Recreational Firearms Shooting. It's one of the SAFEST sports.



Focus, determination and concentration.

Tips and advice from the experts
Gripping the pistol for competition
The grip part sounds easy; simply pick the pistol up and you are gripping it, right?

Not so fast. There are several do’s and don’ts when establishing the proper firing grip. Two of the main aspects of establishing a proper grip are consistency and tension. For a bullseye shooter, it becomes even more critical since we are only using one hand to shoot.

Also, the firing hand and arm need to absorb the recoil and be an aid to a quick recovery, especially when firing the timed and rapid fire stages. This is even more true with the hardball gun, where the recoil is the most extreme since we are using full power .45 ACP loads and not the lighter recoiling loads of the centerfire or .45 match Wadcutter guns.

As I mentioned, one of the key aspects of the grip is consistency, not only in the application of the grip but also in the tension applied. Too loose of a grip, and the pistol will shift in the hand during firing. Too tight, and two things happen: the hand will tremble, and the trigger finger is partly immobilized. One way I’ve found to get the proper grip is to pick up the gun with one hand, and squeeze the pistol until the hand starts to shake, then slowly back off the tension until the pistol stops shaking.

This is a good starting point in applying the proper grip, and you may need to adjust this amount of tension up or down based on the gun and caliber of the pistol and the type of shooting you are doing. One aspect not talked about enough is that the grip should allow the recoil of the pistol, any pistol, to travel straight up the arm and not rotate around the wrist. This is especially important with heavy recoiling pistols. When firing with one hand, a la bullseye, the shooter should be able to draw a line from the front sight through the pistol straight up the arm.

The grip on a bullseye gun, being a one-handed grip, needs to make sure the recoil goes straight up the arm, helping to control recoil.
The grip on a bullseye gun, being a one-handed grip, needs to make sure the recoil goes straight up the arm, helping to control recoil.

With a two-hand hold in an Isosceles stance this isn’t possible, but the recoil still needs to come up the arm as much as possible. Another aspect of the grip, especially with the two-hand hold, is the shooter needs to “choke up” on the pistol. In other words, the shooter needs to get the firing hand as high up on the pistol as possible. This helps direct the recoil to travel up the arms, and also keeps the pistol from rotating around the central point of the wrist. This “torque” makes the pistol twist up and over, making follow up shots much more difficult.

This is why handguns with a high grip, like the 1911 with the aftermarket upswept beavertail grip safeties, are so effective. They don’t just look cool, it gets the hand high up on the gun to better manage the recoil. The general rule of thumb is the lower the axis of the bore is, relative to the hand and forearm, the more manageable the recoil will be.

Another aspect of the grip that many shooters discuss is placement of the trigger finger. Like many aspects of shooting, there’s really no right or wrong way to place the trigger finger on the trigger. The two most common ways are the pad of the finger and the first joint. Both are used by many champion shooters, so decide which one is more comfortable and go with it.

One of the best ways to see if the placement of the trigger finger is correct for you is to dry fire. If, during a dry fire session, the pistol’s sights move to the left when the hammer or striker falls, then there is too little trigger finger applying pressure and the trigger finger is moving the gun to the left, assuming a right handed shooter. If the sights move to the right, there is too much trigger finger, most likely the shooter is placing the trigger finger on the joint of the finger and it’s pulling the sights to the right.

This brings up another point: dry fire. Dry firing is one of the single biggest methods a new shooter can use to improve their skills. It doesn’t matter if the new shooter is a bullseye shooter, IPSC, IDPA, silhouette or whatever, dry firing is the single best and fastest way to improve your shooting. If the shooter is an action-type shooter, IPSC, or IDPA for example, incorporating drawing from a holster into the dry firing routine will also pay huge dividends.

With dry firing, the shooter can practice almost all of the basic fundamentals of shooting − stance, position, grip, sight alignment, trigger control, breathing, and mental discipline − and can include loading and unloading safely (with dummy rounds) as well as drawing from a holster. The problem with dry firing is that dry firing to a shooter is like practicing scales to a musician. It’s not a lot of fun, it’s repetitious and it’s a little boring. But dry firing is probably the easiest, most cost-effective method there is to improve a shooter’s marksmanship.

The UltraDot Matchdot II is a popular pistol for bullseye competition. Note the high grip on the gun, letting the shooter control the recoil and recovery during timed and rapid fire.
The UltraDot Matchdot II is a popular pistol for bullseye competition. Note the high grip on the gun, letting the shooter control the recoil and recovery during timed and rapid fire.

One aspect about the grip that a new shooter wants to avoid is known as “milking the grip.” This is where the shooter begins to grip the pistol, then shifts the position of the hand, the tension of the grip, or both either during or just prior to the act of firing.

The next feature about the grip is that it needs to allow a natural point of aim. This means that when the pistol is brought up to the target, the front and rear sights should be in natural alignment, and there should not be any need to shift the pistol in the hand in order to get proper sight alignment. If you are a bullseye shooter, you can get a good natural grip before the load command is given. If you are an action-type shooter and are drawing from the holster, the grip you get out of the holster is the grip you will have when the shooting starts.

    This is why a good shooter will dryfire for hundreds of hours in order to develop that muscle memory. To get that natural grip and natural point of aim, a good drill to employ is similar to the drill outlined in developing a good stance and position. Get a good grip on the pistol, either coming out of the holster or, if a Bullseye shooter, by holding the pistol at a low ready position.

Close the eyes, and raise the pistol. Open the eyes and the sights should be mostly centered on the target, but also the sights should be MOSTLY in alignment. If the front sight is left or right, relative to the rear sight, then the grip should be adjusted until they are lined up.

We are striving to place the body into the center of the target with the stance and position that get us in the general area of the center of the target. Then, by establishing the proper grip and natural sight alignment, we can complete a rapid fire string with good recovery and the front and rear sights will return to a natural state of alignment out of recoil.

The grip is one of the most important physical aspects of bullseye. Every person’s grip is different, and each shooter needs to develop a grip that is comfortable and repeatable.
The grip is one of the most important physical aspects of bullseye. Every person’s grip is different, and each shooter needs to develop a grip that is comfortable and repeatable.

When using a two-handed grip, I mentioned that the shooter should “choke up” on the pistol, or get as high on the gun as possible. The shooter also needs to push slightly with the firing arm, and pull back slightly with the non-firing arm. This will create a good amount of isometric tension that will help overcome the effects of recoil.

Another aspect of the grip is the thumb of the firing hand. Make sure that the thumb does not drag on the slide, as this can strip energy from the recoiling slide and cause failures to feed and eject.

I’ve talked about aspects of the grip that the shooter wants to do, now here are a couple of don’ts.

Don’t use what’s called a “teacup” grip. You will see this type of grip in the movies from time to time, and is where the non-firing hand acts as a “saucer” to the pistol’s “teacup.” This type of grip offers little countering to the effects of recoil. The pistol will twist right out of the non-firing hand with this grip, although it does look cool in the movies.

Also, don’t fail to use the proper amount of tension in the wrist and forearm. This is really important, especially with semi-auto handguns. The reason for this is that semi-auto pistols need to have a solid platform for the gun to properly feed, chamber extract and eject. There’s a condition called “limp wristing,” where the shooter fails to provide enough tension in the wrist and arm and, in effect, takes away energy from the recoil spring as the slide is moving rearward, sometimes failing to fully eject the round.

The pistol will also not then have enough energy going forward to feed the next round fully. The classic “stovepipe” jam, where the spent round is caught by the slide that’s moving forward, and is sticking out of the ejection port, is usually caused by either too weak of the powder charge, or limp wristing the pistol. Many new shooters can’t visualize how this phenomenon can happen, and while it’s more prevalent with bullseye shooters since they are only using one hand and arm, it happens with action-type shooters as well.

Think of it like this, if I’m firing a semi-auto pistol and if I were able to move the pistol to the rear as fast as the slide was moving at the moment the gun went off, the slide would never unlock to extract or eject the fired case. If I were able to move the pistol to the rear at the moment of firing, half as fast as the slide was moving, the slide would only unlock and move to the rear halfway, and would only have the energy to move forward to feed and chamber the next round.

So, in effect, if you don’t provide a firm platform for the handgun to cycle, you are taking away energy from the recoil spring and can induce all manner of malfunctions. How much tension is enough? Remember, apply tension to the hands and forward to the point of inducing a tremble, then back off slightly to where the tremors stop, this is about the proper level of tension for your frame. Each individual shooter needs to experiment in order to fine the amount that is comfortable and provides consistent results with the pistol.

The shooter is keeping the eyes forward toward the target while drawing the pistol from the holster, knowing his natural point of aim.
The shooter is keeping the eyes forward toward the target while drawing the pistol from the holster, knowing his natural point of aim.

Although the shooter doesn’t want to fire a string with a grip that’s too loose, having a grip that’s too tight has its own issues. If the grip is too tight and there’s too much tension in the firing hand, it has a tendency to cause the trigger finger to freeze up, and not be as nimble and quick. This can cause all sorts of trouble when trying to fire off a quick string of shots.

You can take your shot timer and prove this. Fire a series of five or six shots with your normal grip, and then fire the same five or six, with the same accuracy, with a grip that is twice as firm. I guarantee the split times will be slower. It may not be much, but it will be measureable. The trigger finger just is not as responsive if the tension in the hand is excessive, because the muscles in the back of the hand are too tight. Excessive tension in the hand makes the muscles in the trigger finger more difficult to move independently. It also makes the trigger pull feel much heavier than it actually is.

Another tip for obtaining a proper grip is for the revolver shooters. Revolver shooters need to employ most of the aspects of obtaining the proper grip that the semi-auto shooters need, but with the awareness that the exposed hammer of the gun needs to be taken into account. I’ve taught many new shooters who started out with the revolver and one of the biggest mistakes they make is to wrap the non-firing thumb over the back of the firing hand. Both thumbs need to be on the same side of the gun, just like with the semi-auto shooters.

The reason for this is obvious the first time that the hammer comes back and pinches the thumb during a string of rapid fire when the thumb on the non-firing hand is wrapped over the top of the firing hand. This is also a bad idea with semi-auto handgun shooters. If the thumb is wrapped over the top, the slide can scrape and cut the top of the thumb during recoil.

You missed, what next.

Although knowing what it takes to hit is important, possibly most beneficial is knowing why you miss. When you apply the fundamentals of marksmanship: sight alignment and sight picture, trigger management, grip and follow through, you will make your hits. But what should you do if you start missing?

Plastic cut out sights can be used to create a visual for where to place your sights on a target.

You can build good mental programing and discipline with self-diagnosis. Stop shooting and take the time to assess the situation.

Begin by asking yourself the following questions:

  • What do the sights look like when properly aligned? Did I see equal spacing, level tops when the shot broke? Did my trigger finger placement cause the sights to move or was it my grip that allowed the movement?
  • Did I see a proper sight picture when the gun went off? Was the target behind the sights? Did I even see the sights at all, or was I staring at the target?
  • What did I feel when the gun went off? Did I fire from the pressure wall (slack out) or did I yank right through the slack? How about physical anxiety? Did I flinch?

Quite honestly, I cannot always tell you what I see when I shoot well. I can however, tell you what I don’t see when I shoot poorly, and that is the sights. For me, it’s usually caused by rushing to shoot all the targets at once.

If you learn what it takes to hit you will be able to correct misses. Here are some more questions to ask yourself when having a bad shooting day:

  • Does it hurt when I shoot? Very rarely does shooting hurt the shooter. So why should you flinch or feel the need to push into the gun if it doesn’t hurt?
  • Am I scared of the gun going off? Most folks will say they are not afraid, but why then do they anticipate or feel the need to over control the gun the instant it goes off?

  • If you are still missing, it might mean going back to dry fire practice. If you can do everything correctly with an empty gun you can also do it with a loaded gun. If you can hold the gun, press the trigger and see proper sight alignment and sight picture when the hammer falls, you should be able to do it when it’s loaded.

These hits were made with the above sight picture—all the way out to 25 yards. Know what you need to see, and the hits will happen.

If during live fire you notice the sights come out of alignment, or the sight picture change, don’t continue without refining something. You might need to adjust your grip pressure, trigger finger placement, or your mind. When you learn this you can do it while shooting and change the results. If your focus wanes you won’t know what you saw the instant the gun went off.

Recoil spring and timing.

Recoil spring rate must be balanced with the ammunition in order to keep the gun running reliably and to prevent excess wear from battering. Spring rate affects timing during the recoil and feeding cycle. If the recoil spring is too strong, the gun won’t cycle reliably and can cause failures in extraction and ejection, and feeding malfunctions by not going far enough to the rear or by cycling so fast that the round in the magazine hasn’t been pushed up far enough for proper engagement.

The effect of recoil spring strength on timing was examined with three different recoil springs in a .45 ACP Para Ordnance P14.45 (5” barrel) pistol. The springs were Wolff 12-, 16- and 20-pound (lb) conventional springs. The 16 lb recoil spring is the standard weight for this pistol.

The springs were conditioned to take a “set” prior to use. “Set” refers to new springs shortening a little with their initial use. This was done to reduce variability in the spring’s response due to shortening that might occur during the time course of the test.

They were installed and removed 60 minutes later and measured. The springs shorted 1 millimeter (mm) (see the Table).

They were reinstalled and the slide was locked to the rear for 1 hour. This reduced their length 4 to 7 mms. They were not installed again until immediately prior to use at the range. After the spring was installed, the different types of ammunition were fired in the same order in case firing live ammo produced additional set that could affect spring behavior. They were measured again after shooting and each spring had shortened an additional 2 mms.


Two different loads were tested. A full power load was 230-grain Bear Creek Supply moly coated RN bullets loaded with 5.8 grains of Winchester 231 to 1.250” overall length in Speer brass that averaged 842 feet-per-second (fps). Calculations show that it would produce 5.97 foot pounds of recoil force in a 2.5-pound gun. A reduced power load was 185-grain Bear Creek Supply moly coated SWC bullets loaded with 5.0 grains of 231 to 1.240” overall length in Remington brass that averaged 797 fps producing 4.08 foot pounds of recoil.

The gun was held in a Ransom Rest and a close-up of the slide was recorded with a high speed (1000 frames per second (FrPS)) digital camera during firing. Ten rounds were fired with each type of ammo (two) with each spring (three) for a total of 60 rounds video recorded (10 X 2 X 3 = 60). Only six to seven rounds were loaded in the magazine at a time. This was done to reduce the amount of nosedive that rounds might have due to the presence of a nosedive gap that can appear between the top round and the underlying round as more rounds are loaded in the magazine. Prior tests in a single column 1911 have shown that the greater the nosedive a cartridge makes during feeding, the slower the total cycle time. However there is less nosedive gap in these double column magazines with six to seven rounds loaded and there was no discernible effect from this phenomenon in this data.

The video was analyzed for three key milestones in the firing cycle. 1) Recoil time: the time it took for the slide to move all the way to the rear under recoil. 2) Cartridge pick-up: when the slide first contacted the top round in the magazine as it moved forward. 3) Total cycle time: when the slide returned fully to battery.

Cycle time was fast – much less than a tenth of a second. In fact, the slowest cycle time was 59 frames, or 59 milliseconds (59 ms; 0.059 seconds), and that was with the 12 lb spring. The slowest cycle time with the 16 lb spring was 50 ms. That’s 1/20 of a second. The slowest time with the 20 lb spring was 47 ms.

The general result is just what one would expect: recoil spring weight affects the speed of the slide in the recoil and return phases of the firing cycle. For example, a weaker spring has a faster recoil time but a slower total cycle time. The reverse is true with a stronger recoil spring. A close look at the milestone events revealed interesting consequences from spring rate for timing in the firing cycle.

The general time profiles of the measured milestones for both types of ammunition are shown in the figure. Two things are apparent. First, the different spring weights produced different times at most milestones, although the recoil phase was very similar for all springs. Second, the overall profiles are similar for both types of ammunition. In fact, the total cycle time for a given spring with both the full power and reduced power ammunition was virtually the same.

A spring’s behavior was very consistent within a given 10-shot string. Almost half (8 of 18) of the 10-shot string milestones had an extreme spread in time of only 1 ms. For example, cartridge pick-up time for all 10 shots with the 16 lb spring and the 185 grain bullet ranged from only 31-32 ms. The largest extreme spread time for any 10-shot group was 4 ms.


An example of the consistency is shown in the figure, which shows the time profiles of all ten shots with the 16 lb spring and the 185-grain bullet. The lines and dots overlap and are difficult to distinguish from one another because the times are so consistent.

Recoil Time
We generally accept that there is a significant difference in how fast the slide moves rearward from recoil with different weights of recoil spring. Changing recoil springs usually results in the brass being ejected a greater or lesser distance. I expected to see a clear difference in slide recoil time with the different springs. However, the difference was small, at best.


With full power ammunition, recoil time averaged 9.1 ms with both the 16 and 20 lb springs. The 12 lb spring was a little faster with an average time of 8.5 ms. The difference in recoil time with the reduced power ammunition was a little more apparent, with the 12, 16 and 20 lb springs averaging 11.9, 12.3 and 12.9 ms, respectively. A one millisecond difference between the 12 and 20 lb springs is not much actual time, but does represent a 8% difference.

The numbers also show that the springs readily distinguished between the two loads used in this test. The recoil time for the reduced power load with the 12, 16 and 20 lb springs was 40%, 35% and 42% longer, respectively, than the full power load. The reduced power load produced 32% less recoil force than the full power load, so the springs are quite sensitive to differences in recoil.

My impression while analyzing the video was that the camera frame rate (1,000 FrPS) was probably not fast enough to give the best account of recoil time differences. A faster frame rate would provide a clearer picture of rearward slide travel. In spite of this shortcoming, it was clear that the recoil phase was not dramatically different between these spring weights when using the same ammunition. The slide moved much slower when going forward and the video frame rate was more than adequate during that phase.

Cartridge Pick-up

With full power ammunition, the slide was significantly slower to pick-up the cartridge with the 12 lb spring (36.8 ms) than with the 16 and 20 lb springs, which were nearly the same time (30 and 29.3 ms, respectively). The difference between the three springs in pick-up time with the reduced power ammunition was more apparent, with the 12, 16 and 20 lb springs averaging 36.5, 31.6 and 28.4 ms, respectively.

A spring’s cartridge pick-up time was very similar with both the full power and reduced powered ammunition. The 16 lb spring was 1.6 ms slower with the reduced powered load, but the 12 and 20 lb springs were a fraction of a second faster.


The difference between the spring weights can be viewed in terms of the pick-up delay time, which is the time between when the slide stops moving rearward until it picks up the next round. This is an important feature in the timing of the firing cycle. The delay is longest with the weakest spring (see the table) because the slide moves to the rear faster but it moves forward slower. With weaker ammunition, this delay is reduced because of the slower recoil phase.

A certain amount of time is required for the top round in the magazine to be pushed up to the top of the magazine after the slide has moved far enough to the rear to allow the cartridge to move. Factors that affect this aspect of timing are the strength of the magazine springs, the number/weight of rounds in the magazine and, as shown here, the strength of the recoil spring. In the Government Model 1911, the slide clears the magazine after roughly 75% of its rearward travel, allowing the ammunition to move up. This critical part of timing is rarely a problem since there is usually more than sufficient time for the top round to be positioned for pick-up before the slide contacts it during forward travel.

The slide can cycle too fast and outrun the magazine spring in certain conditions. For example, Clark Custom Guns does not recommend the use of a .460 Rowland on a high capacity Para Ordnance P14.45 for this reason (as per email communication on 12-8-2014). A full magazine (14 rounds) of .460 Rowland ammunition (essentially the same as .45 ACP) is heavy, which can slow the push of the rounds upward. The strong recoil spring recommended for the .460 Rowland means that it returns the slide quickly after recoil. This has sometimes led to feeding malfunctions because there wasn’t always enough time for the top round to be where it should in time for proper pick-up.

Total Cycle Time
The relative speed differences between the three spring weights is more pronounced when looking at the total cycle time. Stronger springs return the slide to battery at a significantly faster speed. The average total cycle time was 57 ms for the 12 lb spring, 48 ms for the 16 lb spring and 45 ms for the 20 lb spring. The total cycle times for the individual springs were extremely consistent within the 10-shot strings, and the extreme spreads did not exceed two milliseconds.

The total cycle times for the full power and reduced power ammunition was nearly identical and did not differ more than one ms for a given spring. This suggests that while recoil springs are sensitive to differences in the power level of the ammunition tested here during the recoil phase, it makes little difference in the overall cycle time.
Not Just Timing
Recoil spring strength also affects how the gun’s sights realign on the target when making fast followup shots. Some shooters report that a strong recoil spring makes the nose of the gun dip downward more than a light spring when the slide returns to battery. This makes sense because it returns the slide to battery faster. Some competitive shooters often spend time testing different recoil spring weights to see which will fit their shooting technique best.

