Shooting is an interesting skill. My experience shows that it closely follows the Pareto rule. It can take a couple of hours at the range to improve it 80%, and it will take a life-time to get the other 20%. In this post I will describe the basic techniques that will help newbie shooters to significantly improve their accuracy in one or two sessions at the range. Any further improvement will require extensive practice and constant learning.
There are multiple ways of doing anything. People are different; everybody has different body structure, muscle strength, and other physical and psychological variations. Today I am going to concentrate on the simplest handgun techniques that work for most people. I will go into more advanced versions and different firearm types in later posts.
There are five major components of an accurate shot: the stance, or how the body is positioned; the grip, or how the gun is held, the sight alignment, the correct trigger pull, and the follow through.
A proper stance provides the following:
- Good stability and ability to handle recoil
- Natural position allowing as many muscles to be relaxed as possible and reducing shaking and tension while shooting
- Easy transformation to moving or shooting in different directions
There are number of different stances. One of the simplest stances to master for a newbie is the Isosceles stance. The name comes from the shape created by the arms and the body of a shooter when looking from above.
Here is how you do it:
- Set your feet apart at about shoulder width or slightly wider.
- Move the strong feet slightly back.
- Point your toes straight.
- Slightly bend your knees.
- Lean the entire body toward the target.
- Roll your shoulders forward and relax.
- Grab the gun (see next step for the proper grip) and extend both arms in front of you.
- Slightly bend your elbows to the side (not down). The arms should not be tense in elbows and shoulder more than it is needed to keep the gun up.
- Relax your wrists. Let them amortize the recoil. When shooting, the gun should move up and down hinged at your wrists. The elbows and the shoulders do not move.
Try it couple of times in front of a mirror until you see a picture similar to the one on the photo.
There are a couple of typical mistakes I’ve seen multiple times at the range:
A proper grip fulfills the following goals:
- Provides natural position for aiming
- Prevents the gun from flying out of you hand
- Allows it to move and amortize the recoil
- Provides good support for muscles so they do not get tired fast
- Provides an easy access to all gun controls
Here how you do the two hand basic grip:
- Place the gun in the web of your hand as high as possible.
- Move your index finger above the trigger guard.
- Move your thumb forward and slightly upward.
- Squeeze the rest of the fingers around the grip. You should use the strength similar to what you need to use a hammer.
- Put the middle of the weak hand index finder under the trigger guard
- Form a fist with your weak hand, squeezing around your strong hand. Use slightly more strength with your weak hand than you use with your strong hand.
- Make sure that the base of the thumb of your weak hand touches as much metal of the gun as possible.
Try it several times until you get it right. Always follow the four basic rules of safety when you practice!
The typical mistakes I usually observe are:
The sights are coming in different shapes and sizes, but the underlying principle is the same. You need to align three objects: the front sight, the back sight, and the spot on the target you want to shoot at on a single straight line both vertically and horizontally.
In most cases the eyes should be focused on the front sight, as demonstrated on the picture. The target and the back sights should be out of focus. In rare cases when you shoot at very short distances (e.g. under 6 feet), you should focus on the target instead, switching to more intuitive “point and shoot” mode. But for the majority of the cases you should look and concentrate at the front sight.
Frequently I’ve been asked whether it is better to close the second eye or leave it open. Usually for competitive shooting it is recommended to shoot with both eyes open, as it allows you to shoot more accurate and acquire targets faster, but for the self-defense situations it is better to have the second eye shut. The reason is that when moving or under the stress, the human brain is capable of changing what eye is dominant at the moment. This inconsistency can cause you to miss when it is the most important. So, unless you plan to compete, shut your weak side eye.
Another tip for a novice shooter: when shooting at the range make sure you turn on the light above your head. It will illuminate the gun, help you to find the front sight faster and focus on it easier.
Incorrect trigger pull is the biggest source of inaccurate shots. Even experienced shooters tend to “anticipate” the shot and compensate the movement, jerking the gun too early and, as a result, missing the target.
Here are the proper steps to pull the trigger:
- Place the point between the first and the second phalanx of your index finger on the trigger
- Pull it back until you have picked up the slack.
- Squeeze the trigger, steadily increasing the pressure. No jerking movements.
- Make sure you squeeze directly backward, without applying any pressure to the sides.
- The shot should happen suddenly, surprising you. That will prevent you from jerking the gun in anticipating movement.
The main goal of the Follow through is to prepare for the next shot as fast as possible with minimal effort and re-aligning.
As soon as the shot is produced, while the gun is still moving in your hand, move the finger back, releasing the trigger to the point it resets. You should not release it completely all the way, just to the point it resets and would produce another shot when squeezed again.
If you are using the proper stance and grip the recoil moves the gun first up and slightly aside, and then the gun naturally moves down. Catch this movement down and direct it to the new or the same target. Do not use a separate movement, just ride the same one the gun does anyway. Simply correct it slightly so it ends up in a place you need.
As a result of a proper follow through you will finish the shot with your finger on a trigger ready to pull and the sights on the target. With some practice it becomes an automatic reflex laying a good foundation for rapid fire.
Mastering the five components of a good shot (the stance, the grip, the sight alignment, the trigger pull, the follow through) will drastically improve your shooting accuracy. And it will happen fast. I’ve seen some amazing improvement happened to people in one-two hours at the range.
Learn them step by step. Do not try to perform everything correctly at once. First, master the stance. Spend a magazine or two watching how you stand, where your feet are, how your arms are located, whether your knees are bent.
Then concentrate on the grip. Monitor the location of the fingers, the pressure you apply. Spend one-two more magazines on this. Every once in a while do a quick check up on the stance. Then switch to the proper sight alignment, and so on. Do not forget to check up on previous steps regularly. After you went through all five components, you will see the improvement.
Have fun at the range and share your experience in comments.
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