Mentoring With Military Firearms — Training and Teaching

Underwood M1 Garand atop a paper bullseye target

A bit of background. My mother’s younger brother carried an M1 Garand as a member of the 103rd Infantry Division during WWII. His unit arrived at Marseilles, France, in October 1944 and pushed its way across France into Germany. It was there my uncle lost his life during a campaign near Muehlhausen while repulsing a German attack.

He was buried in Epinal American Cemetery near Dinozé, France. On the other side of the family, my father, and his father both served in the U.S. Navy during wartime. My grandfather was a pharmacist’s mate aboard a ship during WWI and was issued a Colt Service Revolver. My father was a skipper on a PT Boat during WWII and was trained on the M1 Garand rifle and the M1911A1 pistol.

Field Stripped M1 Garand rifle
The author used the military manuals on the M1 Garand to teach his shooters the takedown necessary to clean it properly.

I served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam conflict, and my oldest son served in the U.S. Army immediately upon his high school graduation in 1993. We were both trained on the M16. My son was trained as an armorer on the M16 rifle, M9 pistol, and M60 machine gun. Although my training was on the M16, I carried an M2 Carbine and S&W .38 Special revolver in my medevac helicopter during my Vietnam tour.

Passing the Torch

My wife’s father and brother were both submariners trained on the M1911A1 pistol. With four generations of military service on my side of the family, plus my wife’s father and brother in the Navy, it’s just natural for the shooters in our family to have an interest in the firearms used by these men. For the past couple of years, I’ve been informally mentoring a small group of shooters. The group includes one of my sons and his best friend, a 17-year-old grandson and his best friend, the landowner who allows us to shoot on his property and his eight-year-old daughter plus one of his co-workers, along with the co-worker’s wife and 10-year-old son. Whenever we shoot together, the group members pick the guns they want me to bring. Military firearms are always in high demand.

Our family arsenal includes an M1 Garand, M1 Carbine, and AR-15, which is as close to an M16 as I can afford. In the pistol department, we have a replica U.S. Army 1911A1, Colt Service Model Ace 22 1911, Beretta M9, Colt M45A1 CQBP, SIG Sauer P226/MK25, SIG M11A1, and a .22 version of the HK416 pistol used by the Navy Seals. We go through a lot of ammo, so I have included reloading in our mentoring program.

Guidance from Military Manuals

My M1 Garand is a Civilian Marksmanship Program Service Grade rifle. Whenever I break it out, there’s no lack of people lining up to shoot it. CMP sent some information with the rifle about caring for it and I purchased The M1 Garand: OWNER’S GUIDE by Scott A. Duff, but the most helpful information I found was in military manuals from the WWII era. My father’s Bluejackets Manual used in his training to become a naval officer has a chapter on small arms that covers in detail the U.S. Rifle, Caliber .30, M1, and Caliber .45 Automatic Pistol. Within this chapter, I discovered where my father learned the techniques and terminology, he used to teach me to shoot as a young boy. It is also where my grandson and I learned the techniques for disassembly, cleaning, and reassembly of the M1 Garand rifle.

I grew fond of the M2 I carried in Vietnam. However, because it was a machine gun, I couldn’t bring it home. Buying one is way out of my price range, but I did manage to get a true WWII M1 Carbine. My M1 Carbine was made by Underwood in March 1944, so there is a good chance it saw combat during WWII.

replica M1911A1 built by Tisas, left profile
The replica M1911A1 built by Tisas is a fun economical way to explore the roots of the American military M1911A1.

When I acquired a Tisas replica of the WWII vintage M1911A1, I remembered my military training regarding Field Manuals and Technical Manuals. On Amazon I found the following manuals: Automatic Pistol Caliber .45 M1911 and M1911A1 Field Manual; Combat Training with Pistols, M9 & M11; US .30 Caliber M1 Rifle Manual published by the War Department July 1940; and the Army and Air Force Technical Manual Cal. .30 Carbines M1, M1A1, M2, and M3. The information in these manuals is an amazing way to learn not just the technical specs regarding the care and operation of these military firearms, but also the programs the military used to train soldiers on how to use them.

Quite often, information in the military manuals is different from what we’ve been taught as civilians. For example, the recommended method for cleaning the M1911 and M1911A1 pistols is to clean the barrels with water. Instructions for using water for cleaning also appear in the M1 rifle manual.

The shooting fundamentals and exercises in these military manuals are a great way to teach someone how to shoot well. Here’s an example comment from FM 23–35, the manual of the M1911: “Good shooting is more the result of careful instruction than of mere practice. Unless properly instructed men instinctively do the wrong thing in firing the pistol. They instinctively jerk the trigger which is the cause of flinching. Hence mere practice fixes the instinctively bad habits.” We knew that, didn’t we?

