Posted: 1/9/2003 3:39:22 PM EDT
January 8, 2003 11:39
Why Johnny Can't Shoot Anymore
By R.J. Thomas
Up until the Vietnam War, Americans had been known as a nation of marksmen. From the French and Indian wars through the Korean conflict, those who opposed us on the battlefield suffered the consequences of our rifleman heritage.
Then about the time of the Vietnam War, our troops suddenly seemed unable to shoot any better than anyone else, and often, not as well. The reasons for the decline in our shooting capabilities, as reflected by the reported performance of our ground troops in Afghanistan, are multi-faceted, but definable and correctable.
From the 1600s continuing through the present, the population of the United States has been on a steady migration from rural to urban living. The mentality of rural or wilderness dwellers always focused on the necessity of good marksmanship. Whether for subsistence or defense, good shooters could keep their family fed or defend them from marauders if necessary.
Great rifles were built for these early marksmen, first by early German settlers, who set up shops around the Pennsylvania iron ore deposits. Later, these Pennsylvania rifles gained fame for their accuracy and killing power in the Kentucky Territory and across the Great Plains.
Gun makers such as Ballard, Sharps, Remington and Winchester carried on the traditions of the early German gunsmiths and built superbly accurate, powerful single-shot hunting rifles. These makers also built long-range competition rifles that were accurate beyond 1,000 yards. Meanwhile, Springfield Arsenal was building single-shot rifles for the U.S. military, chambered for the powerful 45-70 Government cartridge, which remained the primary service round from 1873-1889, when it was replaced by the smokeless 30 U.S. Army (30-40 Krag).
As the balance of the population began to shift from rural to urban settings in the early 1900s, so did the emphasis on great marksmanship. City folk continued to hunt under controlled seasons and bag limits, but mostly for sport. City dwellers also continued European-style competitions (Schutzen Matches) to keep their marksmanship skills sharp and display their shooting prowess against the rest of the world in open competition
Meanwhile, the country folk were still subsistence hunting and controlling predators, sometimes within the law, sometimes not. Great competitive marksmen also came from rural communities (particularly the Rocky Mountain States and California), as well as the eastern population centers. Americans were recognized as the best shooters in the world and shot for cash prizes up to $25,000 (a lot of loot in those days), as well as for numerous merchandise prizes.
However, all was not well for American shooters: Movements to take guns away from the general population and ban hunting (a blood sport) were already starting to make themselves heard. These anti-gun/anti-hunting groups, considered fringe lunatics by early Americans, have now gained considerable influence over our government and its policy, as we shall see.
The early U.S. military system recognized the importance of marksmanship among the ranks and often rewarded the best marksmen with additional money and advancement to positions of leadership.
Up through the 1940s, the Army conducted regular shooting sessions at the company level, the Navy at the fleet level and the Marines at the regimental and landing party level to determine the best shots in their ranks. The military as a whole encouraged shooting competition, and even the smallest units based in isolated locations practiced with their 1903 Springfield 30-06s on ranges that were required on all military installations. Every fort, base, installation and unit sent its best marksmen to represent their commands at regional, service (All-Army, All-Marine Corps etc.), and Inter-Service Matches, culminating in the National Championships at Camp Perry, Ohio. Competition between the branches of the U.S. military (particularly the Army and Marine Corps) for the honor of National Champion was ferocious and all of the services strongly supported the program.
By the 1950s, U.S. military leadership was already becoming enamored of high technology approaches to fighting wars. Military weapons designers had developed the great magazine-fed M-14 battle rifle from the innovative en bloc clip-fed M-1 Garand. While the training required to load and shoot the M-14 well was significantly less than that required for the M-1, marksmanship principles and the training required to attain excellence remained constant. The Army, Marines and to a lesser degree the Navy, supported marksmanship training and KD ranges up through the 1970s despite the high cost, but they were searching for a technological solution.
The only problem with marksmanship training was it was very expensive. Military leaders recognized that it took their finest NCOs to instill marksmanship principles in new recruits and to continue training throughout their careers to maintain peak effectiveness with their M-1s and later M-14s.
