5 Best Rifle Drills for Skill-Building

posted on November 24, 2019

Because the emphasis is on practical shooting at Gunsite Academy, we rarely shoot rifles from a bench rest. What’s practical shooting? It’s shooting under field conditions where competitive shooting positions might not work and where you certainly don’t have access to a bench rest. Practical shooting makes use of terrain and emphasizes quick, first round hits. After all, in a fight the enemy isn’t going to wait around for you to get set up and dialed in and a game animal won’t wait for you either.

Here are some drills you can run with bolt action, lever action or semi-automatic rifles that emphasize quick assumption of a stable shooting position and skillful operation of the rifle.

Run The Gun From The Shoulder

I guess we all learned to shoot watching old movies because most folks emulate the actors and bring the rifle down off the shoulder, especially to run a bolt or lever. This practice wastes time and encourages failing to follow through, that is, re-acquiring the sight or the reticle after the shot. We should run the gun from the shoulder and be ready for the next shot as needed, and this takes a bit of practice. You can drill this by doing dry practice then setting up a target at 25 yards and firing a string of 3 to 5 shots, standing, working the gun from the shoulder.


While a lot of rifle shooting is done deliberately from a steady position, there are times when the rifle must be mounted and fired quickly–an angry bear charging out of the brush comes to mind. Drill this at 10 yards from your target and do a series of snaps, mounting the gun from a ready or sling position and firing a quick shot. Don’t forget to disengage the safety as the rifle is brought to the shoulder and pointed in. Run the action, reengage the safety, come back to a ready or sling position and repeat until you can do it smoothly and accurately. You can read more on snap-shooting here.

Rifle Bounce

At Gunsite, we run this drill from the 300-yard line with steel target placed 100, 200 and 300 yards downrange. You can vary the distances based upon your range setup, but the idea is quick assumption of shooting positions. First, fire a snap, from standing, on the 100-yard target. Next, take a big step to the side and drop to either a sitting or kneeling position and make a hit on the 200-yard target. Finally, get up, take another big step to the side, drop to prone and finish with a hit on the 300-yard target. Running this as a competition between two shooters makes for a lively event.

Understanding Offset

You probably have a 100- or 200-yard zero on your rifle, and if you’re using an optical sight, the center of that optic can be anywhere from 1.5 to 3 inches from the center of the barrel. This is what we call offset. As a result, at close ranges, your shots are going to fall 1, 2 or more inches below the line of sight. Starting at 3 yards (yes, we shoot rifles at 3 yards at Gunsite) then moving back to 7, 10, 15 and 25 yards, fire single shots at a precise aiming point and observe the offset. Now that you understand your offset, you will know where to aim at each of these distances to hit your mark. Here's more on understanding mechanical offset.

Carbine Malfunction Clearance

I’m sure your AR-style carbine never malfunctions, but we see plenty of malfunctions in carbine classes. The easiest way I know to set up and practice clearing malfunctions is to have someone hold the base of a magazine on your closed ejection port cover as you fire a shot. Several different malfunctions can occur, and the idea is to quickly fix the problems and fire a shot on your target. As I’m running out of space, we’ll leave a discussion of clearance techniques for another time.

These rifle drills are some of my favorites, I hope you enjoy practicing them.


308 wildcat cartridge components
308 wildcat cartridge components

308 Based Cartridges Part 2: Boutique And 308 Wildcat Cartridges

.308 Win. is the starting point for boutique and wildcat cartridges of all shapes and sizes

First Look: Versacarry Compound Carry Holster

Ideal for appendix carry, this new hybrid holster packs a lot of nice features.

iRayUSA RICO MK1 640 3x50mm Thermal Rifle Scope Review

A full-featured thermal optic with a lot going for it.

Silencer Central Holds New HQ Grand Opening

Larger facilities mean more choices for American gun owners.

First Look: TAC Six Branded Shooting Cases from Allen Company

Gear designed for the tactical market that performs at a higher level.

Colonel Rex Applegate

For me, one of the many bonuses of this gunwriter business has been the opportunity to meet and become friends with a number of the firearm enthusiasts of an earlier generation; legendary figures such as Frank Hamer Jr., Bill Jordan, Bill Toney, Col Walter Walsh and the subject of this column: COL Rex Applegate.


Get the best of Shooting Illustrated delivered to your inbox.