When Pfc. Austin Ferrell transitioned from a recruit to a Marine his senior drill instructor gave him one simple piece of advice.
“Stay humble,” Staff Sgt. Joshua Gerde told Ferrell as he handed him his Eagle, Globe and Anchor ― the sign that he was finally a Marine after three months of grueling recruit training.
Remaining humble after Marine Corps boot camp is a challenge for any new Marine.
But for Ferrell, who was declared the “deadliest recruit on Parris Island” when he beat the rifle range record, the challenge might be even greater.
The new Marine scored 248 out of a possible 250 on Table 1 of the Marine Corps Rifle Qualification and followed it by a perfect 100 on Table 2, earning him the recruit record at Parris Island, South Carolina, under the modern scoring system.
Table 2, which consists of close range fire at multiple targets and moving targets, was added to Marine Corps rifle qualifications in 2005.
Prior to that change only Table 1, which consists of shooting from the prone, kneeling, standing and sitting position from 200 yards, 300 yards and 500 yards, counted toward the score for Marine recruits.
An estimated 600 Marine volunteers will shoot the new course as experts build a new way to qualify.
Ferrell garnered the attention of his drill instructors early during his time at boot camp, being appointed guide during his second week of training and holding onto that position through graduation, he told Marine Corps Times.
But it was on the range where he knew his skills would shine, Ferrell told Marine Corps Times in a phone interview on Tuesday.
“I have been shooting since I was five or six,” Ferrell said.
It started “as just a .22 with my father, but it has drastically changed since then,” Ferrell added.
Ferrell said he had heard plenty of recruits bragging about how good of a shot they were before his platoon’s time on the range, but he opted to remain quiet.
But when he saw that the rifle range displayed the name of the record-holding recruit for platoons to see as they marched by, he had to speak up.
“I was joking with my PMI (Primary Marksmanship Instructor) the day before pr-qual that if I broke the record, how long it would take to get my name on the board,” Ferrell said.
The instructor just smirked, thinking Ferrell was just another over-confident kid.
Ferrell said his first day of shooting was pretty mediocre. Instead of hitting black with each shot he spent his time getting to know the rifle, focusing on getting tight groupings before adjusting his rifle combat optic.
During his second practice run through Table 1, Ferrell said his score jumped roughly 40 points, but he still wasn’t satisfied with how high it was.
When it came time for his score to actually count, Ferrell knew he could beat the range high score.
“I was pretty confident that I was going to shoot very well, I wasn’t worried about it honestly,” Ferrell said.
The Marine breezed through the 200 yard line ― which requires Marines to shoot in the least stable standing position ― with a perfect score, raising some eyes from the coaches and marksmanship instructors on the firing line.
“I had the range NCO and a lot of the coaches coming up to me and ripping the score card out of the hands of the recruit keeping score,” Ferrell said.
“I was told by the recruits in the pits that were doing my target that all of the drill instructors were over there talking to make sure I wasn’t cheating … because they couldn’t believe it either,” Ferrell added.
Moving to the 300 yard line Ferrell was confident in his abilities, he said, and 100 percent sure he would break the range record.
It was at this yard line in the sitting position where the Marine dropped his only two points, something that still haunts him.
“I’m honestly not sure what happened there, I thought they were good shots but something was off,” Ferrell said. “The first couple of days after I did break the record I was more disappointed in myself than excited … there is no excuse for missing those two points.”
Later when he got back to the squad bay after his day on the range, Ferrell said his drill instructors made him pay for those two missed shots with a bit of time on the quarterdeck.
It was at the 500 yard line Ferrell said he started to feel the pressure.
Knowing that he already lost two points, he pretty much had to be perfect from the 500 yard line to meet his goal. But once he got into the prone position and actually started to fire, he knew the record was his, calling his final shot before the recruits in the pit raised the target.
“One of the coaches asked me on the last shot if it was a five,” he said.
“I said ‘yes, sir,’ before it came back up.”
When it came time for the close range Table 2 portion of the range Ferrell did not think for a second he’d drop a point because of all the shooting he had done at home.
“I had shot far more rounds in Table 2 scenarios than Table 1,” Ferrell said. “I actually have one AR that I put a new barrel on that I shot 6,000 or 7,000 rounds on it shooting just like Table 2.”
Though Ferrell has not yet heard anyone disparage his accomplishment for shooting with a rifle combat optic and not iron sights, he already is prepared with comebacks in case it happens.
“There is no point in shooting iron sights on the range if you’re never going to use iron sights in the field when there is far superior technology to take a better shot,” he said.
“You should practice with something you actually use, that way more Marines can make it home,” he added.
Ferrell is expected to graduate from boot camp September 4 with Kilo Company, 3rd Recruit Training Battalion.
Though his career is just starting, Ferrell has big plans for his time in the Marine Corps.
He signed an intelligence contract and eventually wants to join Marine Special Operations Command and put his shooting skills to work as a Marine Corps sniper.
He also plans on taking full advantage of the tuition assistance programs in the Marine Corps and eventually earn a degree in a field he can be as successful in as shooting.