Max Barrington selected for the Army marksmanship hall of fame

Max Barrington said the secret to success in target shooting with a pistol is make the pistol an extension of the arm--well, it's easier to demonstrate than explain. Gripping the gun, how the shooter stands, the relation to the target, all that matters, but the crucial component is what happens between the ears.

Max Barrington should know. He went down to Georgia last month to be inducted into the U.S. Army's service pistol marksmanship hall of fame. Barrington, of Malott, had 30 years in the Army when he retired in 1985, and "the last nine years I was assigned to the Army marksmanship unit as an instructor."

There are four critical components in precision marksmanship, he said, but "80 percent of it is mental. First off, you've got to believe you can do it." But that's just the first step; precision marksmanship also requires serious concentration. When the marksperson is really focused on shooting, it's just the shooter, the target and the gun. "When I was shooting good, I didn't know anyone else was on the range except the range officer."

Barrington said he keeps his focus on the front sight and its relation to the target; "You figure that front sight is on a rail," a line extending from his eye to the front sight to the target. When he's really concentrating "it (the front sight) gets big," he said. The challenge is to ensure the shooter pulls the trigger when the target and the sight are exactly in line, and that the fall of the hammer doesn't disturb the equilibrium. In fact, the shooter should never know exactly when the gun will fire--the shot should come as a surprise, Barrington said. That trigger control is "the hard part."

Of course there's a physical component to it too; how the shooter stands, their angle to the target, how they hold the pistol. The starting point is a 45-degree angle from the target, although that will require adjustments, Barrington said. Something as seemingly simple as holding the gun requires adjustments too. The idea is to have everything lined up, Barrington said, so that when the shooter raises their arm the gun is centered on the target. By that time everything should be in place. In precision shooting the gun "is an extension of your arm," he said.

It's difficult to put it all into words. "You just do it," Barrington said.

While it wasn't always precision shooting, Barrington said he was familiar with guns long before he went in the Army, "from the time I was a young kid--well, when I was a kid back in the '40s, we lived on rabbits and what we could hunt." He was drafted into the Army in 1953 and served a seven-year hitch, he said. When he left active duty in 1960 he went into the Army Reserves. "During the Cuban (missile) crisis I was called back in. Then I decided I'd make 20 (years) out of it."

At the time he was communications electronics specialist and he stayed a communications specialist, including hitch in Vietnam. He got involved in precision shooting while he was stationed at Fort Sam Houston in Texas; he was on the Fourth Army pistol team.

He carried that interest in pistol shooting when he was reassigned. Alas, when he went to Alaska the commanding general turned down his request to have a pistol team at the post. "The general said, 'If you want to stay in the Army, you'd better forget it.'" Barrington gave up precision shooting until 1973, when he was assigned to a base in Arizona. "They didn't have a job for me, so I coached the post pistol team." The team competed in Sixth Army matches, and eventually Barrington qualified for all-Army competition.

He was assigned to the instructor's job with the Army marksmanship unit in 1977. "That was the best job in the Army," he said. At the beginning of April the team would start traveling around the country, instructing ROTC units in precision marksmanship and participating in shooting matches. Shooting competitions culminated with the national championship in August. In 1985 Barrington won the intraservice competition; on the way to the match Max and his late wife Elisabeth stopped off at the national championships. Elisabeth won the .22 competition at the national championships. "'85 was a good year," he said.

After he retired from the Army Barrington moved to western Washington. He was the chief range officer at the Custer Gun Club in Custer, north of Bellingham, for a decade. In 1997 the Barringtons moved to Malott; he's a member of the Tonasket Gun Club and the Omak Fish and Game Club, in addition to a shooting range he's built on his property. His eyesight isn't what it used to be, he said, so he's given up precision shooting. Two of Barrington's nephews live in the area; "they're beating me on the range we have up here, and that upsets me."

Maybe it's not competitive shooting anymore, but he's still shooting. "It's a lot of fun." Actually he's not done with competitive shooting completely. "I still coach people." Each person is different, and each shooter has to adjust, but if they've got a good coach, they can figure it out, he said.

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