What is a Rifleman (and Why You Should Be One)

What is a rifleman? By military standards, a rifleman is an infantryman whose primary job is to locate, close with, and destroy the enemy by fire and maneuver. In many ways, it’s the most basic infantry soldier. The term rifleman has an application outside of a military context as well. It’s someone skilled in the use of rifles, as well as several additional, practical skills. Those skills have adapted and changed over time, and today, we are going to talk about what a modern rifleman is and why it might be a good idea for every able-bodied person of sound mind to be a rifleman.

The 2nd Amendment has this bit in which it mentions a well-regulated militia. The gun control movement tends to assume that means government regulation. However, following the parlance of the time, the term “well-regulated” meant “well-trained” or “in good working order.” With that in mind, a rifleman or riflewoman would fit the term “well-regulated” quite well.

Why Should You Be a Rifleman

First and foremost, if you are going to own a firearm, you should be skilled in the safe and effective usage of that firearm. Firearm safety is always the number one priority, and safe habits come from the continual use of your firearm.

soldier revolutionary war
The rifleman goes back to the days of the Revolutionary War.

The skills of a rifleman go beyond shooting a gun. In fact, these skills are very handy to learn just because. If you left the entire aspect of riflery out of the conversation, you could still pick up several super handy skills that have real-world applications.

My final reason may not resonate with everyone, but I like learning. I love learning practical skills I can take out into the world and apply to my regular life. Having learning objectives and goals and meeting them satisfies me internally.

What Are the Skills of A Rifleman

The skills of a rifleman are varied. You can argue these aren’t exclusively rifleman skills, you’d be right. With that said, when you add the rifle and these skills, you get a modern variant of the rifleman that made this country, that fought the British and pioneered west. Let’s dive into the modern skills of a rifleman.


Weaponeering is a term I’m borrowing from the Marine Corps. It applies to general weaponry skills, and in this term, it’s all about the rifle. Keep in mind these are the basic skills of a rifleman, and skill-building is continuous. Clearing rooms and CQB are certainly skills to learn, but they are very advanced skills.

marines in the prone
If you can’t hit a stationary target at 300 yards from the prone, work on your marksmanship.

A rifleman should be extremely skilled in the manual of arms for their rifle. This means they know how it operates. They understand how to load, unload, clear, and use the controls on their weapon quickly and efficiently. It should be second nature. This includes being able to maintain the rifle and keep it operating at a user level.

You should be able to zero your weapon and understand the basic ballistics of your chosen load. This can mean studying a ballistic calculator or hitting the range and learning it the fun way.

You should be able to reload your weapon quickly and efficiently with a spare magazine. Shooters should be capable of quickly defeating malfunctions and getting their rifles operational once more.

marine reloading rifle
Reloading and similar skills are also critical.

The basic rifleman should be able to hit a torso-sized target at 300 yards 80% of the time in a prone position. This excludes bipods, monopods, and similar supportive tools. This seems easy until you go out to 300 yards and see how small an IPSC target looks.

Medical Skills

Knowing how to make holes is important, but knowing how to patch holes is even more important. No one expects a rifleman to be a Doctor or even an EMT, but you should be willing to take some basic medical courses and learn to save lives. Basic medical skills are way more likely to be used than weaponry skills.

The first and likely easiest one to find a class for is CPR. You can become CPR certified and trained in a day. The Red Cross and local fire departments likely teach the class fairly often, and it’s either cheap or free.

marines applying medical skill
Medical skills are always useful.

Next, if you can find a Stop the Bleed class, it’s a great place to start some traumatic medical training. It’s another very common class, and you can even do a version online, but it’s worth doing an in-person class.

Beyond these basic classes, getting into a more tactical-oriented class offers lots of hands-on training with experienced experts. Classes from Dark Angel Medical and Mountain Man Tactical are great places to get some hands-on learning. Learning to use chest seals and tourniquets is a great way to spend a day and might save a life.

Land Navigation

Using a map and compass seems silly in a world full of high-quality, easily worn GPS units, but it’s still a skill worth knowing. Personally, land navigation has always been a fun one for me. Learning my pace count, how compasses work, and how to navigate to specific points satisfies me to no end.

It’s a skill you can dive deep into and get better and better at. Having just a basic understanding can be quite useful in the real world. Sometimes, batteries die, or maybe the GPS unit is left at home. Getting out there and learning a thing or two can be very useful in modern life.

Marines land nav
Land Navigation is a universally useful skill, that’s also fun to learn.

There are plenty of military manuals out there to aid you in learning land nav. Heck, there are even plenty of open-source Boy Scout manuals that do the same. Land navigation doesn’t have to be tactical and can be something learned for a variety of reasons.

Another skill related to land navigation is range determination. Being able to adequately estimate range is tough and takes lots of practice. That practice amounts to looking at things at a distance and memorizing what it looks like. The military is another great place to find manuals on these skills.

Camouflage and Noise Discipline

In Skyrim, you have to up your sneak by sneaking, and the same thing comes with real stealth. Learning how to apply camouflage and practicing noise discipline is upping your sneak level. Camouflage and what’s effective depends on your area. In a world of thermals, camouflage can be tough, but still a skill worth learning. Heck, learn to camo yourself from thermals with glass, space blankets, and similar tools.

Noise discipline is tougher. You’ll need to not only learn how to be quiet but make your gear quiet. This might involve taping tools up and making sure canteens are always full. Make sure your gear isn’t rattling as you move. Things may need to be tightened down, repositions, or maybe you need to make sure your rifle isn’t banging on your gear.

In the same vein of camouflage, you should learn concealment. How to use the environment to blend in completely, and how to limit your profile. This applies to using a setting or rising sun to mask your movement or staying low to avoid highlighting yourself as you cross an obstacle.


Fieldcraft is a forgotten art that relates to living in the terrain and making it your home. The topic of fieldcraft is broad and covers everything from where to hygiene and use the bathroom to cooking, trash concealment, and more. It’s a topic even the military doesn’t touch on very often because of decades of absolute superiority of our military forces.

marines setting up camp
Setting a camp the correct way is an overlooked skill.

Knowing where and how to build a camp, how to build a fire, build shelters, and similar tasks are more important than most people realize. Turn to military manuals and bushcraft guides from Dave Canterbury. These will help you sharpen your fieldcraft skills to a new level.

Becoming a Rifleman

Being a rifleman is about more than being able to hit a target. It’s a multifaceted skillset that can be useful with or without a rifle. While proper, safe, and effective use of firearms is valuable, it’s also one small in a group of many.

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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