Shooting a pistol and hitting your target is harder than it looks! To be successful, you must be mindful of the six shooting fundamentals. Messing up just one of these can throw you off target. And messing up more than one can make it nearly impossible for you to find success on the range. To be absolutely certain you will have the accuracy needed to take down a potential attacker, you must put into practice all of these shooting fundamentals. While I plan to write on each of these separately and extensively in the future, let’s just take a brief look at them today:
- Sight Alignment/Sight Picture
- Trigger Control
- Follow Through
Shooting Fundamentals 1: Stance
While not everyone will have the same stance, the two most important things to remember are to keep your weight forward and keep your eyes level with the gun. The best way to describe a good stance would be to compare it to an athletic stance. Feet shoulder length apart, shoulders in front of hips, ears in front of shoulders, and weight forward on the balls of your feet. Your shoulders should be square to the target, and the gun should be in front of your eyes. Extend your arms out and lock your elbows and wrists. Drop your head between your extended arms a little bit to achieve this. Good stance helps control recoil, and helps you move and react quickly to changes in the environment. Poor stance can cause you to lose balance both before and after firing. Not only will this affect accuracy, but also potentially create an unsafe situation for others around you.
Shooting Fundamentals 2: Grip
Grip is critical to both accuracy and speed. Fortunately, if you have a good stance your grip will already be aided by locked wrists and/or arms from the stance. The first thing you should do is to wrap your strong hand as high as it can go around the back strap of the pistol, keeping your trigger finger up on the frame and away from the trigger. The web “V” of skin between your thumb and index finger should be resting right under the barrel at the top of the grip. The rest of your fingers should be wrapped around the grip, about as tight as a firm handshake. Then “nest” your weak hand up under your strong hand, with both thumbs pointing forward towards the target. Wrap your weak hand fingers completely around your strong hand fingers. In my case, the bottom knuckle of my left hand is resting under the top knuckle of my right hand. There should be little to no grip showing, and both thumbs should be resting semi parallel on the left hand side of the barrel.
Grip and stance are the main shooting fundamentals that control recoil. When proper stance and grip are achieved, push forward with your strong hand and pull back with your weak hand simultaneously while firing. Doing this allows your arms and wrists to take the recoil with minimal impact, and not the gun itself. When the gun takes the recoil, it could malfunction and not cycle the next round properly. Poor stance and grip together are a recipe for missed targets. You do not need the added headache of a misfire.
Shooting Fundamentals 3: Sight Alignment/Sight Picture
Before you can conquer sights, you must first determine your dominant eye. Extend your arms out straight in front of your body and form a triangle with your hands. With both eyes open, find an object on the wall to focus on. Then close each eye one at the time. The open eye that you can still see the object with is your dominant eye. For most people, the dominant eye is the same as the dominant hand. But if yours is not, don’t worry! This just means you are cross eye dominant and you have to tilt your head a little bit toward your dominant hand before you sight your target.
Once you know your dominant eye, it is time to find the correct sight alignment. The front sight of your pistol should be vertically centered, horizontally level, and have equal amount of white space on either side of the rear sight posts. Study the images for a clearer understanding of how to achieve this. Once the front sight is perfectly aligned with the rear sight, find your target. Place your perfect sight alignment on the target with the front sight dot being on its center. This is called the sight picture.
Now an amazing revelation. This next step truly brought my accuracy to near perfection. Why I never learned this early in my shooting career I’ll never know. But hopefully it will save you a lot of disappointment. Did you know that it is not possible for the human eye to focus on more than one thing at a time? Most new shooters, as well as many seasoned ones, try to look at the front sight, the rear sight, and the target all at the same time. It sure seems like the right thing to do. Don’t do that! Just focus on the front sight only! Both the rear sight and the target should be blurry! You will find that the best accuracy will come from front sight focus!
Shooting Fundamentals 4: Trigger Control
Trigger control is something I still struggle with, especially when I get a new gun. The proper way to overcome this is to use the just the tip of your trigger finger, and with just one smooth motion press, don’t pull the trigger. Only move the trigger finger and nothing else. Your goal is to not move the aligned sights. You should always be surprised when the gun fires. New shooters often “anticipate” the shot and flinch. This has a very negative effect on accuracy, because it disturbs the sight alignment and picture just before the shot is fired. The reason for this is that the shooter inadvertently shifts focus to the target instead of the front sight. And when rapid firing, new shooters tend to jerk the trigger because the brain simply cannot keep up.
It is important to know that trigger control varies from gun to gun. Each gun has a different “trigger wall,” and it is your job to find a way around it. In my opinion, this is the hardest shooting fundamental to conquer.
Shooting Fundamentals 5: Breathing
Don’t hold your breath when you fire a shot. It’s as simple as that. Believe it or not, breathing plays a vital role in shooting accuracy. Proper breath control actually minimizes gun movement. You should take a deep breath, exhale completely, fire your shot, then start the process again. Your shot should be fired during the respiratory pause, which is the approximate 8 seconds between breaths. Firing while breathing or while holding breath hurts accuracy because it increases movement of your aligned sights. While we can somewhat control this, it is obvious that breathing is a natural process. Find the balance.
Shooting Fundamentals 6: Follow Through
What exactly is follow through? It is the process by which you revert to step one and begin again. There will hardly be a time when you will only fire one shot. In both practice and real life self defense situations, multiple shots will be the norm. You must be able to stop, focus, and fire again. Proper follow through enables successive shots to be both quick and accurate. This takes a lot of practice because your first instinct after firing is to look at the target and see where you hit it. Try not to do that. Fire a group of shots and then study the group of hits. Most likely they will be together in the same vicinity even if they are not where you were aiming. It is easy to determine what you are doing wrong with these groups. When I see a target with shots all over the paper I know the shooter stopped after each shot to see where she hit and tried to correct herself. This helps no one, especially you.
Success Will Follow
The six shooting fundamentals may seem overwhelming to tackle all at once and I agree. Just take on one at a time. You can actually practice and master all of them right in your living room without ever even firing a shot! Just be sure that you are practicing with an unloaded pistol. Then, when you make it out to the range, have someone video you while you shoot. It may not be pretty to watch but it will give you lots of insight on what you need to work on. As always, feel free to contact me if you have any questions, or need private advice. Happy successful shooting!