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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. ย 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.

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  1. Thanks for the tips. As a VERY new handgun owner (who’s pretty much learning everything solo) I’m very interested at any suggestion like these to improve and gain proficiency. Training with a pro (or at least someone competent and experienced) is obviously desirable, but for those times when I’m on my own, these tips could be very useful.

      • Lemme jump ahead to the end.

        If you got a Glock you’re a fanboy.
        If you got an XD or XD(M) you have no imagination.
        If you got a Sig you spent too much.
        If you got a 1911 variant you bought into the hype.
        If you got an S&W M&P you’re a cop wannabe.
        If you got a wheelgun you’re old.

        What’d I miss?

        • If you got a Ruger wheelgun you should’ve got a S&W.
          If you got a Hi-Point you spent too much.
          If you got a H&K you spent WAY too much.
          If you got a Taurus you’ll have to send it back for work.
          If you got a Beretta you’re a military wannabe.
          If you got a Cz you’re a snob.

          Keep it going!

        • @brig050:

          Sorry, man. The internet knows all and must not be questioned. ๐Ÿ˜‰

          -despondent Kimber and Super Redhawk owner

    • Welcome!

      If you are brand spankin’ new here is the best advice I could give to start:

      -whatever pistol you already have is likely going to be fine to start with and develop some skills! Read the manual.
      -check out “Jeff Cooper’s 4 rules of gun safety” and follow ’em!
      -when you aim, focus on the front sight so it is sharp and clear, let the target remain fuzzy.
      -when you slowly squeeze the trigger to touch off a shot, pay attention what happens to the front sight. If she moves before the shot goes off (like from your grip tightening, not from recoil), then rework your trigger pulling technique and possibly your grip until you can squeeze off a shot without the front sight twitching!

      bada bing!


      • I would add, hold the trigger to the rear until the sights settle back on the target and then let off slowly until you feel the reset click, then start to slowly squeeze the trigger again. Develop the right trigger control early.

        Badda Boom!

  2. Good suggestions.

    If I may add one suggestion ive learned firsthand, it is a good idea for the more experienced shooter to refrain from shooting when brand new people step to the line. It may be a typical range day for any of us shooters to put the target at 25 feet , but if a newbie sees you do that they’ll be too intimidated to enjoy the session, especially if they can’t hit the paper at 2 feet.

    I learned that lesson the hard way when I took two pals of mine shooting for the first time. We started with them shooting to 10 feet with passable results. Lotsa smiles and high fives. I then cranked out the target to my usual 30 feet and shot a group like usual for my performance, but to the newbies I may as well have been Rob Leatham. Their confidence was ruined. I spent the drive home desperately explaining that I didn’t shoot like that the first time , and that it took years of practice to get that good. Even with that explanation I still have to coax my pals to go to the range.

    • ST: I’d never thought about it in that way, but now that I’ve read it, you’re absolutely right. I’ll remember that in the future.

    • “but to the newbies I may as well have been Rob Leatham”
      Before or after he got DQ’ed at the Nationals? ๐Ÿ˜‰

  3. I agree except for where you say “at a short distance (three yards of less)” I am an NRA instructor and I have yet to find a single range that would allow that close of a target. Of the ranges where I take students for practical (live shooting) portion of their Basic Pistol course, 6yrds is the minimum and most others do not allow anything less than 8yrds. All of the outdoor ranges do not allow less than 25yrds.

    That said, I use a 11″ x 14″ sheet of paper with a 10″ round yellow smiley face on it. I have yet seen anyone totally miss the paper or the smiley. The big yellow circle helps with the “equal height and equal light” site picture. The biggest issue I have with women is they lean backwards and with men they slap the trigger or use too much trigger.

    I also start with .22lr, then have them try a .380ACP or .38, then a 9mm and then if and only if they are up to it, .45. You can teach the basics with a 22lr pistol without the recoil or boom if you want more muzzle flip you can use CCI stingers.

    I do start with 1 bullet on the center fire bullets because I have more than once seen that after the big “boom” their minds go to mush and they forget the 3 rules. After the initial “boom”, I explain everything again and most students figure it out.

