Beginners Guides

4 Fundamentals of Marksmanship

The 4 Fundamentals of Marksmanship are the basis for all shooting skills. They provide a reliable structure of physical and mental queues that can be observed, isolated, and trained to improve accuracy and precision with a firearm.

  1. Steady Position: Selecting a position, stance, and grip that generates a stable firing platform.
  2. Sight Alignment: Creating a consistent point of aim using the sights on a firearm.
  3. Breath Control: Controlling and using cycles of involuntary movement for greater stability.
  4. Trigger Control: Proper manipulation of the trigger that keeps a firearm straight and steady.

The 4 Fundamentals of Marksmanship are easy to remember, and their usefulness extends to all types of firearms and all levels of shooting experience. Understanding and recalling them will allow a shooter to troubleshoot, correct, and improve shooting technique.

1. Steady Position

Select a Position and Stance that provides a steady platform and possesses a direct line of sight to the target. The selected Position and Stance should also facilitate a repeatable Grip that asserts positive control the firearm.

The four main Shooting Positions are (1) Standing, (2) Kneeling, (3) Prone, and (4) Sitting.


A Shooting Position should place the muzzle of the firearm at the same level as target. Establish a flat trajectory of fire. All missed shots and shots that might penetrate the target should travel into a backstop. Shots aimed high can travel over a backstop or into a ceiling. Shots aimed low may ricochet off solid ground. Be aware of all surroundings.

Standing Position. [1]

The Standing Position is any position on both feet. The Standing Position is inherently the least stable of all firing positions since the entire body must support and aim the gun. Standing Positions, for both handguns and long guns, will employ specific stances and grips that create maximum stability and recoil management for greater control, accuracy and precision. Often referred to as the “Offhand” Firing Position when using long guns.

Kneeling Position. [1]

The Kneeling Position incorporates bending down upon the knee (same side as the firing hand) with the opposite knee in front of the chest. This position creates three points of contact with the ground (versus two points with a Standing Position) while allowing the non-firing elbow to stabilize itself against thigh near the kneecap. Avoid resting the elbow on the kneecap itself or resting any part of the rifle against bony parts of the body.

Sitting Position. [1]

The Sitting Position places the butt and feet on the ground with knees bent to stabilize the body. There are numerous variations of the Sitting Position utilizing different arrangements of the feet and knees (IE crossed-legged, open-legged, crossed ankles). In this position, the non-firing elbow can rest on the thigh near the kneecap.

Prone Position. [1]

The Prone Position places the body flat on one’s stomach to create stability through greater contact with the ground. With the body stabilized against the ground, less effort is required to aim and hold aim over a target. This position is nearly as stable as using a supported rest.

For all positions, avoid bone-on-bone contact when stabilizing the elbows and knees against other parts of the body. Avoid bracing the firearm against similar bony or rigid surfaces and structures. Recoil will cause firearms to shift and can skid or scrape themselves off hard surfaces.


A desirable firing hand grip is characterized by a repeatable position that asserts affirmative control over the firearm while allowing deliberate engagement and disengagement of the trigger finger from the trigger guard.

Firing Grip (Both Sides).

The firing hand secures the pistol grip or stock between webbing of the thumb and index finger. The trigger finger should be placed on the frame or receiver of the firearm with all other fingers securing the grip or stock.

Firing Hand Grip plus Support Hand.

The non-firing hand creates an additional point of contact that supports and stabilizes the firing hand. For handguns, this will vary by stance. For long guns, the non-firing hand usually secures a grip forward of the firing hand while creating a third point of contact using a stock weld.

For any grip, be sure to keep both hands clear of any moving parts of the firearm. Moving parts such as hammers, slides, bolt carriers, and reciprocating charging handles can cause injury such as slide bite or hammer bite. This applies to both handguns and long guns.

Hot gases venting from the Cylinder Gap when firing a revolver. Keep fingers clear. [3]

When gripping a revolver, keep hands and body parts clear of the Cylinder Gap. This gap between the barrel, frame, and the cylinder vents hot gasses with each shot. This outward flash of hot gasses can cause burns and severe injury.

2. Sight Alignment and Sight Picture

Sights come in a variety of shapes and configurations, but they use alignment of the front and rear sights to acquire Sight Alignment and create a Sight Picture. Using one or both eyes, the goal is to create a deliberate point of aim that consistently coincides with the intended point of impact.

Eye Relief

Eye Relief is the distance from the eye to the rear sights or the viewing lens of a scope. Eye Relief will vary and exact Eye Relief distance will depend on the shooter, the firearm, and the type of sights employed on the firearm.

