Over at thetruthaboutguns.com blog, fellow Jew Robert Farago polled his readers' thoughts on long range rifle shooting. The poll was inspired by a previous post on that same blog by an author who successfully taught a new shooter to make 750 yard hits on his first day of shooting. Robert muses as to whether that outcome suggests that "today’s modern rifles, gear and ammo makes distance marksmanship a doddle."
The problem with his statement lies with the meaning the present day "gun-enthusiast" community gives to the word "marksmanship." By "gun-enthusiast" I refer to people who do not actually compete in shooting sports or seriously train as professional gunfighters. I think the standard for what gun-enthusiasts consider marksmanship today is vastly different from what it meant a few decades ago. Today, many seem comfortable to judge marksmanship by what can be achieved under very controlled and stable conditions. Whereas, a few decades ago, the gun-enthusiast community seemed to have a better sense that marksmanship is judged by what can be achieved under unstable, dynamic, and uncontrollable situations. So what changed? Quite simply, the background, experience and knowledge level of the crowd.
Weekends at the local ranges used to consist primarily of people with a lifetime of shooting experience, often with some hunting, competition, or military experience under their belt. These folks understood that any schlemiel can shoot decently from a shooting bench, but it is quite another matter when a) the shooter is moving, b) time is of the essence, c) the target is moving, d) the wind is blowing or e) all of the above. They understood that a shooter from a bench can hit a 750 yard target, but miss a deer at 75 feet if he hasn't the real skill. Those people are still a component of the gun-enthusiast community, but their voices are being drowned out. For the past decade or so, the prevalent fad at the public ranges has been what some call the "tacticool" role-playing game, where fun at the range consists of mimicking the firearms of special forces soldiers, SWAT officers, FBI agents, etc. A day at the range for many of these folks is standing stationary with a black semi-automatic pistol with a laser sight, making two handed shots at targets 7 yards away or less. Good "marksmanship" is the ability to keep most of the shots somewhere on the bad guy (yes a shoulder or wrist hit counts) on the target. If rifles are shot, they are AR-15s, used with the rifle supported on some kind of bench set up, and almost always with some sort of scope that likely cost more than the rifle. A spin-off of the tacticool genre is the wildly popular "Zombie" theme, which as best I can tell means changing the black semi-auto guns to some kind of neon green color, and shooting at targets with Zombie-themed imagery.
Very few of these people go on to actually train or compete in tactical-inspired shooting disciplines like IPSC or IDPA, where "marksmanship" means not only speed, but scoring hits on actual "kill zone" sizes, all while having to actually move around like a tactical "operator" might, and sometimes with moving and dynamic targets. Many of them have no idea that a sling is for more than just carrying a rifle (and most don't even own a sling), and without a bench from which to shoot their rifle, I'm not sure they would know how to hold it. Sure, from the bench they can drill .5" groups, but ask them to stand and shoot the rifle unsupported, and suddenly you'll see off-paper misses.
Don't get me wrong, recreational shooting is supposed to be fun and I do not judge anyone for how they choose to spend their time and money at the range. Frankly, those cowboy action shooters who get dressed up in period clothes using period guns seem to be having the most fun out of all the shooting disciplines, and more power to them. But lowering the standard for "marksmanship" is not helpful or positive to those of us who know that even a 0.0MOA laser rifle with a laser sight and ballistics computer in the wrong hands will loose to a "real" marksman with a 30 year old Remington 700. Or, as my readers know, with an 80 year old K98 Mauser. When I bought my current .308 match gun, there was never really any doubt that it was capable of 1MOA or less at 600 yards from the bench. But it took me nearly a year to prove I could do it from the prone slung position, with irons.
The problem, as I see it, is that statements like Robert's could have the effect that other gun-enthusiasts, and the non-shooting public, will not appreciate the incredible skill and practice it takes to shoot competitively away from the bench. They will wrongly assume that shooting for distance while standing, kneeling, sitting, or prone is easy, provided you just buy the right (and expensive) gun. They will look at Olympic-style and other shooting sports as silly, and have little interest in developing dynamic shooting skills.
I think the proof in this is that most gun-enthusiasts, although passionate about guns and shooting, today probably cannot name a single member of the Team USA shooting team or know that the National Championships take place every summer at Camp Perry in Ohio. Most do not know what NRA High Power or Bullseye is all about, and probably wouldn't be interested. It's not that they might not be interested or up to the challenge of trying to compete in those sports, but rather, they'll just assume it's all about buying the right expensive gun, and not about hours of developing the fine motor skill and above all, incredible mental discipline. So instead of joining me on the rifle range for a dose of Zen, they'll sign up for a ridiculous yoga class...
For a great blog that keeps its marksmanship 'old school,' check out http://artoftherifleblog.com/ which the author describes as "A Shooter's Quest for Excellence in Marksmanship." Emphasis on the word "quest," which is a concept seemingly lost on the modern gun-enthusiast community. Too many of them think they've already arrived, because they bought the same gun used by the Navy Seals.
Oh well, as for me I guess I'll just keep doddling away.