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How to shoot

tips on how to shoot a handgun

Issue #85 • January/February, 2004

"I want you to do an article on how to shoot a handgun accurately," Dave Duffy told me. "Make it 2,500 or 3,000 words."

Nancy Crenshaw uses strong stance and technique to make up for lack of size as she turns in an excellent one-handed high speed performance with SIG 9mm.

Today, with more than 45 years of handgunning behind me (yeah, I'm old, but I started early, too) I realize that you actually can cover this topic in a fairly short article. The reason is found in the classic statement of Ray Chapman, the first world champion of the combat pistol. "Shooting well is simple," Ray said, "it just isn't easy."

I'll buy that. It's true that the handgun is the most difficult of firearms to shoot well. There's less to hang on to. There's a shorter radius between the front and rear sight than with a rifle, meaning a greater unnoticed human error factor in aiming. You don't have that third locking point on the shoulder that you have with a long gun's butt stock.

That said, though, you can get the most of your handgun's intrinsic accuracy by simply performing marksmanship basics correctly. If the gun is aimed at the target, and the trigger is pressed and the shot released without moving the gun, then the bullet will strike the mark. That simple. We need a few building blocks to construct this perfect shot, however. Let's build the structure brick by brick.

I teach my students a five-point "pre-flight check list" to go through before they fire the shot. As with any structure, you start from the bottom up. Those points are: 1) Strong stance. 2) High hand grasp. 3) Hard grip. 4) Front sight. 5) Smooth rearward roll of the trigger.

The "power stance"

I've found that stance is the one thing I'm likely to have to correct first, even when teaching the

experienced shooter. The edgeways stance of the duelist is necessary for skateboarding or surfing, but counter-productive to good shooting. If one heel is behind the other, the body does not have good lateral balance and will tend to sway sideways. (The miss will most commonly go toward the strong hand side.) If the feet are squared off parallel, in the old "police academy position" so often seen on TV, the body does not have good front to back balance, and the shots will tend to miss either high or low, most commonly the latter.

You want to be in a fighter's stance, a boxer's stance, what a karate practitioner would call a "front stance." The lower body needs a pyramidal base, a triangle with depth. If you are right handed and firing with your strong hand only, the pelvis wants to be at about a 45 degree angle vis-Г -vis the target, with your left leg to the rear. If you are shooting two-handed and are right hand dominant, the hips still want that 45-degree angle but the left leg should now be forward and the right leg back. Now you're balanced forward and balanced back, balanced left and balanced right. It'll be easier to hold the gun on target.

In rapid fire, the shoulders want to be forward. This will get body weight in behind the gun and help control recoil. For very precise slow fire, some shooters like to cantilever the shoulders to the rear. This may make the gun seem to hang steadier with less effort, but it will cause the gun to jump up sharply upon recoil. This not only slows down your rate of sustained fire, but subconsciously, the more the muzzle jumped at the last shot, the more likely you are to jerk the trigger on the next one. Personally, I use the power stance with the shoulders at least slightly forward even in slow fire. Master shooters have a phrase that helps them remember this principle more easily: "Nose over toes."

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