|Focus, determination and concentration.
Tips and advice from the experts
You missed, what next.
Although knowing what it takes to hit is important, possibly most
beneficial is knowing why you miss. When you apply the fundamentals of marksmanship: sight alignment and sight picture, trigger
management, grip and follow through, you will make your hits. But what should you do if you start missing?
Plastic cut out sights can be used to create a visual for where to
place your sights on a target.
You can build good mental programing and discipline with self-diagnosis.
Stop shooting and take the time to assess the situation.
Begin by asking yourself the following questions:
- What do the sights look like when properly aligned? Did I see equal spacing, level
tops when the shot broke? Did my trigger finger placement cause the sights to move or was it my grip that allowed the movement?
- Did I see a proper sight picture when the gun went off? Was the target behind
the sights? Did I even see the sights at all, or was I staring at the target?
- What did I feel when the gun went off? Did I fire from the pressure wall (slack
out) or did I yank right through the slack? How about physical anxiety? Did I flinch?
Quite honestly, I cannot always tell you what I see when I shoot
well. I can however, tell you what I don’t see when I shoot poorly, and that is the sights. For me, it’s
usually caused by rushing to shoot all the targets at once.
If you learn what it takes to hit you will be able to correct
misses. Here are some more questions to ask yourself when having a bad shooting day:
- Does it hurt when I shoot? Very rarely does shooting hurt the shooter. So why
should you flinch or feel the need to push into the gun if it doesn’t hurt?
- Am I scared of the gun going off? Most folks will say they are not afraid, but
why then do they anticipate or feel the need to over control the gun the instant it goes off?
If you are still missing, it might mean going back to dry fire
practice. If you can do everything correctly with an empty gun you can also do it with a loaded gun. If you can hold the gun,
press the trigger and see proper sight alignment and sight picture when the hammer falls, you should be able to do it when
These hits were made with the above sight picture—all the way
out to 25 yards. Know what you need to see, and the hits will happen.
If during live fire you notice the sights come out of alignment, or the sight picture
change, don’t continue without refining something. You might need to adjust your grip pressure, trigger finger placement,
or your mind. When you learn this you can do it while shooting and change the results. If your focus wanes you won’t
know what you saw the instant the gun went off.
Recoil spring and timing.
Recoil spring rate must be balanced with the ammunition in order to keep the gun running reliably
and to prevent excess wear from battering. Spring rate affects timing during the recoil and feeding cycle. If the recoil spring
is too strong, the gun won’t cycle reliably and can cause failures in extraction and ejection, and feeding malfunctions
by not going far enough to the rear or by cycling so fast that the round in the magazine hasn’t been pushed up far enough
for proper engagement.
The effect of recoil spring strength on timing was examined with three different recoil springs in
a .45 ACP Para Ordnance P14.45 (5” barrel) pistol. The springs were Wolff 12-, 16- and 20-pound (lb) conventional springs.
The 16 lb recoil spring is the standard weight for this pistol.
The springs were conditioned to take a “set” prior to use. “Set”
refers to new springs shortening a little with their initial use. This was done to reduce variability in the spring’s
response due to shortening that might occur during the time course of the test.
They were installed and removed 60 minutes later and measured. The springs shorted 1 millimeter (mm)
(see the Table).
They were reinstalled and the slide was locked to the rear for 1 hour. This reduced their length 4
to 7 mms. They were not installed again until immediately prior to use at the range. After the spring was installed, the different
types of ammunition were fired in the same order in case firing live ammo produced additional set that could affect spring
behavior. They were measured again after shooting and each spring had shortened an additional 2 mms.
Two different loads were tested. A full power load was 230-grain Bear Creek Supply moly coated RN bullets loaded with 5.8 grains of Winchester 231 to 1.250” overall length in Speer brass that averaged 842 feet-per-second (fps). Calculations show that it would produce 5.97 foot pounds
of recoil force in a 2.5-pound gun. A reduced power load was 185-grain Bear Creek Supply moly coated SWC bullets loaded with
5.0 grains of 231 to 1.240” overall length in Remington brass that averaged 797 fps producing 4.08 foot pounds of recoil.
The gun was held in a Ransom Rest and a close-up of the slide was recorded with a high speed (1000 frames per second (FrPS)) digital camera
during firing. Ten rounds were fired with each type of ammo (two) with each spring (three) for a total of 60 rounds video
recorded (10 X 2 X 3 = 60). Only six to seven rounds were loaded in the magazine at a time. This was done to reduce the amount
of nosedive that rounds might have due to the presence of a nosedive gap that can appear between the top round and the underlying
round as more rounds are loaded in the magazine. Prior tests in a single column 1911 have shown that the greater the nosedive
a cartridge makes during feeding, the slower the total cycle time. However there is less nosedive gap in these double column
magazines with six to seven rounds loaded and there was no discernible effect from this phenomenon in this data.
The video was analyzed for three key milestones in the firing cycle. 1) Recoil time: the time it took
for the slide to move all the way to the rear under recoil. 2) Cartridge pick-up: when the slide first contacted the top round
in the magazine as it moved forward. 3) Total cycle time: when the slide returned fully to battery.
Cycle time was fast – much less than a tenth of a second. In fact, the slowest cycle
time was 59 frames, or 59 milliseconds (59 ms; 0.059 seconds), and that was with the 12 lb spring. The slowest cycle time
with the 16 lb spring was 50 ms. That’s 1/20 of a second. The slowest time with the 20 lb spring was 47 ms.
The general result is just what one would expect: recoil spring weight affects the speed of the slide
in the recoil and return phases of the firing cycle. For example, a weaker spring has a faster recoil time but a slower total
cycle time. The reverse is true with a stronger recoil spring. A close look at the milestone events revealed interesting consequences
from spring rate for timing in the firing cycle.
The general time profiles of the measured milestones for both types of ammunition are shown in the
figure. Two things are apparent. First, the different spring weights produced different times at most milestones, although
the recoil phase was very similar for all springs. Second, the overall profiles are similar for both types of ammunition.
In fact, the total cycle time for a given spring with both the full power and reduced power ammunition was virtually the same.
A spring’s behavior was very consistent within a given 10-shot string. Almost half (8 of 18)
of the 10-shot string milestones had an extreme spread in time of only 1 ms. For example, cartridge pick-up time for all 10
shots with the 16 lb spring and the 185 grain bullet ranged from only 31-32 ms. The largest extreme spread time for any 10-shot
group was 4 ms.
An example of the consistency is shown in the figure, which shows the time profiles of all ten shots
with the 16 lb spring and the 185-grain bullet. The lines and dots overlap and are difficult to distinguish from one another
because the times are so consistent.
We generally accept that there is a significant difference in how fast the slide moves
rearward from recoil with different weights of recoil spring. Changing recoil springs usually results in the brass being ejected
a greater or lesser distance. I expected to see a clear difference in slide recoil time with the different springs. However,
the difference was small, at best.
With full power ammunition, recoil time averaged 9.1 ms with both the 16 and 20 lb springs. The 12
lb spring was a little faster with an average time of 8.5 ms. The difference in recoil time with the reduced power ammunition
was a little more apparent, with the 12, 16 and 20 lb springs averaging 11.9, 12.3 and 12.9 ms, respectively. A one millisecond
difference between the 12 and 20 lb springs is not much actual time, but does represent a 8% difference.
The numbers also show that the springs readily distinguished between the two loads used in this test.
The recoil time for the reduced power load with the 12, 16 and 20 lb springs was 40%, 35% and 42% longer, respectively, than
the full power load. The reduced power load produced 32% less recoil force than the full power load, so the springs are quite
sensitive to differences in recoil.
My impression while analyzing the video was that the camera frame rate (1,000 FrPS) was probably not
fast enough to give the best account of recoil time differences. A faster frame rate would provide a clearer picture of rearward
slide travel. In spite of this shortcoming, it was clear that the recoil phase was not dramatically different between these
spring weights when using the same ammunition. The slide moved much slower when going forward and the video frame rate was
more than adequate during that phase.
With full power ammunition, the slide was significantly slower to pick-up the cartridge with the 12
lb spring (36.8 ms) than with the 16 and 20 lb springs, which were nearly the same time (30 and 29.3 ms, respectively). The
difference between the three springs in pick-up time with the reduced power ammunition was more apparent, with the 12, 16
and 20 lb springs averaging 36.5, 31.6 and 28.4 ms, respectively.
A spring’s cartridge pick-up time was very similar with both the full power and reduced powered
ammunition. The 16 lb spring was 1.6 ms slower with the reduced powered load, but the 12 and 20 lb springs were a fraction
of a second faster.
The difference between the spring weights can be viewed in terms of the pick-up delay time, which
is the time between when the slide stops moving rearward until it picks up the next round. This is an important feature in
the timing of the firing cycle. The delay is longest with the weakest spring (see the table) because the slide moves to the
rear faster but it moves forward slower. With weaker ammunition, this delay is reduced because of the slower recoil phase.
A certain amount of time is required for the top round in the magazine to be pushed up to the top
of the magazine after the slide has moved far enough to the rear to allow the cartridge to move. Factors that affect this
aspect of timing are the strength of the magazine springs, the number/weight of rounds in the magazine and, as shown here,
the strength of the recoil spring. In the Government Model 1911, the slide clears the magazine after roughly 75% of its rearward
travel, allowing the ammunition to move up. This critical part of timing is rarely a problem since there is usually more than
sufficient time for the top round to be positioned for pick-up before the slide contacts it during forward travel.
