The One Shot Emergency Zero

Spec Ops Shooting

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There's one last zero technique to consider, and it's accurate enough for an emergency but not for true precision shooting. It's very fast and could mean the difference between life and death.

Carefully aim at a target or any surface that leaves a visible mark where you hit it. You should aim at a precise point. Now fire one round.

Wedge your rifle into a rigid, solid position with sandbags or other supports so it won't move even a bit. Remove the turret caps so the elevation and windage dials are exposed. Then, realign the rifle, looking through the scope so you're pointing the crosshairs exacdy at your original point of aim. Make sure the rifle won't move.

Very, very carefully, so as not to move the rifle even a bit, turn the windage and elevation dials so the crosshairs shift to the point where your bullet impacted. You've made the point of aim the point of impact. This is a zero, and you're now ready for action.


Sniper training requires an assortment of targets and an understanding of how best to employ them for challenging training. Marksmanship practice falls into two wide areas: practice fire for skill maintenance and shooting drills, in which stress and realism are injected to teach tactical skills and judgment on top of marksmanship.

For practice fire, conventional paper bull's-eye targets are just fine, but a much wider target array should be used for shooting drills.

No matter the overall shape or dimension of a target used in drills, your intended point of impact must be small enough to be challenging. This means that even if you're shooting at a full-size silhouette, your designated point of impact is


The easiest, most convenient means to maintain your skill is dry-firing. Since no recoil or muzzle blast is present to mask your reaction, dry-firing enables you to diagnose and overcome tiny problems with jerking, breathing, etc. Just be sure to use a Snapcap so you don't unduly stress your firing pin.

Assume a stable, supported shooting position, place your reticle on a tiny target, and squeeze the trigger so smoothly that the reticle doesn't move when the shot breaks. Ensure you also practice follow-through; then rebolt the weapon and reacquire the target. This routine is the habit you must develop —only then have you completed a shot.

My secret for accurately firing someone else's rifle is to dry-fire before taking my complimentary shot. For this kind of familiarization, close your eyes and concentrate solely on your finger and its interplay with the trigger. Relax and don't be analytical—just let your finger adapt so it's comfortable with the trigger.

When it comes to your own rifle, you want much more than mere familiarization. Close your eyes and see how long you can take to break a shot, purposely taking as long as possible. Smoothly, consistently, delicately taking up the slack and breaking the shot could easily take 20 seconds or more. Again, focus mentally on your finger and let your mind float free.

Here's a great trigger exercise I learned at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky, many years ago. Get into a solid supported position, then have your spotter balance a coin on your barrel just behind the muzzle. If your dry-fire release is smooth and solid, the coin won't fall —and if you're really solid, it won't wobble at all. Dime-size coins are tougher than quarters.

Another dry-fire technique is to watch your reticle movement as you prepare to fire. Breathing will cause it to rise and fall vertically across and above your target; if there's any lateral or horizontal movement, readjust your body position and reposition the rifle on its support. At the instant you fire, of course, you'll be in your natural respiratory pause, so ideally there should be no movement.

Your spotter can help a lot by closely observing your dry-fire, especially your trigger finger. Any trembling, jerking, or twitching will be obvious to him, and he can see if your finger smoothly pulls, then pauses during follow-through. Ideally, your

It's a challenge to dry-fire a rifle without dropping a coin balanced on its barrel.

finger should pull through the shot-break, then pause slightly at the trigger stop. If your finger quivers or lifts away too quickly, it means you've allow the sound of the shot or feel of the recoil to break your concentration. You're not thinking about this shot but already thinking about the next shot, or you're bolting your weapon, etc.

The eye is the window to the mind —and by watching a sniper's dominant eye, a spotter can see how effectively he's concentrating. From 20 feet away I can tell if a rifleman's jerking merely by noticing whether his dominant eye blinks when his shot breaks. A more accomplished marksman probably won't blink, but your spotter will notice, lying beside you, whether your pupil dilates or contracts at any point during dry-fire. If your mind is truly locked on the target—if you are in your "bubble," as Carlos Hathcock used to put it—your eye stays focused on the target.

Another dry-firing technique works great at the range to help a shooter overcome jerking problems induced by recoil and muzzle blast. Here the shooter dry-fires about 10 times; then while he looks away, the spotter slips a live or dummy round into the chamber and has him "fire" again. The shooter has no idea whether he's about to face real recoil or just another dry-fire. What works best, I've found, is to repeatedly feed him the dummy round —10 times or so—to overcome any anxiety, then slip in a real round, followed by many repetitions with the dummy round. All the while, of course, the spotter/coach is closely observing to detect and diagnose any continuing problems. Using this technique, I've had students completely overcome jerking problems in as little as 15 minutes.

but a tiny spot highlighted in contrasting color. To start with, 3 Minutes of Angle (or 3 inches at 100 yards, 6 inches at 200 yards, etc.) is acceptable. Then, when your skills improve, the point of impact should be reduced to 2 MOAs.

The more realistic you can make your shooting drill targets, the better. Dressing a silhouette in complete uniform or civilian clothes is highly effective, as is pasting on a Xerox copy of a face. If nothing else, you can add white pressure-sensitive labels trimmed to resemble eyes; there's nothing like a target that looks back at you.

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