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Rifle Marksmanship Standards for Everyday Marksmen

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Today has been a long time coming. As we’ve been exploring the idea of a minimum capable citizen, we had to eventually get to discussing rifle marksmanship standards.

Pistol standards seemed a little easier by comparison, since most of us focus on concealed carry and personal defense situations. On the other hand, rifles can be used in so many ways that it seemed unfair to try and create one simple test to hold ourselves accountable for.

In this post, I’m going to outline The Everyday Marksman minimum rifle skills challenge, and then walk through how I came up with it.

Minimum Rifle Marksmanship Standards Challenge

As with the handgun skills challenge, the rifle skills test is performed in two stages, each designed to test a different (but still related) set of skills.

For both stages, you will need a current standard US Army zeroing target. Rite in the rain makes some really nice ones that you get in a pack of 100.

I chose this target for two reasons. Firstly, if you’ve followed my articles on zeroing, I’ve already suggested purchasing this one before- so you might have a few laying around. Second, since it’s covered in 1 MOA squares scaled for 25 meters, it makes measuring accuracy for the marksmanship standards test very easy.

The important part of this target is the 4″ black zone representing 16 MOA, the 3″ ring representing 12 MOA, a 2″ ring for 8 MOA ring, and 1″ dotted ring (4 MOA) around the center diamond.

You will need two targets placed at 25 meters. If you can’t easily do 25 meters, then 25 yards is acceptable.

Stage 1: The Snapshot

I derived the snapshot test from the work of Jeff Cooper. It represents a “surprise shot” where a target suddenly presents itself. His version was two parts, with the first half consisting of a 4″ circle at 25 yards and the second involving a 10″ circle at 50 yards. The goal in either case was to hit the target in 1.5 seconds or less starting from a port arms position.

We’re only using the first portion of the test. Instead of port arms, we start at the low ready.

To perform the snapshot test, you fire five shots at one target placed at 25 yards. You need a timer, preferably a shot timer with par time function, set to 1.5 seconds and a random start.

Start at a low ready position, with the muzzle pointing down and the stock touching the firing shoulder. Upon start, raise the rifle, acquire a sight picture, and fire one shot anywhere into the 4″ black zone of the target.

If your shot was outside of the 1.5-second limit, then it does not count. A hit is any impact that breaks the outer edge of the black zone.

Reset the timer and return to a low ready. Repeat this sequence until you have fired all five shots.

If you placed all five shots into the black zone of the target, and all shots were within the time limit, then you have successfully completed the first marksmanship standard

Stage 2: Rifle Marksmanship Fundamentals

In the second stage, it’s all about the fundamentals of marksmanship. For this portion, you will fire 10 shots at the target from three positions in 60 seconds or less. We will use the other target we posted up- the one we haven’t shot at yet.

Begin the stage from the low ready position. Upon start, fire three shots from the standing position. After the third shot, transition to the kneeling, squatting, or sitting position and fire three more shots. From there, transition to the prone position and fire the last four shots.

To score the stage, assign a point value of 1 to the 12 MOA (3″) ring, 2 for the 8 MOA (2″) ring, and 3 points for the dotted 4 MOA (1″) ring. A total score of 21 points is the minimum standard. The space outside of the 3″ ring, but still within the black zone, is worth 0 points per hit.

Completing the test equates to three hits in the 3″ ring, three hits in the 2″ ring, and four hits in the 1″ ring. This corresponds to expected minimum accuracy from each position.

No misses are allowed. A miss is anything that falls outside of the 4″ black zone. If you do hit this “0” point zone, then you will have to make up for the missing points by having additional hits in the higher-scoring areas.

Additional Rules

  • You may use a sling if desired
  • Using the magazine as a monopod in the prone is permitted
  • Use whatever sighting system you wish, there are no changes regardless of iron sights, red dots, or magnified optics- remember, real life is open division
  • If your range does not permit positional shooting, then you cannot complete this test. All firing must be done from proper shooting positions, a bench is not permitted

Explaining the Standards

As you can see, this test evaluates two important standards: quick hits on a reasonable target, the snapshot, and marksmanship fundamentals. So how did I arrive at these standards?

