You can learn to shoot a pistol better by utilizing three basic fundamentals of proper handgun shooting techniques. As with any worthwhile endeavor, there are many variables that can affect the outcome of your efforts but in pistol shooting, only a few are important. This article is written to tell you what those few things are and to help you focus on those things while ignoring the rest.
Whether you want to just shoot better at the range with your friends this weekend, feel more confident if you ever have to use your pistol for self or home defense, or you have aspirations of getting into competition shooting, these critical three techniques are absolutely necessary if you are looking to be a consistently better shot with a pistol.
These three fundamentals are what the pro's return to when bad habits creep into their performance. No matter what anyone tells you, if you can do these three things correctly, you can hit what you are shooting at with a pistol consistently. They are in order of importance.
Correct grip on the pistol
Press, don't pull the trigger
Focus on the front sight
Your proficiency will be determined by how good you are at mastering these three fundamentals and making them automatic and consistent. In other words, you should be able to execute these techniques correctly without thinking. They should be second nature.
To master them will take practice but most of the work can be done through dry fire practicing in your living room ( with the proper safety precautions of course). Because there are other things that will take your attention away from these basics when you are in a stressful situation, you must make them automatic in order to be effective.
Don't worry this is not complicated and it is not an endeavor that will consume your life, but it will take a small amount of time and focus. The more you practice these 3 fundamentals, the better you will become. If you enjoy pistols an shooting them, you will probably enjoy the process. Let's get started.
What's not important to being accurate with a pistol?
Is shooting stance important to being able to shoot a pistol accurately. In this author's opinion, it depends.
If you are shooting a bulls eye match or your are shooting for accuracy with tiny groups then shooting stance does play a role in your accuracy and consistency. There a few types of stances recommended by so called experts, one being the Weaver stance with one foot slightly behind the other and most body of your body weight on the front foot.
I believe that as long as you have a solid stance that doesn't allow movement or swaying you are good.
Most of the time I just stand facing the target in relaxed natural manner. I do this because I believe the simpler you make shooting the better your will be.
I train for self defense and being agile with my pistol. Shooting around and under barricades, while moving, and even lying on my back.
In the real world stance will be the last thing on your mind. Utilization of cover and putting the first shot on target is what you will be thinking about. You had better be able to shoot from many different stances. Don't focus on this as a necessary component to shoot accurately. Spend your time focused on what matters.
Controlling breathing is super important if you are trying to make a 1000 yard shot with a Barrett 50 caliber sniper rifle but doesn't matter when you are defending yourself at 7 yards or less.
In a true self defense situation your breathing will be at a very high rate. Why practice controlling your breathing to be slow and calm. In fact, you should try to introduce as much stress into your practice round as possible to realistically simulate what you will experience if and when you have to defend your life.
It is entirely possible to be very accurate with a pistol without giving a thought to stance or breathing.
What should you focus on to become accurate with a pistol?
Get A Good Grip On the Pistol
Getting a proper grip on the handgun accomplishes several things. It allows you to effectively deal with any recoil, it brings your handgun back on target quickly after recoil, and steadies your aim. When the grip is correct, the heel of the left hand is firmly against the pistol grip and as high as possible on the pistol.
Some instructors say the thumbs are not supposed to touch anything. Neither the pistol or your support hand. I call this the flying thumb scenario and it makes no sense to me. the more places you hands touch the pistol the more stable the grip will be.
No ones' grip will be exactly the same because pistols and hand sizes vary so there is no generic template for everyone. The best grip is one that forms a locked single unit made up of both hands and puts the trigger in the right place to be pulled straight back.
The left thumb is below the slide (on a semi automatic) - fully extended and the left index finger is providing a stable trigger guard rest while helping to firm up the grip on the pistol. I touch the frame with my left thumb and lock the whole grip with my right thumb pushing down on my left hand. See the picture above. Reverse all of this if you are left handed.
The tighter you hold this grip the better resistance you will have to recoil and the quicker you will get back on the target after the shot. You don't want to hold so tight that your begin to tremble. Once your reach that point back of on tightness just a little so the trembling stops.
If you exercise and build your hand strength you will be able to grip tighter without trembling. I use this little tool that I purchased from Amazon for this purpose.
The revolver grip is different simply because of the blowback that exits in front of the cylinder when fired but the purpose is the same. To create a firm locked grip on the pistol.
Make sure you do not have your thumb in the same position as when firing a semi automatic as injury could occur. See the second picture above to see what the correct revolver grip looks like.
One reason people can shoot rifles more accurately than pistols is because there are more hand contact points on a rifle and there is a greater distance between contact points creating a more stable support platform.
When shooting a pistol you don't have the luxury of distance between hand contact points but the more places you can touch the pistol with your hands, the better.
