Donnie Heuman (aka “Top”) served in the United States Marine Corp for 26-years, much of which was spent shooting and instructing for the Marine Corps Shooting Team. Top also coached the United States Army Marksmanship Unit for a spell and now runs the CMP Talladega Marksmanship Park, where he still run clinics and even manages to shoot every now and again.
1: What was your experience like when starting out in high-power?
I didn’t start shooting high-power rifle as a sport, but as a way of life in the United States Marine Corps. The total Boot Camp experience was fast, exhilarating and intense. I am an average person understanding the importance of the Marine training and Marine Marksmanship.
When the platoon of recruits are ready and trusted to carry and fire their Service Rifle – it is then that they move into another phase of recruit training: “The Rifle Range.” As a platoon of raw recruits, we were transported from Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego to Marine Corps Base, Camp Pendleton, Edson Range. Edson Range is a rifle range complex named for Marine “Red” Mike Edson and is home to four of the largest rifle ranges in the Corps. It was there that my Marine marksmanship training began.
Marksmanship training is broken down into two phases. Phase 1 is Instruction and “Grass Week”. Phase 2 is Zeroing and Initial Qualification Week and lots of Drill Instructors in your face time. No Stress there! I absorbed all the training I could from our Primary Marksmanship Instructor (PMI) SSGT Fish and applied those basics fundamentals of marksmanship to complete that portion. I was the series high shooter and meritoriously promoted to PFC and went on to complete boot camp.
3 years later, I was working as a range coach for Marines and was given the opportunity to participate in the Eastern Division Matches at Camp LeJeune, NC, Stone Bay Rifle Range. Stone Bay is where I truly learned the meaning of how to apply those basic fundamentals of marksmanship that I’d absorbed so rapidly 3-years earlier. The instruction itself was not really any different, but it was less stressful and we were introduced to all of the shooting equipment necessary to compete in the matches. At the time, I thought the equipment was more a test of your organization skills than anything else. The cloth shooting coat, shooting stool, M-49 spotting scope and scope stand, sweatshirt, shooting glove, carbide lamp, data book, pen, sweat towel, shooting glasses, magazines and last but not least… that strange looking rifle sling. The days were long and full of information, like “how to mark your sights” in order to keep track of your no wind zeros… Hours upon hours of learning how to acquire good, sound shooting positions – following the basic principles of “Bone Support, Natural Point of Aim and Muscular Relaxation.” Did I mention that we also received pistol instruction too? Oh yeah! Add another shooting discipline into the mix!
The days that followed were the true test of the instruction we’d received the week prior, filled with rifle shooting in the morning and pistol shooting in the afternoon. After completion of each days shoot, there was more dry firing time… trying to find that perfect position. I would normally conclude the days training with a 3-mile run with my good friend Rox.
At the end of it all was the Marine Corps Division Match. I placed in the top ten percent with a bronze medal, worth 6-points towards the coveted Marine Corps Distinguished Marksman Badge and an invitation to compete in the All Marine Corps Championships. Though I didn’t place in the top ten percent in that Marine Corps Championships, I did earn a place on the All Marine Corps Shooting Team at Quantico, VA. There I got to continue my training.
Note: It took me about 15 LEG matches before I became a Distinguished Marksman in 1981. It took a while longer before I’d earn my Distinguished Pistol Shot Badge in 1985.
2: Who were your mentors? What do you remember most from these experiences and what still rings true?
My Father and Mother were my mentors in life, but if your asking in particular about my shooting career… I would have to say my good friend Rox. He had the biggest impact during my entire competitive shooting career. Rox was the one person I could always depend on to be there whenever I had questions on shooting. Always full of knowledge to share, he’s never one to be short of words or actions. We both lived marksmanship for many years together and I owe him a debt of gratitude. Rox still shares this information today through clinics and by coaching the Remington team.
3: Can you describe some of your most memorable milestones or breakthroughs? Both starting out… and along the journey to competing nationally.
