I don’t know why this question has been on my mind lately, but I’ve felt compelled to try and put words to my answer. Why is good marksmanship important? What do we get from learning and practicing it?
I think there’s an assumption within the gun world that everyone already knows that marksmanship is important. But I don’t think most people actually care.
In a way, it’s a lot like cars. A lot of people are into cars, enjoy looking at cars, talking about them, and even driving them, but there’s still a lot of people out there who are absolutely terrible drivers. Shooting is similar in a lot of ways. Owning firearms does not automatically confer some magical ability to be a good shot.
- John Simpson’s Interview
- Russ Miller’s Interview
- Derrick Bartlett’s Interview
- Amanda Banta’s Interview
- Atomic Habits by James Clear
The Three Benefits
If I’m trying to narrow down the benefits of learning good marksmanship, it comes down to three major themes: confidence, capability, and character. Hmmm…I might have to start calling that the “Three C’s.”
There’s a lot of scared people out there. For whatever reason, a lot of people today don’t like to think about what they would do in an emergency situation. Most people probably don’t even think they are capable of handling themselves effectively.
I argue that learning how to shoot well translates into confidence. I remember a time when I first taught my wife how to land hits at 300, 400, and even 500 yards consistently. For days afterward, she would look at something off in the distance and say, “I bet I could hit that.”
What strikes me about that statement is the shift towards betting on yourself to accomplish it. The more you learn and practice with firearms, the more confident you become that you’ll be able to protect yourself.
While the first C, confidence, is about improving your self-image the next one is about improving your actual capabilities. A lot of gun owners out there don’t actually practice very much.
I recall one particular range trip shortly after I built my first AR, the recce. I took a little flack from another shooter at the range because of my underpowered .223 rifle compared to his 300 Win Mag. But after a few rounds of shooting, I was clearly the better marksman and it was obvious why he thought he needed 300 Win Mag for deer.
There’s no getting around the fact that improving your marksmanship skills directly affects your capability to provide food, protect yourself, and survive. But it requires work.
I opened the episode with a quote from Teddy Roosevelt. Interestingly, Jeff Cooper said something very similar.
The kind of discipline and self-control that it takes to become a truly good marksman says a lot about a person. Someone who is able to put in that kind of practice day in and day out is very likely to show such characteristics in other parts of their life.
Make no mistake, gaining marksmanship skill is not a fast or easy path. Too many people, sometimes even myself, try to shortcut that journey with the application of more money.
But it never works.
There is no substitute for putting in the work to gain the skill. We’ve heard it from several guests in the past, and we’ll likely continue hearing it from many more into the future. The hard part for most of us is not only setting the right goals for ourselves but effectively following a plan to get there.
And while this episode isn’t about building good habits specifically, there is a principle that I think makes a lot of sense for the path to mastery. Don’t focus too much on the long term difficult goal. It will be rewarding in its own way when you get there, but it’s a long way off.
Instead, focus on the aggregation of marginal gains, as phrased by cycling coach Dave Brailsford. That means putting your effort not into revolutionary change, but simply into showing up each and every day to improve by 1%. If you can sustain a 1% improvement each day, then your goals will naturally follow. At that point, performing the habit every day is its own form of reward.