Competitive Shooting

Carbine Marksmanship: Best Practices

man resting rifle on fence firing rifle

Whether it was the Old West or the LAPD, working cops have been carrying sidearms for as long as they’ve been around.

Savvy lawmen used to keeep a short-barreled repeating rifle like a Winchester 94 handy.

Later, the Winchester .351 SLR and the Remington Model 8 were popular. Today, carbines are back in the saddle again.

Critical events have made the patrol carbine a desirable complement to the peace officer’s pistol and shotgun.

The complacent era in which police officers patrolled only with a pistol started to come to an end in the fire and smoke of such infamous incidents as North Hollywood and Columbine.

By the same token, homeowners fearing invasions by gangs and takeover robberies have widely adopted the carbine.

It may be a pistol-caliber carbine in 9mm or an AR-15 rifle, but it will be more effective than a handgun.

Many agencies and even private security started adding rifles or pistol-caliber carbines to their lists of approved tools following the 9/11 attacks.

After all, it’s likely that if terrorists engage in a firefight with American police officers that they will be well armed, possibly outfitted with body armor, and capable of firing accurately at more than 100 yards.

A pistol would be next to useless in such a long-range fight against armored subjects.

Man shooting AR-15 rifle

Get a (Good) Rifle

Many of us have a rifle at home ready. It may be a good quality .22 caliber, such as the T/C rifles, an AR-15, or a good lever-action rifle.

The lever-action rifle in .357 Magnum, .44 Magnum or .45 Colt is especially useful.

The pistol-caliber self-loading carbine is easy to use and attractive to homeowners.

A combination of soft recoil and gilt-edged accuracy make the carbine a fine all-around choice for home defenders.

Some say that the need for a rifle is overstated. It is true it will not be needed often, but here’s the counter to that argument.

When you need a rifle, you need it badly. A well-chosen rifle can be useful from conversational range to several hundred yards.

Still, the key factor in successful operation of this weapon is the skill of the operator.

When patrol rifles are introduced in many police agencies, they are assigned to officers after only minimal training.

Many traditional police courses simply do not adequately address the problems the carbine was introduced to solve.

Today, we need to model our practice after successful schools.

There are many schools of thought on implementing the carbine, but the fact remains that the basics of marksmanship must be mastered before the carbine can be used well.

Once these basics are mastered, a good shot can use this tool to keep the homestead safe and resolve incidents involving deadly threat.

Too many of us will purchase a quality rifle and then not properly maintain it or learn to use it. That is a waste of a good piece of safety gear.

There isn’t anything mysterious about the carbine.

If held properly, the trigger is pressed properly, the sights are aligned and follow-through is respected, the shooter will hit the target.

Proper training and practice will limit misses.

Practice must include more than basic carbine marksmanship practice in which you shoot at stationary targets from defined ranges.

Training scenarios should include: instruction and practice in how to shoot at threats at close range, how to counter multiple threats, how to neutralize threats behind cover, how to target and hit partially-exposed threats, how to stop threats in the home,  and how to eliminate threats at long range.

It isn’t about shooting, it is about fighting.

You will have to take the weapon to the range and work it, shooting at different distances, at both stationary targets and moving targets, and using cover when possible.

rifle with scope on steel target carbine marksmanship
Care should be taken in choosing carbine optics.

Invest in Proper Training

I use long-range shooting to develop accurate shot placement. I realize these shots will not often be needed, but use them as a training aid.

Carbine marksmanship is important, but so is cover and safety. If you do not get shot, you have won the game! 

Your life depends on you remembering that just because you have a rifle you are not impervious to small-arms fire.

The basics of sight picture, sight alignment and trigger press should be mastered before you move to effective defensive training.

An NRA course is a great idea. You should also understand how to maintain the firearm and keep it lubricated.

Malfunction drills must be practiced.

You should begin with a triple-checked unloaded rifle and practice gripping the rifle, practice moving with the rifle, and become comfortable getting into different firing positions.

There are a number of basic shooting positions that you should master to be effective with a carbine in a fight.

Standing, kneeling and prone must be thoroughly understood, as should firing around corners and firing from cover.

At the range you are relaxed. Add some stress!

Never forget that you are training to act quickly and decisively to save your life or the life of an innocent person.

You are not just “plinking” at targets, and if you think you are, you’re in the wrong business as far as training for your life goes.

Your time training with your carbine should be all about learning to fight and win. That means you need to practice quick and accurate fire.

One of the most overlooked skills when using long guns is quickly getting the gun into the firing position and acquiring the sights.

Without these important skills, all else fails when a quick shot is needed. Most AR-15 carbines have standard aperture sights.

I have added these sights to my personal lever-action rifles as well. Some of us use red-dot sights and others use more powerful long-range optics.

Each of these different sights requires different techniques for sight acquisition and alignment.

Let’s look at the requirements for quickly hitting with different types of sights.

man kneeling firing rifle carbine marksmanship
The kneeling position is a standby firing position that offers excellent accuracy potential.

Use the Right Sights

Aperture Sights

When you need to aim quickly using aperture sights — and this applies to a shotgun with ghost-ring sights as well — the rear sight should come to your eye first.

Your cheek should be welded to the stock at the same time, even for shots at moderate range. The front sight is then pulled into the aperture.

