Russell Miller is a triple-distinguished competition shooter as well as former special operations officer. He’s spent an enormous amount of time coaching snipers and precision shooters, and today he’s our guest on the show.

In this episode, we cover a lot of ground between the world of competition shooting and tactical precision marksmanship. Russ shared some very pointed criticism of US Army marksmanship training.

Some of the main topics I think you’ll enjoy focus on getting started in rifle competition, and establishing a balance between behaviors appropriate for competition versus defensive situations. Additionally, we spend a lot of time talking about the importance of consistent practice to build a foundation of skills that make good marksmanship instinctive.

I’m mixing things up a bit this time and providing a complete transcript of the episode down below. Let me know if you like this method, and what you thought of the interview down in the comments!

This article contains affiliate links.

Links Related to this Episode

Throughout the interview, we reference various books and articles that you might be interested in. Here is a quick reference list of these links.

Episode Transcript

Below you’ll find the complete transcript of the episode. Keep in mind that this is computer-generated with only minor editing for wording and clarity.

Alright, let’s get to it.

Matt Robertson  0:29 

Hello again everybody, Matt Robertson here back with another episode of Everyday Marksman Radio, the podcast where we talk about tactical skills for an adventurous life. If you’re new to the show, then welcome we have a great one for you. 

Today, we’re talking to Russ Miller, a triple distinguish shooter in precision rifle, NRA high power, and pistol shooting. He’s also a former Special Operations Officer for the United States Army and sniper instructor and just all around super knowledgeable guy when it comes to all things with the art of marksmanship..

Today’s show must be found everydaymarksman.co/8. That is the number eight. So everydaymarksman.co/8. 

They’re going to find some takeaways some key links things talk about the episode as well as a transcript. While you’re there, don’t forget to leave a comment, join the conversation, let me know what you think. And if you want to support show and the website, go ahead and hit that subscribe button at the bottom of the page.

Russ providing sniper training

That way, I’ll send you some emails that way, you know what’s going on on the website, all the new things we’ve got going. On that note, for all the regular listeners. We have a new marksman challenge up as of last week. 

So this one’s all about doing emergency shelters. If you’ve never done a poncho hooch before, this is your chance, minimal shelter, get out in the wild and do it with a poncho, some stakes, and just have some fun. 

Don’t forget to post your pictures along the way so we can show it on the site and kind of show off what your rig looks like. If you’re not familiar with the challenges, this is kind of our recurring monthly challenges where you can go out and do the things that we talked about on the show with whether it’s marksmanship, fitness related, or survival skills. 

These are all just opportunities to go out and take action.

Matt Robertson  2:15 

And as always, if you’re pressed for time, go ahead and jump to the last 15 minutes or so, and you’ll get my key takeaways from the entire interview- though I do encourage you to listen to the entire thing because that’s where all the fun stories happen, right? 

So, like I said, have some fun. Let’s get to it.

My guest today has over 30 years of military and competition experience. He’s a triple distinguished shooter and rifle pistol and NRA action pistol. He’s also an NRA long range high master competitor. He’s been a coach and commander of multiple military marksmanship units, including the National Guard Special Forces Weapons Sergeant course and the West Point pistol team.

I’d like to welcome Russ Miller. Russ, welcome to the show.

Russ Miller 3:06

Hey, nice to talk to you, Matt.

Matt

Oh, absolutely. I’m glad we got to connect. Alright, so I’m going to start off. I got a little bit of your background, but one of the most interesting things you said to me was that you didn’t learn how to shoot in the military, you learned through competition. So I want to start there. Tell me a little bit about that. 

Russ 3:30

The military, and I should speak more for the army than anybody else, it qualifies people. That’s all it does. I was in an infantry unit, a highly deployable infantry unit. We went to the range once in the spring, once in the fall. The first thing I heard when I got off the truck says, Okay, everybody Hurry up because we want to get home tonight.

And people were put on the range until they qualified. There was no training

There was a cursory, what they would call basic rifle marksmanship lecture, in the barracks somewhere in the classroom, and then we were off to the range. You got nine rounds zero, if you were having problems you got nine more rounds, and then it was off to the qualification range. 

And like John Simpson said in your interview about qualification versus training, that’s not training. And this went on for three years in in the infantry for me. When I was at the Infantry School at basic they took us out to the range. I’m an infantryman at the Infantry School, think about this. 

They spent a half a morning waiting for trucks to pick us up to move us two miles to a pistol range. We went there, we file by and got our ammo, and then filed by and got our magazines (because you can’t get them at the same time for some reason). And then we were told to load the magazine, then load the gun and we fired five rounds at an empty berm.

Matt

There wasn’t even a target?

Russ

There was no target. 

And we waited another hour for the buses to come back and move us two miles back to where we started.

So where in that four years did I have any marksmanship training? That’s what I’m talking about.

I have a wind calling formula. It’s range time, plus ammunition plus conditions.

That’s that’s the range formula. You need range time you need plenty of ammo to make mistakes and make good calls.

Matt

Okay, you know it’s funny because, me being from the Air Force, I remember when I got qualified on the M9, and it was a very similar experience. I showed up to the the CATM range, for the non military folks, that means Combat Arms training and Marksmanship, or something like that. My memory memory is a little fuzzy. 

But we showed up and we got like a 30 minute “here’s how you handle a pistol safely,” disassemble it, inspect it and mine had a cracked slide that needed bringing that up to attention. 

