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Pistol Shooting Tips From 20 Sharpshooters

March 18, 2015

Pistol-Shooting-Tips

Whether you’re hitting the range for fun, protecting your home or in the line of duty, you want every shot to be accurate.

If you’re like most people, you don’t have as much time as you’d like to practice your shooting. When you finally do get to the range, you need to get the most of our your time—and ammo. To get you the best pistol shooting tips, we asked 20 experts “What is your #1 “go to” pistol shooting drill to improve accuracy?” 

Editor’s Note: This article may not be republished without written approval from Top Spec U.S.

So check out the responses below, and get your favorite range bag ready!

Tom Gresham

Shooting-Tip---Quotes-Tom-G

Ball ammo is live ammo.  Dummy ammo is inert.

Just load your magazines with a combination of live ammo and dummy ammo.  When you try to fire the dummy round (thinking it’s a live round), you’ll see the muzzle dip slightly (or more). That’s the flinch, or anticipation if you prefer.  You will work on your concentration to make sure you don’t yank the trigger the next time a dummy round comes up, and as a result, you’ll be pressing the trigger better, have better follow through, and your groups will shrink significantly.

Note, this can be done with a revolver by leaving one or more chambers empty.

This is a drill people should do a few times a year, just as a tune-up.

Tom Gresham is a nationally-known firearms expert and television host. Follow him on Twitter and check out his show Gun Talk on Stitcher

Massad Ayoob

For pure accuracy: a focus drill at close range, such as 4-5 yards. Object: every bullet in the same hole. Done at close range because a hit three inches out at 25 yards could be attributed to the gun or the ammo, but at 4 yards, the shooter doesn’t kid himself about whether or not human error was involved.

Massad Ayoob has been handgun editor of GUNS magazine and law enforcement editor of AMERICAN HANDGUNNER since the 1970s. Grab his new book, Deadly Force – Understanding Your Right to Self Defense. Learn more about his classes here. Follow Massad on Twitter.

Julie Golob

Shooting-Tip---Julie

First I shoot a bench mark group at whatever distance I want to shoot from. I shoot 6 rounds slow and easy from a supported position, either benched or prone with the gun fully resting on the ground or table. From this extremely stable platform I can take out a lot of variables that hurt my accuracy. That group becomes the standard.

Then I stand up and shoot from an unsupported position. The secret is accepting that movement I see in the sights, holding them as close as I can to my aiming mark and being smooth on the trigger like I am dragging my finger through thick peanut butter. The goal is to try to shoot the same size group from standing that I shot from that supported position.

Julie Golob is a multi-time World & National Champion. She is the author of SHOOT: Your Guide to Shooting and Competition. Follow Julie on TwitterFacebookYoutube, Blog & JulieGolob.com

Bryce M. Towsley

Shooting-Tip---Bryce-

While probably not technically for accuracy, the first shot drill helps me in competition and to build skills with my carry gun. It’s one I do almost every time I go to the range.

Being fast in getting the gun out of the holster and making hit is important.  Why?  For competition every tenth of a second counts.  Matches are often one or lost with less than a second. Plus being able to do this quickly and accurately provides a psychological benefit and instills confidence.   For self-defense  it’s a little more obvious.  The idea is to shoot the bad guy before he shoots you.

Bryce Towsley is a field editor for NRA’s American Rifleman and American Hunter and Shooting Illustrated magazines as well as a columnist for Gun Digest Magazine. Follow him on Twitter.

Chris Cheng

Shooting-Tip---Chris-Cheng2

My go-to drill is dry fire with a coin placed on the front sight. After you’ve got your sights aligned, slowly squeeze the trigger. If your squeeze is slow and smooth then the coin will stay on.

If it falls off, then keep trying until you can consistently squeeze the trigger and keep the coin on the sight. This is a great exercise if you see your shots dropping low – often a symptom of jerking the trigger.

Chris Cheng is a NRA News Commentator,  Professional Marksman, Author of “Shoot to Win” a book for the new shooter, and History Channel’s Top Shot Season 4 Champion. Follow Chris on Twitter.