Several Army field manuals for various firearms
The author found these military manual reprints online.

In each of the training manuals, learning to shoot is broken down into steps similar to what most civilians learn when being trained by NRA Instructors. They all stress that trigger squeeze is the most important part of learning to shoot. The way it is described in the military manuals rings so true to me because it is exactly what my former Navy officer father taught me. Shooters are instructed to “Squeeze the trigger in such a way as to not know just when the hammer will fall.”

The training steps in the WWII era training manual for the 1911 take the trainees through multiple dry-fire exercises such as firing, rapid firing, and quick firing, which must be perfected before they ever load ammunition in the gun. The rapid firing exercise involves tying a four-foot-long cord to the hammer of the gun and wrapping the other end around your non-firing hand which should be hanging naturally at your side.

Each time the hammer falls, a quick backward jerk with the non-firing hand cocks the pistol and jerks the sights out of alignment with the bullseye. This is meant to correspond with the recoil of the pistol when live ammunition is being fired. The detail with which the training regimen takes the new shooter is far beyond what we see in the civilian world. It is designed to develop habits that will serve the soldier well in combat. While we don’t do them all in our range sessions, we do pull a few combat training maneuvers from the field manuals to make our training productive.

More Than Just Shooting

I have worked with some of my guys on the art of zeroing the rifles at the 60-yard range where we shoot. The landowner, along with his neighbor and several friends are among the shooters who enjoy shooting military firearms. In one session, a woman wanted to shoot the Garand. She’s a small woman, so encouraged her to shoot from the bench. However, she chose to stand. She held the rifle to her shoulder and fired all eight rounds. She did a good job of hitting what she was aiming at too.

10-year-old shooting an AR-15 from a bench rest
10-year-old Diesel loves military firearms. Here he is enjoying the AR-15.

One of the most popular military handguns in my collection is the M9 pistol. I would have thought it would have been one of the 1911s such as the M45 Colt, but maybe that’s just because I’m a 1911 fan. The M9 has had many trouble-free rounds through it and is reasonably accurate. Two of my SIG Sauer pistols, the M11A1, and P226, provide a lot of satisfaction to my shooters. They are both exceedingly accurate and a pleasure to shoot.

Recently, I was shooting at a range where they have over 100 machine guns for rent. Two guys and a young girl came in and set up on the lane next to me to shoot an M16. The girl went first. She stepped up to the firing line and fired a single shot, then a three-round burst, and finally, a nice, controlled string of full-auto. When the gun was empty, she stepped back and offered it to the next shooter. I had stopped shooting to watch her and couldn’t help but comment, “You’ve had some training on that gun.” One of the guys with her said, “Yeah, she’s ex-military.”

We owe those who serve in our military a lot, including our freedom to enjoy the types of weapons they used to keep us free. Getting to know and use these military firearms is worth the effort and price to do so.

Have you mentored a new or young shooter? After an introduction with a .22 LR, have you considered focusing on firearm models or replicas of ones used by the military to include a history lesson too? Share your answers and ideas for mentoring a new shooter in the comment section.

  • Woman shooting an M1 Garand
  • Man with an arm brace shooting a .30 cal M1 Garand
  • Young man sighting in a M1 Carbine off a Caldwell shooting bag
  • Adjusting the sights on a M1 Carbine
  • Man standing next to a sighting target with bullet holes
  • Field Stripped M1 Garand rifle
  • Colt Government Model 1911 .45 ACP in burnt bronze
  • SIG M11A1 9mm handgun, left profile
  • 25th Anniversary Beretta Model M9 handgun, left profile
  • replica M1911A1 built by Tisas, left profile
  • Receiver portion of a M1 Garand rifle
  • Several Army field manuals for various firearms
  • 10-year-old shooting an AR-15 from a bench rest
  • Underwood M1 Garand atop a paper bullseye target

About the Author:

David Freeman

David is an NRA Instructor in pistol, rifle and shotgun, a Chief Range Safety Officer and is certified by the State of Texas to teach the Texas License to Carry Course and the Hunter Education Course. He has also owned and operated a gun store. David's passion is to pass along knowledge and information to help shooters of all ages and experience levels enjoy shooting sports and have the confidence to protect their homes and persons. He flew medevac helicopters in Vietnam and worked for many years as a corporate pilot before becoming actively involved in the firearm industry.
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 (11)

  1. David Freeman, our relatives were in fact quite close during the war; both men served in the 410th Infantry Regiment of the 103rd Infantry Division. Your uncle, John W. Shaw, was in Company B, 1st Battalion; my father, Carl P. Beblavi, was in Company E, 2nd Battalion.

