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By Ron Geppert

Shooting a pistol accurately is a mind game. Just to emphasize that sight alignment is more important than holding the pistol extremely steady on the bullseye, the following facts may help explain why “the theory” works . . .

Assumptions:

Common copy paper is about 0.004″ thick.
Lets assume the sight radius on a pistol is 6″.
The target is 50′ away.
The shooter grasps the pistol firmly but not to the point of creating a shake.

Mathematical Fact:

Because the distance to the target is 100 times that of the sight radius, misalignment of the sights will be amplified by a factor of 100 at 50’.

Discussion:

For every 0.001″ of misalignment of the sights, the bullet impact will shift 0.1″ at 50′. That means if the sights are misaligned by the thickness of one piece of copy paper, the bullet strike will be off by 0.4″ or just over 3/8”, two thicknesses over 3/4″ and three will equal almost 1-1/4” of deviation.

If a 1″ bullseye is displayed on the wall one foot from a pistol muzzle, it’s not difficult to hold the pistol on the bullseye. With the above facts in mind, one can easily see that accurate sight alignment is far more important than holding the pistol exactly on the bullseye. That’s why one should focus only on the front sight, insuring the top of the sights are level and there is equal light showing on both sides of the front sight.

To aid seeing an equal amount of light on both sides of the front sight, a six o’clock hold should be used so the black bullseye is on top of the front sight. The white paper below the bullseye will reflect adequate light to easily be seen on both sides of the front tight.

With the sights aligned as described above, let the blurry bullseye dance on the front sight and squeeze the trigger until it surprises you. Every report from a firearm should be a surprise. If it is not, the intentional pull of the trigger (jerking or slapping) will upset the sight alignment and for right handed shooters, the bullet will hit low and left while left handed shooters will see their groups low and right.

Proof:

When I focus and incorporate all the above, the results can be very satisfactory. I shot the 5-shot target at the top with a S&W 500 mag at 50′ a week ago. Sorry for the used .22 target but three .50 cal bullets made the one jagged hole with the other two slightly left. I moved the rear sight three clicks to the right and shot a similar target this week with the group more centered. My intent in sharing the photo isn’t to boast but to display proof that the theory works even with a .50 cal. magnum pistol but it’s definitely a mind game.

32 Responses to Accurate Pistol Shooting – “The Theory” [Contest Entry]

  1. All your examples are about target shooting on a square range. You’ve got plenty of time to align the sights properly there.

        • I am as well.

          I’ve found myself stuck in the mindset that the handgun is more of a defensive tool, but I am trying to break that thought and enjoy stretching it’s capabilities as well as my own from time to time.

        • Dude – this is about the fundamentals. Doing them fast with a bit more of an allowance is how you do any sighted defensive shooting. Of course at anything less than about 20 ft, you should probably be point shooting.

          Chrispy – have you ever competed, either in bulls eye or a defensive discipline like IDPA. Its a great way to learn and get better. I got lucky, my dad took me bulls eye matches for more than 5 years before I ever even owned a holster. The accuracy and fundamentals never go away. Being able to squeeze the trigger smoothly helps in any shooting discipline.

          Don

    • Get out an have some fun. Some days I am target shooting, some days I am practicing defense. Some days I do both.

  2. Shooting a pistol accurately is a mind game.

    Indeed. Rifle shooting too. This has been talked about for over two hundred years.

    “As to the species of exercises, I advise the gun. While this gives moderate exercise to the body, it gives boldness, enterprise and independence to the mind. . . . Let your gun therefore be your constant companion of your walks.”

    — Thomas Jefferson

    • It’s a good thing he specified ‘black powder muzzle loader’ instead of the generic ‘gun’, else we wouldn’t have known he only intended for people to keep single shot rifles.

  3. I shot National Match on a Navy team, large- and small-bore, rifle and pistol. I mostly agree with the article, although I have some observations: First, this is pretty much for target shooting, MAYBE a barricaded situation. Most combat shooting is a whole other ballgame. If you have time to worry about all that, you have to time to take cover and then run like heck. If you have to shoot NOW, all that stuff better go out of the window. It’s time for target-focused shooting, as opposed to sight-focused. Even with all my target shooting experience, on a fast draw, I hit better point-shooting single-handed.

    Second, there is more to trigger discipline. The “blurry bullseye dance” has a pattern. If you are doing the sight alignment in the article, you will notice, especially after you have shot a lot of rounds, the sight picture will trace a slight “U” shaped pendulum around the bulls eye. Your body does that, you can’t stop it. So your 6:00 hold will swing from say, 5:30 to 6:30. You slightly increase pressure on the trigger each time the pendulum swings toward 6:00 and just hold pressure as it moves away. The gun will fire on one of the downswings and your scores will go up.

    Good article!

    • I agree with EVERYTHING you said. I enjoy a nice front sight focused slow fire.

      But target focused or point shooting, depending on what you want to call it is where its at, at most defensive distances. I can hit a 12 inch circle as fast as I can squeeze the trigger with a target focus shooting at 20 ft.