A weaker recoil spring has less resistance to recoil force and allows the slide to recoil faster. It also has less force to push the slide forward to return to battery resulting in a slower total cycle time. It’s just the opposite for a stronger recoil spring.

The recoil force of the ammunition affected the recoil time, but did not affect the total cycle time.

Spring strength affects the firing cycle timing, and one of the most important events is cartridge pick-up time. Slide timing must permit the next round in the magazine to be pushed up in time so that it is in the right position to be engaged by the slide for feeding.

Generally, there is wide latitude for the ammunition that will reliably operate with a given recoil spring. For example, nearly all factory ammunition will run reliably with “standard” weight recoil springs in most pistols. Also, all of the ammunition in this test cycled reliably with no malfunctions of any kind. Even the reduced power load functioned reliably with the strong 20 lb spring.

Sometimes there are good reasons to change recoil springs, for light or heavy loads or to change how the nose of the gun dips for quicker follow-up shots. In these instances, it’s good to know how different spring weights can affect firing cycle timing.

Bad Grips.

In this article, I’m not going to explain why you should or should not shoot a handgun this way—why it doesn’t work.  I’m not going to dive into the mechanics of each because that would take to long, so just trust me (or don’t) that these grips are jacked.

Folks, do NOT try this at home…or on the range, or anywhere else for that matter:

Holding the gun too low

holding pistol too low

Holding the gun too low is a common mistake new shooters make when gripping a handgun.

I can’t speak for everyone, but if you asked me to, I’d say that when it comes to pistol grips, the most common and irritating mistake veteran handgunners observe are shooters (and I use that word loosely) who grip the pistol too low.

I’ll use a baseball truism here: when in doubt, choke up!  Get your grip as closely aligned with the barrel as possible, though still making sure, of course, that you avoid getting tagged by the moving slide if you are shooting a semi-automatic handgun (more on that to come).  Choke up as high as you can on revolvers as well.

This is one I really hope the “operators” out in Hollywood read and take to heart: please change your low gripping pistol ways so I can stop rolling my eyes and annoying my wife during TV time.

Wrapping the strong hand around support hand for a two-handed grip

Strong hand over support hand handgun

Strong hand over support hand pistol grip.

It’s supposed to be the other way around, with the strong hand touching the pistol. Otherwise, it’s off balance so to speak, and being off balance in any physical activity just doesn’t make sense.

Grab the gun, get a good grip with your dominant hand, and then wrap the support hand (which should be doing a lot of work as well supporting the grip) around the strong hand.

Seems simple, doesn’t it?  Well, apparently not for everybody.

Interweaving fingers between strong and support hand

Interwoven finger handgun grip

Interwoven finger handgun grip.

This grip is for the truly un-gifted—those who lack even the most basic eye-hand coordination.  You’d think people who’ve never shot a gun before would do this, and perhaps that’s the case; but I’ve also watched shooters who mess up after transitioning from a right handed, two-hand grip to a left handed, two-hand grip resort to this wonky hold out of… well.. I don’t know why.

Now, you may be asking yourself, who would do that drill and why?  My answer to that is that’s a whole other article.

Pointing the index finger on the support hand

Index finger pointed handgun

Index finger pointed pistol grip.

For some reason, even after they’ve blasted caps for half a day, there are always a few shooters who have a brain dump after lunch.  They come back to the firing line, grab their gun and can’t seem to get the gun to work unless they’re pointing their support hand index finger towards the target.

Huh?  I guess, subconsciously, their fingers just don’t seem to take the hint. What in the world are they thinking?  Well, they aren’t.  It just happens.  And, it’s wrong.

Crossing the support hand thumb behind the slide of a pistol

Crossed thumb pistol grip

Crossed thumb pistol grip.

This “technique” is likely only performed until the shooter gets bit by the slide.  Sometimes it leaves two little bloody groves on the web of the support hand, near the thumb.  You may have heard it called a “snake bite.”

Admittedly, it happened to me once.  I was ten years old, the first time I ever shot a gun.  I learned my lesson quick enough, through blood (and not very good instruction).

Crossed thumbs grip

Crossed thumbs grip can result in injury from the slide.

I actually know of an incident where a shooter received seven stitches after using this improper grip.  Shocked me…but maybe he deserved it.  Besides, I’ll bet he never did that again.

Unfortunately, some people position their thumb really low back by their strong hand’s wrist so the slide doesn’t cut them.  I say it’s unfortunate, because at least if they received this aversive stimulus, they’d likely learn to put their thumbs forward.

Support hand index finger in front of the trigger guard

Finger over the trigger guard pistol grip

Finger over the trigger guard pistol grip.

Glocks, Beretta 92F and Sig Sauer pistols, and perhaps some other models have a flat, vertical shape on the barrel side on the trigger guard.  Shooters who place their support hand trigger finger on that part of the trigger guard are doing themselves a huge disservice.

Years ago a West Point cadet who was on their pistol shooting team was shooting next to me during a tactical training course.  I was an NCO at the time, serving on a full time tactical team, and I had even won a few tactical shooting awards.  Anyway, he didn’t like my suggestion to move his finger even though I made a pretty good argument why his grip was less than ideal.

In short, that grip may work for target shooting, but not tactical shooting and it doesn’t work with all guns.

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position of

Getting off quick, successive shots on target with a pistol is all about recoil management.  Here are five things that will help all shooters conquer their weapon’s kick and allow for super fast and accurate handgun shooting.

1.  Thumbs forward grip

I find the two-handed, thumbs forward grip is by far the best when it comes to making multiple, fast shots.  Having a quality, strong support hand grip in the correct thumbs forward position gives the shooter the proper amount of recoil control.


thumbs forward grip pistol

Showing of the support hand for the thumbs forward grip. These four fingers lay across the strong hand. (Photo: Jeffrey Denning).

Realize that the support hand does a lot of the work here.  The support hands’ grip should be very tight, while the shooting hand and fingers should be pretty relaxed.  All four fingers of the support hand should be pressed tightly across the fingers of the shooting hand with one or two fingers (the index finger and part of the middle finger) underneath the trigger guard.

The thumb of the support hand points at the target and the wrist is locked in a downward angle, effectively immobilizing it.  This allows the tendons and ligaments of the wrist to lock, which are much stronger than muscle alone, and create a much better platform for absorbing recoil.

2.  Aggressive stance

A proper “aggressive stance” allows a shooter to absorb recoil throughout their entire body and when recoil is lessened, it is possible to stay on target and keep shooting quickly because the sights and barrel of the gun will remain fairly aligned.  In order to get in an aggressive stance, shooters should bend forward slightly at the waist, not the knees, because this can lead to tired quad muscles which will ultimately affect shooting performance.  Learning to support your weight with bone and not muscles will help refine the accuracy that comes with this natural shooting stance.


aggressive stance thumbs forward pistol

Demonstrating a thumbs forward grip with aggressive stance. In combination, these two techniques provide superior recoil management, the bedrock of accurate, successive handgun shooting.

Weight should be in the balls of the feet and the feet placed flat on the ground.  Ideally, the torso should face forward and the gun and the sights should be brought up to the head so that it does not cant.  The arms and hands are extended.  In essence, this makes a sort of horseshoe, beginning at the hands.  The curve starts at the shooters armpits and goes around his or her waist.  The other side of the horseshoe is the ground.

3.  Quality flash sight picture

Getting a flash sight means seeing the front sight post inside the rear sight.  In reality your front sight post will be bouncing around a little, and it won’t be perfectly aligned.  That’s okay depending on the distance between your target and your gun.  The target cannot be so far away that the shot will miss if the front sight is a little off.  Three to five yards is ideal when it comes to this type of pistol shooting.

flash sight picture

A good flash sight picture has the front sight in-between the rear sight like this.

The idea to shooting quickly and accurately is to shoot in a rhythm.  To begin mastering this concept, try a three shot rhythm drill and then a four and five shot rhythm.  Eventually you’ll be able to shoot a six shot rhythm and soon after that a ten shot rhythm drill with great accuracy.  When you start off, keep your rhythm slow and steady.  Only when you’re comfortable shooting smoothing and accurately, should you pick up the pace.

Remember, accuracy means everything in a gunfight, so concentrate on both your trigger and your front sight post; it’s not point shooting.

4.  Caliber you can control

There’s a huge debate about pistol calibers.  Personally, I feel very comfortable shooting all guns well, quick and accurately.  But the truth is everyone is faster shooting rounds they can control well.  For that reason, I generally like the 9mm.  I even think it’s a good personal defense round.  Why?  Because, ten fast and accurate rounds to the torso or the face will do a lot more than one round.  Believe me.

Also there’s something strange that I’ve noticed over the years of teaching pistol that I ought to mention.  Some people ride the recoil.  It’s like kids putting imaginary kick into their wooden guns after every “shot” because that’s how they saw the actors guns do it.  I’ve seen people hold the recoil or even allow the recoil to push their hands up in the air.

That’s bad.  Now, you should never push the gun down or anticipate recoil, but you also shouldn’t let the recoil take over either.  Just let the gun go off, get back on target and shoot again.

5.  Lots of practice

I say it often, repetition is the law of learning.  If you want to be good at something, you need to focus, concentrate and do it over and over again. Practicing correctly allows proficiency.  It’s a law of nature.  So, until next time, continue to hone your skills and keep adding to your tactical toolbox.


1. DO teach her the four basics rules of firearm safety.

1. DON’T quiz her on it in the middle of dinner or while she’s getting her makeup done in the morning.

I shouldn’t have to list them. Honestly, if you don’t know these rules, you have no business teach-ing someone else how to shoot. Being safe is fundamental to any sport, but particularly when you’re dealing with objects that put holes in stuff. I’ve been repeating these four lines to my daughter since she was little and lately I’ve entered the practice of printing them on the back of my card and handing them out to new shooters. However you choose to approach it, just don’t skip this step even if — no, especially if — she claims she’s been around guns her whole life. And don’t ambush her to recite them at your will — she’ll memorize them by herself, I promise.

2. DO ask a friend to teach her, preferably another woman.

2. DON’T try to teach her yourself.

Introducing women to firearms

Unless you want a war at home. Women don’t like to be told what to do by their significant others (well, maybe some do, but I’m pretty sure those are called unicorns). My husband tried it a few times — I nearly scratched his eyes out. Your best course of action is to track down a reputable female instructor in your area. Failing that, enlist the help of any good shooter (male, female, hired gun, or family friend). They’ll probably do and say the same things you would, but they have a major advantage: they’re not you! Hubby does that sometimes — when I make mistakes, he asks a buddy to come and tell me to try this and that. Works fine, and preserves world peace.

3. DO give her firm verbal commands.

3. DON’T yell at her.

Don't yell at her

Giving clear, firm commands to someone handling a firearm is a good thing. For one, they are (or should be) wearing hearing protection and it will be a little hard to hear you. Second, you need to ensure they are safe and follow directions. But yelling at a woman and making her cry is a sure way to guarantee she won’t come back. Ever.

4. DO introduce her to firearm safety, shape, and functionality before shooting.

4. DON’T just hand her a large-caliber cannon and watch her fall on her butt.


Ironically, what you say and do before you even hand her a firearm is even more important in making her comfortable than shooting itself. One of the most common mistakes men make is to give a high-recoil firearm to a female newbie the first time and watch as it violently kicks her back, or worse — jumps out of her hands and hits her in the 10.

Don’t laugh; not funny! She will work up to large calibers, just like I did, but shock therapy is not appropriate here. Ideally, show her various guns, explain how they function and begin with a training pistol such as the SIRT I like to use. Then proceed with something tame like a .22 or possibly 9mm. No, .40, .45, or .44 Magnum are not tame. If you start with any of those calibers, she will either give up or jerk the trigger for eternity.

5. DO teach her the basics.

5. DON’T try to teach her everything all at once.

Posture, grip, sight picture, and trigger control are the most important skills for every shooter, regardless of their level or gender. Sounds simple enough, but lecturing on it all at once won’t do you (or her) any good. Pace yourself and explain one thing at a time.

6. DO bring her along with your buddies to the range.

6. DON’T treat her like one of the dudes.

If she likes to (learn how to) shoot, she’s cool, all right. So bring her along! Contrary to popular belief, many women enjoy manly hobbies, myself included. Shooting, hunting, fishing, off-roading, poker, golf, strip clubs… OK, maybe not the latter, but you get the idea. However, just because she enjoys these things doesn’t mean she’s not a lady. So keep the burping, farting, and chest bumps for your bros and treat her with care and respect.

DO buy her a gun.

DON’T pick it out yourself.


If you like her, you’ll buy her a gun. If you love her, you’ll let her pick it out herself. And don’t be stingy — some of us have really good (meaning expensive) tastes.

7. DO repeat instructions.

7. DON’T get agitated if she makes the same mistake more than once.

Despite our reputation, we women actually follow instructions very well. The problem is, we overthink and often have too many things on our mind, so we get distracted or forget. Expect to repeat yourself often. Don’t ever say, “She’s just not getting it” — unless you enjoy getting slapped up-side the head with a full magazine…

8. DO gently push her to lean forward.

8. DON’T shove her neck like an animal.


One of the hardest things for women to learn is to be more aggressive with their stance and lean forward. It just feels weird and unnatural at first. Do explain to her the benefits (stability, recoil control, etc.) and do gently push or tap her back to remind her to lean forward. Squeezing or shoving her neck while she is shooting may result in unfavorable, potentially deadly consequences. Or at least couch condemnation for a week. Just don’t do it!

9. DO give her constructive criticism mixed with positive reinforcement.

9. DON’T constantly point out only what she’s doing wrong.

I pride myself with having a thick skin, taking criticism well, and generally being able to poke fun at my own downfalls. Yet, it really hurts my feelings when my own husband constantly tears my performance apart. In recent months, he’s gotten in this annoying habit of approaching me as soon as I finish a stage and volunteering the information of everything I did wrong. Way to kick me while I’m down, babe! Instead of sticking your foot in your mouth, try praising her for the things she did right. And, instead of pointing out her mistakes, try suggestions along the lines of “Why don’t you try this. It will help you accomplish that.” And just like that, instead of a jerk, you’re a hero!

10. DO introduce a timer. Eventually.

10. DON’T shove that thing in her face and remind her how slow she really is.


Buzzers make us nervous. Period. I actually have a theory there is something in their sound frequency that scrambles brain waves — male and female. But, like any shooter, eventually we have to try doing things faster and the only way to measure progress is by timing it. You should, however, be tactful about it. Act like it’s no big deal, keep the timer behind her, but close enough to hear, and never say, “That was too slow.” Instead, make a game out of it and try, “That was awesome, but I know you can do it faster.” And remember, comparing her speed to yours is not a good idea — until she starts beating your time.

11. DO teach her double taps.

11. DON’T be a splits Nazi.

Double tapping is one of those weird skills you struggle with and one day you just miraculously get it. Teaching her how to double tap early on will save her a lot of frustration long term. I was not smart enough to do that and struggled for a long time with being unable to double tap. I had an irrational fear I’ll miss with my second shot and I genuinely thought I couldn’t move my trigger finger that fast! What finally did it for me? Hubby set up a steel popper about 10 yards away and told me to shoot it as many times as I can before it falls down. I can comfortably do about six now! But, he did not pressure me or time my splits like he would his own.

12. DO teach her different shooting positions.

12. DON’T do it on the first day.


It would be lovely if we all got into ideal shooting position every time we shot. However, the reality is that in both defensive and competition shooting we are going to be subjected to the most bizarre acrobatic tricks sometimes. While you can’t plan for everything, you’ll do her a favor if you show her some of the more common alternate shooting positions — prone, on one knee, one-handed, laying on your back, etc. Just don’t do that on day one.

13. DO encourage her to try competition.

13. DON’T force her or call her a sissy if she is not ready just yet.

The best approach, in my experience, is to bring her to competitions to watch. If there are female competitors there — encourage her to watch them, talk to them and ask questions. It took seeing other women do it to convince me that I can too, and now I hope I can pay it forward. We are a very supportive community that welcomes and encourages new shooters and you should take advantage of that. Whatever you do, just don’t tease her or you’ll be stuck with the ever-popular “It’s just not my thing” excuse for eternity.

14. DO make it fun.

15. DON’T poke fun at her or call her cute.


The most important advice, and the one I want to leave you with, is to always make it fun. Laugh, joke around, and don’t be too serious or it will go from recreation to work in no time. And save the poking fun for later, when she’s more confident. Also, don’t call her cute, try badass — she is holding a gun, after all.

15. DO remember we are different.

15. DON’T ignore this advise.

Now, I don’t know if men are from Mars and women are from Venus, but we do learn to shoot differently. Follow this advice and I promise you — even if you don’t train the next Annie Oakley, you’re bound to score some brownie points. If nothing else, they’ll come in handy next time you come home and say, “Honey, look what I got from the gun shop”….

Eric Lamberson.

Bird hunting can be a blast, but filling a game bag is tough. Hunters who do little wing-shooting might need time on a range. Some experienced clay bird gunners are unprepared for field conditions, and even veteran shotgun hunters sometimes need an edge.

With most Pennsylvania bird seasons opening in just a few weeks, hunters still have time to sharpen skills, rethink tactics and improve their odds.

Nick Sisley, an outdoors writer and shotgunning coach from Apollo, Armstrong County, said that for many hunters, time on a skeet range could change everything.

“It gets you more familiar with your gun,” he said. “If you just pull out your shotgun to hunt four or five times a year, you’re not as familiar with your gun as if you shoot at clay targets.”

In his new book, “Gun Digest Shooter’s Guide to Shotgun Games” (Gun Digest Books), Sisley offers tips on succeeding in the four main clay target sports: trap, skeet, five-stand and sporting clays. Each of those shooting disciplines requires specific skills that translate to real-world hunting situations -- the bird flushes straight out from underfoot, flies out low toward the right or left, comes in high at any angle or crosses from either direction.

“Some of the best practice for grouse, pheasant and quail is on a skeet field,” said Sisley. “Stations 6 and 7 … those conditions are similar to most any upland bird hunting. You get a lot of those kinds of shots.”

Good wing shooting requires more than just knowing when to pull the trigger. Mounting the gun to the shoulder comprises about one-third of the motions necessary to make the shot, and should dove-tail with the swing. Get it right and it looks deceptively easy. Get it wrong and you’ve missed.

“It’s important to get the idea of mounting the gun as part of shooting,” said Sisley, “whereas it is not as good for hunting practice if you have the gun mounted before the bird comes out and you pull the trigger.”

Nationwide, gun club membership is increasing, he said, and many facilities offer shooting games. If range fees and time are limited, consider getting a clay target thrower.

Sisley describes a shouldering tip that costs nothing but can make all the difference in wing shooting. It’s done indoors with an unloaded 12 gauge shotgun and a penlight flashlight that’s nearly the size of the muzzle. Slip it inside.

“With an open choke it usually takes a wrap or two of cellophane tape around the light to make a snug fit,” he said.

Adjust the light to its most narrow beam. With the gun lowered, focus the beam at the juncture of the wall and ceiling.

“Work on your gun mount, keeping that narrow light beam right in that corner throughout the mount,” he said. “This practice helps the shooter get both hands working in unison.”

Step 2, practice the swing.

“Start the light moving along that juncture, then start the stock to the shoulder all the while keeping the light beam right at the wall-ceiling juncture. This practice helps develop a super-smooth swing.”

Experienced shotgun gamers should remember that gun club ranges do not replicate real-world hunting conditions.

“It’s the surprise of the flush,” said Sisley. “When practicing with clay targets you know when the bird is coming, but in a hunting situation you have to be ready. On the skeet field you know nobody’s out there and the shot is safe, but in hunting you have to be aware of your surroundings at all times.”

Insecure footing can present complications during a hunt. So can inclement weather, instant range estimation and shots that just can’t be rehearsed:

A case in point: While hunting in a line, a pheasant flushes unexpectedly from underfoot and flaps forward, then doubles back over the hunter’s head. That shot starts with a forward mount, but the gun is then dropped from the shoulder and brought to port arms. Pivot to the rear without pointing the muzzle at another hunter, remount, lead bringing the bead down past the bird, fire and follow through. There’s no clay game for that.

“And it’s important to know when not to shoot,” said Sisley. “Safety is paramount. If you’re not sure -- if you think it’s a borderline call -- don’t shoot.”

THE Plunk Test Brad Miller

    The plunk test. It’s a funny name, but it’s very important to use when you’re reloading. The plunk test determines if your reloaded rounds will fit in your gun’s chamber. The plunk test applies to handguns and rifles, but I’ll focus on handgun ammunition.

    The most common use of the plunk test is to determine if the bullet has been seated deep enough to fit in the chamber throat without touching the rifling. The throat is the cut ahead of the chamber that is the transition from the chamber to the riflings.

    Plunk When Reloading?

