8 Uncommon Rifle Shooting Tips For Beginners

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Title image: This new shooter has exercised proper trigger follow through while shooting my Lithgow Enfield. Unfortunately, one leg of the rest he is using has begun to fall off the table. He will have to readjust his shooting position before he takes the next shot, which may cause his group to open up.

Teaching beginners to shoot has always been something I’ve enjoyed. Soon-to-be-shooters with little or no trigger time are very capable of much greater accuracy – and a wider variety of shooting “feats” than they think.

Most introductory instruction focuses on things like proper sight alignment, trigger control, and breathing. Each of these is a cornerstone of good shooting in its own right, but there are some tips for the new shooter that don’t get disseminated as freely that I think they should. They are as follows:

1. Let the gun point where it wants to point.

For the best precision, a shooter should not fight his rifle. The most consistently accurate shot is the one where no adjustment is necessary to bring the gun on target. Behind this theory lies the concept of “natural point of aim” which is usually the first thing I teach someone after the basic safety rules. When held, every rifle wants to point a certain way, and it’s up to the shooter to make sure that is at the target they want to hit, not to try and wrestle the gun where it wants to go. For a beginner to be successful, they must begin to think not of the rifle as a separate object, but of the rifle-shooter combination as one unit.

Doing this is surprisingly simple: Hold the rifle in a natural shooting position (whether that be standing, kneeling, seated, prone, or on the bench) with your eyes lined up with the sights and the target. Close your eyes, and keep them closed. Relax, like you’re trying to go to sleep. Breathe in and out for two or more cycles. Open your eyes. Your eye-sight alignment will most likely have moved. Instead of wrestling the rifle over to the target, imagine your whole body as resting upon a swivel, and move the whole rifle-shooter unit.

2. Follow through.

New shooters may find guns loud and uncomfortable; beyond that is follow through. The lack of reaction to a shot is in many ways what separates a decent shot from an excellent one. Even though follow through may be one of the more common tips on this list, I feel as though it isn’t well-understood by many. At the beginning, follow through will mean taking extra time and care in reacting to a shot, waiting several seconds of more to breath, release the trigger, operate the action, and otherwise continue shooting. Describing what follow through is can be hard; it’s much easier to describe what it’s not: Movement. The ideal follow through is the one that is totally identical to the position the shooter was in when the shot broke, and is held until the bullet is downrange. Most importantly, you should hold the trigger back until you are ready for the next shot, not release it when you feel you are done with the last one.

3. Get low.

The fundamentals of shooting are cultivated best, in my opinion, in the prone position. Don’t be afraid to begin shooting in prone and then work on other stances. Prone is the most accurate shooting position, besides the bench, and that isolates your aiming errors away from problems with your shooting position. It’s also the easiest position to learn.

4. Use a sling.

Slings are cheap; a cotton or nylon USGI sling can be had for less than $20, and sling swivels for less than that, but they have a huge effect on your shooting ability. Not only will they make you more accurate and precise, but they’ll open up for you a whole new world of shooting positions that are both practical and fun. Just make sure you get an actual shooting sling, and not just a carrying sling.

5. Change it up.

If a shooting position isn’t working for you, change to a different one. In particular, if you find you have to readjust how you hold the gun after every shot, then that shooting setup is not what it could be. This problem occurs most often when a new shooter is using a bench or standing, which is one of the big reasons I recommend the prone position: almost anyone will find a properly set up prone position (preferably with a sling) very repeatable.

6. Shoot reactive targets at longer ranges, rather than paper at closer range.

Steel, balloons, fruit, bottles, soda pop, and other reactive targets give the new shooter instant feedback regarding what they’re doing. However, they don’t always cultivate great precision in shooting. To improve with precision, try shooting the same targets further away, if possible (not all ranges accommodate this). In my experience teaching newbies, it’s always more rewarding to shoot a steel plate at 200 yards than to shoot an excellent paper group at 25. Further, when teaching a new shooter with reactive targets, always call out their hits loudly so that they can hear it, and don’t emphasize their misses.

