The Prone Position

After learning your rifle’s mechanisms and sling, you are ready to learn the basic firing positions.  As stated earlier, all field positions represent a compromise between stability and mobility.  The offhand position is very mobile, but unsteady, as the rifle has only the sling and the shooters support hand to steady it.  The prone position is the most stable, and hence the most accurate, but is immobile, as the shooter is prostrate.  Further, it limits the shooters field of vision if low-lying scrub or tall grass is between the target and shooter.  The sitting position is a good compromise in these instances, as it places the shooter above the grass and scrub, is stable (if the shooter assumes it correctly), and is more mobile than prone (easier to assume and return to a standing position than prone).  The AQT requires shooting from the offhand, sitting or kneeling (shooter’s choice), and the prone position.  Since you will sight in your rifle from the prone position, and it is required for both the three hundred and four hundred meter strings of fire, I will address the prone position first.  Again, although I am not and never will be a Marine, the USMC’s Rifle Marksmanship is a top shelf document and an invaluable reference for the new would-be Rifleman (you are not a Rifleman until you score expert on the AQT; until that day, you are just a cook).

The prone position provides a very steady foundation for shooting and presents a low profile for maximum concealment. However, the prone position is the least mobile of the shooting positions and may restrict a Marine’s field of view for observation. In this position, the Marine’s weight is evenly distributed on the elbows, providing maximum support and good stability for the rifle (Rifle Marksmanship, 5-8)

Of the prone position variations, I will cover the cocked leg prone position with the loop sling.  It is the most common prone position (the other being a straight-legged variation) and the most comfortable in terms of absorbing recoil.  If time is pressing, the shooter can also use the hasty or hasty-hasty slings in the prone position as well.  It is easy to get into the prone position. To begin, place a loop sling on your support arm, as explained previously.  There are two ways to get into the prone position from standing.  One may kneel and kick his feet behind him; or, one may kneel, and move forward into the position.  In a field situation, you will base your choice on available cover and time (if moving forward into position would cause you to crowd your cover, you would want to move back into position; similarly, if you may want to move forward to find cover). Since we are adapting this to fieldwork, not competition shooting, you will need to be able to do either. In both variations, use your support hand to break your fall, and to help you get into a strong prone position (Figure 1).  If moving forward into position, use your rifle butt and support arm to help you move forward into position.  If moving back into position, kick your feet back, and lie down into position.  You will need to lie down, body facing at an approximate forty-five degree angle, body facing toward the strong side, with the rifle facing the target (Figure 2).  Once lying down, roll onto your support side (the left, for right-handed shooters). Keep the support elbow firmly on the ground (this is the foundation of your position). Move your body around the elbow until your sights are on target, finding your natural point of aim.  Do not try to move the rifle’s sights on target with your arms.  Your rifle must face the target naturally. Finding and maintaining your natural point of aim is what separates the Riflemen from the cooks. Keep your support elbow directly under the rifle’s stock. If the rifle is not immediately above the elbow, it will pull your shot off the target. This may be hard on your shoulder, at first. You will develop the requisite flexibility with practice.  Your support leg should be straight, and your strong leg drawn up, until its knee is nearly touching your strong elbow.  This bent leg helps to absorb recoil, and is important in delivering sustained, accurate rapid fire (Figure 4).  Your sling should be so tight that you have to place the stock in the shoulder with the strong hand.  When you bring the strong side elbow down, it creates a cam motion that really tightens the rifle into the shoulder pocket.  You will need that sling tight, because the third stage of the AQT is rapid fire, preparing to for that truism of riflery: “A Rifleman fires every shot rapid fire”.  Scoring expert on the AQT requires accurate rapid fire

(Figure 1, using your arm to support your weight)

(Figure 2, getting into the prone position)

(Figure 3, settling in)

(Figure 4, the prone position)

It is from the prone position that you will likely sight in your rifle. Many gun owners only shoot from the bench. They never develop any real skill that way. It certainly does not prove how accurately they are capable of shooting. A Rifleman never shoots from the bench (handloaders may shoot from the bench, to work up a new load; even then, shooting from the prone is better exercise). A well-established prone position is nearly as steady, and allows the shooter to track his progress, and improve his ability. You will use the prone position for two stages of the AQT (three hundred meter rapid fire and four hundred meter slow fire), simulating real-life situations. The prone position makes the shooter a small silhouette, and allows for accurate fire at longer ranges.