    If you’re doing this test with a semi-automatic pistol, remove the barrel first (if mechanically possible). Make sure the chamber is clean because crud can build up and make perfectly good rounds fail the test.

    The reloaded round should fall freely all the way into the chamber. If it does, it will make a “plunk” sound, hence the origin of the name. It should also fall freely out on its own when you invert the barrel. If it doesn’t do this, there is a problem.

    Handgun ReloadingDoes It Rotate?

    The test should really be called the Plunk and Rotate test. Some rounds will fall into the chamber and back out even though they make slight contact with the throat/riflings. That’s why you should rotate the round when it is fully in the chamber. The round should rotate freely. This assesses whether the bullet touches the riflings, because you can feel if the bullet catches or drags during rotation. The advantage of the rotate test is that just plunking might miss a very small engagement of the bullet with the riflings. The rotate test will reveal this slight engagement.

    While bullet seating depth is the most common application of the plunk test, the round can fail to fit for other reasons. 1) Improper crimp. 2) The brass is bulged from poor bullet alignment. 3) The brass is improperly sized.

    Magic Marker Time

    What do you do when the reloaded round fails the test? The way to determine where the round is sticking is to mark it with a magic marker and put it back in the chamber. Wiggle it around and rotate it so that the region that sticks will rub off the ink. Then inspect the round for missing ink.

    Handgun ReloadingIf the bullet is seated too long, there will be marks on the bullet. Seat the bullet deeper in small increments, say 0.005 inches, and try it again until it passes the test. For pistol ammo, a general rule of thumb is to seat the bullet at least 0.010 inches deeper than the minimum depth required to fit. This will allow a little tolerance to account for differences in bullet nose shape that varies from one bullet to the next, and for variations in actual seating depth from one round to another that can occur during the reloading process, an issue that is more common with some progressive reloading presses where the shell holder can tilt. It’s okay to have more clearance, and depending on the bullet, you might have lots of clearance.

    Since different brands of bullets have different shapes, you’ll need to do the plunk and rotate test every time you reload a different bullet. For example, Hornady and Sierra bullet noses might have a different shape, one being longer than the other, so they might Figure-3-Plunk-Test-Brad-Millerrequire a different overall length in order to fit in the chamber.

    Be mindful of your overall length, because this will affect peak chamber pressure. You can use the overall length suggested in your reloading manual, and that usually works. Sometimes you might need to adjust the length to ensure reliable feeding or to fit in your pistol. It’s okay if you’re reloading longer; this will decrease pressure. If you’re reloading shorter, this will increase pressure, and you might need to reduce the amount of gunpowder if your reload is already near the recommended maximum limit.


    The round might also fail if it has too little or too much crimp. We bell the case mouth of the brass to facilitate seating the bullet, but that bell must be removed by the crimp die or the round won’t go into the chamber because the case mouth is wider than the inside of the chamber. Careful inspection or measuring the mouth will tell you if the bell has been removed.

    Too much crimp can cause the brass to bulge, either right below the crimp or sometimes much lower if the case buckles. If the brass rubs just below the crimp, back off the crimp until the round fits the chamber.


    10 Most Common Reloading Mistakes

    The old warning, Dont ever shoot ammo reloaded by anybody but yourself has saved shooters a lot of grief over the years....

    Figure-4-Plunk-Test-Brad-MillerNot much crimp is required. Some folks suggest no crimp at all for their semi-automatic pistol ammunition, they just remove the bell. Other folks prefer to have a couple thousandths of an inch crimp. Ammunition for revolvers needs a roll crimp to prevent bullet pull where the bullet backs out of the case from the recoil.

    Bullet Alignment

    Sometimes bullets get pushed into the case at a slight angle because the bullet nose was not centered and aligned by the seating die’s stem. This produces a lopsided bulge at the bullet base that can prevent chambering. You might need to pull the bullet, and start over by resizing the case. Another way to correct this problem is to use a Lee Factory Crimp Die (handgun cartridges only) ( This reloading die post-sizes the round back to proper dimensions and will iron out alignment bulges.

    Figure-5-Plunk-Test-Brad-MillerCase Head Bulge / Insufficient Sizing

    Some cases might be excessively bulged at the head just above the extractor groove. This might happen if your reload is hot and the brass has expanded into the unsupported region of your chamber, or you might see this in range brass that you have picked up where the original shooter’s chamber dimensions are more generous than yours. Normally, your size die will correct this, but sometimes the bulge is low and the size die doesn’t size that far down the case, or maybe your size die isn’t screwed down as far as it should be. Whatever the reason, if this region is not sized enough, the round can fail the test.

    Check your size die to make sure it is screwed down all the way according to the manufacturer’s instructions. If that’s okay, then maybe the brass needs to be sized farther down. Lee’s undersize size die might or might not help depending on how far down the bulge is. Evolution Gun Works ( has a die that sizes farther down the case for 9mm Luger, .38 Special, .38 Super, .40 Figure-6-Plunk-Test-Brad-MillerS&W and .45 ACP. In the extreme cases where these dies won’t work, you might need a Lee Bulge Buster ( or Redding G-RX die ( These are push-though dies, so they only work for rimless pistol cases. A roll die will also remove the bulge (for example, a Case-Pro: Or just discard them. If the brass has a clear imprint of the feed ramp in it, I suggest that you throw them away as they might be weakened there and could rupture if you use them for reloading.

    The last reason a round might not fit the chamber is because there is a significant ding in the rim. These dings have to be pretty severe to cause enough deformation of the rim to prevent it from fitting in the chamber, but it can happen. If you do the magic marker test but can’t see that it’s rubbing anywhere, maybe the rim is the problem. Try putting the round in backwards and see if the rim will enter far enough to determine if this is the cause.

    Figure-7-Plunk-Test-Brad-MillerChamber or Case Gauge?

    A case gauge can also be used for the plunk test. Keep in mind that a case gauge might not be the exact same dimensions as your pistol’s chamber. Some folks have found that some rounds that won’t fit in their case gauge will still fit in their barrel. Others have found just the opposite – the round fits the case gauge but not their barrel.

    A case gauge can be very useful, but the best reloading device for the plunk test is your pistol’s barrel because that’s what you’ll be shooting your ammunition from, not the case gauge.

    Problem with the Chamber?

    This discussion has focused on the ammunition as the source of the problem, but the problem might be the chamber. If the chamber is out of spec, it might not accept a round that is within SAAMI specifications. You might be able to make the round fit by making adjustments in the dies or some other accommodation, but you might be better off getting the chamber reamed to the proper dimensions. Official chamber dimensions can be found at the SAAMI website (, and you can compare measurements from the rounds you’re reloading to the drawing dimensions to see if your chamber is the problem.

    Follow Through

    Although I’m a firearms instructor and have been for many years, I just so happened to receive some high quality instruction recently about the importance of follow-through. Receiving instruction with humility is when learning comes best, so my mouth was shut and my ears were wide open.

    It’s the basics of marksmanship that will make you a great shooter or tactical operator.  After all, experts are expert at the basics. Therefore, it follows that when it comes to learning yourself or teaching others to shoot better, explaining, demonstrating and performing the fundamentals really is what matters most.

    To this point, a very qualified instructor posed a basic but important question in a class I was attending: Why is follow-through important?

    Whether you’re swinging a golf club or shooting at a duck, follow-through is essential to faithfully launching the projectile and hitting the target. If not, all the energy ceases before the bullet has left the crown of the barrel.  This means keeping your eyes aligned with your sights and the target all the way through the complicated process of trigger squeeze, firing pin movement striking the primer, igniting the primer and powder, and the sending of the bullet into the rifling and out the muzzle. If there is any shaking, moving, flinching, etc, through this process, it will affect the shot.

    While follow-through is a fundamental in shooting that must be adhered to, doing it right also means mastering some other basics.  Being good at follow-through means having a good, aggressive stance, and if shooting a pistol, having the proper recoil management with a good thumbs forward grip.  Conversely, follow-through will be hindered if the shooter has the bad habit of riding the recoil (deliberately recoiling or holding the recoil unnaturally), pushing (pressing the gun downward to avoid natural recoil), heeling or some other jacked up thing.  

    In the context of a gunfight, follow-through is important because there is no such thing as “one shot-one kill.”  At least it’s not tactically prudent to ever think that there is; whether you have a 9mm, 00 buckshot or a 6.5 Creedmoor, you need to be ready to keep shooting until the threat stops. Consider watching the body going to the ground while following or tracking him (or her).  Even veteran snipers are always ready for a good follow up shot.

    Which brings me to a shooting axiom: When it comes to shooting, it is only possible to not be perfect. While I know some really mind blowing, seemingly flawless shooters, I’ve never met a perfect one. To me, that’s the fun thing about shooting: it’s difficult to be perfect every shot, all the time. It’s a challenge.

    How far is too far?

    What I’m about to say at this point in the ranging story will not fly well with some, but it needs to be addressed.

    I have a problem with big-game hunters over-extending range in order to bag a trophy deer, elk, or whatever. I do believe the big-game sport hunter needs to curb their range limits, so as not to wound game in the process.

    While 600-, 800-, and 1,000-yard shots are very spectacular, I believe they need to be reserved for varmints and paper targets. Long-range shots on game are very workable, but long-range in this case should not exceed the dead-on killing limit of the cartridge and the shooter. In other words, give the animal you’re hunting a break by working toward a clean, humane kill.

    At 400 to 1,000 yards, you know as well as I do that anything can happen to that bullet en route to the target, and the game animal will pay the price for a less than well-thought-out move on the hunter’s part.

    Some time ago, I watched a television program in which hunters were shooting elk from one mountain across to another. That, my friends, is no longer hunting, but an exercise in the use of advanced ranging equipment, rifles, and big cartridges. At best, it is simply shooting and little more. Be responsible when using these new and, yes, very effective tools.

    As we move steadily through the 21st century, we see new developments all the time in both guns and loads for long-range work. Word has it that some folks are in the process of building an ultra long-range sniper rifle off a Russian anti-tank gun system that will drive a bullet of about 37 millimeters to a target in the next county. There is also word that a 40mm sniper rifle is under development by still another group of experimenters. The point is to never say never, but always remember that nothing, regardless its size or design, takes the place of woodsmanship, shooting skill, basic know-how and, most of all, ethics, by the hunter in the field.

    Lapping Scope Rings.

    Lapping—or truing up the inside surface of your scope rings—protects the outside of the scope tube from damage; eliminates stress on the tube that could affect the integrity of the scope’s internal moving parts; and aids accuracy by removing any stresses that the scope tube could be applying to your rifle’s action.


    Lapping the inside of your scope rings prevents uneven inner surfaces from damaging or stressing your riflescope.

    Unfortunately, few scope rings have perfectly machined surfaces where the ring contacts the scope tube. That’s partly because perfectly true rings are expensive to manufacture, and your average weekend warrior isn’t going to spend $130-plus on a premium set of scope rings.

    Additionally, few rifle receivers are machined with absolutely true surfaces, and few of the scope-attachment screw holes where scope bases attach are drilled perfectly centered.

    In short, when a ring with slightly imperfect inner surfaces is mounted to bases that are in turn screwed into slightly off-center holes in a slightly out-of-true action, it’s a miracle if those inner ring surfaces turn out perfectly true.

    Even proprietary type rings that mount directly to the action—such as in the case of many Ruger, Sako, CZ-USA and other rifles—are rarely perfect. In fact, for whatever reason, they’re often the worst.

    Not to fret: it’s easy to fix.


    Bolt Gun Buyer's Guide

    Henry Ford said you could have a Model T in any color so long as it was black, and once upon a time that was the general...

    What’s harder is convincing casual shooters that it’s necessary to fix. We touched on a few of the ways out-of-alignment rings with imperfect inner surfaces adversely affect your pet rifle; let’s take a closer look:

    Most rings aren’t round where they grip the tube of that hard-earned riflescope; they often aren’t even smooth. And most scopes have relatively thin aluminum tubes. Clamp an out-of-round ring with bumps and hollows firmly to that tube, and you’ve just introduced a new shape to your once-round scope. The divots and odd shapes affect the guts of the scope; in fact, if bad enough, they can bind up the magnification ring (or rather the moving parts that enable you to zoom in and out) and/or the gears and moving parts of the elevation and windage turrets. That’s bad juju, especially if you’re a precision shooter that really needs your scope to track honestly when zoomed in and out and dialed up and down for various distances.


    A scope-lapping rod can serve dual duty as an alignment tool. In the case of proprietary rings that clamp directly to the action, finger tighten the rings onto the rifle; finger tighten the ring screws, then tighten the clamp screws firmly.

    Plus, rings that aren’t lined up with each other—no matter how smooth their inner surfaces—bend the tube of your scope, further adding to the potential for bound gears and moving parts.

    And finally, hard as it may be to believe, the stress that a scope tube bent against its will exerts on your rifle’s action (which must hold your scope in whatever distorted position your rings put it) can have an adverse affect on accuracy. In drastic cases, it can even negate the accuracy advantages of a perfect action-bedding job.

    It’s worth fixing.

    How? By lapping—or honing, if you will—the inner surfaces of your rings with a perfectly straight, perfectly round steel bar and polishing compound.

    To get started, order a lapping kit from Sinclair, Midway or Brownells. I use the Brownells Scope Ring Alignment Lap ($69.99 for the 1-inch; $79.99 for the 30mm version) and have great luck with it. Most lapping kits come with a polishing compound; if not, pick up some 800-grit compound at your local hardware store or machinist supply store.

    As a side benefit, your lapping rod can be used as a ring alignment tool when turning in dovetail-type rings or whatnot.

    With your rings firmly in place on your rifle, put a small piece of masking tape on the upper half of each ring and mark them “Front” and “Rear.” Once lapped, you mustn’t mix up your ring halves or even reverse the way they sit on the bottoms.

    Take the ring screws out and the top halves off, lay a rag over your action to prevent bits of lapping compound from falling into it, and smear the inside of the rings—upper and lower halves—with polishing compound. Lay the lapping rod into the lower halves and screw the ring top halves over it. Don’t tighten the ring screws, or you won’t be able to move the lap.

    Work the lap inside the rings, turning it and sliding it forward and back. At first, it will loosen quickly as the high points inside the rings polish off; tighten the ring screws slightly, one ring at a time, and keep working. Brownells recommends working the lap forward and back about 30 times before freshening the lapping compound; I tend to just work it for about two songs on the radio.

    Unscrew the rings and apply a fresh layer of compound. Replace the rings and go back to lapping. Some fellows suggest a figure 8 pattern as you work the lap back and forth; I tend to just zigzag it forward and back when tight and run the handle in big ovals as it loosens up. Keep snugging the screws lightly as the rings loosen.

    Depending on the quality of the rings and the material they’re made of (steel versus aluminum), you’ll need to repeat the above process two to five times. When applying fresh compound, you can wipe the old stuff out of the bottom rings with paper towel to get a visual on your progress.

    About 80 percent of the lower ring surface should be smooth and perfectly true by the time you’re finished. The upper rings will be a bit less. There’s no need to lap until the surfaces are completely polished—in fact, you can take off too much material if you lap too much, resulting in rings that touch at the sides and no longer adequately grip the riflescope when the screws are tightened.

    As you mount your scope in the lapped rings, you’ll notice a significant difference. The scope will lay into them without any binding, and the top halves will fit over smoothly and the screws run in easily, coming snug all at once, not slowly as they do when un-lapped rings are distorting your scope tube or slowly bending it out of alignment.

    You’ll also notice how much easier it is to slide your scope forward and rearward as you finesse your eye relief to perfection, and how easy it is to rotate it slightly to level up the crosshairs even with the rings lightly snugged.

    As you tighten your rings down on the scope tube, you’ll be comfortable in the knowledge that you’re not distorting the optic’s surface, or putting a bend into it, or stressing your rifle’s action and potentially introducing inaccuracies. Assuming that your scope is of reasonable quality, you’ll rest easy knowing that the inner moving parts can zoom and dial without binding, too.

    A stress-free riflescope is consistent, dependable and predictable. When it comes to precisely placing shots with your favorite tackdriver, those are very real advantages.

    Long Range Shooting
    Just a trio of tips for new and not quite veteran distance shooters looking to improve their long game:

    1. Start off shooting at 75-100 yards

    Proning out with a custom bolt action .308 or a .338 Lapua won’t do you any good unless you can shoot straight.  Forget the wind and mirage.  See if you can hit consistently at 100 yards first.  You should be able to blow the head off a Barbie doll at that distance. At least, that’s what I used to do when I was practicing T-zone hits.  Drilling holes through nickels, dimes and quarters can also be fun.  Just a little clear tape over the top of the coin, and—walla!—you have an instant target.

    Once you get good and consistent at shorter distances, it’s time to reach out a bit.

    2.  Learn to read the wind

    There are multiple factors affecting distant shooting, but foremost is (1) the guy or the gal behind the gun (I’m talking about basic marksmanship factors here), and (2) the wind.

    Whether you’re shooting a sub-MOA precision rifle or a 3 MOA carbine out to, say, 300 yards, wind matters. Reading the wind takes a little practice.

    Range flags help during practice, but you won’t have a range flag when you’re “down range” on a military or private security contract deployment.  Nevertheless, watch the flag and pick up tell tale signs. Watch downrange a bit for blowing leaves or even grass too.  You can also check the wind at your location.

    Wind is a tricky, interesting thing to study.  You’ll find quickly that it can be full force, quarter angled and any other number of variations. As well, the wind can blow, say, from the right to the left directly in front of you but then shift halfway downrange so that it’s blowing from the left to the right. The wind can also blow anywhere from 5-15 mph or more if you’re about to endure a tornado.

    The distance (e.g. at your location, halfway to the target and close to the target), speed and direction of wind will all play a factor in your bullet’s pathway.

    3.  Reading the wind in the mirage

    Whether you’re looking through a spotting scope or the glass on your long range rifle, the blurry mirage will show you what’s happening environmentally downrange. For long range shooters, the term ”mirage” does not refer to a true mirage, but rather to heat waves and the refraction of light as they are bent through air layers of different density between the shooter and the target, similar in effect to an object appearing bent when protruding out of water (read more about this phenomenon here).

    Learning to read wind and mirage from a good spotter will help you immensely at shooting accurate groups.

    When it comes to understanding the mirage, focus on the target then back off about halfway to observe the mirage itself.  All this is done through glass.  As a general rule, if the lines of the mirage have heavy or large waves, the wind is mild or it may not be windy at all at the location of the mirage.  On the other hand, the tighter together the lines of the mirage, the more wind at that location. And this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to mirage reading–skilled shooters can identify all sorts of different patterns that help them accurately compensate on distance shots.

    Getting out, reinforcing your skills and learning to read the wind and mirage will help you learn to be a better long distance shooter, but also keep in focus that nothing can replace good old fashioned marksmanship.  You can’t blame the wind if you can’t shoot well, so make sure to get good up close before going long.

    Safety warning: Jeffrey Denning is a long time professional in the art of self-defense and any training methods or information he describes in his articles are intended to be put into practice only by serious shooters with proper training.  Please read, but do not attempt anything posted here without first seeking out proper training. (Jeffery Denning)

    Love the Gun

    Shooting enthusiasts of every kind have all too often found themselves in possession of a freshly acquired firearm which, for one reason or another, does not live up to expectations. Yes, the gun may be safe to shoot, and it goes bang like it's supposed to, but the feel or function just isn't what was hoped for. It can be a real temptation to hurry and trade away disappointing guns at a financial loss. But before you give up on this new relationship, several less expensive steps can be taken to try and find the rifle, shotgun, or handgun you really wanted hiding inside the gun you've already got:

    1. Give the gun a detailed cleaning. undefined
    This is a good rule of thumb for both new and used guns. I've cracked open dozens of
    factory-fresh firearms to find that some are spotlessly clean and nearly devoid of lubrication while others are dripping in heavy grease and metal shavings. Either way, the guns are not likely to operate properly (or may even be damaged) if they are not cleaned and lubricated before the first trip to the range. As for used guns, there's just no way to know what condition they're in until you take a look under the hood. A buddy of mine picked up a previously owned competition grade bull barrel AR-15.

    When I asked him how it ran, he said it was just OK. It was not as accurate as promised and it was jamming frequently. He thought it might need a gun smith. I asked if he cleaned it before going to the range. Well, no, the seller said it was ready to shoot. When he got it open, it was, like many used guns, absolutely filthy inside.

    After a detailed cleaning of the internals, and a deep scrub of the barrel to remove the fouling, the rifle ran like a Swiss watch. The moral of the story is this: All guns are dirty and dry until you clean and lubricate them yourself.

    2. Swap out the stock or grip. undefined
    A simple stock exchange can provide the look and feel of a complete gun makeover. For long guns, pay close attention to the length-of-pull (LOP), meaning the distance from the face of the trigger to the end of the recoil pad.

