How to Become a Good Shot

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“Marksmanship – the practice of putting a projectile, on a target, within a given group size, at a given range… consistently.”

When putting a projectile on an intended target, there are a few considerations to be taken into account:

  • The rifle.
  • The ammunition.
  • The sights or scope.
  • The shooter.

While “All Of The Above” are a factor, the most important factor is the shooter.

In the past, a truly accurate rifle would cost thousands of dollars from the manufacturer, or require a custom build by a gunsmith. As of the past decade or so, accurate MOA or even sub-MOA rifles have come down in cost – even below the thousand dollar price point. I have an FNH Patrol Bolt Rifle I bought back in 2008. It shoots sub-MOA with match ammo if I do my part. The cost was $800.

Match-grade ammunition has become more widely available at lower costs. Although during the Great Ammunition Shortage of 2020-21 (2022??), finding ammunition of any caliber was as rare as hens’ teeth, with the exception of some really obscure calibers, availability has come back in recent months. Quality hand loads are another option.

Scopes still remain expensive, but there are imports at a lower price out there. Some are questionable in quality, while others have been surprisingly good. Removing features you may not use can bring down the price while maintaining quality. 

While I have variable-powered scopes, I do nearly all my shooting at the max power. I have used the illuminated reticule feature once. So, I bought a fixed power 20×42, non-illuminated scope, with a reticule that I liked, for $250. The glass is very good, and it tracks very well (i.e., The Box Test).

That brings us down to the shooter.   

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How do we rate one’s marksmanship?  

According to the late, great Col Jeff Cooper,

  •  “A marksman is one who can make his weapon do what it was designed to do.”
  •  “An expert marksman is one who can hit anything he can see, under appropriate circumstances.“
  •  “A master marksman is one who can shoot up to his rifle.”

Uncle Billy-Bob making a head shot on an 8-point buck at 150yrds, standing off-hand, after having consumed 8 PBRs before he got out into the field at 0-Dark Thirty, is a one-off. 

Granted, if Uncle Billy-Bob can make that shot every time, then he is a good shot.  

I have argued with others in the past, shooting sitting on a concrete bench, rifle in a gun vice, at a target at 100yrds, a 3 round MOA or even smaller group and claiming to be a great marksman is not quite . . . accurate (see what I did there?).

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Regular competition shooting can be a good indicator of a marksman.

Olympic style three position in air rifle or small-bore, NRA High Power Rifle, Precision Rifle Series (centerfire or rimfire), and Civilian Marksman Program to name just a few, are a few of the competitions that true marksmen enter.  

If you do not have access to those kinds of programs, or facilities, how do you measure your rifle? 

Your ammunition? Sights? Yourself?

The 5 For 5 Dime Challenge

What is it?

5, 5 shot strings, all measuring in dime-sized groups using a bolt action rifle, bi-pod, and shooting mat. 

Why 5 For 5?

IMHO the 5 For 5 Dime Challenge measures “All Of The Above.”  

Using a bolt action rifle, from the prone position, the shooter has to get out of the shooting position to run the bolt, then back into the shooting position, practice the fundamentals of Marksmanship (I am not going to address the fundamentals of marksmanship as that would be a small book in itself, but I do recommend this one.) every time to get that dime-sized 5 round group. And do it five times, in 5 different strings. Depending on the rifle, one or more magazine changes may be required. Then the rifle, ammunition, sights, and the shooter are all put to the test.

The 5 For 5 Dime Challenge in different platforms.

You can do the 5 For 5 in something as close as 25yrds with a .177 air rifle. .22 air rifle at 35yrds. 50yrds with a .22LR. 100yrds with a .223/5.56/.308WIN/7.65NATO (for .30cal and above diameters, make it a Quarter), etc.

With some of the more match-grade rifles (be they air, rimfire, or centerfire) those distances can be increased to prove the rifle, ammunition, sights, and shooter’s ability at range. 

Do not limit yourself. Push yourself.

