Over my about twenty years of teaching civilian, military, and law enforcement handgun students, both beginners and experienced ones, I have observed several of the same rudimentary mistakes and common problems in shooting that continually repeat themselves. There are five shooting problems that occur frequently and can be deadly, so I want to point them out and give you several tips to overcome them. I have learned that all of these problems are related to the most basic and fundamental contemporary principles, tactics, and techniques for effective shooting. In class, instructors should help all students protect themselves and safely handle and properly shoot a handgun by knowing and demonstrating proper fundamentals. For certain, a gun might be just an expensive club for an un-trained and un-skilled handgun student.
Knowing and truly mastering the fundamentals of shooting are critical and should be a top priority for all shooters and instructors. Confucius got it correct when he said over 2,000 years ago…”To know and not to do, is still not to know.” And Vince Lombardi, head coach, and general manager of the Green Bay Packers, who led the team to three NFL championships and to victories in Super Bowls I and II, also knew the importance of the basics. He became a national symbol of consistently applying the fundamentals to win.
Limited Focus on the Basics of Small Arms Shooting
While these recurrent student shooting problems are mostly seen in less experienced shooters or those who have not fired a handgun in a while, I have seen them in experienced shooters as well. This is true not only for civilian shooters and students. I have even observed these five common shooting problems in some of the military and law enforcement students we train, about 40% of the students we train. Sadly, some military and law enforcement organizations have significantly changed or extremely limited the fundamentals they teach their handgun students over the years. For example, in the early U.S. Army Trainfire course in 1980, as well as in the several revised Army Trainfire courses over several later years, teaching basic ballistics and skills and sight/angular measurement for sighting was replaced with a simplified zero approach and a very minimalist training approach for small arms. This minimalist approach to helping students learn limits the comprehensive nature of the many fundamentals and the basics used with “insufficient coaching, limited time, limited ammunition, and inadequate facilities to learn shooting skills,” according to the U.S. Army Reserve Marksman article by Sgt. 1st Class John M. Buol, Jr. “Decades of Decline: A Review of the History of Marksmanship Training in the U.S. Army” in 2021, 2nd Quarter. He adds that “There is little official emphasis on conducting small arms training correctly. Army Regulation 600–8–19 (General Enlisted Promotions and Reductions) discusses promotion points based on weapon qualification scores and a waiver process for those that don’t qualify, but there is no specific guidance about separation or reenlistment due to small arms qualification failure nor is there a mechanism to track the last time they attempted or passed weapons qualification.” Also, an 82nd Airborne range study in 2017 concluded that “Forty years of experience and equipment improvements have shown Soldier Small Arms skills have gotten worse.” The proper depth and breadth of Small Arms training content was not up to the necessary skill levels in 2017.
U.S. Army Overhauls Small Arms Training with Tougher Standards
Franklin Fisher on army.mil says the U.S. Army refined its Small Arms training in 2019. At last! Note that military “Small Arms” includes pistols, revolvers, rifles, and shotguns. For example, the U.S. Army has drawn up a major overhaul of how it will train Soldiers in using Small Arms, including handguns. The revamped training adds tougher standards and rigor to tactical weapon skills and marksmanship fundamentals, according to officials at the U.S. Army Infantry School at Fort Benning, Georgia. The new marksmanship manual referred to as the “Dot-40” contains more than 800 pages on thorough fundamentals and tactics for individual weapons, like the pistol, for all Soldiers, from infantry personnel to cooks and band musicians. “All Army units and all personnel will be held to the same tougher basic standards and best practices. All will have to train their Soldiers in the same skills and ensure they schedule the same amount, type, and frequency of marksmanship training mandated by the Dot-40,” according to Fisher.
Some Civilian Shooters Want A Short Handgun Skills, Safety, and Concealed Carry License Course
Sadly, I have discovered some less-experienced civilian students that do not want a thorough and detailed training class in the proper and safe handgun shooting and carry fundamentals but prefer to have just a brief training session to get their qualification or carry license. Some have opted for a short two-hour course at a gun show or local venue, including brief classroom time of one or two hours and firing-one-shot-into-a-barrel, for a fee of between $65 to $100. Cheaper, shorter, and little live-fire practice are not necessarily better nor safe!
