Improving Rifle Qualification: Part 1 Zero

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BLUF: Army 25-meter zero ranges are often inefficient. Stop shutting the range down after every 3-5 round group and use an optic to observe shots instead.

Cheap mini-binoculars with 8-12X magnification ($10-$15 each) from the PX, any department store, or online retailer can easily see a bullet hole at 25 meters. Army issue M22 or M24 binoculars are even better and have a mil reticle. Run your zero range like a KD/LOMAH range to save massive amounts of time!

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6 improve zero range

The US Army has utilized the current version of Trainfire since the early 1980s. Even with changes in the new Training Circulars released FY16-17, the basic ideas remain the same. The concept is to teach a Soldier to reliably place hits somewhere on a silhouette a few hundred meters away. The current program concept is sound but the execution is often lacking.

First, let’s look at the prescribed training and qualification program. Soldiers begin with a grouping exercise at 25 meters. Shot location doesn’t matter at first as we’re testing marksmanship ability. The standard was two consecutive groups inside four centimeters (6 Minutes of Angle), the scaled width of a full-size silhouette 300 meters away. The current suggested standard is a single five-round group of 4 MoA in the new bullseye-type zero target. Up to 27 rounds were supposed to be available, allowing for remedial training and practice as needed.

With this accomplished, the Soldier zeroes by adjusting sights to move groups to center, firing groups to confirm and readjust as needed. On the old zero target, a four-centimeter circle subscribed in the silhouette indicates center and at least five rounds out of six from two consecutive groups must land there to be deemed acceptably zeroed. The current zero target has a 4 MoA/2.7cm circle surrounded by a 6 MoA/4cm circle with a one-inch white diamond to indicate center. Eighteen additional rounds were supposed to be available for this.

After success here the Soldier heads to a RETS (Remote Engagement Target System) to shoot “pop up” targets from 50 to 300 meters away that appear singly or in pairs on a time limit. A hit anywhere is supposed to knock it down and earns a point. With 40 total targets exposed the Soldier needs to hit at least 23 to qualify. The current qualification (Modified Barricade) course uses the same range by adds a barricad to shoot around and over in prone, kneeling, and supported standing positions with a timed delay in between each shooting phase.

This is a logical progression but it falls apart in practice. Too often, Soldiers view the preliminary training at 25 meters as something to get through quickly. The 25 meter range is often terribly inefficient. Problem is, the scaled range is the only place Soldiers get any feedback on their shooting. RETS targets are very reliable when properly maintained but may not always be perfectly so. Of course, most times a “bad target” is blamed for misses when a poor zero or bad shooting is the likely cause. Sometimes, a shooter with good slow fire group shooting ability and a solid zero has lackluster qual results due to an initial inability to work at speed; more so now that the entire current Modified Barricade qualification is shot as continuous phases. Even if RETS targets were guaranteed 100% every time we still can’t see where a miss went, much less why, and it costs 40 rounds to realize problems.

It is rare to find units willing to allocate the full amount of ammo authorized on the 25 meter range. Most understand the notion of getting shots inside the circle but undervalue the benefit from confirming a zero or shooting groups in general. This is the only place a Soldier can practice during live fire but grouping and zero is deemed complete when the designated rounds have been expended. If the first target is shredded to ineligibility range personnel will stubbornly refuse a new one. They’ll also refuse an additional three rounds to confirm zero. Even if offered a fresh target and additional ammo Soldiers often refuse it, possibly because they fear what they’ll learn.

Inexperienced personnel running the tower play an annoying game I call “Army Simon Says” except they overuse the phrase “at this time” instead. Even more absurd than the ridiculous amount of lock step commands under the false guise of safety is the incredible amount of time this wastes. Shooters are rushed through their 3-5 shots, instructors (if there even are any) have no time to converse with someone struggling and the line drags in Hokey Pokey fashion down and up range. An experienced coach may want an extra minute to explain something with the target in front of a struggling shooter but this holds the line up for everyone else. No wonder troops want to stumble off to the qual range with a “nearo” and get the ordeal over.

Qualification is a validation, not training. It would be folly to administer a standardized physical fitness test every day in an attempt to improve scores instead of intelligent, progressive overload and is is equally silly to repeat a qualification without remedial training. Increases in skill are only realized when shooters are in a learning environment offering feedback.

How can we improve these procedures to implement better training? The common “solution” is a call for more trigger time. Simply shooting more without having a plan combined with feedback of the effort accomplishes little. Experienced riflemen typically call for training on Known Distance ranges with target carriers and pits as a solution. While an excellent idea, solving the feedback problem and allowing shooting at full distance, the Army has let many of their KD ranges to dilapidate and most units simply don’t know how to conduct such a range.