Here is one of my recent 5 For 5 Dime Challenges with a .22 caliber air rifle, 18.13grn JSB pellets, 900fps, at 35 yards:


Note, I got four out of five. The group in the middle, what happened there? I applied all the fundamentals. Just a bad shot?

No. I miss-read the wind.  

That day, the wind was blowing zero to enough to move small tree branches, or 0-15mph, according to the Beaufort Wind Scale. And it was variable, from my right to left, to in my face. Using a ballistic app (Chairgun), a ten mph wind will move the pellet 1.7 inches at that range. A 15mph wind will move it 2.5 inches.

Elevation for a given round, adding clicks, can be printed out and taped to the side of the buttstock. 

The distance can be determined using a Laser Range Finder (LRF). Or with practice, using a range estimation reticule.

Reading a variable wind that changes direction, or knowing when to hold and when to take the shot, takes practice and experience.  

This was shot with a mass-produced .22 Benjamin Armada PCP air rifle for about $500, requiring three magazine changes. There are other rifles out there costing two or even three times as much. Sometimes, it is not the equipment but the shooter who makes the shot.

Then . . . Change! It! Up!

We have to crawl before we walk, walk before we run. The point of using a bolt action rifle, bi-pod, and shooting mat is to establish a baseline of your Marksmanship.  

Then take away the bi-pod. 

Go full-on sling supported prone (Shooting glove, shooting jacket, shooting mat optional). Set up some reactive targets downrange. Take five shots, then exercise 10 well-executed push-ups, and then shoot five rapid fire shots as small as you can get them in 20 seconds.  

If you have the facilities, extend the range even farther.  

The point is how to test yourself (and equipment) to be a better shot. Is this kind of shooting likely in a post-SHTF situation? Maybe in a hunting situation, you need to put meat on the table. But we civilians do not have the DoD logistical supply chain as the military does. 

What ammunition you have on hand is what you have on hand. Every shot will count, making a slow hit all that much more important than a fast miss, as with each shot taken, your rifle becomes that much closer to becoming a club. 

How do you test your equipment? Yourself? 

Let’s hear it in the comments below.

About 1stMarineJarHead

1stMarineJarHead is not only a former Marine, but also a former EMT-B, Wilderness EMT (courtesy of NOLS), and volunteer firefighter.

He currently resides in the great white (i.e. snowy) Northeast with his wife and dogs. He raises chickens, rabbits, goats, occasionally hogs, cows and sometimes ducks. He grows various veggies and has a weird fondness for rutabagas. He enjoys reading, writing, cooking from scratch, making charcuterie, target shooting, and is currently expanding his woodworking skills.

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  • Awesome information 1StMarine, very comprehensive and precise at the same time. Very advanced too, at least for my level (lol). But as you said well, that´s how we improve – by pushing ourselves! Thanks for sharing.

  • valuable tips, thank you! i will practice my air gun more, thought i was good at 35 yards until i saw this – you rock 🙂

  • Lots and lots of drills. There so many of them out there for rifle/pistol/shotgun! Great advice! I know you and I went to the same school of shooting where mastering the fundamentals was hammered into us over and over! Do a series in the basics? I think you should!
    I shoot and practice with what I carry! I don’t have any bolt guns…just my choice. I can still shoot iron sights out to 300…500 is a long distant memory! Well done Sir!

    • InTheBooniesTX,
      Thank you.
      Right you are about running drills.
      I kicked around/have a draft on the basics, but to be honest, Marine MSGT (ret) Jim Owens (link to his book is in the article above) does a better job than I can. I highly recommend his book.

  • Good stuff 1st MJH!

    I want more encouragement like this to defend ourselves from marauders during times of disaster, and such. I wish that former A-team members would start a school for the citizen soldier/minuteman/ 3 percenter to gradually develop not just firearms skills, but also conditioning, tactical, group and communication skills.