7. Shoot with both eyes open.

For guns with iron sights and some kinds of optics (red dot sights or a both-eyes-open scope), shooting with both eyes open allows the shooter to relax more, enhances their field of view, and allows them to focus more on what they’re doing. If possible, learn your eye dominance, and shoot with both eyes open.

8. Don’t worry, be happy.

Relaxation is key to good shooting. When you first start shooting, go to the range on nice days when the sun is out and you feel good, and years down the line, just going to the range will make you feel happy and relaxed. You’ll not only enjoy shooting a lot more (and thus do it more often), the good mood will make you a better shot, too.



Nathaniel F

Nathaniel is a history enthusiast and firearms hobbyist whose primary interest lies in military small arms technological developments beginning with the smokeless powder era. In addition to contributing to The Firearm Blog, he runs 196,800 Revolutions Per Minute, a blog devoted to modern small arms design and theory. He can be reached via email at nathaniel.f@staff.thefirearmblog.com.


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  • John Daniels

    Or just go to an Appleseed, and learn the fundamentals from people who are really good at teaching them.

    • Some of my experience comes from Appleseed; they’re not mutually exclusive.

      My biggest issue with Appleseed is the fake history lesson they give you every time you go. I could do without that, and without the rabble rousing, too.

      • mosinman

        rabble rousing? what do they say?

        • They’re very militia-oriented, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it makes me very reluctant to bring new shooters to what I otherwise think is a good early instructional course.

          Not everyone is preparing to fight the UN hordes, some people just want to learn to shoot.

          • Don Ward

            Let me guess. Militia with rifles won the Revolution?

          • You got it.

          • Don Ward

            Thought so. Now there are plenty of battles where the militia performed adequately. And having a rifle if you are a settler on the frontier in Kentucky or Pennsylvania was a difference of life or death what with British-allied Indian attacks. But in main theaters and battles of the war, the militia were a liability and it is the musket-armed Continental Army which did the heavy lifting.

          • mosinman

            yeah i could see how it could seem a little “extreme” or off putting

          • John Daniels

            IDK about these “fake history lessons” or talking about how militia won the war, or any of that. If some folks in Appleseed in your area have been doing that, I’m sorry.

            In my area, we talk about the events of a single day: April 19, 1775. We generally don’t even talk about the rest of the war, and when we do we state that it was won by armies of professional soldiers, and wouldn’t have been possible without help from foreign powers.

            I apologize if someone has been going off-topic or stating um…interesting…versions of history.

            Ultimately individuals are all going to do things in their own way to some extent.

          • John, let me first say that I feel Appleseed offers one of the best introductory riflemanship courses in the country, and it’s highly affordable, especially for young people.

            So overall, not only do I overall have a positive impression of Appleseed, but I would recommend it to new shooters.

            However, the rhetoric used by the group whose classes I attended weren’t really cognizant of actual history. I won’t go into it any more, though, as I think the instruction more than makes up for it.

  • Ken

    Block the other eye, such as by taping paper to the lens of the shooting glasses. That way, you can keep it open without it distracting you. If you do that long enough, you can train your brain to ignore the extra stuff when you shoot with both eyes open.

  • JumpIf NotZero

    Single best tip I’ve ever learned for shooting any rifle… Get Off The Bench!!! no serious shooting is done don’t a bench. It’s exceptionally difficult to properly and evenly load a support/bilod from a bench. Recoil management from magnums is worse on a bench.

    Yet – 99% of shooters I see on our 300y range. Firmly planted to the bench. Then I see plenty of them wondering why they take 20 rounds to zero, or have softball sized groups at 100Y, have to guess at 300y zero because their groups are off paper. Pre-Hunting Season is a super frustrating time for me to long range shoot.

    • billyoblivion

      Out of maybe 6 or 8 outdoor ranges I’ve been to, only 2 (Richmond, CA and the one down in south San Jose) had provisions for non-bench rest shooting. At two ranges I had trouble explaining what I wanted, and the goofballs behind the counter had trouble understanding why this would be something you would even want to do.

      • JumpIf NotZero

        Sucks. I usually just prone out on a May next to a bench. The gear I bring is usually an indication to guys that I know what I’m doing and I don’t get hassled.