    • Interesting about the range requirements. The outdoor range that I’m a member of is an action pistol range with multiple private shooting “bays” where you can set up pretty much any target scenario you like (within very liberal but safe rules) so setting up a “close” targets should not be an issue. Of course YMMV.

  4. Off topic, but …

    Tips for taking internet videos:
    1. Buy a decent #%&*ing video camera. They’re cheap as dirt.
    2. Hold the &#%ing thing steady.

    If you can’t hold a camera steady, you probably can’t shoot for $#!+ either.

  5. Re: #1 & #2. I often teach at an indoor range with a 10-meter (about 33 feet) minimum. I learned early to use a LARGE paper target, even as large as 20 x 30 or 24 x 36. I also put green, pick, or orange neon “dots” (that you can buy at an office supply store) in the center as an additional focal point. Re: # 3, always with a smile!

    Newbies are fun and always reinforce why I love shooting & teaching!

  6. I always bring something different/fun to shoot as well, like a single action .45LC with cowboy loads.

    After firing something like a semi-auto 9mm, a single action with a 6″ sight radius and light loads is a dead simple, and I’ve yet to meet anyone who can’t hit a milk jug at 10yrds with it.

  7. The fifth rule of gun safety should be :

    “When you introduce fresh beginners to the sport, only one armed newbie at a time, and stay on their strong-side shoulder so you can safely control the situation.”

    • This is an excellent and informative comment.
      Adding ignorance and groups of more than 1 persons is a damned dangerous thing.

  8. +1 for starting people out with a .22 pistol, it will make ANYONE feel like an Annie Oakley badass ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. Well the morons strike again!!!!!!! I can’t think of anything more dangerous, than a moron with a firearm, unless it’s a moron driving a car. 3 new shooters, with hand guns that SHOULD NOT be used by beginners. They had no idea what they were doing. But then it really wasn’t the girls fault, but rather the fault of Marky Moron.

    Typical mindset. I’m a guy therefore I know everything about guns, because I’ve watched the movies, DUH! NO ONE should have a firearm until they go through a proper training class. Pass the class get your pistol/revolver/rifle/shotgun. Don’t pass, here is your can on a string.

  10. Two yards? You’ve got to be kidding me. I’ve never met anyone that can’t hit a moderate target at 15 yards.

  11. Encourage noobs by taking them on a slow drive through the worst neighborhood in town. Preferably during the hours of darkness. Saturdays around two a.m. are best.

    Before you know it, the beginners will be practicing six times a week and outshooting you.

  12. What is it with girls, guns and giggling? Seriously, ladies – most of the time we’re happy to have you chipper and laughing, but not so much on the live range, ok? I get that you’re nervous – that’s fine, it’s natural – but stop fuckin’ giggling when I’m trying to help keep you safe!

  13. Where was this post 2 weeks ago! I took my soon-to-be wife to go kill some cans and lawn ornaments, and gave her my 9mm with one bullet in it (after a few mags of 10/22). She shot it and I got a picture right as it went off. She was pleased and said to get her more bullets. Before I did I showed her the pic and said “look at your face! It’s hilarious!”. She went from “Sure load a magazine up” to “fuck this I’m done” in 2 seconds flat.
    It was an epic fail on my part.

  14. For the newbe I’d offer one caveat…there is no such thing as a miss. Every round you fire will hit Something.

  15. Re: the video…..the moron who set that situation up should have been holding the targets for the girls.

    • I agree with you 100%! They did not unload and clear weapons before walking back with barrels pointed everywhere.


  17. I prefer having them shoot pumpkins. Much more fun and they can take a LOT of hits (it took me 100 rounds from a Makarov shooting a pumpkin before it because useless as a target).

  18. Or just ONE hit from a Mosin Nagant! First time i ever shot a pumpkin was also the first time i ever fired a mosin. One shot is all it took to obliterate that thing.
    Most satisfying explosion ever!

  19. Another possibility is to start off new shooters on long guns. Just about anybody can get on the paper at 15 yards from the prone with a rifle. They can learn the basics of sight alignment, breath control, trigger control, etc. before they move on to the less forgiving handguns.

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