The World is Less Intimidating when you can Aim a Rifle
Rifles are firearms that were designed to be fired from the shoulder, and they are characterized by a long barrel which has spiral, helical groves cut into the barrel walls. The process of cutting and machining these groves is called rifling, and this is where the rifle gets its name and distinguishes itself from other long-barreled firearms such as muskets. The purpose of rifling is to impart a rotational spin on a projectile bullet, which gives it gyroscopic stability in flight. When projectiles lose stability in flight, they tumble and fall. This gives rifles the ability to fire projectiles over great distances, but having the power to do so requires a tremendous amount of precision, accuracy and calculation in order to hit a target at range. In this article we can help you understand the basics of how to aim a rifle.
Never consider handling, thinking about or operating firearms unless you are thoroughly versed in firearm safety in addition to any relevant laws and regulations in your region. Then proceed to learn how to aim a rifle here.
Develop your steady position
In the US Army, soldiers who pass basic marksmanship are expected to hold their rifle steady enough to keep the front sighting post straight even if a hammer falls on the barrel. By mastering these fundamentals of basic steadying technique, you should be able to hold your sights that steady in any position.
- Practice different positions to find what works best and is most comfortable for you. The seated position, comfortable for some, is uncomfortable for shooters with bad hips.
- If you’re right-handed, your “firing hand” will be your right hand and your “non-firing hand” will be your left hand, and vice versa.
- However, eye dominance also plays a factor. Generally, when you aim a rifle from the shoulder, you line up on the side of the dominant eye. This is even true for cross-dominant shooters — people who are left or right handed and dominant in the opposite eye.
Steady the hand grip with your non-firing hand
The rifle’s hand guard should rest in the “V” created by your thumb and forefingers. The grip should be light, like a bad handshake, and the wrist should be straight with the fingers curled naturally around the hand guard.
- The non-firing hand should keep the rifle steady as the non-shooting hand in basketball should steady the ball. Most of the support of the rifle should come from your firing hand and your position, but the non-firing hand is for steadiness.
- Take precaution to always keep this hand clear of the rifle’s action and ejected shells.
Put the rifle butt firmly in the pocket of your firing shoulder
When you aim a rifle, make sure the butt is steadied against your shoulder, not the fleshy part of your armpit beneath it, or on your collarbone.
- Keeping it firmly in this pocket allows the recoil to be absorbed by your whole body, rather than snapping back into your shoulder, making for a painful and inaccurate shot.
Grip the pistol grip with your firing hand
Depending on the kind of rifle you’re firing, you’ll be gripping either a full pistol grip or a tapered shotgun-style grip. Regardless, your grip on it should be more firm than your non-firing hand, more like a business handshake. There should be some backward pull on the grip, pulling the rifle back firmly into your shoulder. This ensures that, when you’re ready to fire, squeezing the trigger won’t move the rifle and jostle your accuracy.
- Your trigger finger should be straight. Do not curl it around the trigger until you’re ready to fire. Rest it on the side of the trigger guard, or use it with the other fingers to grip the stock.
Keep your elbows down and in
Your elbows will be placed somewhat differently depending on whether you’re seated, standing, or prone, but all positions require that your elbows stay under the rifle to support its weight. Imagine a string connected your elbows toward your hips, pulling them in toward your center of gravity.
Relax your neck and let your cheek fall naturally to the stock
This is sometimes called “cheek to stock weld,” and can be obtained by bringing your nose to the charging handle on some rifles. Consistent cheek-to-stock weld will ensure that your eye aligns naturally to the sight and that you don’t have to use your peripheral vision to strain and aim.
Relax your body
With proper technique, you should be able to relax your body and assume a calm breathing rhythm. Your grip should be firm on the rifle without being tense. If you’re using your muscles to hold the rifle, eventually they’ll tire and your accuracy will waver. Getting into a comfortable, relaxed position is the best way to shoot accurately.
Check your natural point of aim
Having oriented yourself in the general direction of the target and relaxed in a steady position, your rifle should be oriented mostly on-target without much more effort on your part. This is called your “natural point of aim” and is a sign of proper technique.
- If, when you relax your muscles in your steady position and let your cheek weld to the stock, you have to expend effort to twist your body around even slightly to get the sight directly on target, this is a sign you need to re-position yourself. Abandon your position and realign yourself properly.