    Although there are some growing pains, checkout People’s Rights dot Org founded by Ammon Bundy. Also, I very much admire Reid Heinrichs, a former Marine and teacher who has Utube and Odysee channels.

    Although his autobiography and excellent book on guerrilla warfare are very expensive, read what you can about the greatest guerilla/freedom fighter of all time, the greek hero George Grivas of Cyprus (anti-communist/ anti-colonialist), and understand how it is that even the out-of-shape, poorly trained 3 percenter still makes for a vastly superior fighting force over ANY army that has ever existed.

    For proof: Mao-Tse Tung, Fidel Castro, Viet Cong, Mujahideen, Sandinistas/Contras, Taliban and more.

  • 1st MJH—very well written and true.I enjoy shooting at the club I belong to and try to shoot 2 times a week when the weather cooperates but living in upstate NY sometimes the weather is to cold for an old guy like…thanks for your service…I was a Tin Can Sailor

    • Russ USN,
      I can relate about the weather.
      I am closer to the Canadian border. Come late March I start getting punchy to get out there and print some groups!
      Thank you for your service!

  • 1stMarineJarHead – I had my introduction to firearms in the 1958-63 time frame by an neighbor who was a captain in the local police force (my dad was out of action with several severe injuries). “Uncle Bob” provided weekend and after school activity that would be the envy of any 8+ year old. Going to the range was my favorite. Adjoining City of Chicago PD (and other local LE agencies) were almost always at the range. A discreet word from “Uncle Bob” got me included into their circle too. I learned firearms safety and basic shooting skills quickly. Various weapons from .22LR , .38, .357, .45ACP, 12 gauge pump to name a few including an “M3 Greasegun”. In the 1970s I began to hand load .308 and 12 gauge. First for the economics, later for the consistency. In later years working at Meade, I had the pleasure of working with various US Military organizations, where basketball and range time were the recreational venues of choice. USMC, NAVY SF and ARMY SF helped to hone my skills. Bottom line – EVERYTHING you wrote is spot on.
    When I taught my son “Firearms 101” I taught him to NEVER take anyone’s word that a gun is loaded. His first time on the range with a .22, I told him I would load the gun. “here you go, it is loaded” I said.I had palmed the bullet and handed an empty gun to him. He took careful aim and click. An odd look from him and then “Thanks dad, I just learned something real important”.

    I can’t wait to do that with his 9 YO son. He can’t wait to watch.

    • Marc M,
      That is a awesome story about what you taught your son.
      Thank you for sharing that.

  • I was pretty happy making a cold bore hit, on an 18×24 steel silhouette, with a 308, shot prone with bipod, at 800 yards, five Saturdays in a row. I’m going to try your 5×5 drill. Improvised positions are really good. Practicing with iron sights is very good – especially if you can’t really see them. You have to know your limitations.

  • Excellent info, sir! Would love to have you do an in-depth article on air rifles…the good, the bad, and yes, even the ugly. Thanks for all you do!

  • Definitely a bit more of a challenge than dry fire practice! Could this challenge be done with a pistol?

    • Jayne,
      Have to mull the idea of a similar drill for pistol.
      Someone else may be able to chime in!
      Thank you!

  • Lots of good advice here my friend. And the one piece of advice that goes above all others – PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE.
    Both myself and another ex-mil friend of mine keep on preaching to the young guys we know. You can spend thousands on the best techno-gizmo’s out there, but without trigger time it’s just luck. For any given firearm, I preach that until you’ve put 1000 rounds through it, in differing conditions, you don’t really know what it will do. TRIGGER TIME!

    It’s one place us rural folk have an advantage. Often we use firearms on a daily basis. This time of year is some of the best “training” that we have. Gopher season! Spending an afternoon out in a field with a .22, shooting off-hand, at targets that move, and from 10 yards out to 100, and changing wind conditions will teach you humility really quick. (And I will add a disclaimer here: This is not killing for fun. These vermin not only destroy large swathes of crop, but their holes present a danger to livestock. This is a serious effort undertaken to control the populations)

    Another good outlet for training that I’ve found is local “3 Gun” competitions. The people are generally friendly and helpful – especially for beginners. You get to practice movement, mag changes, distance estimation, muzzle control, etc. all while being timed – which adds an element of stress – much like your push-ups. Will you ever be a top level competitor – probably not, but I go for the fun, the learning, and the chance to be with like-minded people.

