Written by Phillip Chambers

Shooting a handgun accurately is undoubtedly more challenging than shooting a rifle or shotgun.

That doesn’t mean that you’re gonna be stuck with stormtrooper precision forever though.

Today I’m here to guide you through the basics of how to shoot a handgun properly.

With these new tips and tricks, I can guarantee that your next range trip will be much better than the last.

Handgun Basics

We are going to start with the basics first and then build up to more advanced topics. For now, let’s begin with the 4 Rules of Gun Safety.

4 Rules of Gun Safety

1. Always Keep your Firearm Pointed in a Safe Direction.

You should never point a gun at something that you do not intend to shoot. In the event of an accidental discharge, you don’t want your barrel pointing at something important.

You need to account for the fact that bullets are capable of striking an object and keeping enough momentum to continue its flight path. Do also be mindful that bullets can ricochet off surfaces and penetrate walls & ceilings which you may not know if there is anything behind.

You always want to be in the habit of pointing your guns in the safest available direction, even when dry firing. This builds healthy habits that won’t get you in trouble.

2. Treat All Guns as if they are Loaded

If you constantly remind yourself that the gun is loaded this will reinforce rule 1. If in the back of your mind you tell yourself the gun is loaded it should feel uncomfortable to point it in an unsafe direction.

A best practice when taking a gun from someone is to cycle the action for yourself to personally inspect that it is clear, regardless if someone has already done so.

3. Keep your Finger Off the Trigger Until you are Ready to Fire.

Don’t play with the trigger unless you intend to fire the gun. A best practice is to keep your trigger finger resting on the frame, don’t even let it inside the trigger guard until you actually want to shoot.

Never trust a safety either! They should only be seen as an additional mechanism to keep the gun safe… but mechanisms fail. Don’t go pulling the trigger relying on the safety to do its job.

4. Always Be Sure of your Target and Beyond

Don’t shoot unless you know what your bullet can hit, and what it may also strike if it passes through the target.

Even small rounds like a .22LR can travel over a mile before it completely loses momentum.

You’re not off the hook if you are shooting a shotgun either, contrary to what movies and video games would tell you, shotgun pellets can travel for 500 yards, and slugs can even double that distance.

Difference between a semi-automatic pistol and a revolver

Revolvers are fed by putting cartridges in their cylinder, which may load by opening a loading gate on the side of the gun or by swinging the cylinder out and away from the frame.

A semi-automatic pistol is loaded through a detachable magazine that is inserted into the bottom of the frame.

Most revolvers fire from an external hammer that may need to be manually cocked before each shot.

Many recent semi-automatic pistols have been going away from the hammer fire action in favor of the striker fire system, which does not have any external moving parts.

The majority of revolvers have steel frames meanwhile semi-automatic pistols have been using polymer frames more and more.

Nearly all revolvers use rimmed ammunition to keep the cartridge sitting in the cylinder properly.

Most semi-automatic pistols use rimless ammunition to make extraction and feeding more reliable.

Here are some examples of semi-auto pistols.

To fire a revolver a loaded cylinder needs to be directly in front of the opening where the hammer will strike the primer. Even if you mostly load the cylinder but that one remains empty the gun won’t fire. The cylinder will need to be rotated between shots as well, which is usually done when the hammer is cocked back.

A semi-automatic pistol needs a loaded magazine to be put in the magwell. When it has been locked in place the gun slide then needs to be pulled back and let go. Then the gun is ready to fire until the magazine has been depleted and the round in the chamber is fired.

Choosing the right handgun for your needs

Not all guns are mode for the same purpose.

An IPSC-ready competition pistol will be super accurate and have a large magazine capacity, maybe even a flared magwell and red dot, but it would be a nightmare as a carry gun.

That’s why you really need to think about why you will be using the gun for. They come in a range of shapes and sizes and all try to fill a certain role.

For this reason, it’s common to have multiple pistols to use at different times.

If your budget is tight or maybe your partner only wants you to have a single handgun in the house then something in the compact size factor is a great option.

The Glock 19 is an excellent all-purpose compact pistol that fits in any gun collection | Wikimedia Commons

If you only plan on taking the gun to the range something full size might be more what you are looking for or if it is primarily a conceal carry gun then maybe a micro/sub-compact gun will fill your needs better.