Peter Burlingame

Shooting-Tip---Peter-Burlingame-3

The vast majority of missing is due to poor trigger control. So, we do trigger drills:

  • Verify student understands sight alignment and trigger pull.
  • Student holds pistol, trigger finger indexed up on frame and aims.
  • Instructor (or another student) pulls trigger.
  • Student sees good hits and realizes that 1.) he knows how to aim, and 2.) the reason he hit was because of proper trigger control.
  • Student is taught good trigger control. Placing finger on trigger, they are instructed to not apply any pressure. Instructor places her finger on top of students and demonstrates how she pulls the trigger, explaining what she is doing, the student gets audio as well as kinesthetic feedback.
  • Final iteration is instructor places their finger on trigger, student places theirs on top and commences mindful trigger pulls. In this way the instructor can feel what the student is doing and provide feedback.

This one drill will have the vast majority of students shooting reasonably well within twenty rounds as they have firm understanding of proper trigger pull shown to them in several ways.

Before initial shooting, (or upon remediating someone else’s student) explaining that shooting is a ‘parallel’ process rather than a ‘serial’ one helps immensely with the conceptual side of things.

Mindfulness is key to good trigger control. ‘Battlefield pick up’ drills are used to further this. All shooters place their pistols on a table. Each shooter in turn fires one shot from each pistol into his target (small, precise target, such as 1″ dot at 5 yards). Each trigger being different requires the shooter to really pay attention to how he is controlling it. When they go back to shooting their pistol exclusively, improvements are immediately evident.

Peter Burlingame is the president of Self Defense Initiative, Inc, a company which develops and provides firearms, baton, DT, and security training, locally and nationally. Check out his YouTube Channel

Lieutenant Raymond E. Foster

Shooting-Tip---Lieutenant-Foster

The drill is designed to confront suspects wearing body armor.  Two rounds to the chest, one to the head.

The first part (two to the chest) emphasizes stance, sight alignment and trigger control.  The two rounds to the chest area engage and then disable the suspects physical response to the shock, making the combination more effective.  The third round comes after an assessment that the first two did not work (thus probability of body armor).  The third round emphasizes sight alignment and trigger control.  The overall drill enforces the concept of fire control.  As a shooting drill it makes me a more controlled and effective shooter.

Lieutenant Raymond E. Foster, LAPD (ret.) is the author of Police Technology.

Tom Givens

Shooting-Tip---Tom-Givens

We use different drills to develop different skills. Timing and precision are critical skills, and the Rangemaster Bullseye Course was designed to help achieve them.

For this course, we use the NRA B-8 bullseye target. It has been a standard NRA bullseye pistol competition target for decades. It is scored as printed. The course is divided into five stages, fired at 25, 15, 7 and 5 yards, in five round strings. Since all strings are five rounds each, you can even use this with a five-shot revolver. All strings begin with the pistol loaded, in both hands, at the low ready. Use a shot timer, or have a shooting partner time you with a stop-watch.

After completing a 25-year career in law enforcement and specialized security work, Tom Givens opened his own pistol range in Memphis, TN in 1996.

Brian Zins

Shooting-Tip---Brian-Zins

As a “bullseye” shooter my go to drill to improve accuracy is something that I do at the beginning of every outdoor shooting season with iron sights and dots.  Something I also teach to students. I turn my target around and shoot at a blank face. This helps to take away the distraction of the black center and just shoot my hold and trigger control.  I don’t worry about where the group is without a black center, once the target is up I can adjust if needed.

Brian Zins is a former United States Marine Corps military police officer and Gunnery Sergeant. He is also a competitive shooter known for his proficiency with the M1911 pistol with which he holds various records at the NRA and other events. He is also known for competing in the second season of History Channel’s marksmen competition Top Shot. Follow him on Facebook.