The largest stabilizing factor of the left hand grip comes from the heel of the hand. You can practice this while watching television (please follow all safety procedures first and make sure the handgun is unloaded, and never point it at or near anyone that is not threatening your life. A great many people have been accidentally killed with "unloaded" firearms}.
The second most important factor for stabilizing the pistol is the locking of the right thumb by pushing down on the left hand. Your hands might not be in the same position as mine in the picture above because of difference in hand size and pistol grip size but the right thumb should still be used to lock the grip.
Use the Correct Trigger Press
In order to ensure the best accuracy, the trigger must be pressed straight back along the center axis of pistol without allowing movement of the front sight.
There is a big difference between pressing and pulling the trigger, at least in the accuracy you will attain. Pulling the trigger usually results in the front sight being pulled off target.
The direction of pull will depend on how your finger is placed on the trigger, your hand size, finger length, grip, and distance between the trigger and the grip. You need to find the correct finger position on the trigger for you. Here is mine.
Everyone is different. Some instructors will tell you to place the trigger in the center of your last trigger finger pad. This may be right for you and it may not be. I know of one champion shooter who has extra large hands and places the trigger in the middle of the second pad.
It works for him but would result in horrible accuracy for someone with average size hands. Smaller hands might require that the trigger be placed more toward the tip of the trigger finger.
For my hands, I place the right side of the trigger in the first joint (see above photo). My natural movement from there results in the trigger coming straight back. Again, your objective is to press the trigger straight back along the center axis of the pistol.
Experiment with trigger finger position by dry firing until you can press the trigger, activate the shot, and the front sight doesn't move.
When you can do this consistently, you have found your correct trigger finger position on the trigger. The correct position will probably be where your finger contacts the trigger naturally when you have the proper grip.
Again, remember the objective is to press the center line of the trigger backwards along the center line of the pistol with no front sight movement. If there is only one thing you take away from this article, let it be what you just read on trigger control. Mastering this will do more for your shooting faster than anything else you could do.
Once the trigger press is mastered, pay attention to the trigger reset. After you fire a shot, hold the trigger all of the way back. Slowly release it until your hear or feel the click. That is as far as you need to release, the next shot can now be fired.
Get used to feeling this click and stop your release. This shortens the distance the trigger has to by pressed back to fire the next shot and inherently makes you more accurate. This is how pro's like Jerry Miculek are able to shoot so fast. It is called riding the edge of the reset.
Focus on the Front Sight
Most people and instructors will tell you to obtain a good sight picture in order to shoot accurately and they are right. Most pistols, even off the shelf, are more accurate than we can shoot them. The bullet will hit where the sights are pointed.
Executing this instruction is almost impossible for all but the best shooters. I don't know many people, including myself, who can focus on 2 things at once. Those being the front sight and the rear sight.
An old friend of mine brought this to my attention years ago and what he told me has served me well ever since. He told me not to worry about the sight picture. At effective pistol range, once you understand what the correct sight alignment looks like,the only thing that your eyes should be focused on is the front sight.
Both eyes should be open and the sights should be in front of your dominant eye. The target should be blurry, the rear sight should be somewhat blurry, and the front sight should be in focus. Everything else has a way of taking care of itself.
In other words, you will subconsciously align the front and rear sight.
This takes quite a bit of practice. When you are shooting for accuracy, focus the very top of the front sight blade and place this point right in the middle of what you want to hit.
This technique works when shooting for accuracy. When in a stressful self defense situation you will not focus on the front sight. You will be focused on the threat. This will not be your choice, your mind will take over. Learn more about instinctive shooting without sights here.
You can practice focusing on the front sight almost anywhere using your thumb to replicate the front sight. Find something to use as a target, a spot on the wall, picture frame, anything. Practice bringing your thumb up in front of your dominant eye and immediately focus on your thumb keeping both eyes open.
Shooting with one eye closed impairs your depth perception and ability to move quickly to the next target so practice and shoot with both eyes open. Stay focused on your thumb and center it on your target, without changing focus from the thumb.
If you wear bifocal glasses, you may need to look over your glasses or through the bottom of your glasses to get your thumb in focus. It's not easy, but once you have it, your pistol shooting will become much more consistent.
Mastering all 3 fundamentals above will result in consistent groups at normal pistol ranges. These fundamentals are described in order. Master the grip first, then the trigger pull, then the proper focus on the sights. If the grip is not right, it will do no good to work on proper sight focus. They are listed in order of importance. If your shooting begins to worsen go back to the grip first.
Other Ways to Improve Accuracy Fast
Red dot / reflex sights
Another path to faster accuracy improvement with a pistol is to install a red dot electronic sight. Technology has come a long way with electronic sights designed specifically for pistols.
There are very reasonably priced red dot sights out there now that easily withstand the recoil of a heavy caliber slide or revolver during the firing process. Your accuracy will immediately improve because you no longer have to align the front sight with the rear. You just place the dot where you want the shot to impact.
