Category Archives: Instruction

How to Shoot a Handgun

In my previous post on how to shoot a rifle[1] , I explain at a very high level the factors which affect accurate marksmanship. The most abstract of those factors carry over to the employment of the handgun, but we do not expect the same sort of performance.

With the handgun, we achieve less stability under realistic scenarios, and this results in poorer accuracy. Gone are considerations of cheek weld and the stability provided by multiple points of contact. Our inconsistencies are multiplied, our sight radius is shortened, and our generally heavier bullets move at a generally slower velocity. This makes our job more difficult. In return, however, we gain convenience in carry and deployment, and generally engage targets at a shorter distance.

Because of the nature of the reddit medium, I will not cover here considerations of draw, magazine changes, split times, or other important factors beyond general, fundamental accuracy. I am certain that tips and tricks may be found below in the comments and may cover such things in a later post.

Consideration 1: Trigger control

Trigger control is our primary consideration because it offers the greatest benefit per unit of understanding and practice. Grip and stance will necessarily differ based on the conditions under which we draw. We may be unable to get both hands to the pistol. We may be unable to present the pistol at arm’s length or to acquire our sights. We must be good with the trigger. It applies in all cases.

To begin with, we will actuate (or roll or press but never pull) the trigger with the pad of our index finger, as far toward the fingertip as is practical. With time and practice, you may discover that you drive your trigger finger further through the trigger guard, toward the crease of the knuckle. Some trainers advocate beginning this way. I find that the better leverage, sensitivity and mechanical advantage provided by the fingertip makes learning faster.

Take your pistol in hand now, keeping the muzzle in a safe direction. Drop the magazine and rack the slide to eject the chambered round. Check clear with your pinkie[2] . Drop the slide again. Keep the muzzle in a safe direction. Squeeze the trigger slowly and gradually, noting the point at which the firing pin or striker drops (where the shot would break). Holding the trigger back, rack the slide again. Gradually release the pressure on the trigger until you feel the disconnector reset, and squeeze the trigger again. Repeat this task, exaggerating the slowness with which you manipulate the trigger, and keeping the muzzle in a safe direction. That’s the trigger control you want to see on the range. Bouncing back up off the trigger or jerking it back quickly will push and pull the pistol this way and that and severely limit your ability to get good hits.

(Performing this exercise in live fire is faster and more convenient, as the recoil will serve to reset the trigger for you, among other things.)

Consideration 2: Stance

Canonical 2-handed stances are not universal in the real world. They do, however, serve to isolate the other considerations of marksmanship and therefore make for the most valuable practice. Therefore, most of your dry and live-fire practice time should employ a canonical stance.

In the past when I’ve spoken of canonical handgun stances, I’ve recommended trying Chapman and Weaver as well as Modern Isosceles. I no longer believe that Chapman and Weaver have any practical advantages for shooters outside of Hollywood. You will practice Modern Isosceles, and it will serve you well.

In the Modern Isosceles stance, our torso is square to the target, our arms both project straight out as the long sides of an isosceles triangle, and we keep one foot forward of the other, feet shoulder-width apart. Our shoulders roll forward and up to bring the front sight into alignment with our dominant eye. This is a close analog to a karate fighter or boxer’s normal stance, although we will stand flat-footed.

Consideration 3: Grip

“Hold with 60% of the strength in your right hand, and 40% of the strength in your left hand.” “SQUEEZE THE HELL OUT OF IT IN A CRUSH GRIP JUST LIKE YOU WOULD WITH ADRENALINE” “Put your index finger on the front of the trigger guard!”

These are all silly. I find that the 60/40 thing ends up happening, but it’s not a conscious decision on my part. I have not noticed the crush grip under the stress of competition, but perhaps the stress of mortal peril is different.

Place the web of the hand, between the thumb and index finger, high into the curve of the backstrap. Modern pistols have a nice little curvy place for it to live. The fingers of the strong hand curl around the pistol grip, and the index finger rests (indexes) forward along the frame or slide until we are ready to shoot. The middle finger of the weak hand curls around the fingers of the strong hand just at the base of the trigger guard, and the index finger of the weak hand curls around the bottom of the trigger guard.