    If the distance is too great for your body shape, a long gun will most likely feel out of balance or awkward to swing. Revolvers allow for a wide variety of grip shapes, sizes and materials. Swapping out a factory grip for one that fills your hand properly can turn a punishing wheel gun into one you love to practice with.

    The 1911 may not be a good fit for your hand shape, so try trading out the grip panels for thin aluminum grips or wood grips with a thumb groove to make it easier to reach the magazine release. For semi-autos with fixed polymer grip frames, try sliding on a rubber grip sleeve to improve traction.

    3. Upgrade the sighting system. undefined
    Small, poorly made or hard-to-see iron sights can take all of the fun out of a trip to the range. If your gun has removable sights that make you squint, try a different system. Night sights, fiber optics, target sights, or low profile combat sights might be just want you need. Some folks shoot better with open sights while others find they like peep sights best. If the plan is to mount an optic on the gun, don't settle for the cheapest glass you can find. It's amazing what investing just a little more in the right scope can do to improve the view (and your accuracy).

    4. Trade out the trigger. undefined
    Triggers that are heavy, mushy or gritty are a drag to pull. In fact, bad triggers can have a measurable impact on a gun's accuracy potential.

    Some shooting platforms have trigger systems that can be swapped out without the need for gunsmithing, such as the AR-15 rifle, Ruger 10/22 rimfire, and Glock pistols. Some folks cringe at the idea of spending $100 or more for “just” a trigger but, much like the right stock or grip, it can significantly change the feel of the gun.

    5. Try different ammunition brands and bullet weights. undefined
    More than once I've heard the tale of someone who immediately bought a case of a single variety of practice grade ammunition to shoot in their new gun.

    When it turns out that the firearm cannot properly digest this bulk-box fodder, or the accuracy is mediocre, the owner proceeds to cuss out the gun manufacturer for selling him a piece of junk.

    The truth of the matter is that all guns exhibit some degree of ammunition preference. That’s why professionals in the shooting industry carefully test a variety of ammunition to check for reliability and accuracy. One of the most dramatic ammunition accuracy shifts I’ve seen occurred during the test of an old Mosing Nagant M44 (group averages drifted between 3.17" to 1.41”).

    The best way to find a good ammunition fit for your personal firearm is to try several small lots of differing brands and bullet weights before investing in a lifetime supply of a particular type.

    6. Buy a quality holster. undefined
    No matter the size or type of handgun you choose for concealed carry, it will feel uncomfortable until you get used to it.

     But don't expect a cheap holster, on sale for half price, to provide a comfortable fit. Plan to spend at least 10 to 15 percent of what was paid for the handgun for an every-day carry system.

    Avoid the one-size-fits-all holsters and flimsy belts. Instead, stick with the quality holster system providers who make models specifically for your pistol or revolver.

    7. Do your homework. undefined
    Take some time to learn more about the guns you own. Chances are you will be able to find all kinds of resources, including instructional videos, history, and reviews for your gun online.

    These materials can be invaluable in identifying and understanding the features, quirks and ammunition preferences of your particular platform. Who knows, you might find out that the old bang stick your dad bought for $25 back in the 1960s is now a collector’s item.

    8. Check your technique. undefined
    I had been shooting shotguns for years when an instructor gave me a few key tips that forever changed my relationship with pump-action scatter guns.

    I was operating the platform correctly and making solid hits down range but I was getting pushed around by the recoil more than I liked. He showed me a subtle shift in where to couch the recoil pad in my shoulder’s pocket, how to repeat that exact placement each time, and then to add a bit of push-pull tension when aiming. Wow, suddenly I was running the shotgun instead of it running me. Even a little formal training can go a long way.

    9. Visit a reputable gunsmith. undefined
    Some gun issues just can't be diagnosed or resolved from the comfort of your own work bench. Qualified gunsmiths not only heal broken shooting irons, they can often make an OK gun much better.

    Don't just pick a name out of the phone book. Ask around until you find the right person for the job. Paying a gunsmith for an evaluation is almost always a worthwhile investment, especially if it turns out the gun has problems which make further upgrades or changes a waste of money. (American Rifleman)

    Time to get better

    Shooting, as a sport or hobby, has some rare compensations. At the minimum, it’s a complex manual skill that is a simultaneous joy and challenge to acquire. It also affords many intermediate satisfactions and variations. No wonder then, that it proves such a durable interest for many, spanning not merely lifetimes but generations in countless American families.

    That it can also save lives and preserve order is misunderstood—often deliberately—in modern times.

    The mere presence of a firearm thwarts many unsocial escalations—take a look at “Armed Citizen” if you doubt this. And here is where it parts company with most other hobbies and sports: Not to put too fine a point on it, but we could find not a single reference to criminal undertakings or other unrest being undone by a minus-20-degree goose down bag or carbon fiber mountain bike, however excellent or well-employed.

    This intersection between sporting utility and unwelcome necessity is where many shooters risk coming up short. The habits and practices of one mindset don’t always forward the goals of the other. If this remains obscure, think of it this way: It’s the difference between making an excellent shot when you wish, versus a satisfactory shot when you must

    This intersection between sporting utility and unwelcome necessity is where many shooters risk coming up short. The habits and practices of one mindset don’t always forward the goals of the other.

    These are more different than you might expect, and there’s little consequence for getting the first sort wrong. The second is a completely different story. We suggest that a practical, inexpensive key to sorting this out is to train with a shot timer.

    These are conceptually simple gadgets, really; a digital stopwatch attached to a microphone. They are designed to provide a start signal and “listen” to your shots. Where they get clever is the ability to record the times of a string of shots, and then let you review those times—generally called splits—and analyze the variation(s).

    For competitive shooting, the utility is obvious: Scoring is based on some mathematical relationship between the time it takes to make the shots in a prescribed course of fire and their quality/accuracy, plus or minus any penalties (some disciplines count generally up to determine score, others count down). Built into this process is the notion of a randomized start, generally between one and four seconds. A live range officer generally handles this in competition, but a shot timer will do it for you during training.

    It’s easy to underestimate the value of randomized starts. In a defensive scenario—and aside from moral considerations—there are two crucial break points. First is the decision that action is necessary. This must proceed from situational awareness, and an untimed “self-start” has no way to proxy this real-world processing interval. While it’s variable, certainly, such an interval won’t be long.

    Second—and where a timer comes into play—is that most everyone overestimates how quickly they can get their defensive firearm into action. Nothing demonstrates deficiencies­ here quite like a timer: Buzz to bang is arguably the most crucial test of true defensive preparedness. A good quality (“A” hit on an IPSC target) from cover carry can easily take 2-plus seconds; from open carry, a second-and-half is respectable. Or, trans-warp here: Rob Leatham. (We watched Rob do this actual demo … er, wow?) The point is simple: A subjective notion of speed and what it lets us think are “safe” distances is deeply counterproductive as a Tueller or similar drill plainly shows.

    The second function of shot timers is similarly useful. The measurement of elapsed time between shots can teach a lot, too. Though we know he wouldn’t claim them as original to him, we never think of this capacity without the words of über-master instructor John Farnum (Defense Training International) ringing in our ears: “Don’t shoot faster than you can hit.” But as John also says, “If you don’t train with a timer, you’ll never know how fast that is.”

    Measuring the times between shots is helpful in three ways. True “splits”—the time between shots on the same target—clock how rapidly you can complete the cycle of a single mechanically correct and accurately placed shot. It assumes the firearm is presented and gripped, and a shot initiated. Beginning with the report of that shot, it captures the interval of tracking the sights through recoil and recovery up to delivery of a subsequent shot.

    If you watch this (astonishing) Max Michel video, you’ll have a good look at the second and third benefits of interval measurement, too: transitions, and in this case, with a reload. The second is the time it takes to move between targets: recovering the pistol from a shot and moving on to a new target. This interval is generally longer than a true split as the process is more complex, but properly done, not by much.

    The third interval demonstrates a dazzling reload pace, too—well under a second, shot-to-shot.

    As you see, all these things can be baselined and practiced only with a timer. While our examples are from competition venues, training with a timer is no less valid, for instance, on your concealed draw and reload. Also consider that fundamentals are just the beginning: As long as dimensions and distances of your courses of fire remain the same, virtually any target array can become a yardstick for improvement.As you see, all these things can be baselined and practiced only with a timer.

    In terms of hardware, there are many good choices: CED 8000 is one we’ve used a lot. It has numerous sensitivity adjustments that allow you to tune out the wind for instance (by setting the mic level), but will still pick up rimfire. Sensitive enough to hear dry-fire hammer-fall if properly positioned, it’s otherwise dizzyingly complete, with multiple par- and competitive timing modes.

    If ultra-compact is the name of the game, the ShotMaxx is a largish wristwatch. No pun intended, but … handy?

    Two long-time favorites (and maybe the best place to start) are the amazingly rugged Pocket Pro or Pact “club” timers. We hate to tell you how many times we’ve dropped ours, yet they just keep on humming.

    One caveat if you move ahead with timing your training: Using a timer can get you into the mindset of completing every action with a shot. While this is a reasoned expectation for range work and especially for competition, it should not become your default for concealed-carry skills development.

    Really knowing what you’re doing, and the ability to do it with precision and confidence, can diffuse a dangerous circumstance rapidly without force: We’ve been there.

    But the overarching goal should always be situational awareness toggled fully “ON,” and a shooting situation avoided altogether.

    Breaking Clays

    On the surface, shooting clay targets involves stepping into the station, loading your shotgun, calling for the target and pulling the trigger. However, the success behind crushing clays largely depends on the mental preparation just before calling for the shot. Experienced shotgunners call this preparation the "pre-shot routine."

    The process is similar to golf. You generally don't see someone stepping up the tee and immediately swinging his club at the ball. There's a cerebral component before the club is even drawn back. The same applies to clays shooting with the pre-shot routine.

    The purpose of the pre-shot routine is to mentally and physically prime yourself for the target presentation through a positive exercise. The beauty of having a routine prior to calling for the bird is that it helps eliminate inconsistencies while making you feel comfortable and confident in the station.

    By developing a successful pre-shot routine, diversions are reduced — increasing your ability to focus on the target in flight. There is no hard-and-fast pre-shot routine. It varies by shooter. The key, however, is to find a sequence of pre-shot cues that work best for you and stick with them.

    The people in the background are looking hard at the target. That’s the way to do it.

    Most clays games provide "lookers" a preview of the targets you're about to shoot. Your pre-shot routine should begin here. Train yourself to carefully scrutinize each of the preview targets, otherwise you're squandering a valuable opportunity.

    For lookers, watch the entire trajectory of the target from the time it leaves the trap machine until it hits the ground. You generally focus on the leading edge of the bird, with the exception of straight-away outgoers where you'll concentrate on the back of the target.

    In effect, fix your eyes on the segment of the target you want to hit. In some games like sporting clays or 5-stand, you may want to establish a physical landmark as your target breakpoint let's say a particular tree or shrub. What you're really doing here is formulating a plan to break the target.

    Now that you've seen the targets, you're thinking the next step involves loading your shells and taking the shot. Not quite yet.

    First, check the position of your feet as part of your pre-shot routine. Improper foot placement is one of the most frequent mistakes shooters make. Most people don't pay attention to where their feet are pointing or how far apart they are.

    In a nutshell, your feet are in a neutral position, shoulder-width apart, facing the field. Some sports like skeet or trap have recommended foot placement that changes by station. Regardless, don't make the mistake of standing like a rifle hunter with one foot behind the other and gun across your chest. Face the targets with your full body and feet placed for maximum swing.

    If you have any personal quirks about your shotgun posture, make sure they're implemented. For example, some shooters need to lean forward more than others. Whatever your particular style of shooting, this is the time to focus on executing it.

    Next, mentally prepare for the upcoming shot. You've made your plan with the lookers. Feel confident in that plan. Steel yourself with positive thoughts.

    Too many shooters say to themselves "that target is too hard" or "I'll never be able to hit it." Those are self-fulfilling prophecies. Relax and remain confident in your ability to break the target with the plan you've committed to using.

    This shooter has unwavering focus on the target. Strive for it through your pre-shot routine.

    Visualize breaking the target. You've established your break point with the lookers. Pause for a moment and see in your mind's eye the target shattering at that particular spot in the flight path of the bird.

    As part of positive mental preparation, you can use a so-called trigger phrase that goes something like this: "Focus on the front of the target" or "break the bird" or "follow through the swing." You would say this to yourself just before loading the shotgun.

    Now you've dropped the shells into the chamber and closed it. The sound of the shotgun locking should be a signal that you're ready to successfully break the target. That sound takes you into the zone of relaxation and confidence. Shotgun closed, you're ready to smash the bird.

    Take a deep breath and exhale. This step of your pre-shot routine contributes to your relaxation. Your body should remain alert, but your mind is quiet and instinctively ready to receive the target.

    Call for the bird, now it's broken.

    It will probably take several attempts to create your own pre-shot routine. Believe in it, and your scores will definitely improve.

    And by the way, in the interest of safety, always be aware of your surroundings. (Irwin Greenstein)


    Col. Jeff Cooper: Developing a Defensive Mindset

    by Brad Fitzpatrick   |  August 17th, 2015
  1. In case you aren’t familiar with the late Col. John Dean “Jeff” Cooper—which probably means you’re new to defensive shooting—allow me to introduce you. Born in 1920, Cooper earned a political science degree from Stanford before receiving a commission from the United States Marine Corps, and he fought in the Pacific in World War II and later in Korea before retiring as a lieutenant colonel. Cooper went on to earn his master’s degree and taught high school and college classes before he opened American Pistol Institute (API), now known as Gunsite, one of the nation’s top training destinations for civilian shooters as well as law enforcement and military professionals.


    Col. Cooper changed the way shooters handled their guns, how they engaged enemies and, perhaps most importantly, how they managed to develop a mindset that prepared them to face a lethal threat at any time and place. In his written works and his teachings, Col. Cooper made it clear that technical skills—how to load and fire your weapon—were of little value without being mentally prepared to win a gunfight. Today, 39 years after the doors opened, the instructors at Gunsite still prepare shooters to face the most dangerous situations and survive using Cooper’s techniques and methods. Here are five key points from Col. Cooper that are essential to understanding how mindset affects the outcome of a gunfight—or prevents a gunfight from ever happening.

    Surviving Is as Much Mental as Physical: In one of his lectures, Col. Cooper touched on several occasions where officers and civilians who were proficient with firearms, some of which were elite-level shooters, died in a gunfight. It’s very clear by looking at the resume of these shooters that they had sufficient technical skill with firearms, but they also had, as Col. Cooper puts it, an “unsatisfactory mental condition.” Teaching the mental aspects of shooting is far more esoteric than teaching the physical and mechanical skills needed to survive—double-taps, tactical reloads, drawing the firearm, and so forth. Proper mindset is something that the student must be willing to adopt. Ken Campbell, Gunsite’s Chief Operating Officer and a former law enforcement officer with 35 years of experience in the field echoes Cooper’s words:

    “It’s not just owning a gun. It’s not just knowing how to clean the gun or shoot the gun that’s going to save your life. You have to have the right mental attitude.” Or, as Colonel Cooper once said, “Owning a piano does not make you a pianist.”


    The World Is a Dangerous Place: One of the central tenants of Col. Cooper’s philosophy on surviving a dangerous encounter is situational awareness and an understanding that violence might, as Cooper says, come to you. To illustrate his point, Colonel Cooper developed four stages of preparedness—white, yellow, orange and red. The white state, according to Cooper, is a state of relaxed ignorance, an individual who is unwilling or unable to come to grips with the fact that the world, even their little corner of the world, is not immune to violence. Being in the white state of mind leaves you unprepared, and when you find yourself in the midst of a deadly encounter, individuals who survive in this frame of mind usually share the same thought—I can’t believe this is happening to me. That mindset leads to a loss of faculties—the heart rate increases, we don’t react as quickly, we lose control of our fine motor skills. We freeze. It’s how seasoned police officers and trained competitive pistol shooters find themselves in a deadly shooting and never manage to fire a shot. Cooper refers to this stage of mind as “relaxed, unaware and unprepared.” Refusing to come to terms with the fact that there is violence in the world does nothing to protect you when you find yourself face-to-face with those that would do you harm.


    Awareness Is Critical: Col. Cooper and his team at Gunsite have been teaching people how to survive in a different state of mind—an aware state—for almost four decades. Cooper referred to it as the yellow state—situationally aware and always prepared. According to Cooper, the threat is not specific during the yellow state, but the shooter is prepared.  In an aware state of mind, Cooper says, your odds of surviving an attack are substantially higher. At Gunsite, students learn Cooper’s method for existing in a yellow state of mind, prepared to face a threat at any moment and ready to take the steps necessary to win. The first step to living aware is to accept the fact that you may face a dangerous situation at any moment, and truly living in a prepared state requires a fundamental acceptance that, due to factors beyond your control, you may have to defend yourself and the lives of others.


    The Right Attitude Can Save You from A Fight You Never Saw Coming: In one of Col. Cooper’s videotaped lectures, he discusses a research project in which violent criminals were asked to look at a city street and identify possible targets of attack. By and large, these criminals chose the same individuals as potential targets. The people that were most often targeted were in the “white” state of mind—oblivious, ignorant of their surroundings, detached from the reality of living in a potentially violent world. We must all ask ourselves whether those criminals would have identified us as potential targets, and, if so, what we can do to change that.

    “Mindset allows you to avoid a fight, which is a huge win,” Campbell says. “We need to recognize problems, and the only answer to a problem does not rest in your holster.” By presenting yourself as a hard target you can diffuse violent situations before they escalate—sometimes before you even realize that you were being sized-up by an attacker. Col. Cooper’s teachings help students present themselves as formidable opponents through subtle clues like carriage, head position, and the use of their eyes, and by presenting yourself as aware and prepared you will sometimes manage to avoid conflict in the first place. Recognizing situations that could be dangerous also give you a major advantage if a confrontation happens, which is less likely if criminals understand that you are going to be a difficult mark.

    Prepared Does Not Mean Fearful: I’m often asked if I train with firearms because I’m afraid of bad guys. That’s as illogical as asking a trauma surgeon if they went into medicine because they are afraid of being hurt. There is a vast difference between being prepared and being afraid. And, if you do find yourself in the midst a violent encounter, fear does very little to help you survive. Preparation, on the other hand, provides you with the mental and physical tools you need to win.

    “In a confrontation, you let your opponent know that they’ve bitten off more than they can chew,” Campbell says. “They thought you were a proverbial sheep, but in reality you are a sheepdog.”

    Col. Cooper also describes the prepared attitude as not being one of, “an uncontrolled, explosive kook.” According to Cooper, the best preparation leaves you, “in full control of your mind.” And, ultimately, that is the key—learning to be in charge of yourself and your actions even in the midst of a terrible, violent attack. So important was mindset to Cooper that he made it part of the Triad which Gunsite still uses and still teaches to their students, along with marksmanship and gun handling. Ultimately, though, your skill with a firearm is of no use in a situation where you can’t control your emotions and mental state.

    For more information about Gunsite visit

    Back to basics. Eric Lamberson

    At the beginning of every year, I like to review marksmanship fundamentals. These fundamentals form the foundation for all accurate shooting, but they are something many overlook.

    Zeroing your pistol

    I continue to be amazed at how often I hear competitors say, "I've never zeroed the sights on my pistol." The ability to hit a target on demand starts with zeroing (or sighting in) your pistol for the ammunition you are shooting.

    If you have not zeroed your pistol with this ammunition, you have only a vague idea of where the shots will hit in relation to your sight picture. The difference between point of aim and point of impact will grow with distance and may result in you missing the target entirely.

    It takes a minimum of 10 shots carefully fired at a target (ideally using a solid rest or sand bags to minimize pistol movement) with the ammo you intend to use to verify point of impact. After firing these shots, make your sight corrections based upon the center point of the group you fired — ignore any shots that are obviously the result of shooter error.

    If you have adjustable sights, adjust your point of impact at least one-half the group size so you can see a definite shift in the next group's center point. Continue this process until you have a clear correlation between point of aim and point of impact for your shot group. If you do not have adjustable sights, then you must drift the sights or memorize the difference between point of aim and the desired point of impact.

    Zeroing your carry pistol for your self-defense/carry ammunition is even more important. Different brands will shoot to different points of impact — the difference can be critical if you must take a precise shot. If you practice/compete with your carry pistol (and you should do this on a regular basis), zero the sights for you carry ammunition and then memorize the point of aim/point of impact difference for your practice ammunition.

    Hitting the target

    Every time someone fires a pistol, the bullet hits ... something. Of course, the key is an ability to hit what we want when we want and is critical to every shooting situation. The inability to fire an accurate shot on demand will hold you back in mastering every other pistol skill you need to acquire.

    The faster the shooting speed, the more important it becomes to fire each shot without disturbing pistol's the stability and alignment. To quickly hit a target, the shooter must condense the act of firing an accurate shot down to a short time frame; however, the fundamental process is the same.