You also need to consider what caliber you are looking for a 22LR is a great cheap gun to play with at the range and they tend to have a low purchase price but they won’t be as effective in a defensive situation.

Also think about ammo availability, if you are in the market for a .44 Magnum revolver but your local shop only has one in a .44 Russian will you be able to find ammunition for that gun reliably in your area?


Contrary to popular belief, smaller guns are not automatically better for women and people with smaller frames.

Micro and subcompact pistols are harder to aim accurately and have more felt recoil than compact and full-size variants.

Some designs of tiny pistols are downright uncomfortable even for smaller hands, and should only be used by experienced shooters.

Make a Stand (Proper Stance for Handgun Shooting)

When shooting in an ideal scenario you want to square up to your target with a wide athletic stance.

This should be with feet shoulder-width apart with a slight bend to the knees. Make sure you have good balance.

You will also want to lean forward slightly.

Your arms will extend outward with a slight bend at the elbows.

The reason for the bend in the elbows is that if you ever transition to shooting on the move and your arms are fully locked out you will have much more arm motion, especially if you are using uneven terrain.

This sensation is much easier to deal with with the slight bend in the elbow.

You want to bring the gun up to your head and eyes, not the other way around.

Get a Grip (How to Grip your Handgun Properly)

A proper grip is essential if you want to learn to shoot fast and consistently, but it can also stop certain malfunctions as well.

When shooting a revolver the pressure of the gas expanding and sending the bullet down range is going to cause the recoil impulse.

On a semi-automatic, you get the same pressures as with the revolver plus the recoil from the slide traveling backward, picking up the next round, extracting & ejecting the spent case, and loading the new round in the chamber while traveling forward again.

In both cases, you want to have your dominant hand as high as possible on the grip in the frame.

For semis, you want to have that hand right in the beaver tail/tang to give yourself as much leverage as possible.

Now to mitigate as much friction as possible you also want to use your support hand on the handgun.

Bring your support hand around high on the frame and access as much surface of the pistol as possible.

You want to have fingers over finger and thumb over thumb to maximize contact points and to also help your hands from wanting to break their position from the recoil.

Ideally, you want a firm grip on the handgun as well. Not hard enough that your hands start to shake from the grip pressure but close to that amount.

This may be exhausting at first, but I get it. Just like anything that you start new you won’t be an expert on the first day.

If you want to improve your grip strength at home you can pick up some hand strengtheners on amazon. Use em while you watch TV to passively get better as you binge.

Taking Aim

Time to go over what you should be seeing through those sights.

Your dominant arm presents straight out with a very slight bend.

You want your wrist in line.

Sight Alignment

Sighting is going to be the same for both semis and revolvers.

Your gun will come equipped with a front sight and a rear sight.

The front sight is a post that sticks up at the barrel end of the gun.

The rear sight is at the breech end, it will be notched out in the middle.

What you need to do is focus on your front sight, and bring it inside the notched-out portion of the rear sight with equal amounts of light between the left and right. 

Next, you want to level both the front and rear sight so they have the same height.

This sounds like a fairly easy task but I can guarantee if you are just starting, it’s a lot to digest when trying to put everything together at the same time.

Eye Dominance

I get the question a lot if you should be shooting with both eyes open or one eye shut.

When it comes down to it, you should try to shoot with both eyes open. It is less strain on your brain than trying to focus through one eye and you will have a drastically larger peripheral vision.

Your eyes compete for visual priority and for most people one eye wins. This is your dominant eye.

You want to be using this eye to focus on your front sight when shooting.

It is possible to be right-handed and left-eye dominant. This isn’t as big of an issue for pistols since they can be easily manipulated. 

If this is you, use your right hand as your dominant hand to hold the handgun then present it to your left eye when trying to aim.

So how do you figure out which eye is dominant? It’s actually quite simple just follow this simple guide

How to figure out which eye is dominant

Keep both eyes open and focus on an object about 10 feet away. 

Extend your arms. 

Using your thumbs and index fingers make a triangle shape and place the triangle over the object you are focusing on.

Close one eye at a time.

Whichever eye keeps your fingers directly over the object is your dominant eye.

