Posted on: July 2, 20162
“You don’t need a $2,500 rifle, you need a $700 rifle and $1,800 in training”. This is a popular quote or meme that has been floating around the internet for some time and while there is truth in it, it is also misleading.
I always recommend to clients, that they get the best possible rifle and optics- if they are serious about training. Why? Because of fundamentals training. A $700 rifle will be “good enough” for your standard “tactical” course that requires 1,000 rounds and SWAT rolls around vehicles, but if you really want to make gains in your fundamentals- “good enough” won’t cut it. Let me break this down a bit. Actual Operators don’t become great combat shooters because they spend one range session zeroing, call it “good enough”, and then hop right into burying themselves in brass at 25yds. They do it on a flat range. In the prone supported, prone unsupported, seated, kneeling and standing- at 100, 200, 300 and even 400 meters. We do it by grouping over and over again. By evaluating our shot groups and looking for errors, then confirming them by shooting again and correcting them. By building a firm grasp of how sight picture affects our marksmanship. By becoming intimate with fundamentals and ingraining them into our subconscious. This process takes weeks of constant repetition, every day and thousands of rounds. By the end of a standard range day, your eyes hurt, you have difficulty focusing, and you are mentally exhausted. How does this relate to equipment?
Poor equipment complicates and frustrates the learning process. Let’s unpack that and relate it to the previous paragraph. They key task of marksmanship fundamentals training is shot group analysis, building up to self-diagnosis. What happens on paper is a direct result of something that happened at the shooter. You fired while breathing, your natural point of aim was off, you had inconsistent sight placement, etc. These are all non-deterministic shooting errors. These are errors that cannot be accurately predicted or measured before shooting. We must go through a troubleshooting process to track down what caused them by analyzing our shot group or having self-awareness through reading our sights during the firing process. This task in and of itself can be extremely frustrating to shooters, because many will focus on one thing to correct a problem and forget about others, which then cause a separate error. This is where good equipment comes in.
First, Barrels and Ammo. The performance of your rifle and ammunition determines the base size and consistency of your shot group. If we are shooting a rifle with a barrel that is not capable of a level of precision, then we will have more inconsistency and a wider spread in our shot group. When we combine that with standard ammunition, like XM193 (because match grade ammo can easily outprice a match barrel with a day’s training), we add more inconsistency to our groups. If we run a cheaper, non-free floated barrel we can create shooting error when we impart force on the handgrips through grip pressure or sling tension.
Next Optics. One of the most difficult tasks in marksmanship is seeing the target. If you have an optic that has glass with a tint in it, it may make seeing the target center in variable lighting conditions difficult. If your optic has irregular parallax movement, it will cause you to group differently each time you change head positions. If you have a large MOA dot (more than 1 moa)- maintaining a consistent and precise point of aim on the target will be difficult, especially at distance. Shot placement error can be difficult for an instructor to diagnose, because the only one that can truly confirm it is the person that was looking through the optic at the time the weapon was fired. Of course the instructor can hypothesize that it is the cause with a level of confidence, through process of elimination- but this isn’t ideal.
Finally, the trigger. In order to fire the weapon, there is a part of the weapon that we must actually move. In order to do that, we must impart force on the weapon. Some stock triggers have trigger weights that actually exceed the weight of the weapon. The more force we impart on the weapon and the more we have to move the part, the more chance we have to move the weapon during the firing process and create error. This is where having a good quality, single stage match trigger helps. This keeps the distance of trigger travel and force required to a minimum.
When we take all of these equipment factors into account it equals a magnification of error. If we have a barrel that is only capable of 2 MOA groups, ammo that is only capable of 2 MOA, and a 2 MOA dot, that does not equal 2 MOA accuracy, it can mean 6 MOA accuracy at its worst and that isn’t even accounting for your fundamentals errors when your 5 MOA meat grippers touch the rifle. Using the most precise equipment possible, for your application, will de-complicate the shot group feedback process and allow the shooter to focus on their fundamentals training with greater confidence and faster progression.
To close this article, I do want to make sure that everyone understands that I am not saying to stay off the range or out of courses if all you can afford is a cheap rifle and optics. The country would be a better place if everyone is armed and trained, and not everyone has the budget for high end equipment. What I am saying is that with good equipment, your training sessions will be much more productive and you will get more for your money out of a training course than you will with marginal equipment. But, if all you can afford is a $700 rifle, $150 optics and Tula ammo- then get out there and train with it. But, understand that and accept the level of precision you have and don’t allow it to frustrate you when you are trying to correct your error.