Two USMC Marksmanship Training Films Compared

In my ongoing research effort on the 20th Century infantry rifle, I found an interesting training film from the 1960s. The USMC video is not quite 22 minutes in length, and covers marksmanship instruction on the M14 rifle:

The film teaches very traditional techniques – those demonstrating the rifle use traditional shooting stances, shooting gloves, and are shooting at bullseye targets at known ranges. The rifle and instruction both seem suited to static range shooting – the rifle’s sights dial in MOA increments, and one suggestion for windage estimate is to stand up and drop a piece of paper – not ideal solutions for combat, but great for the static range.¬†Interestingly, what’s now derisively called the “chicken wing” is taught in the video as good technique. The M14 rifle is also described as being “easily convertible to full auto”, which nods to the practice of issuing M14 rifles with “buttons” in place of selectors. The rifles, though they lacked selectors, were otherwise fully functional automatic weapons, and needed only to have the “button” replaced with a selector to become an automatic rifle.

This sort of shooting was pioneered in the National Matches, and while it’s certainly superior to what came before it, it has proven less than realistic in modern infantry combat. As a result military training has changed – although sometimes achingly slowly – away from the kinds of techniques shown in the video. Another video, this one from 1999, helps illustrate the transition, although the differences can be subtle:

The absolute fundamentals – sight picture, trigger control, breathing, follow through, achieve much greater emphasis – dominating the video, while the traditional marksmanship positions are left out. The targets, too, have changed: What was then a bullseye has become a reduced “bust” silhouette, at which the trainees are instructed to shoot center of mass. Some more practical details – eye relief, shooting while wearing glasses, and forcing a respiratory pause have been added. Interestingly, the video does not include any instruction on sighting in the rifle or adjusting it. It’s possible that was taught in a separate video, or by an instructional lesson; presumably it would still be considered essential knowledge for the Marine infantryman in 1999.

For National Match competition Рor even a casual day at the range РI would probably recommend the first video. The second, however, I believe is a more realistic training video for the infantryman. The traditional shooting positions that are more practical on the range than on the battlefield are still represented, but not so heavily emphasized. Instead, the absolute basics are reinforced more.

Even the 1999 video is dated. Since then, there have been two major wars and a whole body of experience on how to fight that has been refined. Shouldering the rifle while wearing body armor, using optics, and the abandonment of “one round, one target” mentality are just three major improvements that have been applied in the past few years.


H/T, LooseRounds and Historical Firearms

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 is also the author of the original web serial Heartblood, which is being updated and edited regularly. He can be reached via email at


  • Stijn Van Damn

    There is nothing wrong with the chickenwing on a rifle like an M14 or a Garand

    – they don’t have a full pistol grip like an M16 , changed stock/cheekweld, different ergonomics
    – and more recoil too
    – designed to deliver accurate fire one shot at a time vs the M16 and newer that are designed to deliver volumes of automatic fire

    Apples and oranges really, there is no need to knock the chickenwing on those rifles
    It worked fine in WW2 and Korea..So it’s sound.

    On an M16 i’de say there is a point and it even looks silly. But few people do it, because the pistol grip makes you tuck in almost automatically because the ergonomics are different. full Chickenwinging an AR, makes the buttstock want to drop, it’s not stable..That does not happen on 1903’s, M1’s , M14’s or similar, old school guns.

    • USMC69

      Great reply. What you are pointing out and the author misses is, logistics ability highly influences the tactics.

    • Bill

      It’s not that it doesn’t work, it just isn’t anatomically efficient. It requires using sheer muscle to support the gun, which isn’t in short supply in the Marines. But bring the arm in and under allows the skeletal system to get involved in supporting the weight of the rifle. It’s why you don’t see bridge trusses sticking out sideways.

      It also doesn’t work to well from behind cover. I’m pretty fond of keeping my elbow intact.

      It’s interesting how some pistol shooters extol competition as almost a necessity for fighting with a handgun, but you don’t see many competitive rifle shooters, excepting maybe 3-gun, make the same claim.

      • Stijn Van Damn

        Look at the first video, do you see anybody in combat gear?
        No it’s shooting vests, gloves, slings…slow fire..
        People focus to much on that chicken wing, it’s a way to teach marksman ship, but in combat nobody yells to the enemy , hold on while i readjust my sling and put on my glove!!
        It works on the firing line, but obviously one gives up that elbow high when it’s a 2 way range.. different circumstances
        Can discuss this to no avail, but the reality is that most who discuss it aren’t in combat and probably won’t be in combat anytime soon. And if they do, they would probably get a Poodle shooter because it gives them more rounds for less weight, better ergonomics, optics, and other stuff..

        The only time when cover conflicts with chickenwing, is standing behind a house/wall..and then mostly offensive..any other situation of cover will see people crouching , going prone, resting the rifle on sandbags, tree, ground, stuff… inwhich the chickenwing is moot anyway.

        It’s such an unlikely situation for a modern day civilian anyway, the amount of focus it get’s is silly

  • Pete Sheppard

    When I watched the videos (at different times), I was struck by the similarities. After all, the fundamentals of marksmanship don’t change, though the actual applications evolve.

  • Risky

    The Marine Corps has and still to this day as far as I’m aware teaches known distance competition style shooting first as fundamentals before going into any type of combat specific shooting.

    • Will

      AMEN!! You are absolutely correct!
      First you have to crawl, then walk, then and only then can you run!!!
      Master the basics then move on.

    • It’s interesting, though, that the second video doesn’t cover that. It’s shown being done, of course, but they don’t walk you through the positions.

  • kingghidorah

    The breath control is a tough thing to do while being shot at. Kudos to the soldiers.

  • This is a pretty good clip about what it’s like to be on the line during range week at Parris Island(although the clip is from San Diego). These two videos in the post, although they show the training being used, they don’t show it being taught. And that is through discipline and ditties. The way Drill Instructors teach shooting fundamentals in Boot Camp are literally idiot proof and is by repetition. At 2.00 you see this with the recruit murmuring something while manipulating his rifle. He’s not insane, he’s saying “thumb screw in the shoulder, Reach out, Grab Air, high firm pistol grip”.

    • Pete Sheppard

      Great video; thanks!

    • Phil Hsueh

      Good ‘ol Edson Range, brings back memories. It looks like they fixed up the range since I was there, when I went through boot camp there was no pavement on the firing line, just sand, at least that’s how I remember it.

  • Jamie

    I think people miss the point of the training.
    Bulls-eye marksmanship was intended to not only provide training in marksmanship but also to instill confidence in the weapon and one’s ability to use it.

    Once that was accomplished, additional training was provided for the Unit in the use of the rifle in combat. Rifle tactics changed radically between 1940 and 1944, again during the Korean War, and again during VN.