The Decline of Marksmanship Culture

I’ve been mulling over the cultural devaluation of marksmanship in our country. I’m not entirely sure where it comes from. On one hand, some areas of the military still put great emphasis on marksmanship, especially the Marine Corps and various special mission units. The remainder, however, no longer seems to care a great deal. “Put the little red dot on the target, pull trigger” is about as detailed as marksmanship seems to get for everyone else. In nearly eight years of active service as an officer, I have fired exactly zero shots through official training or evaluation.

Perhaps this is intentional. If anything, the trend in modern warfare (Afghanistan notwithstanding) is that small arms combat has been happening at much closer ranges than was traditionally trained for. I can understand the bean counter perspective that spending copious amounts of money on training to hit targets at 700, 800, or 1000 yards was not directly useful to gunfights that typically took place within 100 yards or less (usually much less). The DoD’s own research following WWII showed that getting hit by rifle fire beyond 300 yards was essentially a random event, like artillery or grenade shrapnel, and that the most important factor was the size and time of exposure of the target, not the skill of the marksman. It is this research that eventually led to the development of the 5.56 round and the M16.

Of course, the more I read and practice, the more I realize that the fundamentals that go into hitting those targets at 600 yards and beyond are still very important at closer ranges. But regardless, the bean counters won and devalued training in favor of equipment solutions.

This coincides with a simultaneous rise in marketing to the “tacticool” crowd, which I admit I fell into. It seemed easier to buy new equipment that promised to make me “better” rather than actually go out and practice. And then there is the ongoing distrust of the “FUDDs” who break out their scoped 30-06 for a range trip once a year before hunting season (but at least seem to care about hitting a target at further than 25 yards), and decry AR-15’s as “terrorist weapons with no place in sport shooting.” Add to that the new generation of gun enthusiasts who were introduced to firearms by playing Call of Duty rather than their fathers teaching them the skills that their fathers taught them, and you have entire generations of shooters who have never spent any significant amount of time actually learning to shoot.

Not only do we have generations of shooters who have never properly been taught to shoot, they don’t even know where to go to learn. The military is certainly one option, but just doesn’t happen for many people. Going to the range is usually a solitary experience, or you are more likely to end up talking about your gear rather than the ins and outs of marksmanship. Some people actually get upset when you try to give them advice.

So how do we fix it? I’ve seen some articles from military officers in the past talking about rethinking marksmanship training standards again, but that’s only a small subset. How do we reach the CoD generation? Whether we like it or not, these folks are the future of the shooting world. How do we engage them to learn the right skills that they can use and pass on?


2 thoughts on “The Decline of Marksmanship Culture”

  1. My brain has been exactly where yours is right now. I’ve pondered over that exact question. The conclusion that I’ve come to is that there never really was a golden era of marksmanship where everyone was a super marksman. It hasn’t really slipped so much as it’s always been like this. There have always been people like you and me who are serious about what we do, and there’s been the rest of them, who only care enough to get qualified on courses that seem way too easy to us. We’ve always been in the minority (the vast minority? I guess that doesn’t really work), and what makes sense for us wouldn’t and doesn’t work for the majority. The red dot makes sense for most folk. They just have a job to do and the marksmanship to them is just extra crap to learn.

  2. You bring up a good point. It is easy to look back at the list of some of the great marksmen in history, but that is still an extremely small “club” of people when put against the backdrop of everyone else who was also doing a similar job at the time.


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