Staff Sgt. Jonathan Shue dry fires his pistol on the range at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va. Dry firing is essential to developing one's skills as a marksman, he said. (Colin Kelly / Staff)
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Staff Sgt. Chad Ranton aims at a target on the shooting range. 'I have a musical background and go with the flow,' Ranton said of his shooting style. He has a firm, but relaxed, grip on his pistol and a relaxed stance. (Staff)
MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, VA. — The Marine Corps’ premier marksmen, members of the Marine Corps Shooting Team here, are not what one might expect. There are infantrymen among them. But many of the team’s champions, including two of the best pistol shooters in the nation, come from non-combat-arms fields.
Among them are Staff Sgts. Jonathan Shue, a 2161 machinist, and Chad Ranton, a 5524 musician. While their primary military occupational specialties have little to do with shooting or combat, one would be hard-pressed to find anyone in MARPAT who could outgun them.
Shue, a shooting team instructor and competitor, recently brought home his ninth pistol award after winning the North Carolina State Championship. Ranton, also an instructor and competitor, became the national .22-caliber pistol champion this summer during the National Rifle Association championships at Camp Perry, Ohio.
Their stories defy stereotypes, and they hope they will serve as inspiration for others who might not otherwise try out for the teams.
Shue and Ranton sat down with Marine Corps Times recently to talk about the art of shooting and give their best advice for Marines who want to hit the bull’s eye more often and, perhaps, earn a spot on the team.
Marines with a passion for shooting should begin competing at local matches, on and off post, and seek out accomplished shooters as mentors, they said.
In theory, becoming an expert marksman is simple. It all comes down to one thing: sight picture. If the rear and front sights are aligned with the target when the trigger breaks, the round should hit the target.
“It is the simplest thing in the world. Align the sights and squeeze the trigger. But it is so difficult,” Shue said. “It takes extreme attention to detail.”
The most common error to avoid is jerking the trigger. Even if one has perfect sight picture, jerking the trigger may yank the pistol off target in the fraction of a second before the shot is fired.
Many new shooters don’t realize they are jerking the trigger, Shue and Ranton said. They will even argue with an instructor when they miss a shot, swearing the weapon must not be zeroed because they saw with their own eyes that they had perfect sight picture. What they don’t realize is they jerk the sights off target at the final moment, which is disguised by the violent recoil of their firearm. For that reason, new shooters should choose a small-caliber pistol ideally chambered for .22 long rifle cartridges. The low recoil will allow you to see your error. A .45-caliber weapon, by contrast, will mask one’s errors.
Perhaps more important to your development as a shooter is dry firing, or breaking the trigger without firing a live round. Most shooters want to blaze away on the range. But dry firing allows one to learn the feel of their weapon’s trigger intimately and practice keeping sights perfectly still as the trigger breaks.
“I dry fire more than ever now,” Shue said.
One of his mentors, Keith Sanderson, an Olympic shooter and former Marine, might shoot 500 live rounds in a year, but dry fire his pistol 500,000 times, Shue said.
“There are subtleties you can’t feel during live fire — how to pull the trigger, how much pressure it takes to break without moving off target,” he added.
Once you have mastered the fundamentals, it is important to develop your own shooting style, Ranton said. Consider what masters have to say, but think critically.
“There is no right and wrong way. There is your way,” he said. “Listen to people who know what they are doing and adapt it for yourself.”
As evidence, Ranton said he and Shue have radically different shooting styles that reflect their personalities. Ranton uses a firm but relaxed grip and a relaxed stance. As his body moves, he focuses on breaking the trigger at the moment everything is aligned. Shue, the machinist, holds his pistol tightly and assumes a rigid stance.
“I have a musical background and go with the flow,” Ranton said. “He is a machinist and very rigid.”
While most Marines won’t use a pistol regularly during officials duties, everyone can benefit from mastering pistols, the two experts said. The skills translate into being a better rifleman because pistol shooting requires more precision than a rifle. All errors made with a pistol are magnified because rounds are typically fired from an unsupported position and a pistol’s short barrel and sight radius mean small movements of the hand and body translate into bigger changes downrange.
“If a rifle takes 10 steps to place an accurate shot and you get eight of them right, you can still have an accurate shot,” Ranton said. “With a pistol, you have to have 10 out of 10 — 100 percent.”■