        Then again, I avoid public ranges of at all possible. Private range or public land.

        • Public land is the best shooting experience bar none.

      • That’s really unfortunate. My experience has been a lot more positive in that regard; most ranges I’ve been to will let you shoot prone.

    • Ken

      I agree. I shoot better prone or even sitting with a loop sling than I do from the bench.

      • JumpIf NotZero

        Yep.

        And yet, I never see anyone prone or if they have a sling it’s entitely unused. Hell, it’s rare to even see guys with bipods, and if there is a bipod, surely no rear bag.

        • Ken

          I’m always at the range with my M1 or M1903 and an 07 sling. I enjoy shooting it better prone or sitting than many of the people shooting with AR’s or scoped hunting rifles off the bench. My offhand is even better than the bench shooting of a few AR shooters.

    • “no serious shooting is done from a bench”

      I think serious benchrest competitors like my old CNC instructor would take umbrage with that statement.

      • iksnilol

        Bench shooting is good for bench shooting competition. For any practical shooting (SD, hunting, plinkingk) it isn’t “real shooting”.

        • …Sure, but I think arguing benchrest competition isn’t “serious” shooting is silly. It may not be practical shooting – that’s why it doesn’t have “practical” in the name like ISPC – but it’s plenty serious.

      • JumpIf NotZero

        Yea, outside of old school benchrest. I honestly didn’t even think that was worth mentioning because of the declining popularity and obviousness of it. Of course benchrest shooting happens on a bench.

    • Zachary marrs

      The nearest range goes out to 300 yards, and they make you shoot from the bench, but their shotgun range is ok

      The only reason i still go there is it’s closer than my hunting property, and all the other ranges

    • torr10

      Some of us can’t get on the ground due to health issues. Serious shooting is not about the position, but the application. So if you see me on a bench, don’t tell me to get on the ground unless you want an argument. I use a bench for the first few shots to get reacquainted with the weapon’s feel, then I stand up. I don’t hunt from a bench, I don’t hunt from prone so neither does much good for some of us.

  • ThomasD

    “shoot reactive targets at longer ranges, rather than paper at closer range”

    Amen. A thousand times amen. Few things are more motivational than a target that gives immediate feedback for positive performance.

    With brand new shooters I usually have them hit paper/cardboard a few times at close range then quickly move to something reactive. Those first few rounds are more a test of their ability to operate the weapon at all – and to demonstrate to them that bullet impact is reasonably predictable.

    Once they are hitting the first reactive target with ease (usually a milk jug or something similar) then we either back up or move on to smaller and smaller items.

    • iksnilol

      Tennis or golf balls are good if you want it to be a bit challenging. Golf ball at 100 meters with a .22 is really fun and makes you feel like a pro.

      • Another good suggestion for handgun shooting and offhand rifle shooting is to get a couple of long three quarter inch dowel rods, a length of string, and several balloons. Blow up the balloons, tie the string to the dowels with some slack, and loop the balloon ends into the string. It’s a reusable, easily repairable reactive target.

        • iksnilol

          I didn’t mention it but… I can never blow up a balloon. Quite ironic since I am a muslim, y’know? I should be able to blow anything up. /bad joke

          Balloons are a good idea, + they are cheap and don’t require much moving forth and back.

    • TZH .

      another reason why Hickok45’s back yard is my Disneyland…

      • Grindstone50k

        And resetting all those targets is my hell.

        • TZH .

          first world problems 😛 wait, whats to reset? they just gongs man

          • Grindstone50k

            He has a bunch of knock-down types.

    • Burt not ernie

      I imagine that this is good advice for those that can do it. I don’t know of any range in the local area that will let you shoot anything but paper. Excepting of course, the clay shooting area at the outdoor range. Those like me who live in the city (or suburbs) may have a difficulty.

  • JumpIf NotZero

    Two weeks ago, I watched two guys debate how to get a 200y zero on a 300wsm because neither of them could group or make adjustments. So they tried doing math between what they thought the drop would be what they thought that would mean in clicks on their scope. Both were so far off I laughed. They looked at me and I had to quick look like I was laughing at something else.

