Proper pistol shooting technique lays the foundation for safety, accuracy, and speed when firing a gun. Sound technique is vital to a successful shooting experience.
This subject can encompass a vast amount of style, theory, and technical material, but here, we will be focusing on the basics in order to give an overview of the topic.
The 3 Keys
Three fundamental components of good shooting technique come into play. The elements of trigger pull technique, shooting stance, and sight alignment provide the groundwork for this very important skill set. Each of these elements can be broken down into smaller building blocks for the best results. These individual skills can and should be practiced separately before putting them all together to create the best technique.
1. Trigger Pull
Sound trigger pull technique consists of proper grip of the pistol, proper placement of the trigger finger upon the trigger itself, and proper, steady exertion of force on the trigger during the firing process. Each successive step relies on the correct execution of the step preceding it.
Proper grip is the very bedrock of the shooting process. While the appropriate grip may be influenced by the type and size of pistol, as well as your hand size, a few fundamentals apply without fail. Using a two-handed grip is always best in a self-defense situation, so that will be the focus of this article.
While keeping the gun pointed in a safe direction, place the gun in your dominant hand, with the back-strap nestled firmly in the “Y” formed by your thumb and index (or trigger) finger.
The trigger finger should remain straight and OUTSIDE the trigger guard, and rest against the slide or barrel. Curl your lower three fingers around the grip as firmly as possible without strain. Ideally, those three knuckles will rest on the front strap of the pistol. With your support (or non-dominant) hand, place the lower four fingers over the fingers of your dominant hand.
These four knuckles should align over the three underneath. At this juncture, both thumbs will be relaxed and pointing upward. Drop the support/non-dominant thumb rest along the barrel/slide above the four fingers, and allow the dominant hand thumb to curl downward and rest on the support hand.
In the case of a semi-automatic pistol, keeping the thumb and web of the dominant hand firmly and securely below the slide is vital to prevent injury as the slide rocks back and forth when the shot is taken.
As a general rule, the outer grip of the support hand over the dominant hand should provide slightly more pressure than the hand directly on the grip. This small adjustment prevents over-gripping with the shooting hand, resulting in more control. Try for a 60/40 ratio of force.
Proper placement of the trigger finger upon the trigger is achieved by centering the flat pad of the first joint of the trigger finger on the trigger itself. While observing basic gun safety, practice this placement until it is second nature.
Proper stability and exertion of force on the trigger is the culmination of the first two building blocks. Once the pad of the trigger finger is properly situated on the trigger, with the gun pointed in a safe direction, gently and firmly squeeze the trigger back. The goal is to complete this action without flinching or jerking the gun.
No other part of your body should move, including your hands. Any movement, including jerking, flinching, shaking, or clenching, will have an impact on the accuracy of your shot.
In spite of the cliche we hear so often about “squeezing the trigger”, that is the best description of how this movement should feel. Actually pulling the trigger should be so controlled and gentle that the moment the gun fires it will come as a surprise, so to speak.
2. Shooting Stance
Shooting stance is the second component of proper shooting technique. Your physical condition and your surroundings will tend to dictate your stance in most circumstances, but we will focus here on some basic tenets to keep in mind.
There are several schools of thought as to the best foot placement, but the simplest to implement successfully and precisely is to keep the feet evenly placed side to side under the hips. Legs may be kept straight with relaxed knees, or the knees may be kept slightly bent. If it feels more stable to widen the placement slightly, please go with that.
The most natural stance for most of us consists of distributing the weight equally on both feet, knees straight, with the body weight slightly shifted to the heels rather than the balls of the feet. It is necessary to consciously adjust the body weight forward, and more towards the balls of the feet to achieve the best results while shooting.
Your body weight should be slightly forward, with a slight bend forward at the waist to minimize the effect of recoil. The recoil of the gun after firing will push you back, so the goal to have in mind is to never allow the shoulders to go behind the hips at any time.
Adjust to a slight forward bend at the waist to counteract the push back created by the recoil. Your arms should be fully extended, forming a triangle projecting outward from your torso, but be sure to avoid locking the elbows.
3. Sight Alignment
Sight alignment is the third and final component. In the simplest of terms, the sights of a gun let us see where it is pointed. There are many different types of sights, but generally, they consist of front and rear pieces that indicate alignment when placed upon the target. When the gun’s sights are properly lined up on the target, a “sight picture” is created, and the shot may be taken.
Relying on the steps and methods discussed above, we can now put together the proper sequence for shooting technique.
Follow the shooting sequence listed below. Make sure to practice this every time you shoot to ensure it becomes second nature. Always remember to practice the rules of gun safety as you shoot.
Grip the gun properly and hold it with arms extended and relaxed. Keep your shoulders down and relaxed as well.
Make sure your stance is appropriate and comfortable. Place your feet side by side, hip to shoulder width apart with your knees relaxed or slightly bent. Bend your torso forward very slightly at the waist.
Align the sights of your gun according to their type, and place on the target.
4. Trigger Finger
Bring your trigger finger into the trigger guard, and place the center of the pad of your trigger finger on the trigger.
Breathe in, squeeze the trigger rearward, and keep control of the gun. Release your breath.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Observe the accuracy of your shot. Notice how your body responded to the moment the gun fired. Make adjustments to your grip, stance, posture, and breathing as you fine-tune the process. If possible, have someone observe you, and share feedback with you.
Developing proper pistol shooting technique is a worthwhile investment of your time and energy that will pay off immensely. Don’t forget to ALWAYS incorporate the rules of gun safety in your practice routine.
Your efforts to utilize good form and reinforce good habits will set you up to easily grasp new skills and further enhance your abilities. Your accuracy and speed will improve. Last but not least, you’ll enjoy an increased sense of confidence when shooting.
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