I have had the opportunity to teach a lot of people to shoot. They have varied from newly-hired police officers to domestic abuse victims. Through the years, I’ve come up with my own ways of describing the process and breaking it down into its most basic steps. It is these basic steps that I want to cover in this article because they are just as applicable to the experienced shooter as they are the novice.
When teaching an NRA Basic Pistol class, I go through the lesson plan as outlined. This includes talking about things like position, grip, sight alignment, sight picture, breath control, trigger control, follow through, etc.. To be sure, all of these are required knowledge for someone wanting to shoot accurately, but I have found that sometimes new shooters get bogged down in trying to remember all of these things and apply them when at the range - especially when range time is limited (as is usually the case). As a result, I have grouped the shooting fundamentals into just two factors that I will review here.
Before getting into anything related to shooting, it is good to remind people that firearms can be dangerous. It is necessary that everyone be fully aware of the rules that ALWAYS apply: ALWAYS keep the gun pointed in a safe direction. ALWAYS keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot ALWAYS keep the gun unloaded until ready to use. If everyone practices these firearms safety rules, we would eliminate almost all of the arguments that people have against guns.
Now, back to the two factors. If I asked you to take your index finger and point to an object on the wall in front of you, most everyone would be able to do so. Not only that, they would be able to keep their finger pointed at that object without any noticeable movement. Most people can do this easily and without much thought. Further, if most of you were to pick up a pistol and point it at the same object, you would also be able to maintain the alignment using the sights.
This is the first factor - Sight Picture. In order to shoot a firearm accurately, you must be able to maintain a good sight picture. This includes lining up the sights properly then holding that alignment while pointing it at the intended target. This isn’t hard. It’s simply a matter of knowing what proper sight alignment looks like with the sights that you’re using and what the sight alignment looks like in relation to a target. If that’s the case, then why is accuracy an issue?
There are a number of things that come into play with proper trigger control. The action required is not natural. When we use our hands, it is rare that we use the index finger by itself. It’s usually used in conjunction with the other fingers and thumb. Squeezing the whole hand is natural - not moving one finger at a time. But this is just the sort of thing that moves the sights from their intended target. Isolating the movement of just the index finger takes practice.
You’ve got to learn to hold the firearm steady and move the trigger straight to the rear without pulling it to one side or jerking it. The image that I put in my students’ minds is that of using an eye dropper. If your goal is just to squeeze out one drop, then you’re going to slowly squeeze the dropper while watching it closely to see when one drop falls. This is the same feel you should apply to trigger pull. While concentrating on maintaining the sight picture, you should gently squeeze the trigger as if waiting for one drop of liquid to fall from an eye dropper. That slow, steady pressure is what is going to make you an excellent shooter.
There are two common problems related to trigger control. First is the desire to jerk the trigger as soon as proper sight picture is acquired. The result is that the whole hand moves and it pulls the sights off target. Second is the jerking or squeezing of the hand in anticipation of recoil. Again, this causes the firearm to move from its intended sight picture.
The cure for both is to return to the eye dropper comparison. If you’re concentrating hard on maintaining the sight picture while just getting one drop, you’ll eliminate both of these problems. I can tell you that these two factors will make you a great shooter if you learn them. But don’t get frustrated if you don’t get it right away or if you revert to old habits occasionally. I’ve been shooting for years and still anticipate recoil or jerk the trigger sometimes. This is especially true if it has been a while since I’ve been shooting. When it happens, I stop myself and start thinking of the eye dropper and only one drop. That fixes it every time.
If you’re suffering from inaccuracy, I would suggest that you slow down and practice one slow shot at a time using the above information as a guide. It will bring your groups back to a respectable size. Then you can gradually increase your speed until the groups start growing again. Practice at that speed and learn it for a while, and then slowly advance again. With dedication and practice, you can master sight picture and trigger control to become an excellent shooter no matter how slow or fast you shoot.
Be Safe and…Carry On!