    Dropped down into prone, put three rounds in well under three seconds on a 300y 12″ plate holding 1.3mils and moved to a 400y much smaller plate held 2.2mil and punched it dead on. It was a 30cal tikka suppressed so they cleanly heard ping ping ping… ping. I packed up and left. I could feel them watching me 🙂

  • I think the above situation falls under “when acting as an instructor, listen to your students”. Thanks for the feedback!

  • For teaching fundamentals, Appleseed is pretty good and very accessible. Just don’t take their history lesson too seriously.

  • iksnilol

    You forgot an important one: Listen to the instructor.

  • Jeremy Star

    Good advice. I shoot my pistols with both eyes open, but I was laughing last week when I was testing my recently returned P928. My CT laser is set to 21 yards and when using my right eye only I can’t see it. (I set it to center and just below the front sight so it wouldn’t be distracting when using the sights.) When I shoot with both eyes open the laser dot is off to the lower left, clearly visible. Doh!

  • Don Ward

    A sling is probably the most important accessory on a rifle, second only to a good set of optics. And that’s a close second. A real close second.

    • Absolutely agree. In my opinion, the sling should come first, as it’s an order of magnitude or two cheaper.

      • Don Ward

        True. There are plenty of scenarios where you don’t need those optics and loads of rifles that don’t. But I can’t think of many where you don’t need a sling on it, or at least the ability to quickly attach one.

        • Well, mostly, a good optic will run you $400 or more, whereas a sling and mounts cost less than $30 together, typically.

          • Don Ward

            The majority of bolt-action hunting rifles don’t even come with iron sights these days so you might as well budget for that scope.

          • Those are not the only kinds of rifles. ;P

          • Don Ward

            You know me man. I LIKE shooting my Winchester 94. And there are plenty of good reasons to know how to shoot iron sights. I’m an advocate of iron sights. It’s just that the increased shooting performance of using a scope is orders of magnitude in terms of more accurate shooting. The sling you get to comfortably carry your gun on an extended march and it is also a shooting aid.

            And…

            Everything else is superfluous comfort or personal choice options.

  • JumpIf NotZero

    Ha! That’s a good one. I’ve seen bad and I know it gets worse, but I usually don’t stick around long enough to talk to people about their troubles.

  • Grindstone50k

    FWIW, you don’t have to shoot a 10/22. Any safe rifle will do (range dependent), but they focus on the AQT to which a semi-auto small caliber rifle with detachable mag is best suited.

  • Guest

    Before lefties get too excited, there are no left-handed Lee-Enfields—the photo was reversed.

    • What? No it wasn’t the bolt handle is on the right side, as usual.

    • 11mcw11

      I think you’re seeing the safety lever…which is huge on a Lee Enfield.

  • squirl033

    shooting with both eyes open is great if you have a very strong dominant eye. if you’re like me, and one eye is dominant but only barely, trying to shoot with both eyes open just doesn’t work.

    • Everybody’s different. I know a couple of people who can’t shoot prone.

  • CaliConservative

    I, for one, have never been able to accurately shoot any fire arm with both eyes open. I think one thing that get left off lists like this is:

    “Shoot how you are comfortable and accurate”.

    If you are left handed and right eye dominate, and more comfortable shooting left handed with little loss of accuracy, shoot left handed. That describes my situation. Shooting left handed, non-dominate eye, I can group a clip’s (yes clip, look it up) worth of ammo for my Mosin at 100 yards in an inch and a half off the bench. Right handed, dominate eye, its about a three inch group. I’ve learned how to shoot a hand gun left handed, but with my right eye.

    It is very important for new shooters to be comfortable. Otherwise they are more likely to give up.

    • I would wrap that up into Number 5. Absolutely agree.

  • Richard

    Two eyes open with a handgun I find impossible. Any tips?

    • 11mcw11

      Yeah. Don’t worry about it. Figure out which eye is dominant and use that eye to focus on the front site and close the other. Most people, me included, see two handguns out in front of us when we try to shoot with both eyes open.

  • Hey man, you can get real good at the 400 yard line.