Firearms Food for Thought: Does the Shooter Make the Gun, Or…?

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It’s an argument that’s been knocked back and forth at more than one 3-gun event or hunting cabin: does the shooter make the gun, or does the gun make the shooter? Or, in other words, can a subpar or average shooter be made into a superstar with the assistance of a high-end gun (and high-end optics)? Can a skilled marksman coax a stellar performance out of just any gun and/or optic, regardless of quality?

While it’s true there are a number of factors to take into consideration from what kind of performance we’re looking for to the combination of firearms and optics being used, the bottom line remains the same. If you’ve been around firearms for any length of time you’ve probably seen a skilled shooter walk up to XYZ gun and squeeze off a perfect group at XYZ distance. Conversely, you’ve probably seen a less-than-great marksman cozy up to the line with a top-class setup, convinced all they need to up their game is a gun and/or optic of greater quality than their former setup.

Or maybe the guy on the trigger in question is you. Maybe it’s you, convinced that dropping a new, somehow better trigger into your rifle will solve all your problems in accuracy. Maybe it’s you, mounting yet another optic in the hopes of improving grouping. Is it you?

Whatever the case, what do you think? Can higher quality equipment make an expert out of an average marksman?



katie.ainsworth

Katie is an avid shooter, hunter, military journalist, and Southern girl. Firearms are her passion whether at the range or on a spot-and-stalk after a big buck. She’s a staff writer at The Firearm Blog and writes about guns, hunting, and the military for various publications both online and in print such as Outdoor Life, Handguns, and Shooting Illustrated. Shoot her a message at ainsworth.kat@usa.com


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  • DW

    Answer: Yes.

  • Paul Joly

    There are some firearms that are harder to master than others but who sometimes offer something more. (rifle vs pistol, .22 vs 9×19…) Skill and firearm both play a role, but the easier to use the product is, the lesser the skill factor is needed to achieve a similar result.

  • Major Tom

    You can give the best, most accurate gun in the Universe to the Universe’s Worst Shooter and it still won’t make him any good.

    • iksnilol

      I actually witnessed something like that:

      Wannabe Rambo weak guy tried shooting a precision gun (Sauer STR). It was sub-decent (170 of 250 points or something).

  • Like in bike riding – get something that is a balance of cost and performance initially. Once you know you have outgrown it in terms of skill, move up.

    Ex: Start with a stock glock 34, then move on/ upgrade it to a space race gun.

  • MSmith

    Personally in my experience (how limited that may be) 50/50. I’ve seen excellent shooters run garbage guns fantastically and I’ve seen garbage shooters run expensive precision firearms poorly. I found for myself (with ARs specifically) that learning and training with a mediocre one made me better once I got to more well made ones.

    • Don

      How do you know you wouldn’t have improved the same if not more if you used the better firearm at first? You don’t, you are just making an assumption.

  • politicsbyothermeans

    Excellent equipment imparts no expertise. It may make the application of fundamentals more rewarding or effective but you can’t drop a ding dong behind a subMOA rifle with high quality optics and expect him to start making quarter sized shot groups. On the weak hand, an expert can generally wring out whatever capabilities exist in equipment. Put another way, would you rather be 100m away from Jerry Miculek with a random Mosin off the rack or Cletus Yallwatchthis with an AI .338 and several mortgage payments worth of glass upstairs?

    • Paul White

      I’d rather be 100 yards from Jerry, mostly because I’m sure he won’t shoot me by accident

  • Nicholas C

    Sort of. I like to use car analogies. A Honda Civic with a few bolt one can beat a Porsche on a track if the driver is better than the Porsche driver.

    Like take a Formula 1 driver and give him a mediocre car and give a novice a sports car.

    A better gun can help a shooter to a certain degree. But racing with guns there is more involved than just accuracy. Speed is crucial and a great shooter can do well with mediocre guns,

    • Don

      Come on now, your car analogies suck… There’s nothing you can do to a Civic to get it close to beating a Porsche unless your talking about a pre 60’s Porsche… Comparing a pro driver in a mediocre car to a novice in a sports car is just as bad… It doesn’t take much skill to go fast in a straight line… So unless your pro driver is driving a car with the same straight line capabilities he better have his fingers crossed that he isn’t too far back when he enters the curves…

  • Bub

    No question about it, skill trumps latest and greatest everytime.

