Written by Phillip Chambers

After heading to the range for the first time with your pistol you probably thought, “dang, this is harder than I expected”

This usually comes as surprise because people have the preconceived notion that shooting a little gun should be easy right?

Well, the exact opposite is true, the smaller the gun the harder it’s gonna be to shoot it accurately.

But don’t fear, I’m here today to guide you through some simple tips and tricks to level up your skills and become a better pistol shooter in no time at all.

Time to get down to business but first let’s go over some safety stuff.

The Safety Stuff (Should always come first)

It is important to always follow the four big rules of gun safety. With this stuff in mind, it will be exceedingly difficult to nominate yourself for a Darwin award or voluntarily nominate someone else.

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

Downrange is usually the safest bet for where you should be pointing your gun

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 their flight path. Do also be mindful that bullets can ricochet off surfaces and penetrate walls & ceilings 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 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.

How to improve your accuracy

To start I wanna say no matter what your pistol experience is, there is nothing wrong with finding it difficult.

The fact of the matter is, shooting a handgun accurately is the most challenging of all three shooting disciplines between rifle, shotgun, and pistol.

The sight radius on these guns is much smaller and therefore more prone to human error, plus you don’t have any contact with your shoulder to brace yourself and stabilize the gun.

But as Ray Chapman once said, “Shooting well is simple, it’s just not easy.”

If you have solid fundamentals of marksmanship things start to get much easier. Below is a wealth of knowledge for you to uncover. 

What it all boils down to at the end of the day is, if you can focus the front sight on the target, and pull the trigger without moving the gun you will hit your target.

Time to get into the nitty-gritty.

Hold the pistol as high as possible

A proper grip is essential to managing recoil. This is also something that many new shooters get wrong due to what they see in movies and on TV.

To start, you want to grab the gun as high as possible with your dominant hand in the beaver tail/tang of the pistol.

The higher you can have your hand means you have a lower bore axis which is what will lead to less muzzle flip when shooting.

Keep a tight grip 

This goes directly with the previous point.

You want to be gripping the pistol as tightly as possible with the same tension throughout.

Also, the firmness of the grip should be just under the amount of pressure it takes for your hands to start to tremble from the strain you are putting them under.

If you feel that your grip strength could use some improvement, I would recommend grabbing some hand grip strengtheners on Amazon.

These little guys can really help increase your grip strength.

Being able to repeat the same grip over and over every time you go to the range will greatly improve your accuracy. Consistency is key.

Arms straight out with a slight bend at the elbow

You must keep your wrists in line with your hand to prevent a weak point for the recoil.

Both arms will go straight out to present the pistol and you want to bring the gun up to your eye to aim, not the other way around.

Keep a slight bend in the elbow when shooting, this won’t be immediately beneficial if you are just shooting from static positions, but if you ever start doing dynamic movements during the course of fire having your arms locked out will inherently make you more prone to moving your sights of the target, which is a natural movement you don’t want to fight against, especially if you are in a competitive or defensive situation.

The slight bend in the wrist will prevent this stiff movement from happening.

One elbow might have more bend than the other, but that is fine.

Feel free to walk down a hallway and focus on a certain point with arms locked out and again with the bend in the elbow and see firsthand what I mean.

This sensation becomes multiplied when trying to navigate uneven terrain.

Adopt a proper stance

You don’t need to be a professional athlete to benefit from a good athletic stance…also don’t bend your knees this much

A stable stance is paramount to being able to quickly and effectively engage your targets.

You will hear of Weaver, Isosceles, and other shooting stances being good. 

At the end of the day, there is no one “best” shooting stance ad they all have their pros and cons.

The biggest takeaway you can get from what a proper stance looks like is this:

You want to have a wide athletic stance with your legs shoulder-width apart.

Slightly bend the knees and lean forward a bit.

The rest comes down to personal preference and comfort.

Focus on the front sight

Sight Focus, from ReturnofKings.com

When aiming your pistol you have the rear sight, front sight, and your target that you all need to have in your view.

It’s pretty common for a new shooter to focus on the target since that is what you are shooting at.

In reality, the best practice is to focus on your front sight.

You want to do this so you have a nice crisp sight picture. The view of your front sight will be sharp, with your rear sight and target looking slightly blurry.

When you know your front sight is level with the rear sight with equal amounts of space between, you know that you have the perfect sight picture. Then just put the sights on target and you’re all set.

Stop anticipating the recoil

This is another big one. When you get your first recoil impulse your brain is going to know that your pistol is going to want to jump up when the gun is fired.

Either consciously or subconsciously now your mind is going to want to make an effort to prevent the recoil from being so pronounced.

So what do you do? You start to want to pull the gun downward before shooting to offset the upward kick.

The problem with this is that if you pull down before the shot is fired, you will throw off your shot completely.

Yes, you can get to a certain point of training where you can successfully manage recoil with some downward force after the shot is fired but this is going to take hours of practice and hundreds of rounds to get just right.

Your best bet for now if you’re new is to not worry about it and to stop anticipating the recoil completely until you are proficient enough to try to add this into your training.

Dry firing can really help you gain muscle memory for what you should be feeling for your follow-through.

Control your breathing

Yes, even the air keeping you alive is also keeping you from shooting your handgun accurately!

As you breathe in and out your chest is going to want to rise and fall.

The best time for you to shoot will be between your breaths either at the top of a breath or the bottom.

From my experience, I find shooting from the bottom of a breath the most beneficial.

It’s fine to hold your breath for a few seconds too, but just know that this will have diminishing returns the longer you hold and if you hold for too long it will make it harder to shoot accurately.

Ideally, you want to stay calm and breath naturally as it won’t have any effect on your heart rate.

Learn how to pull the trigger properly

Your trigger pull is actually more of a squeeze than a pull.

It is best practice to use the middle of the pad on your index finger to pull your trigger and to make it a straight motion backward.

You want to fire from the wall, not from the full trigger pull. This will make it much easier to keep your gun on target.

Use a smooth motion when squeezing straight backward to pull the trigger.

Follow through after the gun is fired

The best way to accurately fire a follow-up shot is to bring the gun right back to where it was on target before the previous shot was fired.

You want to allow the gun to go through its recoil cycle, during this time let off on the trigger enough for it to reset so you are ready to take the next shot when you find your sights again.

It’s important to wait at least half a second before transitioning to another target to make sure you don’t throw off your shot. Similarly to anticipating the recoil, if you consciously are going through the thought process of engaging another target before shooting the first one, your brain will naturally want to start processing cognitive energy toward the next one, potentially leading to missing your mark on the first target.

Take the extra fraction of a second to ensure your shot will be true then commit to the next one.

Advantages of dry firing

It is a widely accepted thought that practice makes perfect.

So why not give yourself the unfair advantage of being able to train from home, not just at the range?

Sure it may not be as exciting as when you have a tiny explosion happening at arm’s length every time you pull the trigger, but it’s gonna be a hell of a lot easier to make time for and it won’t cost you anything.

Summary and closing statements

I know this is a lot to process all at once. Chances are by the time you go to the range again you will probably forget half of this stuff already too.

That is why dry firing is so important. You can practice all of the fundamentals at home, you could even have this document open to remind you of all the important things we covered so it stays in your mind longer.

You’d be surprised how fast you would improve just by blocking out a 20 minutes window 3 times a week to practice the topics we have discussed here today.

Until next time, go drink some water and enjoy the rest of your day!

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The Complete Guide to Shooting Stances (Which Works Best for You?)