A red dot sight immediately increases the effective distance and accuracy of your pistol shooting giving you an immediate advantage. This is why most pistol competitions require any pistol equipped with a red dot to compete in the unlimited class with the pro's. A large selection of pistol red dot / reflex sights can be found here.
Just remember, you get what you pay for. On a semi auto, this sight will be mounted to your slide and be subject to a lot of movement and recoil during the firing process. I recommend you do not try to cut costs here. This sight will be the heart of your accuracy.
Accurate target hold over is much easier at longer distances with a red dot. If you know your distance and can properly judge your holdover you will be much more accurate than with iron sights.
Not long ago you had to purchase your pistol specially equipped to accept a red dot sight or have the slide machined by a gunsmith to accept the sight. Many options exist today that allow most standard pistols to accept these sights right out of the box. Here is one that mounts to your existing picatinny rail under your barrel.
There are drawbacks though. Electronic sights are dependent on the battery. They use very small watch batteries that are touted to last more than a year if the sight is left on a medium setting.
I have not tested this but failure of the battery when it is needed most could be a potential serious issue if not maintained properly. Using a red dot on a carry pistol requires checking the battery often and replacing it well before it is used up.
Keeping a small battery in your bag as a replacement is not a big issue and as long as you check your battery every few months (you should be practicing more often than that) you will be fine.
A red dot sight also makes the gun harder to conceal If you are open carrying, or don't mind a larger print, a red dot is the way to go. A red dot sight will immediately improve your shooting accuracy and effective range when the other two fundamentals are applied.
The first thing you will notice after installing a red dot is that your "wobble" when aiming at your target seems to be really bad. Not really, this is the same wobble you have always had. It's just easier to see now, and therefore gives you the means to minimize it.
This alone will help you settle down and improve your accuracy. Just remember everyone sees this, it is not just you. Just do your best to hold on the target using the correct grip and make that perfect trigger press. Your accuracy will automatically be better with this sight. This sight will allow you to aim smaller and group smaller.
Personally I prefer the Trijicon RMR type 2 with a 3.25 moa dot (check it out on Amazon). I have fired thousands of rounds through one and trust it completely. The type 2 is the improved version of the type 1 with a few engineering changes that make it a little more robust.
The 3.25 moa dot equates to seeing a 3.25 inch circle at 100 yards. I like this size dot because I do shoot longer distances than normal with a pistol quite frequently. Other dot sizes for faster target acquisition are also available here.
I also own a Burris Fastfire and a Vortex Venom that also have shown their dependability through many rounds. I just happen to prefer the sight picture I get from the trijicon a little more. It really comes down to a matter of personal preference and what the pistol will be used for.
Those who intend to do close up self defense shooting can go with the 6.5 MOA dot or larger. If you are target shooting for accuracy or will shoot at longer distances the 2 MOA or smaller dot will work better.
They both have their trade offs. The larger dots are easier and faster to pick up in your sight picture. The smaller MOS dots are more accurate. Here is the one I like the most.
Practice Practice Practice
The only thing left to do now is to practice the 3 fundamentals you have learned above until they become second nature and you can automatically execute them when needed without direct thought. I know this sounds like a huge commitment of time but you will be surprised how much you can improve your capability by dry fire practicing in your living room while watching television for 15 minutes per night.
Dry firing practice is where experts are made and is the cheapest, most practical way to engrain the 3 fundamentals. As always when, you are handling your pistol, make sure it is unloaded before you do dry firing practice and never point a pistol, even unloaded one, in the direction of anyone who is not threatening your life.
When at the range it is important to get immediate feedback on every shot. This feedback will tell you what you are doing wrong, what you are doing right and when you are doing it. Impact points on most paper targets are hard to see, even at 7 yards. Especially if the bulls eye area is black. If you can't tell where your impact is after every shot you are wasting time and ammo.
Reactive metal targets are also not great at giving you the needed feedback unless you repaint the target every few shots. You can hear your impact but it is difficult to see where the impact occurs which is important to fine tuning your abilities. These targets can also be dangerous at close distances due to lead splatter. Shooting within 15 yards is not recommended.
My favorite practice target is the "splatter" variety. You will easily see a contrasting color around each impact point immediately after your shot.
At the range, when working with live ammo, protecting your hearing is a must. This practice not only secures your hearing for the future but helps block noise from other shooters. You can't be worried about loud noises from other sources when you are trying to focus on improving your technique.
That's it. It sounds more complicated than it is. If you will master these three basics, and make them automatic, your hand gun shooting accuracy will improve dramatically, as well as how fast you can put more shots on target. Realize there are many other factors to becoming a master shot with a pistol but these are the basics that must be accomplished first and made to be second nature. If you want more advice on how to take your pistol shooting to the next level, check this out.