Previous Post
Next Post


By Travis Pike

One of the biggest problems I have as a firearms instructor is figuring out why people can’t grasp the basics of a safe grip. We just did a classroom portion on proper grip, we practiced indoors over and over, and I explained and showed pictures of what happens when you cross thumbs on an automatic. This isn’t front sight focus issue, a flinching issue, or some minor finger grip squeezing issue. This is something designed to keep you safe and is so basic and easy, why don’t they get it? They’re out there crossing thumbs, I correct them and they do it again two shots later. Holy Hell . . .

Well that’s the attitude I used to have. To be fair I never verbalized this to students, I just corrected them over and over. Internally I was having a melt down, but I learned a thing or two about bearing during my time in the military. This wasn’t the only thing that drove me internally crazy, of course. Getting flagged and various other unsafe handling is an issue would do it, but students usually learned that fast. Those damned cross thumbs, though. Anyway I mentioned that was my old attitude. What changed is that I went golfing, and confirmed every negative aspect I ever assigned to that so-called sport.

I’d never golfed before and never had an inkling to do so. It just never appealed to me. However in the name of peer pressure I found myself swinging a stick at a stationary ball one afternoon surrounded by my so-called friends.

I picked up on one thing quickly, different clubs do different things. I could relate to that. Then the scoring made sense, but I was told not to worry too much about that.

Then it came down to grip, and apparently gripping the club like a baseball bat (a real sport) is totally wrong. So then grip was explained to me, and it was explained again, and then someone showed me by physically moving me into the correct position. Even then I had to ask for (or just got a few) corrections a few times. But it didn’t feel ‘right.’

Then we came to stance which wasn’t too hard to grasp, but was uncomfortable because I am a big guy, 6’5″, and I think my borrowed clubs were too short. Then, combined the stance with the so-called proper swing, everything I was doing felt wrong. It didn’t feel natural at all, and I really didn’t like it. The best part about the day was getting a buzz on overpriced, crappy beer.

I realized that I had forgotten what it was like to be new at something. Once I was settled in and felt confident about my abilities to shoot, I had forgotten what it took to get there. I forget that not everyone enjoys shooting firearms right off the bat. And people taking a class may only have a pragmatic reasoning for doing so. It’s not something they enjoy or dislike, just something that logically makes sense for them to learn.

Students aren’t always having fun with it and it doesn’t feel natural to them because they’ve never done it before. Maybe the gun they are using is too big or too small, and it’s uncomfortable so they focus on their discomfort over proper form.

Golf taught me a lot about teaching, mostly because I was a student again. So now, instead of “instructing” people and correcting them, I’ve started asking questions. “Why are your thumbs like that?” “Is that weapon comfortable for you?” “Do you want to take a breather, get some water?” “Can I suggest something that might help?”

Because you know what sucks more than anything? Someone who’s more experienced correcting you over and over, in front of other people. Maybe this is just my problem (maybe my ego’s problem), but I can’t say I enjoyed it when I had a club in my hand. I realized most new shooters probably don’t either. I needed to learn what it was like to learn again.

This lesson isn’t just for firearms trainers. It applies to most shooters. As my old first Sergeant used to always reiterate when we went out we weren’t just Bob, Steve, or Fred, we were Marine Sergeant Steve, or Marine Private Bob, and we were all ambassadors of the Marine corps at all times.

As shooters and 2A supporters we’re also ambassadors for the Second Amendment, and guns in general. When we take a new potential shooter out to the range they may not associate a bad time with just you as a teacher, but with guns and shooting in general. We owe it to our beliefs to be good stewards of the 2A, and a major part of this is training new shooters to be safe, and enjoy the experience of learning to shoot.

So my advice for those looking to teach others how to shoot? Remember what it was like to be a student. And golf sucks…that’s also a point I’m trying to make.

Previous Post
Next Post


  1. I like the approach you use asking why. It invites discussion and carries the conversation instead of saying do this.

    I watch folks shoot and ask if they know why their rounds are vertical or horizontal. That can lead to discussions on body position, natural point of aim and usually, within 20 minute I can help new shooters get rounds in an 8-10 inch circle. They gain confidence an usually shoot more often.

  2. They’re out there crossing thumbs, I correct them and they do it again two shots later.

    You only need to correct them once, because it’s a self correcting problem. About five years ago, I took my oldest, bestest friend shooting and showed him the proper grip. I warned him about crossing his thumbs. He did it anyway.

    Last year, I took him and his GF shooting. The first words to his GF were “don’t cross your thumbs!”

    Experience is the best teacher. Especially when the experience is painful.

    • That’s what I always told my kids. The two best teachers in the world are pain and embarrassment and they often work together.

    • There is truly nothing in the world as good as the school of hard knocks. The harder the knock, the better it will be remembered.

  3. I recommend the Moe Norman swing taught by the Graves Golf Academy. It is natural and works. I’ve golfed the way the tour pros do and achieved a single digit handicap but it is utterly incorrect anatomically. That is why Tiger Woods and a host of other golfers injure themselves playing golf. Have your ever heard of a baseball player hurting their knee swinging a bat that weighs more than a golf club? Or a lumberjack chopping a tree and hurting his wrist when he hits a knot? No, you haven’t. If I hit a rock with the Moe Norman swing the worst I’ll get is a broken club. The Moe Norman swing works better than what the pros use but they won’t switch because they have too much time and money invested in their swing method. Moe Norman could hit a ball better than anyone and there are many tour pros who said so. I’ll let you do the research for yourself. Don’t quit! Golf is a target game just like shooting and when you get good at it it is extremely satisfying.



