Monday, August 18, 2014

Review - NRA Basic Rifle Instructor 8-15 to 17-2014


I had the opportunity to train a group of six scouters this past weekend. The focus of the weekend was to complete the NRA Basic Instructor Training (B.I.T.) course and the Rifle Instructor course. And, as always, things were taught and learned by all involved, myself included.

B.I.T. - The biggest take-away from the B.I.T. course by the scout leaders is that as a result, they all felt they would substantially change the way they teach the merit badges. In scouting, merit badges are typically taught by a troop leader/parent/interested adult that enjoys a specific thing that the scouts offer a merit badge for. Myself for example – I enjoy shooting sports, photography, astronomy, amateur radio, canoeing, first aid, computers . . . to name just a few. During the decade plus I was involved in troop leadership, guess which merit badges I taught?? No surprise I suppose. However, just because I “taught” them . . . it didn’t mean I know how to teach them.

That is the purpose of B.I.T. for the NRA Instructor candidate – to teach them how to teach. Honestly, light bulbs were going on all over the place!! One component that I didn’t need to reinforce as much as I usually do is team teaching. Scouters “get” team teaching. But, the process of laying out a course, different teaching methodologies . . . . you could see all six scouters just soaking up ideas during the day. Very nice to watch. As a result, some thought is being given to just offering B.I.T. to the council leaders as a stand-alone training to strengthen their teaching skills. I’ll let you all know how that works out if we decide to move forward with that type of training.

I always find it interesting that B.I.T. is called a 6-hour course. Really????? Honestly, I’ve NEVER gotten through it in that short of time – and Friday was no different. With a start time of 8AM, we wrapped up with a final course review at around 6PM. Long day, but one filled with lots of “good stuff”!!

Rifle Instructor – Anytime you have shooters gathered in one room – in this case 6 of them – you are surrounded by “experts” who have been hunting/shooting “for their whole life”. It’s always like that . . . always. What makes a difference is if they are willing to set aside what they “know” and to be open to old information, new information, a different approach, a different point of view . . . then an instructor can get some real work done. Such was the case this during this course. Again, scouters are used to being exposed to different ways of doing something and this assembly of candidates were more than willing to “play”. They offered no resistance to preparing and presenting different parts of the course work. They freely offered and received feedback from other candidates. And, they stayed focused over two very intense days.

Whether presenting the safety rules, the various parts of different types of rifles (I used a lever action rifle, bolt action rifle, a break action rifle and modern day AR rifle), components of a cartridge, range rules, how to do a range brief down to detailing the standing, sitting, kneeling, prone and bench rest shooting positions – they kept their focus, were intent on complete explanations and gently pushed and nudged each other to do their best. Pretty fun to watch and be a part of!

When I teach shooting positions, I spend whatever time it takes in the classroom to have the candidates present and teach the positions as completely as they can without actually firing a shot. The advantages are numerous. Weather is NOT an issue. It’s usually quieter so it’s easier to ask questions, present the information and offer feedback.

It keeps the energy level a bit lower so the candidates can focus better. Even adults with decades of shooting experience can get a bit wired when sitting on a live fire range. So, by the end of day one everything that needed to be covered prior to hitting the range had been done. They were ready to make some holes on the paper.

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Our council is blessed with a beautiful scout reservation with two camps – one for cubs through WEBELOS and then a Boy Scout camp for not only scouts but corporate trainings as well due to the generosity of the Alsop family. We held our training in the Alsop center that has a great gathering area and bunks for well over 100 folks. It’s a pretty impressive building.

After a brief review we headed for the range.

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Again, we are blessed with a covered range that can hold up to 24 shooting positions. Now that camp has buttoned up for the season, there are only 8 remaining lanes open. We took two and set up a rotation of 3 shooters on each lane. One the “student”, one the “coach” and then a safety officer keeping an eye on things.

I rotated them through four shooting positions – bench rest, standing, sitting and supported prone. Each candidate fired 5 rounds in each position and, once all candidates rotated through each position once, we repeated all positions one more time. They sent a total of 80 rounds down range.

I used this exercise to fulfil the Pre-Qual requirement of a candidate being able to shoot a 3-inch group at 50 feet in three different positions. While it would be fine to just have them shoot that drill and bring it with them when they start the class, the advantage of using it as the course of fire for the candidates teaching the various positions live fire is that it adds urgency to the process. As you will see from the targets, they had little trouble and the drill or two where issues arose – the opportunity to learn was greatly enhanced. This is the target I used for the drill:

Target - Rifle Instuctor Qualification 

Each station was provided a single target. Each shooter was assigned one of the circles. These are 3” in diameter with the center being ½” in diameter. It was interesting to see their expressions as I talked about them in class the day before. The idea they were going to shoot these from 50-feet with a little Savage Mark I was more than a little intimidating.


One of my “have to’s” for an instructor is that they should shoot the very first target on the range of a range day. That does a number of things. It gets the first BANG over with and releases some of the pent up energy we all feel as you head for the range. It lets the candidate know that you can actually shoot (and you better darn well shoot a qualifying score). Finally, it lets you physically demonstrate what you expect from them. Honestly, it’s a win all around.

So, I snug up to the shooting table and have Robert run me through the drill. Practice the position without a firearm. Practice the drill with an unloaded firearm. And, finally, fire the first 5 rounds of the day by command. Here is the result . . .

