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What Is A Shooter?

Recently, I’ve started to see folks refer to themselves and others as “Shooters.” 

Although I kept my head down and feet and knees pumping during SHOT Show, every once in awhile I got to hear a few snippets from the herds of 5.11 clad bystanders that seem to gather in certain booths.  Every once in awhile I’d hear someone say “shooter” as I looked around in confusion.  Apparently, you’ve got to be a shooter to know what a shooter is and I am definitely outside the circle on this one.  I understand it’s even been used as an attempt to disparage me personally, as I’m not a “shooter” so therefore I have no idea what I’ve been talking about for the past seven years. Obviously, 21 years of military service and nine years in industry aren’t enough qualification to know right from wrong.  Perhaps that’s the issue.  It was military service and not shooter time.  But I digress.  

What exactly is this shooter phenomenon?

When I hear shooter, two things come to mind.  First, I see someone on the firing line at a range.  Second, it conjures up negative thoughts about active shooters, mercilessly preying on the innocent.  

So what exactly does this new terminology mean?  Is it the civilian equivalent of Operator?  Is it another example of the “everyone gets a trophy and cool title” culture?  Or, is it some obscure reference to a character in an Adam Sandler movie?


101 Responses to “What Is A Shooter?”

  1. Whacker-15 says:

    If you were a “Shooter” I`d tell ya!

  2. jellydonut says:

    I have not heard the term used in this fashion.

    It is used in Europe, where it literally means ‘sport shooter’, that is to say, anyone between the age of 12 and 200 that shoots paper/clay/what have you as a hobby. Hardly a mark of elitism.

  3. JSH says:

    Love it! The fact that the term is used by a “herd of 5.11 clad bystanders” should say something. Either that or you just are not tacticool.

    Keep the faith!

  4. Reeky says:

    i’ve seen milsim kids say things like “my uncle is a shooter with triple canopy” before

  5. Bad Dancer says:

    When I was wearing a badge it was either a bad guy or a marksman good guy.

    When I was behind a counter it seemed to refer to a particular breed of skilled ( sometimes in their own mind) shootists that equated their experience to one thing or another. Normally came into play when someone debated a recommendation or wanted to jawjack about the latest piece of kit in the magazines or ‘net and took umbridge with my two cents on the matter.

  6. tcba_joe says:

    My guess is it’s a self-congratulatory term used by guys who “aren’t like those hunters or collectors”.

  7. Disco says:

    I’m a wildman by day and lover by night

    • straps says:

      Putting this on a scroll and working it into my next tat.

      Above/below a Spartan Warrior wearing a plate carrier under a white dinner jacket with the sleeves bushed up to the elbows, carrying a broad sword AND a nickel-plated AR (yup, those exist now).

  8. patrulje68 says:

    In my mind the term either means “active shooter” or someone who shoots at a higher skill level/frequency than mine (Military SOF/SWAT/HRT/11B in a cbt zone or a civilian that makes their living pulling a trigger). I guess the two ends of the spectrum; leaving the vast majority of us who like to shoot somewhere in the middle. All that being said, I am wearing 5.11 pants right now and I do not even feel like a “shooter”.

  9. Mike says:

    When I use to cover MMA events as a photographer my nickname was Mike “The Shooter’s Shooter” M…

    But that was given to me by some guys from Brazil because I was taking photos of fighters shooting in for takedowns etc….

    Who knew I was so cool with 5.11 clad guys even back then…Wow 😉

  10. Francis says:

    Here’s a shooter…or “a weapons man”:

  11. Joe says:

    Typically its meant to mean anyone with a combat MOS.

    IE “yeah he was in Iraq but he wasn’t a shooter.”

  12. spraynpray says:

    It’s basically a market segmentation term in my arena. Shooter vs hunter vs LE vs Mil.

    As someone on the commercial side of the shooting sports industry (vs the LE/Govt side) I have personally used the term (along with many others) simply to clarify to many that my firearms passion is not centered around deer and turkey season.

