An Introduction To The Rifle Small Arms Firing School (SAFS)

The Rifle Small Arms Firing School (SAFS) is a two day program offered to the general public every year by the Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP) and Army Marksmanship Unit (AMU) to help educate new shooters on the discipline of service rifle competition. This year I accompanied service rifle competitor Chad Hanson, the founder of The Garand Thumb Blog through the SAFS program with the intention of recording and documenting our experience.


My journey to Ohio began on the CMP website, where I was required to register for the upcoming SAFS Match. The entry fee of $45.00 ($30.00 for juniors) provides SAFS shooters with the following:

  • Classroom instruction
  • Field training
  • A live fire squadded practice session
  • Entry into the M16 EIC Rifle Match
  • Ammunition for the full course of fire

The check-in period for the SAFS takes place the day prior to the actual event. The CMP headquarters building serves as a registration area where paperwork is processed and shooter packets are issued. Included in the packet are a guide to the National Matches, a Service Rifle Marksmanship Guide, a scoring sheet, bar code stickers for tracking shooter scores, a participant nametag, and a coupon book showcasing a number of local attractions.

One of my favorite elements of the registration room are the freebies and promotional items available to shooters. Participants are issued a complimentary SAFS shirt to commemorate their experience, and tables are lined with promotional items provided by the event sponsors. I made a point to leave a bin full of Criterion Barrels Inc. empty chamber indicators for shooters participating in the CMP Games matches scheduled later that weekend.

Classroom Instruction

The following morning kicked off bright and early with a 7:00 AM safety brief. AMU soldiers provided instruction on the basic manual of arms for the M16A2, general nomenclature details, range and pit operations, range commands, and scoring.

Lengthy PowerPoint lessons can sometimes be difficult to fight through, but the AMU staff did an excellent job in offering helpful pieces of knowledge to the novices and veterans that made up the audience. The instructors incorporated short breaks between classes, offering participants an opportunity to ask instructors questions before proceeding to the following lesson.

After a brief class on basic shooting principles, the competitors were separated into two separate groups comprised of beginners or veterans. The beginners proceeded to Viale Range to “snap in” and practice their shooting positions, while veterans of the Rifle SAFS program are given a chance to participate in additional classroom instruction pertaining to more advanced topics like wind reading.

Squadded Practice

We elected to join the beginners, who proceeded to line up at various target points for the squadded practice. Each target point typically includes four to five shooters and a single AMU coach. Our target point included Chad, Staff Sergeant Rollins, Linda, and Mark as the shooters. Sergeant First Class Manning served as our coach for the remainder of the SAFS course.

Each of the shooters assigned to our target had a very different competitive shooting background. Chad had completed the Rifle SAFS course in a previous session, but elected to remain in the beginner’s course to work with our coach on improving his shooting position. SSG Rollins is a former Army sniper who has had years of experience with the AR-15 and M16 rifle platform. Mark had a fair bit of experience with the AR-15, but his wife Linda was relatively new to the world of competitive shooting.

I also had the chance to meet the Bohn family, a group of shooters posted on the target to our right. Junior shooter Richard was making his first Camp Perry appearance, while others in the family had attended the national matches in the past.

All along Viale Range shooters and coaches shared constructive bits of knowledge. Both basic and advanced guidance was provided regarding rifle configuration, position modification for various body types, and different shooting stances. One piece of advice I found useful was instruction regarding the Olympic X prone position. It took a little while to get adjusted to the unique foot and weight placement, but I quickly found that it allows for lessened perceived recoil and better offhand arm placement, particularly with larger caliber rifle designs.

After spending some time snapping in, the shooters at each target point broke into different relays. Two shooters remained at the firing line, while the others made their way down range to serve as target pullers. Over the course of the squadded practice, the coaches remained on the firing line to score and offer advice to the shooters during their course of fire. Sometimes rifle matches can be somewhat stressful experiences for competitors, but the practice session proved to be a fairly relaxed and casual affair.

Shooters participating in the Rifle SAFS are able to pack fairly light, as the rifle, ammunition, sling, and magazines are provided by the coaches. Some shooters were loaned spotting scopes, shooting mats, and shooting gloves from other participants, but I would also recommend each participant bring the following items for the live fire portion of the course:

  • Eye protection
  • Hearing protection
  • Shooting jacket or sweatshirt
  • Thick glove (for the non-firing hand)
  • Shooting mat
  • Spotting scope
  • Bag lunch

During the course of fire each shooter was given an opportunity to fire five sighters to get their rifle zeroed, followed by a course of fire including:

  • 10 rounds slow fire prone in 15 minutes
  • 10 rounds rapid fire prone in 60 seconds
  • 10 rounds rapid fire sitting in 60 seconds
  • 10 rounds offhand in 10 minutes

M16 EIC Match

By the end of the first day, the shooters were well acquainted with their assigned rifles and began to prepare for the CMP M16 EIC Match. An Excellence in Competition (EIC) or leg match is a service rifle match that allows shooters to earn points toward earning a distinguished rifleman’s badge. By placing in the top 10% of shooters at the M16 EIC Match, competitors receive 4 points toward this challenging goal.

The 200 yard EIC Match began at 7:00 AM the following morning, and lasted through the early afternoon. The course of fire is as follows:

  • 5 sighting shots
  • 10 shots slow-fire prone in 10 minutes
  • 10 shots rapid-fire prone in 60 seconds
  • 10 shots rapid-fire sitting in 60 seconds
  • 10 shots slow-fire standing in 10 minutes

Upon completing the M16 EIC Match, shooters are eligible for a range of prizes. The winner of the match receives a personalized CMP Recognition Plaque. The top 10% of eligible competitors will receive 4 EIC credit points and a medal. All competitors who successfully complete the match receive a match pin when they turn in their scorecards.

Garand Thumb Blog founder Chad Hanson placed 19th out of 399 competitors with an aggregate score of 377-9X. He proceeded to have an impressive run over the remainder of the CMP Games, medaling in three separate events (The Garand, Springfield, and Vintage Sniper Matches) with rifle builds featuring Criterion barrels.

For shooters interested in participating in AR-15 service rifle competition beyond the Rifle SAFS, Criterion Barrels has developed a complete upper receiver and service rifle barrel designed to accommodate heavier 77 and 80 grain bullets. Featuring a 1-7.7 twist, the Criterion DCM contoured barrel is available in both pre- and post-ban configurations and includes milled flats to allow for the use of an adjustable A2 front sight assembly.

Content and photos provided by Criterion Barrels, Inc. and The Garand Thumb Blog

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