Now, don't get me wrong. I think range finders are great. Especially when they work. Most especially when they work properly. The best I've ever used has been the Leica Geovid. However, I just can't justify the $3,000.00 price tag for my shooting requirements. And you know? What ever happened to good, old-fashioned, range estimation. You know, "training?" Something called "experience?" The lost art of "practice?" Hey, I think it's just marvelous to have a scope or other optical instrument that will give you the range to a target without any fuss on your part. However, Heaven forbid, what would happen if your range finder malfunctioned, got broken in transit, or you left it at home? I think too many people spend WAY TOO MUCH TIME indoors! Computer games. Television. "Entertainment centers." Billiards in the basement. "Reading a good book." Part of the problem a lot of people have in this country -- in MANY aspects of their lives -- is that nobody seems to want to go "live" life anymore. They'd rather watch somebody else do it in a movie, or simulate it on a computer. Kids just don't seem to get outdoors much anymore, and they eventually turn into adults that don't seem to get outdoors much anymore. It used to be a fairly common thing for a "true" rifleman to accurately estimate his distance to a target. No, of course not with the precision of the high-technology equipment available today, but close enough to get the job done with certainty and confidence. When's the last time you went to the field WITHOUT your rifle and practiced your range estimation skills? It's hard to learn about "the great outdoors" unless that's where you are. Get out of the house! What about in an urban environment? How do you estimate distance to a target? Well, if you did a thorough reconnaissance of area of operation , you ought to know the distance between telephone poles, how long city blocks are, how wide lanes in the street are, how tall each floor of a building is, the height of street lights, the height of fire hydrants, at what distance YOU can no longer read license plates, and all sorts of pieces of information that can give you accurate data in setting up a shot. A range finder can be a wonderful tool, but it can also be a crutch.
Lasers, holograms, and scopes with cute little electronic red dots
Murphy's Law of circuitry states that anything that CAN fizzle out, WILL fizzle out -- and at the worst possible time. If you're relying on electronics, don't forget to bring along "backup" power supplies (i.e., extra batteries). Especially if you're operating in extremely cold environments, battery life can be reduced dramatically in a short period of time; if you're using any type of optical sighting or ranging device to acquire or engage your target, ensure that you're prepared to replace a dead battery or two. And, be advised, batteries are items that you don't want to scrimp on, just to save a few pennies. There is a particular brand of battery that I'll always choose over all others -- and though I won't mention any names, I can tell you that it doesn't have a fuzzy little critter beating on a drum to help sell the product. And, yes, I have shopped around and compared.
There are, at this time, efforts to compensate for deficient marksmanship training with pieces of equipment. Optics that make it "easier" for GIs to aim, and fancy fire control systems that make it possible for even inexperienced riflemen to make incredibly long shots with surgical accuracy. For many years, I was involved in training recruits to become soldiers. An ugly, thankless, laborious, and -- believe it or not -- sometimes "dangerous" job. Part of their training is, of course, basic rifle marksmanship (BRM). Kids coming into the military today, for the most part, have no concept of things like trajectory, drift, and drag. To most of them, "bullet drop" is probably the term they would use to describe what they do after they drop some portion of their ammunition ration on the firing line -- they "drop" and start knocking out pushups. Because kids are growing up in a world of electronic games, keyboards, and "simulated life," many of them are ignorant (not "stupid" -- there's a difference) of the simpler points of shooting. Drill sergeants and drill instructors in this country have my undying respect and admiration for the patience they must exercise in teaching these young men and women the basics of firing a rifle or pistol. Most of the time, the ones who stand out at the end of a day's qualification are (still) the "farm boys" who grew up using a rifle to hunt with and with which to keep the varmint population under control. Now and then, some "city feller" will rack up an impressive score, but that's a rarity. And always, you'll occasionally get the kid who's never shot a rifle in his life, and "cleans the clock." Again, that's pretty rare. In the Army, the worst you can shoot and still qualify is "marksman." Then "sharpshooter," and the best is "expert." Too many