With the recent record gun sales, there are plenty of new shooters who’ve never taken a pistol course. Likewise, many have not been taught the fundamentals of shooting. At the same time, there are many folks who’ve owned guns for years but still struggle with their accuracy. So, these 10 tips will help improve your pistol shooting skills and clean up your range time.
10 Tips to Improve Your Pistol Shooting Skills
My point is, it doesn’t matter if you’re a new shooter or a grizzled veteran. We all run into the same problems when it comes to hitting the target. What follows are 10 “commandments” to help put you on target with each and every pull of the trigger.
1. Focus on the Proper Grip
The first major problem shooters have has to do with their grip. You want to get a firm grip on the gun using about the same strength as if holding a hammer. The gun won’t slip out of your hand, but your knuckles aren’t turning white, either.
Also, it’s very important that you establish this grip while your gun is still in the holster. This will prevent changing your grip during your draw. What’s more, you want to grip the gun in the center of the web of your hand, between your thumb and index finger. Likewise, you want your hand to be as high on the backstrap as possible.
It’s important to note that, while you’re gripping the gun, your finger should be straight and nowhere near the trigger. If you make this a habit during all shooting drills, it will become second nature. Maintaining good gun safety should always be first and foremost.
Once your shooting hand has a solid grip on the gun, draw the gun and bring it up to meet your support hand. The placement of the support hand is the number-one problem I see when it comes to the overall grip.
What I personally use—and the solution I recommend—is the “thumbs forward” grip. Point your support hand at a 45-degree angle, which means your support thumb should be pointing directly at the target.
Next, bring your support hand to the side of the gun. Your shooting thumb rests on top of your support thumb, and both thumbs are pointing forward. This grip puts a lot of flesh on the gun and provides for a very stable shooting platform. Correspondingly, a proper grip will do a lot to improve your accuracy.
2. Ensure Proper Trigger Finger Placement
Another major problem shooters encounter is the placement of their finger on the trigger, which can make or break an accurate shot. Some folks press the trigger using the first crease of the finger, which often causes right-handed shooters to pull their shots to the left.
Other people don’t put enough finger on the trigger and use only the very tip. As a result, this doesn’t give them much control and sends shots all over the place.
Ideally, you want to use the pad of your finger on the trigger for the best shooting accuracy. But here’s the thing when it comes to finger placement: Although the pad is what works for the majority of shooters, a different placement may work best for you, since we all have different-size fingers.
In other words, try the pad first, and if that doesn’t work, experiment with pressing the trigger with other parts of your finger.
3. Focus on the Trigger Pull
After you’ve found the perfect finger placement, the next thing to consider is how you pull the trigger. Many new shooters (and many experienced ones) either slap or jerk the trigger. Proper trigger control will help improve your pistol shooting skills immensely.
The solution? Lots of dry-fire practice. You should try and get 25 perfect trigger presses each day. This means if your front sight dips to the left or the right, it doesn’t count as one of the 25. Focus on a drill designed to help you maintain sight alignment and point of aim throughout every trigger pull.
4. Maintain Even Finger Tension
Dry-fire practice also addresses another component of good shooting: finger tension.
A lot of people tighten their fingers as they’re pulling the trigger in anticipation of the shot. As a result, the bullet goes low and to the left for right-handed shooters. To prevent this, it’s important to maintain the same solid grip throughout the entire firing process.
5. Do Not Anticipate the Recoil
If you’ve ever taken a new shooter to the range, you know their first shot is often a great shot. Often dead center of the target. But after a few minutes, their shots begin to go lower and lower. That’s because they’re anticipating the recoil.
They’re worried about the loud bang going off next to their head. As a result, they stop focusing on the front sight, sight picture, and a smooth trigger press. They flinch and dip the gun downwards, causing the shots to go low.
There are two solutions to this anticipation problem. One is the “ball and dummy” drill. Buy some plastic dummy rounds before you head to the range next time. Load your gun with a mix of live ammo and dummy rounds when you get to the range.
If you anticipate the shot on a dummy round, you’ll be able to see the front sight dip. If that happens you need to unload the gun and do five perfect trigger pulls in dry-fire mode. Keep doing the “ball and dummy” drill and the five trigger pulls until you stop anticipating.
Another common solution is to repeat over and over in your mind “press, press, press, press…” while pulling the trigger.
6. Avoid “Heeling” as You Shoot
Heeling is a less common problem that shooters have with recoil anticipation. Instead of causing the shots to go low, a shooter will have their shots go high as they drive the heel of the palm of their hand into the gun at the last second, causing the front sight to rise up.
When you find yourself doing this, go back to the “ball and dummy drill” and repeat the word “press” over and over. Each time you run these drills with your pistol will help improve your shooting skills.
7. Focus on the Front Sight
Once you have successfully lined up your front and rear sights, maintain focus on the front sight.
The late gunfighter Jim Cirillo talked about focusing on his front sight so hard he could see small scratches in it. Focusing on your front sight will also help solve many of the shooting problems I’ve already described above.
8. Follow Through After Each Shot
Once you’ve actually pulled the trigger, you need to remember to follow through. Pretend that you’re always going to take one more shot than you plan to. In other words, when you pull the trigger on your shot, you want to acquire the sights again as if you’re taking a second shot. It’s a very good habit to get into.
9. Adopt a Solid Stance
Another element of good shooting is the proper stance. If you’re standing straight up, or leaning back on your heels, it’s tougher to control recoil and make quick follow-up shots.
A stance many shooters use is the modified isosceles. In this stance, your feet are about shoulder-width apart, your shooting foot is dropped back about 6 inches, your knees are slightly bent, your arms are straight out (as if forming a triangle), and your head and shoulders are leaning slightly forward.
A modified isosceles is an aggressive shooting stance that lets you control the gun, instead of the gun controlling you.
10. Avoid Creating Bad Habits Due to Exhaustion
Can a person shoot too much? It may sound like blasphemy, but here’s what I mean: Shooting takes a lot of concentration.
If you start out the day shooting great and then after a few hours you can’t hit the center of the target to save your life, you need to take a break. You’re probably exhausted, and continuing to shoot will only frustrate you, causing you to develop bad habits. Trust me on this one.