John McPhee

Shooting-Tip---John-McPhee

My go to drill is the “walk in walk out”. This focuses on speed, accuracy and your ability to control your shots. The hardest part of shooting is controlling your subconscious mind to pick the right speed/accuracy for the distance and level of complexity of the shot. This drill is changing tempo and multiple shots which will test your grip. It’s enough shots per yard line to see if your stance solid or needs improvement. Goal is to shoot as fast as possible. The better technique and fundamentals you have the easier this will become.

It’s 40 rounds total and or 400 points total. I use golf scores and count only the amount of points dropped. Usually anything less than a perfect score and you need improvement. Practice doesn’t make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.
It’s 5 rounds per yard line. Target is a standard B8 bullseye target.

  • Start at 3 yards/meters and shoot 5 rounds.
  • 2 steps back and shoot at 5 yards/meters.
  • 2 more steps back and shoot at 7 yards/meters.
  • Then 3 steps back and shoot at 10 yards/meters.
  • Shoot one more string of 5 rounds at 10 yards/meters.
  • 3 steps up to 7. 2 steps to 5 then 2 steps to 3. Remember 5 rounds per yard line.

So get out there and start training. Oh yeah I forgot, if you shoot a perfect score go faster until you don’t, slacker. There is no such thing as good enough to save yours or your families lives. Just saying.

Sergeant Major (ret) John McPhee served a distinguished career in U.S. Army Special Operations for over 20 years, retiring in 2011. He now runs SOB Tactical, you can follow them on Twitter.

Michael Janich

Shooting-Tip---Michael-Janich1

My favorite accuracy drill is the “Reset Drill,” which teaches you to really feel trigger reset and maintain your follow-through for shot-to-shot recovery.

Take aim at a precise aiming point on the target and using all elements of proper marksmanship, fire a single round; however, don’t immediately release the trigger to reset it. Instead, hold it down, re-establish your sight picture and then slowly release the trigger until it resets. When it does, immediately squeeze it again to fire another shot. Again, hold the trigger down, sight, release, and immediately squeeze again–without disturbing your sight picture on reset. By offsetting the timing of the shot-to-shot process, this drill allows you to focus on follow-through, reset, and shot-to-shot recovery. When you resume your normal shooing cadence and timing, you should be pleasantly surprised with your accuracy.

Michael Janich has been studying and teaching self-defense and the martial arts for more than 35 years. He served nine years in the U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command and is a well respected author. Check him out on Facebook and YouTube.

Ian Morris

Shooting-Tip---Ian-Morris

We don’t really have a drill but rather a shot process which is almost the same for all of the squad.  We follow the technique as closely as possible and train it in. Training doesn’t make perfect but it makes permanent, so training perfect technique is the key.

The shot process is very complex and there’s not really a simple answer to this due to the several stages of the process.  The shot process can be broken down into its basics of stance, balance, arm raise, lower onto target while increasing pressure on the trigger until you’re within the target area then squeeze the trigger till the shot is released, during this you maintain concentration on the for-site and maintaining controlled breath.

Replicating this as closely for each shot.

Ian is the WAA Match Secretary (Airgun Captain, Team Wales) and also on the committee of the NSRA PACC “Pistol Airgun & Crossbow Committee.” Follow Ian on Twitter. Check out Ian’s website.

Teresa Ovalle

Shooting-Tip---Teresa-Ovalle
PPL is honored to be a part of this article, but I still think I have plenty of room to grow before I am considered an ‘expert’.
With that said, I do have a technique that I like to offer our shooters who are having trouble with anticipation.  I suggest that they choose a rhythmic word to say out loud as they pull the trigger.  The word could be something short and repetitive, such as pull, pull, pull, pull until the trigger is pulled firmly to the rear.  Other people choose a word like squeeze and say the word until the end of the trigger pull, such as squuuuuueeeze.  Either way, the technique has proven itself useful over and again because by saying the word out loud, the shooter focuses on the sound of her voice rather than the impending sound or recoil.

Teresa Ovalle, Founder of Pistol Packing Ladies (PPL), is a retired U.S. Marine who has always enjoyed handling firearms. Follow PPL on Facebook or Twitter. You can also look for them on Meetup.