commanders place too little emphasis on excellence in marksmanship, and only concern themselves with ensuring that their company "gets qualified." The way things usually go, the majority of kids will make "marksman" (and about half of those just barely made THAT), quite a few make "sharpshooter," and a minor number will make "expert." I always made it a point to draw attention to the ones who made expert, because I think excellence should be rewarded. Still, I have a serious contention with the way the Army teaches marksmanship during Initial Entry Training (IET, or "basic training"). The Army focuses on using pop-up targets at "known" distances, and scoring ANY hit that knocks down the target. The Army doesn't seem to place much importance, anymore, on "killing." Sure, they teach you to "hold center-of-mass," but they score anything that hits (as long as the target goes down). Further, there is no real effort to teach range estimation. I am in a qualified position to say, without reservation, that the majority of BRM training is specifically geared to qualify -- that is, instructors are "teaching the test." I know, I know... the unit is supposed to provide sustainment training. Yeah, right. Let me just mention, briefly, that there are many other things a company commander has to devote attention to besides marksmanship training. I'm not saying that marksmanship won't be trained, but I am saying that -- available time and resources not being what they used to be -- marksmanship just isn't likely to be given the importance that I'd prefer.
I'm not going to slam the use of bipods, but I'd like to tell you a little story. Last summer, I was in South Dakota killing prairie dogs. I use B-Square Roto-Tilt bipods on my rifles, with extensions. During a break in the action, as I was getting ready to run a patch through the bore and do a little cleaning, the rifle I was using -- propped up on the fully- extended bipod legs (with extensions -- I like to shoot prairie dogs from a sitting position on the ground) fell over to one side, impacting the scope, when one of the bipod legs collapsed unexpectedly. I had to sight-in again, and fortunately I had everything I needed to accomplish this (I always try to go to the field prepared for the worst). Now, it was my own fault for having the rifle in such a position and for not being close enough to stop it from falling. However, the point is, that bipods can give you these kind of experiences. So can sling swivels that come loose. Bipods seem to be one of the first accessories (other than a scope) that many people put on their rifles. I have always believed, and still do, that the best accessory to have on a rifle besides a good scope is a sling. I think that "the sling" is an underestimated and misunderstood tool of the trade. I also think shooters should learn how to "make do" with shooting sticks. Using bipods makes it too convenient to set the rifle down -- perhaps in an unstable position that isn't immediately apparent. With a sling, you usually either keep the rifle on your person or are very careful about where you lay the rifle down, or what you choose to prop it against. Shooting sticks don't have to be "store bought" or fancy -- they just need to be functional. I'll bet a lot of you have never used them, but it's a part of your training regimen that you should practice somewhat regularly. As for slings, I've always felt that using a sling the right way is somewhat of an art. In my early days of competition, I used to have problems shooting good scores from a standing position. One day, a member of my shooting team -- a former military sniper -- showed me how to cinch up the sling for shooting from a standing position. No one ever had before, and boy was I appreciative. My improvement was both immediate and obvious. Pick up any gun magazine off the newsstand or at a bookstore, and you'll see a whole bunch of neat, whiz-bang, "nice to have" things to improve your shooting. Things to hang on your rifle's barrel, or scope, and things to carry attached to your belt or uniform. I get a lot of E-mail asking whether I think that such-and-such a gadget would improve so-and- so's shooting. People are so eager to spend their money, but most of the time they just don't have it to spend. I'd rather see people get the best rifle, scope, and sling that they can afford, get -- or handload -- some quality ammunition, and practice their shooting skills. Really, you don't need a lot of gadgets and gimmicks to shoot well, and you're only hurting yourself if you get caught up in all the "hype" that accompanies the latest "new product." Too many people spend all their time and money on custom equipment, barrel freezing, barrel polishing, and other things... when they could - - and SHOULD -- be out at the range practicing position work and basic shooting skills. The more things you rely on to "help" you shoot, the more opportunities you will have for something to go wrong when you can't afford it.