In a previous post, I extolled the virtues of leaning forwards whilst shooting, as part of the holy trio of grip, stance and breathing. Needless to say, this is simply a starting point for shooters interested in armed self-defense. Once they’ve mastered the basics, they should practice as many variations—safely—as possible. That list includes off-hand shooting, shooting from various non-standard stances and positions, and weakening your muscles and making yourself out of breath (e.g., after as many pushups as you can manage). Many new shooters never make it that far. By failing to intervene and forcing the newb to do thing that don’t work/hurt, amateur instructors put them off the whole idea. Here are three ways to avoid discouraging, to encourage, new shooters . . .
1. Use a plain sheet of paper for a target
When newbies are confronted with a bullseye target they invariably miss the center. No surprise there. Even when it’s close, a bullseye is simply too small for a newbie to pierce consistently. Missing the center of the target is inherently suckish—especially when you have no idea why the bull remains unmolested.
If an instructor puts up a plain sheet of computer paper at a short distance (three yards of less) and sets a realistic goal—hit the paper—the new shooter is virtually guaranteed success. With post-paper-punching praise, the newbie receives highly motivational positive feedback.
Ego is the main reason amateur instructors eschew blank paper. They want to show off their skills. They should resist the temptation. While people learn by example, they’re bummed if the example prove wildly unrepeatable. A plain paper target keeps newbies in the game.
2. Position the target close to the shooter
There is no reason to start a new shooter on a target that’s too far away. Again, a sense of accomplishment in key to creating a desire to continue. Missing the target is, well, depressing. That’s doubly true for shooters interested in armed self-defense. If they miss the paper they think “Holy shit. I’m defenseless!” That’s not a thought you want any armed citizen to entertain.
And when I say close, I mean CLOSE. I start new shooters with the paper no more than two yards away. At least in theory, the resulting group size is small(ish). Naturally, you want to conclude their string by bringing the paper back, placing it over your torso and saying “Congratulations. You’ve stopped a lethal threat” (i.e., “dead”).
3. Correct mistakes early and often
Click here for another demo video. Like so many others, this new shooter learns about the importance of thumb placement via a nasty case of slide bite. Now you could say that the more painful the lesson the more important it is. But notice how he doesn’t learn proper thumb placement even after injury and instruction, reverting to crossed thumbs.
That’s because firing a gun is a stressful event for newbies. Fear—of injury, death or embarrassment—makes it difficult for them to process new information. They revert to instinct. It’s your job to correct problems in grip, stance and breathing before and after they shoot, making sure the new shooter gets as much right as possible every time they shoot.
Take your time. Load a single bullet for the newbies first shot, so they have time to relax, regroup and reapply their technique. Gradually add rounds, but always encourage the new shooter to slow down and fire each round as a separate event. Don’t hesitate to interrupt the string, teaching them how to put down or surrender a loaded firearm.
Obviously, you need to lavish as much praise on the new shooter as possible. A single interjected “excellent!” after a good shot can create an lifelong love of firearms. There are other important considerations, such as starting with a comfortable gun in a low caliber. But nothing is more important than giving new shooters pride in their abilities. Nothing.