The slide can cycle too fast and outrun the magazine spring in certain conditions. For example, Clark Custom Guns does not recommend the use of a .460 Rowland on a high capacity Para Ordnance P14.45 for this reason
(as per email communication on 12-8-2014). A full magazine (14 rounds) of .460 Rowland ammunition (essentially the same as
.45 ACP) is heavy, which can slow the push of the rounds upward. The strong recoil spring recommended for the .460 Rowland
means that it returns the slide quickly after recoil. This has sometimes led to feeding malfunctions because there wasn’t
always enough time for the top round to be where it should in time for proper pick-up.
Total Cycle Time
The relative speed differences between the three spring weights is more pronounced
when looking at the total cycle time. Stronger springs return the slide to battery at a significantly faster speed. The average
total cycle time was 57 ms for the 12 lb spring, 48 ms for the 16 lb spring and 45 ms for the 20 lb spring. The total cycle
times for the individual springs were extremely consistent within the 10-shot strings, and the extreme spreads did not exceed
The total cycle times for the full power and reduced power ammunition was nearly identical and did
not differ more than one ms for a given spring. This suggests that while recoil springs are sensitive to differences in the
power level of the ammunition tested here during the recoil phase, it makes little difference in the overall cycle time.
Not Just Timing
Recoil spring strength also affects how the gun’s sights realign on the
target when making fast followup shots. Some shooters report that a strong recoil spring makes the nose of the gun dip downward
more than a light spring when the slide returns to battery. This makes sense because it returns the slide to battery faster.
Some competitive shooters often spend time testing different recoil spring weights to see which will fit their shooting technique
A weaker recoil spring has less resistance to recoil force and allows the slide to recoil
faster. It also has less force to push the slide forward to return to battery resulting in a slower total cycle time. It’s
just the opposite for a stronger recoil spring.
The recoil force of the ammunition affected the recoil time, but did not affect the total cycle time.
Spring strength affects the firing cycle timing, and one of the most important events is cartridge
pick-up time. Slide timing must permit the next round in the magazine to be pushed up in time so that it is in the right position
to be engaged by the slide for feeding.
Generally, there is wide latitude for the ammunition that will reliably operate with a given recoil
spring. For example, nearly all factory ammunition will run reliably with “standard” weight recoil springs in
most pistols. Also, all of the ammunition in this test cycled reliably with no malfunctions of any kind. Even the reduced
power load functioned reliably with the strong 20 lb spring.
Sometimes there are good reasons to change recoil springs, for light or heavy loads or to change how
the nose of the gun dips for quicker follow-up shots. In these instances, it’s good to know how different spring weights
can affect firing cycle timing.
In this article, I’m not going to explain why you should or should not shoot a handgun this
way—why it doesn’t work. I’m not going to dive into the mechanics of each because that would take
to long, so just trust me (or don’t) that these grips are jacked.
Folks, do NOT try this at home…or on the range, or anywhere else for that matter:
Holding the gun too low
Holding the gun too low is a common mistake new shooters make when gripping a handgun.
I can’t speak for everyone, but if you asked me to, I’d say that when it comes to pistol
grips, the most common and irritating mistake veteran handgunners observe are shooters (and I use that word loosely) who grip
the pistol too low.
I’ll use a baseball truism here: when in doubt, choke up! Get your grip as closely aligned
with the barrel as possible, though still making sure, of course, that you avoid getting tagged by the moving slide if you
are shooting a semi-automatic handgun (more on that to come). Choke up as high as you can on revolvers as well.
This is one I really hope the “operators” out in Hollywood read and take to heart: please
change your low gripping pistol ways so I can stop rolling my eyes and annoying my wife during TV time.
Wrapping the strong hand around support hand for a two-handed grip
Strong hand over support hand pistol grip.
It’s supposed to be the other way around, with the strong hand touching the pistol. Otherwise,
it’s off balance so to speak, and being off balance in any physical activity just doesn’t make sense.
Grab the gun, get a good grip with your dominant hand, and then wrap the support hand (which should
be doing a lot of work as well supporting the grip) around the strong hand.
Seems simple, doesn’t it? Well, apparently not for everybody.
Interweaving fingers between strong and support hand
Interwoven finger handgun grip.
This grip is for the truly un-gifted—those who lack even the most basic eye-hand coordination.
You’d think people who’ve never shot a gun before would do this, and perhaps that’s the case; but
I’ve also watched shooters who mess up after transitioning from a right handed, two-hand grip to a left handed, two-hand
grip resort to this wonky hold out of… well.. I don’t know why.
Now, you may be asking yourself, who would do that drill and why? My answer to that is that’s
a whole other article.
Pointing the index finger on the support hand
Index finger pointed pistol grip.
For some reason, even after they’ve blasted caps for half a day, there are always a few shooters
who have a brain dump after lunch. They come back to the firing line, grab their gun and can’t seem to get the
gun to work unless they’re pointing their support hand index finger towards the target.
Huh? I guess, subconsciously, their fingers just don’t seem to take the hint. What in
the world are they thinking? Well, they aren’t. It just happens. And, it’s wrong.
Crossing the support hand thumb behind the slide of a pistol
Crossed thumb pistol grip.
This “technique” is likely only performed until the shooter gets bit by the slide. Sometimes
it leaves two little bloody groves on the web of the support hand, near the thumb. You may have heard it called a “snake
Admittedly, it happened to me once. I was ten years old, the first time I ever shot a gun. I
learned my lesson quick enough, through blood (and not very good instruction).
Crossed thumbs grip can result in injury from the slide.
I actually know of an incident where a shooter received seven stitches after using this improper grip.
Shocked me…but maybe he deserved it. Besides, I’ll bet he never did that again.
Unfortunately, some people position their thumb really low back by their strong hand’s wrist
so the slide doesn’t cut them. I say it’s unfortunate, because at least if they received this aversive stimulus,
they’d likely learn to put their thumbs forward.
Support hand index finger in front of the trigger guard
Finger over the trigger guard pistol grip.
Glocks, Beretta 92F and Sig Sauer pistols, and perhaps some other models have a flat, vertical shape on the barrel side on the trigger guard.
Shooters who place their support hand trigger finger on that part of the trigger guard are doing themselves a huge disservice.
Years ago a West Point cadet who was on their pistol shooting team was shooting next to me during
a tactical training course. I was an NCO at the time, serving on a full time tactical team, and I had even won a few
tactical shooting awards. Anyway, he didn’t like my suggestion to move his finger even though I made a pretty
good argument why his grip was less than ideal.
In short, that grip may work for target shooting, but not tactical shooting and it doesn’t work
with all guns.
The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the authors and do not necessarily
reflect the position of Guns.com.
Getting off quick, successive shots on target with a pistol is all about recoil management. Here
are five things that will help all shooters conquer their weapon’s kick and allow for super fast and accurate handgun shooting.
1. Thumbs forward grip
I find the two-handed, thumbs forward grip is by far the best when it comes to making multiple, fast shots. Having a quality, strong support hand grip
in the correct thumbs forward position gives the shooter the proper amount of recoil control.
Showing of the support hand for the thumbs forward grip. These four fingers lay across the strong
hand. (Photo: Jeffrey Denning).
Realize that the support hand does a lot of the work here. The support hands’ grip should be very tight,
while the shooting hand and fingers should be pretty relaxed. All four fingers of the support hand should be pressed
tightly across the fingers of the shooting hand with one or two fingers (the index finger and part of the middle finger) underneath
the trigger guard.
The thumb of the support hand points at the target and the wrist is locked in a downward angle, effectively immobilizing
it. This allows the tendons and ligaments of the wrist to lock, which are much stronger than muscle alone, and create
a much better platform for absorbing recoil.
2. Aggressive stance
A proper “aggressive stance” allows a shooter to absorb recoil throughout their entire body and when recoil is lessened, it is possible
to stay on target and keep shooting quickly because the sights and barrel of the gun will remain fairly aligned. In
order to get in an aggressive stance, shooters should bend forward slightly at the waist, not the knees, because this can
lead to tired quad muscles which will ultimately affect shooting performance. Learning to support your weight with bone
and not muscles will help refine the accuracy that comes with this natural shooting stance.
Demonstrating a thumbs forward grip with aggressive stance. In combination, these two techniques
provide superior recoil management, the bedrock of accurate, successive handgun shooting.
Weight should be in the balls of the feet and the feet placed flat on the ground. Ideally, the torso should
face forward and the gun and the sights should be brought up to the head so that it does not cant. The arms and hands
are extended. In essence, this makes a sort of horseshoe, beginning at the hands. The curve starts at the shooters
armpits and goes around his or her waist. The other side of the horseshoe is the ground.
3. Quality flash sight picture
Getting a flash sight means seeing the front sight post inside the rear sight. In reality your front sight post will be bouncing
around a little, and it won’t be perfectly aligned. That’s okay depending on the distance between your target
and your gun. The target cannot be so far away that the shot will miss if the front sight is a little off. Three
to five yards is ideal when it comes to this type of pistol shooting.
A good flash sight picture has the front sight in-between the rear sight like this.