Required Live-Fire Shooting
Thankfully, my State of Florida requires live-fire shooting of a handgun to demonstrate competency with a firearm and to qualify for a Concealed Carry License, along with 18 other states (changes often) that do require live-fire training to carry guns in public, e.g., Louisiana, Ohio, North Carolina, South Carolina, Nevada, Nebraska, California, New Jersey, Michigan, Maryland, Minnesota, Illinois, Hawaii, and New Mexico. Some individuals have said to me that they prefer not to shoot a gun to get a license or permit. As of September 1, 2022, the State of New York requires all carry permit applicants to complete 16 hours of classroom and two hours of live-fire training and pass a shooting drill.
TIP: Knowing how to safely handle and shoot a handgun and legally stop a threat can literally save your life and the lives of your loved ones, keep you out of jail, and shield you from a lawsuit. So, get current and proper handgun training in your state for these advantages, even if you have received training in the past, do not want a concealed carry license or permit, and if your state does not require training.
Fire One Shot into a Barrel – “Win” A License
I do not understand how a new, inexperienced person can adequately protect themself (and complete necessary training for a carry permit) with what they learn solely from a limited two-hour training session and firing a single practice shot. I doubt there are many “SUPER” instructors to help accomplish this. Focus on the fundamentals, tips, techniques, and legal considerations would have to be abbreviated or some eliminated for that short of a time. We have had many students take our fundamentals class after experiencing these short, superficial classes.
Some students do not know what they need to know for self-defense and properly and safely, and legally shooting a handgun. Some believe that since they know how to shoot a rifle based on when they were younger and shot squirrels, rabbits, or rats… or from their military rifle training… that they have all the knowledge they need for personal protection and properly using a handgun. Or, they believe that shooting and handling a handgun is exactly like a rifle, so they do not need further training in handguns. Or, they believe that knowing marksmanship and accuracy skills with a handgun are all that is necessary for a self-defense encounter. Thus, neglecting the legal aspects and considerations and thoroughly knowing their local laws and applications in deadly-force encounters. Understanding, applying, and learning the many legal factors of using deadly force and when to shoot or not shoot is probably MORE important (or at least just as important) as knowing the basics of the mechanical aspects of shooting a gun. Certainly, neglecting or minimizing the focus on the legal factors can be very costly in many ways, like money, time, embarrassment, incarceration, and giving up your life or the lives of loved ones.
Civilian and Military Shooting Are Different
Keep in mind that military combat and law enforcement shooting environments and encounters are different than civilian shooting situations. But, the basic topics, shooting basics, and handgun safety rules and laws remain the same for all or most shooters. My Air Force experiences tell me that almost all Air Force enlisted members qualify with an AR-15 rifle in basic training, but usually do not receive any further firearms training unless deployed to a combat zone or have a specialty code that requires it, like aircrew, security forces, Special Ops, or aeromed members. Air Force officers in initial training usually receive only handgun training (mine was with a .38 Special revolver, but now the 9mm pistol is used.) My “Purple Suit” (a combination of Air Force, Army, Navy & Marine members) Special Operations experiences, fortunately, tell me that almost all members in Special Ops receive handgun fundamentals training.
“Unlearning” Incorrect Basics and Bad Habits
When in the United Kingdom, I had to “unlearn” how to drive a car on the right side of the street. Unlearning is the process of discarding something from your memory. Failure to unlearn and relearn may even get you in trouble. Maybe cost you your life. As the futurist Alvin Toffler said, “The illiterate of the 21st Century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.”
It is difficult for some handgun students (and the instructor in his/her teaching) to “unlearn” some previously-learned poor “basics” or ineffective techniques and tactics, so they can advance and relearn more helpful refinements with the lessons-learned and new shooting fundamentals. We all have the skills and knowledge to unlearn and update. So, be open to growth, development, and progressive change. Some do not want to consider any other “proper” fundamental or way to shoot than what they have already learned in their previous training. They feel uncomfortable relearning anything. They may not even understand, accept, or be open to another new and improved way of shooting or using a handgun for self-defense. And quite frankly, there is not total, complete agreement among shooting organizations, professional handgun associations, and “experts” in the field about what even the fundamentals or essentials are or should be. This is frustrating and challenging. But getting as much information about the fundamentals is very helpful. And look to an experienced professional or respected association for current information. Here I want to review briefly the issues I have experienced over many years, present my five basic problem areas in shooting for anyone, and give you my 15 or more related practical tips.
