Just like people, rifles come in an assortment of shapes and sizes. They vary in weight, with a variety of different optics and accoutrements. Some people add bipods and vertical grips, while others might opt for lasers and lights. Nevertheless, regardless of what your rifle looks like, there are fundamentals that, once learned and put into practice, will make rifle shooting simpler.
Generally, shooting a rifle is easier than shooting a handgun, because rather than just having two hands on the firearm, as with a pistol, there are other parts of your body that assist with stabilizing the rifle.
The four points of contact with a rifle are your strong hand, support hand, where the stock meets your upper body and the cheek weld. When I combine these four points of contact, I have a greater ability to control my follow-up shots.
Most action shooters prefer their elbows down, because it takes muscular strength to keep them up and out.
Holding it like this helps create economy of motion when presenting the rifle. Use the toe of the buttstock like a hinge against your pectoral. Simply roll the gun up until the stock meets your cheek, bringing the sights in line with your eye. Eventually, this movement becomes natural based on kinesthetic awareness, which is touch sensation. It eventually just begins to feel “right.” You might have to make some minor adjustments along the way, but the more you practice this correctly, the smoother and more efficient your movements become.
FOUR POINTS OF CONTACT
1. STRONG HAND: This hand fires the rifle and pulls it rearward into your upper body.
2. SUPPORT HAND: This hand stabilizes the weight of the gun. I prefer to extend my hand forward on the hand guard and wrap my thumb on the top. Some people like to bring their support hand in closer to the magazine well.
3. BUTTSTOCK: The toe of the buttstock should be high on the strong-side pectoral, in from the shoulder pocket. Try this: Grab a handful of your pectoral from your armpit to your chest. Where your thumb lands is generally where the toe of the buttstock should touch.
4. CHEEK WELD: The cheek rests on the top of the stock. It’s different for everyone—depending on the eye relief required for the type of sights they have.
THE SAFETY SELECTOR LEVER
Just as with a 1911, the safety on an AR should be manipulated every time you come off target. When my feet are moving and I’m not actively engaging targets, my safety is on. If you trip over a root during a match (as I have) and face-plant, you’ll want your safety to be on when you lose control of your gun.
When we train people to manipulate firearms we say, “The thumb lives on the safety.” This is another form of kinetic awareness. I know what it “feels like” when my safety is both on and off. Using the safety on my AR has become an automatic motor program for me—something I don’t have to consciously think about.
Finally, the sling. When I spend time on the range with my pistol, I wear my holster to have somewhere to store the pistol when it is not being used. The same thing goes for the sling on my rifle: Whenever I don’t need to be actively holding my rifle, I let it hang (on “safe,” of course). I feel sorry for people who forget to bring their slings to a class and are stuck holding a heavy rifle all day. It’s very fatiguing. Think about it this way: The sling is to the rifle what the holster is to the pistol.
When wearing a sling, you should have it tight enough so the toe of the butt stock is near the hinge point on your pectoral. I prefer a two-point sling with some bungee for stretch, because it keeps the gun near the “ready” position. After all, your rifle isn’t meant to be worn as a necklace.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
Take the time to become comfortable using the four points of contact with your AR. Find out where you need to place your support hand for maximum control of your rifle. Determine where the buttstock of the gun should come in contact. Practice engaging and disengaging your safety, keeping your thumb on it the entire time. Work with your sling. Find a proper adjustment in the length to keep it near the ready position.
As with anything else, the more you practice properly, the smoother you will become, and the faster you will get.
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the September 2017 print issue of Gun World.