The biggest mistake novice pistoleros make is a simple matter of forgetting the basic fundamental skills. For some reason, they can tell you what it takes to shoot, but when they draw the weapon, it all goes out the window. For me, the biggest reason I enjoy handgun shooting is that it is more of a challenge. What makes it challenging is that handgunning is a whole person event. You can’t half-ass a pistol shot. It takes a combination of body and mind and an almost zen-like “one-ness” with your handgun to make those pistol shots consistent. And it all starts from the ground up.
The Stance, is something continually harped on by martial artists… placement of your feet, your balance on your feet… there is a reason serious martial artists harp on this so much. Everything is build off that foundation. For handgunning, it is the same. We are not tensing up to throw round-house kicks, but we are getting ready to take some recoil and to possibly make movement. But since we are not about to Chuck Norris anything, our feet should be shoulder width apart, nice and comfortable, knees unlocked and just slightly bent, and our weight just a bit forward… on the balls of the feet not the heels.
Going along with the stance is a huge debate in the Gunner’s Community about Weaver vs Isosceles… the correct answer is the same answer as “Mary Anne or Ginger?” The answer is “Both”. We should learn to use both and to transition seamlessly between the two. Which one we use and when all depends on the situation. If I am in an Interview Position, where I am talking to someone who I am not clear on the identity or Intent of the person – I stand with my weapon side away from that person. This puts me into the Weaver position. Should I be facing a potential threat and I’m wearing armor – I want as much of that armor facing the threat as possible so I’ll be set up for an Isosceles position. And you can’t say “I only use Weaver and nothing else” Well, that’s just stupid because in real life, target engagements do not happen in static positions like they do on the range. Say, I’m facing a target and it starts moving from my left to my right – and I track that target with my weapon, I am swinging through Weaver into Isosceles. Say that target goes from straight in front of my Weaver position and breaks to my left – then I bring my right foot forward and I am now into the Isosceles again. So train with both, because in reality, you will need both.
Get a grip: It’s almost scary when I hand a person at the gun counter a pistol and I watch them take up their grip on the gun… it’s really easy to spot the Ignorant and the Novice and the Braggarts and who is an experienced shooter. Women make the biggest mistakes in the grip department. The Ladies will often grab the grip very low, putting all fingers on the grip under the trigger guard, leaving almost an inch or more between their hand and the beavertail or base area of the pistol. This is the “I’ve never shot a gun before in my life” grip. I especially find it amusing when the guy gripping the pistol like that has made claims to being Super Secret Squirrels in the military. Uh huh. The other common problem grip is the Revolver Grip. This is where the Support Hand’s Thumb goes across the top of the firing hand, behind the pistol. This might be okay with a Revolver, and maybe that’s how you’ve done it all your life. But now days when you do that, you run the risk of the slide hitting your thumb and causing you some sudden discomfort and or lacerations. The grip should start out with the firing hand with the pistol inline with the bone of the forearm. This grip should be up as high on the gun as possible, to put the bore axis as low as possible. The support hand then wraps around the firing hand fingers, anchoring the pistol in a vice, with both thumbs together and if possible, pointing forward. The trigger finger is up along the frame of he pistol when the pistol is not aimed at the target. A good grip is critical because because a handgun does two things during firing. One is the recoil is going to make the gun kick back and up. Torque is going to want to make the gun twist. You can Recoil from the mass of the bullet and the pressure of the charge sending that bullet out of the gun and down range. You get torque because the barrel has rifling in it to impart spin on the bullet. A good grip controls Torque and Recoil and minimizes their disturbance.
The Sight Picture. Often I ask the students what they are looking at and what their sight picture looks like. I get some strange answers. First off, the Sight Alignment, how you should align the sights. Take a look at this simple Paintbrush rendering of a sight picture.
When we are shooting target sights, we use the sights with the top of the center post even with the rear sights and we center that across the equator of our target, ( a center hold) or we put the target on top of the center post, (a 6 O’clock hold) which is the least ideal sight picture one can have in my opinion. Now, for Defensive or Tactical shooting, we use just the Dots. Line up the dots, and put that dot on the center of the target as shown in the little .gif image. The Sights and the Target together make the Sight Picture. Now how do we look at the Sight Picture? Our eyes are trying to focus on 3 things at once… something that they are not able to do. So where are we looking at? Our eyes should take a sharp focus on just one thing… the Front Sight Post. In an engagement, we are looking at the target, first and always… When a threat is identified, we bring the weapon up into the eye level and we are now looking at a sight picture. From here, shift your eye’s focus to the Front Sight Post and apply pressure to the trigger. Simple as that. Don’t over-think this. You don’t have time. Place the Dot, and Place the Shot. Nothing else is important to look at.