The emphasis needs to be put back on training, teaching, testing and re-testing fundamentals. Sadly, the Army realized this but has spent the last three decades forgetting lessons already learned. The current program was implemented by 1982 as detailed in FC 23-11, Unit Rifle Marksmanship Training Guide. Trainfire improvements fixed failures known in the Vietnam era. Grouping exercises are to be conducted until the Soldier is proven to shoot well with remedial training offered as needed. Then we zero, which is a separate exercise with an additional ammo allocation. Following this we’re supposed to conduct a validation exercise with a timed and scored exercise. Only when passed is the Soldier finally sent to the RETS range to attempt qualification. In the last thirty years, the Army has eliminated (or ignored) the KD range and all established field firing/validation phases. Soldiers typically are quickly shuffled through an abbreviated group and zero exercise and sent off to the RETS range for qual as quickly as possible. We are devolved back to a failed program from the 1970s.

Fixing Qualification
New Zero Target

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.

Fixing Qualification
Efficient Zero Procedure

The failed Army approach is to clear the line for a cease fire after each fired group, with shooters allowed to go down range to check their target. This wastes huge amounts of time. Even the fastest attempts has the line cold for five minutes at a time and most ranges it’s over ten minutes. Shutting down the range for 5-15 minutes after each 60-90 second shooting period is a waste of time. Worse, coaches only have a brief window to work with shooters as nobody can handle weapons during the long, frequent cease fire breaks.

The fix: Break the unit down into buddy teams and put two shooters on each available firing point. Keep the total relays as small as the range will allow. Staple up as many zero targets as will fit on the backers. The more the better. Number them so they can be readily identified. Explain to all shooters that both they and their partner must successfully group, zero, and pass a scored validation exercise before going to the RETS for qualification. This motivates good peer coaching.

The range is conducted in 10-20 minute block times. The line is cleared and personnel go down range only to replace used targets as needed, preferably no more than four times an hour. Shot groups as normal, with peer coaches watching their shooters. Check the target as needed with optics. At 25 meters even cheap compact binoculars can see strikes. A quarter-inch bullet hole is one minute of angle at this distance and can often be seen with naked vision. Using an optic to do the walking instead of stopping the line every 3-5 rounds makes this range efficient. Peer teams can talk as needed or ask for an experienced coach without disrupting anyone else. Practice and dry fire, or letting the peer coach and shooter switch can be done without stopping the line.

When a target has too many holes to discern group location (after every three or four groups or so) the shooter switches to a clean one. Purchased in bulk, paper targets are pennies each. One round of ball ammunition is around $0.27. Trying to conserve targets is false economy!

When the shooter is confident their zero is good, it should be confirmed on a fresh target with no bullet holes. Zero should be also be confirmed with slow and sustained fire groups from unsupported prone, kneeling, and any other useful position based on time and ammunition availability.

This approach improves training while ultimately saving time and ammunition.

Dry Practice and Drills

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5 dry practice and drills

In the 2016 Rio Olympics, Vietnam won their first-ever gold medal in ten-meter air pistol with Hoang Xuan Vihn’s victory. He was at a severe disadvantage compared to most of the other competitors because he was very limited in the amount of ammunition available to him prior to the Olympics.

Hoang incorporated a regimen of dry-fire, practicing thousands of repetitions of his shot process, and practiced honest self-assessment of what he was doing. These things are what allowed him to compete at the highest level and win. Dry fire drills work for an Olympic-level competitive shooter. They are more than good enough to work for Soldiers.

Dry fire drills are built around the following Principles: Mindset, Efficiency, Individual Tactics, and Flexibility.

Mindset is the Soldier’s ability to perform the functional tasks of operating the weapon under stress. Mindset is what will make or break your focus on your environment. Efficiency in reference to these drills is being able to use the minimal amount of time and resources to achieve the desired outcome. In other words, producing repeatable results in minimum time. Individual Tactics are done to maximize chances of survival and victory. Examples include choice of cover and standoff from the threat. Flexibility is realizing multiple techniques can be used to achieve the same goal.

The Drills

A dry practice plan is covered in current Army Training Circulars for small arms training. Appendix Delta covers these dry-fire drills.

Having covered principles, what drills should we use? While skilled shooters already have and regularly use useful dry practice drills (that’s how they became skilled) most Soldiers do not. Appendix D of all current small arms Training Circulars lists eleven recommended drills to get started. The A through K Drills are common to all small arms, modified as appropriate for each particular weapon and its intended role and application.

Drills Alpha through Charlie are the basic functional tasks that it takes to operate a weapon. These reinforce that the Soldier is the weapon’s safety.

Drill A the Weapon Check, an accountability check and visual inspection that it’s clear, conducting a functions check, location of the rail, data and zero dope, magazines, and noting all serial numbers. The weapon check is a visual inspection of the weapon by the Soldier, verifying at a minimum that the weapon is clear, serial numbers (weapon and devices) and attachments, Functions Check, and serviceability. This is initiated when first receiving the weapon from the arms room, storage facility, or stacked/grounded location.

