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How to Become a Distinguished Expert Shooter for $2.50

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By John Buol

The National Rifle Association is the largest and oldest defender of Second Amendment freedoms since the Founding Fathers put that indelible mark to paper. In 1871, Major General Ambrose E. Burnside, Brigadier General George Wood Wingate, and Lieutenant Colonel William Conant Church led their delegation of 36 men before the New York Secretary of State to begin educating all able bodied Americans in the art and science of marksmanship. The bitter lessons of this country’s civil war were not lost on these commanders. They realized that without proper organization proficiency with firearms could not be achieved.

It is the duty of every citizen who believes in the right to keep and bear arms to take appropriate steps and develop skills in their proper use. Without sufficient training and regular use a firearm, like an automobile or power tools, is a dangerous nuisance. As a bonus, marksmanship skills provide great recreation, much better than games played with the ball. If the day never comes where ordinary Americans have to defend their homes with private arms – what Theodore Roosevelt referred to as “America’s Third Line of Defense” – we can profit from a lifetime of enjoyment using and developing our skills with liberty’s teeth in the pursuit of sport.

This is all heady stuff and probably sounds like I should write campaign speeches for politicians or other such drivel. My point is it takes organization and effort to develop usable skill levels with firearms, otherwise, why would Burnside, Wingate and Church have bothered in the first place? Nobody is born knowing how to shoot and even the best marksmen must put in plenty of time in maintaining their skills. The rest of us need even more guidance.

The Marksmanship Qualification Program is designed for all firearms and skill levels. For the gun owner with minimal shooting experience easier courses like the Hunter Marksmanship Qualification are an ideal place to start.

I’m not going to spell out my opinions on the state of marksmanship skills among the general gun owning public because the editor of this fine website won’t be able to print such language. The bottom line is we need help! However, positive change doesn’t begin until a solid plan is formed and acted upon. Wishing merely spins the wheels.

I love it when a plan comes together”

Where shall we start in forming a plan? What constitutes a realistic goal? A century of experience has demonstrated this is a prime reason why competitive shooting is so effective in building skills. Goals to meet and exceed are everywhere. Results are measured in black and white via score sheets and match results. The goal can be constructed at any level of skill. You can define a goal of earning a certain number of points, winning the State Championship, National Championship, or just trying to beat your buddy Bob. Actually following through is the hard part but having a specific goal staring you in the face is a crucial first step.

For reasons known only to them, millions of gun owners and hunters have no interest in participating in formal shooting events. What we need for the non-competitor is a similar calling; a convenient, inexpensive way to provide this same type of organization and goal setting while remaining at the comforts of the home range. Such a program will hopefully spur an interest in formal events, like competition, but even if it doesn’t the shooter will still have greatly increased their personal marksmanship. To the great benefit of all gun owners, such a program already exists.

The MQP includes courses derived from formal competition shooting provide more challenge. Sporting Rifle is a variation of High Power and designed for common hunting rifles, like this Interarms Whitworth .243 Winchester.

The Winchester/NRA Marksmanship Qualification Program has been developed and improved for over eighty years. Initially, Winchester and the NRA had separate qualification programs that were eventually merged. Courses were added and changed and for the last two decades all the courses available in the program have been packaged into a single 8.5×11 inch booklet available from the NRA for $2.50. For your shooting club or group, a poster is available for $4.55 for tracking progression. If that’s too much to invest in your marksmanship skills, the entire book can be downloaded for free as a PDF at

Stepping up from Sporting Rifle, MQP covers High Power for center fire rifle shooters. Successfully completing any competition-based qualification at “Distinguished Expert” yields a competent competitor at the Sharpshooter level or better making the shooter ready for formal NRA or CMP events.

Quoting from the manual, “Qualification shooting is an informal, year-round recreational shooting activity that provides incentive awards for developing and improving marksmanship skills. It’s a drill. We set the standards; you meet the challenge!” All the courses of fire are open to everyone – men, women, and children. In the current edition manual, there are thirteen basic programs offered: Pistol, Conventional Pistol (“Bullseye”), International Air Pistol and Rifle, Silhouette Rifle and Pistol, 4-Position Rifle, Light Rifle, American Rifleman, High Power Rifle, Shotgun, Muzzleloading, and Hunting Marksmanship. These programs are further divided with course variations for different types of firearms and range facilities. Some of them are training guidelines for specific conventional competitive disciplines. For example, Conventional Pistol is designed for training on the National Match Course, the International Air programs train Olympic airgun events, and the American Rifleman includes the Dewar course. However, the Pistol course is introductory and intended for service-grade pistols, Shotgun can be shot with any fowling piece, and the Hunting Marksmanship, High Power Sporting Rifle, and Light Rifle course are intended for hunting-grade arms. Quite frankly, if it goes “bang” there is a suitable course in the MPQ for it.

Rimfire rifle courses are well covered and include variations on three and four position courses up to the Dewar Course, but can be shot with “normal” .22s such as this Ruger 77/22.

The MQP is my favorite NRA program. At $2.50 (or free) it is incredibly inexpensive. Dollar for dollar, it is the most effective training guide on the planet. This manual doesn’t teach you how to shoot or even give advice on marksmanship technique. Instead, it offers something even more beneficial: Explicitly defined standards and a clear map to get there.

Explicitly Defined Standards

A standard of marksmanship is necessary to define good shooting. A number of folks have told me “I know good shooting when I see it.” The problem is this “standard” is confined to the limits of their personal experience. For the person not involved in formalized shooting circles their total sum of knowledge is bounded by the intermittent episodes of a handful of acquaintances, a statistically invalid sample. The Marksmanship Qualification Program provides a gauge that has been established nationally over a period of decades. The standards are designed to elevate one’s skills to the level of a competitive Sharpshooter on the way up to Expert class. Thousands of shooters in matches around the country have affirmed the standards as accurate.