Align the rifle sight
A basic aperture-sighted rifle (without scope) – often called “iron sights” – consists of two parts, a front sight post or “bead” near the tip of the rifle’s barrel and an aperture or “crook” about halfway up the barrel. Before you worry about your target, you need to align the bead in the crook to ensure that the rifle is “sighted.” Any error here in alignment multiplies exponentially when the bullet leaves the gun.
- If you’ve got good cheek-to-stock weld, the sighting post should align in the aperture without much difficulty. Re-position your neck slightly if you need to.
- If you’re using a telescopic sight, the principle will be essentially the same. Make sure that your eye is the proper distance back from the scope, far enough to avoid recoil and aligned properly so there are no “shadows” in the scope’s vision.
- Make sure your scope is properly sighted before firing and that your front sight post is blackened and matte, not reflective. Use gun blacking or pencil lead to blacken.
Focus your eye
When you aim a rifle, align your eye with and focus on the front sight post. When you’re trying to balance your elbows on your knees and breathe evenly and keep the stock tight and keep a little bead in a little aperture on a tiny target 50 yards (45.7 m) away, it can get frustrating: What do you even focus on? The short answer is the bead, not the target. Trust that you’re in the right position, relax, and focus on the bead.
- If you’re in proper position and you’ve aligned the sight, your target should be in the aperture, and though it will appear blurry to you, focusing on the bead ensures that you maintain proper sight alignment while firing, resulting in a more accurate shot picture.
Check your sight picture
A correctly aimed shot has the front sight post, the aperture, the target, and your eye aligned perfectly (or if using a scope, the crosshairs and the target). This is called a “sight picture.” Take a second to shift your focus back and forth between the target and your sight, ensuring that everything is aligned.
- Eventually, the more you practice your aim, you’ll be able to aim a rifle without changing your focus, which tends to strain the eyes. Practicing cheek-to-stock weld and sight alignment will ensure that your eye doesn’t have to work too hard when aiming.
Control your breathing
Shooting is a skill of millimeters, and you’ll notice how much your breath affects your aim as you train your sights. But it’s important to breathe naturally and fully. Holding your breath will cause discomfort and inaccurate shots. In your breathing, learn to notice the moment immediately following an exhale, when you’ve completely emptied your lungs of air, but before you become uncomfortable and need to take a breath. It’s a split-second, but it’s the steadiest and most perfect moment to squeeze the trigger.
Squeeze the trigger
All of your careful alignment and positioning will be undone if you yank on the trigger like a gear shift. Instead, you want to squeeze the trigger as if you were bringing your finger to your fist, completing the firm business handshake you’ve got on the grip with a gentle squeeze.
- Early on, anticipating the report and recoil of the rifle causes many shooters to wobble when pulling the trigger. It’s a lot to keep straight at once, but getting comfortable your rifle is the only way to shoot accurately. Take lots of time setting up your shots and learn to relax. That groundwork will pay off on your journey to aim a rifle.
Just like in basketball or golf, the proper positioning and balance when you aim a rifle needs to continue all the way through the shot. Jerking your head up to see whether you hit the target is the best way to miss it. Keep your muscles relaxed, your cheek welded to the stock, the butt tight to your shoulder pocket, and keep your eye focused on the front sight post. Take a few breaths and you’re ready to either check your shot or fire again.
A rifle can be fired from a variety of stances. For a quick guide on how to develop rifle accuracy from four different stances.
Knowing the amount of recoil on a rifle is essential for accurate shots; you will find tighter shot groupings once you get a feel for a given rifle. Strong winds can also affect aim. Again, this effect increases with distance.
If your shots are off-target but you are confident that you’ve done everything correctly, your sights or scope may not be properly aligned. Either adjust them and zero your sights, or if you can’t, try compensating your aim.
Compensate for distance. Your gun sights are usually set for a specific distance range optimized for the ammunition the gun is designed to use. Different loads are designed for certain distances. A 22 lr round is not as accurate at 100 yards (91.4 m) as a 7.62×34 is, and that round is not as accurate as a .223 is, etc. Take that into consideration when you aim a rifle. What is on target at 50 yards (45.7 m) will not be on target at 100 yards (91.4 m). This deviation increases with distance between the shooter and target.
Most rifles, particularly semi-automatic weapons, are designed to eject spent casings from the side of a gun. If you are shooting left handed or right handed using a left-handed weapon, make sure the casings will not eject back into your face.