    Accurate, bolt-action, long distance shooting is an art form all of its own. As you have me mentioned the shooter is the biggest part of this. I will add, however; that without the right equipment it’s a waste of time and money. The shooter has to know the basics and practice them, but without without equipment that will meet the requirements you will be frustrated in no time. A rifle that will shoot MOA, whether air, rimfire or centerfire should be your minimum. (It doesn’t necessarily need to be expensive – a good Savage rifle will do it). And your ammunition needs to be capable of MOA as well. Optics are always a big thing. Just remember – if you can’t see it, you can’t hit it. (Again these don’t have to be expensive – I use a lot of Vortex because of the price point, the features, and the lifetime guarantee). DISCLAIMER: these are just my personal opinions. You may agree or disagree with them.

    Just to put this in context. Heading out to the range with a rifle that can shoot 2” at 100 on its best day, and the cheapest surplus (good for 3” or 4” at 100) and a 4MOA red dot will not produce groups like 1st MJH produced – no matter how good of shooter you are.

    Shooting is a skill like any other, and must be used/practiced, or it will deteriorate. Read, ask questions, learn, and practice. Personally, I was having problems out past 800. So last year I signed up and spent a weekend with Rob Furlong (you can look him up) at his academy. Some of it was very basic, but I learned a lot that I can now put into practice at 1000 and beyond. The point of this story is just that no matter how long, or how much you’ve been shooting, there is always more to learn. Practice. Push yourself. AND have fun with it.

  • At 14 I started shooting with friends. I paid for a box of amo and borrowed a 1911. Good lesson in pulling in and controlling the kick. Next I bought an old octagon barreled 22. Learned on the iron sights. Gave my son my 308 but I kept my 1917 303 and others. I have a spotting scope and scopes on 2 of my 22s but I still like the iron sites. I kill marauding dogs after my critters with an old 38 revolver. Usually first shot. I like my childhood weapon of choice. Archery. Nearly silent and just as deadly. By the time you hear the soft whoosh it would be too late. I’ve honed that skill for 70 years now.
    When my kids were little I used to provide dinner about once a week with fresh quail. 22 head shots to keep the meat clean. 9 or 10 quail for 4 adults and 2 boys. On the rez I’d sit on the front steps and pick them off out in the garden. We’d moved by the time the last 2 kids came along.
    I’ve been on this property 42 years. I still patrol at different times a few nights a week. Silently, without a light, comfortably armed. It soon stopped the trespassers who were surprised- catch and release. I still do it for practice to keep good night vision at 75. Most of the teens caught back then are now good friends and help me if they see me doing something heavy.
    It took a while but after 45 years in this village I’m treated as if we were an old family here. My kids grew up here. A grandson grew up here. 2 husbands are buried here. And we’re a cohesive unit if something happens here. Everyone takes some time up the canyon to practice shooting or sighting in a scope. Families hunt elk on the mountain. We all laugh together about wasted ammo from the hunters who don’t regularly practice with something. Mostly I burn 22LR on someone’s beer bottles i find. I still aim to hit that top rim for accuracy. And it’s entertaining to see the kids try to copy that.
    Now my new toy shoots 6″ – 8 ” bolts. My old toy is being practiced again with stream bed gravel. I can knock a 3″ or 4″ pinecone out of a tree but that’s taken a whiIe. Still it might come in handy sometime. For now it is just grandma’s game.

  • using a .223 bolt at 100 yards on bipod and bag, I can’t get anything less than a 3″ group no matter what ammo I use. I don’t flinch, my trigger squeeze is good, but it’s just no good. what might I be doing wrong?