Five Common Handgun Shooting Problems for Shooters
1. Shooting Stance or Position
I have seen mostly inexperienced students in our classes not know how to properly stand or position themselves when starting to shoot at the range. They are awkward and seem out of their element when beginning to shoot a handgun. Some lean way back from the waist, while others lean way forward, almost losing their balance. Some firmly straighten and lock both knees and legs, which can be a problem. Some fully face their total body straight forward (with the width of their body fully exposed as a target), straighten both arms and extend them both out in front, like an isosceles triangle. This latter position is the Isosceles Stance, a frequently used stance by some military and law enforcement units. Others may use the Weaver, Chapman, or a modified version of any of these stances.
TIPS for Isosceles Stance: The key to a strong, effective, and aggressive Isosceles Stance is having your bodyweight forward on the flexed, strong-side leg. Note that the Isosceles Stance is not ideal for shooting on the move, since as the body bounces with movement, so do the arms which are fully extended… and there is little quick action-reaction from the somewhat rigid position and little recoil shock-absorber action.
Modern or Modified Isosceles Stance
Competitive shooters Rob Leatham and Brian Enos popularized the Modern or Modified Isosceles stance in their shooting matches. I know that the Army and Air Force Special Operations training points out that this is the natural position people will adopt when startled by a perceived threat, even when trained in other stances. It is similar to a “Fighter’s (boxer’s) Stance,” which aims to keep you in balance, helps you to react quickly, and to move in any direction easily.
TIPS for Modified Isosceles Stance: With the Modified Isosceles Stance, the upper body is mostly (not entirely- some cant) squared to the target, which gives you fine peripheral vision. Both arms are very slightly bent to better absorb recoil, shoulders and bodyweight are forward, knees are slightly bent or flexed, and the support foot is ahead of the strong foot and pointed at the target. Sometimes the shooting arm alone is extended somewhat straight (not rigid) with a slight bend. This slightly canted-to-the-side position makes you a smaller target and allows handling felt recoil better, as compared to the Isosceles Stance.
There is not a universal, best stance to use when shooting a gun, and there is a great deal of controversy regarding the “best stance” even among experts and shooting competitors. But in the past three or four years, I have seen what the large majority of shooters use, professionals and amateurs alike, and it also works for me. It is the Modern or Modified Isosceles Stance. But, it may not work for you. So the bottom line is to decide for yourself which stance works for you by trying the different ones for yourself.
Of all the fundamentals of shooting, the Stance and Grip are the most important for reducing felt recoil and play a large role in accurate hits on target. I have experienced in classes that most shooters do not know how to properly grip a handgun. Individuals usually hold a firearm for shooting the way they pick it up from the bench, without much thought about how much their grip impacts the way they shoot. A proper grip will help absorb recoil, provide control and stability for getting more accurate shots, provide protection and safety from slide “bite” when the action moves the slide, and prevent malfunctions and stoppages.
Grip the Handgun Firmly and High on the Backstrap
You must recognize that learning a proper grip may feel very uncomfortable and unnatural at first, especially if you have not learned nor practiced regularly with it or have been shooting with an improper or wimpy and weak grip for some time. It is best to learn what is the proper grip for yourself and practice with it for a while to give it a chance for success, even if it feels unnatural and uncomfortable at first.
It is my opinion that a shooter cannot grip a handgun too firmly unless the shooter’s hand shakes or you can see white knuckles. A strong grip helps with muzzle flip and recoil control, but too firm a grip can cause shakes and unnecessary movement. Discover the best degree of firmness for your own grip strength. But, ardently keep in mind that the most common cause of malfunctions and stoppages is too loose of a grip. “Limp Wristing” causes failures to eject cartridges, i.e., partial ejection from Limp Wristing causes “Stovepipes.” Also, a too-loose grip can cause failure to feed and failure to eject, and other operating mechanical problems.
TIPS: Get a high and firm grip on the backstrap or Mainspring Housing, as far up on the backstrap (or beaver tail) as you can. I grasp my handguns firmly like a strong handshake and high up on the backstrap or beavertail in the “V” web of my strong hand. I want to make certain that my grip is strong enough and up high enough, so I do not see any space between my shooting hand and the beavertail or top of the Mainspring Housing and can control the gun.