And then off to the range where we fired 36 shots. And we were done. There was no training. There was no instruction, there was no here’s how you handle this how you have a correct grip. It was just, “Okay, you shot. Good job.”

Russ  6:16 

I had the privilege of doing an annual qualification with the Marine Corps at about the same time, and that was a whole different experience.

I can’t speak to the Marine Corps now, I’ve heard some not so good things about where Marine Corps marksmanship training is going and that’s a shame. But yeah, there is I can remember and that goes for Special Forces too.

So yeah, that’s why I put on  my resume or I’m standing in front of a group.

I wasn’t properly trained. So I had to go out and find it. And that was well, and I think in your interview with John Simpson, he mentioned going down to the Smith and Wesson Academy, I believe.

And he his whole outlook on marksmanship changed. 

And that’s basically what happened to me. You know, I thought I could shoot because I was a big bad infantry man or a big bad Green Beret. And then all of a sudden I went to a competition. And my ego wasn’t bruised or damaged, it was sunk. And then I realized that I need to learn from these guys.

Russ demonstrating the crossed ankle sitting position at a conference

Matt

You know, that reminds me of a story of a Carlos Hancock, the Vietnam sniper. And he I think it was he said something along the lines of he didn’t learn how to read the wind in the military. He learned it from competition. 

Russ 7:55

Yes, I’ll tell you a quick little sniper story. 

I walked in to my unit company that owned the snipers in my infantry battalion, and I was at that time as a lieutenant I was in charge of the cooks, motor pool staff, the supply room, the arms room and all the rolling stock meaning the trucks and Humvees and mobile kitchens and all that.

I was brought into my company commanders office until I’m now in charge of the snipers.

“Sir, that’s not my job description.” 

“Battalion commander doesn’t want it where it’s supposed to be. He’s putting it under you your shooter at it.” 

We got 60 rounds a quarter to take soldiers out to train them and qualify them.

60 rounds a quarter

That’s not enough for even one practice session, and these soldiers have to learn how to call when competently out to 100 yards. That takes range time. That takes ammo that takes you making mistakes without ammo that takes ammunition for you to learn the correction, and then make other mistakes at other yard lines.

That’s why there was no marksmanship training in the military. 

But when you’re in when you’re competing, you shoot 60 rounds in a couple hours in a day long match.

And you learn so much from that and as well as watching other people and listening to other people talk and coach you. So yes, that’s that’s I totally agree with Hathcock on that, you know he, that’s the way it is. 

Matt 10:08

You need the experience 

Russ 10:09

Yeah, I mean, there’s like I think I told you when we talked the other day, I have a wind calling formula. It’s range time, plus ammunition plus conditions.

That’s that’s the range formula. You need range time you need plenty of ammo to make mistakes and make good calls.

And you need the conditions that blow that bullet all over the place. You need overcast, you need cold, you need hot, you need all those things repetitively. So when you get behind the rifle, you can– you don’t have time to look at a data book. It is intuitive and 60 rounds a quarter per soldier doesn’t get that done.

Matt 10:55

So you’re telling me that my desire to buy a $400 wind meter that gives me my ballistic formula is not going to work out for me?

Russ 11:00 

I would say that that is a training aid that will get you down a road or starts you down a road. But you’ve got to look at that target. You’ve got to look at the win at your position in between your position in the target and what it’s doing at the target and come up with a firing solution. And if you don’t do that, instantaneously, in a tactical situation, the target will disappear. 

Believe it or not, the targets are not big white silhouettes standing in the open, waiting for them to shoot you actually hide and in some cases, they actually shoot back at you. And they’re frequently painted green.

Matt

And they don’t want to be shot.

Russ

And they they generally don’t want to be shot, kind of like you. 

And in competition in certain competitions. That target comes up out of the pits for only 45 seconds. If you’re playing around with a wind meter, you’ve probably taken yourself out of your position, then you’ve got to resettle yourself into that position.

And then you got to take a shot before it goes down, and nobody’s counting that, those seconds off for you.

So that targets got to come up, you’ve got to make some quick observations, you’ve got to put them into the calculator between your ears and fire the shot- period.

A lot of the ballistic calculators are used in competitions where there’s a prep time.

So you get to check the conditions, see the prevailing conditions. And then you can use that when you go up to the firing line under a time constraint.

Use it as part of your formula. But as a sniper, you’re going to come into a final firing position sneak to it probably through heavy undergrowth, maybe in a building where you’re not going to get to see all the range fly, and all the trees moving back and forth, and the Mirage across the big white number boards down by the pits in competition.

You’re going to have this little tunnel in which you’re observing the target, and you’re going to get maybe a few climate condition indicators.

And your wind meter deep in a sniper hide isn’t going to do much for you. They’re good training aids so you know what, when you…a technique to use is you look at the win by your position and make a wind call. I think it’s five miles an hour, hold the wind meter up.

Okay, it says seven or eight miles an hour, make a mental note of that, make a physical note of that.

See what the trees are doing around your position, see what the flags are doing around your shooting position. But that’s how you build that into- that’s how you use that tool to build your intuitive wind calling, or your what I call your firing solution.

So…

Matt 14:31

Okay, so I actually want to dig into this a little bit more, because that’s a really interesting point that I don’t think a lot of people have talked about. So I kind of want to talk about this relationship between competition shooting and  “Real world shooting,” because I think a lot of people will say something like, “Well, I don’t need to learn how to do that. That’s, that’s a gaming technique.” 

And then they kind of ignore competition all together.

