Rates of Fire for the Rifleman

“CONTACT FRONT!!” The instructor initiates the battle drill with a shout. “CONTACT FRONT!” The squad immediately echoes the call and deploys into a skirmish line facing the enemy, bringing maximum firepower to bear in the direction of contact. The students immediately begin firing off rounds in rapid succession while the squad leader assesses the situation to determine his next move.

Let’s take a look at the individual rifleman in this scenario. What is he shooting at? How fast is he shooting? What determines his rate of fire?

Often when I observe students participate in this sort of drill, the first thing that happens is they fire a lot of rounds very quickly, delivering hammered pairs into a distant hillside at an astonishing rate. And for their first few times, I allow them to do this so that they learn a valuable lesson: You can easily burn through six magazines in a 3-minute drill. I then bring up the lesson of practical rates of fire.

I could quote many a dry technical manual on the recommended number of rounds per minute a rifle should fire, but instead I teach a much more simple answer from MCWP 3-11.2 “The Marine Rifle Squad”;

“Weapons employment and squad firepower are not determined by how fast Marines can fire their weapons but how fast they can fire accurately.

So how does this translate into practice? Simple; the rifleman’s rate of fire is as quickly as he can aim down his sights, squeeze off an accurate shot, acquire another sight picture, and squeeze off another accurate shot. That’s all you need to remember. This technique naturally adjusts the rate of fire to different ranges. It will take you longer to line up a shot at greater ranges, which means that your rate of fire at greater ranges is decreased. Conversely, your rate of fire increases as the distance to your target decreases.

That said, another question arises. What if you are looking down your sights and you don’t see an enemy to shoot at? Enemy troops tend to do this pesky little thing called using cover and concealment, so they won’t always be visible. So what do you aim at?

The rifleman must scan for indicators of his enemy’s firing position. These indicators include muzzle flash, movement, and dust kicked up by muzzle blast to name a few. The rifleman can then fire at any indicators he sees, placing well-aimed fire into likely or known enemy positions.

The rifleman must communicate with other members of his team. If he cannot see where the enemy is, it is likely that his teammates can, so he must listen to his teammates and team leader for fire commands and enemy sightings. I like to teach a simplified version of the military acronym “ADDRAC” for calling out spotted enemies, called the “Three Ds”;

  • Direction: Where should I look? (i.e. “FRONT LEFT!”, “2 O’CLOCK!”)
  • Description: What am I looking for? (i.e. “ENEMY SQUAD IN THE TREELINE”, “VEHICLE WITH DISMOUNTS!”)
  • Distance: How far am I looking and what range (in meters) do I set my sights to? (i.e. “THREE HUNDRED!”, “TWO-FIVE-ZERO!”)

An example spot report is; “TEN O’CLOCK! INFANTRY SQUAD ON THE HILL! TWO-FIVE-ZERO!” I’ve just communicated what direction to face, what I see, and how far away my teammates need to look for it. Simple, short, and effective. Always call out what you see, never assume that your teammates see what you’re seeing.

Let’s go back to our rifleman. If he cannot see the enemy and is not able to pinpoint his firing position, what does he shoot at?

Let’s say that your team is taking fire from this general direction.

You cannot see any enemies, nor can you spot any muzzle flashes or dust. Spraying blindly at the hill would be a waste of your ammunition, so you need to make the most of your rounds. What you can do is observe the sector for likely enemy firing positions, and aim at them. Think of where he would seek cover or concealment. You will then place well-aimed fire at these likely positions, getting the best possible use out of your ammunition.

Aim at the base of the trees, around the wall, or in the shrubs on the distant hill.

Now, let’s say that you have a good team, and your buddy calls out “TWO O’CLOCK! THREE SHOOTERS AT THE CREST OF THE HILL! ONE-FIVE-ZERO!” Now you can narrow your list of suspected enemy positions to what your buddy just called out, knowing that there are three hostiles on the closer hill to the right.

Now we can concentrate our fire on just these positions, thanks to good communication.

Using these techniques, we are able to concentrate our fire on where the enemy is most likely to be. We may not hit him directly, but we can at least bring our rounds close enough to him that our suppression is effective. And now that our search area is narrowed, we are more likely to actually spot him when he moves or pokes his head out to shoot at us.


As you can see, there is never an excuse for firing wildly in a general direction. It is the responsibility of the individual rifleman to use communication, intuition, and good observation to make the most out of his precious ammunition. Always listen for spotting reports from your buddies so you know where the enemy is to engage him. And always communicate any hostiles you see so your teammates can do the same.

If you want to know more about how to communicate, shoot, and move with other shooters, I teach these techniques and more in the Basic Rifleman Class later this month. Don’t miss out on this chance to get good training, fellowship, and venison with like-minded patriots in Crown City Ohio on September 24-25. See you out there!

Published by vonsteubentraining

Mike is the owner and chief instructor of Von Steuben Training & Consulting (VSTAC). A self-described “Tactical Scholar,” he spent 6 years in the Marine Corps as a radio operator and small-unit tactics instructor. He has dedicated his life to honing the tactical prowess of himself and his fellow patriots, guided by the wisdom of his commanding officer, Jesus Christ. He can be contacted via email at vonsteubentraining@protonmail.com

3 thoughts on “Rates of Fire for the Rifleman

  1. Reblogged this on Alpha Charlie Concepts and commented:
    This is something I have harped on in the past, and Mike does a better job of laying it out than me. One of many things that I have seen over the years, and always thought was a huge dis-service, was instructors teaching team tactics to armed citizens, and having them just mag dump in a given direction when contact is called. It gives me chills to watch a group do this on video, with no belt fed support weapons, and then hear the deafening sound of silence as the entire team runs dry and has to reload about the same time. As an armed citizen, in a worst case scenario, you had better manage your ammo wisely. VERY wisely….


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