The NRA’s Marksmanship Qualification Program — Summer Fun

We all give the NRA a rightful heaping of crap for its seemingly inherent corruption at the top and for its behavior in the last few years. However, I will give credit to the training side of the NRA. They run an amazing program and honestly contribute a lot to range development across the United States. They also host the NRA Marksmanship Qualification Program, and with the summer break in full effect, it’s time to get shooting.

My oldest son has minimal interest in shooting. He likes it but isn’t a giant gun nerd like me. Regardless of their level of enjoyment, I want my kids to be well trained and experienced and, most importantly, safe with firearms. That’s led to conversations, demonstrations, and demystifications of firearms in their lives. That never led to the kiddos picking up the hobby, though.

Recently I stumbled across the NRA Marksmanship Qualification Program and pitched it to my son. After hearing a bit about the program and seeing the various courses of fire, he agreed to give it a spin.

Inside the Marksmanship Qualification Program

This program encapsulates a number of different disciplines and firearms. It’s expansive enough to include air guns, rifles, shotguns, muzzleloaders, handguns, and more. Individual disciplines vary from very basic shooting qualifications to skeet shooting and even defensive pistol and tactical rifle.

Those might sound highspeed, but like all of the courses of fire in the Marksmanship Qualification Program, they are fairly simple. Any average shooter could likely clean up these ratings fairly easily. This program is aimed at beginners, and it’s really kid-friendly. You won’t see sub-second draws as a requirement in defensive pistol.

Awards, patches, pins, and fun are the rewards of the program

These quals test a very basic level of competence but have established standards that allow shooters to measure their success. Each discipline has multiple ratings that get continually harder. The Pro-Marksman rating is the easiest rating to achieve, and Distinguished Expert is the most difficult.

If you are a vaguely experienced shooter, these will seem super easy. The Pro-Marksman rating for pistol qual has all your shots taken at 15 feet from a bench rest position. You have to shoot paper plate-sized targets, and the most difficult component is shooting ten shots weak-handed, but you are still using two hands.

NRA Pistol Qualification patches
My son is chasing these patches.

For new shooters, especially for kids, that can be surprisingly difficult if they’ve never aligned a set of sights before. Allowing them to achieve qualifications as they go gives them measurable results and is a reward for hard work.

Simplicity Rules

Guess what? You don’t need an NRA instructor or club member, or coach to verify the vast majority of the qualification shoots. It’s based on the honor system outside of the Distinguished Expert classifications. Those are required to be witnessed by an NRA Instructor or member.

As you guessed, the honor system means it’s ripe for cheating, but there is no reason to cheat. You won’t win any kind of crazy award for getting qualified in your selected discipline. My son and I have been practicing a few days a week, and he will most certainly earn his qualifications.

Aiming a handgun for NRA Pistol Qual
Slowly my son’s experience grew.

Additionally, the NRA makes it fairly simple to participate. The rules for what kind of firearm can be used and what kind of accessories are not very strict. We are using the Sig P322 for the pistol qual—.22LRs are just right for these kinds of things, especially with kids.

While some disciplines in the Marksmanship Qualification Program require specialized targets, a lot of them do not, paper plates seem to be the target of choice for a good number of these qualifications.

paper plate used as a target for NRA pistol qual
We slowly got and remained on target.

The NRA has made the qualifications and the Marksmanship Qualification Program very easy to approach for beginners. That’s a good thing. Getting new shooters to the range and sharpening skills in a safe manner makes for better, safer gun owners. The more safe and responsible gun owners we have, the better.

Working Through the Marksmanship Qualification Program

My son chose to start with the Pistol Qualification, which is the base-level handgun qual. Shooters can use a pistol or revolver of any type of any caliber with any type of sight. The targets used the NRA D-1 or D-2 target or a paper target with a nine or 4.5-inch circle drawn on it. The different quals will use smaller targets as necessary.

The Pro-Marksman is what we are attempting to complete first and later move through each qualification slowly and surely. As my son and I set up the range to shoot our first practice, he thought it would be super easy.

young man shooting at three paper plate targets for NRA pistol qual
Slow, steady, and safe was our mantra.

The target was only 15 feet away, and paper plates were huge at that range. He very confidently saddled up to the bench, took a resting position, and started shooting. He was humbled quite quickly. Shooting a handgun accurately can be quite difficult, as he learned.

Still, he persisted. Along the way, he also had to learn how to load the gun, how to clear the gun, and got a major reinforcement on the rules of firearm safety. I’m proud to say we had no safety issues. We worked through about 50 rounds just doing some basic practice, and his skills sharpened fast.

reloading 22LR magazine
Basic gun handling and operation became a big part of our training.

Rimfire handguns are what they are, and we had the occasional failure to fire and jam. He had to learn how to clear the issue and get the gun back into action by himself. I stood by and just gave him instructions on what to do. These are the little things that the Marksmanship Qualification Program teaches you unintentionally.

Not Quite Qual’ed

We haven’t quite Qual’ed just yet. Between vacations, summer camps, and sports, our practice has been more infrequent than I’d like. I have a paper plate taped to the wall, and we get at least a few minutes of dry fire practice every day. Seeing him go from not knowing a thing about shooting handguns to automatically clearing the firearm as he picks it up and establishing a nice high grip automatically warms my heart.

young man at firing range aiming at paper plate targets
Paper plates make great practice targets.

I’m proud he’s stuck with it even though it didn’t deliver the instant satisfaction of a victory. When he does achieve his qualification, I plan to order him a Pistol Qualification patch. These patches act as visual rewards for shooters and come in various forms, including patches, certificates, and pins.

Once he qualifies in basic pistol, he can add rockers for different skill levels as he sharpens his skills.

Sig P322 on table with open box of 22LR ammunition
The P322 turned out to be the perfect gun for these challenges.

The Marksmanship Qualification Program has provided my son with some very practical skills in firearm handling, and he’s excited to earn a patch and the rockers that come with it. Most of all, it’s provided us with an activity we can do together and spend time together. I hope one day in the future he looks back fondly on the time we spent together shooting and does the same with his own kids.

Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine Gunner and a lifelong firearms enthusiast. Now that his days of working a 240B like Charlie Parker on the sax are over he's a regular guy who likes to shoot, write, and find ways to combine the two. He holds an NRA certification as a Basic Pistol Instructor and is probably most likely the world's Okayest firearm instructor. He is a simplicisist when it comes to talking about himself in the 3rd person and a self-professed tactical hipster. Hit him up on Instagram, @travis.l.pike, with story ideas.

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