At the same time, I see the other side of it where a lot of competitors probably eschew good tactics because it helps them in a game. So kind of where you see this balance.

Russ  15:01 

Big Picture, competition brings stress. The  minute that buzzer goes off, and if you’re in a particular discipline where everybody’s watching you, that brings a lot of stress.

You need that for combat, you need to be able to operate under pressure. 

Now, that sort of pressure isn’t the sort of pressure you get when the ramp goes down on the landing craft, and the German machine gun in the bunker opens up on you. But we can’t do that. And we can’t shoot at you for real, so the next best thing is getting into high pressure situations and competition does that. 

So that’s the big picture of competition and how you need to use it.

You will get complaints that, “Oh, it’s not realistic, it’s not tactical as this.”

I have been to many a military sniper match. And in that military sniper match, there are frequently snipers that have a NRA long range or high power rifle background. Their background primarily is competition. 

And then you get the pure snipers.

In almost every match I’ve been to, when there are high power shooters and then pure snipers in that sniper competition, the high power shooters will win.

Now, that sort of pressure isn’t the sort of pressure you get when the ramp goes down on the landing craft, and the German machine gun in the bunker opens up on you. But we can’t do that. And we can’t shoot at you for real, so the next best thing is getting into high pressure situations and competition does that. 

Because every sniper match, no matter what how many different physical things you have to do, there are road marches, land navigation. a sniper match is primarily a shooting match. And those high power shooters aren’t just hitting the e-type silhouette every time

They’re hitting dead center in e-type silhouette. And that’s where the competition comes in. 

What you need to do is as a tactical trainer, since I am straddling that world, what I endeavor to do, is put a fine filter between the competition and the tactical. And I take a good hard look at every competition technique, and see whether it can be applied or modified to apply. And that’s the- that is the procedure you need to use to see whether a competition, or a competition technique ,or a competition procedure will assist you in your tactical deployment and your shot.

Matt 18:00  

Can you give an example of what that might look like? What’s a good and a bad example of-

Russ

Okay, here’s, here’s a good example. In high power rifle competition, I have equipment that is very similar to my sniper equipment. And really the only difference is once painted green, and the others painted frequently a lot of bright colors. 

When I come into my firing point on the competition line, I go through the same procedure step by step in setting up my equipment that I do in my final firing position as a sniper.

I have a carrying bag or a rucksack that goes in the same place. The rifle gets laid down initially in the same place. If I have a spotting device like a scope, a spotting scope or binoculars. They get set down in the same place in the same chronological order.

So that’s where competition training is very important- the routine you have in competition training you should do in your, in your tactical training, because accuracy is a product of uniformity.

Watch, watch somebody, watch the same player at the free free throw line in basketball or the same baseball player come to the plate. He’ll he has a certain routine that he follows religiously. ‘Cause accuracy is a product of uniformity in everything you do prior to the shot, during the preparation for the shot, and the shot, and the follow through.

Now a bad- a bad example of of not filtering through competition techniques properly is the M-1907 slang, if you’re not familiar with it, it is the sling with two long rows of holes, basically along the entire length, with two hooks, and you can adjust it. 

You don’t have time-  you don’t have time a three minute prep period in most sniping cases to adjust that sling exactly the way you want it. And if you don’t get it right the first time, you’ve got to come out of it. And it takes eight hands to do it least.

So that's where competition training is very important- the routine you have in competition training you should do in your tactical training, because accuracy is a product of uniformity.

And that is a case where somebody didn’t look at this and say, “This is not suitable for sniping, because we’re shooting it’s leading targets that are that are shooting back at us. And I don’t have a three minute prep period to do that in combat.”

John Simpson talked about it. We get gear crazy

And we’re looking for the next miracle weapon that’s going to win the war. And the next miracle weapon that’s going to win the war is a man in uniform man or woman in uniform, with good, hard proper training.

And I’ll give you a side example because it also straddles that high power/tactical side. I had a friend of mine in the National Guard, very fine high power shooter very- was on the net all guard rifle team. He went to a sniper match. He’s a 55 or 56 year old man- went to a sniper match had been shooting high power his whole life. He went with a Winchester model 70 with a Unertl scope on it. 

And for your listeners that don’t know where that comes from. That was our sniper rifle in World War Two, Korea and Vietnam, or one of one of the ones in Vietnam and all it was was a target rifle with a target scope on it.

Russ teaching a lecture on precision shooting

Here he comes and shoots in this match and he placed fourth with a gun that is arguably 60 or 70 years old, with a good scope, but an antiquated scope. And he’s  placing fourth against 25 year olds with high dollar sniper equipment.

And one of the reasons was, he was such a good high power shooter. His equipment didn’t matter.

And guess what else in addition to his 5,0 60, 70 year old rifle, he was shooting match M1 ball or M1 match ammo- 30 caliber, meaning what most listeners would know as 30-06. 

So yeah, I hope that illustrates a little bit of the competency- that example illustrates how important competition is and how unimportant equipment is. 

Matt 23:34

That reminds me of a quote, Field Marshal Montgomery and said that, “Man is still the first weapon of war.”

Russ 23:40 

Exactly.

Exactly. And as I alluded to this in the beginning, when we started talking about the lack of training in the military, in at least in the US Army infantry, I should be more specific. 

When I got to Somalia, I got there right after the big battle of Bakara Market, which everybody knows is Black Hawk Down. And the army, which is really good at doing surveys and finding out what went wrong found out that we had a lot of extremity injuries. 

