Fundamentals of Shooting

Before proceeding and reading or studying this section of the website, please review all of the basic gun safety rules. This portion of the website is designed to help you become a better marksman by reviewing the proven intricacies related to skill enhancement. Information listed on this site is for informational purposes only and is not meant to circumvent training or firearms instruction


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Factors and Considerations for Accurate Shooting
To shoot a pistol accurately you must first decide which eye to look at the sights with and which hand to hold the pistol. Next, you must learn and consistently apply several fundamental techniques, such as Position, Grip, Breath Control, Sight Alignment, Trigger Squeeze, and Follow Through. Finally, you must practice regularly. Shooting a pistol is a skill which must be maintained.
Dominant Eye
To identify your dominant eye, hold your arms out straight in front of you, make a small opening with your hands, and look through that opening at a distant object. Then close your eyes one at a time without moving your hands, and see which eye is actually lined up with the opening - that is your dominant eye. About 10% of people do not have a dominant eye - they see two objects, or borh openings. If you don't have a dominant eye, then you may choose whichever eye you like.
The most generally useful position is the two-handed, armed stance, sometimes called the Isoceles stance. You should face the target, grip the pistol with both hands and extend your arms until just shy of them locking. Try for a relaxed stance, lean somewhat forward with your knees slightly bent. Your neck should be straight and your shoulders should be relaxed, not hunched up.
You want a grip which lets you hold the pistol firmly and comfortably, line up the sights with your eye and the target, and pull the trigger straight rearwards using the cetner of the first pad of your trigger finger. Your grip should also transmit recoil straight backwards. The best grip is taken by putting your shooting hand as far up the backstrap as it will go, placing your trigger finger against the frame outside the trigger guard, and wrapping your other three fingers around the grip. A two-handed grip is taken by wrapping your non-shooting hand around your shooting hand and squeezing with your non-shooting hand to increase total grip strength. Place your non-shooting thumb alongside your shooting thumb and wrap your non-shooting fingers around your shooting fingers, then squeeze firmly with both hands.
Sight Alignment
This is the most important skill of all of the fundamentals. You must remember to focus your dominant eye on the front sight of the pistol. The rear sight and target should appear blurry and out of focus. Most pistols have a square front post and a square rear notch. The top of the front and rear sights should be on the same horizontal line and there should be an equal amount of visible space through the notch on each side of the aligned front sight. Keeping the sights aligned with each other (maintaining sight picture) is more important than keeping the sights precisely pointed at the target (maintaining point of aim).
Breath Control
It is nearly impossible to keep your arms stationary while you breathe. So you should take a deep breath, let it mostly out and then hold your breath through the sight alignment and remainder of the shot. Remember to breathe between shots - lack of oxygen will make you tremble.
Trigger Pull
Once the sight picture is obtained and the sights are aligned on the target, you must squeeze the trigger to fire the shot, without disturbing the sight alignment. This takes a lot of practice. Generally, you want a smooth, even motion with steadily increasing force, the force exerted straight to the rear. For target shooting your trigger stroke should take one to two seconds - much shorter and you will be jerking the pistol, much longer and you will start trembling. Defensive shooting must be done faster, but still with a squeeze, not a quick jerking motion.
Follow Through
To shoot accurately, you must maintain all of the fundamentals above until the bullet has departed the barrel. Continue to concentrate on maintaining your stance, grip, sight picture, and trigger squeeze before, during, and after the shot sequence.
Download the US Army Pistol Marksmanship Training Guide (PDF) for more detailed information on proper pistol shooting techniques.


Common Shooting Problems

The most common shooting problem is anticipation of the shot. Shooting a pistol produces unpleasant noise and recoil, and it is natural to tense up if you know that this is about to occur. A common symptom of flinching is that your shots string vertically downwards from the point of aim. If this is the case, it is likely that you are pushing forward on the pistol right before the shot, attempting to counteract recoil in advance.

Another common symptom of flinching is that the shots are scattered all about the target. When this happens, it is likely that you are closing your eyes just before the shot, another form of anticipation.

A common symptom of jerking the trigger is that the shots are strung out to one side of the bullseye (usually to the left if you are right handed). Pulling the trigger too fast usually causes your shooting hand to curl inwards (to the left for a right handed shooter). This is because the muscles which pull your index finger also tend to curl your whole hand inwards. Normally you counteract this tendency with other muscles without thinking about it, but if you suddenly speed up your trigger stroke you usually don't compensate completely for the extra force being exerted. It takes a lot of practice to shoot fast and straight at the same time - be patient and keep working on it.
Shooting often uses muscles which otherwise don't get used regularly; therefore, those muscles tire out faster and your shooting performance degrades rapidly. If you shoot or dry-fire regularly, these muscles grow stronger and therefore fatigue will take longer. This helps to explain why most shooters shoot their best scores at the beginning of a session and as time goes on, often their scores decrease. Remember, several short and frequent shooting sessions are better than one long session.


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