    • It is no secret that I do not like you.
      But professional courtesy demands I respond to your query.

      What do your groups look like?
      Are they in a vertical line? That would be you are breathing while taking the shot.
      Do they tend to group to one side or another vs your POA?
      Are you putting your trigger finger in the same place (ideally, the right side of the trigger edge [if you are right handed] should be in about the middle of your index finger pad) consistently?
      How does the rifle fit you? You could have a $3k rifle, but if the ergonomics do not fit you, it is very hard to make a good shot.

      • ‘preciate that.

        groups, when I get them, are all over. one ammo brand will group high and left, another will group right. and when I try to repeat anything I get different placements and sometimes no group at all. I’ve wondered if my scope internals are loose, but they seem to be stable.

        pretty sure I have breathing under control, but I’ve paid little attention to trigger finger placement. as for rifle fit that might be it, it’s not full-sized, but I’m stuck with what I have. I’ll focus on the finger placement and maybe get a stock extension and see if I get better.

        • Check all the scope mount/rings for lose screws. Even the screws that hold the rifle into the stock.
          What brand rifle? Scope?
          What is the trigger like?
          Do you have any other rifles, even air or rimfire, that will not group at all?

  • Without a lot of practice, what I have found is that it’s almost impossible to get my eye in exactly the same position behind a scope when aiming. It’s easier to line up iron sights. But then, try seeing a half-inch diameter dot (my target) at 15 yards (my backyard airgun range). Makes one appreciate Simo Häyhä who used iron sights. I spend time during walking trying to recognize small details at a distance, because if you can’t see the target, you can’t shoot at it.

    • R.O.
      I have the book The White Sniper, Simo Hayha, by Tapio A. M. Saarelainen.
      Absolutely fascinating what he, and other snipers could do before the invention of things like etched, BDC reticules, or hand wind meters, or ballistic apps.

  • Good article. I must have started shooting at about age 10 under supervision of my Father with a .22 rifle. I have shot all of my life since. I thought I was a pretty decent marksman. Then I took an Appleseed course. Due to the cost of center-fire ammo we used .22s at 30 meters. The targets were down-sized accordingly. It was an enlightening two days. I learned so much! It made me a better rifleman, and I would encourage anyone to take that course if you have the opportunity.

    • Whydah,
      That is one thing about competitions, up against someone else, really puts the pressure on you to improve you skills.
      What I like about the 5 For 5 Dime Challenge, you are still competing, just against yourself.

      • In Appleseed you are up against the clock… and mag changes. Certainly puts on the pressure as you stated.

  • Good article, but I would argue that only the fundamentals matter. I would like to see you, if not write that small book, write an article with your take on fundamentals, what fundamentals cross over onto other platforms (pistol, shotgun), current best practice on developing good fundamentals and shooting mechanics, and ways to gauge current skill level as well as reliably measure progress.

    I see so many articles by ex mil guys, that could have been written by anyone, and don’t utilize the knowledge and skillset I know they have. I understand not every article can be about the core mechanics of the process of accurate shot placement. I do. You gotta talk about a wide range of things for the audience.

    But if it possible in this short article format, I would love to read your take on fundamentals and development, so that I can discuss it with former and current shooters, and possibly learn something new, or if not, get a different perspective on something I am already familiar with and practicing, and we can all grow together as shooters, and learn from one another.

    A lot of “shooting talk” is noise. I shot this far, I shoot this group every day before breakfast..

    I will do my best to make good faith comments from a place of honesty and humility (easy for me, I’m no great shooter) and learn.

    Looking forward to future articles.

    • Misreading The River,
      Thank you very much for your compliment.
      I agree 100%, mastery of the fundamentals are the core of good Marksmanship.
      I have a draft of an article discussing the fundamentals, but, again, I feel retired Marine MSGT Jim Owens does a better job in his book than I can do justice (see linky in the article). He rated as High Master in NRA High Power, and has trained the Marine Corps national team.

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