    While yes, I do shoot competitively, you don’t have to be a competitive shooter to be a ‘shooter’.

    Can a shooter also be a hunter? Yes. I know far more hunters that are not shooters though, they fire a handful of rounds a year, and its always in pursuit of game.

    At SHOT, its typically thrown around by people trying to get free stuff for T&E or sponsorship of some kind.

  13. Charles says:

    The only time I use the term shooter is in regards to photography. LOL “I need a second shooter for this event”. Sure it wasn’t combat camera Joe’s? HA!

  14. Philip says:

    In the context SSD has described, it sounds like some term coined by neckbeards decked out in Tru-Spec and 5.11 to make themselves sound cooler to themselves when they flap their Twinkie traps at gun shows.

    • Jed says:

      This is exactly how I see it. I tactical shoot guns sooooo….. Im a oper…. no….. Im a Shooter.

      • Jed says:

        Damn, should read tactically shoot.

        • straps says:

          Trade shows have “attendees” on expense account to do business and gauge the market.

          And “pretendees” who devise goofy titles for their badge, which leads to the sketchy business card, which leads to the vague back story. Back stories lead to goofy parlance. Like “shooter.” This is ESPECIALLY true at (supposedly) trade (only) shows that struggle with dabblers and charlatans. Not that SHOT has this issue.

          When I self-sponsor to attend conferences and trade shows, I put “My CPA swears I can deduct this” or “I told my wife this is deductible” as my title.

  15. T. J. says:

    I think it is just a title. Better than “Gun Nut”. I prefer “firearm aficionado” but that doesn’t seem to catch on. It is just a term. What would you call people that enjoy shooting, firearms, and firearm related things? It needed a name. Shooter is as good as any.

    • AGL Bob says:

      Logical. One who climbs is a climber, a writer writes, a runner runs and a shooter……shoots.

  16. BillC says:

    Probably used to refer to sports shooters, then it turned into the marketing, feel-good, buzzword it is today. Macho-sounding and ambiguous.

  17. Creeky says:

    I have only heard it referred to someone who enjoys shooting and shoots, to some degree, regularly. My grandfather would say “Now he’s a shooter.” of anyone that shot well, didn’t brag, or while we were hunting could make a great shot quickly, or at a longer range than he would have tried. Every part of the country, I suspect, will have a different definition, or use of the term. Not sure it is really a big deal.

  18. Dellis says:

    “I eat, therefore I am an eater”

    “I bike, therefore I am an biker”

    The given term is an identifier. In the case of “shooter” the term is very broad. A person who shoots a bow can be deemed a “shooter”. A person who shoots pool can be deemed a “shooter”.

    “I shoot pool”

    The issue with firearm “shooters” is many want to be considered an elite class of shooters. Like the term “gunfighter”. How can I be a “gunfighter” when I have never been in a gun fight?

    Now one can train in the art of gunfight. As one can be trained in the art of (insert whatever).

    It’s like someone saying, “Ya I know jujitsu!”

    No you don’t. You study or practice jujitsu but you do not “know” it. A doctor has a medical “practice”. He or she does not have a full knowledge of medicine.

    A lawyer has a practice of “law”. They continue to study and learn.

    So one claiming they are a “shooter” in my book wants to be considered an elite individual over just a normal guy who shoots at the range or takes a course now and then. They too take a course but obviously the course they take is of a higher degree. The type who seeks to learn “advanced secrets of gunfighting” when in reality all shooting revolves around fundamentals.

    But then again what do I know? I just bloviate.

    I bloviate, therefore I am a bloviator

  19. Chausser1814 says:

    It’s a way to disparage people in the military that are in support roles. Very common in some Tier 1 units to belittle support folks (both military and civilian) by claiming a superior status as a “shooter” or “operator”. Today, most special operations folks, after their service in Iraq and Afghanistan probably can and should claim rightfully and proudly the title “shooter”.