    The ability to hit your target and execute various gun-handling skills such as a draw, reload, engage moving targets, etc., must coexist. However, don't try to develop them simultaneously. Each skill has to be developed and practiced separately.

    Certain skills are more easily acquired through dry practice, because recoil can mask some problems. For instance, you can send your shots to the lower left or right by changing your grip pressure as you pull the trigger — something you probably will not feel when the pistol recoils. Dry practice allows you to concentrate on a specific skill and reduces the possibility that you might misinterpreted feedback that other variables produce.

    Using the sights

    Sight alignment and sight picture are often confused, but they are not the same. Alignment refers to the relationship between the front and rear sight; the sight picture is the relationship between the aligned sights and the target what you see the instant the pistol fires.

    Alignment is correct when the top of the front sight is the same height as the top of the rear sight blade, and there is an equal amount of light showing on either side of the front sight. With optical sights, alignment consists of seeing the dot in the scope — regardless of where it appears.

    You must focus on the front sight (or dot, etc.) to fire an accurate shot. The human eye's physical characteristics preclude simultaneously focusing on objects at multiple distances. Focus on the front sight, not the rear sight and not the target.

    This is a fairly easy concept to understand. Are you fully aware of the front sight for every shot? Can you see it on demand at speed? Dry practice helps us refine this skill as you practice drawing the pistol and acquiring proper sight alignment. Aligning the sights at speed is simply knowing what you need to see and then confirming that you see it as you press the trigger.

    Prepping the trigger

    You can have the perfect sight alignment and picture, but if you jerk the trigger, you'll likely miss the target. Pulling the trigger on a semi-automatic is a two-step process; taking up the slack or pre-travel, then pressing the trigger to the rear to fire the shot.

    The pre-travel is the distance the trigger moves from its forward-most position to the point where the shooter feels the sear's resistance. The weakest area for most shooters is an inability to take up this pre-travel without actually releasing the sear (and thereby firing the shot). Prepping the trigger means learning to pull through that free movement and hold against the weight of the sear engagement.

    You should be aware of this every time you fire a shot, regardless of how rapidly you are shooting. It does take time to learn this skill, and it only comes with practice. It is also a progressive skill — start with slow fire and only speed up when you can prep the trigger without disturbing the sight alignment/picture. Prepping the trigger forms the foundation of proper trigger control; eventually it will become a conditioned reflex.

    Pressing the trigger

    Once the shooter preps the trigger, pressing through to fire the shot is the next step. Your trigger finger should begin to exert pressure straight back until the pistol fires. Ideally, the middle of the pad of the fingertip should be 90 degrees to the trigger, which enables you to press the trigger straight to the rear. Then, release the trigger at the same speed in which it's pressed, keeping the finger in contact as it returns.

    The term "press" should not be misinterpreted as being a slow-moving process. "Press" implies that increasing the level of pressure against the trigger is done as a smooth acceleration. However, you must do this in a predictable pattern regardless of its time frame: pressure increases progressively until the shot breaks.

    As you're learning trigger control, pay attention to sight alignment when putting pressure on the trigger. Both must be done at the same time. After you've acquired the ability to press the trigger without moving the sights start speeding up just a little. Experiment to see how quickly you can press the trigger without disrupting alignment.

    Shooting grip

    Many people under- or over-grip the handgun. Bull's-eye shooters, for example, typically are not overly concerned with controlling recoil for immediate follow-up shots, and therefore tend to have a lighter grip on the pistol. Many believe a death grip on the pistol will prevent recoil. However, no matter how tightly you grip it, the handgun will still recoil and an excessively tight grips often prevents a stable sight alignment/picture.

    The proper grip tension is about the same pressure you'd feel when holding a hammer to drive a nail. Additionally, the pressure in both hands must be equal to help ensure the gun tracks consistently straight up and down during recoil. Gripping the gun with correct tension will allow the hand to recoil in concert with the pistol and allows proper trigger control. When the firing hand is not trying to choke the life out of the pistol, the trigger finger is free to move smoothly, quickly and precisely.

    A proper grip when combined with a proper stance will enable you to effectively deal with muzzle rise. As you relax and see a predictable pattern, you will start to see the sights through the entire recoil cycle.

    Inexperienced shooters try to reduce muzzle rise thinking that it will enable them to shoot faster. However, the speed and consistency with which the pistol returns into alignment that determines how quickly the shooter can fire the next accurate shot. With practice and proper stance, the recoil pattern will become predictable and the sights will then automatically return back into alignment.

    Grip mechanics and high hold

    Grip the gun as high on the frame as possible with the shooting hand indexing against the beavertail and making full contact with the rear of the frame. If your hand size permits, extend both thumbs toward the target along the slide or frame while being careful not to press them inward. Inward pressure against the slide/frame can influence the tracking of the gun in recoil and cause malfunctions.

    Hand size is an issue for some people. For example, as I learned to shoot the Springfield XD pistol, I found it impossible to not press the slide release with my normal grip. I had to teach myself a slightly different grip to enable the slide to lock back on the final round. I don't have this problem on the 1911 or the S&W M&P platforms.

    The shooting hand squeezes the gun from front to rear; the support hand squeezes the shooting hand from side to side, creating a clam-shell effect that created a four-way, equal pressure on the pistol. Having the proper weight balance on each side allows the gun to track more consistently in recoil.

    Place the index finger of the support hand tight under the trigger guard. Placing the finger under the trigger guard positions the hand/wrist for holding the gun down and forward against muzzle rise. Correct grip tension allows the gun to lift and return smoothly while the correct grip position allows the gun to return quickly and consistently.

    Shooting stance

    Every physical sport has an optimal stance; shooting is no different. Just like golf, baseball, tennis, etc., the correct shooting stance provides an overall feeling of balance; it is an athletic position of readiness.

    The next time you are at the range, take a moment and look at how pistol shooters are standing — you will see every variation imaginable; most are not optimal. The correct shooting stance is a progressively aggressive stance with shoulders in slightly front of ankles, ears in front of shoulders. This posture puts the majority of the body weight slightly forward and uses the body's mechanics to help control recoil.

    Your spine should be relatively straight, while your knees are flexed and the upper body bends slightly forward at the ankles, not the waist. If you're doing it correctly, you'll feel tension in your calf muscles. The wider the swing needed to shoot multiple targets, the more the knees should be flexed.

    It is important to remain flat-footed while the upper body is leaning toward the target. One foot may be in front of the other as in a slight karate-style forward stance. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart. A stance that's too wide will inhibit your ability to swing to shoot multiple targets and your ability to move. A too-narrow stance can cause you to lose your balance as the pistol recoils.

    You must have a progressively aggressive stance to resist the pistol's recoil and maintain your balance. Do not put too much weight on the balls of your feet, this creates instability. As a test, I have novice shooters extend their arms as if they are holding a pistol and close their eyes. I then push against their hands (as if pushing them backward); without a correct stance it is easy to push them off balance.

    The Isosceles, Modified Isosceles, Weaver and the Chapman Modified Weaver debate in some circles is almost as enthusiastic as the 9mm versus .45 ACP debate. There is a place for every variation depending upon the specific shooting situation, cover, ground, etc. Everyone should master all of them, and there are numerous Internet videos that detail how to do each one.

    The fundamental foundation

    Zero your pistol, learn and use a solid stance, and practice the fundamentals of sight alignment and trigger control. Revisit these fundamentals periodically as you progress and anytime you start to drift into bad habits.

    The marksmanship fundamentals form the basis of all steady, fast and accurate pistol shooting. Begin and end each range session with precision shooting practice to reaffirm your ability to place a bullet exactly where you want it.

  2. Action pistol Zero by Chris.

  3. How To Refine Your Action Pistol Zero

    Action pistol zero tips
    This 25-yard bench rest zero (left) looks match ready. But, controlled pairs from the holster at 15, 20 and 25 yards (right) show the group center isn’t on the big red dot in target center. Moving the sights right and down would produce a better match zero and “rescue” some down point hits.

    High Power Rifle competitors are well aware that the group they shoot at 600 yards from a bench rest is very likely to shift its POI when they drop into a prone position with a tight sling. The “hold” changes―which changes the POI.

    This affect is more pronounced with the greater muzzle rise of a handgun during recoil. The rock solid grip on a bench isn’t likely to be duplicated when the gun is quickly drawn from a holster and fired rapidly from a freestyle hold. A bench rest zero is a start. But the final zero should be done freestyle, and from the holster.

    Many expert shooters recommend an 8-inch white plate as a target. The hits are easy to see and the white plate provides a precise sight picture. An alternative (one which the
    author uses) is to cut the 0- or A-Zone out of a USPSA/ICORE/IDPA target and tape a piece of white copy paper over the hole on the back. It provides the same sight picture and records hits.

    Start at 15 yards, draw from the holster, and deliver deliberate controlled pairs. Then repeat from 20 or 25 yards. Run at least 30 rounds. Then look at the resulting group.

    Discount the obvious wild shots. Look at the main group center. This writer normally finds his center will be about 2.5-inches high and left (with a semi-auto) than the zero from the bench. That’s enough to put some rounds out of the 0- or A-Zone. Adjusting the group center to what is actually achieved during a match puts those rounds back in the 0-Zone.

    A bench rest is nice, but shooters won’t have one with them during a match.


    A Page From History: Pistol Pointers

    Bullseye pistol competition is now known officially as Precision pistol
    Classic bullseye pistol competition.

    Both the Camp Perry Course and the NRA Short Course are three-stage events fired at 25 yards range. Both these include timed fire and rapid fire stages as in the NMC, and differ only in the slow fire stages. In the Camp Perry Course, slow fire is shot in two five-shot strings, 2 ½ minutes for each string, on the 25-yard timed and rapid fire target. In the NRA Short Course, slow fire is shot in two five-shot strings, five minutes for each string, on the 25-yard slow fire target. 

    If you are located where you can shoot outdoors comfortably all winter, these may be the only courses you will encounter. But if you live in the cold country, your winter shooting will be indoors, where most ranges are laid out for 50-foot or 60-foot (20-yard) distances. In either case, the courses are the same—slow fire, timed fire, and rapid fire at fixed distances, with the scoring ring diameters of the slow fire target being much smaller than the rings on the target used in timed and rapid fire. The target sizes are adjusted to give about the same degree of difficulty regardless of range.

    A big pistol event will usually have several matches. You’ll usually shoot a 20-shot slow fire match, a 20-shot timed fire match, a 20-shot rapid fire match, and a three-stage course, for a total of 90 shots and a possible score of 900. A big outdoor affair, often running more than one day, will have a series like this limited to the .22 handgun, another limited to centerfire arms, and a third limited to the .45 caliber guns.

    In some tournaments you will run into the International slow fire and rapid fire courses, about which we’ll talk more later.

    All the shooting we’ve been talking about is one-handed, with the shooter standing upright without support. People whose lives may depend on their handgun handiness want to carry things much further, and you find that many law enforcement agencies also have tough ‘combat’ courses for further training.

    Secrets of success

    There are many things that contribute to pistol shooting success and each helps in some measure—without them you won’t be a champ. But there are a couple of secrets that are essential to success—without them you’ll be a chump.

    Bullseye pistol sight alignment
    Proper hold and sight alignment.

    Eagle-eye sight is not one of the secrets. You should have passable vision. The harder test is shooting indoors, where the light is generally poor and older folks often find the front and rear sights fuzzy. Having good lighting is a big help here. A pinhole gadget fastened to your glasses or hanging down in front of your shooting eye will make sights and bull look sharper. Another solution—and the one I use—is to have a pair of glasses ground so that your shooting eye focuses sharply on the sights. Sure the bull is going to be a fuzzy mass—that won’t hurt scores.

    Being strong may be some help on the range, especially when it comes to carrying ammunition cases around, etc., but it isn’t one of the secrets.

    Having a calm, easy-going disposition is a help because you won’t let things rattle you when you run into trouble—or when you begin to pile up a good score. But here are the two real secrets that you must remember!

    Sight alignment. Sight alignment merely means the line-up of the front and rear sights—and let’s not worry much about the bullseye yet. If you hold the pistol at arm’s length, you will find that the front sight waves around wildly, the rear sight waves around differently, and neither has any apparent intention of sticking in the vicinity of the bull. You can simplify the problem by concentrating on holding the ideal sight alignment—front sight exactly centered in the front sight notch, and the top of the rear sight. Watch it carefully—and watch it carefully all the time. As soon as you start worrying about something else, the front sight will wander away from the rear, and you will get a wild shot. Because of the short distance between sights—six to 10 inches—any sight movement here means a big bullet movement on the target.

    Your intense concentration should be keeping the two sights lined up. As a secondary matter, you want to have those sights snuggled up against the bottom of the bull as much as possible. But the bull isn’t necessary, as you can prove by turning a target backward and shooting for the center of the paper. If you shoot a few strings at the blank paper, concentrating on the sight alignment, you will be surprised at how well you do without a bull.

    With the first secret of success thoroughly mastered, it’s time to take up the second one.

    Trigger squeeze. Perhaps ‘trigger squeeze’ isn’t the right term; maybe ‘trigger control’, ‘trigger pulling’, or some other term is better. But no matter what you call it, you want to apply pressure to the trigger so that when the hammer is released you don’t move the gun. The beginner—and many an old hand—tends to yank the trigger and he yanks the gun way off the aiming point at the same time. Because the pistol is held at arm’s length by only one hand—and none too steady at that—it is easy to flip the muzzle in one direction or another by a twitch of the hand. And a little flip of the muzzle means a very wide shot on the target or perhaps off it altogether. It take a great deal of training and self-control to apply pressure to only the trigger finger, especially when you are shooting a big gun that gives much noise and recoil. When you’ve concentrated hard, got the sights nicely lined up and sitting just right under the bull, your mind tells you to yank that trigger right now, because you aren’t going to hold that ‘just-right’ picture very long. So you grab the trigger and a shot hole shows up way out in the white. The tendency is bad enough in slow fire, but when you get to rapid fire, with its 10-second limit, it seems as though the only thing you can do is yank ‘em off as the bull goes by. But yanking is sure death to good rapid fire scores as well as to good slow fire scores. You must release the hammer without moving the gun.

    Pistol shooting is very largely a matter of self-control and until you master the art, you may have trouble understanding what you are doing. Keep watching the sight alignment like a hawk before, during, and after the shot. You can often pick up a flinch if you watch carefully—and are honest with yourself.

    For those who have never seen it in action, flinching is that involuntary ‘pushing down and forward’ action of the gun hand (with gun in it) just as the piece is fired. It must be overcome if the shooter wants to stay in the running. Evidently it is some sort of semi-reflex action designed to compensate for the kick and noise before they happen. It doesn’t do anything but ruin scores. Some shooters believe that the noise is as much to blame for flinching as the recoil, and accordingly recommend good ear plugs. A good way of making yourself be honest is to have a partner hand you the gun for each shot—sometimes empty, sometimes loaded, and watch for gun movement on the empty. By yourself, you should always call the exact location where each shot should hit, after you fire it but before you should look in the scope for the hole in the target. If the shot is very far away from where you called it, you can suspect a flinch.

    Holding the gun. Shooting is a rough and expensive way to learn how to shoot, and you can develop some poor habits in the process. Some parts you’ll have to learn by shooting, but you can learn much without firing a shot. Working at home a few minutes a day will do a lot more good than a whole afternoon of blasting at the countryside.

    Correct pistol cocking and body positioning for bullseye pistol
    Left: Correct cocking technique requires straight-line movement of hammer spur with minimum derangement of gun hand. Sight alignment with target is maintained as gun is cocked. Right: Body positions often vary markedly from shooter to shooter and each must experiment to determine position best suited to his/her physical conformation.

    One of the first things you will want to do is to toughen up your arm and shoulder muscles, so you can hold a two- or three-pound weight at arm’s length for half a minute without wobbling all over the place. You can practice this without a gun—any weight will do—and the steadier you become the better shooter you will be. A few minutes work each day for a few weeks that will give you remarkably better control of that arm.

    It is more fun to practice with a gun in hand, but when you do, work hard at developing good habits. Start by concentrating on sight alignment by itself. As you get this well in hand, then put up an aiming mark on the wall and practice lining up the sights with the mark. The mark should be about the right size to look like a bullseye. When you have aiming under control, some extensive trigger work is indicated. And this is one reason for waiting so long in this training period before taking up the squeeze—so that the other items are second nature to you and you can concentrate on trigger control.

    If you are working with a revolver, practice the technique of cocking it while you work on the trigger control. With your gun-hand thumb, reach over to the hammer spur and pull the hammer straight back until it’s cocked. Keep the gun pointed at the target, don’t let swing off to one side, don’t let the muzzle drop, and keep the sights in view. You want as little gun movement as possible to save time and effort and you don’t want to lose track of the sights, because finding them will cost more time. Cocking the revolver doesn’t contribute to making 10s, so you want to learn how to handle the hammer without having to think about it. Poor hammer manipulation can cause you lost points by taking too much time, by making you lose the sights, or by shifting your grip.

    When you start shooting, concentrate on the basics while you learn a bit about slow fire. There’s no point in worrying about timed and rapid fire until you can shoot passable groups slow fire. As you get the feel of slow fire, try shooting a couple of shots without taking your arm down. Gradually reduce the time between shots and increase the number of shots—but don’t get careless on the basics. If you find the sight picture is getting sloppy or that you are starting to yank, slow down and start again.

    Soon you will reach the stage of being able to shoot five in 20 seconds and it might pay to stop here a while and work hard on this until you get the feel thoroughly. Then go back to the speed-up, trying to whittle that 20 seconds down to 10, bit by bit. Once you get to the 10-second limit, it will pay to devote careful attention to rapid fire. Unless you’re mighty careful, the short time limit may occasionally panic you into forgetting fundamentals and turning loose five wild shots. At this stage, it’s better to shoot only four shots if they are good than to squib off five in the general direction of the target.

    Nor do you get any extra credit for finishing ahead of time, so you should drill yourself extensively and know just how you are getting along in those 10 seconds. Practice getting the first shot away just as soon as the targets face you. If the first shot pops as they swing, you have about 2 1/2 seconds apiece for the other four shots and that should be enough time. But if you waste a few seconds on the first, you are shorting yourself on all the others. With someone to call commands for you, or by timing yourself, a lot of bedroom dry firing will pay off in learning instinctive hammer operation and timing, leaving you free to work on the sights and trigger.

    Shooting position. Down on the firing line you will see all sorts of shooting positions. At one extreme is the man who faces at right angles to the target, sticks his arm out to the side, and then turns his head so he can see the sights. At the other extreme is the man who plants his feet firmly as he faces downrange. He holds his arm directly up in front—even a bit over to the left so he can sight. I think you will find that a position somewhere between is a better compromise. Feet should be separated a comfortable distance, without going to extremes, and the left hand should be stuck in the pants pocket or hooked in the belt.

    How are you going to hang on to the pistol? That will vary, depending on the size and strength of your hand, length of fingers, type of handle on the gun, and other matters. Caliber and type of gun make a big difference. The .22 single-shot free pistol with its set trigger, the .38 revolver in timed or rapid fire, and the .45 auto in rapid fire, each requires something a little different. In shooting the free pistol with its few-ounce trigger pull, you will hold very lightly. In fact, some of the grips on the imported beauties don’t need any tight hold at all; you wear ’em like a glove. The revolver, on the other hand, needs a good firm grip with the third, fourth, and fifth fingers to keep it from slipping in your hand during recoil and during the acrobatics of getting your thumb on the hammer and the hammer back. The .45 auto calls for a mighty solid hand-hold. The hard grip will keep the gun from slipping in your hand, and will help you recover from recoil quickly during rapid fire.

    Timed and rapid fire. The commands for timed and rapid fire are the same as for slow fire: “With five rounds load. Ready on the right? Ready on the left? Ready on the firing line?” In a few seconds the targets will face toward the shooter, or the command “Commence firing” will be given.

    Safety, and tough range officers, demand that you do not load your gun until the command is given. In fact, your gun must be kept with magazine out, slide back, or cylinder swung out. It’s all right to load your magazines early in the game, so long as you don’t put them in the gun. “With five rounds load” is your signal to complete the loading—slip in the magazine or put the five rounds into the cylinder and close it; let the slide down or cock the revolver; be sure the safety is off; get your correct grip. Check your target number!

    At the command “Ready on the right?” you can begin aiming. It depends on what stage you are shooting, how fast the range officer gives commands, and other factors as to just when you start aiming, but it’s legal any time after the command. Incidentally this is really a question, not a command, and if you are not ready that’s the time to sing out in a loud voice. When you are all squared away, the range officer will start the commands again.

    The “Ready on the firing line” is the last word before the commence firing signal lets all concerned know that the range is ready to roll.

    After you have finished shooting, stand quietly until the cease firing signal is given. Then remove the magazine, latch the slide back, and check the chamber, or swing out the cylinder and empty it. Put your gun down and wait for the next command.