The thumbs of both hands point forward. During dry fire practice and slow live fire practice, you might point them away from the pistol in exaggerated fashion in order to keep them clear of the slide release and safety. The thumbs do not contribute to retention or accuracy in any case.

I apologize for the lack of photographs in this post and hope to update it next week. If you believe that I have erred on any point, you may well be correct, and I would appreciate hearing it in the comments.

Trigger Control

YouTube video[1] . The stuff I meant to say follows. I did not memorize it and so the content of the video has more ‘um’ and such things.

This is a gen 2 Glock 22. It is unloaded and clear (check clear with pinkie).

It is not a Ruger 10/22, it is not a Glock 19, it is not an AR-15 and it is not a Mossberg 590. I know this comes as a shock to half the commentors on yesterday’s reddit thread and the entirety of /k/.

Tonight we’re discussing trigger control. Since the vast majority of you have displayed shockingly bad reading comprehension and since this instruction is not particularly amenable to textual description in any case, I am forced to resort to a tedious video in order to better illustrate my meaning.

The goal of all marksmanship is to keep the sights aligned and on target while we fire the shot. Good trigger work makes this possible by limiting the influence of our trigger finger on the alignment of the sights. I shall demonstrate.click, rack slide, repeat a few times.

There are a few important considerations. The first is to actuate the trigger smoothly and gradually. With practice this smooth, gradual process becomes very fast. It never becomes violent or jerky.

I use the distal pad of my trigger finger for the best sensitivity and mechanical advantage. You may find that over time you begin to drive the finger further through the trigger guard, even to the point of actuating the trigger with that first joint. That’s okay, as long as you still get hits, but you should not consciously start out by practicing that way.

The next consideration is to ride the reset, to hold the trigger back after the shot breaks and to relieve just enough pressure to feel the disconnector work. The shorter the distance you must move the trigger on each shot, the less work you must do. This reduces the tendency to jerk the trigger too fast. It also reduces the sympathetic action of the other fingers in the trigger hand; that action will bring the sights out of alignment with the shooter’s intention.

Now, I just sit there and do this exercise while I watch Burn Notice, Jack of All Trades, and the Evil Dead series on Netflix. This serves two purposes. Repeated dry fire practice gives me greater familiarity with the trigger and untrains the natural tendency to flinch when the shot breaks. Ten thousand reps of dry fire is also the world’s cheapest trigger job. Over time, the working parts are polished smooth, so you don’t have to stone the trigger to get that nice smooth pull.

You can also do this exercise with an autoloading rifle or a revolver. It is easier with a hammer-fired pistol since you can just cock the hammer back and it is easier with a double action since you can just pull the trigger repeatedly. You can’t ride the reset with a bolt gun for obvious reasons, but they tend to have nicer triggers anyway, and dry fire practice is still valuable.

Feel free to praise me or to insult me as you wish in the reddit comments. If you are especially insightful and if there are few of you I will be more than happy to discuss this subject with you at length.

The Nuances of Sling-Supported Prone

Sling-supported prone is my very favorite position. While a bipod does make for tighter groups, and you achieve those groups after a shorter education, the sling offers faster and easier recoil management for follow-up shots and the ability to change targets more quickly. Sling-supported prone is also the shooting position of real men, whereas bipods are for silly little nancy boys[1] , soft ‘science’ majors and /u/dieselgeek [+5][2] .

In order to assume the position, we first sling up properly[3] , then lie down, taking special care to keep the muzzle downrange and not to sweep the person to our right.