The idea to shooting quickly and accurately is to shoot in a rhythm. To begin mastering this concept, try
a three shot rhythm drill and then a four and five shot rhythm. Eventually you’ll be able to shoot a six shot
rhythm and soon after that a ten shot rhythm drill with great accuracy. When you start off, keep your rhythm slow and
steady. Only when you’re comfortable shooting smoothing and accurately, should you pick up the pace.
Remember, accuracy means everything in a gunfight, so concentrate on both your trigger and your front sight post; it’s not point shooting.
4. Caliber you can control
There’s a huge debate about pistol calibers. Personally, I feel very comfortable shooting all guns well, quick and accurately. But
the truth is everyone is faster shooting rounds they can control well. For that reason, I generally like the 9mm. I even think it’s a good personal defense round.
Why? Because, ten fast and accurate rounds to the torso or the face will do a lot more than one round. Believe me.
Also there’s something strange that I’ve noticed over the years of teaching pistol that I ought to
mention. Some people ride the recoil. It’s like kids putting imaginary kick into their wooden guns after
every “shot” because that’s how they saw the actors guns do it. I’ve seen people hold the recoil
or even allow the recoil to push their hands up in the air.
That’s bad. Now, you should never push the gun down or anticipate recoil, but you also shouldn’t
let the recoil take over either. Just let the gun go off, get back on target and shoot again.
5. Lots of practice
I say it often, repetition is the law of learning. If you want to be good at something, you need to focus, concentrate and do it over
and over again. Practicing correctly allows proficiency. It’s a law of nature. So, until next time, continue
to hone your skills and keep adding to your tactical toolbox.
DO NOT LOSE HER.
1. DO teach her the four basics rules of firearm safety.
1. DON’T quiz her on it in the middle of dinner or while she’s getting
her makeup done in the morning.
I shouldn’t have to list them. Honestly, if you don’t know these rules, you have no business
teach-ing someone else how to shoot. Being safe is fundamental to any sport, but particularly when you’re dealing with
objects that put holes in stuff. I’ve been repeating these four lines to my daughter since she was little and lately
I’ve entered the practice of printing them on the back of my card and handing them out to new shooters. However you
choose to approach it, just don’t skip this step even if — no, especially if — she claims she’s been
around guns her whole life. And don’t ambush her to recite them at your will — she’ll memorize them by herself,
2. DO ask a friend to teach her, preferably another woman.
2. DON’T try to teach her yourself.
Unless you want a war at home. Women don’t like to be told what to do by their significant others
(well, maybe some do, but I’m pretty sure those are called unicorns). My husband tried it a few times — I nearly
scratched his eyes out. Your best course of action is to track down a reputable female instructor in your area. Failing that,
enlist the help of any good shooter (male, female, hired gun, or family friend). They’ll probably do and say the same
things you would, but they have a major advantage: they’re not you! Hubby does that sometimes — when I make mistakes,
he asks a buddy to come and tell me to try this and that. Works fine, and preserves world peace.
3. DO give her firm verbal commands.
3. DON’T yell at her.
Giving clear, firm commands to someone handling a firearm is a good thing. For one, they are (or should
be) wearing hearing protection and it will be a little hard to hear you. Second, you need to ensure they are safe and
follow directions. But yelling at a woman and making her cry is a sure way to guarantee she won’t come back. Ever.
4. DO introduce her to firearm safety, shape, and functionality before shooting.
4. DON’T just hand her a large-caliber cannon and watch her fall on her butt.
Ironically, what you say and do before you even hand her a firearm is even more important in making
her comfortable than shooting itself. One of the most common mistakes men make is to give a high-recoil firearm to a female
newbie the first time and watch as it violently kicks her back, or worse — jumps out of her hands and hits her in the
Don’t laugh; not funny! She will work up to large calibers, just like I did, but shock therapy
is not appropriate here. Ideally, show her various guns, explain how they function and begin with a training pistol such as
the SIRT I like to use. Then proceed with something tame like a .22 or possibly 9mm. No, .40, .45, or .44 Magnum are not tame.
If you start with any of those calibers, she will either give up or jerk the trigger for eternity.
5. DO teach her the basics.
5. DON’T try to teach her everything all at once.
Posture, grip, sight picture, and trigger control are the most important skills for every shooter,
regardless of their level or gender. Sounds simple enough, but lecturing on it all at once won’t do you (or her) any
good. Pace yourself and explain one thing at a time.
6. DO bring her along with your buddies to the range.
6. DON’T treat her like one of the dudes.
If she likes to (learn how to) shoot, she’s cool, all right. So bring her along! Contrary to
popular belief, many women enjoy manly hobbies, myself included. Shooting, hunting, fishing, off-roading, poker, golf, strip
clubs… OK, maybe not the latter, but you get the idea. However, just because she enjoys these things doesn’t mean
she’s not a lady. So keep the burping, farting, and chest bumps for your bros and treat her with care and respect.
DO buy her a gun.
DON’T pick it out yourself.
If you like her, you’ll buy her a gun. If you love her, you’ll let her pick it out herself.
And don’t be stingy — some of us have really good (meaning expensive) tastes.
7. DO repeat instructions.
7. DON’T get agitated if she makes the same mistake more than once.
Despite our reputation, we women actually follow instructions very well. The problem is, we overthink
and often have too many things on our mind, so we get distracted or forget. Expect to repeat yourself often. Don’t ever
say, “She’s just not getting it” — unless you enjoy getting slapped up-side the head with a full magazine…
8. DO gently push her to lean forward.
8. DON’T shove her neck like an animal.
One of the hardest things for women to learn is to be more aggressive with their stance and lean forward.
It just feels weird and unnatural at first. Do explain to her the benefits (stability, recoil control, etc.) and do gently
push or tap her back to remind her to lean forward. Squeezing or shoving her neck while she is shooting may result in unfavorable,
potentially deadly consequences. Or at least couch condemnation for a week. Just don’t do it!
9. DO give her constructive criticism mixed with positive reinforcement.
9. DON’T constantly point out only what she’s doing wrong.
I pride myself with having a thick skin, taking criticism well, and generally being able to poke fun
at my own downfalls. Yet, it really hurts my feelings when my own husband constantly tears my performance apart. In recent
months, he’s gotten in this annoying habit of approaching me as soon as I finish a stage and volunteering the information
of everything I did wrong. Way to kick me while I’m down, babe! Instead of sticking your foot in your mouth, try praising
her for the things she did right. And, instead of pointing out her mistakes, try suggestions along the lines of “Why
don’t you try this. It will help you accomplish that.” And just like that, instead of a jerk, you’re a hero!
10. DO introduce a timer. Eventually.
10. DON’T shove that thing in her face and remind her how slow she really is.
Buzzers make us nervous. Period. I actually have a theory there is something in their sound frequency
that scrambles brain waves — male and female. But, like any shooter, eventually we have to try doing things faster and
the only way to measure progress is by timing it. You should, however, be tactful about it. Act like it’s no big deal,
keep the timer behind her, but close enough to hear, and never say, “That was too slow.” Instead, make a game
out of it and try, “That was awesome, but I know you can do it faster.” And remember, comparing her speed to yours
is not a good idea — until she starts beating your time.
11. DO teach her double taps.
11. DON’T be a splits Nazi.
Double tapping is one of those weird skills you struggle with and one day you just miraculously get
it. Teaching her how to double tap early on will save her a lot of frustration long term. I was not smart enough to do that
and struggled for a long time with being unable to double tap. I had an irrational fear I’ll miss with my second shot
and I genuinely thought I couldn’t move my trigger finger that fast! What finally did it for me? Hubby set up a steel
popper about 10 yards away and told me to shoot it as many times as I can before it falls down. I can comfortably do about
six now! But, he did not pressure me or time my splits like he would his own.
12. DO teach her different shooting positions.
12. DON’T do it on the first day.
It would be lovely if we all got into ideal shooting position every time we shot. However, the reality
is that in both defensive and competition shooting we are going to be subjected to the most bizarre acrobatic tricks sometimes.
While you can’t plan for everything, you’ll do her a favor if you show her some of the more common alternate shooting
positions — prone, on one knee, one-handed, laying on your back, etc. Just don’t do that on day one.
13. DO encourage her to try competition.
13. DON’T force her or call her a sissy if she is not ready just yet.
The best approach, in my experience, is to bring her to competitions to watch. If there are female
competitors there — encourage her to watch them, talk to them and ask questions. It took seeing other women do it to
convince me that I can too, and now I hope I can pay it forward. We are a very supportive community that welcomes and
encourages new shooters and you should take advantage of that. Whatever you do, just don’t tease her or you’ll
be stuck with the ever-popular “It’s just not my thing” excuse for eternity.
14. DO make it fun.
15. DON’T poke fun at her or call her cute.
The most important advice, and the one I want to leave you with, is to always make it fun. Laugh,
joke around, and don’t be too serious or it will go from recreation to work in no time. And save the poking fun for
later, when she’s more confident. Also, don’t call her cute, try badass — she is holding a gun, after all.
15. DO remember we are different.
15. DON’T ignore this advise.
Now, I don’t know if men are from Mars and women are from Venus, but we do learn to shoot differently.