Additionally, Known Distance (KD) ranges took up a lot of valuable real estate and required expensive maintenance of the butts, targets and firing points. U.S. military leaders thought they found a technological solution to the high cost of marksmanship training (encouraged by bureaucratic bean counters) in the form of the M-16 rifle.
The M-16 offered the military services (with the exception of the Marines), at least a theoretical rationale to abandon their costly marksmanship programs. Based on computer-modeled battlefield scenarios, the military brass were convinced there would never be another war fought by grunts at ranges beyond 300 meters.
The M-16 offered reduced recoil (a consideration for our kinder, gentler co-ed recruits), an increased volume of automatic fire and an increased number of rounds in a standard loadout. All of this added up to theoretical increased Probability of Hits (PH) on adversaries on the premise that if you shoot more bullets faster, you are bound to more often hit something - a seriously flawed theory. An additional economic benefit of the M-16/5.56 cartridge was it
had a shorter range-over-flight requirement than the old 30-06 cartridge for which the KD ranges had originally been built.
So one direct consequence of the M-16's arrival was that marksmanship training and competition programs began losing vital financial support from the military leadership.
All over the country, bases began to review the cost of maintaining ranges. Local commanders found that they could open up this valuable real estate for important functions like golf courses, new landing strips or a host of other uses such as blank fire tactics training villages.
Another force working against military marksmanship was the rise of environmental regulations (particularly the frequently-mandated Environmental Impact Statement [EIS] required for any major base construction project).
Even in that last bastion of marksmanship, the Marine Corps, the heat was on base commanders to shut down ranges wherever possible. One of the ranges on MCB Camp Pendleton (the only 1,000-yard KD range in Southern California) was closed by the base biologist (an anti-gun hippie) because he felt the loud rifle reports would disturb the breeding habits of the California Black Vireos nesting in the nearby willows of Pulgas Creek. Of course, nobody was allowed to point out that the Vireos had been nesting there for 50 years with rifles banging away the whole time, to no ill effect on the birds.
Lest one should think this was a rare example of protective enthusiasm, this same environmentalist nitwit held up the construction of a Navy SEAL .50-caliber sniper range on MCB Pendleton for three years while conducting an EIS on the negative impact the range would have on the habitat of the Whitefooted Kangaroo Rat. The irony of that particular whole study was the rats actually preferred the backside of impact area berms for their burrowing areas, so more rat habitat was created by the range's existence.
The stories are the same all over the country for all of the armed services. Civilian residential encroachment on base borders, politically-correct anti-gun politicians (the Imperial Beach Navy SEAL Range was shut down because illegals crossing the Tijuana River could potentially wander into the impact area), and environmentalists placing the welfare of various birds, rodents and amphibians before training requirements for troops, must be brought to a halt.
Once the Army abandoned the concept of a grunt with a battle rifle capable of hitting targets out to several hundred yards, marksmanship training was on a slippery slope.
Today, the brass seem determined to try and develop "shoot-and-forget" weapons, and their motivation appears driven more to avoid the high costs of marksmanship training and range maintenance than to improve soldier effectiveness in combat. Recently, there have even been evaluations of videogame substitutes for KD range training, with which the recruit aims a mock M-16 at a video screen displaying different-sized enemy soldier icons to represent differing ranges. A good video game player can tear this training device up, but when a real rifle is put in his hands, the results on KD range targets are often abysmal.
But as the Afghanistan "lessons learned" clearly show, if the U.S. military still wants to fight protracted rifle battles at long range, it needs to put the emphasis back on marksmanship, re-establish live-fire KD ranges and provide the troops effective and sustained marksmanship training with weapons capable of reaching out and touching someone.
Yes, but your Grandfather didn't have 38,420 of his fellow sportsman castigating him for making such an unethical shot. It was, after all, a rabbit. And they breed like, well, like rabbits.
Not to mention he didn't have neighbors turning him in for cruelty to animals for shooting the rabbit (a game animal, like the squirrel)
I live in the country and I still "jiggle" (as my wife says) when I aim. I say you gotta practice.