So two or three months after we got there, we got a prototype of an armored- kevlar armored suit.It was the most ridiculous thing thought of. We’re in the Middle East. We’re in the desert. We actually tried it out with a squad. And they did their three to five second rushes. And I was there to witness this and I cracked up laughing because after about 100 meter tactical movement, they were smoked and they also couldn’t shoot their weapons.

What we were doing was going out and finding two great American ingenuity, a mechanical solution to a problem. Instead of teachings- the best thing we can do to protect the soldier is teach him how to return accurate, discriminate fire. And we don’t do that. 

The soldiers couldn’t mount their rifles and good get a good stock weld on their rifles. Because of the bulk of all this stuff. They even had a Kevlar apron that hung down from the back and sides of our helmet.

Yeah.

How, I mean, they were smoked, they needed a serious refueling of water after that hundred meter movement. So in addition to not be able to shoulder their weapon properly to take a good shot. Now their smoked, and they have to take a good shot at a fleeting target with obscuration on the battlefield in 1 to 3 seconds

Matt 26:24 

That’s  a difficult task to do. 

Russ

Yes. So we plan- and I’ll give you another example. They sent over armored Humvees where they just slapped on armor to a Humvee and told us to test them because as you saw in the movie, all the vehicles in Black Hawk Down were soft skinned. Bullets  go through them. They go in one side go out the other and they take a lot of flesh with them.

Well, they just bolted on the armor. They they put plexiglass everywhere. And there were no air conditioners.

The minute we went off road, they got stuck.

Because the Humvee was designed around a certain way to be a high mobility Multi Purpose wheeled vehicle. Once you turn it into a light tank, it can’t do that.

It’s just that simple. 

Man is still the first weapon of war.

– Field Marshal Montgomery

Matt 27:33

So it’s using the right tool for the right job at the right time. 

Russ

Exactly. And if we had taught them to shoot from vehicles moving vehicles accurately, maybe we don’t need to bolt on the armor.

Or at least not in the thickness and configuration they had.

Matt  27:52 

So that reminds me of another question then something that I’ve kind of gone on off talking to other people about is you mentioned that how the military, particularly the Army, has kind of reduces investment marksmanship training. And there’s kind of a conversation going on among my readers in particular, who say something along the lines of every time they introduce a new gizmo like a new red dot sight or something like that. Then there’s what should be make marksmanship easier ends up being no change because they de-invest in practicing and training.

Russ  28:28 

Well, let me disabuse you of something. There is no marksmanship training in the US Army that I’ve seen in 26 and a half years. There’s, I mean, that’s one thing we have to establish. There is no marksmanship training. There is cursory training to get us through qualification and now they’re doing a lot of standing CQB shooting and I’ve heard they’ve changed the qualification and it’s supposed to be more realistic. 

But if you go back to the field manual that guided my M-16 training, it was a very good manual that had a lot of realistic shooting and had a different iterations that you were supposed to go through before you got qualification. But what we did was, we went, zeroed, and then we went to qualification. 

No doubt this this new military marksmanship manual is is probably a great piece of work. But commanders are graded on qualification.

And commanders, a lot of people and if you’ve got a great command climate that wants to go out and do realistic training, they want to get out there and get everybody qualified expert and get them back.

And I you know, that’s what I joined the army for. Not to paint rocks and edge grass, I going to shoot and maneuver and communicate and call them and airstrikes and ride on the back of tanks. And it was not happening while I was in and, and that’s- I would still submit to you that today that the M-16 manual that I grew up with is an excellent training manual to get your soldiers, soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen and cops to a proficient level. 

Obviously Special Operations units gets more ammo more focus on it, but it’s still not as much as it should be. And I can’t speak directly to the services, the other services but you mentioned your complaints about your marksmanship, training the Air Force. I hear that all of the time across most services, and I’m still very tight with a lot of, you know, active duty service people. 

Matt 31:10

So I’m going to come back to something you said earlier, you were talking about your, the consistent process, that accuracy is a product of uniformity. And you were talking about kind of the same sequence you follow for laying out your gear everything up to the shot, and it’s not the first time I’ve come across that before,I think. 

I reviewed a book called with winning in mind by Lanny Basham. And he talks about the mental program and it’s very similar concepts that where there’s always as you do the exact same sequence up to that shot break. Is that kind of what you’re talking about something that sound about right?

Russ 31:43

I learned that yes, it is right. I learned that by a basketball coach named Tom Felino. He taught me- he spent about five weeks getting a good efficient foul shot procedure down with me. I was shooting 11% from the foul line, my freshman year, my senior year I was shooting 79% from the foul line.

And I haven’t played basketball in 20 years. But if you hand me a ball and go up and say go up to the foul line and take a shot, and you look at a video of me from 1985 or 1986 when I was in high school, they will be precisely the same procedures- precisely.

And he beat into me that you can’t just rent come up there and randomly do a procedure each and every shot. It has to be the same exact procedure, both the same mental and physical procedures and they need to be done in the same order. 

That’s where I got that from my first marksmanship experience. My first marksmanship and training and honestly some of my best marksmanship training, came from Tom- coach Tom Felino of a Warwick Valley high school basketball team. And he taught me how to shoot. 

Now in a high pressure situation, you have to abbreviate that. But the only way you can abbreviate that effectively is when you get to the point of it being intuitive in a step by step, slow process. You’ve got to walk, you’ve got to walk completely before you can be Michael Jordan and take, you know, let me go back.