Follow this advice and I promise you — even if you don’t train the next Annie Oakley, you’re bound to score
some brownie points. If nothing else, they’ll come in handy next time you come home and say, “Honey, look what
I got from the gun shop”….
Bird hunting can be a blast, but filling a game bag is tough. Hunters
who do little wing-shooting might need time on a range. Some experienced clay bird gunners are unprepared for field conditions,
and even veteran shotgun hunters sometimes need an edge.
With most Pennsylvania bird seasons opening in just a few weeks, hunters
still have time to sharpen skills, rethink tactics and improve their odds.
Nick Sisley, an outdoors writer and shotgunning coach from Apollo,
Armstrong County, said that for many hunters, time on a skeet range could change everything.
“It gets you more familiar with your gun,” he said. “If
you just pull out your shotgun to hunt four or five times a year, you’re not as familiar with your gun as if you shoot
at clay targets.”
In his new book, “Gun Digest Shooter’s Guide to Shotgun
Games” (Gun Digest Books), Sisley offers tips on succeeding in the four main clay target sports: trap, skeet, five-stand
and sporting clays. Each of those shooting disciplines requires specific skills that translate to real-world hunting situations
-- the bird flushes straight out from underfoot, flies out low toward the right or left, comes in high at any angle or crosses
from either direction.
“Some of the best practice for grouse, pheasant and quail is
on a skeet field,” said Sisley. “Stations 6 and 7 … those conditions are similar to most any upland bird
hunting. You get a lot of those kinds of shots.”
Good wing shooting requires more than just knowing when to pull the
trigger. Mounting the gun to the shoulder comprises about one-third of the motions necessary to make the shot, and should
dove-tail with the swing. Get it right and it looks deceptively easy. Get it wrong and you’ve missed.
“It’s important to get the idea of mounting the gun as
part of shooting,” said Sisley, “whereas it is not as good for hunting practice if you have the gun mounted before
the bird comes out and you pull the trigger.”
Nationwide, gun club membership is increasing, he said, and many facilities
offer shooting games. If range fees and time are limited, consider getting a clay target thrower.
Sisley describes a shouldering tip that costs nothing but can make
all the difference in wing shooting. It’s done indoors with an unloaded 12 gauge shotgun and a penlight flashlight that’s nearly
the size of the muzzle. Slip it inside.
“With an open choke it usually takes a wrap or two of cellophane
tape around the light to make a snug fit,” he said.
Adjust the light to its most narrow beam. With the gun lowered, focus
the beam at the juncture of the wall and ceiling.
“Work on your gun mount, keeping that narrow light beam right
in that corner throughout the mount,” he said. “This practice helps the shooter get both hands working in unison.”
Step 2, practice the swing.
“Start the light moving along that juncture, then start the
stock to the shoulder all the while keeping the light beam right at the wall-ceiling juncture. This practice helps develop
a super-smooth swing.”
Experienced shotgun gamers should remember that gun club ranges do
not replicate real-world hunting conditions.
“It’s the surprise of the flush,” said Sisley. “When
practicing with clay targets you know when the bird is coming, but in a hunting situation you have to be ready. On the skeet
field you know nobody’s out there and the shot is safe, but in hunting you have to be aware of your surroundings at
Insecure footing can present complications during a hunt. So can inclement
weather, instant range estimation and shots that just can’t be rehearsed:
A case in point: While hunting in a line, a pheasant flushes unexpectedly
from underfoot and flaps forward, then doubles back over the hunter’s head. That shot starts with a forward mount, but
the gun is then dropped from the shoulder and brought to port arms. Pivot to the rear without pointing the muzzle at another
hunter, remount, lead bringing the bead down past the bird, fire and follow through. There’s no clay game for that.
“And it’s important to know when not to shoot,”
said Sisley. “Safety is paramount. If you’re not sure -- if you think it’s a borderline call -- don’t
THE Plunk Test Brad Miller
Although I’m a firearms instructor and have been for many years,
I just so happened to receive some high quality instruction recently about the importance of follow-through. Receiving instruction
with humility is when learning comes best, so my mouth was shut and my ears were wide open.
It’s the basics of marksmanship that will make you a great shooter
or tactical operator. After all, experts are expert at the basics. Therefore, it follows that when it comes to learning yourself or teaching
others to shoot better, explaining, demonstrating and performing the fundamentals really is what matters most.
To this point, a very qualified instructor posed a basic but important
question in a class I was attending: Why is follow-through important?
Whether you’re swinging a golf club or shooting at a duck, follow-through is essential to faithfully launching the projectile
and hitting the target. If not, all the energy ceases before the bullet has left the crown of the barrel. This means
keeping your eyes aligned with your sights and the target all the way through the complicated process of trigger squeeze,
firing pin movement striking the primer, igniting the primer and powder, and the sending of the bullet into the rifling and
out the muzzle. If there is any shaking, moving, flinching, etc, through this process, it will affect the shot.
While follow-through is a fundamental in shooting that must be adhered
to, doing it right also means mastering some other basics. Being good at follow-through means having a good, aggressive stance, and if shooting a pistol, having the proper recoil management with
a good thumbs forward grip. Conversely, follow-through will be hindered if the shooter has
the bad habit of riding the recoil (deliberately recoiling or holding the recoil unnaturally), pushing (pressing the gun downward
to avoid natural recoil), heeling or some other jacked up thing.
In the context of a gunfight, follow-through is important because there is no such thing as “one shot-one kill.” At least it’s not tactically prudent to ever think
that there is; whether you have a 9mm, 00 buckshot or a 6.5 Creedmoor, you need to be ready to keep shooting until the threat
stops. Consider watching the body going to the ground while following or tracking him (or her). Even veteran snipers are always ready for a good follow up shot.
Which brings me to a shooting axiom: When it comes to shooting, it
is only possible to not be perfect. While I know some really mind blowing, seemingly flawless shooters, I’ve never met
a perfect one. To me, that’s the fun thing about shooting: it’s difficult to be perfect every shot, all the time.
It’s a challenge.
How far is too far?
What I’m about to say at this point in the ranging story will not fly well with some, but it
needs to be addressed.
I have a problem with big-game hunters over-extending range in order to bag a trophy deer, elk, or
whatever. I do believe the big-game sport hunter needs to curb their range limits, so as not to wound game in the process.
While 600-, 800-, and 1,000-yard shots are very spectacular, I believe they need to be reserved for
varmints and paper targets. Long-range shots on game are very workable, but long-range in this case should not exceed the
dead-on killing limit of the cartridge and the shooter. In other words, give the animal you’re hunting a break by working
toward a clean, humane kill.
At 400 to 1,000 yards, you know as well as I do that anything can happen to that bullet en route to
the target, and the game animal will pay the price for a less than well-thought-out move on the hunter’s part.
Some time ago, I watched a television program in which hunters were shooting elk from one mountain
across to another. That, my friends, is no longer hunting, but an exercise in the use of advanced ranging equipment, rifles,
and big cartridges. At best, it is simply shooting and little more. Be responsible when using these new and, yes, very effective
As we move steadily through the 21st century, we see new developments all the time in both guns and
loads for long-range work. Word has it that some folks are in the process of building an ultra long-range sniper rifle off
a Russian anti-tank gun system that will drive a bullet of about 37 millimeters to a target in the next county. There is also
word that a 40mm sniper rifle is under development by still another group of experimenters. The point is to never say never,
but always remember that nothing, regardless its size or design, takes the place of woodsmanship, shooting skill, basic know-how
and, most of all, ethics, by the hunter in the field.
Lapping Scope Rings.
Lapping—or truing up the inside surface of your scope rings—protects the outside of the
scope tube from damage; eliminates stress on the tube that could affect the integrity of the scope’s internal moving
parts; and aids accuracy by removing any stresses that the scope tube could be applying to your rifle’s action.
Lapping the inside of your scope rings prevents uneven inner surfaces from damaging
or stressing your riflescope.
Unfortunately, few scope rings have perfectly machined surfaces where the ring contacts the scope
tube. That’s partly because perfectly true rings are expensive to manufacture, and your average weekend warrior isn’t
going to spend $130-plus on a premium set of scope rings.
Additionally, few rifle receivers are machined with absolutely true surfaces, and few of the scope-attachment
screw holes where scope bases attach are drilled perfectly centered.
In short, when a ring with slightly imperfect inner surfaces is mounted to bases that are in turn
screwed into slightly off-center holes in a slightly out-of-true action, it’s a miracle if those inner ring surfaces
turn out perfectly true.
Even proprietary type rings that mount directly to the action—such as in the case of many Ruger, Sako, CZ-USA and other rifles—are rarely perfect. In fact, for whatever reason, they’re often the worst.
Not to fret: it’s easy to fix.
What’s harder is convincing casual shooters that it’s necessary to fix. We touched
on a few of the ways out-of-alignment rings with imperfect inner surfaces adversely affect your pet rifle; let’s take
a closer look:
Most rings aren’t round where they grip the tube of that hard-earned riflescope; they often
aren’t even smooth. And most scopes have relatively thin aluminum tubes. Clamp an out-of-round ring with bumps and hollows
firmly to that tube, and you’ve just introduced a new shape to your once-round scope. The divots and odd shapes affect
the guts of the scope; in fact, if bad enough, they can bind up the magnification ring (or rather the moving parts that enable
you to zoom in and out) and/or the gears and moving parts of the elevation and windage turrets. That’s bad juju, especially
if you’re a precision shooter that really needs your scope to track honestly when zoomed in and out and dialed up and
down for various distances.
