Welcome to “Journey To”, a series about my training up for competition shooting. This series will include and provide beneficial reflections, knowledge, considerations and experiences to anyone who is training to compete or is currently competing.
Whether in USPSA, IDPA, 3-Gun or other matches, shooting a pistol competitively is an art and a science. I recently wrote this to a “city friend” of mine (who has no experience with guns) in order to help him understand the intensity of this skill:
As a non-gun person, you think shooting is point-pull trigger-go boom – it is the furthest thing from that! From a shooters perspective, the act of shooting a pistol is: seeing a thousand frames in my sight picture as they move into the perfect orientation with my target; coordinating my finger, hands, arms and position to secure the gun properly; engage a trigger to its very edge of breaking, while moving, stressed and fully engaging my environment on every level before making the decision to break the trigger; doing all of this within a 1/4 of a second or less as I see the right sight alignment and picture fall into place.
When you think about it, what we do as a shooter is pretty amazing. If one is going to be able to do all of this, then some basic skills need to be ingrained into their mind/body systems in order to allow the elements of shooting to be orchestrated effectively.
Basic Pistol Skills
There are many fallacies about shooting. Chief among the fallacies is that there is “one way” to shoot: one finger position; one sight engagement; one grip; one stance. These fallacies are often propagated to new shooters by the uninformed. The truth is, every person (shooter) is different and what works for the reigning champion of any shooting sport is more of a “really good idea to consider”, rather than a “commandment”.
Brian Enos is wonderful about making this clear at the beginning of his books. Often times shooters, instructors, and competitors do not have this “clarity”. Don’t get caught trying to force a “commandment” into your shooting for it may or may not work. For instance, many “commandments” about grip just do not work for me, given that I have massive, thick hands.
Having recently launched my journey to be competitive in the USPSA Regionals, I have been re-learning my basics and contemplating extensively on my past and present shooting. More so, I have had to reconsider some of my old habits (developed from shooting bigger frame pistols, like 1911’s), and have had to revamp them to my current shooting direction with smaller frame guns (like Glocks). Also, I have had to reconsider some fundamental things, as simple as my grip on the gun.
During the initial course of this journey, I have decided that there are core basics of pistol shooting:
- Trigger finger position
- Sight alignment
Note: I said pistol shooting core basics, which means the absolute core of your basics. Above this, there are other “basics” (meta-basics) that you will need to add and build upon prior to you considering the higher level skills, like strategy, etc.
During the recent NRA convention, I was fortunate to have the time to listen to a few shooting pros talk. Nearly every one of them put the grip as the most basic of skills in pistol shooting. That said, all of them also made it clear that the grip is the most personal, you-have-to-make-work-for-you part of shooting. All of them had some common pointers about the grip, as well as sharing some common that’s-probably-not-a-great-idea about a good grip. But do not forget that Top Shot Season 4 winner, Chris Cheng, used a cup and saucer grip (which all pros feel is a no-no) and won the season with this shooting style.
A few pointers to consider:
- Your strong hand should hold the gun with a firm grip but not overly forceful – like giving someone a friendly handshake. A lot of pros say to add an extra 25% stronger squeeze to your firm handshake when you grip your pistol.
- Do not curl your strong hand thumb around the frame and/or modify your weak hand grip – the gun will be loose in your hand if you do! Your weak hand needs good thumb-pad-to-high-frame contact.
- Your weak hand should attempt to engage the thumb pad against the weak hand side of the frame, high up near the slide – that is the ideal weak side control point.
- Your strong hand should be as high up as possible on the back of the frame without the slide biting into the hand. A beaver tail backstrap will help solidify this position.
Trigger Finger Position
This “basic” is one that is often overstated and understated simultaneously. Ultimately, incorrect finger position on the trigger will pull or push the gun as you engage the trigger, resulting in moving the sights off of the target during the firing process.
I have often been taught to use the least amount and the furthest amount to the end of my finger on the trigger. Also, I have been taught that the trigger should be in the crease of my first joint.
Both are wrong!
Here are helpful tips for finding and ensuring the correct finger position on the trigger:
- Understand every trigger/gun may have a different trigger finger position.
- Take an unloaded gun, grip the gun as you plan on shooting it, and pull the trigger while watching the sights. Do this multiple times while moving your finger around on the trigger until you see the least movement or jerk in the sights as you engage the trigger – this is your best trigger position for that gun/trigger.
- Whenever you have the time, grip the pistol (after ensuring it is cleared and safe), repeatedly take your finger off of the trigger, then put it back on the trigger ensuring the finger is in the proper position. Finally, randomly pull the trigger and ensure that the position is correct.
Sight alignment is an often misunderstood term. Because good shooting practices stress the focus to be on the front sight, many people mistake “front sight focus” for sight alignment. In fact, good sight alignment is a perfect combination of:
- front sight focus
- rear sight alignment with front sight
- sight picture (front/rear sight alignment along with the defocused centering on the target)
When “sight alignment” is correct, a shooter knows the moment when the trigger breaks, where the shot will hit.
A few tips about sight alignment:
- From a “ready” position (gun drawn at center of chest), look at your target while pushing your gun out to the normal shooting position and bring the gun up to your eyes (not head down to the gun!!). As it moves into its final position, change the focus to the front sight and sight alignment. Repeat this exercise under safe conditions in order to train your eye to move from target-> front sight -> sight alignment.
- Different front sights can change the shooter’s perspective of the front sight. For instance, I once moved from a fairly fine fiber optic red dot to a medium-sized tritium white dot. My eye wanted to center the white dot as I did with the red dot. Centering the white dot raised my actual front sight alignment causing me to shoot high. If you have the proper front sight height, the proper alignment is at the top of the front sight blade – not the dot!
- If you are struggling with your alignment, you may need corrective lenses or your weak side eye may be more dominant than the strong side. Here is a link to help determine your dominant eye.
- If you do not need corrective lenses or have a weak side dominant eye issue, and you are still shooting consistently high or low (not erratic or left/right), then you may have a front sight that is at an improper height. Use this calculator from Dawson Precision to help you figure that out.
Over the course of my shooting, this subject alone has been one of near religion! Whether you learned (or are a fan of) squaring up, isosceles, weaver (or whatever stance), the “truth” I have learned about a shooter’s stance is simple: It’s Your Stance And It Has To Work For You!
Given this, here are some concepts I try to incorporate into finding my proper stance:
- If you would not fight in it, then it probably needs to be changed. A good shooting stance is nearly identical to a good fighting stance.
- Your hips need to be able to rotate and move quickly to address targets.
- Your feet need to be in active positions with your weight forward toward the toes for mobility.
- You need to support a “natural point of aim”, meaning as you raise your gun it goes to the place you want it to go.
Recently, as I have moved away from the traditions of “religions” and “commandments” related to stances and have opened up to modifying my own stance to meet my needs, I have found my speed, movement and alignment to the targets to be more efficient and stable.
Shooting, well, is a complex task. Ensuring that the core basics are solid will allow a shooter to develop their meta-basic skills more effectively. We hope in this article we have provided some knowledge that can help shooters of all levels explore and improve these core basics.