You read Larry Bird’s book and I read it a long time ago, but he practiced the basics. He would shoot 500 shots a day, at a basketball hoop, outside of practice and he talked about how he, and I saw this also in an interview I may have seen in the interview versus the book I it’s been so long since I read the book.

But all he did was practice the basics. And, and over that 500 round or those 500 shots, he would do slow fire. And then he would do rapid fire. And the slow fire continues to instill the basic step by step and the rapid fire compresses them, and abbreviates them. And you can’t do the abbreviation unless you master the basics.

Matt 34;41

So it reminds me of something I see in weightlifting all the time-  not quite one to one example here, but, you know, they say if you do random training you get random results versus if you focus on what you’re trying to do and repeat that. 

That’s that’s how you get what you’re going. 

Russ

Exactly. Exactly. I tell snipers that if you don’t want to get involved in high power rifle shooting an array civilian marksmanship program. I power rifle shooting, go to a match. Identify who the stud shooters are and then watch, film them. Take notes, watch their pre shot, their shot and their follow. 

Follow through procedures. 

Watch how they approach the firing line. Watch every little thing. Take that was probably one of the biggest lessons I learned getting into competition. Everything is deliberately done. Nothing is left to random luck.

And there is luck. 

You know, there’s a certain amount of luck when you send a projectile out of a barrel at 2800 feet per second. There’s a certain amount of luck because Mother Nature could intervene and there could be a gust of wind and all that. But by reducing the variables, you are reducing the power that luck has in hitting something.

And you reduce those variables, in part, by having the same routine. It’s that simple.

Matt  36:21 

So I want to kind of talk more about competition. So, you know, one of the battles I think a lot of people who do competition face, especially in the firearms community, is that nobody wants to get involved. 

Then, if you go around asking people, why don’t you compete? You get kind of a mix of answers from people who will say that, Oh, well, that’s not realistic doesn’t matter. And some people say they don’t want to pay for it or it’s too far to go but a lot of people I think are kind of scared.

Russ 36:49 

They are scared because they load their guns with ego and not ammo.

You understand what I’m saying? 

Matt

Yeah, yeah. They’re kind of getting personally like, they don’t want to put themselves on the line because they don’t want to be shown that they might be wrong. 

Russ

You grab your average SF guy, he became an SS because he was a super soldier to begin with. 

And a lot of people probably told him when he before he joined SF that he was a super soldier. Then he gets the SS. And all we do is tell ourselves that we’re super soldiers, and we’re great. And compared to the rest of the army, we’re great at a lot of things.

But then you take him to a competition and the 60 year old guy with a massive beer gut smokes him in the competition- His ego is  bruised. His ego is bruised. 

You’ve got to set your ego aside and realize that everybody there that’s shooting well was once you. There’s no harm. There’s no foul in itt. And you’ll find that most of the shooters there will give you more advice and training than you’ll get in your whole career in the Army and just one day long match.

And when they find out you’re uniformed, you get even more assistance and help and you get a lot of friendships, and they all want to see you do well, especially as a uniformed servicemen or a cop.

But a lot of people don’t want to do that. I frequently invited my fellow special operators to matches,and you know about a quarter to maybe a third that I invited would come.

and then they got they got the ass handed to them by the old geezer the gray hair. They’re the old, the old 65 year old. 

And you know, next time I said, hey, there’s a match this weekend. You know, there are all sorts of excuses why couldn’t do it.

And, you know, eventually I frequently said, it’s like, your ego is bruised and you haven’t recovered. 

“Oh, no, that’s not me. I really need to, to mow the lawn this weekend. It’s very important or I need to wash the car.” 

It’s like, okay, you know. Thanks for coming. Thanks for coming to the competition you did. If you ever want to join me feel free. A lot of it is ego. A lot of it is-  and not just with the servicemen. You know, there’s other people that have the same ego problems. 

Matt 39:47

I definitely think there’s a lot of mach ism that goes around in our community where it’s just,  “I saw this in a movie once I know what I’m doing,” and everybody assumes are way better than they are.

Russ 39:58 

I know so many of these snipers that took these, you know, 2000 mile shots that you see in all the gun magazines. I haven’t met one of them that didn’t say they walked their rounds into the target. 

You read these gun magazines, and they have pictures of these guys flexing, looking tough and all that. And the culture builds up the ego thing. Well, you get these, these snipers, one on one, and they’ll be the first people to tell you that I didn’t hit that guy at 2500 meters with one shot.

I watched the impact of the rounds, and like a machine gun, I just walked the rounds in until I hit it. But we have to build up this this macho culture that this guy who has little or no training to speak of laid down after he humped up a mountain at 12,000 feet where the air is thiin and he just plopped down and shot a guy. 1800 meters on the other Ridge at 12,000 feet.

It didn’t happen. It didn’t happen, okay. 

That guy is that guy has probably in some cases 30 mile an hour winds. When was the last time he trained and 30 mile an hour winds?

It’s just it’s a bit, you know- I was just looking at a magazine today. Every picture of a man is basically him with his war face on, you know, holding onto his gun flexing his muscles in a tight shirt.

It’s all ego.

Matt

You know, that kind of reminds me of something. I feel like people kind of forget is it supposed to be fun. Like, have fun with it.

Russ

Yeah, yeah. Have fun with it.

If you’re not having fun, you’re not going to come back to it. Set your ego aside, look there, there are plenty of matches where I shot especially in pistol matches, where almost every no-shoot  target, which designates an innocent civilian had a hole in it from my gun. 