Drill B is place weapon in action. With rifles and automatic rifles, this is Sling/Unsling, pistols is Draw/Holster, and crew-served machine guns it is the crew drill of mounting and emplacement. This tests the ability to change the location of the weapon on demand.

Drill C is an equipment check, a pre-combat check that the system is ready for action. This Pre-Combat Check ensures the aiming devices, equipment, and accessories are prepared. This includes any batteries are installed, that everything is secured correctly, that equipment does not interfere with tactical movement, and the basic load of magazines are stowed properly.

This builds in some redundancy from Drill A to ensure everything is ready to go. Note, this requires organizing and repurposing the issue Pogie Bait pouches and MRE holsters, otherwise known as “magazine pouches.” This provides a place to carry those spring-loaded bullet boxes, otherwise known as “magazines.”

Drills D and E are the basic functional tasks for handling the weapon in a combat environment.

Drill D is an ‘administrative’ load, done after Drill C as the weapon is placed into Amber or Red status.

Drill E is the Carry 5/3 which goes through five methods of carry three times. Five carry methods include Hang, Safe hang, Collapsed low ready, Low ready, High ready or Ready up). Moving through these as appropriate for your weapon at least three times show proficiency at basic handling skills.

A leader will announce the appropriate carry term to initiate the drill. Each carry method should be executed in a random order a minimum of three times.

The next drills cover moving into and out of useful positions.

Drill F is Fight Down, moving effectively and efficiently downward into lower firing postures. Starting from the standing position, on command the shooter moves into the next lower position as announced. This typically goes from Standing, Kneeling or Squatting, Sitting, then Prone in order. Variations of each position as appropriate to the weapon and conditions are encouraged.

Start standing. “Kneeling” (move and settle). “Sitting” (move and settle). “Prone” (move and settle.)

Drill G is Fight Up and is the same idea but done moving into higher positions.

Drill H is Go-To-Prone, which is ability to drop from a standing or crouching position to prone. This should also be done from a walk and a forward sprint. Standard time is below two seconds. This is time to drop, not to fire a hit if done with live ammunition or simulator.

The focus needs to be on natural point of aim and wobble zone so the position can be shot from accurately. These drills should not be done for time initially, as the Soldier needs to be able to self-assess their positions. Begin by announcing each position and allowing plenty of time to assume it. As shooters improve, increase the tempo of the drill to assume positions faster. This can be incorporated while walking and rushing. Add variations to the call and use irregular intervals.

Drill I is Reload. Executed from load-bearing equipment, working on quickly and reliably reloading from various positions, such as standing, kneeling, and prone. Soldiers must be encouraged to adjust ammunition pouches to facilitate this. There will be variations between personnel. Uniformity should not be considered, only performance. For machine guns, this also includes a barrel change as appropriate.

The first step is to organize the ammunition pouches and magazines so they can be reached from various positions as done in Drill C. To conduct a reload, sweep from center to the next ammunition pouch.

If a reload is needed and there’s no magazine in the pouch, then sweep until the next available magazine in your load-bearing equipment is found. It’s important to set this up so the reload is efficient. Uniformity among Soldiers should not be considered, only performance.

Drill J is Clear Malfunction. The best approach is doing whatever is required to make the weapon functional. This requires understanding the cycle of function and knowing what to do with it. Overly-simple approaches that previously attempted to avoid learning this have been found to be ineffective. Any reference to a game played with a ball is wrong because no single response can address every possible malfunction type.

The problem with an overly-simple, stepped mechanical fix is that no single procedure or approach can fix every possible cause. The better solution is to understand the cycle of function and then do the simplest, fastest thing possible.

The most common malfunction is a failure to fire and the most common symptom is a tell-tale click when a bang is expected. The fastest means to reduce this problem is the best approach here. Let’s say our shooter here has a failure to fire. He attempts to shoot by applying smooth trigger pressure straight to the rear and gets a click. To reduce this stoppage, the fastest thing is likely to ensure the magazine is seated and run the bolt.

Another form of immediate action is to transition to a secondary weapon.

If immediate action fails and no secondary is available, remedial action is likely best served by clearing the weapon to find the problem. Perform an Unload/Show Clear. This also happens to be Drill K.

Drill K is Unload/Show Clear. This is another ‘administrative’ drill, but important. The Soldier needs the instilled habit of making their weapon safe and clear, both to an instructor and for their own situational awareness.

These drills only work if they’re done regularly. It’s recommended that active duty and mobilized personnel should be doing these at least once a week. That won’t be enough for a high level of skill but it will create solid familiarity. Done dry or with a simulator, they cost nothing and can be done right outside of the arms room, or at home with personally-owned firearms. As with the APFT, a 300 is not possible without on-going work. The same goes for weapons mastery.


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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.