  • With our sights on target, our spinal column and bore axis form an angle of perhaps 30 degrees [4] , in order that our support hand might more easily reach the handguard. The little man in the line drawing there is at a rather exaggerated angle.
  • Our neck is extended or “turkey necked” in order to get our eye closer to the rear sight and achieve the best possible cheek weld.
  • The sling is taut, to the point of mild discomfort. It should produce a low bass note when plucked, preferably a C#.
  • Our support-side elbow rests on the ground, directly under the action, or as close as possible.
  • Our support hand is as a platform for the handguard. It does not squeeze. With it, we seek to emulate the hard-shell taco, not the burrito (and probably not the tostada either).
  • Our support-side toe does not dig into the ground behind us.
  • Our trigger-side leg may follow one of two schools of thought. Either we bring our knee up, as far toward our ribcage as is comfortable [5] , perhaps to make it smell of old spice[6] , or we bring our leg parallel with the rifle’s bore axis [RES ignored duplicate image][7] . I bring my knee up, because it raises me up off my chest and minimizes the influence of breathing on the rifle’s alignment, but plenty of perfectly respectable shooters keep that leg straight.
  • Our trigger hand pulls the rifle straight back into the shoulder pocket we’re so proud of.
  • Our trigger finger stays out of contact with the stock, touching only the trigger itself. We do not drag it against the wood of the stock as we operate the trigger, because doing this is enough to disturb the rifle during the shot.
  • We place our NPOA[8] on the target and verify it, and fire the shot as normal[9]

Angling the body to one side does inhibit our ability to control recoil, but we do it to make the support hand and sling a more valuable platform.

Cheek weld[10] is very important. A consistent cheek weld is mandatory for top-level performance.

The sling and the position of the support arm will cause discomfort at first. It may feel as though your humerus is being torn from its socket. This pain is temporary; you will probably only experience it on your first range trip or two shooting using this method.

Placing the support elbow directly under the action helps keep the rifle perfectly verticle, to avoid canting the sights. With an extended magazine, this may be impossible. In that case, do not correct the cant with your support hand; the muscles which allow you to move your fingers are susceptible to rapid fatigue, which will cause you to miss as you tire. Instead, you must pull the buttstock straight back into the shoulder pocket using the trigger hand. Pulling straight back uses the biceps, a larger muscle with better endurance. The support arm is not in an appropriate position for any sort of pulling.

Digging the support toe into the ground would result in subtle shifts in position. This is bad and makes us miss.

Ideally, our trigger hand would be completely out of contact with the rifle, so as to avoid moving it as we take the shot. Good luck with that. We pull straight back as necessary to correct any cant, but other than that, we try to make contact only with the trigger.

NPOA is a gift from God, and if you are not using his gifts well, may you be stricken with restrictive gun laws, bedbugs, and endless reruns of reality TV shows.

Natural Point of Aim, or NPOA

NPOA is the single most important non-obvious concept in marksmanship. The importance of sight alignment and sight picture are immediately and abundantly clear. The importance and execution of trigger control are readily explained. NPOA, despite its simplicity and importance, is little-known, difficult to explain, and poorly understood.

In this[1] wonderful classic, the instructor mentions NPOA in passing, but he doesn’t call it NPOA or make a big enough deal out of it. “You’ll find,” he says, “that the rifle will tend to settle on one point. Try to adjust your body so that that one point is on target,” or words to that effect. That’s the long and short of NPOA, but it’s not really explicit enough, and it’s easy to miss in among the rest of the video’s content.

You always have a natural point of aim, regardless weapon of your position or stance. If I shouldered my rifle right now, sitting in my desk chair at work, that NPOA would probably be somewhere under the feet of the man in the adjacent cubicle. Out on the range, you’ll find that your NPOA is within a few degrees of your desired target, regardless of whether you knew that beforehand or not.

The problem is that if you’re not actively using your NPOA, you’re fighting against it. If you’ve positioned yourself such that your NPOA is five degrees left of the target, that’s five degrees of correction that the small muscles of your forearms will have to make. Muscles fatigue, small muscles more quickly. Fatigued muscles are not well-controlled and will shake. This results in poor accuracy.

By situating your NPOA exactly atop the target, you remove fatigue and muscle control from the equation. Bones and ligaments do not grow tired. Indeed, they offer nearly such a solid shooting rest as would a bipod, when used properly.