    International slow fire. If you’re an impatient character you’d better steer clear of International slow fire shooting. Not counting time for scoring and target changes, it can take up to 3 ¼ hours to fire one 60-shot match. Nor is it any better on the spectator, because the shooter disappears into a three-sided windbreak on most U.S. ranges and is gone for hours.

    However, this is the way the International Shooting Union (ISU) wants to conduct its World Championships and we shoot either ISU rules or not at all. This International game is very popular in many foreign countries, whereas the U.S. game has a more limited appeal.

    The International slow fire match is fired at 50 meters (54.7 yards) on the 50-meter International target. A full course consists of 60 shots, fired in six strings of 10 shots each, with a 20 minute time limit per string. In addition, a 20 minute sighting period is allowed to begin with, and a five minute string before each 10 record shots. In addition, there is a 30 minute break in the middle of things.

    Generally, the slow fire free pistol is a .22 single shot with a set trigger, a long sight radius, and special grips. This sort of pistol is not very popular in the U.S., because it is limited to this one kind of not-too-popular course, and is not made here. Consequently, except for the hotshot who gets serious about this game, most of us shoot it with whatever good .22 handgun we happen to be using for the U.S. game. On such a basis, it isn’t much different from our usual slow fire matches, except for the tough target and the longer course, and if you are a good slow fire shot you should do all right. But when you start working with the free pistol and its set trigger, then you are in a different game that takes some special work of its own.

    Regardless of the gun you use, when you switch over to the International target you’ll be downright discouraged. It has 10 rings in the same diameter as the five rings of the U.S. 50-yard target, and you are nearly 15 feet farther away.

    International rapid fire. The International rapid fire match is shot on five all-black targets, roughly the size and shape of a man, with scoring rings marked off inside the silhouette. The five targets are placed 2 ½ feet apart, center to center, and rigged so they can be edged or faced towards you. You load up your .22 pistol with five shots, get all set, drop your arm down to a 45-degree angle, and call “Ready.” In a few seconds the five targets swing from the edged position to face you, and later on are automatically edged again. When they are faced, you raise your pistol and fire one shot at each of the targets.

    Pistol International Rapid Fire
    Battery of five all black silhouette targets is used for International rapid fire matches

    You get eight seconds for the five shots. The next five shots are also given eight seconds. In the next two strings the time limit is dropped to six seconds. The last two strings have to be fired in four seconds each. If you consider this carefully, you will find that it amounts to less than one second per shot, which must include raising the gun on the first shot, and moving from target to target on the others. The first few times you try it, you either end with a couple of shots left or you blast five in the general direction of the targets. As you calm down, though, you will find that the four seconds is plenty of time to sight carefully and squeeze each shot—and, in fact, you must do these things right or you will have poor scores. Since the match is scored first by the number of hits, and then by numerical score, it pays to concentrate primarily on making hits, and then on making 10s in the eight second stages and to shoot for hits in the four second runs.

    That big silhouette looks almost impossible to miss at 25 meters (27 yards) and it comes as a considerable shock the first time you find two or three blank targets. You will swear that the bullets didn’t come out of the gun, or that they disappeared into thin air—but you know you couldn’t have missed! Here you see the effect of proper trigger squeeze—or lack of it. If you rush yourself and yank the trigger, you will likely earn a miss. This isn’t to say that you can loiter in getting those shots away, because the four second limit gives no loafing time.

    Since the target is all black, and since the sights are also black, it is possible to lose track of the sights on occasion, particularly if you let your gaze wander between shots. You can lick this in two ways—by painting the front and rear sights different colors or by concentrating on keeping the sights in view and in alignment all the time.

    The man who rolls up his sleeves, spits on his hands, and decides to take this game seriously will probably end up with one of the special guns made for this game. It will be chambered for the .22 short and will have a muzzle brake and heavy weights up front for keeping the muzzle from flipping up and for steadying the gun. But if you have a garden-variety .22 automatic (autoloading) pistol, you can still shoot respectable scores if you concentrate on sight alignment and fast trigger squeeze.

    Explaining the art and dedication required for prone shooting.

    This article focuses on prone; however, information contained will also help your position scores. So keep in mind that shooting encompasses two primary areas, technical which includes position and the integrated act of firing a shot, and mental, the thinking and focusing of your mind.

    The first thing in shooting better prone is for each individual to establish a personal goal. Simply said, make up your mind to achieve. Then work constantly at a high level continuously over a period of time. Focus and effort in training must be as intense as that experienced in competition, in order for a shooter to learn to shoot at the highest level.

    As a junior in the Acorns Junior Rifle Club, we were taught that you win competitions by shooting good in standing, and you lose competitions through shooting bad prone scores. As a result, a heavy emphasis was placed on shooting perfect prone scores. I often hear coaches working to help their shooters shoot a scratch 10 or a 10.0. The correct goal is to shoot a center 10. The best shooters are always working to be in the exact center of the 10-ring. In American shooting that gives the shooter a little leeway to be off and still shoot a 10. But when shooting the international target, it is very important to be centered in the 10-ring to achieve the best scores.

    Therefore, a shooter needs to teach himself to recognize the perfect sight picture with the bullseye exactly in the center of the front aperture. Many shooters shoot when the bullseye is close, but not centered up. When the shooter truly recognizes the sight picture, which is totally centered up, scores will also improve.

    The recognition of the sight picture being perfect will result in that recognition in kneeling and standing as well. In addition, there is a transfer of training when the shooter fully recognizes the centering of the bullseye in the front aperture. An indication that the shooter has learned this technique is when prone scores repeatedly reach 100.

    Figure 1: Placing the cheek on the cheek piece must not utilize any muscles in the head, neck or shoulders.

    However, I have noticed an issue which prevents shooters from obtaining the highest score levels, which is incorrect head position. The head position must be the same placement, an exact placement on the cheek piece shot after shot. Thus, it is repeatable and repeated shot after shot. Placing the cheek on the cheek piece must not utilize any muscles in the head, neck or shoulders. Nevertheless, the first check concerning head position a coach needs to make is to stand behind the shooter and watch how the shooter puts his head on the stock. The correct method is for the shooter to move his head, after reloading, directly above the cheek piece, which would be at 12 o’clock, and then move directly down onto the cheek piece. If done correctly, a portion of the cheek is pushed up and out looking like bunched up cheek skin, which extends out away from the cheek. See Figure 1.

    On the other hand, incorrect placement of the head on the cheek piece will result in a flat, non-bunching of the skin on the cheek. When this occurs the shooter will typically come in from the left, 9 o’clock to the line of fire, and push the cheek into the stock yielding a relatively flat cheek on the cheek piece. If the incorrect method is utilized in one position, it is often utilized in other positions. That is why the coach needs to check head position in all positions.

    Figure 2: The card exercise may need to be repeated several times.

    A technique to determine correct head position has been referred to as the card exercise. First, the shooter is in position and aiming at a target. Then the coach takes a business card and places it in front of the rear sight blocking the shooter from seeing the target. The shooter is then told to close his eyes and lift his head up and then place it down on the cheek piece keeping his eyes closed. When the shooter feels he has the correct head position he makes a sound indicating he has found the correct head position. The shooter must not speak to tell the coach correct head position has been achieved, as that requires moving the jaw, which in turn invalidates the procedure. The shooter still has his eyes closed and now the coach removes the card and tells the shooter to open his eyes, but do not move his head. Then the coach asks if he is high, low, left or right of the bullseye. He is then told to move his head to be able to see through the sights. Repeat this process five times and a pattern is formed. From that the coach and shooter know if the cheek piece needs to be moved, which direction and by how much. After moving the cheek piece repeat the process until the shooter is consistently very close to being centered up or is centered up. If the shooter does not have an adjustable cheek piece, the same can be achieved by taping material to the cheek piece. See Figure 2.

    Overall, high-level training is important. Having a goal, being constant and consistent in your training, centering on the bullseye and continually having the correct head position will improve your scores and your X counts. By utilizing these techniques you will do just that!

    Shotgun patterning.

    So you purchased a shotgun for your favorite wing and clays sports, but now you can't hit anything with it. What's up with that?

    Of course, the problem could be you. Sloppy technique, lack of focus, eye issues, bad habits — the list can be pretty extensive. Or it could be your shotgun. Getting to the bottom of the problem involves a process of elimination, and the best place to start is with the shotgun.

    The number-one exercise in determining the accuracy and fit of your shotgun is a practice called "patterning." Although the shotgun is designed for moving targets, patterning a shotgun involves actually shooting it like a rifle at a stationary target.

    The objective of patterning a shotgun is to determine the correctness of the barrels, proper choke selection, distribution of the pellet stream and fit against your body.

    There are a few things you'll need to pattern a shotgun. The first is a target. It can be something as simple as a large piece of butcher paper with a 30-inch circle drawn on it quartered by a few lines like crosshairs. The alternative is a proper target for patterning that has a picture of a clay target in the bull's-eye with concentric circles and a horizontal line.

    A shotgun game target like this one depicting a duck in flight (left) helps you pattern your shotgun for maximum penetration of vital organs for a clean, ethical kill. This target from Outers (center) uses a clay target pattern to establish overall pattern density. The Speedwell target (right) would be more helpful if you drew a horizontal line through the middle for improved pattern recognition.

    Next, you want a solid place to shoot. It could be a picnic table or a portable, adjustable rest used by rifle marksmen. You want to do everything possible to stabilize the shotgun in order to help eliminate any variables such as unwanted body movement and flinching unintentional fluctuations that can impact where the pellet stream hits the target.

    In terms of choke selections, use the tightest constrictions available for restricted shotgun pellet distribution. Although you may not use the tightest choke (e.g., full) in your everyday shooting, the point here is accurate measurement.

    Some experts recommend slicing open the shotgun shell and counting the number of pellets. Personally, I don't think that's necessary because you're looking for a proportional distribution of pellets not necessarily based on total pellet count.

    The general recommended distance between you and the target is 25-40 yards for most clays sports, so 30 yards is a good compromise for both wing and clay shooting.

    One thing to bear in mind is that different shotgun sports necessitate particular pellet distribution and density. For example, trap shooting requires that some 60-70 percent of the pellets hit the target above the mid-horizontal line. For sporting clays, that density might be 50-60 percent. For wingshooting, some hunters prefer a 50 percent pellet distribution.

    It's always best to use factory loads instead of shells you've reloaded yourself in order to achieve some level of shotshell consistency in your patterns.

    With your shotgun securely mounted at the correct distance to the target, squeeze the trigger as though shooting a handgun. Fire one barrel at a time if you have an over/under or side by side.

    You may want to check the pellet distribution between the individual barrel tests. If so, make absolutely sure your shotgun is unloaded when you walk down range to inspect the target. And never have someone stand near the target when you're firing to check on the target for you. You must follow basic shotgun safety of having people stand behind you at all times during patterning.

    Don't skimp on targets as you try to understand your shotgun pattern. It may take 10 more shots to figure out where the shotgun shoots. Replace each target after you fire the top and bottom barrels for an over/under or side by side, or two shots with a semi-auto shotgun.

    Marking the targets with a Sharpie or other bold pen can help you keep track of the results. For example, you may want to write the date and sequence on a corner of the target.

    Once you've realized some consistent patterns, it's time to determine whether your shotgun needs to be altered for a better fit. Some shotguns have an adjustable comb, and this is an opportune time to experiment with different placements and re-pattern the shotgun with a new setting. Likewise, if the shotgun has an adjustable recoil pad.

    Semi-auto shotguns typically come with a shim kit that lets you adjust cast and elevation by inserting them between the receiver and stock. Some people will use temporary materials like Moleskin to build a comb or shims to insert between a fixed recoil pad and the butt stock with the intention of either getting a new, fitted stock or modifying the existing one.

    Patterning is one of the most overlooked methods to determine the accuracy of your shotgun as well as its fit. If you continue to experience problems hitting targets after a patterning session, you may want to consider taking lessons from a qualified shotgun instructor.

    Bad Habits

    Bad habits are something we all try to guard against, but they often creep into our shooting. Some shooters learn bad habits because the people teaching them do not know any better. Even when taught correctly, others develop bad habits through failing to apply what they learn.

    Flinching, anticipating the shot, chasing the sights, jerking the trigger, etc., are all bad habits. However, in this article I want to examine some of the more interesting variations I typically see.

    1. Performing ritualistic movements during static range training

    I see this all the time from novice shooters in classes and during IDPA matches. One student would rotate the pistol to the left every time after he reloaded — even when doing the reload at speed. When I asked him why he did this, he sheepishly admitted he had seen someone else do it and thought it looked cool.

    Unnecessary flourishes and motion might look cool to some, but this does nothing more than add time and inefficiency to the task at hand. That extra half-second required to get your sights back on target will cost you time and could cost you your life in a self-defense encounter. Efficient pistol manipulation is critical to developing speed, and eliminating unnecessary movement is the key.

    2. Drawing slower as distance to the target increases

    I routinely see shooters who draw quickly when the target is close and who literally go into slow motion for distant targets. Your draw speed must be the same regardless of distance.

    Indeed, the faster you draw for distant targets, the more time you will have to settle the sights and make an accurate shot. Keep your draw speed the same for every distance.

    3. Taking your finger off the trigger between shots

    The only time your finger should be on the trigger is when you are intentionally firing a shot. That said, new shooters often take their finger completely off the trigger between shots even when they intend to fire a follow-up shot. Instead, the shooter should release the trigger until it resets and no further.

    Trigger reset is the distance the trigger moves back toward its "at rest" position before it re-engages the internal linkages (sear, etc.) at which point the pistol may be fired again. This distance varies among pistol designs.

    All motion equals time, so you want to eliminate unnecessary motion. Going past reset requires you to recover the distance the trigger has traveled (i.e. take up the slack), recognize the sear's resistance, stabilize your sight picture, and then begin the trigger press once again.

    Learning trigger reset forms the foundation for fast, accurate shooting and begins with training yourself to hold the trigger to the rear after each shot (also known as follow-through). You then reacquire a good sight picture and begin to allow the trigger to move forward just to the point when you feel the sear reset (on many pistols there is an audible click and you will feel it was well).

    Once the trigger resets, begin to press the trigger again with minimal disturbance of the sights. Start with dry practice with no ammunition. Once you have perfected this step, it is time to begin doing it with live ammunition. Press the trigger and hold it to the rear as the pistol fires, reacquire the sight picture, release to reset and press again. During this process, we are teaching ourselves the proper distance the trigger needs to travel to reset the pistol for the next shot.

    For those who wish to advance further, the next step is to train yourself to begin resetting the trigger as soon as you feel the pistol start to recoil. Your goal is to have the trigger just far enough forward to reset the sear as soon as your gun returns to battery (slide fully closed). Then, as the pistol settles and the sights return to the target after recoil recovery, you are ready to press the trigger once again.

    With practice, most shooters should be able to easily achieve splits (the time between shots) of .25-.30 seconds. Many shooters will get in the .19 to .24 range and truly advanced shooters will get into the .14 to .18 range with some going beyond. Gordon Carrell, who has more than 50 national, regional and state titles including the 2011 Smith & Wesson Indoor National Championship, once told me his fastest recorded split was .11 seconds.

    4. Unnecessarily adjusting your grip

    Another common problem is the shooter who unnecessarily adjusts his grip or regrasps his pistol before and during a firing string. I typically see this during the draw and after reloading, but I've seen some novice shooters do it after every shot.

    More unnecessary motion. Learn to acquire a solid firing grip as you initially grasp the pistol while it is in the holster, then maintain that grip as your support hand comes into play and you begin to fire.

    5. Failure to maintain a solid firing grip

    Anytime you have your pistol in your hand, have it in a solid firing grip with your finger along the slide outside the trigger guard. This includes initially loading the pistol (have the magazine in a pocket you can reach) and holstering the pistol. Some shooters just sort of hold the pistol’s slide and grip when holstering--a sure recipe for eventually dropping the loaded pistol when they snag something as they attempt to holster.

    6. Pointing the pistol at yourself when you holster

    Some shooters tend to dig for the holster with the pistol's muzzle when they holster the pistol. This is often accompanied by the shooter pointing the pistol inward toward his hip or waist.

    This is common when the shooter is using an inside-the-waistband holster (IWB) or when using a holster design that allows the mouth of the holster to collapse when the pistol is withdrawn. Although not as much of a problem with outside-the-waistband (OWB) holsters, I've seen shooters do it with this design as well.

    7. Failure to train with the auto-lock trigger finger manipulation holster

    The auto-lock trigger finger manipulation holster has been commercially available since 2006 with at least four variations currently on the market. As a retention holster, this design protects and retains the pistol well and automatically "locks" the pistol in the holster when it is inserted without the need to manipulate anything.

    The retention release mechanism is located on the outboard side, in the pistol's trigger/trigger guard area. To properly operate the release, the shooter establishes a strong-hand grip, extending and straightening the trigger finger exactly like a draw from any style of holster. The shooter then applies finger-pad pressure with the trigger finger to the "release button" that deactivates the retention and allows the shooter to draw the pistol.

    However, unless the shooter deactivates the retention before beginning upward pressure as part of the draw, the retention continues to hold the pistol in the holster. Often, the inexperienced shooter then begins tugging on the pistol and tends to transition from finger-pad to finger-tip pressure causing the trigger finger to bend.

    When the novice shooter finally manages to deactivate the retention and draws the pistol, this bend in the trigger finger positions the finger near or on the trigger, and the finger tends to stay in motion. As the trigger guard clears the holster, the finger enters the trigger guard and contacts the trigger — occasionally with unpleasant results. I have witnessed two people shoot themselves doing exactly this, and the video below shows a man shooting himself in this manner.

    The holster is not the problem, it works exactly as designed. If you are going to use an auto-lock trigger finger manipulation holster, you absolutely must train with the holster until a safe draw is second nature — for that matter, you should do this with any holster you use.

    8. Failure to clear cloth in holster

    IDPA is an active sport, and shooters often have their shirt tails drift out during the course of a stage. If the shooter fails to clear this cloth from the mouth of the holster when he re-holsters his pistol, this cloth can find its way into the trigger guard.

    As the shooter presses the pistol into the holster, the cloth jams, which can lead to an unwelcome loud noise as the cloth tightens around and pulls the trigger. Always visually confirm that your holster is completely clear of any cloth or other obstruction when you holster a loaded pistol.

    9. Placing empty or partially empty magazines in your mag pouch

    I cannot guess the number of times I've seen shooters put an empty or partially empty magazine into their mag pouch, then later discover it is not fully charged when they run out of ammunition. In a match, this is cause for laughter at the competitor's expense, but in a self-defense encounter it could be fatal.

    Stow your empties in a pocket, not in the pouch.

    10. Crowding cover

    Novices frequently want to crowd (get extremely close to) cover. This limits their available workspace to manipulate the pistol and often subjects them to a possible muzzle violation as they maneuver to the next firing position.

    IDPA rules are clear on the cover line, which extends from the center of the target to the edge of cover and past the edge to infinity. For example, theoretically you can be properly using cover and be 20 feet or further from the actual cover itself. Not crowding the cover provides space to manipulate your pistol and maneuver.

    On the stage design side, I occasionally see stages designed in such a manner that they force shooters to crowd cover. In the last match IDPA match where I served as safety officer, one stage required the shooter to maneuver in a tight V-shaped barricade space and fire through ports. The stage had a barrel obstacle in the center of the V which forced the shooter to maneuver close to cover and prevented the SOs from staying with the shooter as they fired the stage — obviously a less-than-optimal design.

    On a related note, many stages have ports through which the shooter must engage a target. Shooting through the port does not mean you must stick the entire pistol through the port. The time you lose poking your pistol through is doubled when you now must pull it back out before you can move on. More inefficient and unnecessary motion.

    11. Hollywood ready

    At some point, film and television producers began directing the actors to hold the pistol vertically next to their face so both were visible in the scene. This generated a bad habit among novice shooters who believe pointing the barrel at the sky is an appropriate ready position.

    There are several reasons not to do this, including the fact that if you fire a round with the pistol next to your face you will likely cause permanent hearing loss. The "Hollywood ready" is also seen when the shooter is crowding cover and must maneuver. Step away from the cover and use a low ready or compressed ready when you move.

    12. Going too fast for your skill level

    This is an issue for shooters, instructors and match safety officers. From the shooter perspective, do not try to go faster than you can safely perform the task. I tell novice shooters they must master the fundamentals of safely drawing and presenting the pistol before they try to speed up.

    The picture at right shows a video frame capture of a of a novice shooter trying to draw faster than his skill level. In this draw sequence, he fired the round into the ground approximately 3 feet in front of where he was standing. Although he claimed he was not doing it, he was subconsciously placing his finger on the trigger early in the draw before his pistol clears the holster and is pointed toward the target.

