Firearm Fundamentals: How to Shoot a Rifle Safely & Correctly

There are few firearms that are as enjoyable to shoot as a rifle.  This is especially true of the AR-15 style rifles.  They are light weight, produce very little recoil and provide us with solid accuracy without breaking the bank.  Even with the simplicity of this platform there are some fundamentals that are the cornerstones that we should observe.  These items will allow us to shoot our rifles both correctly and safely.

The first thing we need to look at is how we hold the rifle.  We will have four points of contact on the gun.  First is at the pistol grip.  This should be a firm but not crushing grip.  In fact it can be lighter that what you would use with your handgun because you will have several other points of control on the rifle.  Second we have our hand on the fore grip.  Depending on what style of rifle you have or added accessories, there may or may not be a drop down grip.  Regardless, we want to get a firm grip here and drive the gun back into our shoulder.  This will help to stabilize the gun.  The third point of contact is the shoulder.  Seat the butt of the rifle into the shoulder area high enough so that when you raise it up, the sights are in line with your eyes.  The final point of contact is what we call cheek weld.  This is where you rest your cheek on the stock.  All of these points together allow us to stabilize the gun quite nicely.

Now we want to align the sights.  Most AR’s have iron sights to begin with but enjoy optics as an add on.  Because we are talking about basics, let’s stick to iron sights. Most ARs with iron sights have the aperture style, also called peep sights. The rear sight has a small hole you look through. There might be two different size holes. The larger one lets you line up the sights quicker. The little one gives you better precision. Close one eye and look through the hole in the rear sight, at the front sight post. Line everything up so the top of the front sight post is right in the center of the target. Unless the target is really close, you generally want your vision focused on the front sight.  What this produces is a semi-blurry rear sight, a clear front sight and the semi-blurry target. 

Once we are on target we want to take the rifle off of safe and prepare to fire.  Use your strong side thumb and flick the safety switch up to fire.  Now slowly press the trigger with consistent pressure towards the rear.  A smooth trigger press allows us to keep the gun stable and in turn give us better accuracy.  As the shot fires, keep your head down on the rifle and on the sights.  Let the trigger reset and repeat as necessary. This principle is called follow though and allows us to not only be more accurate, but also faster shooters.  Once you have fired the shots you need to, then use the strong side thumb again and move the fire selector to safe.

Safety is paramount in all firearms training and holds true especially with rifles.  With that being said we need to embrace the four fundamentals of firearms safety.

1. Always treat every firearm as though it is loaded.

The phrase “it’s unloaded” should never pass your lips and should never be trusted from someone else’s. Unless you are preparing to shoot, your first action with any firearm in all situations should be to point the muzzle in a safe direction, check the chamber, and clear the firearm.

2. Always keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction.

It might help to think of the muzzle as a laser pointer—and everything it points toward is in danger. Never let the muzzle cover anything you’re not willing to destroy.

3. Keep your finger outside the trigger guard until ready to shoot.

The best way to prevent accidental discharge is to keep your trigger finger indexed along the frame of the firearm until your sights are on the target. Do not place your finger inside the trigger guard until you’re ready to pull the trigger

4. Always be sure of your target and what is in front of it and behind it.

If you pull the trigger, you cannot take back the bullet! Everything and everyone in front of, near, and beyond your target is your responsibility. Make sure you have an adequate backstop and never shoot at a flat, hard surface or water. Merging these two sections together will allow you to enjoy hours and hours of rifle shooting. Sticking to the fore fundamentals and safety rules will build good habits that will stick with you for a lifetime