Difficulties in acquiring Sight Alignment and Sight Picture can often be fixed with adjustments in Eye Relief. An ideal Eye Relief will create an easily repeatable focal point when raising a firearm and acquiring the sights.

Eye relief should also create a minimum safe distance from the viewing end of an optical scope. If held too close, the shooter’s face can receive an impact from the scope due to rearward recoil from the firearm.

Sight Alignment

Correct Sight Alignment.

Sight Alignment refers to a two-dimensional arrangement observed when aligning the front sight post and rear sight of a firearm. Correct Sight Alignment is observed when front sight and rear sight form (1) a flat, level surface along the top of both sights with (2) equal spacing on the left and right sides of the front sight as framed by the rear sight.

Focusing on the Front Sight Post.

Correct Sight Alignment indicates that the firearm’s point of aim coincides with the shooters perspective. Using correct Sight Alignment, the shooter focuses on the front sight while allowing the rear sight to become out of focus. The front site now creates a point of aim which can be trained onto a target to create a full Sight Picture.

Sight Picture

Creating a Sight Picture.

Sight Picture extends the two-dimensional arrangement formed through Sight Alignment to include the target. This arrangement includes the point of aim created through the rear and front sights placed over the intended point of impact.

Sight Alignment and Sight Picture generate a reference point used to determine point of aim and point of impact. Points of impact that deviate from the point of aim can be readily analyzed to troubleshoot specific issues with shooting technique.

3. Breath Control

During regular breathing, involuntary movements of the chest and shoulders are created by the diaphragm muscle. This movement of the diaphragm can alter the point of aim within a Sight Picture as the chest and shoulders rise and fall with each inhale and exhale.

Breathing rhythm depicted as a waveform. [3]

To control this movement, a person can hold their breath upon exhale to pause the breathing cycle and prevent involuntary movement of the chest and shoulders.

Take a shot before inhaling again; use deeper cycles of holding one’s breath to fire multiple shots. Resume breathing in between individual shots and strings of shots. Be sure resume breathing. Without oxygen, the body will involuntarily shake and alter the point of aim within the Sight Picture.

By controlling the rhythm of the inhalation and exhalation, a shooter can control their Sight Picture and take advantage of increased bodily stability for each shot.

4. Trigger Control

Proper Trigger Control prevents unintended motion and movement of the firearm that would change the point of aim or Sight Alignment when actuating the trigger. The proper action upon the trigger is often described as “squeezing” the trigger rather a “trigger pull”.

Apply steady rearward pressure using the Trigger Finger.

The position and movement of the trigger finger should create steady, rearward pressure that does not jerk or push the firearm side to side. The movement of the trigger finger should also be independent from all other fingers of the firing hand.

Always follow-through past the Break Point.

A proper trigger squeeze will apply steady pressure upon the trigger as it reaches (and follows through) its “Break Point”: The amount of trigger pressure required to engage the firing device (IE hammer, striker) to ignite a loaded cartridge.

Do not anticipate the Break Point and continue to follow through the trigger squeeze until all “slack” has been squeezed out. The Break Point should surprise the shooter during the follow-through motion of the trigger finger.

Maintain pressure on the Trigger during Trigger Reset.

Once all “slack” has been pressed out of the trigger, steadily release the trigger until it reaches its “Reset Point”. This Reset Point indicates itself through a tactile and audible action as the trigger resets itself to re-engage the firing action.

Allow trigger to reset before while keeping firearm stable.

Use the Reset Point as the new starting point to squeeze out any subsequent shots using the same technique, pressure, and follow-through of the trigger finger.

Perfect Practice Makes Perfect

These are the basic yet universal concepts that extend to all experience and skill levels of marksmanship. They should serve as a structured guide for improving and troubleshooting shooting technique when operating just about any firearm.

A person’s training goals and firearms choice will dictate specialization in stances, grips, and aiming techniques, but all firearms specializations are built upon the 4 Fundamentals of Marksmanship.

Like mastering a golf swing or playing the guitar, familiarity and mastery of the fundamentals will serve as the basis for both basic practice and limit-pushing training and performance.

Related Topics
First Time Shooting Range Guide
The Value of Firearms Training
5 Best First Guns to Buy

  1. United States. War Department. Marksmanship Rifle, Individual Training Regulations No. 150-5. June 6, 1923.
  2. Wikipedia Contributors. (2011, September 30). Air-Gap Flash. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 12:00, May 8, 2019, from
  3. United States. Headquarters Department of the Army. Rifle Marksmanship M-16/M4-Series Weapons. August 2008.

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