The only thing more convenient than rimfire shooting is air gunning and there are qualification courses for air rifles, too. Air guns can be serious marksmanship training tools and the MQP courses are based on International competitions shot at the Olympics.

Good shooting is consistent. An account that starts with “One time I…” or “One time my buddy…” doesn’t count. True skill can be done over and over, any time, on demand. Consider your automobile. How often do you expect it to start? I’d bet if your personally owned vehicle failed to turn over more than once every single work week you would set aside time to have it fixed. A car that won’t start 20% of the time doesn’t have acceptable reliability. A shooter’s skill should be expected to deliver the same consistency or, like the car, something needs to be fixed. The Marksmanship Qualification Program establishes this consistency. To earn a certain level, the shooter must complete a given course a number of times. One lucky string doesn’t cut it.

When standards are limited by personal experience and tall tale, developing a real, consistent level of skill is nearly impossible. Outside of formal competitive circles there are depressingly few established measures for evaluating marksmanship. Taken to task, average gun owners and hunters have no idea what constitutes a tough, but realistic, test of marksmanship. One old-timer of my acquaintance told me “fancy” target shooting doesn’t prove anything. He told me – with a straight face no less – that “any good shot with a hunting rifle should be able to hit a match head at 10 rods Offhand every time. In my day, we could do it at 20.” For those of you not familiar with archaic units of measure, one rod is 5.5 yards. I immediately requested a demonstration of his claimed skill. I’m still waiting.

Qualification shooting can be done with handguns as well. The Pistol Qualification is entry level and a start point for Action Pistol or other practical events.

Therefore, good shooting must be demonstrated. A story may be interesting but is useless unless the person can demonstrate that skill. Rather than living in delusion, the target shot has clear standards there on the score sheet and demonstrates proficiency to anyone, something the old-timer failed to do. Lest I seem overly judgmental of my elders, let’s assume the claim actually was accurate. How would one go about obtaining this level of skill? To me, the only thing worse than this unwillingness to set standards and demonstrate is the lack of ability to impart knowledge. For mere mortals like myself with mediocre marksmanship skills we could use the help. That’s where a clear “road map” comes in handy.

Be a man and ask for directions.

Having a step-by-step guide to us from point A to point B is beneficial. It’s like physical training. A beginner can’t start by running 10 miles or squatting 400 pounds. Instead, begin with simple and modest goals, plan regular sessions, and slowly build up. A goal is great, but it must seem obtainable. A seasoned International Rifle competitor could set a goal of shooting 95 points out of 100 from the standing position as a practice drill. A world-class competitor might find it easy. But for a beginner, merely hitting the black anywhere more than half the time in ten shots would seem impossible. Rather than quit in frustration, we need a series of goals that start out easy and get progressively harder.

Conventional bullseye courses are a great way to develop solid marksmanship chops with the handgun and the MQP is a gentle slope to begin learning. Start with an inexpensive .22, like this Baikal IZH35M, and progress with the steps in the Marksmanship Qualification Program.

This is the second area where the Marksmanship Qualification Program shines. The marksman is provided a series of goals to strive for, starting very easy and getting progressively harder. Let’s use the 4-Position Rifle Qualification for illustration. This particular course has sixteen steps. The first step can be achieved by simply attending a class, earning a “Basic Practical” rating. The next four steps, Pro-Marksman through Sharpshooter, are a series of grouping exercises that can be shot from a rest that gets gradually more difficult. To progress through each level the shooter must complete ten five-round strings, or 50 rounds per level. This ensures consistency. Once the first Sharpshooter standard has been achieved, the shooter begins working from position: Prone, Sitting, Kneeling and Standing. This section consists of a series of ten tests, again requiring a series of ten five-round strings that can be shot in any order. Thus, positions can be developed concurrently. Upon completion, the shooter has reached the “Expert” level of the course. At this point the marksman faces the final challenge of earning the “Distinguished Expert” rating. This must be done at a match or in front of another NRA member acting as a witness and consists of firing another ten five-round strings from each of the four positions.

If you’ve been counting, this course requires a total of 900 rounds for record. This doesn’t include practice, or if an attempt fails to meet the minimum score. No, you don’t have to accomplish this successively! Each of the steps can be broken up and you can take as much time as you desire. The course can be spread out over a period of weeks, months, even years. Upon completion, the shooter will have elevated her skills to the level of a competent competition shooter, ready to enter local matches. If competition isn’t the goal, the shooter will have raised their marksmanship prowess tremendously and can move on to other challenges. If a new goal or challenge isn’t presented, don’t worry. The MQP has twelve more basic programs available for you to conquer.

As with rifle, there are variations on Pistol Silhouette too. This Qualification course is an ideal start to Silhouette or Hunting competition shooting

Qualification shooting is an ideal way to work on shooting skills, for competition, hunting, or any other purpose a firearm can be used for. For $2.50 or free download, Winchester and the NRA provides a system that will help develop your skills with every firearm you own. They have set the standard. Will you meet the challenge?

John Buol

I joined SARG (Small Arms Readiness Group, formerly Small Arms Training Team) in 1999 and would spend the next decade, and most of that on active duty, as a full-time small arms instructor. During this time I picked up NRA Conventional Pistol (2700 bullseye) and High Power, but my primary discipline was the combat matches hosted by NATO. I managed a few overall wins at All Army (2005, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012, and 2014) along with a host of trophies for individual and team matches there and at AFSAM (Armed Forces Skill at Arms Meeting.) After completing active duty, I was hired as the Editor of American Gunsmith ( and founded the Firearm User Network ( to promote organized shooting events.

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