Sight Picture – Marksmanship Fundamental

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Another of the fundamentals of marksmanship that I find myself trying to explain and fix with friends that I’m showing how to shoot a bit farther away than they are used to is Sight Picture. While easily defined, it can be a tricky aspect of marksmanship to practice properly for a newer shooter. Sight Picture is just what it sounds like. The picture you see through the scope, optic, or sights which typically includes varying amounts of the area around the target, the target itself, and the sights or reticle of the rifle you are using indicating to you where the gun is aimed. A number of concepts come into play with this so I will try to explain each clearly so a newer shooter can get a good grasp of what’s going on and practice good marksmanship.

For starters, when mounting a scope in particular, you want a clear sight picture. You should not see any darkness or shadowing anywhere in the sight picture. If you see shadowing on the bottom of your sight picture then your eyeball is too low behind the scope. The reverse is also true, shadowing at the top of your sight picture means your head is too high. This is why rifle stocks that allow the shooter to adjust the comb height so they can consistently put their head in the same place behind the optic are so popular. In a competition or LE/MIL environment, this feature is absolutely necessary for proper marksmanship.

Marksmanship – Set The Scope Up For Proper Sight Picture

You want a consistent sight picture. If your head lands in a slightly different place each time behind the scope, thus changing your sight picture, it will give you accuracy issues downrange. By experimenting with where the scope is set when you mount it you will find the right spot almost by surprise.

Shadowing present at the top - No Good for Marksmanship

Shadowing present at the top – No Good!

There is shadowing on the left side of the sight picture - No Good for Marksmanship

There is shadowing on the left side of the sight picture – No Good!

If you see a clear sight picture, but it looks like it’s floating around in a bubble instead of being clear from one edge of the scope to the other, STOP what you are doing and recheck the mounting position of the scope. For starters, it’s just wrong and will contribute to poor Marksmanship. It usually means your head is either too close or too far away from the scope lens, and your eyeball is now outside of the eyebox or area in space where you can move your eye around before losing clarity and shadowing begins to develop.

I call this the floating bubble of clarity! It can occur when your eye is too far, or too close to the lens, its bad for marksmanship

I call this the floating bubble of clarity, No Good! It can occur when your eye is too far, or too close to the lens


Poor Marksmanship Can Hurt, Literally

I will tell an anecdotal story that taught a friend of mine a lesson, and even taught me one. A good buddy bought a new rifle, and a friend of his bought him a scope. Pretty cool right? He asked for help getting the gun zeroed before hunting season and he knew my affection for rifles so he asked for assistance. The first question I asked when we got to the range was whether or not he had set the scope up properly and mounted it as I had asked him to do. He said that he had. My mistake was not visually checking that to my own satisfaction, his was attempting a process he knew nothing about.

Long story short, he racked himself in the forehead, affectionately called ‘scope bite’ twice before I stopped him. It was a 30-06 rifle without a muzzle break and he actually drew blood from his forehead in the process. I asked him to get on the rifle and do nothing else so I could observe his position. He had his eyeball almost kissing the scope lens. I asked if he was getting a floating bubble of clarity as he looked through the scope and he said that he was. I told him we needed to remount his scope. I got the tools out, loosened his scope ring caps, then told him to get on the rifle with his eyes closed. I told him to lay his head on the stock and grab the rifle in the manner that felt comfortable and correct, all with his eyes closed. He did so.

Then I had him open his eyes and I started to move the scope forward and back in the rings until we got his eye relief correct. Eye relief being the distance behind the scope the eyeball must be for a clear picture through the optic. Once properly set up, we leveled the scope, torqued the rings down, and he was able to shoot without further incident. The mistake he had made was compromising his body position and body mechanics to fit the position of the scope in the rings. The opposite is what you should be doing, get comfortable on the gun and then adjust everything else to fit so that your have a clear sight picture and everything feels correct and comfortable. That is how you practice proper marksmanship.

As a rule of thumb, you want to have the scope set up so that your eyeball is directly behind it, with clarity from top to bottom and side to side, with the ocular lens as far away from your eyeball as you can get it before you start to see a floating bubble or shadowing begins to appear. If you take the time to properly adjust the scope’s position in the rings or mount after you have got yourself comfortable on the rifle then you won’t have a problem. If you rush, cut corners, or skip over stuff during this part of setting things up, you will have problems with your marksmanship later…guaranteed.

No shadowing or bubble, clear on all sides, this is what you want for proper marksmanship

No shadowing or bubble, clear on all sides, this is what you want!

If you are interested in some professional instruction on the subject that you can check out from home, I highly recommend you head over to Sniper’s Hide and register for the online training. The owner is an outstanding instructor and describes these concepts, and several that are far beyond our ability to teach to others, in an easy to understand way with excellent video quality and written summaries of the topics. The going price for that training is less than $15.00 USD per month and a bargain any way you slice it. The Sniper’s Hide website can be accessed at

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Owner and Proprietor of AccuracyTech, LLC. Rich is a Firearms Enthusiast, Precision Rifle Competitor, and Writer. He is committed to bringing readers quality reviews and articles related to the Precision Shooting Sports. If you have any questions for him, please use the contact form on the site.

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