One technique to strengthen my grip and make it firm on the gun is to use a simple hand-squeezing exerciser device that I regularly squeeze. See below. It costs less than $10. at your local discount store and is a great training aid. It works!
Positions of the Thumbs Are Important
When you pick up the gun or draw it from a holster with your hand canted to the side and your thumbs not positioned correctly and with both thumbs not pointing down range, you have a recipe for inaccurate shots. When you initially pick up the gun with your hand horizontally flat and positioned above the gun and not at an angle or do not have both thumbs pointed down range when they are on the frame, you will have a wrong grip that hinders effective shots. Note my 4 Grip Index Points below and the thumb positions.
If your thumbs are in the way, there is a possibility of the slide hitting them and malfunctions occurring. If you exert even minimal pressure on the slide-lock lever with your Support thumb, it can fail to lock back the slide when empty and cause failure to go into battery and mechanical stoppages. So, pick up the gun from the bench or table with your grip in place the way you will shoot it, as best you can.
TIP: The Thumbs-Forward Grip (shown above) is a more natural and intuitive method to point the pistol at your target to help with aiming. I have proven to myself that this grip works the best for me over many years of shooting.
Diverting Felt Recoil through Forearm Bones and Proper Gun Fit
Without a doubt, one of the biggest challenges for new (and many) shooters is handling felt recoil. Ideally, you want felt recoil going straight back from your wrist into the ulna and radius bones of your forearm, with a locked Strong-Hand wrist. So, how do you decide on the proper grip to control recoil? Interestingly, it is the same procedure you use to decide if any gun is the correct fit and the right one for you personally. Recognize that not all firearms fit everyone’s hand the same. A 1911-style handgun, for example, has a thin grip thanks to its single-stack magazine. Likewise, a Glock 21 has a really thick grip due to the .45 ACP double-stack magazine, and the Glock grip angle is different from most others. So, buy and use a handgun that fits your hand and fingers properly and functions well, not because your friend likes it or because it looks good. If it fits your hand properly and you grip it correctly, then you can better handle the recoil and muzzle rise.
Straight Alignment of Wrist and Arm
There should be a straight alignment of your grip from your locked strong-hand wrist directly back to the radius and ulna bones of your strong arm. The strong hand with the gun should not be offset or canted to the left or right of the strong arm but rather directly in line with the strong arm. If you cant your hand and grip at an angle, you will feel more recoil in the direction canted. Straight alignment of the grip allows for better control of movement and recoil for better accuracy.
Aiming: Sight Alignment and Sight Picture
I have found that almost all of my students, over many years, did not initially know the differences between aiming, sight alignment, and aight picture. Effective “aiming” to me includes both proper sight alignment and sight picture. The goal in aiming is to get the point of alignment to equal the point of impact (POA = POI). The shooter’s goal for target hits should be to properly align the sights, get the proper sight picture, and keep the properly aligned sights on target with little movement, at the precise time the hammer falls to break the shot. This is so very easy to say but so very difficult and challenging to accomplish. This is especially true in the “heat of the battle” or when under time constraints for quick shots.
Sight alignment and sight picture are two terms that are quite often used interchangeably and sometimes considered to be the same. It is critical to know that they are two different and distinct fundamentals.
Sight alignment is the relationship between the front and rear sights. Simply, the eye must be lined up with the front, and rear sights and the sights positioned so that the alignment is correct. Proper sight alignment of the two sights means that the top of the front sight is vertically centered in the notch of the rear sight so that there is an equal amount of white space on either side of the front sight post. It also means that the top of the front sight is level horizontally with the top of the rear sight. Of course, there are many different types of sights, but this general alignment concept works for all types of iron sights, whether the front sight is a blade or a small or large dot or triangle and whether the rear sight is an open sight, two dots, U-shaped, V-shaped, a triangle, or a simple notch in the back of the slide. No matter how the iron sights are configured, the front sight is designed to be placed on the same vertical axis as the rear sight.
Errors in Sight Alignment
Here are some typical target hits related to sight alignment, not focusing on the front sight, and the resulting errors that can occur:
TIP: When shooting for accuracy and precision rather than speed, it is important to properly use your eyes to be sure that your sights are aligned correctly.