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Notice the first 4-rounds are within a 1-inch group and then a flyer that stretched the overall size to 2.25”. Still qualifying . . . and it offered a lesson. During the last round I was carrying on a conversation about something that – at this moment – I simply can’t remember. But, the result was a loss of concentration, a loss of focus and a loss of a nice starting group. Heavy sigh. Still – lessons learned and demonstrated . . . and that is, after all, the point of coursework.

The first position on both stations was the bench rest position and generated two target groups that looked like this:

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As you can see, some pretty good shooting. There was a very early opportunity for some “learnin’” with the second shooter on Station one. He was given the center target and as you can see; his group had a very wide swing in elevation. Diagnosis of shooting issues is always interesting to me. This fellow is a former Marine and a good shooter. What the heck?? In walking through my standard questions, it quickly became apparent he was having issues with his sight pictures. The Mark I has a simple V notch in the back and a blade on the front. He’d not shot that particular type of sight before and was trying to settle the top of the blade in the center – vertically – of the rear notch. Once it was clarified that the front blade is centered in the notch but FLUSH with the top of the notch . . . his accuracy increased significantly as you can see by his second round in the lower left corner of the Station 1 target.

And so it went with all positions and shooters . . .

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Sitting offered two different types of challenges. One shooter, once seated simply struggled to bend a knee for additional support. As you will quickly see by the target at station two, his position did not offer enough support for a good grouping . . .

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You’ll notice that while Gary was assigned the upper right target, his grouping was all over the place. His position looked like this . . .

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Obviously it offered little to no stability. We used the time after this round and before the next to find a physical sitting position that would work and offer more points of contact and thus better stability. We final found one such combination and his target then looked like this . . .

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Again, he has the upper right target and as you can see, hit group tightened significantly.

The second shooter simply could not physically get in a seated position on the ground. However, he could easily get into one on top of the shooting table. Once in position, he was able to get a nice group as is seen in the “Sitting” target for Station 1 that had displayed Gary’s initial trouble. Don had the center target.

The ability of a shooter to physically assume a “proper” shooting position is something we all have to deal with. Sometimes it’s age, sometimes it’s through injury. At that point it’s up to the instructor to find a way that a student or candidate can still be successful.

Finally, they all rolled through the prone position with these targets the result . . .

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Things were tightening up really nicely. After a break to hit the head and rehydrate I turned the range over to them and they repeated the same drills a second time. The result wasn’t too shabby at all . . .

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All in all, a pretty good day on the range. Total time was around 4.5 hours. Everyone had improved and gained a much deeper understanding of teaching these shooting positions as well as how to actually execute them as well. Here’s the happy group!

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The range work was followed by a fairly quick lunch back at the lodge and a plunge right into the exam. That was followed by grading, review and exit interviews.

Good weekend! Great job by the candidates. And the Hawkeye Area Council is the recipient of 5 new Rifle Instructors as is a council in Minnesota which sent our one “foreigner” . . . It was nice to have you Robert!

For me one nice thing is that I get 4 of them back next weekend, at the same camp, for the Shot Gun Instructor Training! Going to be another good weekend! Thanks again for coming guys. Below are some of the photos I took over the weekend.



  1. I really need to get out there for the rifle class... sigh

  2. These two classes were intense and were long days. Yet I would do it again in a heartbeat. See with merit badges, they are usually taught by everyday people with a interest in a subject. The B.I.T. class took most of the fear and anxiety out of it. It gave me a solid method that works. The foundational shooting skills and the Firearm safety rules need to be taught correctly and effectively. These classes gives you the blueprint and methodology to achieve this for teaching kids and adults too. Thank you Bill for your time and effort. Keep up the good work!

  3. I'm late out of the gate, as usual.

    First off, I'll echo the Turtle's comments: "intense... long days" & "do it again in a heartbeat."

    I'll add, “Worth every penny of its cost, and minute of its time.” I approached these courses with trepidation. The cost was quite reasonable, but still a healthy chunk of change for an old guy on a fixed income. The notion of 2-1/2 days in a classroom in order to get half a day on the range wasn't the liveliest come-on, either. Reality vindicated cost and time – I found real value in both courses, enough so the half-day on the range became almost a fun after-thought. For training whose advertising pointedly did not beat the “Hands-on” drum, a very healthy amount of “DO” complemented the “HEAR”, and the “READ” component was really quite modest.

    I've taken classes all my life, everything from English Cavalier poetry to 4-H Canine Obedience, Compiler Construction to how to officiate a swim meet, and taught not a few. The Basic Instructor Training was the best of several "Train the Trainer" courses I've survived. The Basic Rifle Instructor course put lyrics to the Basic Instructor melody...

    This was the first formal shooting training I've ever had - no 'prior service'. I'm extremely pleased! (Even now, weeks later.) Not only did youthful bench-rest shooting experience come back, sort of like riding a bicycle, but the course materials and instructor pulled a lot of never-previously-connected items together for me. I was hugely relieved I could still shoot a reasonable group (with iron sights, yet!), and - for the first time - began to analyze the elements of doing so, and understand the whys of it.

    The NRA course materials were generally excellent. The few rough spots and occasional conflicts where different areas seemed to contradict each other were all old friends of the instructor... He put us at ease with them. He claims he's not a rifle guy. I won't call him a liar, only say he's got to be a bloomin' wizard, then, with a handgun!

    These days when you send your kid to school to learn math from somebody with a 4-year teaching degree, who can't balance their own checkbook, and has no other earthly idea of what else the stuff is used for, it's a rude shock (that becomes a real pleasure) to encounter someone who can DO their subject, well enough to set an example, as well as talk a good game. Bill's a real pro...