I contacted several guests and instructors I’ve interviewed to see what they thought minimum standards might look like. Interestingly, nobody really had a single solid definition.

Jeff Gurwitch

Jeff Gurwitch, a retired Army Special Operations member and instructor, told me that someone ought to be able to hit a man-sized target from the standing unsupported out to 100 yards and make A-Zone hits from the prone at 200 yards. A shooter should also be able to maintain 2 shots per second during a course of fire under 25 yards.

If we assume an average human torso size of 19″, that works out to about a 19 MOA standard from the standing position. A standard IPSC A-Zone is 6″ wide by 11″ tall. At 200 yards that works out to about 3 MOA wide and 5.5 MOA tall. If we average that out, it’s about 4 MOA.

Mike Green

Mike Green, of Green Ops, simply stated that the military standard was a good enough one to follow. This took some digging, but the best example I could find is the new USMC “Threat Target” that has a 10″ vitals zone and a 19″ outer circle representing “effective fire.”

My understanding of the USMC test is that the 19″ circle is used for the 300 and 500 meter engagements. This equates to about 4 MOA at 500 meters. At the closer and mid-range distances, the 10″ circle comes into play. At 200 meters, it’s about 5 MOA.

So, again, we’re seeing that 4 MOA marksmanship standard (or thereabouts) pop up.


I also exchanged a few messages with Amy.556 of 556 Training Labs. She is in law enforcement, competitive shooting, and training. Her standards were a single shot on an 8″ circle at 7 yards in under a second, and two hits on an 8″ circle at 100 yards from any position in under 8 seconds.

Amy’s requirements works out to an 8 MOA standard at 100 yards, but with an emphasis on speed compared to Jeff Gurwitch’s.

Other References

As you can see, these standards are pretty varied and involve a lot of distances, target sizes, and timing standards. Jeff Cooper’s work influenced me a lot over my marksmanship journey, so it only felt fair to include his marksmanship standard in here. His 25-yard standard was 16 MOA in 1.5 seconds, so I’m using it.

Project Appleseed was another influence on me that needs to be mentioned. The AQT target has a series of F-Type Silhouettes representing the same target between 100 yards and 400 yards.

The smallest targets, for slow fire prone, have a 5-point zone one inch wide, or about 4 MOA. The Intermediate targets for kneeling/sitting targets have a 2″ zone for top points, or 8 MOA. The largest target used for standing is 4″, or 16 MOA.

Since these numbers keep showing up over and over again, particularly 4 MOA and 16 MOA, I decided to use them. My rifle standards basically work in multiples of 4 MOA. At a minimum, a marksman in the prone should be able to hold 4 MOA. If they move to a slightly less stable position, such as kneeling or squatting, that effectively doubles to 8 MOA. For the snapshot test in the standing, we double that standard again to 16 MOA.

The 12 MOA standard in my test comes from the fact that we’re using slow fire rather than a snapshot, and it splits the difference between the intermediate and snapshot requirements.

Why These Standards?

A maximum marksmanship standard of 4 MOA is well within the capability of most rifles and quality ammunition, so there aren’t any excuses there. I also picked 25 meters (or yards) since just about everyone probably has access to a range with that kind of distance.

You probably noticed that I didn’t incorporate any movement or manipulation into these minimum standards. In the spirit of tactical minimalism, I think the most bang for the buck comes from developing strong skills in the snapshot and basic fundamentals. If you are able to get yourself, or your group, up to these minimum standards, then incorporating movement or faster reloads is a much simpler task.

So, basically, learn the marksmanship fundamentals now and the “fun stuff” can be developed later. This also leaves time to work on other important skills, like pistol, first aid, physical fitness, bushcraft, and others.

Have at it!

That’s it for the basic marksmanship standards. If you can achievve this, and I bet you can, then you’re ready to branch out and start working on other things. Good luck, have fun!

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Matt is the primary author and owner of The Everyday Marksman. He's a former military officer turned professional tech sector trainer. He's a lifelong learner, passionate outdoorsman, and steadfast supporter of firearms culture.