A scope-lapping rod can serve dual duty as an alignment tool. In the case of
proprietary rings that clamp directly to the action, finger tighten the rings onto the rifle; finger tighten the ring screws,
then tighten the clamp screws firmly.
Plus, rings that aren’t lined up with each other—no matter how smooth their inner surfaces—bend
the tube of your scope, further adding to the potential for bound gears and moving parts.
And finally, hard as it may be to believe, the stress that a scope tube bent against its will exerts
on your rifle’s action (which must hold your scope in whatever distorted position your rings put it) can have an adverse
affect on accuracy. In drastic cases, it can even negate the accuracy advantages of a perfect action-bedding job.
It’s worth fixing.
How? By lapping—or honing, if you will—the inner surfaces of your rings with a perfectly
straight, perfectly round steel bar and polishing compound.
To get started, order a lapping kit from Sinclair, Midway or Brownells. I use the Brownells Scope Ring Alignment Lap ($69.99 for the 1-inch; $79.99 for the 30mm version) and have great luck with it. Most lapping kits
come with a polishing compound; if not, pick up some 800-grit compound at your local hardware store or machinist supply store.
As a side benefit, your lapping rod can be used as a ring alignment tool when turning in dovetail-type
rings or whatnot.
With your rings firmly in place on your rifle, put a small piece of masking tape on the upper half
of each ring and mark them “Front” and “Rear.” Once lapped, you mustn’t mix up your ring halves
or even reverse the way they sit on the bottoms.
Take the ring screws out and the top halves off, lay a rag over your action to prevent bits of lapping
compound from falling into it, and smear the inside of the rings—upper and lower halves—with polishing compound.
Lay the lapping rod into the lower halves and screw the ring top halves over it. Don’t tighten the ring screws, or you
won’t be able to move the lap.
Work the lap inside the rings, turning it and sliding it forward
and back. At first, it will loosen quickly as the high points inside the rings polish off; tighten the ring screws slightly,
one ring at a time, and keep working. Brownells recommends working the lap forward and back about 30 times before freshening
the lapping compound; I tend to just work it for about two songs on the radio.
Unscrew the rings and apply a fresh layer of compound. Replace the rings and go back to lapping. Some
fellows suggest a figure 8 pattern as you work the lap back and forth; I tend to just zigzag it forward and back when tight
and run the handle in big ovals as it loosens up. Keep snugging the screws lightly as the rings loosen.
Depending on the quality of the rings and the material they’re made of (steel versus aluminum),
you’ll need to repeat the above process two to five times. When applying fresh compound, you can wipe the old stuff
out of the bottom rings with paper towel to get a visual on your progress.
About 80 percent of the lower ring surface should be smooth and perfectly true by the time you’re
finished. The upper rings will be a bit less. There’s no need to lap until the surfaces are completely polished—in
fact, you can take off too much material if you lap too much, resulting in rings that touch at the sides and no longer adequately
grip the riflescope when the screws are tightened.
As you mount your scope in the lapped rings, you’ll notice a significant difference. The scope
will lay into them without any binding, and the top halves will fit over smoothly and the screws run in easily, coming snug
all at once, not slowly as they do when un-lapped rings are distorting your scope tube or slowly bending it out of alignment.
You’ll also notice how much easier it is to slide your scope forward and rearward as you finesse
your eye relief to perfection, and how easy it is to rotate it slightly to level up the crosshairs even with the rings lightly
As you tighten your rings down on the scope tube, you’ll be comfortable in the knowledge that
you’re not distorting the optic’s surface, or putting a bend into it, or stressing your rifle’s action and
potentially introducing inaccuracies. Assuming that your scope is of reasonable quality, you’ll rest easy knowing that
the inner moving parts can zoom and dial without binding, too.
A stress-free riflescope is consistent, dependable and predictable. When it comes to precisely placing
shots with your favorite tackdriver, those are very real advantages.
Long Range Shooting
Just a trio of tips for new and not quite veteran distance shooters looking to improve their long
1. Start off shooting at 75-100 yards
Proning out with a custom bolt action .308 or a .338 Lapua won’t do you any good unless you
can shoot straight. Forget the wind and mirage. See if you can hit consistently at 100 yards first. You
should be able to blow the head off a Barbie doll at that distance. At least, that’s what I used to do when I was practicing T-zone hits. Drilling holes through nickels, dimes and quarters can also be fun. Just a little clear
tape over the top of the coin, and—walla!—you have an instant target.
Once you get good and consistent at shorter distances, it’s time to reach out a bit.
2. Learn to read the wind
There are multiple factors affecting distant shooting, but foremost is (1) the guy or the gal behind
the gun (I’m talking about basic marksmanship factors here), and (2) the wind.
Whether you’re shooting a sub-MOA precision rifle or a 3 MOA carbine out to, say, 300 yards,
wind matters. Reading the wind takes a little practice.
Range flags help during practice, but you won’t have a range flag when you’re “down
range” on a military or private security contract deployment. Nevertheless, watch the flag and pick up tell tale
signs. Watch downrange a bit for blowing leaves or even grass too. You can also check the wind at your location.
Wind is a tricky, interesting thing to study. You’ll find quickly that it can be full
force, quarter angled and any other number of variations. As well, the wind can blow, say, from the right to the left directly
in front of you but then shift halfway downrange so that it’s blowing from the left to the right. The wind can also
blow anywhere from 5-15 mph or more if you’re about to endure a tornado.
The distance (e.g. at your location, halfway to the target and close to the target), speed and direction
of wind will all play a factor in your bullet’s pathway.
3. Reading the wind in the mirage
Whether you’re looking through a spotting scope or the glass on your long range rifle, the blurry
mirage will show you what’s happening environmentally downrange. For long range shooters, the term ”mirage”
does not refer to a true mirage, but rather to heat waves and the refraction of light as they are bent through air layers
of different density between the shooter and the target, similar in effect to an object appearing bent when protruding out
of water (read more about this phenomenon here).
Learning to read wind and mirage from a good spotter will help you immensely at shooting accurate
When it comes to understanding the mirage, focus on the target then back off about halfway to observe
the mirage itself. All this is done through glass. As a general rule, if the lines of the mirage have heavy or
large waves, the wind is mild or it may not be windy at all at the location of the mirage. On the other hand, the tighter
together the lines of the mirage, the more wind at that location. And this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to
mirage reading–skilled shooters can identify all sorts of different patterns that help them accurately compensate on
Getting out, reinforcing your skills and learning to read the wind and mirage will help you learn to be a better long distance shooter, but
also keep in focus that nothing can replace good old fashioned marksmanship. You can’t blame the wind if you can’t
shoot well, so make sure to get good up close before going long.
Safety warning: Jeffrey Denning is a long time professional in the art of self-defense and any training
methods or information he describes in his articles are intended to be put into practice only by serious shooters with proper
training. Please read, but do not attempt anything posted here without first seeking out proper training. (Jeffery Denning)
Love the Gun
Shooting enthusiasts of every kind have all too often found themselves in possession of a freshly
acquired firearm which, for one reason or another, does not live up to expectations. Yes, the gun may be safe to shoot, and
it goes bang like it's supposed to, but the feel or function just isn't what was hoped for. It can be a real temptation
to hurry and trade away disappointing guns at a financial loss. But before you give up on this new relationship, several less
expensive steps can be taken to try and find the rifle, shotgun, or handgun you really wanted hiding inside the gun you've
1. Give the gun a detailed cleaning.
This is a good rule of thumb for both new and used guns. I've cracked open dozens of factory-fresh firearms to find that some are spotlessly clean and nearly devoid of lubrication while others are dripping in
heavy grease and metal shavings. Either way, the guns are not likely to operate properly (or may even be damaged) if they
are not cleaned and lubricated before the first trip to the range. As for used guns, there's just no way to know what condition
they're in until you take a look under the hood. A buddy of mine picked up a previously owned competition grade bull barrel
When I asked him how it ran, he said it was just OK. It was not as accurate as promised and it was
jamming frequently. He thought it might need a gun smith. I asked if he cleaned it before going to the range. Well, no, the
seller said it was ready to shoot. When he got it open, it was, like many used guns, absolutely filthy inside.
After a detailed cleaning of the internals, and a deep scrub of the barrel to remove the fouling,
the rifle ran like a Swiss watch. The moral of the story is this: All guns are dirty and dry until you clean and lubricate
2. Swap out the stock or grip.
A simple stock exchange can provide the look and feel of a complete gun makeover. For long guns, pay close attention
to the length-of-pull (LOP), meaning the distance from the face of the trigger to the end of the recoil pad.
If the distance is too great for your body shape, a long gun will most likely feel out of balance
or awkward to swing. Revolvers allow for a wide variety of grip shapes, sizes and materials. Swapping out a factory grip for
one that fills your hand properly can turn a punishing wheel gun into one you love to practice with.
The 1911 may not be a good fit for your hand shape, so try trading out the grip panels for thin aluminum
grips or wood grips with a thumb groove to make it easier to reach the magazine release. For semi-autos with fixed polymer
grip frames, try sliding on a rubber grip sleeve to improve traction.