    So buy some ammo and head to the range with what you got!!!

  • Paul White

    A good craftsman will do better with any given set of tools than a bad one. But even a good craftsman appreciates,and benefits from, a set of tools adequate for the job at hand. Even a great shooter won’t hit MOA if the gun isn’t mechanically capable after all.

    Kind of like a couple of my friends that are serious photographers; give them a halfway decent smartphone camera and they can get pretty fair shots….but they don’t compare to what they do with DSLR

  • Badwolf

    In my opinion it’s like this… in top level competition, for example olympic track and field events, where the difference between 1st and 2nd place is measured in milliseconds, I think high quality equipment matters a lot.

    But if you’re just an average guy running against an Olympic athlete, I think the high quality equipment will help you, but it won’t matter.

  • KestrelBike

    I dunno, any off the shelf AR can be all a 3-gunner needs to be capable of “easily-attainable” amazing performance with just a trigger ($200), adj. gas block ($75), and compensator ($35). There’s really no 3-gun match a competitor could be at where their barrel will be insufficient, and the rest of the rifle is essentially furniture so it doesn’t matter.

    I’d wager that the biggest thing that holds back competitors from not being such noobs come game day is that the 1-6 matches a year they can escape their family/work to attend are probably the only opportunity where they can practice 3-gun skills (rapid shooting, shooting while moving, shooting/reloading shotgun on the move, quickly transitioning between weapons, etc.). Most of this stuff is impossible/forbidden at static-lane ranges, and many people don’t have access to an outdoor range with open berms because of geographic unavailability, country-club/members-only inaccessibility ($1-2k+ costs, 5yr waiting list, etc.) to the one decent outdoor range within a 2hr drive.

    Meanwhile, do a quick google-maps search for “golf course” and a bajillion will pop up all around you. F’ing lame.

    • raz-0

      You don’t even need the gas block. I’d say that you don’t even need the $200 trigger, but the worst of the mil-spec parts kit triggers are SOOOOO bad, that you need something. The ALG ACT with a JP spring kit would work reasonably well, but at that point you are out near $80, and will probably want something nicer later if you polish your skills enough. So unless you knwo you will be ditching the gun for something fancier, the trigger is a buy once, cry one kind of deal IMO.

      As for barrels, I’ve seen some bad ones on some low end stock rifles. It’s becoming more uncommon, but going up a little bit in price and quality essentially eliminates it.

      You did leave out an important item, which is a free float tube. You build a positions stabilizing on an object and brace on a free float tube, your zero is your zero. You brace on the barrel directly, and your POI can shift significantly vs. you POA.

      For ARs is a problematic call. Usually I’m of the opinion that unless you can say X is holding you back, don’t spend money on X. But the difference between a $700 rilfe and an $1100 rifle can be substantial and upgrading over time can easily wind up costing you an extra $100-200 than jsut buying it built well enough.

      • KestrelBike

        for barrels, what I meant was that I believe the vast majority of 3-gun matches that non-pros attend are going to be small club matches at very modest Ranges where the max distance for rifle is 50yds (for one stage, the rest of the stages have rifles at 20yds).. at that distance, even the crappiest barrel and non-free-float handguard aren’t going to make a difference if the shooter has at least one eye open. I argue that this remains true even for many serious competitions held at better Ranges where the max distance is still only 200yds, at which point the shooter just needs to make sure he has a proper zero for his sights/optic.

    • JumpIf NotZero

      Tools aren’t skills.

      • KestrelBike

        Clearly, but have a safe but otherwise new shooter run a stage twice with a different rifle for each (don’t tell him the difference between rifles): a totally stock M&P15 Sport and then the same rifle but with the geissele trigger, adjusted gas block, and compensator. I damn near guarantee that he’ll do better with the 2nd rifle, but he’ll quickly hit his “skills plateau”.