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Alex Peterson
Alex Peterson

Great write up Matt. I appreciate your hard work in all the great articles you present. Thank you for your service!


‘In the spirit of tactical minimalism…..’ – love It and agree! I’ve never ran across the U.S. Army Zeroing target (thanks for the Amazon link) as I’ve never ‘zeroed’ a rifle or shot at a paper target with a rifle at less than 100 yds. – okay maybe a .22LR on occasion. I first heard of the concept while in the Marines – the women recruits (ALL Marines a rifleman) were M16A1 (to date myself) rifle ‘qualifying’ at 25 meters on a reduced target – ‘sacrilege!’ in our minds. Since those days long ago, the Marine Corp and the Army have both changed (upgraded?) their rifle qualification ‘standards’ to reflect more modern combat engagements.

Excellent standards for the ‘everyday marksman’ Matt!

Replying to  Paul

Dear Paul the P.O.G.

when I was in the Corps ‘83-87 we did initial zero at 36 yards wtf were you ? POG school ? This zero allowed excellent hits at 200 and 300 yards, then for 500 yards you put the front sight even where the neck met the body.

Replying to  Hank

Hank – ’03

In ’84 – ’88. Swingin’ in the Wing’. Assigned ‘instructor duty’ as active duty to a reserve F4 squadron MCAS El Toro. Neither exist any longer and my former MOS is now designated as ‘drone driver’ – maybe should have re-upped! This ‘special duty’ relieved us of the annual ‘re-quals’ so my only M16A1 qualification was the two weeks at Edson Range at Pendleton in boot camp – never saw any infantry or upgraded quals. Regular active duty ‘air wing marines’ still had to go and that’s a good thing. Don’t recall any ’36 Meter’ sighting in of any kind (but I get it) – dialed for elevation and windage (wonderful you didn’t have to…?) – took notes in data book on pre-qual days. Still have my “Expert’ badge. BTW two of my superiors – SGT. and SSGT. were former grunts in our com/nav support shop. Both did 8 years as ground pounders but didn’t think cleaning mud off their boots should be the ‘only’ skill to list on a resume! Semper Fi!


OK you use Lt Col Cooper’s rifle fundamentals honoring the man’s legacy then you dishonor him by using an Army target wtf? Joke don’t get squirrely Francis

The U. S. Army has not taught marksmanship for about 100 years.

The Appleseed course and standard 4 MOA come from the Army and USMC WW One marksmanship training, when the both taught it well.

The standard standard is 4 MOA on demand from any position under all conditions friendly or not.

Replying to  Hank

SSGT. Adelbert Waldron might have something to say about the U.S. Army and ‘marksmanship’ – check him out. Real deal but no ‘celebrity’ – quiet legend.

Ever heard of Ret. Army Maj. John Plaster? Give some luv bro….we all can’t be ‘White Feather’ or Chesty Puller!

Replying to  Paul

Good try, how many Army veterans are there now in the U.S. 30-40 milion ? You found 1 guy who can shoot. Just like Hathcock and Mawhinney (i spelled that wrong) I bet he didn’t learn to shoot in the service, they learned before the signed up. Doesn’t matter now everyone is taught spray n pray. Hell, I admit the USMC rifle wasn’t all that freakin’ Appleseed Known Distance program conceived by an Army vet is way better than Army or USMC rifle training.


Matt – do I have this right?

16 MOA (4 in. at 25 m/yds.) on the 5 one shot ‘ups’ (standing from low ready in 1.5 sec. ea.) and 8 MOA (2 in. at 25 m/yds.) on the 10 shot 3 position change in 60 sec. Carbine shooting is hard… can I just use a 12 ga. – 00 buck on the ‘ups’ and slugs on the slow fire? I’m sure it would be a challenge finding 00 buck and slugs that would pattern well enough to meet the standard out of my mostly stock ‘defense’ scatter gun – be fun trying though! It’s really a great standard here you’ve researched and simplified -thanks!


What if you’d like to try old school…really old school? What would be a reasonable par time for a bolt-action rifle?

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