Hits Count: Rifle Qualification Course of Fire

by / / History, Hits Count

The Revere’s Riders Rifle Qualifier is based on a long tradition of American Rifle marksmanship. We most directly trace the roots of our qualifier to the WW2 and Korea M1 Garand qualifier, which was adopted as the CMP Service Rifle course of fire. Each of these courses of fire is in turn drawn from earlier WW1 traditions.


The 1903 Tradition

The M1903 Springfield bolt action rifle was the primary infantry arm of the US Army in WW1.  In addition to the new rifle, in 1903, Congress appropriated extra pay ($1 each month) for soldiers who qualified as “experts” on the rifle.  By 1908, the bonuses were raised to $8 for experts, $5 for sharpshooters, and $2 for marksmen.  The incentive pay lasted until late in WW1, when it qualifications in general were suspended due to the exigencies of the war.

The 1903 was used in competion at the National Matches.  By 1923, the course of fire consisted of slow fire standing at 200 yards, rapid fire sitting or kneeling at 200 yards, rapid fire prone at 300 yards, slow fire at 600 yards and a final 20 shot slow fire string at 1,000 yards.

Early documentation can be hard to come by, but qualification courses used a variety of oval sized targets.

By WW2, M1903 firing had been standardized.  Record firing included the following:

  • Slow Fire at 200 yards (standing), 200 yards (kneeling), and 500 yards (prone).
  • Rapid fire at 300 yards, prone from standing, 10 shots in 70 seconds.
  • Rapid fire at 300 yards, kneeling from prone after running 25 yards, 10 shots in 70 seconds.
  • Rapid fire at 300 yards, prone from prone after running 25 yards, 10 shots in 80 seconds.

In this course, all slow fire is on “Able” target except the prone fire which is at the larger “Baker” target.  All Rapid fire is at a “D” silhouette. Several alternate courses are available but are generally similar.

Sizes of WW2 Targets

Sizes of WW2 Targets

The M1 Garand Tradition

The WW2 Army M1 Garand course can be found in FM 23-5. It describes the following “record practice” for score as “Course A:”

  • Slow Fire at 200 (standing), 200 (sitting), 200 (kneeling), and 500 (prone) yards. All strings four rounds except prone, which is 8.
  • Rapid fire at 300 yards (standing to sitting), 16 shots in 60 seconds.
  • Rapid fire at 200 yards (standing to kneeling), 16 shots in 60 seconds.
  • Rapid fire at 300 yards (standing to prone), 16 shots in 65 seconds.

In this course, all slow fire is on “Able” target except the prone fire which is at “Baker.” All Rapid fire is at a “D” silhouette. Several alternate courses are available but are generally similar.

Wartime qualification with the Marine Corps was similar, although qualification scores were higher. A perfect score was 340 points. Basic qualification and a “marksman” badge was 268. Most aspired for sharpshooter status, which required a 292. Expert scores were 306+. Scoring as a sharpshooter or expert often granted extra pay.

In general, due to differing focuses and culture, the Army requirements were lower.  The exact cutoffs could vary throughout the war but were about Expert (180), Sharpshooter (160) and Marksman (130) out of 200 possible points.

Of note, a “1000 inch” range with scaled targets was used for practice which equates to a 27 yard facility. We continue this tradition by making use of 25 yard ranges for practice.


The NRA and National Matches had included a rifle component since their founding.  After WW2 concluded, pistol and smallbore matches resumed at Camp Perry around 1946. Rifle matches resumed first in California in 1951 before returning to Camp Perry, OH in 1953.  The wartime Garand and its qualifier was adopted into a competitive sporting event by the National Matches. It became known as NRA High Power or CMP Service Rifle.  Fire at 1000 yards was eliminated, retaining the other stages.