    I personally found it a little offensive in the years before the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan when many Special Operation unit members, the overwhelming majority of whom had never been involved in a fire fight, were calling themselves “shooters.” This was especially true when they were teaching combat techniques and craft to soldiers from third world militaries who have been living and fighting in war zones since their youth. I once had a young SEAL “shooter” who never was in combat verbally assail a maintenance support team because they weren’t “shooters” even though three of the gentlemen spent four tours in Vietnam between them; two as draftee Infantryman, and one as a brown water sailor Engineman earning a Purple Heart and the Silver Star.

    • FormerActionGuy says:

      When I was in group there were SOF support guys who pulled triggers as well. When your forward deployed in “Indian Country” taking rounds everyday, there is no desk jockeying going on…Just sayin.

  20. James in AZ says:

    What? Am i missing out on something? Why is this shooter thing even a thing? A shooter means a guy shooting a gun, with no indication on the level of skill or attitude or anything like that.
    “The shooter is a lefty”
    “The shooter prefers slingshot to youtube overhand rack”
    “The shooter prefers fine motorskill reload”
    “The shooter shot his own crotch”

  21. Ed says:

    Love the ‘Happy Gilmore’ reference…..Shooter! Ha-ha

    • Doug says:

      You eat pieces of sh*t for breakfast? 🙂 I’d forgotten about that movie.

      As for the term, I’m in the “I shoot, so I am a shooter” camp. I’ve heard it used to refer to trigger-pullers vs. pogs, too, and I suppose mall ninjas may have co-opted it as well, but unless someone’s bragging about vague exploits I figure “shooter” is just “one who shoots”.

  22. historia says:

    I had a commander that said things like “lets up our posture get some more shooters on that roof”. However, given your data, and comments in response. I think it may be a new breed of mall ninja, but I could be wrong.

  23. Brett says:

    I thought a shooter was a itty-bitty mixed drink.

    • Jack says:

      Only time I ever heard it said was in the Army. Of course mine is Tier 1 since its serrving(chilled) in the elite JELLO unit.

  24. No Idea I’m just a Dentist…….

  25. MRC says:

    I prefer the term “Tactical Sewer”!

  26. BAP45 says:

    Does seem a bit grey in the usage of the word. Considering the source I would guess it’s the new “operator”

    side note, I’ve had “5.11’s” since before the were 5.11s, back then they were call Royal Robbins or something. Still have them but I never break them out because of all the dinguses who make make these “shooter/operator” comments. Don’t want to get lumped in with them.

    • Bill says:

      I cried when my last pair pf Royal Robbins croaked. Mainly because it meant I’d have to go back to the FBI Academy if I wanted more.

      I still cling to the legend that the strap on the back pocket was to keep your longneck from falling out. Royal was a Yosemite wildman.

      • BAP45 says:

        Nice, I would not be surprised if it was. I was always told it was for the climbing/ice axe.

  27. SMW says:

    “S/He’s a shooter” –I’ve only used this to refer to civilian or military/LE people who actively participate in the shooting sports outside of their Job.

    an LEO who spends time on the range on their own dime is a “shooter”. The guys and gals on the military rifle teams competing at the CMP matches are “shooters”. Joe Schmoe shooting a CMP match/vintage sniper match/etc. is a shooter.

    Really doesn’t matter how good you are, it’s a term I’ve only really heard applied to people who –mostly on their own dime and time, and regardless of their career–practice the art and science of shooting. Usually when used as a compliment it’s because this person has a slightly more technical knowledgebase than your average gun owner, hunter, cop, or soldier.

    Anyone can tell you to go buy a top-dollar M4gery and hang a bunch of lights from it; your average guy on the range blasting with 5.56 at 25 yards won’t know the intricacies in say, building, maintaining, and reloading for a National Match AR and what the competitions involve.

  28. I see it the same as “sheepdog” or “3per”. All it says is “I’m not confident in my abilities or masculinity to dare contribute myself as an individual.”