Firing a Handgun

For the most part, if you are having an issue with accuracy it is likely due to something that we are going to cover in this section.

Breath Control

Long deep breaths help calm your body, slow your heart rate, and make you less likely to move indeliberately. 

Ideally, you want to shoot the gun at the bottom of an exhale. Feel free to hold your breath for a few seconds when pulling the trigger but do know that you can hold your breath for too long and make yourself less accurate.

Pulling the Trigger

Striker fire and single-action pistols will have very similar trigger pulls. When you first start pulling the trigger there will be some play before you hit a wall. This wall will be the set trigger poundage that needs to be pulled for the gun to fire.

Most handguns out of the box will have between a 4 to 6-pound trigger.

It is very important that you don’t shoot the gun from the entire length of the trigger pull. You want to shoot from the wall.

The reason being is that if you start from the beginning of the trigger pull you have much more movement of the finger which makes it a lot easier to jerk your whole hand, throwing off your shot and resulting in bad accuracy and unhealthy shooting habits.

Over time you will learn how much trigger travel your gun has before you reach the wall and you will be able to accurately identify exactly how much pressure you need to put on the trigger for the gun to fire.

Make sure to have the middle of the first joint of your index finger in contact with the middle of the trigger.

Pulling the trigger with the pressure coming from the tip of your finger or closer to the knuckle will result in your naturally wanting to jerk the gun in the favored direction.

Ideally, try to also straighten your finger when shooting as it will make the straight back motion easier for your hand.

Follow Through

Follow-through is all about maintaining control of the fundamentals that we have already discussed.

You want to keep aiming for the same point after the shot is fired. Find your sights and line them back up as soon as possible.

Keep your breathing in check and your trigger under control.

Trigger Reset

Once the trigger has been fully pressed on a semi-auto pistol, it will reset after letting off pressure on the trigger, rearming it, and making it ready for your next shot.

New shooters tend to keep the trigger fully depressed throughout their follow-through and slowly let off on the trigger until they hear the click of the trigger resetting.

This is another thing that can lead to some bad practices, as it can be easy to make the click dictate when you want to fire the gun again.

You want to fire every shot from the wall. 

Eventually, you want to get confident enough to let off on the trigger pull during the recoil process.

Anticipating the Recoil

Recoil anticipation is the brain’s action of knowing that the gun is going to kick upward when fired so it actively wants to move the gun downwards before the shot to mitigate the effect.

In practice, this is going to throw your shots off quite terribly the farther out your target is.

An easy way to get around this is to practice dry firing, learning how your trigger feels, where the wall is and what it is going to feel like when the trigger breaks.

This is something that time and experience will help with eventually you might even get to the point where you can start actively driving the gun back down during the recoil process to get back on target faster, this is more of an advanced technique though so don’t feel bad if you need to ride the flow of the recoil when starting.

Revolver Safety

I know we covered having your hands as high as possible when gripping your gun but there is a word of caution that I need to tell you about revolvers.

When a revolver is fired, some of the hot gas will escape from the cylinder and shoot out of the gun from the sides.

It’s important that you do not have your hand too close to or covering the cylinder because it will burn you.

How to Practice Without Ammo

Did you know that you can get some good practice with your handgun in the comfort of your own home?

Well, it’s true and something that I would highly recommend you do, especially if you are a newer shooter.

Dry Firing

Dry firing is the practice of cycling your gun through its functions without the use of live rounds. The industry has come up with many different tools to help you with dry fire practice with a range of items with drastically varying price points.

Magazine Inserts

TRT Tap Rack Dry Fire Safety Training Aid

If you are looking at a super budget option you can get dry fire magazine interest that will depress the magazine follower and make your gun not lock open on the empty mag. 

This is nice since it gives you new options for dry fire practice and doesn’t make you need to strip the magazine or hold down the slide release when racking the slide.

Snap Caps

There is an excellent addition to your toolbelt and handy to have for all the different calibers of guns that you own.

The A-Zoom snap caps are my personal favorites.

With these guys, you can get practice loading and cycling your firearm without getting actual ammo.

Not only that but you can even load them randomly with live rounds at the range to actively practice malfunctions.