While it is generally best to shoot with both eyes open (as the NRA and others suggest), some can get better hits with their non-dominant eye closed while aligning their dominant eye directly behind the sights. My sniper friend says this works best for him at longer distances with a rifle. Of course, medical conditions, physical limitations, and situational variables directly affect this. What is best for one is not necessarily best for another, so determine this for yourself by practicing and recognizing your capabilities and personal limitations. Closing my non-dominant eye when shooting handguns works for me as a right-eye dominant right-handed aging-eyes shooter, but not for several others I know. Decide your dominant eye and what works best for yourself.
Sight picture is the placement of the properly aligned sights on the target. Once you have your front and rear sights in the proper relationship to each other, the question then is, “where do you place the sights in relation to the target?” what is the “sight picture?” do I put my front sight in the middle of the bullseye, at the bottom of the bullseye, at the top to cover-up the entire bullseye, or where? Well, the answer is it depends. Guns that are sighted in for a combat hold mostly require the shooter to place the front sight where it completely covers the bullseye of the target (dead-on or cover-up hold), while guns sighted in for a target hold usually get their accuracy when the front sight is aligned at the center of the bottom of the bullseye (six-o’clock hold.) with a center-mass hold, the front sight is placed directly on the center of the target or bullseye, bisecting the center of the bullseye or target vertically and horizontally.
TIP: Self-defense handguns usually (not always) use the quicker but less precise combat hold or sight picture, but check your owner’s operating manual for your specific gun or contact the manufacturer for verification. There are several variations, and personal preference plays a key role.
TIP:Many do not realize that handguns come from the factory with a given “hold” or sight picture manufactured into the gun. Some are designed for a center-mass hold, others for a six-o’clock hold, still others for a sub-six-o’clock hold, and even others with a cover-up or dead-on hold, etc. Confusing and a problem to deal with your various guns and their manufactured sight pictures. A shooter must know the proper sight picture for each of his/her guns. Do not assume that all guns use a center-mass sight picture. Many non-custom production sig sauer and h&k handguns use a cover-up sight picture. If the shooter uses a center-mass hold with these particular handguns, shots may consistently hit low on the target. Be able to make the transition among various holds for your different guns.
Focus on the Front Sight Only – A Challenge
It is not possible physiologically for the human eye to clearly focus on 3 objects at different distances, near and far at the same time. So after your initial quick vertical and horizontal sight alignment and given the 3 objects of the front sight, the rear sights, and the target, which one do you focus on? Which is the most important to have in very sharp focus? The answer and key aiming technique for best accuracy when using iron sights… Is to front sight only focus after your initial cursory sight alignment. (keep in mind that sometimes you may want to use the flash-sight picture technique for really close-up encounters.) when you focus only on the front sight, the target will be blurry, and the rear sights will also be blurry. If, on the other hand, your eye is focused on the target (like when using red dot optics), the front sight and rear sights will be blurry. It really is not possible for a shooter to focus on both the target and front sight (or all three objects) with them in focus at the same time. So don’t fool yourself into believing that you can very quickly switch back and forth so rapidly that you can focus on both or all three. Only one object or another is in focus at any given point in time… And that should be the front sight. Again, remember that some schools of thought that favor using red dot sights use a sole focus of these optics on the target. There are pros and cons to that option, but to me, it boils down to the long proven experiences of many experts who believe in the front sight only focus, especially for close-up, combat tactical encounters at close-up distances supported by the actual results in competition, war, and various gun fights. But, decide for yourself. I have seen students who focus only on the target just before the shot, and the vast majority of the time, their hits are regularly impacting high off the bullseye. This usually happens because when they focus on the target, it is very common for the gun’s muzzle to rise slightly at the very last second, causing their hits to impact high rather than in the center of the bullseye.
TIPS: Because red dot sights are non-magnifying optics, they are often used for mid and long-range shooting, especially with rifles. Some say that red dot optics are best sighted in at 100 yards, so some do not want to regularly use them for close-up tactical self-defense encounters at the typical encounter distance of 7 yards or less with a handgun. Of course, other than distance, use and accuracy depend on the size of the target, the design of the sights, the size of the Minute of Angle (MOA) of the sights, the handgun being used, and the skills of the shooter.