    • Bill says:

      I absofuckinglutely hate the terms “sheepdog” and “sheeple” and woe unto the rookie who uses them in my presence. They are the most self-aggrandizing and patronizing phrases cops could possibly use.

  29. Pooper says:

    People seem to think I poop often and enjoy the act. The frequency of my pooping is what I would consider normal, but my girlfriend calls me “pooper” or “poopasaurus”.

    So, I guess if anyone asks, one could be a “shootasaurus” through some sort of transitive property.

    Wait, no, I hate pooping, and I claim no skill or mastery to my pooping ability.

    Anyway, I think what the neckbeards are really trying to say is that they’re “Shoot-ist(s)”, like a racist, facist, or fanatical extremist.

    But in all reality, with the situation you’ve described, “shooter” is most likely synonymous with “tool”.

  30. Agent K says:

    Enough of this. Anyone wanna meet me at Sizzler??

  31. Scott says:

    I’ve used the term a few times before in conversation, but all I mean by it is “I enjoy shooting”.

  32. Strike-Hold says:

    The real question is – is it spelled with an upper or lower case ‘s’ – ‘Shooter’ or ‘shooter’?

  33. Mr. Janky says:

    Hopefully this clears it up for you, Eric.

    All operators are shooters but not all shooters are operators. Shooters can of course be operational but technically not operators and still call themselves shooters.

    SOF operators are definitely all shooters and SWAT operators are shooters too, but they aren’t truly operational operators, more like operational shooters. Purely semantics.

    SWAT operators are shooters after they’re on a SWAT team whether it be full time or part time team. Cop operators are shooters too but only if on a part time SWAT team.

    SEAL operators are one in the same as SEAL shooters. When writing books or screenplays, SEAL operators can refer to themselves as shooter operators but only if it helps garner more attention to oneself when meeting with Hollywood operators/shooters.

    In the case of a retired SEAL operator now SWAT shooter, it’s user preference. (See above if writing book/screenplay/movie)

    In the case of a former SWAT operator who’s quit the force and now operational, one can categorize this person as double shooter or double operator. Either or. Technically speaking, they could be shooter operators or operator shooters too!

    Ranger shooters are different than Ranger operators. Period!

    Special Forces operators are truly unique. Some are shooters and some aren’t. It depends whether or not the Alpha is a former shooter or former operator (whether it be Ranger operator/shooter or infantry operator/shooter).

    STS operator shooters are just that. When they are attached to the SEALs, the book/movie/screenplay rule applies though.

    Reserve Deputy operators are always categorized as shooters but only if on a part time SWAT team. If above the age of 65, then the shooter moniker is dropped in lieu of former operator/operational shooter.

    Fish and Wildlife operators aren’t shooters but operational game wardens are. Confusing, yes but that’s how they roll.

    Air Marshal operators are indeed shooters too (whether they are on-board the plane or not).

    Ranger Instructor operators are only shooters while they serve in the Ranger Training Battalion. The same rule applies to MFF instructor operators and SCUBA instructor operators.

    Cook operators, mechanic operators, PAC clerk operators, and motor pool operators are NOT, I repeat NOT shooters.

  34. SGT Rock says:

    It sounds like the MilSim, Airsoft, Mall Ninja types are appropriating a common word and trying to attach some higher meaning to it and themselves, especially at a large convention like Shot Show.

    As some of the previous posters stated earlier, you can be a shooter of skeet, pool, fish in a barrel, jizz, etc. In my book, the singular term shooter is a bad guy, tango, Hadji, squirter, etc.

    I usually use the term trigger puller, assaulter, breacher, or door kicker in my realm of work/operations.

  35. straps says:

    Trade shows have “attendees” on expense account to do business and gauge the market.

    And “pretendees” who devise goofy titles for their badge, which leads to the business card, which leads to the back story. Then comes the parlance. Like “shooter.” This is ESPECIALLY true at (supposedly) trade (only) shows that struggle with dabblers and charlatans. Not that SHOT has this issue.

