Shooting a handgun isn’t hard. Shooting one well can be difficult. The pistol is a master’s weapon, it’s sometime said, and many a person’s confidence has been shattered over the space of a few magazines when they switch to a handgun at the range.
But what to do about it?
Don’t be afraid to enlist the help of a professional. Professional training is one of the best things you can do for you and your handgun shooting (I’ve got a training session coming up, and I expect to look like a total incompetent) so don’t shy away from it.
How, though, can one improve one’s handgun shooting on one’s own? Here are three solid tips to get you started. First . . .
Dry Fire Practice
If there’s something that all the great shooters do or have done, it’s dry fire practice, specifically concentrating on your trigger press. The proper grip and the trigger press are the cause of most shooting problems, and as it happens, the cure is usually doing more dry fire.
But just dry firing the gun isn’t enough; you need a dry fire exercise that helps you see the problem in action AND helps you fix it. There are two fantastic drills that are known to help a great deal.
First is what’s often called the “wall drill.” The wall drill is pretty simple. You already have all the tools you need to do it.
Safety first, though, folks. If we’re going to tout ourselves as responsible gun owners, then we damn sure better act the part. Take your magazine out of the pistol, and clear it of all ammunition. In fact, put all your ammunition in another room, and re-check that the handgun is clear before proceeding.
Find a spot on the wall, something easily identifiable. Get your front sight close enough to where the muzzle is only about a half an inch away. Align your sights on the spot you chose.
Pay attention to your front sight. Keep it aligned on that spot, but keep your eye on your front sight post. Focus on it and squeeze the trigger.
Did the front sight move? Then you’re doing it wrong. The sight shouldn’t move with a correct trigger press, as you’re only moving the bang switch and NOT the gun. Diagnosing a bad trigger press is practically a book-length exercise, so we won’t get into that for now.
A similar exercise is a balance drill. You don’t necessarily have to pick a spot, but you definitely still need to make sure the pistol is clear before doing it.
Take a small object and balance it on the slide near the front sight. You can use an empty cartridge case, a coin, a small battery, a small screw, whatever you want or can find. Keep the sights aligned and press the trigger. Done correctly, the object should stay put.
Again, diagnosing a trigger pull problem is a larger topic, so that can wait for another time.
Use Good Sights
Another top tip: change the sights if needed.
It doesn’t take much for a handgun to be accurate; they are inherently more accurate than the shooter. It also doesn’t take much for a gun to be usable. It needs sights you can see and a trigger you can use.
The bar for the latter is lower than most people think; you don’t need a 3.5-pound competition trigger. It helps, but the truth is just about any shooter can make even a lackluster trigger work.
Sights, on the other hand, either work well for you or they don’t. This is partially subjective, of course; some people find a lot of factory sights to be perfectly fine and some people have the complete opposite experience. An entire aftermarket industry exists precisely because of this.
New sights is one of the most common upgrades gun owners make to improve their handgun shooting.
For instance, the factory white dots on my Remington R1 1911 are fairly big and as a result, I’m not too tempted to change them. It isn’t a competition gun, I don’t carry it that often and I shoot pretty decent groups with them as it is.
However, I’ve finally come to the conclusion that the dots on my TriStar C100 need to go. I have to focus really hard to find that front sight, so it will be getting a new set in the next month or two.
If you notice something similar – that you have to really try to find the front sight – you need to get new sights. Granted, if you carry a tiny .380, little sights are just part of the bargain…though some of them actually come with decent sights or can at least be fitted with them.
If you carry a snubby with a fixed front sight…you might have to live with what you have. This varies by make/model/manufacturer, of course, so don’t write it off just yet as you may be able to get a new front sight installed.
In fact, if you’re willing to spend enough money, you can get just about anything done by a good gunsmith. If you don’t want to drop a lot of money you can always paint the front sight blade – an old-school trick for easier indexing.
Get a Better Grip
Lastly, examine your grip. Too loose, too tight, and poor use of the support hand will throw your handgun shooting off.
If your grip is too loose, the trigger squeeze will pull the gun off-target just before the trigger break. If you’re gripping too hard, you’ll push shots wide. Typically, too much thumb will push shots right and too hard a grip with the fingers will push them down and left.
You want firm, uniform pressure. You need to hold the gun as stable as possible, so the trigger press moves the gun as little as possible. There’s a fairly easy informal test of how you should grip the pistol.
Take your pistol in hand. Tighten your grip until your hand starts to shake, and start releasing until the shaking stops. That’s about the grip pressure you need to use.
You should also evaluate the use of your support hand.
Don’t use the teacup grip; nobody teaches it anymore because it doesn’t really do much for accuracy. “But the vertical support,” you say? If you need vertical support for an object that only weighs a couple of pounds, your issue is that you need to go to the gym.
The most popular support hand grip is to wrap the support hand around the gun hand, with the distal (last) knuckles tucked against the meat of the thumb and the middle of the palm. The shooting hand thumb should tuck just behind the support hand thumb.
There’s some debate over how to cant the thumbs, but this is the shooting grip that basically every shooting instructor will teach you – or at least somewhere in the ballpark.
Now, how it works is the support hand provides left-to-right pressure (or vice versa, if you’re a lefty) and the shooting hand will naturally be pushing right-to-left, or vice versa if you’re a lefty. The goal is to balance the tension and hold the pistol steady.
How do you gauge whether or not that your grip is off, if your hands are positioned correctly?
Well, if you notice your shots are pushed right or left, it could be that you’re using too much or too little support hand pressure. How you diagnose it to a certainty and fix it?
Dry fire. Same procedure as above, but you have to rule out the trigger press. How you check this is by dry firing with your dominant hand only. If your sights don’t move, or your balance object doesn’t move, your trigger press is fine. If they do once your support hand comes into the equation, then you have a support hand problem.
If you go right, it’s too much from the support hand. Left, and it’s the trigger hand. And vice versa for lefties.
A good thing to invest in, therefore, is something like the Mantis X system or a similar tracking software for dry firing, though Mantis X can be used with live fire as well. It tracks your shots and gives you the telemetry, tracking motion, placement and helping you diagnose and fix issues with handgun shooting. You can also purchase a laser cartridge and get a number of smart phone applications that do much the same thing.
Why stay low-tech when you can bring 21st century tools into the equation?
Anyhow, these are common ways to improve your handgun shooting. Anything else you think the newbie or novice needs to pay attention to? Sound off in the comments!