Ben Stoeger

Shooting-Tip---Ben-Stoeger

My number one drill is this one… “The Dots

So often people have a handgun accuracy drill that entirely removes the speed component from the equation. I like “The Dots” because you are required to fire 6 shots in 5 seconds while starting holstered. You draw the pistol, build your grip up, and then fire at a reasonable pace at tight targets. I also like the goal of never missing a dot across multiple strings. This helps the shooter build consistency and discipline. I use versions of this drill in every class I teach.

Ben Stoeger likes to shoot stuff. He’s been a competitive shooter since 2005. He travels all over the United States shooting matches and teaching classes. Follow him on YouTube, Google+, and Facebook.

Brian Enos

Shooting-Tip---Brian-Enos-2

The fundamentals of marksmanship are best learned shooting groups from a bench rest, at a distance of 25 to 50 yards. In addition to ingraining the fundamentals, shooting from a bench will teach you the value of consciously placing attention.

It is important to create a neutral, solid platform for the pistol. Position the bags so the bottom of the magazine is on the bench, the dustcover is on the bags, and the fingers of your support hand are firmly pressed into the bags. The resulting position should align the sights perfectly on the center of the target, without requiring any pressure from your grip.

Grip the pistol with equal pressure from each hand – then forget the grip. Focus back and forth a few times from the sights to the target to the sights, confirming perfect sight alignment. Still your focus to see a razor sharp front sight.

The front sight should look like a giant square building silhouetted against the sky. Become aware of the feeling in both hands, calm and still. Shift your attention to your trigger finger. Without hesitating, feel the pressure between the trigger and your finger steadily increasing until the shot fires.

From when you are aware of your finger on the trigger… The shot should fire in one to two seconds.

Brian Enos’s Practical Shooting, Beyond Fundamentals – often considered the competitive shooters bible – includes in-depth coverage of the technical and mental aspects of training and competition, and will offer new insights as you continue to improve.

Grant Cunningham

Shooting-Tip---Grant-Cunningham

The most useful drill for me has been “Moving Point Of Aim”. This involves intentionally moving the sights inside the target area, concentrating on keeping them moving, as each shot is fired. The target size is reduced as the shooter learns to control the movement of the gun and when to break a shot during that movement.

Applicable to rifle and pistol, it gets the shooter used to the idea that the gun will always be moving and that trying to hold it perfectly still to “grab” a shot results in driving the gun off target. I’ve found that it’s the fastest way to get my students to make shots they were convinced they couldn’t, and it’s one that I use in my own range practice almost every session.

Grant Cunningham  is the Co-Founder and Director of the Personal Security Institute. He is a renowned author and teacher in the fields of self defense, defensive shooting education and personal safety. Follow him on Twitter

Helmut Brokamp

Shooting-Tip---Helmut
Although I’m an NRA Certified Instructor, I am far from an expert.  Most of the people I teach have never shot a gun in their lives.  I concentrate on safety and the very basic shooting principles.  That said, my advice on improving shooting and accuracy are dry fire exercises

During class I use the LaserLyte system.  This gives students instant feedback not only on shot placement, but also on any extra movement caused by their triggger squeeze and/or grip.  Even without LaserLyte, we can learn to detect and correct any extra movement, and improve trigger squeeze

Helmut Brokamp is an instructor at B-A Hard Target.

Les Hall

Shooting-Tip---Les

I would have to consider my #1 “go-to” pistol shooting drill to improve accuracy, the Ball-and-Dummy Drill. I primarily use revolvers for this drill as it is much easier to conduct it with revolvers, as opposed to semi-automatics.

To conduct this drill, normally the student has already fired all of the cartridges in the chambers. Then, one spent cartridge is removed and replaced with a “live” cartridge. The cylinder is then “spun” so the student doesn’t know where the live cartridge is located in the cylinder.

Then the student fires the gun, one shot at a time, until the live cartridge is fired, anticipating that every pull of the trigger will produce the “live” round.