It will center itself for an accurate shot.

That is the advantage of the aperture: your eye naturally centers a post in the rear “circle,” aperture, or ghost ring.

With a little practice, you can easily use an aperture sight on a carbine to make a very fast, very accurate first shot.

AR-15 rifle
Standard AR-15 iron sights are good examples of aperture sights.

Open Sights

With the traditional open sight often found on sporting rifles and on “buck special” or “riot” shotguns, or an AK-47, find the front sight first and then pull the front sight into the rear sight notch.

Open sights are not as good as aperture sights for quick action but, with some practice, a skilled shooter can make them work.

At very close range, a focus on only the front sight is effective.

lever-action rifle
Lever-action rifles often have open sights.

Optical Sights

Any individual thinking of fitting a carbine with optical sights should step back for a second and weigh the pros and cons of these devices.

A modern scope has many benefits, but, contrary to popular belief, it will not automatically make you a better shot.

We have a great love for gadgets, and the optical sight is a great gadget. Some, such as the Nikon M-223, are pretty rugged.

However, it has drawbacks. It may be damaged in the trunk of a car or when used as a truck gun.

You don’t want to get into a fight with an inoperable scope. Finally, shooting well with a scope requires a lot of practice.

Be sure that you want to put in that time before you invest in one. There are many advantages to an optical sight.

In addition to the magnification that it provides, an optical sight is on a single plane, meaning there is no front and rear sight, only the sight reticle.

As a result, it is much easier to focus on the target. For truly fast shooting, a quality red-dot sight is a great aid.

If the range may be more than 25 yards, optics make more sense.

This is true if your rifle is also used to keep predators dusted off the back forty or if you hunt with the rifle.

While we’re at it, let’s discuss magnification for a moment. A carbine is not intended for the same kind of duty as a sniper rifle.

That’s why, for general defensive use, I suggest an optical sight with the lowest magnification, from no magnification to perhaps four-power.

Field of view is an issue, especially when you consider that you may have to use your rifle at anywhere from point-blank range to more than 100 yards.

The proven method of getting into action with an optical sight is to shoulder the weapon rapidly and take a coarse sight picture over the top adjustment knob of the sight.

Lining up on the target with this knob, you then quickly move to the center of the scope.

With practice, you will find that this drill can be executed rapidly.

An accomplished shooter with much practice may jump directly to the reticle, but for most of us, the coarse sight picture drill works well.

Trijicon Magnified rifle scope
Having a magnified scope is good for long-range accuracy.

Holographic Sights

Holographic dot-type sights, such as those produced by TRUGLO, require the average shooter to learn some new skills.

When using one of these sights, shoulder the carbine quickly and find the little red dot in the scope.

When the firearm is at the ready, focus on the threat. Keep both eyes open and a red dot will appear.

When the red dot is superimposed over the target you will fire. 

EOTech Holographic weapon sight
This EOTech holographic sight is a great aid in carbine marksmanship.

Focus On the Right Tactics

When using a carbine, maximize the advantages you have. Always take cover if possible and dominate the situation.

Firing from cover, with a braced position, you are not only much safer, you are far more accurate.

You present a much smaller target for the bad guys (unless they have the high ground) and also gain the bracing of the earth itself when you shoot from the prone position.

Know how and when to use this skill. Firing prone gives you much steadier aim.

However, it also presents you with one key difficulty: you can’t change positions as quickly as you can standing, kneeling or sitting.

And remember, prone behind cover is great, unless the bad guys have an elevation advantage.

In that case, if you are stretched out prone, then you are presenting them with a big target.

In all cases and with the modern AR-15 rifle, maintain control by keeping the support hand forward! 

There will always be situations when the bad guy is close and you do not have cover.

When this happens, there is some danger that the threat might be able to grapple with the long gun.

However, by keeping your weapon below eye level, you will be able to see him or her make this move and react to it.

Am I advocating that you train to use a carbine at extreme close range without even bothering to aim? Not exactly.

A carbine has much better balance and natural point than your handgun and, at three to 10 feet, firing below eye level can work.

With the three-point attachment of the long gun, accuracy in quick, unaimed fire is much better than the handgun.

Point with the front sight and remember that the bullet will impact high if placed on the navel as an aiming point, when you use only the front sight.

woman training with carbine marksmanship
Practice carbine marksmanship drills and stay in touch with the carbine!

Conclusion: Carbine Marksmanship

The carbine is a great multiplier of marksmanship.

Solid hits can be made at great range, and rescue shots are possible with the carbine that would never be possible with a handgun.

But, with this advantage comes the responsibility to master the firearm.

What training practices do use for carbine marksmanship? Let us know in the comments section below!

About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.


Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Handloader
Rifle Magazine
Handguns
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns



Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (3)

  1. And don’t forget the tried and true 30 caliber M1 Carbine for home defense. It can empty a magazine quickly and pretty accurately. There are self-defense rounds available in 30 caliber (or should I say WERE available before this ammo shortage mess).

  2. With glaucoma holographic or other “:red dot”sights [includong lasers]don’t work!
    Yes to receiver[aka peep]sights.I like the Williams WGRS receiver sights-it doesn’t hang over left side of receiver for us southpaws.Add the Twilight aperture disk[.150”]and you’ve got an extremely fast sight

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