Whether you’re new to the AR or are getting acclimated to a brand new rifle, deliberate and mindful dry runs will jump start mastery of the firearm.
- The author recommends dry practice with the AR to fully understand the rifle's controls and how they operate.
- Proof the AR by shooting it at close range, looking for tight groups; the zero is of secondary concern at this point.
- At the start of dry practice, ensure you are in your proper stance, running a mental checklist from the feet up.
- Shoulder your AR and make certain you're on target and are establishing a natural point of aim.
- Once you move on to live fire, every step, from shouldering the AR to breaking the shot, should be deliberate and thoughtful.
If you are new to the AR, I highly recommend plenty of dry practice before ever firing a shot. It’s important to get a good idea of how the AR works before going to the range.
In the beginning, don’t worry about zeroing the AR or adjusting the sights for a precise alignment for you and the carbine. Start with a close, large target, such as 25 yards or even closer. Your shots might not go into the center of the target until it’s zeroed. What you’re looking for is a tight group size, all the shots in the same area. Then, later, you can adjust the sights to move that group so the bullets are impacting on the center of the target.
Dry Practice And Establishing Your Natural Point of Aim
Start by confirming the AR is empty and clear. Make sure you’re in the proper stance, and run a mental checklist from the feet up through the body and out the muzzle to confirm that everything is correct.
Once you have everything squared away, come up from the low ready and on target. As you come on target, the safety is disengaged, and once you’re on target, your finger goes to the trigger. At this point, if you have a good base or platform you should have a sight picture, the alignment of the sights between your eyes and the target.
Hold this position, close your eyes, and inhale/exhale about three times. Open your eyes, and see where the sights are aiming. If the sight picture has drifted left or right, then you need to adjust your stance by re-positioning the feet so the sights are back on target. Everything from the feet up should remain the same. (Don’t worry about the elevation, or up and down. The focus here is on the lateral positioning, left and right.) Repeat the process.
Once you have a good stance, the sights should be on target when you open your eyes. You are establishing your natural point of aim, which means your body is in a relaxed, consistent position, relying on bone support as much as possible as opposed to muscle tension. (The same technique applies to all other firing positions.) Eventually, you’ll be able to acquire a good point of aim without having to go through this process, but in the beginning it’s important to take your time and get a good position before ever firing a shot.
For your first shots, start at a close distance of about 15 yards or so. After establishing your stance, keep everything in the same position, and from the low ready, load the AR. Remember to use the proper technique, and focus on loading, as opposed to thinking about shooting while you’re trying to load. Think about one thing at a time.
From the low ready, come up, disengaging the safety as the muzzle rises. Once you’re on target place your finger on the trigger. Perform any adjustments that may be necessary to fine-tune your sight picture. Focus on the front sight, or with a red-dot your focus is on the target, and smoothly start applying pressure to the trigger. Eventually, the AR decides it’s time to fire.
Follow through, which means recover from the recoil, reacquiring a sight picture and resetting the trigger. “Do I need to shoot again,” you ask yourself. The answer is no; you’re only firing one round. Come off the trigger, off the target, into the low ready position, and engage the safety. Now, finally, you can look to see where the round hit. But, don’t worry about where the hit is. I know this sounds confusing. The purpose of shooting is to hit the target, right? Actually, right now the main point is to focus on the fundamentals and make sure to follow through completely, as opposed to immediately coming off the trigger and target to locate where the shot went. You’ve got to establish good habits from the beginning. Plus, remember, you haven’t zeroed the AR yet, so the hit might not be exactly where you’re aiming on the target.
Repeat the process, performing the same sequence and firing another shot. Do it again, consciously thinking about each step, one step at a time. Eventually you start to see a group forming. All the shots are clustering in one location on the target.
When you’re working on these fundamentals you might have a round or two that isn’t grouped with the others. For right now, ignore these. I know, they stick out and cry out for attention. If you start thinking about what went wrong, you’re not thinking about what to do right. As long as you’re shooting, you’re always going to have a “flyer” here and there. Ignore the fliers, focus on the group you’ve shot, and think about what you did right for all of those instead of thinking about the anomalies. It’s all about reinforcing the positives and creating confidence in your abilities.
Once you’ve got the hang of firing one shot at a time, start working on firing two-shot groups. After that’s looking good, work on shooting three-round groups. Although you’re firing multiple-round groups, think about each shot as a separate entity all its own. Slow down, make one good shot, and then repeat as needed. Regardless of how many rounds you fire, after the last one, always follow through, preparing to fire another shot. Ask yourself if you need to shoot again, and then you’re off the trigger, off the target and safety on.
Once you’re getting good groups, then you can start adjusting the sights to zero the AR, and working from extended distances and/or with smaller targets. Don’t worry about shooting or firing fast, especially in the beginning. Concentrate on applying the fundamentals and making good hits.
NEXT STEP: Download Your Free Storm Tactical Printable Target Pack62 Printable MOA Targets with DOT Drills - Rifle Range in YARDS This impressive target pack from our friends at Storm Tactical contains 62 printable targets for rifle and handgun range use. Target grids and bullseye sizes are in MOA. Ideal for long-range shooting!
Subscribe to the Gun Digest email newsletter and we'll send your print-at-home target pack right away. Just enter your email address below.