Congratulations! You’ve joined millions of Americans who’ve exercise their natural, civil and Constitutionally protected right to keep and bear arms. Provided you observe The Four Rules of Gun Safety, you’re about to enjoy a lifetime of safe shooting. Assuming, that is, you go shooting. While there’s nothing to stop you from putting your handgun away and never touching it until you need it, that would be your first mistake, the first of three bad habits to avoid like the plague . . .
Mistake 1: Not shooting
A gun is a tool. Like all tools, the more you use it, the better you are at using it. While a gun’s basic operating principle is easy enough — load the gun (bullets face forwards), aim it at your target and pull the trigger — hitting what you’re aiming at is fiendishly difficult. It requires practice.
How much practice you need depends on how good you want to be at hitting your target. If your primary goal is self-defense, chances are you won’t need a whole lot of practice. Most attacks happen at what’s called “bad breath distance.” The closer you are to a target the less likely you’ll miss. Yes but —
There’s no guarantee an attack will happen close-in. Equally, the further away you are from the bad guy or guys when you shoot, the better. There’s less chance of physical contact and more time to escape. [Note: there are a lot of ways a gunfight can go very badly wrong. Get force-on-force training.]
So practice as much as you can, remembering that shooting skills degrade over time. If you can’t be bothered to practice, if you can’t afford practice or it’s not easily available, I’d recommend shooting practice at least once a month — no matter what your situation or the reason for owning a gun.
Mistake 2: Shooting badly
To maximize shooting proficiency, you must grip the gun properly and assume a good stance. You need to know how to aim, squeeze the trigger, clear a malfunction (for a semi-automatic pistol) and (if self-defense is on the menu) move and shoot.
If you start with good instruction, you’ll avoid developing bad habits, such as “slapping” the trigger or failing to achieve a proper sight picture. Generally speaking, it takes 1000 rounds to correct a bad habit. That’s expensive, time-consuming and easily avoided.
Start as you mean to finish. Get professional instruction before you start shooting on your own. Even a single hour of initial instruction will keep you from developing bad habits that may permanently hobble your shooting skills.
Mistake 3: Shooting at marked targets
New shooters tend to shoot at paper targets with a bullseye or a picture of a bad guy with a “kill zone” [as above]. That’s a mistake.
Because new shooters are just learning, their ability to hit the center of a target is limited. Not to put too fine point on it, they suck. Sucking — not hitting the target dead center — is incredibly frustrating. Even if you’re convinced that simply hitting the paper is a victory (it is), failure to drill the bullseye can be demotivating.
Turn the target around and shoot at a blank piece of paper. Try to group your shots as close together as possible. wherever they land on the paper. Start shooting as slowly as possible. Unless your goal is “pure” marksmanship, as your confidence grows and your shot groups shrink in size, increase your speed.
If you’re shooting for self-defense, remember that a too-large group means you need to slow down. A too-tight group (yes that’s a thing) means you’re not shooting fast enough. Ideally, you should shoot as fast you can where you shots land in an area about the size of a standard paper plate. (Paper plates make excellent targets.)
There are other bad habits that afflict new handgun shooters. Don’t worry about them right now. Avoid these three mistakes and you’ll build enough shooting skills to git ‘er done.