity’s sake – that it was found necessary to publish the Small Arms Integration Book. When your organization is forced to publish a 448-page book of instructions and charts in order to retain “simplicity” then it is long past time to consider you’ve lost the plot.

New Zero Procedure

Rather than hide from it, the current approach to zeroing is to start by explaining how and why it works. With better understanding comes better capability and the knowledge to adapt when things change. Think of this as a validation of your GT score.

Zeroing a weapon is not a training exercise, nor is it a combat skills event. Zeroing is a maintenance procedure that is accomplished to place the weapon in operation, based on the Soldier’s skill, capabilities, tactical scenario, aiming device, and ammunition. Its purpose is to achieve the desired relationship between the line of sight and the trajectory of the round at a known distance. The zeroing process ensures the Soldier, weapon, aiming device, and ammunition are performing as expected at a specific range to target with the least amount of induced errors.

For Soldiers to achieve a high level of accuracy and precision, it is critical they zero their aiming device to their weapon correctly. The Soldier must first achieve a consistent grouping of a series of shots, at least three but ideally five. This is a Shot Process and Functional Elements exercise. When the groups look good, the shooter aligns the mean point of impact of that grouping to the appropriate point of aim. Depending on the equipment and distance used, the point of impact may be in a different place than the point of aim. Consult the appropriate Technical Manual to learn what this is.

Angular Deviation

For adjustment, we must understand angular deviation. Imagine the shooter is inside the middle a very large circle with the target on the circle’s edge. Any movement or adjustment is an angle from circle center to circle edge where the target is. The range to the target is the circle’s radius. Every movement or sight adjustment is a set angle and the size of the circle determines how much that adjustment moves at the target. With the target half as far away, the same size angle or sight adjustment moves half as far.

Anyone that ever used a compass during Land Navigation understands degrees and that there are 360 degrees in a circle. There are always 360 degrees in a circle, no matter how big the circle.

Degrees are far too large for marksmanship and gunnery. A target at 100 yards puts us inside a circle with a 100 yard radius. One degree of angle moves more than five feet at that distance. Just as we can measure length in inches, meters, or miles, we can also measure angles in different increments. Dividing one degree of angle into 60 equal parts gives us sixty minutes of angle, just like having 60 minutes in one hour. This makes for an angular measure that moves about one inch with a target at 100 yards or so and close enough when measuring in meters.

The same idea works with mils, short for milliradian. A circle has two pi radians, or just over 6.283 radians. With metric measurement, the mil- pre-fix indicates thousandths. That measures about 6,283.18 mils in a circle. For simplicity, the military often rounds this to 6,400 mils – a so-called artillery mil.

New Zero Target

The new zero target demands understanding of these concepts.

In the center is a 4 MOA diamond and dashed circle, surrounded by a 6 MOA (4cm) dashed circle, same size as old zero target. This is surrounded by 8, 12, MOA rings inside a 16 MOA bull (4-inch black circle, which scales the same as B-6 NRA bull at 50 yards.) Around this are 20, 24, 28, 32 MOA circles (5, 6, 7, 8 inches, respectively.) The entire target has 1 MOA grid squares. Soldiers are expected to learn MOA/mils and use as appropriate.

Notice the grid is in an even adjustment of one minute when placed 25 meters downrange, not for any particular sight’s adjustment. No cartoons or pictures show which way to turn the sight for a desired adjustment. The Army’s current doctrine for zeroing procedure demands Soldier understanding of their issue equipment. The Technical Manuals list appropriate offsets as needed. Of course, because the laws of physics haven’t changed, the data in the Small Arms Integration Book is still a valid resource. That will take research on your part.

For lasers, it’s likely ideal to establish a fixed offset instead of a crossing point of aim/point of impact zero. The offset method zeroes the windage setting of the laser to remain constantly parallel to the line of bore at all ranges.

Zero Confirmation

The most important step in the zeroing process is confirmation at full distance. If we’re supposed to establish a 300 meter zero then confirmation is needed at 300 meters. The 25-meter exercise is a “nearo” that does not guarantee a center hit at distance. The only way to rely on a 300-m hit is to confirm a 300-m zero.

Confirmation can be done on any range where shooters can see the impacts of their rounds. Groups should be fired and aiming devices should be adjusted. At a minimum, the confirmation should be done at 300 meters or similarly-appropriate zero distance. If rounds are available, groups can be fired at various ranges to show the firers where their impact will be.

When confirming zero at ranges past 100 meters, the effects of the wind needs to be considered and acted upon, if necessary. If a zero is confirmed at 300 meters on a windy day, and then the weapon is fired at a later date in different wind conditions or no wind at all, the impact will change.