“The Lowly Rifle”: Are We Riflemen?

Rifleman Col Jeff Cooper
February 22, 2013  
Categories: Assorted Ramblings

Rifleman Col Jeff CooperOnce again we’re chuffed to give you something from Pete Nealen to consider as you roll into the weekend. As you will recall we periodically discuss what has been called “the lowly rifle” and of course that most basic and ultimately necessary instrument of war  – the rifleman. Take a knee, pay attention. Think about it, take it to heart an let me bring something else up…if you don’t know who Col. Cooper is, you’re wrong. When I was at Pendleton last time, the better part of a class of 0311s and some 0317s had no idea who the Good Colonel was. That is unacceptable. If you’re an NCO, fix that shit. – Richard “Swingin’ Dick” Kilgore

Now, Pete Nealen:

Are We Riflemen?

            “And while certain varieties of missilery have taken great strides, little of importance has been done to improve the rifles with which we greeted the turn of the century.

            Well hold on now!  We have semi-automatic actions and telescope sights, haven’t we?

            Of course we have, and these improvements do deserve consideration, but the first matters only in the military mode and the second is still only partially understood.  Rapid repeat shots do little for the individual rifleman, whose primary object is to hit with his first shot…

                                                                                    -Jeff Cooper, The General Purpose Rifle

That quote is from an article written by the late Col. Jeff Cooper in the early ‘80s.  It hits on a number of things, some of which can be fixed, some of which will not be fixed any time soon, given the nature of the military review and acquisition process.

The first item is combat marksmanship.  Going by Col. Cooper’s standard, a rifleman should hit with the first shot out to 500 yards.  In the articles collected in the book To Ride, Shoot Straight, and Speak the Truth, he provides several cases of small, outnumbered forces, equipped with bolt-action rifles, who made every shot count and held off larger attacking forces. With iron sights. How many Soldiers or Marines these days could do that? Sailors or Airmen, those who actually have to employ a rifle? Are they even remotely trained to do that?

I would argue the answer is no.  At a range on 29 Palms in 2006, my Recon platoon got to see the results of our hits on the computer-controlled pop-up targets.  We were at something like fifty percent accuracy, if that, and we still outscored the infantry company who had gone before us.  Again, looking at actual combat, the tendency, and we were as guilty of this as anybody, is to pump rounds downrange in the direction of the enemy, ostensibly to suppress them.

While suppression has its place, it’s not the job of the rifleman, it is the job of the automatic rifleman and/or machinegunner.  The rifleman should be focusing on killing the enemy.  This gets somewhat into the realm of maneuver, as touched on in my last post, but it also carries over into marksmanship and fire discipline.  It also touches on the use of cover and concealment, as you need less suppression if you are in good cover.  Good cover can be pretty small, too, if you know what you’re doing.

Marksmanship training at unknown distances has fallen off for all but snipers.  The vast majority of the shooting we did in Recon in the last eight years was on the square bay.  CQB is great, and requires a lot of work to get right, but you have to stretch out there.  The Scout/Sniper’s realm is 501 meters and out.  500 meters and in belongs to the rifleman, and anyone who claims to be one had better be able to judge distances and wind at least out that far.  When is the last time your unit worked on that?  When is the last time you reinforced fire discipline?

Marine Riflemen

Now, I understand that, contrary to what the Colonel said, rapid follow-up shots are a necessity in this day and age.  5.56 NATO simply does not have the capability to manage disabling first round shots out to 500 meters, unless you hit the bad guy in the head.  There isn’t enough energy.  An ambusher in Iraq was shot ten times in the chest with 5.56 green tip and was still breathing.  There are much better cartridges out there, such as 6.8 SPC, 6.5 Grendel, and .300 Blackout, the latter two not requiring different mags or lower receivers in the M4/M16, but these are not going to be used by regular forces anytime soon, so talking about them in combat is little more than mental masturbation.  Caliber isn’t going to get fixed.  So we’ve got to work around.  Practice first round hits in the kill box, with rapid follow-up shots.  Don’t spray and pray.  Shoot to hit.

Rifle at Fort Benning

Everything is done with optics now.  While they can be a huge help, nothing reinforces the fundamentals like iron sights. If you are good with irons, you can be better with optics.  It doesn’t really work the other way around.  Practice as much as possible with irons.  Your marksmanship will improve.  Allowing KD qualifications with ACOGs is, in my opinion, lowering the standard and eroding training.

Army rifleman

Again, it all comes down to training.  In combat, you will regress to your highest level of training.  So let’s make sure the training level is as high as we can get it.  That way lies victory.

Mad Duo, Breach-Bang& CLEAR!

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AAuthor Peter Nealenbout the Author: Pete Nealen is a former Reconnaissance Marine, a combat veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan and the author of several books. A contributor here at Breach-Bang-Clear for many years now, Pete is a badass writer who continues to make the Duo’s efforts look pale and feeble (if less gritty and jaw-clenching-y) by comparison. You can follow Nealan on his own blog, American Praetorians. Continue below to see the only picture of Nealen smiling.


Fortis cadere, cedere non potest.


Pete Nealen

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Pete Nealen

Pete Nealen

About the Author

Pete Nealen is a former Reconnaissance Marine, a combat veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan and the author of several books. A contributor here at Breach-Bang-Clear for many years now, Pete is a bad ass writer who continues to make the Duo's efforts look pale and feeble (if less gritty and jaw-clenching-y) by comparison. You can follow Nealan on his own blog, American Praetorians. We encourage you to do so here. His author page on Facebook is at PeteNealenAuthor. If you'd like to read some of his books, you can start the American Praetorians series (about a PMC in a post Greater Depression dystopia now 4 books long) with Task Force Desperate. He has a standalone action novel called Kill Yuan, which you can find here. You could also do worse than to start reading the Jed Horn series (a supernatural shoot 'em up series now on its 3rd volume) with Nightmares, then proceed with Silver Cross and a Winchester and Walker on the Hills and . His fiction is widely claimed for the realism of its combat scenes -- this is no doubt because he hangs around with us. It could also have something to do with his skill as a writer and his background (multiple deployments, qualifications as a Combatant Diver, Navy/Marine Corps Parachutist, Marine Scout/Sniper and S/S team leader, Combat Tracker, et al).


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