The learning comes, not when the gun goes “bang”, but when it goes “click”. When the gun goes “click”, the barrel should not move. It should remain perfectly still. This helps students, new shooters and more experienced, realize it if they are “anticipating” and “jerking” the gun at the moment of firing it. It also helps to concentrate on keeping the gun perfectly still.

Les spent most of his 30 year career as a law enforcement officer. He is a certified NRA Training Counselor and has a training facility in Florida. Follow Les on Facebook.

Monte A. Jessee

Shooting-Tip---Monte-Jessee

I’m a big fan of dry fire drills, from my everyday carry holster.  I usually run the drill with my eyes closed. Accurate shooting is all about trigger control.  Too much trigger ends in a miss every time.  Accuracy is knowing YOUR trigger, where the break is, where the reset is, all while managing recoil.

At the end of the drill I repeat this while standing in front of a mirror.  Shooting bullseyes is WAYYYYY different than tactical shooting.

Focus on proper form, proper grip, all while coming from the holster.  The more you do it, the smoother you’ll get.  It becomes second nature so that when the time comes you react.

Monte A. Jessee is the Owner and Lead Instructor at High Country Outfitters, Inc. Check them out on Facebook.

Max Michel, Jr.

Shooting-Tip---Max-Michel,-Jr

My #1 drill to improve accuracy is the “Speed Dots.” At signal, draw and engage the 3″ dot with 5 rounds within the par time. Repeat for a total of 4 strings and 20 rounds.

  • Distance: 10 yds
  • Dot Size: 3″
  • Par Time: 3.5 seconds
  • Start Position: Gun Holstered
  • Techniques Trained: Draw, Sight Alignment/Sight Picture, Trigger Control and Recoil Management.
  • Coaches tip:

Depending on your skill level, feel free to adjust the size of the dot and/or the par time. Your goal is to successfully impact the dot with each round. To do this, the shooter not only needs to focus on the basic fundamentals to make an accurate shot but also needs to be able to perform in a stressful situation (the par time). There are many shooters who can shoot accurately with practice and just about anyone can pull the trigger quickly but being able to shoot quickly with acceptable accuracy is a unique skill.

As always, to make an accurate shot, the sights must be aligned with even amount of day light on each side of the front post. The front and rear must be flush across the top as well. At this point, activating the trigger is critical to landing your shot on target. Your job is to activate the trigger without disturbing the sights off of the particular target you wish to engage. To do this, remove the pre travel slowly until you feel the engagement in the trigger. Now, press straight back to the rear with a smooth, consistent press until the shot breaks. Immediately remove your finger from the trigger allowing it to reset and begin the entire process over again. Lastly, once complete, don’t be in a rush to dismount the gun. Keep the pistol up and follow through long enough to be certain you don’t move the pistol as you are firing your last shot. In short, align sights on target, remove pre travel of trigger, press smoothly to the rear until the shot breaks without disturbing the sight picture off target, and follow through.

To create speed in your accurate shooting, you must not shoot faster. However, you need to work on the stance/grip which will allow you to see the sights sooner and therefore, have faster shot to shot times. To do this, you will need a wide, aggressive stance which will give you stability and allow you to shoot faster as the sights will be able to stabilize sooner on the small target. Also, you will want to get as much leverage on the gun as possible in the grip.

Max Michel, Jr. is a World Champion shooter.During his 10 year US Army career, Staff Sergeant Michel’s duties included serving as the Military Coach of the Action Pistol Team.  Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

Wow!

A huge thanks to all the experts who contributed to this mammoth collection of pistol shooting tips! Please share this with others if you found any useful tips!

Have a go-to shooting drill of your own? Let us know in the comments below!


6 responses to “Pistol Shooting Tips From 20 Sharpshooters”

  1. Apart from trigger control, some other top tips are breathing and stance are up there with the more important points to being successful. Definitely learn to shoot before you can shoot fast.

  2. For beginners I recommend testing your Eye Dominance first, Just because you are right handed does not always mean Aim with your Right Eye. Good Luck, Have Fun, and most importantly BE SAFE!

    • nice tip, Steve. I still remember my first pistol training and that was the one of the first things to figure out. Thanks for mentioning it!

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