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Shouts and Numbers – The Marines Firing Range

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marines firing range

We finally went to the rifle range up at Camp Mathews, which was North, up Highway 101 from MCRD. There, we were billeted in 10 man tents.

The first week was spent learning about obtaining the correct “sight picture,” using the rifle’s rear adjustable peep sight, the front sight and the target.

Additionally, we were taught how to adjust the rear sight, to compensate for cross winds, range, angles and elevation. We all practiced “snapping in.” Snapping in, was the procedure of aiming the rifle at a target, while in the various shooting positions (standing, kneeling, sitting, and prone), squeezing the trigger and dry firing the rifle, while having someone beside you, kick the M-1’s Operating Rod and, simulate the rifle’s recoil, back into your strong side shoulder.

This Recruit got tired of that in a hurry. This Recruit was ready to shoot some live rounds.

Firing Live Rounds

Week two at the range: Finally, we started live firing. 100 yards off-hand (standing), 200 yards off-hand, sitting and kneeling, 300 yards kneeling and sitting, (including “Rapid Fire”) and 500 yards prone.

We would shoot part of the day and part of the day we would pull butts. Pulling butts meant working in the target pits behind and below the targets. There were forty or fifty targets and two maggots were responsible for each target.

We would sit on a bench and stare up at the target, and as soon as the guys on the firing line finished shooting, pull it down and check it for hits. Then we would raise the target to show the shooter where he had hit.

We had a disk on a long stick that we would hold over each hit. The disk was white on one side, and black on the other for contrast on the area of the target hit. If the 30-06 bullet scored a hit, which was located in the black, we would cover the bullet-hole with the disk’s white side showing. If the bullet hit outside the black, we would cover it with the disk’s black side.

If the bullet hit the bull’s eye, we would raise the disk up over the center of the target for a couple of seconds and pull it back down. If the shooter completely missed the target, he got a “Maggie’s Drawers;” a red-flag.

Then we would pull the target back down and paste on paper patches (Lick ‘em and Stick ‘em), over the holes. As we pulled one target down, another was raised automatically, so the shooter didn’t have to wait for a target. As we patched the old target, the shooter would shoot at the new one. Then it was repeated.

marines firing range

Shoot Well, or the Marine Corps Doesn’t Want You

It kept us hopping, but we got breaks as the shooters moved back to the next firing line. Like from the 100-yard line to the 200-yard line.

After the first group of shooters finished, they would pull butts for us while we shot. What we were doing the first few days was working out the sight dope for our rifles. How many clicks of windage and elevation for each distance, which took practice.

Friday, we shot for qualification. There were 250 possible points. You had to shoot at least 190 to qualify as Marksman, 210 for Sharpshooter, and 220 for Expert. This Recruit shot 219 to qualify as Sharpshooter, and I was mad about it, because the day before I had shot 228. Didn’t count, though.

They only took what you shot on qualification day. Anyway, this Recruit qualified. My score was considered a respectable score. Don’t shoot at least 190 and you are set back. Sent back to a new platoon. You have to qualify with a rifle, or the Marine Corps doesn’t want you. This Recruit remembers that we lost a few guys at the range.

After rotating back to MCRD, things got a tiny bit better. It seemed like our Drill Instructors were a little less inclined to use corporal punishment to reinforce lessons. Or maybe we just weren’t screwing up as much. Don’t get me wrong, they were every bit as tough and demanding and in our faces as ever. It’s just that they weren’t as physically brutal as they were before we went to the range.

After we got back from the rifle range, we were allowed to purchase starch, at Small Stores, and use it to block our utility covers. We were also allowed to blouse our trousers. These trifles sound like small things, I know, but they weren’t.

They made us feel a little bit more like Marines, instead of maggots. We were kind of proud of the fact that we could take what our Drill Instructors dished out and would likely graduate.

marines obstacle course

Facing the Gas Chamber

The second week back from the range, we went down and were fitted for our dress uniforms. Dress greens, tropical shirts and trousers, field scarves, khakis, horse blanket (overcoat), raincoat, shoes, and all the other bits and pieces of the dress uniforms.

There were tailors and we tried everything on while they took measurements. Marine uniforms are supposed to fit snug, unlike Army or Air Force uniforms.

This Recruit’s guess is that’s one of the reasons the Marine Corps doesn’t like fat bodies – they don’t look good in the uniform.
They like flat tummies. About a week later, we went back to the Tailor. After the second fitting, to make sure everything was OK, we took our uniforms back to our huts.

Somewhere around this time, we were introduced to CS tear gas (technically, o-chlorobenzylidene malononitrile, with the chemical formula: C10H5ClN2), and it is still a vivid memory.

We were issued gas masks and shown how to put them on, fit and adjust them (Don them) so that they were sealed. We were taught how to purge and clear them. Then we were shoved, about twenty of us at a time, into a small, windowless building, called the Gashouse.

This was the Corps’ very own gas chamber.

After we were in, 2 double-doors were closed. A gas-generator device, in the center of the chamber, started filling up the room up with CS gas. We were ordered to take our gas masks off, and sing the Marine’s Hymn. We rushed through the thing and the Drill Instructor (who, by the way, kept his mask on) didn’t like our rendition of it.

He yelled, through his gas mask: “Belt it out, girls!”

We sang it again and it sounded even worse than the first time. Again! Everyone was gagging and crying, about to panic. Finally, we were told to put our masks back on and clear them. Yeah, right! The Gashouse staff opened the Exit doors, and we all hurried outside.

Now, in the fresh-air, we were allowed to wash our heads and hands with garden hoses, which were kept adjacent to the Gashouse. This Recruit didn’t really like the gas chamber drills, all that much.

marines obstacle course

Drown Proofing and the Obstacle Course

There was a swimming pool where they taught us how to stay afloat in case we fell off the side of a ship, or something. Drown Proofing; it was called.

They showed us how to tie our trousers legs at the bottom, and sort of make water wings out of them. We had to jump off a platform that was about as high as the side of a ship, float in the pool until they figured we knew how to do it, then swim over to the side and get out.

The obstacle course was fairly easy for me, for some reason. The ones who had the most trouble with it were the guys with too little upper-body strength. I got a little dizzy on some of the really high obstacles, but other than that, this Recruit really didn’t mind it at all.

Back in those days, I was 6’2” tall and I weighed in at 170 pounds. This Recruit had trouble with carrying a buddy in the fireman’s carry, through ankle deep sand. We had to carry someone for fifty yards. Unhappily, this Recruit got paired up with someone who weighed about 180, but was only 5 feet tall.

This Recruit could lift him onto his shoulders, but couldn’t carry this “human medicine ball.”

After about 5 steps, my human load would start to slip off of my shoulders. Well, those Drill Instructors were pretty good motivators. In no time at all, this Recruit was zipping around with one little arm and one little leg, deposited under each arm and a bulbous body resting on the back of his neck.

All this was accomplished with the help of a Drill Instructor chanting curses of encouragement.

References & Image Credits:
(1) All pictures used by permission of Corporal Thomas Gray

Originally published on

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