  4. I think this is one of the best articles I’ve seen here. Great points and well written.

      • It’s fun to start a golf ball @ 10 yards and run it out with .22 rifles- gets more difficult with each shot. Kids love it.

        • You might also want to try that with white foam cups and 22RF pistols. They bounce nice and end up further away and harder each time. Sometimes you can get a really nice high bounce and then shoot it in the air. This works esp well with two shooters taking turns at the cup. Watch where the empties fly, they are real hot when they go down your neck, even if they are only 22s.

  5. Golf course, waste of a perfectly good rifle range. Caveat, I was once carried a single digit ‘cap. I’d rather shoot now.

  6. While I was playing the the golf game that inspired me to write this I could only imagine if we painted the golf ball orange and treat it like skeet it would be fun

    • Don’t mean to be redundant, but I always thought of sporting clays as golf for gun people. You walk around a lovely course from station to station, using different strategies at each station, but shotguns! 🙂

      • I believe a Golf ball would be much harder to hit, and would vary greatly from person to person swinging the club

        • Yeah, they move a lot faster, and the real problem would be telling that you hit them. Trap load shot is so very tiny, it really doesn’t have a lot of force to it. You might pepper a moving golf ball and never be able to tell.

        • But can you imagine trying to putt a golf ball that was peppered with shot?

          I’ve actually thought about this as a sport. Make it a team sport, maybe doubles or two teams of 4. One team drives while the others are down range in sporting clays like houses, trying to defend the hole. No changing balls during a hole (maybe not for several). Change sides after nine holes. Two rounds on a course so everyone gets to both golf and defend each hole.

  7. You wanna know what it fells like to be a beginner guitarist (says the grizzled veteran)? Turn it around and play it the other way. That’s what if feels like, and that’s why their having such a hard time.

  8. You guys totally wasted a prime caption contest photo, unless it was already used for that.

    That picture of James Garner is just begging for it.

  9. Golf and shooting are both ballistic sports — I’ve gotten a couple of not-interested-in-shooting types to go shooting on that basis… though one of them said we should have an eighteen-target range to walk around.

    I’ve thought before it would be fun to combine them, but I’ve never seen a golf course with a safe background.

  10. One of the most important things to do when learning something new, is drop your ego and don’t worry about what everyone else thinks. Then, do that all the time, forever, always… 😉 You learn so much more when you don’t give a damn what other people think.

    • I have always told people, regardless of my experience, treat me as a beginner. Turns out that was not so hard.

    • “One of the most important things to do when learning something new, is drop your ego and don’t worry about what everyone else thinks. Then, do that all the time, forever, always… 😉 You learn so much more when you don’t give a damn what other people think.”

      This is how I treat “Track Days” with my Lotus. I have a great time hooning around, driving faster than one can on the public roads, but as soon as the stopwatch comes out, I park it. It just isn’t fun anymore.

  11. I never had an urge to hit a ball, then hunt it down and hit it again. Seems inhumane somehow. After reading this article, I had to go and check how I gripped my pistol, and I had just got home from shooting it. ( I am left handed). Been doing it so long don’t even notice now. One thing, after the fact, I shot two pistols today I was unfamiliar with, naturally kept them downrange. But, was not until I had emptied the mags I realized I was not familiar with clearing them (being left handed) as to safety (same as the .380, but different, as Elvis told Priscilla, same as aspirin, but different). I kept them pointed downrange, the slides had locked back, and had the owner of the pistols step up and relieve me of them and clear them properly. He had not long bought them, but he and his wife had practice with both pistols already. Both pistols were 9 mm, one a Sig the other a Glock. I shoot a .380 Bersa, quick, clean, efficient. Point is, I should have known better, rocket science it is not, but I should have never shot the pistols without being more familiar with them. Sometimes I am reminded that stupid has never completely left me. (The man’s wife out shot us both with the Sig. She just kept that can bouncing.) She just got her CCW here in Texas, using a .380 Beretta for that.

  12. I was taught to keep my finger off the trigger until ready to shoot…by an instructor…does the caption pic show otherwise?

  13. As a PSIA certified ski instructor, NRA certified pistol instructor, and certifiable rock climbing and mt. biking instructor, I really like Pike’s article. But, adult learning goes further than that – different people learn in different ways, and most people need elements of several types of learning to really “grok” what’s being taught.

    Some are predominantly visually, cued, so the instructor needs to model a perfect grip, carved turn, etc. Others need to understand the process, why the trigger finger needs to pull straight back, or how a flexed ski initiates a turn. Others are trial and error oriented – just let them cross their thumbs and figure it out.

    The point is – a lot of instructors that I’ve seen and worked with LOVE to pontificate. Many of them are piss-poor shooters themselves and couldn’t model correct behavior. Travis is off to a great start with his article – put yourself in the shoes of the student and respond to his or her needs, with the teaching style that will get the best results at the moment.

  14. I’m a basic pistol instructor: please add my “thanks” for the article. Well worth the reading time.

  15. Thanks for this post – it brings up a lot of valid points. It’s easy for basic gun instructors to lose sight of the fact that not all new shooters are taking the class for fun, so it’s important to make the learning experience as smooth and as comfortable as possible.

Comments are closed.