Basic Pistol Skill Sets

Grip and stance are combined to create a stable and…

Grip and stance are combined to create a stable and powerful shooting platform.

Shooting well is really quite simple as long as you know everything you need to know about five subjects. They are, grip, stance, sight alignment/sight picture, trigger control and follow through. There you have it, everything you need to know about shooting. Not enough information, you say? Well, given that a good size book could be written about these subjects, you are quite right. But let’s see if we can at least give a brief description of each of these skills.

Grip Control
There are different ways of gripping various types of firearms. Generally, with a pistol, what we’re talking about here is applying a firm, consistent grip. It need not be a death grip, as the pistol is not going to fly out of your hands when fired, but it should allow you to control the firearm, aim it and recover from and control recoil. We like to have a handgun fit us so that the barrel lines up with the forearm, and we can either adjust our grip on the piece or adjust the size of the pistol in order to arrange this. Lastly, that part about a consistent grip means that we don’t anticipate the firing of the pistol by suddenly clenching our hand. Once the grip is established (usually as we come out of the holster) it remains the same throughout the firing sequence so the only part of our hand that needs to move is the trigger finger.

Stance
I like teaching people how to get into a balanced fighting stance, regardless of the weapon type. A good stance, whether a target shooting or fighting stance, should help align the piece with the target, allow the sights to be aligned with the eyes and control recoil. A fighting stance should further aid in movement and shooting in all directions. When talking about a shooting stance we’re presuming that we’re standing on our two legs but we could just as easily be referring to shooting positions such as prone, kneeling or sitting. The stance aids greatly in your ability to place hits on the target.

Sighting
Sight alignment is the relationship between the front and the rear sights; and sight picture is how we see the sights superimposed on the target. We need sights we can see, we need to be able to correctly and quickly align them and we need to be able to put the sights on the target. Keep them there as we break the shot. In order to shoot a pistol with standard sights, it is necessary to align the front and rear sights, achieve a sight picture and then shift focus from the target to the front sight. This sounds quite simple but it generally takes a lot of practice to get right. We all tend to want to look at the target, but we must talk ourselves into focusing on the front sight. This is much easier said than done. Sometimes when students start focusing on the front sight, they start hitting poorly because they are worried about the front sight so much they have forgotten all about the rear sight and have no sight alignment at all.

Trigger Control
We know that what we are supposed to be doing is applying steadily increasing pressure to the trigger until we achieve a surprise break, but what we generally want to do is to yank on the trigger when we get a good sight picture. We tend to watch the sights wobble about and as they drift through the X we go, “Now!” and yank on the trigger. The cure for this is understanding that we cannot hold the gun perfectly still, that the sights are going to move about, but if we press the trigger correctly a good hit will result. Yanking on the trigger moves the gun off target. The further you are from the target, the worse the error. For a right-handed pistol shooter, for example, jumping on the trigger will usually result in low left hits.

Speaking with a doctor I know, he asked me about having a pistol custom built. He explained that he had a number of high dollar custom pistols and that they all had adjustable rear sights. He then explained that the sights on these pistols were adjusted all the way up and all of the way to the right. When asked if he shot right handed, and he replied that he did. I explained to him that he was jerking the heck out of the trigger. He had developed a very consistent jerk that he was able to compensate for with the adjustable sights, but he was jerking the trigger nonetheless. My doctor friend couldn’t believe that was the case, but once I was able to get him to the range we cured his problem and centered the sights on all of those pistols.

Follow Through
“Follow through” consists of two parts—resetting the trigger and reacquiring the sights. Trigger reset means keeping our finger in contact with the trigger and easing it back forward to the reset point. This can be accomplished on most semi-automatic firearms but, even with triggers that don’t reset, we want to keep our finger in contact with the trigger. The alternative is to allow the trigger finger to fly forward off the trigger and slam back onto the trigger after getting a running start. This excess movement takes time you might not have and will pull the sights off the target, causing you to get poor hits or miss altogether. When we talk about reacquiring the sights what we mean is that we want to look at the sights, fire the shot, then look at the sights again after the shot breaks. Failure to do so will cause shooters to lift their head they attempt to see the hit on the target, and will also result in a poor hit or a miss by moving the sights off the target. If you fire one shot, two sight pictures are required, if you fire two shots you should see three sight pictures.

Apply these skills to your shooting—talk yourself into doing it right every single time, and your shooting will improve. Simple, isn’t it?

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