Ok, Presidentender, we get it. NPOA is super cool. Tell us something useful.

Your NPOA will be tighter and more useful the more stable your rifle’s setup is, so using a shooting sling or a bipod and achieving a stable position whenever weapon possible is best. The use of slings and bipods and stable positions is beyond the scope of this post.

To find your NPOA, bring your rifle on target as if you are about to shoot, and then close your eyes and relax for a breath or two. When you open your eyes, you will find that you are no longer on target. Adjust your body position (shifting your hips when prone, moving your rear foot when standing) to bring the rifle back on target, so that it remains there when you relax. Repeat this process until closing your eyes, relaxing, and taking a few breaths no longer takes you off target. Then fire the rifle as many times as you want, check your target, maybe go get some beef jerky, call your mom. Whatever.

After finding your NPOA in this fashion a few times, it will become second nature, akin to riding a bicycle. You will be able to simply drop into your NPOA whenever you aim.

Again:

  1. Get behind the rifle, and put the sights on target.
  2. Close your eyes. Relax. Breathe. Breathe. Open your eyes and see that the sights are no longer on target.
  3. Adjust your body position (not just your forearms) to bring the sights back on target, so that it stays there when all your muscles are relaxed.
  4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 until the sights remain on-target, and shoot.

You have an NPOA in every position, regardless of its stability. Using this NPOA in conjunction with the other fundamentals of marksmanship, you will absolutely shoot more accurately.

Inches, Minutes and Clicks: Adjusting your Sights Without Guesswork

This is the common procedure for adjusting your sights: fire three or five rounds. Walk to the target and see how far off you were. Return to your rifle, make a guesswork adjustment to your sights, and fire again. Repeat until you’re “pretty close.” Put the rifle away until it’s time to hunt deer, and do it again next year.

The guesswork is a good way to waste ammo.

Every adjustment will change the point of impact by the same reliable amount every time. Assuming you’re on paper, you can zero a rifle perfectly by firing a single group and making the appropriate adjustment. You’ll spend three or five rounds instead of twenty or fifty.

This advice is specific to click-adjustable iron sights or optics graduated in MOA. Drift-adjustable sights and optics graduated in Mils will use a modified procedure beyond the scope of this writing. I also assume a 100-yard zero for purposes of mathematical simplicity, although I find a 25-yard zero more suitable for most purposes.

You are familiar with the measurement that is one inch. It’s approximately the diameter of a quarter.

You are also familiar with the concept of angles. Angles are divided into degrees, or “degrees of arc,” in a more classical parlance. A 1 degree arc looks small at desktop distances, but a 1 degree arc covers about 60 inches at 100 yards. This makes degrees unsuitably coarse as units of measurement for adjusting rifle sights.

Degrees of arc are further divided into “minutes” of arc, in the same fashion that hours are divided into “minutes” of time. Conveniently, there are 60 minutes in 1 degree. (Arcseconds exist as well and are applicable mostly to surveying and astronomy.)

You will recall that 1 degree is 60 inches at 100 yards. By this convenient accident of measurement, that means that 1 minute of angle (MOA) covers about 1 inch at 100 yards. This means that MOA is a very suitable measurement for evaluating shot groups and adjusting sights.

Most scopes are adjustable in 1/4 minute clicks. Military-style aperture sights are adjustable in 1 minute clicks. Exceptions to these generalities exist; I’ve seen 1/2 minute aperture sights and 1/10 minute scopes. You will need to be aware of the adjustment characteristics of your own equipment.

Hey, Presidentender. That background information was just peachy. Didn’t you promise us instructions on how to adjust sights?

The procedure to adjust your sights at 100 yards is as follows.