Note that a 2 MOA at 100 yards equals 2 inches in size, so if using the red dot for home or self-defense at closer distances, use a larger 3 to 6 MOA because when aiming within 100 yards, the dot will be easier to see.
4. Trigger Press
There are seven common trigger control errors I regularly have seen students make in our classes. The seven errors are:
- Holding Too Long
Here are some brief thoughts about each of these problems.
1. Jerking the trigger at the last second is a mental and physical issue, but primarily a mental one. Shooters must understand the necessity for mentally focusing on their trigger press and train the jerk or slapping motion out of their mechanics. A jerk comes from the attempt to fire the shot quickly at a specific point in time that coincides with when the gun becomes immediately positioned on the target. You can overcome this by “mind over matter.”
2. Flinching is more of a physical response to a shot being fired where the shooter perceives the bang to be unpleasant and possibly dangerous. Flinching is stimulated by the loud noise and movement of a dangerous weapon near the face and head. We know that firing a gun will make a loud noise, and there will be recoil. So, it also is a mental issue because we are thinking about and anticipating the recoil and loud noise. Anticipating the upcoming recoil with the loud bang causes our premature reaction to the sound and results in a flinch. Some shrug their shoulders. I have seen some students actually close their eyes while pressing the trigger and simultaneously shove the gun away from their faces and heads. Of course, this is very dangerous.
Tips and Techniques for a Flinch
Sometimes no matter what I say to some students, a few will not admit that they have a flinching problem. I see this among both experienced shooters and new shooters. So, I have to show them their problem, so they will recognize them for themselves. The two techniques I frequently use to help identify and focus on a flinch are the Ball and Dummy Drill and the Casing on the Muzzle Drill.
Ball and Dummy Drill or Blind Loading of the Gun
After observing the shooter shooting for a while and flinching, ask them to hand you their magazine and handgun. Tell them to turn their back and that you want to try an experiment to help them with their shooting. Make sure they understand that you are not trying to embarrass them. Then you can load the gun with either live rounds or use snap caps or dummy rounds… or alternate between inserting live and dummy rounds in the gun. I like to NOT load the magazine with any rounds at all and insert it into the pistol… or do NOT load the revolver at all. Then hand the unloaded gun back to the shooter and tell them to concentrate on getting their best target hits. As they shoot without rounds in the gun when flinching, they will shove the gun forward and down or to the side when they press the trigger for a shot, even though the gun does not fire. They will recognize that they are indeed flinching and try very hard not to flinch again.
Empty Casing on the Muzzle or Sight Drill
To conduct this drill for your gun, find an empty casing (9mm or .380 casings seem to work best because they are lighter.) Make certain your pistol is unloaded and perform a safety check. Double-check that the chamber is clear of any ammo. Take your shooting stance and grip your gun as if ready for firing. As shown above, place an empty casing, primer-side down, on top of or near your front sight. If your sight is angled or slanted and it is difficult for the gun to balance or hold your casing, place the empty casing just behind the front sight. Now press the trigger until the click occurs, like firing a live round. You should keep the empty casing balanced on the sight or just behind it so it does not fall off. Repeat this drill several times. You do not want the casing to fall off the muzzle or sight. This will help your trigger press and flinching.
3. Milking the trigger is a common trigger control error. Milking means that your grip fingers are also contracting as your index trigger finger contracts to press the trigger. Of course, just your trigger finger should move, and it should move straight back, smoothly, continuously, without interruption, and non-intermittently (not stop-and-go.) Milking is an extra movement that affects accuracy. Practice develops muscle memory to help prevent this error.
4. Heeling is when the shooter exerts excessive forward pressure with the heel of the hand as the gun is fired. This pressure forces the front sight up just as the trigger trips the sear. It will usually result in a shot group high near the twelve or one o’clock position on the target. A complete and deliberate focus on the front sight, both mentally and visually, will usually help cure this Heeling error.
5. Thumbing is squeezing the thumb or applying too much trigger finger/thumb pressure when firing the shot. For example, if a right-handed shooter rotates his thumb clockwise to the right during the trigger press, the rounds will likely hit to the right, a Thumbing error. Without a doubt, the point of bullet impact is dependent on the movement of the shooter’s trigger finger, thumb, and hand at the moment the trigger is pressed. Proper grip is a key factor in helping prevent the thumbing error. I like to rest my strong thumb firmly on top of my support thumb and try not to move my strong thumb and fingers sympathetically with the movement of my trigger finger during the press.