There are almost more holes in them than there were in the bad guys. And you just shrug it off. Everybody makes fun of you have a thick skin, make fun of yourself, reload your magazines and get ready for the next stage of fire. Because you know what? Every Grandmaster, every champion, has done the same thing.

Matt  42:50 

Yeah, that actually leads into it to kind of the next point here is, you know, for someone who does want to get involved, let’s say the we get past our egos and we say I’m going to show up and we’re going to see what happens.

I’m gonna have fun I’m going to learn. But you know, if I’m trying to really have that focused training program to get from where I am now, let’s say like, you know, couch to 5K- I’m couch to high power or a couch to action shooting. What does that kind of progression look like? What would you suggest to somebody who wants to get involved but doesn’t know where to start?

Russ  43:18 

That’s the first thing to do is to go to a match and just observe and see whether it’s the discipline the shooting discipline you want to do.

Then find the match director.

During a match, the match director will be busy, but after the match, and there are breaks for lunch frequently. Go up and introduce yourself and say, “I’m looking to get into this. I know nothing about it. Could you help me sometime after the match? Could I call you or is there Do you have an instructor here? Do you have anybody that helps people like this?”

You will get so much help that way. You’ll you’ll get too many offers for help, actually. You won’t be able to access them all.

Then all your different shooting organizations and clubs, have clinics, introductory clinics in which you can get trained from more experienced people. If you’re looking to to get into the high power rifle disciplines, the small bore disciplines, the 22 caliber disciplines, the precision pistol

If you go to the national matches run by the NRA and the civilian marksmanship program. Before those national matches, they will have clinics, pistol clinics, and rifle clinics and you will have the army marksmanship unit, the Marine Corps rifle team, you will have all the military units there helping you to learn about that particular discipline and what better instructors could you possibly have? 

It’s that simple. 

The hard part is when you begin to choose equipment, that will be bewildering initially. But again, the best thing to do there is get the simplest piece of equipment, learn the techniques, don’t worry about how good or bad- the equipment the equipment has to be good in the sense that it has to function reliably. Don’t think that you need to get the best most accurate super duper turbocharged gun.

You don’t.

Matt 46:00

It’s funny, that’s exactly what I was about to say is and just get started with something basic and go with it. I think I’m guilty of this. I’ve got a 308  bolt action. I started building up for PRS competition a while ago. And when I moved to a state that that wasn’t even an option, I kind of let it fall but I’m kind of interested again, I’m like, Oh, well, I think maybe I’ve got 1000 rounds through the barrel and it’s a 308  heavy barrel, but I’m like, maybe I should read chamber to 6.5 creedmoor. 

In the back of my mind. I’m like, burn out the barrel out first. 

Russ 46:31

Shoot it till it’s burned up, burn the barrel out and get the procedures down. Get the techniques down, Master those techniques first, and the 308 is a good accurate, fairly cheap round as compared to all these new popular rounds like 6.5 Creedmoor, 6 Creedmoor, or 6mm Creedmoor, or you know 6.67 Lapua or whatever the new hot cartridge is.

And they’re also you know, in prs, there is a shooting class with 308 alone. So you will compete on a level playing field with other 308 rifles. 

And you know that’s the best thing to do wear that barrel out where that barrel out and and then look to the other and you know John Simpson in his interview, you asked him about the hot cartridges and he immediately went back to master the basics, get good training, don’t worry about the equipment. 

And yes, you have to go to the range with a plan, or you're just wearing out barrels.

Matt 47:43

So just one more question on that then just from that standpoint, just for gear because the rifle and safety equipment obviously is important. But is there anything else you think someone should at least- they don’t need need to have it up front but they should consider like, is it shooting Matt needed some at some point or a bipod?

Russ 48:00 

Well, you know, if you’re shooting pistol, you don’t need a shooting that unless you’re an action pistol where you spend a lot of time prone. It depends on your discipline. But here’s the one-

Here are the two things you need across all disciplines.

You will need a maintenance log in which you track your rounds. You need a book in which you count your rounds and you keep track of ammunition by manufacturer and lot number. So you know what manufacturer works in your gun and doesn’t and you can see whether a lot of ammo is giving you problems.

And that’s every pistol I have has a maintenance log, every rifle I have has a maintenance log. And I know down to the exact number how many rounds is through my rifle and through my pistol

Period.

The other thing that every discipline needs is a diary. In that diary, you write down what your plan is for the day. And yes, you have to go to the range with a plan, or you’re just wearing out barrels. But we just talked about a deliberate plan executed deliberately.

And then you need to write down things as you observe that either during the practice or after the practice,

It’s absolutely essential. Because, and in some cases, there’s philosophies in which you say you go back and look at that diary, and ingrain the lessons and check to see whether you’re meeting the lessons learned, but there’s also a school of thought that says just the act of writing it down helps teach you

Figure out which one works for you. I frequently have learned the lesson and move on but sometimes I go back to my diary and look back at some of my notes. But those are the two general two pieces of equipment I would have for any discipline, and I do have, for every discipline. I’ve shot rifle, I’ve shot pistol, even my shotguns which are just defensive weapons- they have a round count period.

They have a round count book that is-t and that round count book is a part of the rifle or the pistol of the firearm. When I go to my gunsmith, he gets handed my maintenance log. Gunsmiths are involved in maintenance. He needs a maintenance log. 