Digital Systems

Mantis X2 – Shooting Performance System

If you have the budget for them there are a few accessories you can purchase that will help you with your dry fire journey.

One of the most popular on the market currently is the MantisX which tracks a ton of data while you are going through the motions of dry firing and live fire. The device attaches to the pic rail on your pistol and will evaluate your performance and identify areas where you can improve. It even tracks your progress over time.

There are laser devices such as the LaserHit dry fire training kit that fill a similar role but are only for dry firing. This system uses a cartridge that goes in the chamber of your firearm that will activate at the trigger pull and paint a target that responds to the impulse and send the data to your phone.

SIRT Pistols

SIRT 110 Training Pistol

You can get a SIRT pistol that mimics popular handguns on the market. They will even have a similar weight and trigger pull. 

These pistols will allow you to use a 1:1 replica that will fire a laser at the impact area when the trigger is pulled.

Airsoft Pistols

Doesn’t this thing look real?

Ok, I know this is a controversial one but hear me out.

Airsoft guns come in many shapes and sizes, replicating popular real firearms.

You can pick these things up cheaper than your SIRT pistols and can get blowback action that will simulate the sensation of recoil.

They do have their limitations though, mags can be fragile so you don’t want to abuse them like you can with real mags.

The trigger and slide sensations are also gonna be different.

But you have a replica that you can shoot cheaply that you can use in holsters and set up a course of fire in your home that won’t leave permanent damage to the property.

Time to go to the Range!

Time to bring it all together with a trip to the range.

You have the perfect grip, you have an ideal trigger pull, and the stand is down. Let’s see how things change at the range and some things you will need for your time there.

What to Bring to the Gun Range

A quality pair of eye and ear protection is a must. These are not something you want to cheap out on. You can replace a broken magazine or gun but you can just go out and buy more ears if you lose them.

You need a case to carry your gun and gear in. A range bag is a nice convenient way to drag all your stuff in, and can even be left somewhere in the house ready to go next time so you don’t need to hunt down all your stuff throughout the house before your range trip.

The 5.11 Tactical Range Ready Bag is a personal favorite. It is large enough to carry everything you need and then some. 

You could also have a separate pistol case and ammo can if this is more your style.

I recommend trigger locking your gun and having a secondary lock on your bag so you have added security. Combination locks are quick to use and don’t require you to cart around a basket of keys to gain access to your stuff.

You’re gonna need to have something to shoot at when you’re at the range. Most places you go to will likely have targets available to purchase, but there are some great training targets online that you can print off and use while you are there.

I always recommend trying to bring at least some ammo for the guns you plan on shooting. Many times I have seen people come to the range without ammo expecting the shop to have some in stock only to find out they are sold out and they can’t shoot.

I really like MTM plastic ammo cans, they are lightweight and have a o-ring to prevent moisture from getting inside. Great ammo and tool storage in 30 or 50 call sizes. They also stack easily, which is great when you start hoarding ammo like me!

Extra stuff to add to your kit to make the ultimate range bag would be a flashlight, batteries for any optics, spotting scope, shot timer, mag loader, knife, pliers, multitool, allen keys, zip ties, stapler, binder clips, adjustable screwdriver, and electrical tape I have seen all of these used at the range. They don’t need to take up a lot of room and are better to have and not need than need and not have.

Summary and closing statements

Like anything in life, practice is what’s going to make you better. The more you shoot the less you need to think about all the moving parts that need to happen to maximize your accuracy.

That doesn’t mean you need to dump 500 rounds a day to see improvement. Even a box of 50 can go a long way if you are deliberately making an effort to improve.

In the beginning, it may be more advantageous to only focus on 1-2 areas of improvement per range visit so it won’t be as overwhelming to remember everything.

Even if money is tight right now taking some time at home to dry fire, practice your draw, cycling snap caps through your pistol will all make a difference. 

It doesn’t matter if you only have 5 minutes to train a day, improvement is improvement and the more you make the effort to get the reps in the more your muscles and motor skills will understand what they need to do when you get back in a live fire scenario.

I hope reading this article has proven to be beneficial to you. There is so much to learn when starting shooting and we are trying to keep you up to date with the latest and greatest tips and tricks to get you shooting straight in as little time as possible.

Until next time this is Tyson, signing off.

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