Founded by Winchester in 1918 as the Winchester Junior Rifle Corps and transferred to NRA in 1926, the Winchester/NRA Marksmanship Qualification Program has been used by thousands of shooting coaches and hunter education instructors as a way to help youngsters develop their shooting skills and grow their interest in the sport.
Many of you reading this article probably even have patches and pins stashed away in closets and drawers from when you participated in marksmanship qualification as a youth.
Although the program is widely popular within the shooting community, many people don’t realize that both adults and kids can take part in the program, or that there is now a hunting marksmanship component. In fact, the new Hunter Marksmanship Qualification discipline, as it is known, recently reached an important milestone in its young history, recording its very first Distinguished Expert, the program’s highest honor, which was attained by a 61-year-old lifelong hunter and shooter.
Bob Plyler of Asheville, N.C., killed a 10-point whitetail on Nov. 20, 2009, in Halifax County, N.C., to achieve his Distinguished Expert rating. Plyler made an off-hand, 170-yard shot on the buck (pictured above) with his Savage .243 while hunting from a treestand on private property.
Plyler is an NRA-certified rifle, pistol and shotgun instructor, as well as an NRA-certified Range Safety Officer and NRA Hunter Clinic Instructor. He originally decided to give marksmanship qualification a try just to increase his knowledge of the program, which he said would give him the credibility to talk about it with his students. However, after participating in the program, he discovered that it actually improved his shooting, and he’s continued working to earn higher and higher ratings in many of the program’s 13 disciplines.
“I think it’s a superb program,” he said. “I’m associated with law enforcement—I have two sons that are police officers—so I shoot with a lot of cops. I’ve always been decent, but now I can shoot a handgun as good as them any day. I’m shooting for a purpose, which has just made me a better overall shooter.
“A lot of people go to the range, put up a target, and just start cranking rounds. They’re not trying to do anything different. They’re not trying to do anything specific. They’re just punching holes. The marksmanship program gives you a discipline and let’s you progress upward, which improves your shooting tremendously. You have to focus on what you have to do to achieve this level and then the one beyond that. If you really want to become a good shooter, this is a program that will make you a better shooter.”
The hunter marksmanship component is run just like traditional marksmanship qualification, with participants advancing through progressively more challenging courses of fire. A shooter’s performance is measured against established par scores along the way, and each par score corresponds to an accompanying rating, which ranges from Pro-Marksman to Marksman to Marksman 1st Class to Sharpshooter to Expert and, ultimately, Distinguished Expert. After completing all of the range-based courses of fire, participants in the hunter marksmanship discipline must then harvest a game animal to achieve the Distinguished Expert rating.
“A man can take his son down to the range and crank some targets out at their own pace,” Plyler said. “It is still competitive enough where they can compare their targets and say, ‘I’m at Marksman 1st Class, where are you?’ It progresses and it sort of sucks you in. You can make a kid a better and better shooter because it gets more difficult as they go.”
Shooters are able to compete in the hunting portion of the program using hunting rifles and shotguns, as well as muzzleloaders and pistols, thus sharpening their marksmanship skills for hunting season. The courses of fire are meant to help new shooters improve their skills, and patches and pins are awarded as a shooter reaches each of the program’s levels, helping youngsters establish and work towards marksmanship goals.
The program is an ideal way to keep kids interested in hunting and shooting, as they advance through the program at their own pace and scores are achieved on the honor system, helping to reinforce the principles of honesty and fair play.
“My son and I have mentored a lot of people in hunting,” Plyler said. “We’ve had eight men kill their first deer the last two seasons under our direction. I already have plans to put some of the kids and adults I work with into Hunter Marksmanship Qualification because I know that they’ll really get into it.”
To learn more about the Winchester/NRA Marksmanship Qualification Program and how to participate, visit www.nrahq.org/education/training/marksmanship. To view the specific requirements for Hunter Marksmanship Qualification, click here. For information on Plyler’s firearm training courses and hunting clinics, visit www.acumenarms.com.