    This is not just a novice issue. I recently asked several accomplished Expert and Master-level shooters if they had ever felt the pistol muzzle with their support hand when they were trying to draw quickly. In other words, had they ever let the support hand get ahead of the firing hand on a draw? All admitted that had happened at least once when they were learning to draw and shoot quickly.

    Speed comes with the mastery of the fundamentals. Don't go too fast for your skill level.

    These are some of the bad habits I've seen I suspect there are others and welcome comments or input.

    Beyond point and shoot Shotgun.

    The shotgun is aimed primarily by a good natural point. A shotgun with the original-style stock and a bead front sight can be a deadly performer on game, predators, and our protein-fed ex-con criminal class. But many of us fit modern combat-style stocks to the shotgun and expect more performance.

    This is a hit with buckshot at 7 yards.

    We also have to properly sight the shotgun. Having only a rough idea of how the shotgun is sighted isn’t best. The shotgun can be a formidable tool to 50 yards and beyond given a user who is familiar with its attributes. There are situations in which the shotgun must be carefully aimed. Remember, shotguns are for short range and long range! At short range the pattern of the shotgun has not spread very much and it must be aimed as carefully as a rifle.

    The shotgun must be sighted so as to deliver its payload where it will do the most good. At long range, buckshot has spent its lethal potential, so the slug is used. In either case, the shotgun must be carefully aimed. I will admit that a very long shot may be made with a shotgun with a full choke and the proper buckshot, but this discussion covers the typical open cylinder choke personal defense shotgun.

    For many of us, the bead front sight is all that is needed for home defense. Just the same, we must be certain that the payload is delivered to the point of aim. Some loads will fire a little high, others a touch low. Occasionally, the shotgun will place a load of shot to the right or left of the point of aim. Range work will confirm the zero.

    We need to place the shotgun load where it will be effective. There is the possibility of firing at a felon behind cover. We need to know what type of pattern the shotgun holds at typical ranges and what the consistency of this pattern is. A modern combat stock is often a great aid in storage and accurate fire, but be certain the point of impact isn’t changed when you fit this stock.

    In beginning to sight the shotgun, I stand at 7 yards. I only shoot standing. Recoil is amplified by firing from a benchrest and the shotgun may not strike to the same point of aim with a bench-rested firing position. I place the bead on the center of the target and fire. I check the pattern to see if it is high or low and check radial dispersion. Oddly enough, while I used man-sized silhouette targets for practice when sighting-in, the best choice is often the same target used to sight a rifle in at long range.

    With a bead sighted shotgun it isn’t possible to raise or lower the sight in order to change the point of impact of the shot load. However, it is possible to change the way we hold and fire the shotgun. If the head is held high off of the shotgun, it may shoot high. We need to get the cheek on the stock and use the proper stock weld. Confirm the zero at 5, 7, and 10 yards. 15 yards is about the limit with most shotgun buckshot loads and the riot gun length barrel.


    When firing be aware of the twists of buckshot. The shot doesn’t travel with equilateral radial dispersion as some think. The shot travels in strings. In other words if you are firing at a running target the first buckshot may miss and the string behind the running target catch the target. That is part of the awesome effectiveness of buckshot.


    For the majority of personal defense needs, reduced recoil buckshot works best. A shotgun slug, in my experience and according to all research, is more likely to produce immediate cessation of hostilities than a load of buckshot. The reduced recoil slug is a good alternative to full power slugs. The modest loss in velocity means little at combat ranges. However, if the likely threat is a large animal, then the full power or even a Magnum slugs should be used. This means mastering brutal recoil.

    If you are using the shotgun as the only weapons system and intend to switch to slugs as needed at longer range be certain you know where the load strikes in relation to the point of aim. As an example my old iron-sighted Remington 870 is a smooth bore with 18-inch barrel. Just the same with typical reduced recoil slugs the Remington will group 3 shots into 4 inches at 50 yards. The problem with using reduced-recoil slugs for substitute rifle shooting is drop. The slower, reduced-recoil slugs drop significantly more at longer range. Take time to consider this and calculate the expected drop. After all, sighting the shotgun in with slugs is not the most pleasant of time spent on the range.

    The shotgun is our most effective personal defense weapon. The shotgun is powerful, versatile, and reliable. Do your part, and be certain you know where the load is going

    Shooting Drills.

    Getting started in the shooting sports is an investment. For many new shooters, that investment is primarily financial. They need to buy a gun, ammunition, targets, and they may have to pay dues to a shooting club if there isn’t a state range nearby.

    Perhaps the best investment that new shooters can make is time, specifically time spent improving skills with a firearm. The world’s top shooters, whether they are competing with a shotgun, rifle, pistol or airgun, spend hours at the range perfecting their game. New shooters need to follow their lead.

    Shooting drills are a great way to improve with a firearm, and chances are that improvement will come quickly. Proper practice will not only help shooters become more accurate, it will make them more familiar with their guns and will reinforce the basic skill sets that are essential to becoming proficient.


    These skills will help everyone from hunters to self-defense shooters, but the casual target shooter can also benefit from working on basic drills.

    Here’s a look at five basic performance drills that will help build basic gun-handling skills. Some are specific to one type of shooting, but many of these will help shooters improve, regardless of the firearms they are using.

    1. Dry Fire
    Dry firing is pulling the trigger without a cartridge or shell in the chamber and helps improve upon a key element of shooting performance—trigger control.

    Begin with an unloaded firearm and, as always, keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction and keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to fire. The idea is to simulate an actual shot on target, so you’ll want to go through all of the steps you would take before shooting.

    For rifles, I want to be on the bench or in a field shooting position (kneeling, squatting, prone and so forth), I want to be looking at the target through the scope or over the sights, and I try to remain on-target as the trigger breaks.

    On the range, when you feel comfortable with this drill, you can have a friend hand you your firearm either unloaded or loaded (again, ensuring the muzzle is always pointed in a safe direction), and you should deliver the shot without knowing whether there is a cartridge in the chamber or not. Dry fires that surprise you will make any flinch immediately apparent.

    A flinch is almost always the result of anticipation of the shot, and if you can’t remain perfectly still and target centered through the shot, you need to practice dry firing more often.

    2. Breath Control
    This is primarily a drill for rifle shooting, and it requires shooters to control their breathing so that they are prepared to deliver an accurate shot. Accuracy will increase because you won’t rush your shots and muzzle movement will be reduced.

    There are a number of different techniques to control breathing, but simplicity is the key. When you are on target and ready to shoot, take a series of deep breaths. These shouldn’t be exaggerated—simply focus on breathing and drawing in plenty of oxygen.


    After inhaling, slowly let about half of the breath out until you are steady and deliver the shot. You won’t have a lot of time to shoot before you need more air, but you will be more relaxed and more stable when you shoot.

    If you feel as though you are running out of oxygen, start your breathing cycle over —this isn’t a drill that should be done in a hurry.

    3. Near-Middle-Far
    This is a drill I learned from Monty Kalogeras, owner of Safari Shooting School in Texas. And while Monty trains hunters to face dangerous game, this is a very valuable shooting drill for both pistol and rifle.

    As the name suggests, you’ll place three targets at various ranges. For pistol shooting, I like to have those targets at about 10, 15 and 20 feet. The procedure is simple: fire one shot at the close target, one at the middle target, and one at the farthest target, then shoot from farthest to closest.


    The primary benefit of this drill is that it makes you reevaluate your sight picture with every shot. For most pistol shooting, that means you’ll need to focus on the front sight each time you move to a new target. This helps develop the habit of acquiring the front sight quickly, which will make you a better pistol shooter.

    Few shooters know that when using an optic, you need to be focused on the reticle or dot instead of the target, a practice that may seem counterintuitive to many shooters.

    4. Crossing Birds
    This is a shotgun drill and, in practice, it accomplishes the exact opposite of the near-middle-far drill.

    Whereas rifle and pistol shooters need to be focused on their sights, shooting clay pigeons or flying birds demands that you devote your attention to the target. This drill requires that you have two clay target throwers, and Champion’s EasyBird Auto-Feed Traps are a perfect choice.

    Place the throwers on the left and right side of the shooter, making certain that the target throwers are angled so the clays will cross in front of the shooter at about 20 yards.

    The shooter then stands in the center between the throwers (and safely away from the flight path of the clays) and calls “pull.” Both targets are thrown simultaneously and the shooter must practice breaking both targets in the air.


    This drill is best for shooters who have practiced with a shotgun before, because if you can’t break one target, you probably won’t break two. When done correctly, though, this exercise can take your wingshooting to a whole new level in a hurry.

    The secret to success with this drill is to choose one target and focus entirely on breaking that one before shooting the next.

    When practicing this drill, I select a clay, swing, and break it (or try to break it, at least) and then switch to the next. Learning to do this makes you a much better wingshooter, and when a flock of doves comes in or a covey of quail bursts up from underfoot, you’ll be prepared to shoot a single bird and then switch, if time allows.

    It’s also great training for those who shoot clay targets with true pair (both targets thrown at the same time) stations.

    5. The Double Tap
    The term “double tap” most often refers to defensive pistol shooting, but I think this skill applies across all shooting disciplines with some variation.

    With pistols, the goal is simple. You want to deliver a shot to the center of the target and quickly fire an accurate second shot. The key term here is accuracy. Speed will come with practice, and if your second shot is off the mark, it’s a sign you delivered it too quickly. Begin slowly and follow the same routine—fire, regain focus on the front sight, and fire again.


    Rifle shooting has its own variation of the double tap, and learning to place two shots in rapid succession is of the greatest value to hunters. You can shoot these rapid follow-up shots from the bench or from field positions, but the goal is the same—you want to place two shots into the target quickly and efficiently.

    Some hunters have a habit of “admiring” their shots on game, but seasoned hunters know that after you pull the trigger you need to immediately be ready to deliver a second shot, and that requires practice at the range.

    As with pistol shooting, you need to be sure that you are placing those shots accurately, and that means you need to regain your sight picture between trigger pulls and don’t shoot faster than your skill set allows.

    The shotgun version of double-taps is something that many competitive shooters refer to as shooting “chips.” When you break a clay target, try to break one of the pieces of that target before it hits the ground.

    The lasting effect of this training is that it will prevent you from dropping the gun after the shot and will encourage follow-through, which is critical to good shotgun shooting. If you miss, you’ll already be prepared to deliver a second shot that might break the target.

    Shooting Glasses

    How do we see color? What we think of as white light or daylight is actually made up of all the colors of the rainbow. As we remember from science class, the individual colors cover only narrow portions of the visible light spectrum. As the chart (pictured below) indicates, violet and blue are in the short wavelength part of the spectrum, green and yellow in the medium range and orange and red are at the long end.

    When an object reflects all of these wavelengths equally, it appears white. Objects that absorb all visible wavelengths equally, appear black. When an object absorbs the wavelengths in some bands and reflects others, it will have what we typically think of as a specific “color”—the reflected light. So, when daylight hits the surface of an orange clay target, the longer wavelengths in the orange-red part of the spectrum are reflected, while the rest of the wavelengths are nearly totally absorbed, resulting in what we see as an orange target.

    Tinted lenses can filter out parts of the light spectrum we don’t want to see, and in turn, enhance others. Most eyewear on the market blocks the ultraviolet (UV) portion of the spectrum, whether or not the lens is tinted. While UV light is invisible to humans, its short wavelength can cause eye damage. Infrared waves are also invisible, and are on the opposite end of the spectrum. While not typically dangerous, portions of the infrared spectrum are felt as heat, which can contribute to eye fatigue.

    A tinted lens controls which visible wavelengths are absorbed (blocked) and which ones are transmitted to your eyes. For instance, an orange lens absorbs most of the light waves outside of the orange color band before they reach your eyes. This blocks all other colors in the visible spectrum, which essentially enhances orange. This is great for transmitting the light reflected by an orange clay target, but it also gives an orange tint to many other objects, which can lead to an undesirable decrease in contrast between the clay target and varying background colors such as green trees or blue sky.

    One lens on the market that makes objects appear more orange, while simultaneously keeping other colors neutral, is the ColorMag lens by Randolph Engineering. This lens uses precise spectral filtering and wavelength shifting to accentuate and pass a greater portion of the orange-red spectrum, while transmitting the precise proportions of greens and blues required to maintain color fidelity. As a result, the other colors will appear darker, but true to their original hues. The wearer sees more vibrancy in the orange clay’s color and increased contrast between it and the background.

    This is not to say other tints aren’t effective for target shooting: They are, but in different ways. For instance, lenses that absorb blue light are often effective for increasing contrast. Blue light’s shorter wavelength causes it to scatter more than longer wavelengths, which is why the sky looks blue. This can become a problem when you introduce dust, fog, haze or other environmental factors into the picture, and is known as blue blur. Your vision will lack contrast, and objects will appear to be less defined. Brown, amber, yellow and reddish lenses all absorb blue light and can increase contrast for outdoor targets. When you hear the term “high definition lenses,” this is what they’re referring to.

    Each lens tint in the shooting sports market was designed to make your target stand out by letting in only the colors you want to reach your eyes. Refer to the lens tint guide (pictured above) to discover what each lens color is designed to do. Whether it’s a clay pigeon or an indoor paper target, you can find a lens tint that will trick your eyes into seeing it faster and more clearly.

    Eye Concerns

    I do enjoy mixing my profession with my favorite hobby—Precision (Bullseye) Pistol, and I appreciate the importance of Anderson’s article. These insights are probably most significant for rifle shooters using a rear aperture sight and for pistol shooters using an aperture for increased depth of field. In his experiences looking through the rear sight, Anderson astutely described a visual phenomenon known as the “Entoptic Phenomenon,” visual observations arising from structures or sources within the eye.

    There are a number of situations which may elicit this phenomenon, the most common of which are “floaters” within the vitreous of the eye. Although floaters are inside the center of the eye, our visual perception would be shadows projected out in front of our eyes. And because floaters are moving, the perceived shadows would also be moving.

    An exam by the eye doctor often elicits the “Purkinje Tree,” a tree or branch-like shadow of our retinal blood vessels seen when the doctor looks into your eye with a bright ophthalmoscope. Once again, even though the blood vessels are in the back of the eye, we see the shadow projected out in front of our eyes.

    Looking through pinholes or apertures provides some interesting “projections.” Because rifle and pistol shooters routinely look through apertures, we are a unique group who commonly experience the entoptic phenomenon. Shooters with cataracts may see various forms of their cataracts projected through the aperture. Some of our shooters complaining of seeing “cobwebs” may actually be viewing their cataracts. Other types of irregularities in the crystalline lens may produce a dark or bright spot as we look through the aperture.

    Disturbances seen through the aperture may also include our tear film (the thin layers of oil, water and mucous coating the cornea), corneal defects such as folds caused by contact lens complications, or injuries. Some of you who have suffered a corneal injury may have developed a permanent corneal scar. The static corneal opacity may project a stationery shadow, while the dynamic tear film may project moving images. It is important to note that a trip to the eye doctor’s office won’t eliminate these problems caused by floaters, cataracts and corneal scars.

    Eyelids and eyelashes may be seen as shadows through the aperture. In his reprinted article, Anderson described his sight disturbance as being caused by his eyebrow. Quite possibly, his observations may have been caused by his upper eyelid because of the sharp definition of the shadow in his drawing. Because of the optics of the eye, the shadow is inverted such that the upper lid will appear as a shadow in the bottom of the aperture. You can easily see this by slowly closing your eyelid as you view through the aperture. The “shadow” will slowly rise.

    Source: System of Ophthalmology, Sir Stewart Duke-Elder, Vol. VII, 1962.

    Probably the most fascinating entoptic phenomenon to shooters is the appearance of the aperture as it relates to our pupil, the center opening in the iris that allows light into our eyes. As we look through an aperture, we see images outlined by a circle. This largest “circle” in our sight picture would appear to be the pupillary margin, which is usually slightly ragged as shown in Fig. 368. A deformed pupil that is not round will cause the circumference of the aperture of the sight picture to be irregular in appearance.

    Competitive shooters are acutely aware of pupil size and its affect on depth of field as we obtain our sight picture. If you don’t have an aperture or pinhole handy, simply curl your index finger within your thumb. As you look through this “aperture” with the shooting eye, shine a flashlight into the non-aiming eye. We know the pupils of both eyes will become smaller. The medical explanation relates to the direct pupillary reflex to the non-aiming eye and consensual pupillary light reflex to the shooting eye. Remarkably, the appearance of the aperture size also becomes smaller. Try this and see for yourself.

    Next, cover the non-aiming eye, and both pupils will become larger because of the diminished lighting to the covered eye and the consensual reflex to the opposite eye. Remarkable, once again, as the apparent size of the aperture will become larger as well.

    Here, the largest circle is the pupil itself.

    In summary, a larger pupil will cause the aperture to appear larger while a smaller pupil will cause the same aperture to appear smaller. After listening to my shooting patients, I understand why one shooter may see well with a small .036-inch aperture while another would need a .052-inch aperture for their AR15 rifle. This is because of the individual differences between their pupil size and possibly disturbances to vision due to scars, opacities, and floaters. One can also see the implications when shooting outdoors, whether the sun is in front of or behind the shooter.

    Rifle and pistol shooters are advised to try out different size apertures to provide the best balance between depth of field and a “clean” view through the aperture. Most importantly, trigger control will always help you shoot those “X’s.”

    A former Navy pistol team member, Dr. Wong is an NRA Master with Distinguished Pistol and President’s Hundred medals. Read Dr. Wong's previous articles "Iron Sight Lens Inserts—Are They Right For You?" and "Vertex Distance, Optimum Vision or Not?".

    Make the first shot count.

    All Action Pistol games will normally have the shooter start each stage with a holstered gun and draw it to deliver the first round when the buzzer sounds. A fast draw is obviously an asset but some overestimate its importance. That can lead to the speed of the draw becoming more important, in the shooter's mind, than the scoring hit that results.

    For many shooters their worst scoring shot in a stage will be the first one from the holster. But it doesn't need to be.

    Regardless of the starting position the shooter's hand must smoothly find the gun and acquire a proper shooting grip while it is still in the holster.

    Competitors in IDPA, USPSA, and ICORE may feel a one-second draw is impressive, but if the shot winds up outside of the A Zone, ICORE shooters will eat one or two seconds in penalties. In 2017 IDPA shooters hitting the -1 scoring portion of the target will eat one-second as well. The penalties are not as severe in USPSA, and speed can sometimes overcome a C Zone hit, but the D Zone and Mike penalties will hurt. A 'blazing draw' may impress the peanut gallery but it tends to lose its luster when the resulting hit sends the score downward. Considering that an eight-stage match will only require eight draws (unless a Classifier or Standards stage is included) draw speed is a bit overrated in these games. An accurate first round hit is more important.

    The only Action Pistol game where draw speed becomes a significant factor in a shooter's score is Steel Challenge. A stage consists of five runs through five metal plates, and centerfire shooters start from the holster. The best four runs are scored. In a six-stage match that's 24 scoring draws on the clock. For an upper level shooter that draw time can be as much as one-third of their final score.

    If one is striving for a three-second run a speedy draw is a major asset. But only if you hit the first plate. Miss it on the draw and things go downhill fast. Nothing screws up the smooth rhythm needed to hit five plates in three seconds more than missing the first plate! Even if the shooter's reaction time allows them to realize the miss and hit it on a fast second shot, that 'blazing draw' is wasted. Worse, is if the shooter doesn't realize the miss until he has transitioned to other targets and then has to come back to pick that one up. Worse still, is if the shooter doesn't realize the miss at all and runs the rest of the plates and then hits the Stop Plate. That three-second run just went to five or six seconds—and you only get one throwaway run per stage.

    Making that first shot count is a scoring asset in any Action Pistol game, even if it's a bit slower than “blazing”. There are several drills that will improve the shooter's ability to execute a smooth and fluid draw with a perfect scoring hit. The Precision Drill is one of the best because it provides a dramatic visual conformation of proper technique.

    If a shooter can produce the group shown on T1 with the gun starting in hand, there is no reason they can't come close to equaling it on T2 on the draw stroke.

    Set up two targets appropriate for the game being played and spaced about six feet apart. On the first target (T1) the shooter assumes a freestyle grip with the gun held at a low ready position. A timer is nice to have, but not mandatory. Bring the gun up to the target, acquire the sight picture, and fire one round. This is not a deliberate Focus Drill. The shot should break in two seconds or less. Then bring the gun back to low ready and repeat the one round sequence, bringing the gun back down between shots, to achieve a five round group. On the second target (T2) the shooter starts from the holster. Draw and fire one round, then holster the gun and repeats for a five shot group—all shot from the draw stoke. The two target groups should be similar in size and located at the same point on the target. If a shooter can produce, for example, three-inch group from low ready they should be able to get very close to that from the holster.

    Shoot this drill from 10 yards and beyond. USPSA and ICORE shooters may want to extend the range to 50 yards, since they will see those targets in a match. Steel Challenge and IDPA shooters can stop at 35 yards.

