Shooting the US Army Trainfire Course
Copyright 1999-2000 David S. Markowitz

    On Saturday, 1/30/99, I went out to Fort Indiantown Gap, PA for a rifle match with the local CMP club.  What made this match different was that instead of shooting a regular service rifle match, where the targets are bullseyes, we shot on an Army National Guard Trainfire range, used for M16 qualification.   Most shooters used M1 Garands; juniors shot M1 Carbines, and about 5 guys had M1918A3 semi-auto only BARs.  Being a nonconformist, I shot my No.4 Mk.I Lee-Enfield.

    The Trainfire course is different from bullseyes because it is designed to more accurately simulate actual combat shooting.   Therefore, the targets are man-sized green pop-ups set at 50, 100, 150, 200, 250, and 300 yards.  The targets are raised for a limited time, during which you have to find the target (not always easy depending upon the range and lighting), aim and fire.   You shoot once at each target.  Hits are rewarded by the target being knocked over.  Misses are punished by the target standing up, staring at you until the exposure time expires and it's lowered.

    The course of fire we used was 8 sighters, with targets raised at 100 and 200 yards.  Then we shot 20 rounds from a supported position from a "foxhole", in reality a cement tube set about chest deep in the ground.  After that, we shot 20 rounds from a supported prone position.  (The Army course of fire calls for this stage to be shot from unsupported prone but we fudged it.)

    This shoot was very instructional.  It calls for identifying a target and then engaging it at a different distance for each shot.   Further, from my position on the firing line, I had a hard time seeing the 300 yard target.  Basically, I could see the head and not much else.  That's not a big target to shoot at with any rifle, much less one wearing iron sights.  I still managed to hit one or two 300 yarders.  Of course, the difficulty of these targets made the course of fire that much more realistic.

    Incidentally, the Trainfire course was instituted sometime in the 1950s, I believe, in response to General SLA Marshall's study which showed that most infantrymen don't actualy fire their weapons in combat.  Although Marshall's study has been severely criticised, the Army did find that in Vietnam, the percentage of troops who actually fired in combat went up.

    Being armed with a bolt action rifle was not a disadvantage for this shoot, since there weren't any rapid fire stages.  However, I discovered that the phosphated stripper clips which my Greek .303 ball came in were so rough that I often couldn't strip the rounds into the magazine.  Instead, I had to load the rounds singly.  Needless to say, this would not have been a good thing in a combat situation.  Those clips are going into the tumbler to smooth them off.  I'm also considering buying 2 or 3 spare magazines for the No.4, which would largely eliminate this problem.  I also encountered some sticky extraction, which necessitated my having to use my right hand (I'm a lefty) to smack the bolt to the rear.

    Another thing I had to adapt to was the mirage off of the barrel of my rifle.  Even though it is fully stocked and has a full wooden handguard on top of the barrel, after shooting 20 rounds in a short time there was enough mirage coming off of my rifle to adversely affect my sight picture.

    Shooting the No.4 was a blast but if I go next year (assuming Y2K doesn't screw up everything), I'll probably bring my M1.  One thing that I noticed was that in the excitement of the match, I didn't notice the recoil of the .303.  I wound up with a score of 27/40, which I'm reasonably happy with, since this was my first time at this, and I've never shot at anything past 200 yards previously.   If I can bring my score up to 30 I'll make Sharpshooter; right now I qualified as Marksman.

    In my opinion, shooting at human-shaped targets which appear for short periods of time at various ranges is good preparation for combat shooting.  I think that the Army could make this even more useful, however, if the range wasn't nicely manicured and rapid-fire stages were introduced.  Also, from what I've heard, the standard of marksmanship in today's Army is pretty dismal.  While the Trainfire regimen is useful to provide a more realistic combat shooting experience, the Army needs to spend more time on the fundamentals of rifle marksmanship, and then have its recruits move onto combat shooting.

    After I was finished shooting, I got a chance to go check out the Battle of the Bulge re-enactment going on at the base.  There were a large number of WW2 re-enactors of US, British, and German troops.  It was different to see re-enactors carrying M1s, STENs, MP-40s and even an MP-44 (which I got to handle), instead of say, the M1863 Springfield of a Civil War re-enactor.  Plus, a German half-track (actually Czech) is even neater than a horse.

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