6. Pushing the gun up, down, or to either side with no follow-through is a common error, especially for new shooters. Placing too little of the finger on the trigger causes the finger to push the trigger back and to the left instead of straight back. So bullets impact the target at 9 or 10 o’clock or miss high. If too little trigger finger is accompanied by breaking wrist action, either up or down, then bullets impact at 12 o’clock or 6 o’clock, respectively. Be certain to firmly lock the strong hand wrist, grip the gun very firmly, do not lean backward, and do not push the gun in any direction at the last second before firing the shot. You should experience a “surprise break” when the shot fires.
7. Holding Too Long is an error that draws out the trigger press because the shooter wants a perfect shot and target hit. I see this in new handgun students frequently because they want to qualify and not have bad shots, so they are very slow, indecisive, and overly cautious in their trigger presses. They do not exert positive and proper pressure on the trigger at the proper time. Instead of 3 seconds or so, they may take 7 to 8 seconds for just one shot in class. They hold their breath and shot too long. Remember, train for accuracy first with proper fundamentals, then train for speed.
5. Movement Control
All shooters move, and everyone naturally moves. Hands shaking and gun movement are common when shooting. We cannot help but move some, but the goal of movement or holding control is to minimize movement as much as we can. When shooting, if the shooter has the proper sight alignment, sight picture, firm grip, and proper front-sight-only focus, the degree the shot is missed will almost always be only the amount that the shooter’s hands are shaking.
TIPS: Here are four suggestions to help control your Movement when shooting:
1. Grip your gun firmly, but not too hard, with a death grip and white knuckles. I think of my grip with both hands as a firm handclasp or handshake, not wimpy. But, not more than your grip strength will allow preventing hand shaking.
2. Avoid anything with caffeine a few hours before you shoot. It is found in cola soft drinks, energy drinks, black and green tea, chocolate, etc. Caffeine is a stimulant that increases activity in your brain and nervous system, increases circulation, can make you feel anxious and can cause limb movement and trembling hands.
3. Control and interrupt your normal breathing cycle when shooting using a “respiratory pause.” It occurs when you are done exhaling, then inhale, and briefly hold or “pause” your breath once the lung is full of oxygen, then take the shot. Your heart rate is reduced to a minimum, and your chest muscles are relaxed, affecting and lessening movement. I believe in not holding your breath longer than about eight seconds because of oxygen deprivation, which can even cause shakes. Try to take the shot in about three or four seconds. Practice this. Breathing while firing the shot affects accuracy because it increases the movement of the aligned sights and the body.
4. Relax! Every year, August 6 is “National Wiggle Your Toes Day” to honor the amazing things that wiggling your toes accomplish. Medical professionals say that one of the main advantages of toe wiggling is to relax your entire body. Flex, shake, and wiggle your toes before you shoot to help you relax and relieve tension. Hey, it works for me and others.
I have observed for many years several of the same rudimentary mistakes and common problems in handgun shooting that continually repeat themselves. In this article, I have given you some of the issues in handgun shooting today, my five common shooting problems that frequently occur, and my 15 or so Tips to help you. I hope I have made you think about the limited focus on the basics of small arms shooting, the U.S. Army’s improved small arms training, and some civilian students’ thoughts about wanting a brief handgun course versus more thorough training, firing only one round into a barrel for a carry license, and unlearning and relearning shooting fundamentals.
Continued Success, Be Safe, and Remember to “Wiggle” Your Toes!
Photos by Author.
* This personal opinion article is meant for general information & educational purposes only, and the author strongly recommends that you seek counsel from an attorney for legal advice and your own personal certified weapons trainer for proper guidance about shooting & using YOUR firearms, self-defense, and concealed carry. It should not be relied upon as accurate for all shooters & the author assumes no responsibility for anyone’s use of the information and shall not be liable for any improper or incorrect use of the information or any damages or injuries incurred whatsoever.
© 2022 Col Benjamin Findley. All Rights Reserved. This article may not be reprinted or reproduced in whole or in part by mechanical means, photocopying, electronic reproduction, scanning, or any other means without prior written permission. For copyright information, contact Col. Ben Findley at ColBFF@gmail.com.
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