  • Post a suitable target. I like to use 1/4″ ruled graph paper, and fill in a 4×4 square at the middle with black marker to provide a point of aim. This does the measurement for you. If you use a traditional bullseye target, you will need to bring a ruler.
  • Fire a shot group from a very stable position. Using a bench rest is ideal, but you can get away with a sandbag, a bipod, or even a sling from the bench or a prone position. Prone with a sling has the advantage of being how real men do it.
  • Proceed downrange and check your target. Estimate the center of your shot group, and measure the vertical and horizontal distance of that center from your point of aim. Remember or write down this measurement: “Okay, I’m 2″ right and 4″ low.”
  • Return to your rifle and make sight adjustments. I was 2″ right and 4″ low, so I’d need to adjust a traditional 1/4 minute scope 8 clicks left and 16 clicks up, or adjust my military-style aperture sights 2 clicks left and 4 clicks up.
  • Fire another group to verify that zero. You may often find that you have lefty loosied when you meant to righty tighty. That makes my “one shot group” claim a lie, but it’s a fairly benign lie, don’t you think?

Bonus mnemonic: most military-style aperture sights are adjustable for windage at the rear sight, and for elevation at the front sight. Some, like the newer Tech Sights model, are adjustable for both windage and elevation at the rear sight; there may be a very silly system out there adjustable for both windage and elevation at the front. Keep the following acronym in mind: FORS, for “forward opposite, rear same.” That is, you will move the rear aperture in the same direction you wish to shift your point of impact, but you will move your front sight post in the opposite direction. So to move your group to the right, move your rear aperture to the right. To move your group up, the front sight post must move down. The reasons for this will become abundantly clear by way of a few moments of thinking or perhaps moving a rifle around.

How to Shoot a Rifle, part 1

The title of this post is extremely ambitious, and the topic is beyond the scope of what can be presented in this format. Many fine leather-bound volumes have been written by better men than I am, and many students pay thousands of dollars for training of higher quality than I can provide. Furthermore, rifles are employed for many reasons at many distances and under many time constraints. Therefore, this information is necessarily brief and incomplete, although I shall endeavor to guarantee its accuracy.

In order to shoot accurately, we must do two things:

  1. Position the rifle so that the round will follow the path we desire, and
  2. Maintain that position until the bullet is beyond our influence.

Because we are in contact with the rifle, the position of our body will dictate the position of the rifle. Depending on circumstances, we can change this relationship to our advantage by taking advantage of inanimate rests which present themselves in the terrain, or creating those rests by using gear such as bipods and bags. Regardless of the presence of these mechanical aides, we will have the best success if we take advantage of our body’s natural point of aim[1] to remove our pesky, inconsistent and fatigue-prone muscles from the equation.

Our goals with this body position are not only accuracy and stability, but repeatability. It is well and good to hit the target once. Twice I have taken girls to the range and seen them satisfied with a single bullseye out of a group that may as well have been fired with a shotgun. You are not such girls. You care about making hits when you need to. You need to make good hits more often than one time in a hundred, or even five times in ten.

One of the most important factors in achieving that consistent repeatability is cheek weld[2] . Your cheek weld must offer you consistent, repeatable, stable and preferably comfortable access to your sights. The “jaw weld” that we so often see with optics and folding AK stocks is a disadvantage here.

There are many ‘canonical’ positions of varying stability recommended for different purposes. They are beyond the scope of this post, but you should learn them nonetheless.

Once we have achieved a stable position and placed the sights on-target, we must fire the shot. Firing the shot requires us to actuate the trigger. This requires us to move our trigger hand. We must endeavor to guarantee that this movement does not disturb the rifle, or we will miss.

Stability and speed are at contretemps. While we cannot possibly “miss fast enough to win,” we must sacrifice some measure of accuracy for some measure of expediency when the situation dictates. The doorkickers of SWAT teams do not take the time to set up with sturdy bipods and re-check their NPOA during the execution of the doorkicking task.

But over time, with practice, achieving stability becomes easier and faster. NPOA is like a bicycle: it seems impossible at first, but over time you get to the place where you just drop into it.

“Practice” does not simply mean “shooting.” Improvement is a conscious endeavor.

Part two[3] deals with the act of firing the shot to allow productive improvement and avoid disturbing the rifle.