3. Upgrade the sighting system.
Small, poorly made or hard-to-see iron sights can take all of the fun out of a trip to the range. If your gun has
removable sights that make you squint, try a different system. Night sights, fiber optics, target sights, or low profile combat
sights might be just want you need. Some folks shoot better with open sights while others find they like peep sights best.
If the plan is to mount an optic on the gun, don't settle for the cheapest glass you can find. It's amazing what investing
just a little more in the right scope can do to improve the view (and your accuracy).
4. Trade out the trigger.
Triggers that are heavy, mushy or gritty are a drag to pull. In fact, bad triggers can have a measurable impact
on a gun's accuracy potential.
Some shooting platforms have trigger systems that can be swapped out without the need for gunsmithing,
such as the AR-15 rifle, Ruger 10/22 rimfire, and Glock pistols. Some folks cringe at the idea of spending $100 or more for
“just” a trigger but, much like the right stock or grip, it can significantly change the feel of the gun.
different ammunition brands and bullet weights.
More than once I've heard the tale of someone who immediately bought a case of a single variety of practice grade
ammunition to shoot in their new gun.
When it turns out that the firearm cannot properly digest this bulk-box fodder, or the accuracy is
mediocre, the owner proceeds to cuss out the gun manufacturer for selling him a piece of junk.
The truth of the matter is that all guns exhibit some degree of ammunition preference. That’s
why professionals in the shooting industry carefully test a variety of ammunition to check for reliability and accuracy. One
of the most dramatic ammunition accuracy shifts I’ve seen occurred during the test of an old Mosing Nagant M44 (group averages drifted between 3.17" to 1.41”).
The best way to find a good ammunition fit for your personal firearm is to try several small lots
of differing brands and bullet weights before investing in a lifetime supply of a particular type.
6. Buy a quality
No matter the size or type of handgun you choose for concealed carry, it will feel uncomfortable until you get
used to it.
But don't expect a cheap holster, on sale for half price, to provide a comfortable fit. Plan
to spend at least 10 to 15 percent of what was paid for the handgun for an every-day carry system.
Avoid the one-size-fits-all holsters and flimsy belts. Instead, stick with the quality holster system
providers who make models specifically for your pistol or revolver.
7. Do your homework.
Take some time to learn more about the guns you own. Chances are you will be able to find all kinds of resources,
including instructional videos, history, and reviews for your gun online.
These materials can be invaluable in identifying and understanding the features, quirks and ammunition
preferences of your particular platform. Who knows, you might find out that the old bang stick your dad bought for $25 back
in the 1960s is now a collector’s item.
8. Check your technique.
I had been shooting shotguns for years when an instructor gave me a few key tips that forever changed my relationship
with pump-action scatter guns.
I was operating the platform correctly and making solid hits down range but I was getting pushed around
by the recoil more than I liked. He showed me a subtle shift in where to couch the recoil pad in my shoulder’s pocket,
how to repeat that exact placement each time, and then to add a bit of push-pull tension when aiming. Wow, suddenly I was
running the shotgun instead of it running me. Even a little formal training can go a long way.
9. Visit a reputable
Some gun issues just can't be diagnosed or resolved from the comfort of your own work bench. Qualified gunsmiths
not only heal broken shooting irons, they can often make an OK gun much better.
Don't just pick a name out of the phone book. Ask around until you find the right person for the job.
Paying a gunsmith for an evaluation is almost always a worthwhile investment, especially if it turns out the gun has problems
which make further upgrades or changes a waste of money. (American Rifleman)
Time to get better
Shooting, as a sport or hobby, has some rare compensations. At the minimum, it’s a complex manual
skill that is a simultaneous joy and challenge to acquire. It also affords many intermediate satisfactions and variations.
No wonder then, that it proves such a durable interest for many, spanning not merely lifetimes but generations in countless
That it can also save lives and preserve order is misunderstood—often deliberately—in
The mere presence of a firearm thwarts many unsocial escalations—take a look at “Armed
Citizen” if you doubt this. And here is where it parts company with most other hobbies and sports: Not to put too fine
a point on it, but we could find not a single reference to criminal undertakings or other unrest being undone by a minus-20-degree
goose down bag or carbon fiber mountain bike, however excellent or well-employed.
This intersection between sporting utility and unwelcome necessity is where many shooters risk coming
up short. The habits and practices of one mindset don’t always forward the goals of the other. If this remains obscure,
think of it this way: It’s the difference between making an excellent shot when you wish, versus a satisfactory
shot when you must.
This intersection between sporting utility and unwelcome necessity is where
many shooters risk coming up short. The habits and practices of one mindset don’t always forward the goals of the other.
These are more different than you might expect, and there’s little consequence for getting the
first sort wrong. The second is a completely different story. We suggest that a practical, inexpensive key to sorting this
out is to train with a shot timer.
These are conceptually simple gadgets, really; a digital stopwatch attached to a microphone. They
are designed to provide a start signal and “listen” to your shots. Where they get clever is the ability to record
the times of a string of shots, and then let you review those times—generally called splits—and analyze the variation(s).
For competitive shooting, the utility is obvious: Scoring is based on some mathematical relationship
between the time it takes to make the shots in a prescribed course of fire and their quality/accuracy, plus or minus any penalties
(some disciplines count generally up to determine score, others count down). Built into this process is the notion of a randomized
start, generally between one and four seconds. A live range officer generally handles this in competition, but a shot timer
will do it for you during training.
It’s easy to underestimate the value of randomized starts. In a defensive scenario—and
aside from moral considerations—there are two crucial break points. First is the decision that action is necessary.
This must proceed from situational awareness, and an untimed “self-start” has no way to proxy this real-world processing interval. While
it’s variable, certainly, such an interval won’t be long.
Second—and where a timer comes into play—is that most everyone overestimates how quickly
they can get their defensive firearm into action. Nothing demonstrates deficiencies here quite like a timer: Buzz to
bang is arguably the most crucial test of true defensive preparedness. A good quality (“A” hit on an IPSC target)
from cover carry can easily take 2-plus seconds; from open carry, a second-and-half is respectable. Or, trans-warp here: Rob Leatham. (We watched Rob do this actual demo … er, wow?) The point is simple: A subjective notion of speed
and what it lets us think are “safe” distances is deeply counterproductive as a Tueller or similar drill plainly shows.
The second function of shot timers is similarly useful. The measurement of elapsed time between
shots can teach a lot, too. Though we know he wouldn’t claim them as original to him, we never think of this capacity
without the words of über-master instructor John Farnum (Defense Training International) ringing in our ears: “Don’t shoot faster than you can hit.” But as John also
says, “If you don’t train with a timer, you’ll never know how fast that is.”
Measuring the times between shots is helpful in three ways. True “splits”—the time
between shots on the same target—clock how rapidly you can complete the cycle of a single mechanically correct and accurately
placed shot. It assumes the firearm is presented and gripped, and a shot initiated. Beginning with the report of that shot, it captures the interval of tracking the sights through recoil and recovery up to delivery of a subsequent shot.
If you watch this (astonishing) Max Michel video, you’ll have a good look at the second and third benefits of interval measurement, too: transitions, and in this case, with a reload. The second is the time it takes to move between targets:
recovering the pistol from a shot and moving on to a new target. This interval is generally longer than a true split as the
process is more complex, but properly done, not by much.
The third interval demonstrates a dazzling reload pace, too—well under a second, shot-to-shot.
As you see, all these things can be baselined and practiced only with a timer. While our examples
are from competition venues, training with a timer is no less valid, for instance, on your concealed draw and reload. Also
consider that fundamentals are just the beginning: As long as dimensions and distances of your courses of fire remain the
same, virtually any target array can become a yardstick for improvement.As you see, all
these things can be baselined and practiced only with a timer.
In terms of hardware, there are many good choices: CED 8000 is one we’ve used a lot. It has numerous sensitivity adjustments that allow you to tune out the
wind for instance (by setting the mic level), but will still pick up rimfire. Sensitive enough to hear dry-fire hammer-fall
if properly positioned, it’s otherwise dizzyingly complete, with multiple par- and competitive timing modes.
If ultra-compact is the name of the game, the ShotMaxx is a largish wristwatch. No pun intended, but … handy?
Two long-time favorites (and maybe the best place to start) are the amazingly rugged Pocket Pro or Pact “club” timers. We hate to tell you how many times we’ve dropped ours, yet they just
keep on humming.
One caveat if you move ahead with timing your training: Using a timer can get you into the mindset
of completing every action with a shot. While this is a reasoned expectation for range work and especially for competition,
it should not become your default for concealed-carry skills development.
Really knowing what you’re doing, and the ability to do it with precision and confidence, can
diffuse a dangerous circumstance rapidly without force: We’ve been there.
But the overarching goal should always be situational awareness toggled fully “ON,” and
a shooting situation avoided altogether.
On the surface, shooting clay targets involves stepping into the station, loading your shotgun,
calling for the target and pulling the trigger. However, the success behind crushing clays largely depends on
the mental preparation just before calling for the shot. Experienced shotgunners call this preparation the "pre-shot routine."
The process is similar to golf. You generally don't see someone stepping up the tee and immediately
swinging his club at the ball. There's a cerebral component before the club is even drawn back. The same applies to clays
shooting with the pre-shot routine.