In the 1950s, competition firing was completed on the “5V” targets.  This target had two varieties, one used for 200-300 yards and a larger variant for slow fire at 500-600 yards.  The 200-300 yard target had a bullseye 4″ in size, a 5 ring 12″ in size, a 4 ring 24″ in size, and a 3 ring 36″ in size.  The “D” silhouette used by the Army was a different shape but conveniently has nearly identical dimensions.  Both the 200-300 yard version and the D target are available commercially today.  The 1950s scoring cutoffs were:

  • MARKSMAN: 160+
  • EXPERT: 215+
  • MASTER: 230+

In modern times, the course of fire remains much the same.  It is fired by accurized M16-type service rifles instead of Garands, and the targets have been changed to ones with a more challenging 10-point scoring system, but the essential elements remain constant.

Revere’s Riders

When crafting our Rifle qualifier, we wanted to honor the rich legacy.  Our qualifier is based on the Service Rifle tradition circa mid-1950s.  We also decided that we wanted to make a few changes.  Specifically, we wanted to encourage students to learn using rack-grade rifles and ball ammunition rather than needing accurized rifles and match ammo.  So, we embraced the earlier “hits count” philosophy of shooting.  We still have some “5V” style targets available for the sake of heritage but in general we score hits, not near misses.

Additionally, for simplicity, we decided that we wanted to use one target type rather than three as the Army used during WW2.  We also wanted a course of fire that could be shot at 400 yards with a centerfire or 100 yards with a rimfire rifle due to the facts of limited range space at many facilities.

Course of Fire Overview:

Position Rounds Time Target
Standing 10 2:00 100 YD
Sitting or kneeling 2+8 (Reload) 60 seconds 200 YD
Prone 2+8 (Reload) 70 seconds 300 YD
Prone 10 or 20 5:00 or 10:00 400 YD

Stages.  The actual course of fire was easy to adapt:  we simply use the proven high power format consisting of standing slow fire, seated rapid fire, prone rapid fire, and prone slow fire.

Times.  For rapid fire, all times are based on current Service Rifle times.  In competition, slow fire is at a rate of one round per minute.  We wanted a more practical feel, therefore, standing is “timed fire” at a rate of five shots per minute.  Prone time is halved to 30 seconds per shot, which we find is typically more than adequate.  We do allow students to feed rounds from their magazine whereas formal competition requires single-loading.


Full Distance Variant:  We fire our course of fire at 100-400 yards at Field Rifle events.  Specifically, we deviate from the tradition by shooting standing at 100 yards instead of 200, and slow-fire prone at 400 instead of 600.

Our target sizes are scaled to compensate for this at the slow fire prone stage; the Army and Vintage High Power competition used a larger target at 600 yards, which is about the same difficulty as our smaller target at 400.  Students do lose out on dealing with wind and ballistics at the longer range, but having a 400 yard option opens up many more facilities to possible use.  It also allows us to use a single target at all distances which makes event administration much easier.

With regard to standing, while our targets are effectively closer and thus easier to hit, we encourage the use of a more traditional and practical standing stance rather than the off-hand stance favored by competitors.  We also want students to learn about their ballistic trajectory at various ranges to include 100 yards.  Finally, we’ve added some time pressure to the standing stage.  For a truly authentic challenge, it is an option to shoot standing at 200 yards although we typically do not do so.

1000 Inch Variant.  Many of our events happen at reduced ranges.  To facilitate this, we have a special 25 yard variant.  At 25 yards, students don’t need to deal with ballistic trajectory or wind.  Therefore the score cutoffs are slightly higher.  Additionally, we require a target shift on all stages except standing.  This serves two purposes.  First, the scaled silhouettes used at 25 yards are small, and it can be difficult to score targets with many overlapping holes.  Using a second silhouette reduces this problem in practice.  Additionally, the shift forces students to use and check their natural point of aim, a valuable skill, and compensates for the lack of need to apply come-ups at longer ranges.

100 Yard Variant.  Finally, we have 25% scaled targets about 5″ in diameter that are used for 100 yard courses.  These are ideal for rimfire shooters who can learn about wind and ballistics even at this reduced range.  Shooters fire standing at 25 yards, sitting at 50 yards, rapid fire prone at 75 yards, and slow fire prone at 100 yards.  Out at 100 yards, most shooters have about 5 MOA of come-ups to apply, and a full value wind will blow a rimfire round one or two MOA at 100 yards — a noticeable amount on a 5″ target!  All of this learning directly translates to a centerfire on the full 400 yard course.

