The Four Pillars of Individual Proficiency, Part Two – Forward Observer Shop

The Four Pillars of Individual Proficiency, Part Two

Marksmanship and Weapons-Handling

The standard Army Rifle Marksmanship Qualification tables, that many of us grew up with, required the shooter to fire 40 rounds at targets from 50-300 meters, from the prone, or a foxhole-supported firing position. This method was based on the Trainfire system, developed in the late 1950s. It was predicated on the idea that soldiers would be in a fighting position, shooting at Warsaw Pact soldiers as they advanced across open ground, crossing the Fulda Gap in Germany. It was inadequate at the time, and is even more inadequate—as we’ve seen over the last decade-plus of the GWOT—when you’re facing people smart enough to not just charge across an open meadow.

The focus on engagements from 50-300 meters being inadequate, the newer emphasis on 0-100 meters is—marginally—better. The problem we face, as trainers and as students of trainers, is that each of us is a victim of our experience. The guy who made shots all at 75-100 meters and closer, fighting in the urban mazes of Iraq, despite maybe seeing a few shots taken at 400-500 meters down city streets or from rooftops, will tend to believe that the those 0-100 meter shots are all most people are going to need in a fight. At the same time, the dude who fought in the Kunar Province of Afghanistan and may have never seen more of the enemy than a flutter of movement in a hedgerow or boulder field 400 meters away may not see much relevance to mastering anything inside of 200 meters.

Sometimes, the focus on 0-100 meters is because of the victimhood of experience. At other times, it’s because of a lack of training time to get the average shooter, suffering from Dunning-Kruger syndrome, without realizing it, to a level of proficiency at longer ranges.

I’ve been accused of focusing too much on the close-quarters, 0-100 meter fight, but no one has ever accurately accused me of not advising people to be able to shoot their rifle to its maximum effective range. Despite the confirmation bias of many Iraq veterans that nothing more than 0-100 meters is really necessary in a gunfight, there are numerous accounts of one-stop shots with M4 carbines with magnified optics, at distances exceeding 600-800 meters.

You need to determine the maximum effective range of your weapon, in your hands, and learn to hit with it, consistently, at those ranges, from field firing positions, under field conditions, on realistic field targets (by which, we mean partial silhouettes, in subdued colors, partially obscured by cover/concealment…). Don’t expect to hit a fast-moving target at 500-600 meters under field conditions, with one well-placed shot, necessarily, but the ability to hit stationary or slow-moving, realistic targets at those ranges does offer you a couple of realistic options: 1) When the dude stops moving, even momentarily, you might actually have a chance of center-punching him, and 2) you can use rapid, aimed fire at those ranges, with the increased chance that at least one of your rounds will hit the fast-mover, thus stopping, or slowing him down, and most importantly, 3) you can place effective suppressive fire on the enemy, keeping him more interested in not getting shot than he is in shooting at you, while your friends maneuver closer, so they CAN shoot him.

On the same hand, this ability to hit a solitary, semi-exposed target at intermediate distance ranges allows you to fill the so-called “guerrilla sniper” role, hitting a target, and then moving away and around to hit another target, from a different position. If your physical conditioning is adequate, you might even manage to move far enough away after your shot to be safe from the steel rain of crew-served machine gun and indirect fire that any well-equipped, professional force will counter your shot with. While this role is far more limited than many Walter Mitty’s apparently believe, in the long run, it does still have a place, depending on what you perceive your threats to be.

At the same time, simply mastering the art of laying on your belly in the prone, behind a rest and one-holing targets at 500+ meters is not adequate. The victimhood of experience notwithstanding, there IS a need to be able to engage targets at “belly button,” “bad breath” distances as well.

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John Mosby is a former U.S. Army Special Operations soldier. He lives somewhere in the mountains.


  1. “there are numerous accounts of one-stop shots with M4 carbines with magnified optics, at distances exceeding 600-800 meters.”

    I’m sure that’s true,I’ve heard guys tell stories about seeing shots like that made in Afghanistan.
    The problem is-the amount of energy a 5.56 round has at that range is minimal-

    At 500 yds typical 55gr 5.56 rounds only have 260-270 ft lbs of energy left.

    Just sayin it’s not real likely that a 500yd+ shot is going to be a one shot stop with an A-R-unless it’s chambered in .308 which still has 900-1200 ft lbs of energy left at 500 yds.

    Ballistics info from Hornady…

    Just curious-what’s your opinion on having a couple of team members using A-R’s in .308?
    Aside from the ammo being heavier and bulkier to carry.

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