    The first target (low ready) will show a shooter what they are capable of achieving when the gun is firmly in hand and smoothly, yet quickly, applied. The second target (from the holster) will show them whether or not they are achieving that potential on their draw stroke. If they aren't, that first target becomes the nagging coach standing in the background. It is always staring the shooter right in the face and serving as a strong motivating factor.

    When the buzzer sounds the shooter is the only one who can draw the gun and hit the target. It all comes from within the shooter. The beauty of this drill is that it shows the shooter what they can do when the gun starts in hand, and then challenges them to do it from the holster.

    It may require a change in stance, grip on the draw stroke, target focus, or a refinement of their shooting rhythm. But as they stare at target T1 they will know what they can achieve, and be motivated to make their first shot count.

    Precision pistol shooting

    Some of what you’re about to read may sound contradictory to other lessons that have been taught in the past. By no way am I suggesting they are incorrect. I am merely giving my approach to learning precision pistol—and what I do as a shooter.

    Trigger control

    Admittedly hard to describe with a picture, Zin’s grip places the gun where it naturally fits in hand.

    Trigger finger placement really counts when the shot breaks. Now don’t get me wrong, stance, grip and aiming are important but keep in mind that you can have a perfect grip and hold perfect sight alignment all day long. It only counts when the gun goes bang and only one action causes the gun to do that—pulling the trigger. You can hold the gun upside down, squeeze the trigger with your pinky, and align the sights to the target in a mirror and shoot tens as long as you don’t jerk the trigger. However, please *do not* try that at home!

    Aside from that, this is what I was taught and this is what I do. Please keep in mind it is only one way, and not the only way—but I have had pretty good results with it. Also, this is for a trigger that has at least a little roll—which is my preference.

    First, let’s look at trigger finger placement. And remember this is an article on precision pistol shooting. If this were an article on free pistol or air pistol, it would be different. International shooters, please don’t unleash the hounds on me!

    Now, where should the trigger make contact on the finger? The trigger should be centered in the first crease of the trigger finger. Why you ask? We have always been taught to place the pad on the trigger. If you have a trigger that weighs in-between two and four lbs., that is enough weight to move the fleshy part of the pad of your finger. Try it! Get something that weighs at least two lbs. and has a tip or point on it the size of a pen, or just use a trigger. Put your hand on a table or desk, palm up and slowly lower the weight onto the pad of the finger. It moves a lot. Now lower the weight onto the first crease of the finger, right on the joint. Sure it moves, but a whole lot less than the fatty, fleshy part of the finger pad.

    After having conducted this little experiment, think about pulling the trigger with the pad of the finger. The first part of movement you feel is flesh and fat moving out of the way. This is not part of the movement involved in trigger control.

    For example, have you ever been shooting well and in slow fire you start to get “chicken finger?” The trigger starts moving and then it stops and feels like it weighs 30 lbs., or did it move at all? Maybe what you felt was the flesh moving out of the way because you were shooting well and didn’t want to screw up the match, so you are really in tune with what you are feeling in the trigger.

    Now think if the trigger were placed at the crease or first joint of the trigger finger. When the trigger moves, what you are feeling is really the trigger moving.

    Let’s go even deeper—take a pen or a pencil and start tapping the fleshy part of the web between your trigger finger and the thumb. Keeping the same intensity, move the tapping up to the large knuckle on your trigger finger. Feel the difference? The flesh acts as a shock absorber to the tapping where the tendon in the joint is more of a conductor. I know what you’re thinking—why do I want to feel that?

    Because it is that important to be able to feel every little movement of your trigger so you know that you are squeezing the trigger and not jerking the trigger.

    Trigger control is merely a reaction to what the eye sees. 

    Types of trigger squeeze—when I was in Boot Camp they taught us about trigger control before we went to the rifle range. I now look back and realize they were, well not wrong, but mistaken (just in case I run into my old Drill Instructors and by some strange twist of fate they read this article). The U.S. Marine Corps taught two different types of trigger control, Interrupted and Uninterrupted. And, I still believe that there are two types, Uninterrupted and Wrong.

    If trigger control is ever interrupted in slow fire, the shot needs to be aborted and the shot started over. If trigger control is interrupted in a sustained fire stage, then we revert to our “key word” that triggers us to kick start our shot process.

    Sight alignment and trigger control—often when the fundamentals are explained, these two are explained as two different acts. In actuality, it’s hard to accomplish one without the other. They have a symbiotic relationship. To truly settle the movement in the dot or sights you need a smooth, steady trigger squeeze. Trigger control is merely a reaction to what the eye sees.

    Sight alignment and trigger control have a symbiotic relationship.

    What? One can hold perfect sight alignment/sight picture for a long time. Now, apply pressure to the trigger and what happens? Something moves, right? If this happens in a slow fire shot, what typically happens is we stop squeezing until everything settles down again and we start the trigger. It moves. We stop the trigger. It settles. We start the trigger. It moves and so on and so forth. From this we can see how the finger already acts to what the eye sees. We do not have to train the eye to accomplish this, since it already does it. We need to make it work for us and get the finger to react at a more opportune time, before we have obtained perfect sight alignment/sight picture. Yes, I just said to start squeezing the trigger before you have obtained a perfect sight alignment/sight picture.

    Your sight alignment should be pretty close to perfect, since we have mastered a perfect grip and the sights are aligned, not just to each other but also to the other eye as soon as the gun is raised. If not, we will master that soon. Before the sights or dot have settled into the center of the target, we should start our trigger squeeze, taking advantage of the pressure that is being applied to the trigger to help stabilize the sight. Continue to squeeze the trigger uninterrupted, using that pressure to help move toward and stay center and allow the shot to break.

    Therefore as it stands, I am not a big believer in the surprise break. I know when my gun is going to shoot and what it feels like right up until it shoots. I really know my trigger and I have done lots of dry firing without looking at the sights—just to know what it feels like.

    This method has been called steering the sights with the trigger, but I’m not a fan of the connotation that carries—it is more of a sight alignment/sight picture through trigger control concept.


    Plinking is difficult to define, and that is how I like it. To place boundaries on recreation, or what may even advance to an art form, is an exercise in frustration.

    I disagree with hardcore instructors who claim that all shooting that isn’t structured is simply ‘making brass.’ I am a hardcore instructor as well, and I completely enjoy shooting for its own sake and would hate to give up plinking.

    Asian woman holding a Kel-Tec PMR 30 handgun.

    This young lady is ready for a bit of fun firing the PMR 30. (Courtesy Oleg Volk.).

    Anything that encourages the learning of proper trigger press and sight alignment is good. Another great advantage of plinking is that you may just find that the wife and kids will come along to plink much more readily than if they are sighting the rifle in for hunting season or engaging in personal defense practice. They may just get the bug and make an affair of it.

    Plinking includes firing at the inoffensive tin can, modern, purpose-designed plastic targets, dirt clods, or even rocks at suitable range. The clay bird is a good choice. Firing at targets at known ranges is fine for sighting in but when the range isn’t known, marksmanship comes into play, and we learn how to handle our firearm. This used to be called Kentucky Windage. Kentucky Windage has brought home a lot of game not to mention the effect on Redcoats.

    Plinking is far from the province of the novice. Sure, it is a good beginning to get used to the firearm, but those that have mastered the firearm also engaged in plinking. “How will the Glock perform at 100 yards?” or “Can I hit that rock in the desert with my .308?” may not be exact practice, but it sure is fun.

    As long as safety is followed strictly, you need no rules for plinking. Plinking is for fun. You can make a little contest out of it if you wish, but don’t get too serious. Just make brass.

    Boy shooting a Ruger Single Six pistol

    This young shooter is plinking with a Ruger Single Six.

    Get the kids out!

    Unfortunately, today many kids have been raised by video games. Not long ago, I flew over the Rockies and experienced a brilliant sunset, as a young man to my right remained buried in his cell phone screen. There is more to life than texting and more to life than shooting, but when shooting you must have your attention on the task at hand.

    Getting involved may mean reactive targets. Paper targets work sometimes, particularly the Zombie breed, but steel reaction targets and the Newbold plastic targets work even better. Have an indoctrination for safety, and be certain that they realize that the firearm may malfunction, short cycle, or jam. This happens with .22s—especially if they are not gripped properly.

    Get on with business!

    There are many good targets. A tin can filled with water makes quite a commotion when hit. You can even stack the cans and aim for the bottom can, double tap, and perforate each neatly! This really impresses beginners, but do not wear it out. Balloons are great fun too. You do not have to center punch them to get a great reaction. As marksmanship progresses, it is good to concentrate on trigger control, sight alignment, and sight picture— quickly getting the sights on the target.

    Multiple loaded magazines on a wood table

    We are setting up for the Zombieland drill. Woody Harrelson would approve. When a drill is of no training value, it is plinking!


    The .22 caliber rifle is the natural first choice for plinking. Recoil is light, economy is foremost, and the rifles are very accurate to 100 yards. Everyone enjoys firing the .22 rifle. The pistol is much more difficult to master, but a quality .22 caliber handgun leads shooters into the proper marksmanship pattern for centerfire firearms.

    I have enjoyed using the .22 caliber handgun with a red dot sight as just one example. I have learned the best setting for the red dot (I do well with the highest brightness setting). In short, plinking leads to proficiency with all firearms and with iron sights, red dots, or scopes. But don’t make it a practice exercise all of the time. Fun is fun. I know plenty of good shots that have never engaged in any sort of practice other than plinking, and they take game on a regular basis after simply sighting the rifle in. No, they are not prepared for a combat course, but they are prepared to defend their home.

    A rather pleasant exercise has been called Mini Sniping. This is using a precision (or at least very accurate) rifle at ranges far short of its potential, but using reduced targets. Driving a tack at 15 yards is quite possible with a good quality scope and rimfire rifle. Likewise, using reduced-size targets at range of 50 yards or less is good practice with .223 and .308 rifles. Plinking is a lot of fun, and while stretching the definition, it is plinking to me.

    Ruger .22 LR rifle on a zombie reactive target

    A .22 rifle and a good mix of targets makes for an afternoon of fun.

    Another type of plinking is perhaps my favorite. I like using centerfire handguns for plinking. Most of them are fun shooters that I would not carry for personal defense, and most are not useful for hunting. I just like to see what they are capable of. One example is the Beretta Jetfire .25 ACP self loader. This little jewel is well made, reliable, and surprisingly accurate. I have managed to hit balloons with it at 25 yards. A drawback in plinking with this handgun and the .22 is that as the range increases, bullet strikes are more difficult to spot in the dirt or on the berm.

    A class of plinkers that are surprisingly accurate are the military grade .32 ACP pistols such as the Colt 1903 and the CZ 50. A firearm that is a plinker’s dream, and which I enjoy very much, is the Tokarev 7.62 x 25mm pistol. The Tokarev doesn’t kick much and the 1400 fps cartridge shoots very flat. I use the Red Army Standard loads and enjoy these accurate loads. The Tokarev has never failed to feed, fire, and eject—it is pretty useful in 100 yard plinking.

    While it has some utility for personal defense with the Wolf JHP loads, I have other choices. Just the same, I’d rather have this 9-shot 7.62 x 25mm pistol than any .32 H and R Magnum or compact .380 ACP for personal defense. And, if your pistol is accurate enough, this is a good coyote gun.

    But it all begins with plinking. One of the best plinkers of all is the 9mm pistol. Accurate, reliable, economical and a great fun gun, the 9mm high capacity pistol makes plinking enjoyable and even therapeutic.

    Flattened lead bullet on a steel target

    Bullets flatten on steel targets, but be aware of backsplash as well.

    Among the best big bore plinkers are the .357 Magnum revolvers. I use a good quality hard cast bullet from Magnus Cast Bullets in the .38 Special cartridge case. A 148-grain full wadcutter at about 800 fps is right, although I have loaded the 196-grain RNL at 900 fps for long range plinking. At 50 to 100 yards and plinking at dirt clods and such on the berm, the Python, Model 19, and Ruger GP100 are excellent plinkers.

    This builds familiarity with the firearm, and quite often I fire double action. Scoring a hit at 100 yards with the .357 in the double-action mode brings exhilaration and instant feedback. Not that it is the norm, plinking involves a lot of misses, and that’s just fine.

    Another favorite for plinking is the single-action revolver in either .357 Magnum or .45 Colt. Cowboy action loads from Winchester do a great job for most chores. After a bit of familiarization, you really can throw the gunfighter gun about and get a fast hit using just the front sight. For some reason, I almost never plink with my favorite carry and service pistols, the 1911 .45. I suppose I get enough time in practicing tactical shooting with these!

    Sometimes a shooting session is filled with surprises. As an example, I drafted my wife as a rater in a test program. She took to the .30 caliber carbine and promptly ate up a box of Hornady’s 110-grain FMJ loading. More satisfying than the .22—and with little kick—she discovered what generations rediscovered about the .30 carbine. This is a great plinker that is fun, accurate enough, and builds familiarity with what is still a great home-defense carbine. Plinking is full of surprises and an all American pursuit. Get started now!

    Grip issues

    You can have a perfect grip and hold perfect sight alignment all day long—but if you jerk the trigger it is all for naught.

    I am not saying that the grip I describe here is the only one to use. It is merely an option—it all depends on your hand size and structure. It works for me, and it has worked for many shooters that I have taught it to. And just to be clear, it is not unsafe for those who have questioned it, because the gun will move less with this grip. Hence, if you do use a grip that aligns the sights and gun up your arm to your shoulder, you are putting yourself at a huge disadvantage.

    A proper grip is a grip that will naturally align the gun’s sights to the eye of the shooter, without having to tilt your head or move your wrists around in order to do that. Also, most importantly, a proper grip is a grip that allows the gun to return to the same position that allowed the sights to be aligned without having to search for the sights after each and every shot.

    Too many times I have seen, and I am sure most of you have done it yourself. Someone shoots and you can see the front of the gun waving around as they try to get sight alignment back. This is not a problem with recoil management, grip strength or position. This is a grip issue.

    As a result, if you line the gun up your arm and to your shoulder in order to align the sights one of two things must happen. Your head leaves a natural position in order to see the sights since they are lined up with your shoulder or you have to turn your wrists until the sights are aligned to your eye, but then the gun is no longer aligned up your arm. This was called “grip alignment.”

    Yes, back in the day they taught “grip alignment.” Well, grip alignment as they described it is BS, just like Natural Point of Aim with a pistol is BS. But that’s a completely different conversation. Two-handed shooters don’t even shoot with the gun aligned up their strong arm to their shoulder. Unless you have some deformity, and your head is growing out of your shooting side shoulder, why would you want the gun aligned up your arm to your shoulder?

    Now keep in mind, this is for a 1911 slab-style grip or a .22LR with slabs. Unfortunately, if you are using orthopedic grips—you can’t do this with them.

    Using Zins grip

    Zins says proper grip depends on your hand size and structure.

    My grip is simple, it’s not hard to get into and once you get it, it will feel better, recoil will be better managed and the sights will always come back to alignment. If you rotate the meaty portion of your hand below the little finger behind the back-strap of the gun, every time you shoot, it will want to move off of it. It is just a squishy, fatty portion of your hand that cannot control the gun or offer any resistance to recoil whatsoever. The fatty portion of the hand there cannot be moved, it is just fat. Try to move it. The movement caused by making a fist does not count, because the rest of the hand causes that movement. The place the gun tends to move to is the valley formed between that meaty portion below the little finger and the meaty part of the thumb. So I ask—why not start with the gun in the place it wants to be?

    Unfortunately, even with a picture this is hard to describe. When done in person, I usually have to work individually with shooters to show them how to do it.

    The best and easiest way to get the proper grip, at least a good starting position as you may need to tweak it around a bit until it feels good, is with a holster.

    Put your 1911 in a holster on the side of your body; not in front or behind, but on the side of your hip. Put your hands in the surrender position, like the action shooters form. Keep your eyes and head straight and allow your shooting hand to come down naturally to the gun; don’t move it around—just let it come down and grab the gun. The fatty part of the little finger should all be on the right panel of the grip. Now, keeping the gun in your hand with the grip, assume your one handed shooting position. The sights should be pretty close to being aligned. If they are not then you need to tweak the grip a bit.

    Handgun Grip

    There are many theories on how hard to grasp your handgun. I’ve heard, “Hold the pistol as you would a quail; firmly enough it won’t fly away, but not hard enough to crush its tiny bones.” I’ve often heard (and so have you), “Grasp with 40 percent strength with your firing hand and 60 percent with your support hand.”

    After almost 60 years of shooting handguns and 44 years of teaching others to do so, I must respectfully disagree.

    We need to hold the gun steady against a trigger pull probably multiple times the weight of the firearm, sometimes when the finger is pulling the trigger as fast as humanly possible. We need to hold it firmly enough to keep it from twisting in the hand. And we usually want to bring it back on target from the recoil just as swiftly. I respectfully submit the harder we’re holding it, the better we’ll accomplish all these tasks.
    Don’t take my word for it. Let’s hear from some legendary experts.


    Try this exercise yourself. One hand (above) has all fingers but the trigger finger
    closed tight, the other hand relaxed, and when you simulate fast trigger pull, only
    trigger finger moves on crush-gripping hand, but all fingers close sympathetically on
    relaxed hand (below), which would “milk” the handgun. Photo: Gail Pepin


    The Pros Concur

    As a kid, long before I ever fired my first pistol shot in competition, I had read the words of the great Col. Charles Askins, Jr., who killed a whole lot of bad guys in his career, and in the 1930’s won the National Pistol Championship of the USA. He advocated “a grip that could crush granite.” When I started in bull’s-eye competition in my late teens, I got to meet Don Mara, a Marine combat vet who had lost a good bit of his hearing as a “tunnel rat” in Vietnam killing enemy fighters in the tiny confines of the tunnels, firing 1-handed with a 1911 .45 automatic. He was also the odds-on favorite to win the New Hampshire State Championship most years, firing with a crush grip. He mentioned when on the Marine Corps pistol team, the highest accolade you could win from his teammates was, “He’s a hard-holder.”

    Time went on. I got to meet another legendary figure, Col. Rex Applegate, who advocated in print a “convulsive grip.” When I asked him what he meant by this, he replied, “Hold the damn pistol as hard as you can!” Lesson learned. In more recent times, self-taught national champ Ben Stoeger was asked how hard he held his pistol, and he replied, “Hard as (expletive deleted).” Rob Leatham, who has won so many world championships in practical pistol shooting he should need no introduction, told me during an interview for the ProArms Podcast, he holds his Springfield Armory pistols, “As hard as I can.” Watch my old friend Jerry Miculek shooting on YouTube: he’s holding so hard his corded muscles and veins are sculpted in his forearms. Ace instructor Paul Carlson at Safety Solutions recently wrote in another publication, “Grip the gun as hard as you can, then double the pressure.” He added, “Having a ‘crush grip’ on the gun has significant benefits. Nature gave you a crush grip for a reason. A crush grip makes sure you don’t drop your life-saving tools even when faced with a threat. As a result, a crush grip is a natural reaction in a defensive situation.” (1)


    With a crush grip, fingernail beds can be seen to turn white (above). Circle shows
    the imprint of grip stippling on the shooter’s hand (below). If you can’t see this
    when you let go, you may not be holding the handgun hard enough. Photos: Gail Pepin


    Test It Yourself

    You don’t have to take those highly credentialed experts’ word for it, either. Try a few exercises yourself. One I share with my students is: bring one of your hands up in front of your face, extend the index finger as if it’s on a trigger and relax the others. Now, run the index finger fast, as if you were trying to fire five or six shots per second. See how the other fingers reflexively move with it? Marksmanship instructors call this sympathetic movement “milking” because it mimics a hand on a cow’s udder, and it pulls the shot low and to the weak-hand side. Now, try it again, but close all except the trigger finger as tight as you can. Run the trigger finger as fast as possible. The other fingers will want to move sympathetically—you’ll even feel the tendon moving in your forearm—but they can’t because they’re already at maximum closure. Voilą—the instant cure for “milking.”

    Now try the max force crush grip dry-fire, carefully watching the sights and going faster and faster on the trigger. You may very likely be able to see the sights remaining more stable on the target. When you take your hand off the gun, imprints from the checkering and/or stippling should be visible on palms and fingers. The final test, of course, is live fire. Do it slow… then do it cadenced… then do it rapid fire, then as fast as you can. Compare it with lighter grasps in terms of recoil control, muzzle jump, speed of return to target, and of course, accuracy.

    Only you can determine what works for you, but if you give the crush grip a chance, you’ll see why among the heavy hitters it’s coming back—as a technique of choice—after years of being reviled as “over-gripping” and “gorilla gripping.” I honestly think the crush grip is one of the lost secrets of combat handgun shooting, and I’m glad to witness its renaissance.



    Research and guidance