Round Count.  We take several measures to reduce the round count and save our shooters ammunition.  First, on slow fire prone, we typically have the shots fired and double the score.  This reduces ammunition expenditure 20%.  We also have a “reduced round count” variant which is available, reducing shots fired from 40 to 20.  Scoring is harder for this variant and times are of course reduced substantially.

Targets & Scoring.  When calibrating our scoring, we wanted to honor the skill levels demonstrated by generations of American shooters.  We started by looking at historical and contemporary shooting performance requirements.  We calculated the group size in minutes of angle that would be required to qualify as “sharpshooters” on a number of tests.  Calculating in MOA allows us to standardize results despite different scoring systems and target sizes.

CMP RIMFIRE SPORTER (2014) 14 7 7 7
VINTAGE HIGH POWER (1950s) 12 8 8 6.7-8
WW2 USMC MARKSMAN 11 11 7.33 6.55
WW2 USMC EXPERT 9 9 6 5.7
HIGH POWER (2014) 7.85 5.12 5.12 3.25

Table:  Group size in MOA to qualify as “sharpshooter” in each stage, plus data for USMC “Marksman.”  US Army requirements similar to “Vintage High Power.”

Armed with this information, we could calibrate our scoring and target sizes.  As you can see, all but the contemporary high-power data is pretty consistent.  Modern high power is substantially more competitive, in part due to maturing equipment and ammunition over decades of competition.

Once equipped with the group size data we were able to normalize some of the historical courses of fire and compare them to vintage high power “5V” target scores, which have a maximum of 250.   For example, a shooter scoring “SHARPSHOOTER” sized groups on the USMC WW2 course of fire should be expected to score a 215 on the vintage high power course, and an “EXPERT” around 220-225.  A WW2 Army “SHARPSHOOTER” should score at least 200 on the vintage course, and an “EXPERT” 225.  A modern CMP high power rifle “EXPERT” could be expected to score 248 on the vintage course.

We offer two target types — the Classic 5V used in vintage high power and “Hits Count” silhouettes.  The Classic 5V is straightforward and has plenty of heritage.  The “Hits Count” silhouettes are sized so as to present a 21″ circle — if the 5V had a scoring ring at “4.333” points, this is where you’d find it.  We then use a variety of shapes such as bells, tax stamps, circles, and classic ovals with similar size to keep sight pictures fresh but roughly equivalent in difficulty.  Our “Hits Count” targets thus have the following dimensions in MOA, which match up fairly close with the historical standard with the exception of standing:

  • Standing (100 yards):  20 MOA (see notes in “distances” above)
  • Rapid Fire Sitting (200 yards):  10 MOA
  • Rapid Fire Prone (300 yards):  6.6 MOA
  • Slow Fire Prone (400 yards):  5 MOA

Finally, we calibrated our scoring.  Our score requirements are based largely on the Vintage High Power course cutoffs.

To account for the “1000 inch” range being easier (no wind, no ballistics), all requirements are increased by 10 points at reduced range.

To convert to a number of hits for “hits count” scoring, we sampled a number of 5V-style targets shot by “vintage sharpshooters” and noted how many “3s” were typical.  We then gave shooters credit for a number of “3s” and then assumed the actual hits would be a mix of 4s and 5s on the 5V target to calculate “Hits Count” scores.  The “hits count” method loses some accuracy as there are many possible combinations of scores on a 5V target, but in general it comes close to approximating the 5V results at great gains in simplicity.  Additionally, “Hits Count” removes any advantage for using match-grade ammo and tuned rifles:  a rack rifle shooting ball ammunition can achieve perfect scores on the hits count targets.  Any errors are due to the shooter.  We have found most students and instructors alike prefer to use the “Hits Count” method.

The Scoring Bottom Line:    Based on our previous analysis, we felt confident that a score of 200 on the vintage high power match scale signified “sharpshooter” performance consistent with the Army WW2 standard with the possible exception of slow-fire standing performance.  Additionally, earning a “sharpshooter” patch indicates that the shooter has sufficient skill to enter formal competition.  While they likely won’t win, they will have mastered the fundamentals and be ready to keep up.

Further Reading: