How to Improve Your Shooting Without Really Trying: Guns for Beginners


There comes a point in every new handgun shooter’s life when their marksmanship hits a plateau. They can shoot so well and no more. The temptation: buy a better gun. If that means a more comfortable pistol, that can work. For a while. Truth be told, most modern guns are capable of far more accuracy than their shooters can produce. There are easy, simple ways to improve your shooting that don’t require much money, thought or effort. Here are my three faves . . .

1. Load one round at a time

To shoot a potentially lethal firearm safely you have to keep careful, consistent track of your equipment and behavior. That’s one of the reasons why people who like routines like shooting. People who like to limit/eliminate variables are the same sort who want indeed expect to shoot well.

Even if you’re not OCD, it’s easy to get frustrated at the gun range. When shots fail to cluster tightly on or around the center of the target it’s natural to ask “what [the Hell] am I doing wrong?:” Even a single “flyer” — a shot that lands well away from its friends — can lead to anger and self-recrimination.

Negative thoughts create negative feelings which degrade your ability to concentrate and perform.

To avoid descending into lousy performance and/or hitting a performance plateau, you have to realize that shooting excellence is process driven. Not results driven. If you stop worrying about how well you’re shooting and concentrate on how you’re shooting your shooting will improve. The simplest way to do that: focus on each individual shot.

Each shot is a new shot. Its accuracy should not depend on the previous shot. By loading one — and only one — round in the chamber/cylinder (for a revolver), you force yourself to slow down and concentrate on that shot. ‘Cause it’s the only round in your gun. You give yourself the mental space to return to basics: grip, stance, sight alignment and trigger pull.

Bonus! Shooting one shot at a time improves your shooting and saves you ammo money. How great is that?

2. Ask an expert for ONE shooting tip

I love instruction. But I get little value from instructors who correct everything I do. Multiple instructions make me feel like everything I know is wrong. Which it isn’t. So I ask an instructor (usually a range officer) for a single piece of advice: tell me one thing I can do to improve my shooting.

By getting one shooting tip I can concentrate on that shooting tip and perfect it. Which takes, on average, a thousands rounds. Yup, a thousand rounds. If I combine that tip with the aforementioned one-round practice, it could take three shooting sessions to get it right.

Again, don’t judge yourself on performance. Judge yourself — and ask the instructor to judge you — on how well you accomplish that one task. An example from a different competitive sphere . . .

A pinball wizard of my acquaintance watched my daughter play. He asked if she has a pinball machine at home. (We do, Tales of the Arabian Nights.) He told her to practice letting the ball bounce off the flipper. “Do it every time,” he counseled. “It will drain most of the time but don’t worry about that. You need to master the art of aimed shots before you can worry about your score.”

Bonus! Getting one [presumably free] tip from an expert eliminates confusion and saves you money on extended training.

3. Move the target closer

Accuracy is a function of distance. The closer the target, the easier it is to hit. So move the target closer. I mean really close: a couple of feet to start. [I recommend shooting at a blank piece of paper and “chasing” the previous round, rather than aiming at the center every time.]

You should be able to stack rounds on top of each other (one ragged hole) in fairly short order. Then — and only then — move the target slightly further away. If your shots start to spread out widely, move the target closer.

Bonus! A close-in target psychologically prepares you to shoot a bad guy at bad breath distance and gives you the satisfaction of easy accuracy and (when you use a blank sheet of paper) saves you money on targets.