I think milestones are a point in life that is never realized until it happens. I had goals to achieve, matches I wanted to win and team matches I wanted to be a member of. Some were realized and some were not.
I suppose my biggest breakthrough would be winning my first Marine Corps Division Match. It was a big deal to win one of those championships! Awarded for first place was a Remington 720! Over the years I’ve won five 720’s and an M-1 Garand for my efforts. As I think back to those years of my brief shooting career, I can honestly tell you it was some of the most exciting times in my life.
Shooting on the Marine Corps range just did not compare to the enormous ranges at Camp Perry. There is only one word that comes to mind: “WOW!!!” Petrarca, Rodriquez, Young, Viale… all staggered to allow shooting on all of them, simultaneously. The magnitude of the open ranges, with the impact area of Lake Erie – is truly a beautiful site for us marksman. I’ve had many good shoots on those ranges… I’ve also had many that just plain sucked. But that’s Camp Perry. I miss those days.
I’ve added links to the bios and Medal of Honor citations that exist on the dedication plaque inscriptions for each of those ranges below. I feel that those of us who are privileged to shoot on these ranges should know about the person for which they are named:
4: Describe your routine to help you stay on top of your best game? Off-Season, Mid-Season and ramping up to bigger matches?
Uniformity and consistency! Proper equipment, not overloaded with gadgets. Keep it simple! The less you have, the less you have to worry about…
For example: Rifle & Sling / Magazines / Ammo (ONE extra box) / Shooting Coat / Carbide lamp / Rifle Case (Soft) / Scope and scope stand / Pen or Pencil (keep your rifle data on the ammo boxes and transcribe later to your Data Book).
If you think about it, this is all you need. But then they invented shooting stools and carts… In most cases, these become a collection point for a bunch of useless crap like: too much ammo, too many magazines, bulky rain gear, lunch boxes, coolers full of soft drinks, chips & crackers enough for the whole range. You name it, it’s usually in there!
Once you have figured out the proper amount of gear, you can begin to start your training. No one likes to train alone, but if you must – be sure to share the experience of your training time with others. It’s always good to receive feedback from those with more experience. If you train alone and without feedback… you may end up training long and wrong.
Dry firing is very important! It not only shows your ability to stand still, but also helps to develop the muscles required to hold and steady the rifle over short periods of time. Dry fire, Dry fire, Dry fire, Dry fire, Dry fire, Dry fire and then DRY FIRE SOME MORE! It’s like adding garlic to your favorite Italian dish… You can never have too much garlic!
Anytime I could actually get out to put rounds down range was welcomed, especially after my Marine Corps days. Practicing and dry firing while on the teams was a necessity if you wanted to advance to the number one team. Again you want to try to practice with somebody. The more people you have to practice with, the better the conversations you will have during and upon completion of practice. Sit down with the individuals that you shot with and share the experience over lunch or dinner.
As many mental management books as there are in this world, I’m sure there is a book out there for everybody… These are techniques of mental-management to follow, provided you have the motivation to do so. The keyword here is motivation. If you do not have the personal drive or the intestinal fortitude to follow through with your commitments, you will never succeed in achieving your goals. The bottom line is: Identify what it is you want to achieve, in the sport of your choosing – and always add a mental management program! You have to do this in order to be the CHAMPION you want to be!
5: How important is technique, mental program, and equipment in influencing your performance? What is their proportional influence?
In order to move forward in your shooting endeavor, you need to understand the equipment you have. It is pivotal in advancing shooting abilities. Why do I need a shooting coat? Why do I need a shooting glove? What it is the real reason for a scope and all of the other equipment in my arsenal of STUFF? The purpose of the shooting coat is as an aid to support both the shooter and his rifle, while in the various shooting positions. The fit of the shooting coat should be snug, but non-restrictive – leaving room to adapt to the standing, sitting, and prone positions.