    When I self-sponsor to attend conferences and trade shows, I put “My CPA swears I can deduct this” or “I told my wife this is deductible” as my title.

  36. bulldog76 says:

    i think its slang for first person shooter video games

  37. Mick says:

    Wait, why are we discussing this? We haven’t concluded definitively what POG stands for, or its proper spelling (pogue?)…

  38. Mike L. says:

    I’ve seen this term used by writers when covering SOF. Particularly Michael Smith and Sean Naylor when discussing the a certain unit. Naylor uses the term to differentiate between agency case officers and their security element. Perhaps their secret mil sources are responsible. example below

    “The teams combined CIA case officers and “shooters” from a secretive special operations unit sometimes called Task Force Orange, said an intelligence source with long experience in the Horn of Africa. “There were always at least two CIA case officers, and there were always at least two shooters,” the source said. “Everybody was armed.”

    Michael Smith uses the term a lot…

  39. bloke_from_ohio says:

    Some contractors give out patches to pilots who fire their weapons during testing that have the word shooter embroidered on them. I have never heard a pilot called a shooter on account of receiving said patch though. That is saying something when you consider the silliness that is military aviation culture.

    I know what a cop, an Infantryman, a 3 gunner, a hunter, or a target shooter does. I know right off the bat what kind of experiences they probably have. I don’t know what a shooter does or what they know. Without qualifiers about what they shoot, how they shoot, and why they shoot the term is a worthless identifier. There is likely a lot of poser posturing made possible by this new term.

  40. phil says:

    I had someone yesterday ask me if i was an ‘active shooter’, which was pretty cringe worthy, and I corrected him with ‘shooting enthusiast’ and ‘i study gunjitsu’, which to me just means i’m a civilian who approaches training with firearms by training a few hours a week with an instructor in a class, and then a couple of days a month shooting on my own, or in another class.

    but ‘shooting enthusiast’ is a mouthful, and i can see how that would shorten to ‘shooter’ pretty quick as you try to explain your hobby to someone who thinks firearms are Satan in the steely flesh.

  41. Ray says:

    I’ve seen and heard this term used by a lot of people lately to refer to those who dedicate large amounts of time and effort to firearms training/competition. It’s seems to be used most frequently by those who compete in organized events and tend to be in the younger ages. Ex: shooter to the line.

    I think what it means has a lot to do with who said it and what context it’s used in. Just my two cents worth.

  42. AbnMedOps says:

    Seldom have I seen so many uninformed and incorrect opinions expressed in this hallowed comments section. Permit me to expound:

    “Shooter” is, and has been, for decades if not not centuries, been the accepted and common parlance term for “one who shoots”. I have bookcases full of volumes going back 100 years, commonly using the term “shooter”, in sporting, military, and technical contexts. Historically it has absolutely nothing to do with “tier one units” or front-line vs. rear detachment, or being “high-speed”, or with criminal activity.

    HOWEVER, those of us who were PAYING ATTENTION, back around 1986 or 88, became aware that there was a DELIBERATE LEFTWING MEDIA CONSPIRACY (yes, no shit, deliberately planned and executed) to CO-OPT the term “Shooter” and ensure that news reports began to term gun-wielding criminals as “shooters”, and likewise to deliberately insert the term “Shooter” into television and movie cops shows, to denote the “bad guys”. Countless TV tough-guy cops were scripted to say things like “dirt-bag shooter”, etc. I believe that this media anti-gun psyop program is actually the point of origin for real life cops and press conference spokes-mouths use of the term “shooter” when referring to violent criminals – I recall few if any uses prior to about 1990.

    Sorry I don’t have all my references at hand, but this was all discussed in some detail in columns in, IIRC, “Guns & Ammo”, “American Rifleman”, and “Wall Street Journal” in the late 80’s-early 90’s. There was actually a secret media “summit” to coordinate this propaganda action. Again, IIRC, it was run by “New York Times” and “Time” magazine, with representation by the big three TV networks and the motion picture business.

