“Shoot like you’re dry firing, focus on the front sight, follow through the trigger and repeat. Forget your last shot; focus on the one you’re taking."
The Civilian Marksmanship Program's Rifle Small Arms Firing School (SAFS) is a class that gives new and experienced competitors alike the opportunity to learn from the best in the nation and develop their skills in a controlled and safe environment. During the last week of July 2023, SAFS graduated 310 students, both new and experienced.
The class started out with two hours of instruction in Camp Perry’s Hough Auditorium, complete with demonstrations and time for questions. New students were encouraged to handle the AR-15 rifle to learn the mechanics and understand marksmanship basics like sight alignment and trigger control. More experienced competitors had the opportunity to ask advanced questions.
For the next section of the class, students headed out to Rodriguez Range and use their own equipment (scope, jacket, glove, mat, etc.) for training and eventually, the Excellence-In-Competition rifle match on Day II. The AR-15 rifle, sling and ammunition were provided by the CMP for the class and match that followed. Teams of four shooters worked their coaches and began training by dry-firing. Instructors worked with students individually to teach them the basics for prone, sitting/kneeling, and standing positions.
The dry fire and position work period was followed by live fire practice. Two members from each firing point were sent to the pits to raise, lower and score targets for the two relays on the range. Pit duty is crucial because the class and match are shot on paper targets and it provides valuable scoring opportunities.
Jeff Schneider, a SAFS coach, offered his advice to his students during the live-fire practice. “Shoot like you’re dry firing, focus on the front sight, follow through the trigger and repeat. Forget your last shot; focus on the one you’re taking. Pretend you are Dory from Finding Nemo and ‘just keep swimming’,” he said.
Students John Tofil and Tyler Robinson, both of the U.S. Navy, described valuable knowledge they picked up throughout the course. Robinson explained it was his first service rifle match and the coaches helped him fine tune his technique. He said in the future he will continue to work on his standing to sitting rapid fire movement. Tofil shared that he took away a sage piece of wisdom that his coach who said, “Sometimes you need to know what shot not to take, just take your finger off the trigger and reset.”
On day two of the class, all competitors reported to the firing line at 7AM for the rifle Excellence-In-Competition (EIC) Match. An EIC match awards special credits - points - to the top 10 percent of eligible participants. Those who eventually earn a total of 30 points, are awarded the Distinguished Rifleman Badge. In the case of the SAFS course, four introductory points are awarded to a select few.
The SAFS course of fire includes:
- 10 shots prone, slow-fire in 10 minutes
- 10 shots prone from standing, rapid-fire in 60 seconds
- 10 shots sitting from standing, rapid-fire in 60 seconds
- 10 shots standing, slow-fire in 10 minutes
The weather both days of the school and match were hot, with highs in the 80’s. The chief range officer frequently reminded competitors and coaches to hydrate and even sang an occasional song of encouragement. During one of the two cease fires, due to boats entering the impact area, the competitors in Relay 4 were serenaded with a rendition of “row, row, row your boat.” At one point, a threatening storm crept close to the shore of Camp Perry, but luckily it held off until the awards ceremony later in the day.
After the match, competitors were awarded their certificates of attendance and match lapel pins. The top 28 eligible competitors were awarded their first 4 EIC points towards the Distinguished Rifleman Badge. The points in this introductory match can only be earned if the competitor has no previous points. View full results at https://ct.thecmp.org/23NMRifleresults.
The top competitor for the SAFS Rifle EIC match was Paige Sauer, 21, of Morrisville, NC, with a score of 392-13X. She did not expect to win, saying “I was trying to go into it without any numbers in my head because I get very nervous for EIC matches. I just wanted the points.”
Sauer has taken classes at Camp Perry before, including the Marine Corps Highpower Junior Rifle Clinic, and said after each class she usually adds another tool to her belt. This time, the tool was wind reading. Paige plans to compete in the National Trophy Rifle Matches and will utilize the knowledge she gained earlier in the week as she looks to gain 10 more EIC points.
If you’re interested in attending the Rifle Small Arms Firing School next year, save the date - July 27-28, 2024. In the meantime, Jeff Schneider suggests that you visit the CMP’s indoor airgun range at the Gary Anderson CMP Competition Center. You can practice, work on positions and marksmanship to prep for the big matches. The indoor range is open throughout the National Matches and has rental equipment available. Visitors can even participate in the National Match Air Gun Events – find out more information here!