The Trigger: Triggers get a lot of abuse… They get jerked and slapped and crushed just beaten on all the time. You can do everything right, and ruin the shot with even a slight case of trigger abuse. When you pull the trigger, do so with a steady pressure until the trigger breaks and the weapon is fired. To do this right, in a way that is consistent, it requires practice in large quantities. That means Dry-Fire Practice. So get some snap-caps and get to work. If you are using a pistol with a round barrel, balance a coin on it. You should be able to dry-fire the weapon without the coin falling. I like to use a laser to practice this as well. If you have a laser mounted to the weapon in the guide rod or the grip or wherever – great. You can activate the laser and dry-fire with it. The laser will clearly show you what you are doing wrong. If you do not have a laser, you can buy a cheap laser pointer for a couple of bucks. Many of these are the diameter of a pen. You can put the laser pointer in the barrel. It doesn’t have to line up with the sights. You are not aiming with it. But it will still show you what is happening. The laser should not move when you dry-fire the gun. Now, it’s important to practice dry-firing just as you would with live ammo. Important to note – Do not Dry-Fire any Rim-Fire type firearm without the use of a Snap-Cap. Most of the time with the laser, you will see the dot jump to the right. This is sometimes caused by a bad placement of the finger on the trigger. Use the Pad of the trigger finger, not the knuckle. The pull should be straight in line with the trigger’s arc of motion. Some triggers have Over Travel. This means the trigger breaks and fires before the trigger has moved all the way back… this allows the trigger to jump that last distance and smack the back-wall of the pull and this could throw the shot off. Over Travel can sometimes be remedied by the user, or sometimes it needs a Gun Smith to sort it. The trigger can be gritty, or heavy, or it could stack. Stacking is where the trigger pull gets heavier just before it breaks. There is a lot that can be wrong with the trigger pull’s qualities… but almost all of them can be overcome with lots of dry-firing practice. Okay, now that you have the trigger pulled back, and the weapon is fired – keep the finger on the trigger. Almost all Novice shooters instantly at the firing – take their finger off the trigger completely. Then they start all over again. This isn’t good. This leads to Trigger Abuse. Don’t beat your trigger. When you break the shot, keep your finger on the trigger. If you have a rifle, pistol, revolver, shotgun… take a moment there at the back wall. This is a part of Follow Through. Don’t let up off the trigger until the Front Sight is back on the target. Let the trigger forward slowly. You will feel the trigger reach a point before it’s all the way forward where it clicks. That’s the reset. As soon as it resets, start pulling it back again for your second shot and then so on.
Training Scars: There are tons of Training Scars out there, too many to deal with. But I’m going to talk about two of them. A Training Scar is any Bad Habit you have picked up that needs to be worked out. If you have Training Scars, the best thing to do is to get with a serious Firearms Trainer to work with you. Your shooting buddy doesn’t qualify. In fact, that could be one of the reasons you have Training Scars. Find a real Trainer who can watch you and see what you are doing wrong so he can help you do what is right. Anticipation can be fun and can sweeten the moment. Like when your lover comes out wearing some sort of sexy candy wrapper (what you tear off before consuming) that is some excellent anticipation. For those to young to know what I mean, think about Christmas Morning before Mom lets you open those presents. Or if your Extreme-Muslim – that moment just before Akmed pushes that button to detonate that vest you made for him. Those are examples of Anticipation. In shooting, Anticipation is a bad thing. Don’t anticipate Recoil. This leads to an instant before firing where you actually push the gun. Even just slightly… this can throw your shot off. Anticipation’s Best Friend is Flinch. Flinching is bad, because you can do all kinds of jacked up things including actually closing your eyes just before firing. Look, it’s a simple as this… you can’t hit the target if your not even looking at the thing. You are also legally liable for every round that you launch… so it would be in your best interest to keep your bloody eyes open, okay? Now, if you have Flinch it’s going to take a lot of training to get it out of you. The best way to get rid of flinch is to take your shooting back to Square One. Get out the old .22 pistol or even an Air Gun. (Airsoft isn’t accurate enough to really see what you are doing) Start shooting those low recoil guns, use the laser, and dry fire a lot to work out any sign of Flinching.