It goes into my soft case. It goes into my hard case with the gun. And then when my gun goes into the safe, it’s set down right next to that rifle. When that rifle comes out, the maintenance log comes out.

It’s that simple. 

Matt 51:11

So that actually leads into it’s a perfect segway to the first audience question that I’ve got, because I let people know who was gonna be talking to you. And they let me know some of the things they were interested in. And you actually alluded to this earlier, and I think it relates to the diary, but a data book. 

You know, people talk about data books all the time, but how is that related? And what do you what do you think people should know about that?

Russ Miller  51:34 

A data book is more a picture representation of your rifle shooting as you do it. And it shows you what firing Solutions work. It shows you what conditions affect you in a different way. Like when we were shooting iron sights and rifle competition the angle of the Sun bouncing off that front sight is very important

There’s a saying lights up sites up lights down sites down because of the the optical illusion the Sun plays on your front sight that has to be recorded. So you can refer to it and other matches or in other firing in other tactical in terms of sniping in a in a tactical situation. And it also begins to ingrain it nto an intuitive thing.

I’ll give you an example.

I was on the firing line shooting at 1000 yards in an F-Class match. I think one of my first test class matches. I had all my data books and all my data cards my range cards, all that stuff that would somehow get me an ‘X.’ And my scorer was a gentleman named Ed Huskins who was an instructor at the Special Forces Sniper Course in the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s, after he retired from a career as a Special Forces soldier,

And he was a competition shooter. He looked down and said, “What is all that crap by by your side?” 

I said, “Well, that’s my firing solutions and my data card.” 

And he looked up at 1000 yards at the target and said, put four and a half minutes left and shoot the gun.

The data book starts you down a journey of building up an encyclopedia of experience and knowledge for the time when you don’t need it.

So I put four and a half minutes left and I shot the gun and I got an x. And the next one I got a tight 10 then another x and another x and a tight 10. And then I finally went into the 9 ring.

He knew how to do that without a data book because he had spent years and years using a data book to the point where he knew what wind call to make. The data book starts you down a journey of building up an encyclopedia of experience and knowledge for the time when you don’t need it.

And that’s where a data book comes in. 

Now a data book is different than a diary. The data book, you’re putting your minutes of angle left your minutes of angle right, you’re putting the conditions, you’re plotting- your you’re putting your call on a call chart, then you’re plotting your actual shot on the plot target.

And you may make some cursory notes you’ll you’ll note the temperature, you’ll know the angle of the sun, you’ll note the lot of your ammunition. You may even know which gun you’re shooting. I always put the serial number of my gun or I could put the but stock number of the gun I put but stock numbers on all my guns because I have multiple copies of each. And that helps you- that helps you…The data book helps you with more with the science portion of shooting. 

Shooting to me is both an art and a science. And the data book is more science because it’s it’s it’s true data. The Diary is your observations about everything going on about how you feel. 

  • I ate too much this morning and my stomach’s growling, it’s affecting my position. 
  • I have a cramp in my arm. I can’t get into a good position.
  • The rifle seems to be staying hot when it should be cooling. 

Those are the things that you put in the diary. And then at the end, you put in a plan to address those issues.

So that’s the difference in the diary. And the reason I just mentioned diary and maintenance log, because some sports don’t have a data book.  Pistol, you generally you don’t have a data book, you may if you’re shooting precision, but if you’re shooting practical, there’s no data book involved in that just a diary and maybe your maintenance log.

But in precision shooting, precision rifle shooting, or at least during the your practices, you will have a data book with you as well as when you’re practicing sniping.

Matt 56:51

And I actually use the next question on this for another reader related to that one because you talked about your your first F-Class experience you know earlier this conversation I was I kind of joked about buying a wind meter because I don’t have one. But I was always interested in it but and you talked about using your experience as that. 

So do you have any kind of starting points for people to want to learn? How do they read the wind better?

Russ  57:16 

One of the first drills that a gentleman named Middleton Tompkins does with us at his long range clini-  Middleton Tompkins is arguably one of the finest rifle shooters this country has produced. And one of the first drills Middleton Tompkins does is he has us shoot at the target and it gets plotted and he leaves the plot in. Then he waits for a strong wind. And then he tells us to take a shot and he tells us not to touch our sights.

He wants us to see how far that bullet will be pushed by the wind.

And he has us do that in different wind conditions: strong, medium, and weak wind conditions. So we see how much our bullet is being pushed

I would argue that is more valuable than having a wind- a weather station, a manned weather station by your firing point. That is much more important than a wind meter because a wind meter only reads your wind at your position. Some bullets you shoot, go way up in the air.

You shoot 165 grain bullet at 1000 yards. You are way up in the air. And when you’re way up in the air, you can’t see anything. You don’t have a mirage you don’t have a wind flag, you don’t have trees. So how is that wind meter going to help you 30 or 40 feet up in the air?

And another thing I did in my sniper training is I had a wind meter and I had somebody go down to certain yard lines, I would have them walk down and I’d be on a radio and say stop. And then I give everybody about 10 seconds to read the wind at that location.

And then I have them all say it out loud. And then I’d have him read over the radio what the wind call was. That’s where a wind meter I believe has more value. When it is training you. When it is confirming or denying your when calls in training.

Matt  59:45 

So there’s no substitute for doing the work.

Russ  59:50 

There’s no substitute for doing the work. It is not- if you’re if you if you’re using a win meter as a crutch during a competition, or a sniping scenario…That’s just what it is. It’s a crutch. It’s not a tool that is helping you move forward.