The purpose of the pre-shot routine is to mentally and physically prime yourself for the target presentation
through a positive exercise. The beauty of having a routine prior to calling for the bird is that it helps eliminate inconsistencies
while making you feel comfortable and confident in the station.
By developing a successful pre-shot routine, diversions are reduced — increasing your ability
to focus on the target in flight. There is no hard-and-fast pre-shot routine. It varies by shooter. The key, however, is to
find a sequence of pre-shot cues that work best for you and stick with them.
The people in the background are looking hard at the target. That’s the way
to do it.
Most clays games provide "lookers" — a preview of the targets you're about
to shoot. Your pre-shot routine should begin here. Train yourself to carefully scrutinize each of the preview targets, otherwise
you're squandering a valuable opportunity.
For lookers, watch the entire trajectory of the target from the time it leaves the trap machine until
it hits the ground. You generally focus on the leading edge of the bird, with the exception of straight-away outgoers where
you'll concentrate on the back of the target.
In effect, fix your eyes on the segment of the target you want to hit. In some games like sporting
clays or 5-stand, you may want to establish a physical landmark as your target breakpoint — let's
say a particular tree or shrub. What you're really doing here is formulating a plan to break the target.
Now that you've seen the targets, you're thinking the next step involves loading your shells and taking
the shot. Not quite yet.
First, check the position of your feet as part of your pre-shot routine. Improper foot placement is
one of the most frequent mistakes shooters make. Most people don't pay attention to where their feet are pointing or how far
apart they are.
In a nutshell, your feet are in a neutral position, shoulder-width apart, facing the field. Some sports
like skeet or trap have recommended foot placement that changes by station. Regardless, don't make the mistake of standing
like a rifle hunter with one foot behind the other and gun across your chest. Face the targets with your full body and feet
placed for maximum swing.
If you have any personal quirks about your shotgun posture, make sure they're implemented. For example,
some shooters need to lean forward more than others. Whatever your particular style of shooting, this is the time to focus
on executing it.
Next, mentally prepare for the upcoming shot. You've made your plan with the lookers. Feel confident
in that plan. Steel yourself with positive thoughts.
Too many shooters say to themselves "that target is too hard" or "I'll never be able to hit it." Those
are self-fulfilling prophecies. Relax and remain confident in your ability to break the target with the plan you've committed
This shooter has unwavering focus on the target. Strive for it through your pre-shot
Visualize breaking the target. You've established your break point with the lookers. Pause for a moment
and see in your mind's eye the target shattering at that particular spot in the flight path of the bird.
As part of positive mental preparation, you can use a so-called trigger phrase that goes something
like this: "Focus on the front of the target" or "break the bird" or "follow through the swing." You would say this to yourself
just before loading the shotgun.
Now you've dropped the shells into the chamber and closed it. The sound of the shotgun locking should
be a signal that you're ready to successfully break the target. That sound takes you into the zone of relaxation and confidence.
Shotgun closed, you're ready to smash the bird.
Take a deep breath and exhale. This step of your pre-shot routine contributes to your relaxation.
Your body should remain alert, but your mind is quiet and instinctively ready to receive the target.
Call for the bird, now it's broken.
It will probably take several attempts to create your own pre-shot routine. Believe in it, and your
scores will definitely improve.
And by the way, in the interest of safety, always be aware of your surroundings. (Irwin Greenstein)
Col. Cooper changed the way shooters handled their guns, how they engaged enemies and, perhaps most
importantly, how they managed to develop a mindset that prepared them to face a lethal threat at any time and place. In his
written works and his teachings, Col. Cooper made it clear that technical skills—how to load and fire your weapon—were
of little value without being mentally prepared to win a gunfight. Today, 39 years after the doors opened, the instructors
at Gunsite still prepare shooters to face the most dangerous situations and survive using Cooper’s techniques and methods.
Here are five key points from Col. Cooper that are essential to understanding how mindset affects the outcome of a gunfight—or
prevents a gunfight from ever happening.
Surviving Is as Much Mental as Physical: In one of his lectures, Col. Cooper touched on several occasions
where officers and civilians who were proficient with firearms, some of which were elite-level shooters, died in a gunfight.
It’s very clear by looking at the resume of these shooters that they had sufficient technical skill with firearms, but
they also had, as Col. Cooper puts it, an “unsatisfactory mental condition.” Teaching the mental aspects of shooting
is far more esoteric than teaching the physical and mechanical skills needed to survive—double-taps, tactical reloads, drawing the firearm, and so forth. Proper mindset is something
that the student must be willing to adopt. Ken Campbell, Gunsite’s Chief Operating Officer and a former law enforcement
officer with 35 years of experience in the field echoes Cooper’s words:
“It’s not just owning a gun. It’s not just knowing how to clean the gun or shoot
the gun that’s going to save your life. You have to have the right mental attitude.” Or, as Colonel Cooper once
said, “Owning a piano does not make you a pianist.”
The World Is a Dangerous Place: One of the central tenants of Col. Cooper’s
philosophy on surviving a dangerous encounter is situational awareness and an understanding that violence might, as Cooper
says, come to you. To illustrate his point, Colonel Cooper developed four stages of preparedness—white, yellow, orange
and red. The white state, according to Cooper, is a state of relaxed ignorance, an individual who is unwilling or unable to
come to grips with the fact that the world, even their little corner of the world, is not immune to violence. Being in the
white state of mind leaves you unprepared, and when you find yourself in the midst of a deadly encounter, individuals who
survive in this frame of mind usually share the same thought—I can’t believe this is happening to me. That mindset
leads to a loss of faculties—the heart rate increases, we don’t react as quickly, we lose control of our fine
motor skills. We freeze. It’s how seasoned police officers and trained competitive pistol shooters find themselves in
a deadly shooting and never manage to fire a shot. Cooper refers to this stage of mind as “relaxed, unaware and unprepared.”
Refusing to come to terms with the fact that there is violence in the world does nothing to protect you when you find yourself
face-to-face with those that would do you harm.
Awareness Is Critical: Col. Cooper and his team at Gunsite have been teaching people
how to survive in a different state of mind—an aware state—for almost four decades. Cooper referred to it as the
yellow state—situationally aware and always prepared. According to Cooper, the threat is not specific during the yellow
state, but the shooter is prepared. In an aware state of mind, Cooper says, your odds of surviving an attack are substantially
higher. At Gunsite, students learn Cooper’s method for existing in a yellow state of mind, prepared to face a threat
at any moment and ready to take the steps necessary to win. The first step to living aware is to accept the fact that you
may face a dangerous situation at any moment, and truly living in a prepared state requires a fundamental acceptance that,
due to factors beyond your control, you may have to defend yourself and the lives of others.
The Right Attitude Can Save You from A Fight You Never Saw Coming: In one of Col.
Cooper’s videotaped lectures, he discusses a research project in which violent criminals were asked to look at a city
street and identify possible targets of attack. By and large, these criminals chose the same individuals as potential targets.
The people that were most often targeted were in the “white” state of mind—oblivious, ignorant of their
surroundings, detached from the reality of living in a potentially violent world. We must all ask ourselves whether those
criminals would have identified us as potential targets, and, if so, what we can do to change that.
“Mindset allows you to avoid a fight, which is a huge win,” Campbell says. “We need
to recognize problems, and the only answer to a problem does not rest in your holster.” By presenting yourself as a
hard target you can diffuse violent situations before they escalate—sometimes before you even realize that you were
being sized-up by an attacker. Col. Cooper’s teachings help students present themselves as formidable opponents through
subtle clues like carriage, head position, and the use of their eyes, and by presenting yourself as aware and prepared you
will sometimes manage to avoid conflict in the first place. Recognizing situations that could be dangerous also give you a
major advantage if a confrontation happens, which is less likely if criminals understand that you are going to be a difficult
Prepared Does Not Mean Fearful: I’m often asked if I train with firearms because
I’m afraid of bad guys. That’s as illogical as asking a trauma surgeon if they went into medicine because they
are afraid of being hurt. There is a vast difference between being prepared and being afraid. And, if you do find yourself
in the midst a violent encounter, fear does very little to help you survive. Preparation, on the other hand, provides you
with the mental and physical tools you need to win.
“In a confrontation, you let your opponent know that they’ve bitten off more than they
can chew,” Campbell says. “They thought you were a proverbial sheep, but in reality you are a sheepdog.”
Col. Cooper also describes the prepared attitude as not being one of, “an uncontrolled, explosive
kook.” According to Cooper, the best preparation leaves you, “in full control of your mind.” And, ultimately,
that is the key—learning to be in charge of yourself and your actions even in the midst of a terrible, violent attack.
So important was mindset to Cooper that he made it part of the Triad which Gunsite still uses and still teaches to their students,
along with marksmanship and gun handling. Ultimately, though, your skill with a firearm is of no use in a situation where you can’t control your emotions and mental state.
For more information about Gunsite visit www.gunsite.com.
Back to basics. Eric Lamberson
At the beginning of every year, I like to review marksmanship
fundamentals. These fundamentals form the foundation for all accurate shooting, but they are something many overlook.
Zeroing your pistol
I continue to be amazed at how often I hear competitors say, "I've
never zeroed the sights on my pistol." The ability to hit a target on demand starts with zeroing (or sighting in) your pistol
for the ammunition you are shooting.