      Of course part of this is because I think I have a very smooth trigger squeeze from years of bulls eye shooting. Even if ‘m shooting fast.

  4. “squeeze the trigger until it surprises you. Every report from a firearm should be a surprise”

    While this is a perfectly fine statement to give to new shooters to avoid jerking the trigger, it’s 100% false from an “accurate”/competitive/bullseye standpoint. You should know exactly when the trigger will break, because you should KNOW your trigger. If you are going into this type of shooting, the name of the game is THE SAME. Repeatability, consistency- these are the friends of the accurate shooter. An accurate shooter knows when and where the trigger will break for every shot, because an accurate shooter has dry fired the gun thousands of times. Ask any Olympic or bullseye shooter and they’ll tell you they know exactly where their trigger breaks, and that their shots are deliberate, not surprises.

    Perhaps this would have been better titled “Sight alignment and sight picture for accurate shooting,” because it doesn’t really go beyond that.

    • See my post above. I disagree on your trigger advice. You can know your trigger all you want, but your physiology changes from different shooting positions and fatigue from competitive shooting all day long, and lots of other factors. The trigger may remain the same, but your perception of the trigger break changes.

      You said, “Ask any Olympic or bullseye shooter…” Well, I shot National Match on a Navy team and we had professional coaches who were amazing and I don’t agree you should anticipate a trigger break. There is no upside and all downside.

    • agreed. the hard part is knowing when the trigger is going to break AND squeezing it smoothly.

  5. Shouldn’t the target be burned, or at least singed from the blast of a .500 Mag?

    How can we teach this to the armed criminal class (horizontal holders) so they’ll quit winging each other over drug deal, and finish the job?

  6. “sharing the photo isn’t to boast”

    Boast away!
    I would have to shoot a lot more magnum caliber rounds not to flinch with a 500Mag even with years under my belt IDK If I could ever get totally on point with It. It is definitely true about letting the gun scare you when It fires although that is definitely easier to accomplish with a light crisp trigger compared to say most striker fired setups.

  7. Who needs accuracy when you have a ghost gun with a .30 caliber clip which can disperse 30 magazine clips in half a second…

    And I do. So I don’t.

  8. Spot on. I shot distinguished master before I got bored and found IPSC.
    The discipline carried over nicely.

  9. As a Marine Corps Marksmanship Instructor, the best advise I used to give with respect to accuracy (after teaching them sight alignment) was to squeeze the trigger with increasing pressure until the weapon fired. The firing of the weapon should scare you or at least startle you. Deciding to pull the trigger in most occasions causes “trigger jerk”….subtle pressure until the weapon fired garnered better accuracy in almost all occasions.

  10. “That’s why one should focus only on the front sight, insuring the top of the sights are level and there is equal light showing on both sides of the front sight.”

    Which is it? How can one focus only on the front sight while insuring the tops of the sights, plural, are level?

      • A martial arts instructor I had, who was combat infantry in Vietnam always said,

        “Practice does NOT make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.”

        I think that applies to shooting. Practice builds habits, but they can be good habits or bad ones, and the bad ones take more practice to break than the good ones would have taken to make.

  11. The following is the last line of my original article and was not published.

    “Of course, combat style shooting is a whole different ‘mind game’.”

    Dan Z. may have assumed everyone reading this would know there is a big difference between bullseye shooting and defense shooting. Thanks to those who pointed out there is a difference and many thanks to all for their positive comments too.

    BTW, I shot National Match Pistol for an Army marksman team in 1970 and my article more or less summarizes what I learned during that wonderful experience.

    • Ron

      A distinction that is obvious to you and Dan may not be so obvious to everyone here. I have taken both NRA-sponsored and non-NRA defensive shooting courses that taught defensive shooting about like you would teach target shooting. Fortunately, I have taken some better ones also, but I don’t think you can underestimate all the foolishness that’s out there.

      Great article, though.

    • agree 100% with what you said sir. Great, thought provoking article but your basic point remains true. Kudos to you

  12. As a new guy, all this sometimes gets confusing. Point, align, sight, smooth trigger, surprise trigger, no surprise trigger. Saw a guy at the range doing sideways shooting. Said he was better target wise because the hand naturally holds a pistol at about 90 degrees, and sighting is the same as straight up.

    Shotgun looking more and more like the best defensive gun. Well, for home, anyway.

  13. Anything that improves accuracy is helpful. You can’t miss fast enough to win a match or a gunfight.

  14. That’s fundimentals, and pretty obvious. Sight radius is one limitation of a projectile device, and where the deviation of the thickness of a piece of paper in a 6 inch sight radius results in a 0.4 inch deviation at 50 feet things deteriorate pretty fast.

    Thanks for bringing this up. I had not done the math. We (my kids and I) know this stuff from everyday practice, but it’s nice to have some actual data to cite if/when it again is the subject of conversation.

    Charlie.

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