        Now, maybe over the longest period of time with dedicated training, the shooter would be better overall if he spent a while shooting with the 1st rifle until he rose above the suitable plateau that such a rifle keeps a person at (if there even is one). But, and this is where this philosophy completely diverges from yours, and that’s fine, but most guys just compete for fun and they don’t have the A) time b) money c) accessibility d) dedication e) wisdom f) experience to want or are ne able to train to the way that you’d respect them, nor should they if they don’t want to.

        No offense, but our greatest concerns right now are non-violent political issues (just yet lol) and I’ll take 30 of those dudes who put a friendly if not tacti-derp’ish face to the public and pay their annual NRA dues to feel a part of something that’s meaningful to *them*, than 1 or even 10 of the people you deem proper warriors [this is in the competition/leisure shooting universe obviously, not the military/duty universe where you reside].

        • JumpIf NotZero

          I don’t discriminate. People either have stupid derpy opinions or they don’t.

          As to the topic… Some guy not having the time to learn what he’s doing, isn’t going to be “better off” with a lighter trigger or a different buffer. Those things may APPEAR to help, but they’re really just masking other issues. Take that guy and really run him down, stress, timer, tunnel vision, and that trigger that seemed to help out in perfect conditions isn’t helping anymore, maybe even hurting.

          • ARCNA442

            I’m not sure how one can argue that superior equipment doesn’t improve a shooter’s performance. If it didn’t, all the equipment regulations for the shooting sports wouldn’t exist.

            I think the real questions that must be asked are: How much improvement is there? And does learning on inferior equipment actually teach better marksmanship?

            Precisely defining the amount of improvement expected would allow a more informed investment ratio between equipment equipment and practice expenses depending on which gives a higher return. Given the attitude of most professionals, I’m guessing that practice gives a much higher return once equipment of reasonable quality has been obtained.

            The flip side of the extent to which high quality equipment hides flaws, is whether it facilitates or hinders improvement. On one hand, practicing on high-end equipment will remove a variable from the equation and allow the shooter to focus entirely on himself. On the other hand, it will be less challenging to achieve a particular level of performance and performance may suffer significantly when using more common gear.

    • felix

      Who even plays golf nowadays?forklift jousting is the real gentlemens sport

  • USMC03Vet

    Fundamentals of marksmanship will always be a factor and expensive after market parts will never change that fact. It’s all about the shooter. Don’t believe the marketing hype.

    • Rick5555

      I absolutely agree with you. If a person has sound and good marksmanship fundamentals. That person should be able to pick up any firearm. And be fairly accurate and competent with that firearm.

      • USMC03Vet

        Throughout history warriors have been doing that. Making supposedly impossible shots routinely with primitive firearm technology compared to today.

  • Martin törefeldt

    God equipment can help you along the way.
    However to take out its full potential you must train your self to the point where you can make full use of the equipment (for example a high end rifle and scope vs a rifle and scope of low quality).

    • Rock or Something

      I sure as heck hope that God equipment can help me.

      😉

    • iksnilol

      To be honest, I’d just ditch the low quality scope.

      Trust me on that one. Either go with irons, red dot or a high quality scope.

  • Bill

    The only part of a gun that matters is the nut that holds the butt.

  • kyphe

    Same factors apply to cars. Often cars that have amazing reliability stats are driven by demographic groups who drive in a manner conducive to to automobile reliability. So you have to wonder how much of the reliability is due to build quality and how much on user activity.

  • Squirreltakular

    The shooter always matters more, but it sure is nice having top of the line stuff.

  • zippiest

    Having taught several thousand people how to shoot the military firearms (M9, M16, A1, A2 and M4, 203, 60, 249, 240, M870) and various civilian firearms, (Khar, glock, sig, Beretta, Remington, Mossberg, S&W, Colt, and many more) I’ll specifically state it this way.
    The person makes the gun. A good gun makes a good shooter better, only when they don’t have to futz with the damn thing.. For a bad shooter, the only thing that can make a bad shooter better, is solid practice, honed skills and/or technology that compensated for crappy fundamentals.

    • MarkVShaney

      “Good” guns require minimal futzing. That helps -all- shooters. Nothing kills a new shooters skills worse than constant futzing… both with their weapon and with their head.

  • Vhyrus

    A bad gun can hold back a good shooter, but a good gun will never make a bad shooter significantly better.

