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Learn to Shoot Tips

First of all, you MUST think SAFETY all the time.  Whether the gun is in your hand or someone else's hand, think SAFETY!  And . . . do not be afraid to point out someone's bad manners.  It could save a life, YOURS!

The next three safety rules will keep you and everyone around you alive.  They are universal.  They are the foundation and backbone of safe shooting.  Follow them.

1.  Always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction!

2.  Always keep your finger off the trigger until the gun is pointed at the target.

3.  Always keep the gun unloaded until you are ready to shoot.

I guess I should tell you that I have been shooting for over 50 years.  (Geez, that is a half a century.  What the heck have I been doing?)  I have been an N.R.A. Certified Instructor for Handgun, Rifle, and Shotgun for over 25 years.  I am also an N.R.A. Certified Chief Range Safety Officer.  I have been working in or managing shooting ranges for 30 years.  And, I shoot.  I actually pull a trigger.  Usually more than 50,000 rounds a year.  I am telling you this so that you know that the information and advice I am giving here might actually work.

OK.  Let's give some advice.  (Understand this, these tips must be used with common sense.  I am not responsible for your stupidity or carelessness.  As with all things in life, use your head and think about what you are about to do before you do it.)  Make sure your gun is unloaded!


Handgun shooting.

When you shoot a handgun the three things that affect your shooting the most are:

the (1) grip,

(2) sight picture,

and  (3) trigger control.

Let's start with the grip.  You should place the gun in your hand so that the frame, that's the barrel, top strap, and back strap line up with the bone in your arm.  Your hand should be just as high on the grip of the gun as you can get it.  If you shoot an auto get right up high and crowd the overhang at the top of the grip frame.  (While you are doing this use a little common sense.  If you have a hand the size of a car door and are shooting a PPK make sure the slide isn't going to slice into the web of your thumb.)


These are not original ideas.  A lot of this was taken from an article in the July, 2011 American Rifleman.  These are modifications of standard shooting drills, fundamentals, and practices that I know work.


Dot Drill

When practicing basic skills most shooters raise the handgun only once and burn through an entire magazine or cylinder.  This wastes precious opportunities to practice handgun presentation, sight acquisition, trigger control, and it burns thru a lot of ammunition.  One shot drills will prove to be more beneficial.   

Position a target with five or six 4” circles at 7 to 10 yds. Shoot one shot at each circle, raising the handgun from low ready before each shot. The goal is to fire one shot at each circle and hit each target once. This is not a speed drill, but rather it's an accuracy and gun-handling drill to help you establish a foundation for gun presentation, sight alignment and trigger control. Shoot this drill four or five times at the beginning of every trip to the range.

When you can consistently do this at 10 yards why not move the target out to 15 yards, then 20 yards, then 25?  (After 15 yards, use a regular 25 yard target.)  There are handgun games played where the target is over 200 yards away.   The only limiting factor is you. 


Learning to transition from one target to the next, especially when they are set at different ranges or heights, teaches you to obtain a sight picture quickly and to control your shot cadence based on range to the target.

Place a 5 spot target at 10 yards, pick two spots, any two, and put one shot in each target.  Take your time and hit the target.  Lower your gun between each pair.  Repeat 5 times.  You could use a timer here BUT accuracy is more important than speed right now.  If you’re not hitting the target, you’re going too fast.  The speed will come.

“Speed is fine, Accuracy is final”-Bill Jordan.

Next, pick three spots and repeat the process, then four, then five.  Remember, the goal is to hit the target, not just blow holes in the air and make more noise than the Battle of Gettysburg. 

If you shoot competitively, you can’t WIN if you can’t hit!  And, if winning isn’t important, why do you keep score?  Take your time, aim, smooth trigger pull, follow-through.  “Slow is Smooth, Smooth is Fast.”- somebody said that, not me.

Other Training Tips

The basis for all marksmanship training is grip, sight alignment and trigger control.  One of the best drills for learning and sustaining these skills is dry-fire. Some shooters look at dry-fire as pointless. It's not. The best shooters in the world do it regularly.  It's a very good way to develop hand/eye coordination.  Any time you dry-fire, remove all the ammunition from where you are practicing, double and triple check-that your handgun is unloaded and be sure that you are working— pointing your handgun--in a safe direction.  Everytime you pick up a gun you must check to see if it's loaded.  You must do this or you will end up blowing a hole is something.  Using a snap cap is a good idea, regardless of whether your handgun maker recommends one.

Basic dry-fire is nothing more than pointing the unloaded handgun at a target and squeezing the trigger while you keep the sights aligned on the target. You want to execute the trigger pull without disturbing the sights. If you flinch or snatch the trigger it will show up as a wiggle or jerk of the sights on the target.

Unlike revolvers that let you experience a real trigger pull over and over, you will have to cycle the slide or cock the hammer of some automatics.  You may not experience a true trigger pull for each shot, but you will still be establishing a foundation that commits to memory the presentation and manipulation of the handgun, movement, and sight alignment.

Becoming proficient with a  handgun is no different than becoming a good golfer, tennis player, swimmer, etc.; proper practice is the key.  I believe a .22 Long Rifle pistol is a great training tool.  .22 Long Rifle ammunition is very affordable when compared to center- fire defensive handgun ammunition. The handguns also have minimal recoil and muzzle blast, both of which are detrimental to establishing the basics of marksmanship.

The .22 Long Rifle conversion kits for semi-automatic handguns or a .22 Long Rifle revolver that is an understudy to the revolver you shoot competitively lets you train at a fraction of the cost of centerfire ammo. Any good .22 handgun is a wonderful practice tool.  Most really good shots will use the dickens out of a .22.  They’re not just for beginners!

 As you progress through your training,  you need to incorporate shooting with one hand—both left and right. Start this process with the rimfire handgun or conversion kit.

More tho’ts….

Practice the fundamentals.  Grip.  Trigger Control.  Sight Picture.

You need a good firm grip to help control the gun while you obtain your sight picture and you FOCUS ON THE FRONT SIGHT.  And you need a smooth trigger pull that does not cause your sight picture to change.

When you shoot a target, no matter what it is, pick a spot.  Don’t shoot at the whole thing.  Pick a spot to hit and hit it!  Bullseye, silhouette, plate rack, it doesn’t matter.  Pick a spot and hit it.

As mentioned above, when you practice, don’t throw the gun up and shoot until the magazine or cylinder is empty.  Take your time, enjoy the experience.  Shoot one shot at a time and concentrate on accuracy for part of your practice session.  Then, yes, practice speed; all the while thinking about and using the fundamentals.

Never, never, never look at the score board.  You will be thinking about your score, the other guys score, how you screwed up on the last relay.  Don’t do it.  Concentrate on the target.  Think about the shot you are making now.  That’s what counts.  Not what happened last time, not what Joe or Steve or Brad shot, only the shot you are making now counts.  You can find out your score when you are through with the match.


When you are doing a “Speed Shoot” shoot the target and move on.  Don’t shoot and look and shoot and look and shoot and look.  Grip, aim, press the trigger and move to the next target.  If your fundamentals were right, the target is down.  After the last target is shot, then look for targets that were somehow missed and, if the course allows, take care of them.  Again, if your fundamentals are right you won’t have any cleaning up to do.  If not, practice some more.


To be continued . . .


Walt Sippel

Leather Creek Holsters


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