It’s just like a speaking of crutches, a bipod on a sniper rifle is is used as a crutch versus a tool made for very specific applications.

Everybody tries to do everything and depend on that bipod. And that bipod is a tool for specific situations. Not an end all be all for every firing solution you have. 

Matt 1:00:45

All right, Russ. I have one more question. If you have the time. I know we’re kind of running a little over. And you can take a moment Think about it. This is not meant to be negative that might come across that way. But what is one thing that you wish shooters would stop doing right now?

Russ  1:01:00 

It’s going to be- and John said this, stop chasing the latest equipment fad. Put a target up on your garage wall and dry fire. 

Dry fire. 

If you all you have is a Kentucky or Pennsylvania long rifle and that’s the only thing you can afford: dry fire

If you have a world war two Garand, and that’s all you have and you’re going to a match where everybody’s shooting their super duper whatever: dry fire

Stop chasing the equipment arms race. That’s because that’s all it is. 

That’s all it is. 

And to quote -but what was John’s quote john Simpsons quote?

A man training with a stick is more dangerous. that a man playing with a sword? 

Matt

I think it was, “The man who trains with a stick will defeat the man who plays with the sword”

Russ 1:02:08 

There you go I I have my brain is filled with John Simpson sayings, and I can’t keep them all straight. So but yeah, that that that’s it is there there was also a quote by some famous tactician or general  the importance of the man to the sword is 10 to one or something like that.

Yeah, and it’s I’m really bastardized. John will know the quote verbatim, because he he knows that stuff verbatim. I’m I I just don’t have the brainpower for all that, but I understand the lesson from it.

Matt 1:02:56  

On that note, I always like to ask if there are any books or references you’d like to point my audience to to learn more about you or anything we’ve talked about today.

The sword is more important than the shield, and skill is more important than either. The final weapon is the brain. All else is supplemental.

– John Steinbeck in The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights

Russ

Buy yourself a NRA firearms sourcebook. It is all the terms and definitions related to shooting some of the history. It is a great resource for all the details. If you’re going to get into this game you need to have a common language and you need to know what people are talking about. This answers it definitively.

The other thing I would get and I tell snipers to get this is competition Competition Shooting by a Russian coach named A.A. Yur’yev .

Some of its a little dated and some of it has been modified. But it goes through the science of shooting and the science of getting into a position. It has lots of pictures of World Class shooters from around the world in the 50s and 60s. 

It has excellent, excellent, anatomical depictions of each shooting position. And it should be read- and I’ve read it three times. It discusses the ligaments in your arm and how they affect your shooting. And while there’s some things that need to be updated about it, it’s still a book that I would say is 95% accurate to this day.

You know, those are not super duper “This is how you be a sniper” book. But these are gun these are books that transcend all shooting and will set you set and send you down the right path. 

Matt 1:05:22

Oh I’ll definitely be sure to stick those in my show notes here so people can find it.

Russ

Yes, competition competitive shooting by A.A. Yur’yev is out of print. So it’s a maybe a little sticker shock when you see it but it is well worth it is well worth it. 

Matt

Okay. Well Russ has been an absolute pleasure talking to you. I really appreciate you appreciate you taking the time.

End Transcript

Wrapping Up

Ok, guys, that was a long interview. Be sure to let me know your thoughts down in the comments. I took a lot away from this one, but if you want to catch those notes then listen to the last 15 minutes or so of the episode.

Until next time, Tene et Consta.

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Matt

Matt

Matt is the primary author and owner of The Everyday Marksman. He's 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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Good interview, Matt. Besides dry-fire practice, range days, observing skilled shooters at competitions, and other “solo” activities, are there any specific classes that you would recommend? Absent a specific class recommendation (as many instructors are strictly regional), do you have any advice as to what to look for in an instructional class before signing up?

MIguel Rodriguez
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MIguel Rodriguez

Matt, great podcast. Russ mentioned keeping a “maintenance log” for every weapon that includes rounds shot but I presume also includes parts replacements, maintenance and malfunctions, etc., as opposed to the diary. I have used such a log for years for each weapon but have never really been happy with my ad hoc format. Are there pre-printed forms, on line logs or something that is comprehensive and easy to use. The information is very valuable for general maintenance but also is very handy when problems with ammo and guns arise. (e.g., Glocks aren’t perfect and Rugers aren’t bullet proof, etc.)

John_Simpson
Member

The format you want to use is Dept of the Army Form 2408-4-1

I have a PDF I can post on the blog or Matt can offer it for download. Let me know which works best?

Jerry
Member

Great interview. Russ comments regarding Army marksmanship were spot on accurate. The Army fails miserably for far too long and quite frankly it is unacceptable policy. Not teaching what the Marines have instilled for generations is plain ignorance of top Army brass. Heads should have rolled long time ago for lack of riflemen fundamentals.
Russ also nailed in on the ego aspect. Egos take a beating on Service rifle course that is why so few venture out and give it a go at the local matches. Talk is cheap and few wish to put their skills to the test. I’d rate myself an above average shooter thanks to the civilian volunteers at small bore and service rifle. Those guys are a treasure to our country, God Bless em!!

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Up Next

Becoming a Sniper with John Simpson

I recently interviewed John Simpson, a veritable encyclopedia of sniper knowledge. He has a long history with Special Forces and Police sniping, has written several books on the topic, and regularly teaches courses. In this interview, we cover John’s history as well as a variety of topics surrounding sniping.

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