Next up, the sitting position.

That was essay number two. I’ll probably draw some fire over that not shooting from the bench bit. I still stand by it. What does shooting from a bench prove, that your rifle is mechanically accurate? Big deal. If you, the shooter, can take your rifle, snap in, and hold a two inch group, you’re already a better shot than ninety-nine percent of gun owners on the planet. If you have a super-gee-whiz Buck Rogers AR that will hold sub-one-inch groups from the bench, but you can’t hit a bull in the ass on Sunday morning with it, what good will it do you? The former is much more preferable, to me, than the latter. For what it’s worth, I can hold my shoots inside a four MOA with any old surplus I can get (excepting Indian), and certainly well enough to score expert on the AQT. Is that super-fantastic? Well, it’s crap, if you believe the gun rags. They also regularly screw their test rifles into a vice before testing them, too. How well do they do in real life? They never answer those questions. That’s another rant, for another time.

Use your sling.

I wrote this little tutorial on how to effectively use the rifle’s sling as a shooting aid back in September of 2006. I had read Fred’s Guide to Becoming a Rifleman several times, and had attended four Appleseeds. I understood the concepts well, but found the description of sling use in the manual lacking. It seemed vague to me. I thought then that detailed descriptions with pictures would be a benefit to new shooters unfamiliar with the sling, and especially folk interested in attending an Appleseed, to give them a head start.

I want you first to get a feel for your rifle.  Learn every inch of it.  Learn its workings and mechanisms, its sights and trigger.  You should strip the rifle, clean, and lubricate it per its specification.  Inspect the magazines (if your rifle requires them).  Look for bent feed lips and, if necessary, disassemble and clean them as well.  With your rifle clean and lubricated, it is ready to begin.  It is time to prepare you, the shooter, to progress and to become a Rifleman.

First, you will need to learn your rifle sling.  For my example, I will describe the proper use of the web sling as issued with the M1 Garand and the M14 (including its semiautomatic variants, the M1A/M14S/ M14SA, et. all).  This sling was an essential piece of wartime kit for three generations, and is most commonly available made from cotton canvas webbing, although later issue, including the current issue in use by Army and Marine designated marksman M14 slings are Nylon; these are superior to their cotton equivalent, and are well proven.  I highly recommend these slings (the cotton and Nylon) over the leather 1907 sling.  Many match shooters prefer the leather; and although I agree that they are quite attractive and old school when well made, they are more susceptible to inclement weather, and will rot from hard use.  This is not match riflery.  This is field shooting.  Although it is specifically for the M1 and M14 rifles, you may be able to adapt it to the FAL and HK91 systems.  Certainly, the same sling usage applies to all these rifles, plus the AR15 and AR10 rifles.  The web sling has four parts (see figure one).  They are the spring clip, which attaches the sling to the butt end swivel, the buckle (permanently attached to the sling), for adjusting the sling’s length, the sling itself, and the keeper (the buckle that holds the slings adjustment).  Attach the spring clip to the butt end swivel with the buckle’s loop facing out, away from the stock.  The sling’s keeper should be on the sling, with its hasp facing inward (toward the stock) and up toward the upper sling swivel. Bring the end of the sling outside, and place it through the upper sling swivel.  Lace the end of the sling through the keeper.  Now, with the sling in place, you can adjust it to fit (see images).