“Technique of Fire” has been a topic in coffee shops around ranges for many years. (Now if you believe we are hanging around coffee shops talking shooting, I have some ocean front property in AZ for sale!) But we do sit around and talk shooting techniques… One’s technique of shooting is something that is developed over periods of time. As a new and developing shooter, you start to develop types of holds that you are comfortable with – that you feel will work for you: Where you place the rifle in your shoulder, where you place your hands, how you grab the rifle and manipulate the trigger straight to the rear without disturbing sight alignment, etc. All the various techniques that you try will eventually be narrowed down into a particular technique, for a particular position – during a particular time in your life. Your technique is your own and nobody else’s. You’ll surely find that you will adopt techniques of other shooters, or even try to mimic the champion shooters – but all the while you’re developing your own technique of fire.
Keeping a good & positive attitude has played a very important part in all of the matches that I’ve won… even in those matches I didn’t win. You must treat everyday as a training day to keep things into perspective. LEARN TO SMILE! Anger gets you nowhere fast! Read those mental management books that pertain to sports closely relating to shooting (e.g., golf and tennis).
You could fill a very large room with all the mental training books available in the world. But… when it comes down to the brass tacks – all of them will tell you to learn how to be positive in ALL that you do. Stay away from the negative! Especially those individuals who constantly talk down about their (or your!) performance!
Think about this for a minute: When you are in the act of shooting and your coach tells you to concentrate. What do you concentrate on? (the answer is yours to search for)
6: What was the toughest match you’ve ever competed in where you held it together? What was that like?
In 1994, I had a lot of personal turmoil in my life. Unrest in one’s life really does not help the concentration factor. But… if you’ve paid your dues and trained to as near perfect as possible, you MAY be able to weather the storm in a match. That is what happened to me…
I’d become sober and been working very hard to forget the issues that were plaguing me. We were closing in on the VA state match just prior to the 94 Inter-Service. In the practice team match I shot a 500- 29x. That particular morning was amazing! Starting your day with a 100-8x standing and cleaning both of your rapids, only to finish the day with a 200-15x at the 600! This let me know that I was capable of winning. My number one gun, in my hands – not to be shot again until the weekend of the VA state… followed by the 1994 Inter-Service. Oh Yeah! (Did I mention how extremely nervous I was while shooting the 600? … I was!)
The morning of the Inter-Service, I had a very intense conversation that caused me to completely breakdown. It was not a good morning. Luckily for me, I have good friends that came over and snapped me out of my crap. Bubba told me that I was going to win the Inter-Service! (I DID!). Those 2-days were the easiest matches I’ve ever shot. I wasn’t even thinking about it! Looking back, it was like being on autopilot… By the end of the 2-days, I reigned victorious – WITH a new record to add to the excitement! What made it even that much more enjoyable was my mentor Rox, shooting right next to me – to see it all come together!
7: If you had to choose only ONE answer, what has helped you improve the most towards your goals in high-power?
SOBER! I’d won two major championships and set a record that still stands today. The record score is 995-50x (no sighters using an M-14…) Both times, I did not drink!
8: Why do you continue to stay involved with highpower?
Luck! Pure Luck! The Lord works in mysterious ways and he has shown his favor on me my whole life. I could have exited the Marines in 1977. Instead, I was given the opportunity to shoot a rifle match… That match guided me in another direction. From a recruit that attained the series high-shooter recognition in bootcamp, to a young Marine who placed in the division matches… I’ve been blessed with a good attitude and good friends all along the way.
9: How can two shooters, of roughly the same skill level – best coach and work with each other towards their desired goals?
Positive affirmations. Hard Practice. Dry fire, Dry fire, Dry fire! Communicate with each other. Make sure you don’t bore each other (shooters can talk each other into nausea!). Pace yourselves and find something positive about every shot.
10: What would you like to talk about that wasn’t covered in the previous questions?
It’s people that bring out the best in other people. Thanks for asking me to do this!