National Record holder and National Champion Dennis DeMille needs no introduction. His shooting feats are the stuff of legend, as is his charming demeanor and willingness to always help out newer shooters on the line. As General Manager of Creedmoor Sports, Dennis in instrumental in helping to ensure the very best of quality equipment and ammunition is available to highpower competitors of all skill levels. He is also the host and Match Director of the Creedmoor Cup East & West Matches, two of the most highly respected and well attended highpower matches in the country. Below are just a brief fraction of some of his shooting accomplishments, followed by his interview.
Marine Corps Rifle Champion: 1992, 2002
NRA National Service Rifle Champion: 2003
NRA National Match Rifle Champion: 2005
NRA National Civilian Service Rifle Champion: 2009
National Record: 200-yard Rapid Fire Sitting (200-28)
National Record: National Match 4-Man Team Match
(1989-104 – Team Creedmoor: D. DeMille / D. Tubb / N.Houle / R.Zerr)
National Record: Springfield Rifle Match
(297-8 fired at the 2011 National Springfield Rifle Match with a 100-4 standing)
1: What was your experience like when starting out in high-power?
My high-power experience really began in Marine Corps boot camp November of 1983. The first time we shot the full course in boot camp I dropped 7 points. I was very disappointed with myself, thinking how could you miss such a big target so many times? Apparently it wasn’t as bad as I thought. That was the first time I heard the term “Marine Corps Rifle Team”. I set a goal for myself to be on that team within a year and just missed it by a few months.
After boot camp and infantry training school I was sent to the Philippines for an 18-month tour guarding a naval magazine. I entered a rifle and pistol competition near the end of my tour, did very well, and progressed from there to Division Matches in Okinawa, Marine Corps Matches in Camp Lejeune, NC, and eventually the Marine Corps Team at Quantico. I spent the next 3 years with the Rifle Team.
2: Who were your mentors?
My most notable mentor was Master Sergeant Bob Jones (RL). He not only mentored me in shooting but was also instrumental in molding me into a Marine.
What do you remember most from these experiences and what still rings true?
I remember my coach at the time telling me that if I wanted to progress any further in my offhand shooting I’d have to teach myself. At that time there weren’t any books on shooting standing. All the guys like DI Boyd, who shot the great scores – had all transferred out or retired. I didn’t take his words as a brushing-off. I took it to mean that I need to start really analyzing what I was doing, how I was doing it, and most importantly – what I was thinking when I was doing both good and bad.
03: Can you describe some of your most memorable milestones or breakthroughs? Both starting out… and along the journey to competing nationally.
Without a doubt the biggest breakthrough was something I learned after I applied what my coach told me about “teaching myself”. One night I was on duty at Weapons Training Battalion, Quantico with nothing to do but dry-fire all night with my M14. I put up a piece of paper with a black dot on the Commanding Officer’s (Colonel Willis) hatch at the end of the hallway and set up in full gear as if I were live-firing. I was typically very good at calling my shots when live-firing, so when I dry-fired three consecutive 200’s that night (keeping a data-book and all) I had to wonder why I had never live-fired a 200. I had fired several 198’s and 199’s, but never a 200. I realized that my position and my trigger control would allow me to shoot 200’s all day long, but something about that bullet being in the chamber changed things. I had long since stopped bucking, or shouldering the shot – so what more could I do OR STOP doing to begin shooting 200’s? I realized that when I dry-fired I was 1) very confident in my trigger control, meaning that I knew without a doubt that the front sight would not move when the hammer fell, 2) very decisive, meaning I knew beforehand what I was going to do when the front sight hit my aiming point, and 3) very relaxed through the entire string. Obviously the inverse was true when live-firing. So what should I do with this little revelation? Simple, dry-fire every shot with a live round in the chamber. The next day I shot my first 200 standing. That was a huge milestone for me.
4: Describe your routine to help you stay on top of your best game? Off-Season, Mid-Season and ramping up to bigger matches?
Practice: Have a purpose when practicing. Address SOMETHING you’ve identified as “needing work”. Don’t just go through the motions.
Dry-Fire: Understand WHY you dry-fire; most people don’t. Why I dry-fire:
1. It allows me to absolutely see things I might miss when live-firing, like what happens to the front sight when the hammer falls.
2. I learn what happens with my position the longer I maintain it.
3. I learn at what point in my hold does my minimum arc of movement begin and end.
4. I learn the exact size of my wobble area.
5. It allows me to experiment with different check lists, both physical and mental, and practice that check list if only for that day.
6. When everything is breaking just right while dry-firing (I’m in the zone, as it were), I try to take a mental snap-shot of those moments. That way, when I’m live-firing and get out of my zone – I have something to reference. These are things like: how my weight is distributed on my feet, firmness of my shooting-hand grip, how the weight of the rifle is distributed on my body, etc..
5: How important is technique, mental program, and equipment in influencing your performance? What is their proportional influence?
Don’t become a slave to anything mentioned in this question to the point that you’re not willing to change… even in the middle of a string. For example: people that would watch me shoot a really great score standing were always surprised that once or twice during a string I would flip my forward hand completely around. I did that based on whether my hand was uncomfortable to the point that I had to think about it. I preach and believe that your forward hand in standing should be treated as nothing more than a support stick and has nothing to do with the breaking of the shot. If it starts to be uncomfortable for whatever reason… NOW it has the potential to interrupt your mental check list.
Proportionally, I say shooting at the highest levels is 95% mental.
6: What was the toughest match you’ve ever competed in where you held it together? What was that like?
If a match was that tough on me, I probably lost. The easiest matches I’ve ever fired were the matches I won. It’s never about who I was facing that made a match tough or easy. It was always about how hard I had to work through each shot, knowing that the harder I HAD to work – the more likely I was fighting a losing battle. My best scores came the easiest. I could shoot a 199 or 200 standing in about 12 minutes… but in those same conditions, I could also work my butt off for 19-minutes to post a 194.
7: If you had to choose only ONE answer, what has helped you improve the most towards your goals in highpower?
Realizing how important training is to performance.
8: Why do you continue to stay involved with highpower?
It’s what my friends do. It’s also important that I stay involved with the thing that my livelihood depends upon.
9: How do you maintain balance in your life? How important is that?
Who says I maintain balance? I work my ass off at the expense of everything else. If you ask my wife, Lori, she’d tell you I have no balance.
10: What would you like to talk about that wasn’t covered in the previous questions?
When all else fails, go back to the fundamentals: sight alignment, trigger control and natural point of aim. Never get so far down the rabbit hole that you lose sight of the basics.