(Figure 1, disassembled sling pieces)

(Figure 2, assembling the sling)

(Figure 3, assembling the pieces. continued)

(Figure 4, attaching the keeper)

(Figure 5, keeper attached)

With the sling attached, hold the rifle horizontally. The sling will hang down from the swivels. Place the thumb of one hand under the grip (the small of the stock) and splay your fingers out making your hand span as far as it is able. Adjust the sling length with the keeper until it just touches your smallest finger. Later you can fine-tune the adjustment from position; but this should get the sling to the right length to start (Figure 6).

(Figure 6, determining proper slack)

There are two basic configurations, and one variation on the second, for using the sling as a shooting aid.  The first is the loop sling, used in the prone and sitting positions.  To make a loop sling, begin by detaching the sling from the rifle’s butt by sliding the spring clip from the rear swivel, leaving the sling attached to the rifle at the front.  It is usually easier to perform the next steps kneeling, with the rifle butt on the ground, and the barrel resting on your shoulder (be careful doing this on the firing line with a hot rifle.  I once wore a brand for days made by a hot barrel that- very briefly- touched my neck).  Hold the spring clip and buckle in your strong hand (right for right-handed shooters, left for left-handed shooter).  Now feed some of the sling back through the buckle, forming a loop of material (Figure 7).  Twist the sling a half turn away from you (this is very important: turn the sling away from you).  The spring clip will now be facing up (Figure 8).  Holding the sling in your strong hand (again, right for right-handed shooters).  Use your weak hand fingers to grab the cuff of your shooting jacket’s sleeve.  This will prevent the sleeve from riding up when you put the sling on your arm (Figure 9).  Now, slide the sling loop as far onto your arm as possible, even up to your armpit.  The USMC jacket has a brachial pad on the support arm sleeve, ostensibly to keep your rifle from moving in time with your brachial pulse.  In my experience, placing the sling above the pad will keep the sling from sliding back down the arm in rapid fire shooting.  If you have made the loop correctly, it will tighten when you pull on the sling (Figure 10).  If not, start over, you have made a mistake somewhere.  From position, the sling should be so tight that the shooter will have to place the stock into the shoulder pocket with the strong hand, and cam the strong arm down, forming a good shoulder pocket.  If the sling is so tight that you lose feeling in your fingers, it is just about tight enough (not really, loosen it up just a little bit if it is that tight).  We will go over that again when we address positions in detail.

(Figure 7, form a loop)

(Figure 8, twist the loop, note that the clip faces up)

(Figure 9, be sure to hold your sleeve)

(Figure 10, the self-tightening sling)

The other sling configuration (and its variation) is the hasty sling, and the hasty-hasty sling. Riflemen use these principally in the offhand, or standing, position. For these configurations, begin with the sling attached to the rifle, as we began for the loop sling. Hold the rifle by the small of the stock horizontally, with the sling hanging below it. Put your support arm through the hole created by the sling and rifle (Figure 11). Reach are far as you can, again so that the sling is up to your armpit. If you stop here, and shoulder the weapon, you have the hasty-hasty sling.  If you wrap your arm around the outside of the sling loop, and back inside the sling, effectively weaving your arm around the sling, and back on the fore end of the stock, that is the hasty sling (Figure 12). It is slower to assume, but helps hold the rifle tight to your shoulder. If the sling is tight enough, you will have to place the rifle into your shoulder pocket with strong hand.

(Figure 11, starting the hasty sling)

(Figure 12, Assuming the hasty sling.  This is the position for the hasty-hasty sling)

(Figure 13, the weaving the arm through, finishing with the hasty sling)

Many gun owners so-called shooters  have only fired their rifles from a bench rest. Even many hunters use only tree stands or blinds fire from supported positions. One of the would-be Rifleman’s objectives should be to learn to shoot from unsupported positions, using the rifle’s sling as a shooting aid. In my next entry, I will go over the basic positions, their uses, advantages and disadvantages, and how accurate shooting from unsupported positions places the qualified Rifleman in the top five percent of all gun owners.

There you have it. My first serious attempt at informative writing. It could use a polish; but I think it has aged well. As always, constructive comments are welcome.