If you have not zeroed your pistol with this ammunition, you have
only a vague idea of where the shots will hit in relation to your sight picture. The difference between point of aim and point
of impact will grow with distance and may result in you missing the target entirely.
It takes a minimum of 10 shots carefully fired at a target (ideally
using a solid rest or sand bags to minimize pistol movement) with the ammo you intend to use to verify point of impact. After
firing these shots, make your sight corrections based upon the center point of the group you fired — ignore any shots
that are obviously the result of shooter error.
If you have adjustable sights, adjust your point of impact at least
one-half the group size so you can see a definite shift in the next group's center point. Continue this process until you
have a clear correlation between point of aim and point of impact for your shot group. If you do not have adjustable sights,
then you must drift the sights or memorize the difference between point of aim and the desired point of impact.
Zeroing your carry pistol for your self-defense/carry ammunition is
even more important. Different brands will shoot to different points of impact — the difference can be critical if you
must take a precise shot. If you practice/compete with your carry pistol (and you should do this on a regular basis), zero
the sights for you carry ammunition and then memorize the point of aim/point of impact difference for your practice ammunition.
Hitting the target
Every time someone fires a pistol, the bullet hits ... something.
Of course, the key is an ability to hit what we want when we want and is critical to every shooting situation. The inability
to fire an accurate shot on demand will hold you back in mastering every other pistol skill you need to acquire.
The faster the shooting speed, the more important it becomes to fire
each shot without disturbing pistol's the stability and alignment. To quickly hit a target, the shooter must condense the
act of firing an accurate shot down to a short time frame; however, the fundamental process is the same.
The ability to hit your target and execute various gun-handling skills
— such as a draw, reload, engage moving targets, etc., must coexist. However, don't
try to develop them simultaneously. Each skill has to be developed and practiced separately.
Certain skills are more easily acquired through dry practice, because
recoil can mask some problems. For instance, you can send your shots to the lower left or right by changing your grip pressure
as you pull the trigger — something you probably will not feel when the pistol recoils. Dry practice allows you to concentrate
on a specific skill and reduces the possibility that you might misinterpreted feedback that other variables produce.
Using the sights
Sight alignment and sight picture are often confused, but they
are not the same. Alignment refers to the relationship between the front and rear sight; the sight picture is the relationship
between the aligned sights and the target — what you see the instant the pistol fires.
Alignment is correct when the top of the front
sight is the same height as the top of the rear sight blade, and there is an equal amount of light showing on either side
of the front sight. With optical sights, alignment consists of seeing the dot in the scope — regardless of where it
You must focus on the front sight (or dot, etc.) to fire an accurate
shot. The human eye's physical characteristics preclude simultaneously focusing on objects at multiple distances. Focus on
the front sight, not the rear sight and not the target.
This is a fairly easy concept to understand. Are you fully aware of
the front sight for every shot? Can you see it on demand at speed? Dry practice helps us refine this skill as you practice
drawing the pistol and acquiring proper sight alignment. Aligning the sights at speed is simply knowing what you need to see
and then confirming that you see it as you press the trigger.
Prepping the trigger
You can have the perfect sight alignment and picture, but if you jerk
the trigger, you'll likely miss the target. Pulling the trigger on a semi-automatic is a two-step process; taking up the slack
or pre-travel, then pressing the trigger to the rear to fire the shot.
The pre-travel is the distance the trigger moves from its forward-most
position to the point where the shooter feels the sear's resistance. The weakest area for most shooters is an inability to
take up this pre-travel without actually releasing the sear (and thereby firing the shot). Prepping the trigger
means learning to pull through that free movement and hold against the weight of the sear engagement.
You should be aware of this every time you fire a shot, regardless
of how rapidly you are shooting. It does take time to learn this skill, and it only comes with practice. It is also a progressive
skill — start with slow fire and only speed up when you can prep the trigger without disturbing the sight alignment/picture.
Prepping the trigger forms the foundation of proper trigger control; eventually it will become a conditioned reflex.
Pressing the trigger
Once the shooter preps the trigger, pressing through to fire the shot
is the next step. Your trigger finger should begin to exert pressure straight back until the pistol fires. Ideally, the middle
of the pad of the fingertip should be 90 degrees to the trigger, which enables you to press the trigger straight to the rear.
Then, release the trigger at the same speed in which it's pressed, keeping the finger in contact as it returns.
The term "press" should not be misinterpreted as being a slow-moving
process. "Press" implies that increasing the level of pressure against the trigger is done as a smooth acceleration. However,
you must do this in a predictable pattern regardless of its time frame: pressure increases progressively until the shot breaks.
As you're learning trigger control, pay attention to sight alignment
when putting pressure on the trigger. Both must be done at the same time. After you've acquired the ability to press the trigger
without moving the sights start speeding up just a little. Experiment to see how quickly you can press the trigger without
Many people under- or over-grip the handgun. Bull's-eye shooters,
for example, typically are not overly concerned with controlling recoil for immediate follow-up shots, and therefore tend
to have a lighter grip on the pistol. Many believe a death grip on the pistol will prevent recoil. However, no matter how
tightly you grip it, the handgun will still recoil and an excessively tight grips often prevents a stable sight alignment/picture.
The proper grip tension is about the same pressure you'd feel when
holding a hammer to drive a nail. Additionally, the pressure in both hands must be equal to help ensure the gun tracks consistently
straight up and down during recoil. Gripping the gun with correct tension will allow the hand to recoil in concert with the
pistol and allows proper trigger control. When the firing hand is not trying to choke the life out of the pistol, the trigger
finger is free to move smoothly, quickly and precisely.
A proper grip when combined with a proper stance will enable you to
effectively deal with muzzle rise. As you relax and see a predictable pattern, you will start to see the sights through the
entire recoil cycle.
Inexperienced shooters try to reduce muzzle rise thinking that it
will enable them to shoot faster. However, the speed and consistency with which the pistol returns into alignment that determines
how quickly the shooter can fire the next accurate shot. With practice and proper stance, the recoil pattern will become predictable
and the sights will then automatically return back into alignment.
Grip mechanics and high hold
Grip the gun as high on the frame as possible with the shooting hand
indexing against the beavertail and making full contact with the rear of the frame. If your hand size permits, extend both
thumbs toward the target along the slide or frame while being careful not to press them inward. Inward pressure against the
slide/frame can influence the tracking of the gun in recoil and cause malfunctions.
Hand size is an issue for some people. For example, as I learned to
shoot the Springfield XD pistol, I found it impossible to not press the slide release with my normal grip. I had to teach
myself a slightly different grip to enable the slide to lock back on the final round. I don't have this problem on the 1911
or the S&W M&P platforms.
The shooting hand squeezes the gun from front to rear; the support
hand squeezes the shooting hand from side to side, creating a clam-shell effect that created a four-way, equal pressure on
the pistol. Having the proper weight balance on each side allows the gun to track more consistently in recoil.
Place the index finger of the support hand tight under the trigger
guard. Placing the finger under the trigger guard positions the hand/wrist for holding the gun down and forward against muzzle
rise. Correct grip tension allows the gun to lift and return smoothly while the correct grip position allows the gun to return
quickly and consistently.
Every physical sport has an optimal stance; shooting is no different.
Just like golf, baseball, tennis, etc., the correct shooting stance provides an overall feeling of balance; it is an athletic
position of readiness.
The next time you are at the range, take a moment and look at how
pistol shooters are standing — you will see every variation imaginable; most are not optimal. The correct shooting stance
is a progressively aggressive stance with shoulders in slightly front of ankles, ears in front of shoulders. This posture
puts the majority of the body weight slightly forward and uses the body's mechanics to help control recoil.
Your spine should be relatively straight, while your knees are flexed
and the upper body bends slightly forward at the ankles, not the waist. If you're doing it correctly, you'll feel tension
in your calf muscles. The wider the swing needed to shoot multiple targets, the more the knees should be flexed.
It is important to remain flat-footed while the upper body is leaning
toward the target. One foot may be in front of the other as in a slight karate-style forward stance. Your feet should be shoulder-width
apart. A stance that's too wide will inhibit your ability to swing to shoot multiple targets and your ability to move. A too-narrow
stance can cause you to lose your balance as the pistol recoils.
You must have a progressively aggressive stance to resist the pistol's
recoil and maintain your balance. Do not put too much weight on the balls of your feet, this creates instability. As a test,
I have novice shooters extend their arms as if they are holding a pistol and close their eyes. I then push against their hands
(as if pushing them backward); without a correct stance it is easy to push them off balance.
The Isosceles, Modified Isosceles, Weaver and the Chapman Modified
Weaver debate in some circles is almost as enthusiastic as the 9mm versus .45 ACP debate. There is a place for every variation
depending upon the specific shooting situation, cover, ground, etc. Everyone should master all of them, and there are numerous
Internet videos that detail how to do each one.
The fundamental foundation
Zero your pistol, learn and use a solid stance, and practice the fundamentals
of sight alignment and trigger control. Revisit these fundamentals periodically as you progress and anytime you start to drift
into bad habits.
The marksmanship fundamentals form the basis of all steady, fast and
accurate pistol shooting. Begin and end each range session with precision shooting practice to reaffirm your ability to place
a bullet exactly where you want it.