    Prior to being killed in action, your uncle was awarded the Combat Infantryman Badge. Following his death, he was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart. At the time your uncle was killed (on January 27, 1945), he had been serving as the Squad Leader of his rifle squad. A proud legacy of service and sacrifice, indeed!

  2. My favorite part (read to the end) of the CMP M1 manual, page (unlucky) 13. Straight from the CMP M1 Manual: A SYMPATHETIC WARNING ABOUT “M1 THUMB”. The bolt of the M1 rifle can slam shut unexpectedly if the shooter has not strictly followed these instructions. If your thumb or finger is in its path, a painful condition called “M1 Thumb” is a strong possibility. In a half-century of military service the United States and its foreign allies, the M1 has bitten thousands of recruits in this manner. No one ever died from it, but it did lead to a deplorable expansion of vocabulary in many languages. It is best avoided by: *Making sure that when the bolt is open, it is latched open, not resting precariously against the follower. *Moving your thumb smartly out of the way after inserting a loaded clip. *Keeping the knife edge of your right hand in front of the operating rod handle, palm beside the stock, whenever you want the bolt to stay open and any part of either hand is in the receiver opening. This position (Fig. 6, page 14) will block any unexpected closure and allow you to securely exert rearward pressure on the handle when required. IF ONE DAY YOU GET CARELESS AND ACQUIRE AN M1 THUMB, THINK OF IT NOT AS A DIGIT BUT A DIPLOMA. IT SHOWS THAT YOU’VE LEARNED TO NOT DO IT AGAIN. (I added the caps). LOL

  3. Great article. The first hand gun my grandson used is a Hi Standard HD Military in .22Cal. I also have a 1917 Eddystone made in 1918, a 1903-A3 made in 1943 and a M1 Garland and Colt 1911 (both from CMP). Grandfather was Army in WW1, dad Marine WW 2, I was Army during Vietnam and our son just retired from the Marine Corps after 20 years of service. The only officer in the group. It has been important for him and the grandkids to learn the history of each piece. Thanks starting a great conversation.

  4. I qualified on the M1 when I was in the Navy. And after leaving the service I was a member of a local shooting club for many years. We had the fortunate experience of having six M1 rifles and a large amount of ammo on loan. I was able to shoot one of them during a group shoot in the 1970’s before we had to turn them back to the CMP. It was a great experience.

  5. Absolutely beyond question your most enjoyable article by a long way and among the top five or six articles posted here in the past few years- on my scale.

    My son is a Major in the US ARMY. During college days a military professor took the class to the range with Garands, M1 Carbines, and a Springfield. Also a semi auto Thompson. Many of these young men were already in the guard. All were very impressed with the Garand. Not so much the .30 carbine or Thompson, glad they had the M4.

    A few years ago my daughter in law, married to my other son, returned home after a tour in Iraq and another in Afghanistan. She wanted to go shooting and I opened the safe. A few ARs, M1A, the usual cool stuff. She said I had some good ‘old technology’.

    I have no military experience. Old cop guns not as interesting.


    Bob Campbell

  6. As us all who were around ww2 vets the m1 garrand and 1911 .45acp were excellent training and starting points for young shooter’s. Upon being in U.S.Army the m16 was candy compared to what I was taught to shoot. Enjoyed your article along with comments by all. There is always more to learn and explain once on the firing line range. Keep up the great work.

  7. It is rare to read of references to the 103d infantry division. My father was a member of the 103d, also landing in Marsailles, also joining the unit in October of 1994. He was fortunate to survive the war and live until the age of 91. With much respect and sympathy for your uncle and his sacrifice, they truly were the greatest generation.

  8. My late father also served as a rifleman in the 103rd Infantry Division. I wonder if your uncle was in my father’s regiment or battalion . . .

    If you would share your uncle’s name with me, I could check the Division records to see if they might have fought together. Thanks for considering this request.

    And thank you for your service!

  9. Rifle Marksmanship with the M1 Rifle – Preparatory Training: is a video that can be found on YouTube, of how the military was trained back in the days of the BIG ONE. It is on a level geared for the education level of the day, but don’t let that fool you. By the end of the film, you should have a complete and full understanding of the M1, on how to use, zero, AND a complete understanding of what Minute Of Angle (MOA) is, and how to calculate and adjust for it. I found it interesting the OPEN SIGHTS of an M1, zeroed at 200 yards, can then be dialed on the actual sights, to as far as 1,200 yards. For me, and my old eyes, 1,200 yards with open sights only works if the target is actually the BROAD SIDE OF A BARN, which may be the root of the beginning of that old sayin. LOL

  10. Another excellent source of military marksmanship training is a YouTube channel called Nuclear Vault. They post actual military training films, dating from WWII through the Viet Nam era.

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