    You can’t rise above the level of your equipment.

  • Dr. Longfellow Buchenrad

    Its all about decreasing your margin of error. Every shooter has some margin of error (henceforth referred to as MOE) and every gun has a MOE. A shooter’s MOE is decreased through training and practice. A gun’s MOE is decreased by modifications, certain helpful attachments, or replacement with a better gun. When you overlap the MOEs of the shooter and gun you get the total MOE. You can decrease that MOE by either decreasing the MOE of the shooter or the MOE of the gun.

    Typically with inexperienced shooters, the MOE of the shooter will incredibly outweigh the MOE of whatever gun the shooter is using. As the shooter becomes proficient, the shooter’s MOE and the guns MOE become much more similar and with enough practice the shooter’s MOE can become even smaller than the gun’s. Throughout during the shooter’s progression he must continually decide if more practice and training or an upgraded weapon will have a greater return on investment to decrease his total MOE.

    In the end it comes down to understanding how much of your MOE comes from you and how much comes from your gun, how much that can be improved by certain improvements, and whether you have more time to train and practice or more money to buy better equipment.

  • MarkVShaney

    I think a good gun makes novice shooters with horrible technique significantly better. “Bad” shooters tend to be “bad” the same way every time. You can teach around that- especially early on when it’s more important to be supportive than corrective.
    When I’m teaching new folks I break out the 10/22’s with the $300 triggers and the super-nice red dots- but otherwise completely stock. They are amazed at how “easy” it is to hit targets at 50, even 100 yards. They then are so encouraged they grab a stock 10/22 at Cabela’s and call me a few weeks later asking “Why isn’t my gun as accurate as yours”. The answer is “about 5 lbs of trigger pull and 2 hours of dialing in a good optic”.

  • nick

    Its an oddly worded question. This is just how I see this. A shooter, novice or just above, does some range time. lets assume they have the basics of “how to shoot” . They , I believe , would become proficient faster with a firearm with better ergos, and user friendly items, such as optics that make target acquisition easier , better triggers etc.
    The same shooter would likely become proficient with a more difficult and less ergo friendly gun, but its going to be a longer road getting to that point, with much more training involved
    When I joined the Canadian Forces, our issue rifle was still the FN C1A1 (the course after us went to the C7 AR platform,). I was a farm kid, so I was used to gun handling, and as much as I loved the FN (still do) I saw novices have a hard time with the weight and recoil.
    It wasn’t long after that I became my units RSO, and had a chance to see how a smaller , lighter rifle ( our new C7 ) affected basic weapon handling results., and what I saw on the range were novices running a much higher, faster developed success rate with the C7 than they would have with the FN.
    nothing scientific here from me, just the view I had from the firing point.

  • Brian M

    The shooter makes the gun. A tool is only as good as the user. A 5MoA shooter may get 5MoA out of a 1MoA rifle, but a 1MoA shooter can get 5MoA out of the 5MoA rifle. I know this applies to both free and bench shooting. You can get some improved performance through technology, as anyone with imperfect eyesight who has tried shooting with and without glasses on can attest, but you can only do so much with that. You can only perform up to the level of skill as permitted by technology. Without my glasses on,I got 2MoA out of my Mosin with Wolf ammo. I also did the same with my glasses on using the same ammo. My brother, on the other hand, only did it with his contacts on and his prescription corrects to a higher level of eyesight than my own, while using my best ammo (Yugo M30 ball), and he got 4MoA both times. Whether or not you can fully utilize the capabilities of the technology is why skill matters more.

  • Fegelein

    That’s not a bad gun, that’s just a maladjusted gun. A bad gun is one that doesn’t shoot well, even if you put it in a vice and give it to Jerry Miculek.

  • Drunk Possum

    People say “it’s the Injun, not the arrow” but a crooked arrow don’t fly straight. You’re gonna shoot better with the Trophy Match than you ever could with the Hi Point. Sometimes it’s the arrow not the Injun. For this Injun, it’s the arrow. I swear, I went from decent to damn good with one purchase. From last 5 to top 10 over night.

  • rob

    I always say it’s not the arrow it’s the Indian a good shooter can shoot anything all good equipment does is make person feel more confident