    NOTE: A similar propaganda effort was conduct during the same time frame to REVERSE the traditional election news graphics which almost always depicted the Republicans as BLUE (“friendly forces”), and the Democrats as RED (traditional depiction of COMMIES/Leftists/”Enemy forces”) – this is no shit, look it up, WSJ did an article on this during the 1988 election. Remember this whenever you hear “red state/blue state” on the mainstream leftist media today!

    All you Psyopers should under stand the long-term power of these type things – words define concepts and how people think and behave.

    • Lawrence says:

      And that’s the end of the debate right there. 🙂

    • P.J. says:

      This. Other than media using it in a negative context I’ve only ever heard “shooter” used to describe someone who likes to shoot and does so at least somewhat frequently.
      This does remind me of what Gene Cunningham said in Triggernometry about “gunfighter” vs “gunman.” Gunman was originally the term for someone who was skilled with or fought with a gun, much like “swordsman.” After it was used heavily to describe gangsters involved in shootings in the 1920’s the term “gunfighter” was used to avoid the negative connotation with gunman. That’s why you hear gunfighter in westerns.

      • Dellis says:

        “Seldom have I seen so many uninformed and incorrect opinions expressed in this hallowed comments section. Permit me to expound:”

        Haha, I see what you did there…”opinions” being incorrect and uninformed. Good one!

  43. David Reeder says:

    I haven’t heard it in the specific connotation you mentioned, Eric. I have heard it used commonly (and have used it myself, frequently) in 2 contexts: 1) when I was a LEO. That’s obvious, “Have we identified the shooter?” 2) Pretty much as AbnMedOps mentioned above; anyone who shoots. A shooter as I have used it is not a pejorative. It’s anyone who shoots, whether recreationally, competitively, whatever, from my 7 year old nephew to, wel, me. It isn’t any more of a negative (YET) than “driver”, i.e. “one who drives.” I really hope neckbeards and windowlickers don’t appropriate the term however. It would be a pain in the ass on the line or in articles to go from “shooter” to “the person wielding the weapon and shooting it.” Or, for that matter, “Shooters! At the turn of the targets you will engage with a 5 round string of fire…” to “People who are using guns and are about to shoot them! At the turn of the target you will engage with a 5 round string of fire.” If some asshole tries to make this synonymous with doorkicker, pipe-hitter or trigger-puller I’m punching someone in the mouth. That’s right. I’m gonna become a Puncher. And I’m capitalizing the P.

  44. Jon says:

    On the range right? … and watch your lane.

  45. Joe says:

    In the Marine Corps, specifically Security Forces and the CQB community a “Shooter” is a trained and qualified individual in Close Quarters Battle. The term is used to differentiate between Designated Marksman, and Breachers.

  46. Tom says:

    A “Shooter” is Mark Wahlberg of course! Which would make all “shooters” actors…

  47. Callmespot says:

    I’m a shooter every time I’m at the Craps table….maybe you overheard a bunch of crap shooter?? I’m you were in Las Vegas!!

  48. SSD says:

    I see the article didn’t resonate with the Facebook crowd.

  49. Dan says:

    I’m surprised that this term is term is uncommon for many of you. In my workplace, a coalition one, a shooter is anyone who’s primary military trade is shooting. As part of multi-corps task groups or units, the term shooter is used to identify the dudes, who are combat arms corps. Similar in reference to mechanic, medic, cook, sig etc.

    It’s not intended to be offensive of demeaning, just a collective term. Much in the same vein as ‘operator’ but doesn’t sound as wanky.

    I’ve heard this term used by multiple nationalities including US guys, so I find it very strange that there is little knowledge of its use. It’s not military specific, so a tactical unit police officer could be referenced as a shooter.

    It’s just a collective term for a dude who’s primary trade is combat, as opposed to a supporting trade referenced by other collective names.

  50. Maskirovka says:

    It’s a kitchen gadget that chops up cucumbers and spits them out into the salad.