If you spend any amount of time online trying to pick up tips from shooting professionals, you’ve probably already realized that—when it comes to shooting techniques—everyone tweaks their style to a method that matches their preferences. It can be difficult for amateur shooters to land on what exactly works and what they can do to improve. This page is designed to help you take your shooting skills to the next level.
When it comes to shooting a handgun, there are three widely accepted shooting stances. We'll go through the proper form for each of them here, so that you can pick and practice the one that suits your shooting style.
The isosceles stance is a tried and true shooting stance that is characterized by standing square to the target with your feet approximately shoulder width apart. As with the other shooting stances, you'll want your knees to be slightly flexed and the upper-half of your body to be leaning slightly toward the target. Your arms should be fully extended without locking your elbows.
The fighting stance, sometimes called a modified weaver, is a shooting position where you drop your firing-side leg back slightly from a square position, approximately at the instep of the support foot. Once again, you'll bend your knees slightly and lean into your shots. Firing from this position eliminates the stability issues associated with the isosceles stance, while still allowing you to stand relatively square to your target.
World champion competitive shooters can shoot blazingly fast and still hit their targets, but they didn’t get to that point overnight. Take your time, and make sure you keep the fundamentals top of mind. Don’t forget to have a firm grip, a good stance and smooth trigger pull. When you master the basics, you’ll improve your accuracy and build speed over time.
Your grip is without a doubt the most important part of your shooting form when it comes to controlling recoil and muzzle flip, but it's amazing how few shooters take the time to perfect this crucial element. In order to ensure your shots land on target, shooters need to hold their pistol as high as possible without touching or interfering with the slide. By doing this, you limit barrel rotation and make landing follow-up shots on target that much easier.
Next, you'll want to place the thumb of your supporting hand on the frame of your pistol, parallel to the slide but, once again, avoiding any actual contact with it. From here, you'll wrap your supporting fingers around those of your firing hand and apply slight pressure. This will help to avoid flinching or pushing your sights off target as you pull the trigger. You'll also want to make sure that the thumb of your firing hand does not interfere with the slide lock, as this would prevent the slide from locking open after emptying the magazine.
The trick to a successful trigger pull is to place the trigger between the pad of your pointer finger and its first knuckle. This will help you to pull the trigger straight back, without pushing your shots left or right of your target.
Maybe it sounds clichéd and incredibly obvious, but practice makes perfect. If you want to up your game, you need to practice consistently and make corrections to your technique when necessary. If you feel like your progress has plateaued, consider some new drills or ask a fellow shooting buddy to watch you go through a couple mags and see if he or she picks up on something you’re not. You need to constantly practice the correct fundamentals. As one aspect improves, another may start to deteriorate and may need to be worked on.
The 5 and 5 drill is designed to improve your reload speed—which can save your life in a self-defense scenario and help shave time in a competition setting. Simply put, the drill has the shooter empty five rounds out of their magazine, reload, then shoot five more rounds from the new magazine. The guys over at USCCA give an excellent demonstration of this drill in this video:
The square is a classic drill designed to prepare the shooter to reposition quickly, while putting shots on target and maintaining accuracy. Arrange four cones in a square with five yards on each side. Set up three targets at approximately ten yards. Start in a corner and work your way around the square, firing 2 shots at each target from each corner.
The Bill Drill is all about rhythm and accuracy. Fire six consecutive rounds at your target's center mass with a steady rhythm. This drill is intended to help shooters with recoil management, sight acquisition and shot-to-shot placement. Check out this video with Armscor's JJ Racaza practicing the Bill Drill at the range:
Ultimately, the combination of hand size, gun and reload preference is unique to everyone. For shooters with smaller hands, reloading a magazine following some of the more traditional methods may prove to be difficult, especially in high-pressure situations. Armscor’s own Athena Lee demonstrates an alternative method below:
This drill is incredibly simple, but difficult for a number of shooters. The Headshot Drill conditions shooters to avoid jerks and flinches. Set up one target at 20 yards, take aim, and place five consecutive headshots. Advanced shooters can combine this drill with the 5 and 5 for added difficulty.
Whether you’re training for competition or preparing for self-defense, it’s important to be able to manage multiple targets in a given situation without losing your head. Armscor pro JJ Racaza explains the transition process in this video:
How people use guns at their local range isn’t necessarily the way they would be best-served in a defensive scenario. You don't have the luxury of casually checking your targets after every five rounds or slowly swapping out magazines. While you won’t be able to perfectly replicate a self-defense scenario at the range, you should spend time practicing with a sense of urgency or pressure. Work on building up the speed of your draw, follow-up shots and target transitions. Consider using a shot timer to measure your performance and set goals. Also consider firing from different positions, such as behind cover, crouched or on your back (assuming you’re at a shooting location that permits this).
Another route to consider in honing your defensive pistol skills is to find a defensive shooting course with professional instructors. If you have the basics, firearm safety and fundamental techniques all down, then more advanced classes geared toward shooting defensively could prove valuable. They can also be great for learning how to defend yourself with a pistol in different scenarios, such as road rage incidents or a variety of home-invasion situations.
If a home invasion happens at night, are you ready? Waking up in the middle of the night, half-asleep and stumbling around doesn’t make for great defensive technique—especially when all your lights are off. Have your defense pistol equipped with night sights and flashlight. Think about how you can position yourself to be obscured in darkness when turning on the lights on the intruder.
Over-penetration is a common concern with self-defense shooting. Expanding rounds are typically advised for self-defense ammunition due to less penetrating power. Consider hollow-point or soft-point rounds, as opposed to full-metal jackets, when looking for defensive ammo.
When you practice your defensive shooting, you should also prepare to grapple with situations when things go wrong. Just because your ammo hasn’t stovepiped or a primer hasn’t failed in your range outing doesn’t mean it can’t or won’t happen when you least want it to.
It goes without saying that, when engaging a threat, you would ideally be shooting from behind some sort of cover to protect yourself from harm. However, most people don’t know how to use barricade cover properly—which could leave them over-exposed in a self-defense scenario. JJ Racaza is back at the range to demonstrate how to safely and effectively shoot from behind cover:
The unfortunate truth of self-defense shooting is that you don’t always have time to aim for bullseye accuracy. Sometimes, threats need to be stopped as soon as possible and, in those situations, shooters must rely on natural point of aim.
When dealing with multiple threats in a self-defense situation, it can be difficult to determine how to efficiently stop the threats without exposing yourself to greater danger unnecessarily. In this drill video, JJ Racaza uses natural point of aim to quickly take down three separate targets:
When preparing to practice via dry-fire, the importance of clearing your gun of live ammunition cannot be overstated. Start by removing your magazine. Then lock your slide back and, with the gun pointed away from yourself and anything you don't want damaged, look from behind the gun into the chamber through the ejection port. Once you've visually confirmed that the chamber is empty, you can use your finger to physically confirm that there is not a live round present.
Dry-fire drills can take on many different forms. For some, practicing aiming at different targets around their house from a holstered position helps them to lock in their muscle memory. For others, taking aim at the same target over and over again, sometimes with their eyes closed, is the ideal way to maintain a consistent shooting position that makes their gun feel like an extension of their arm. Some people even make use of laser rounds and targets to test their accuracy when dry-firing. Looking for a set of drills to get you started? Check out this dry-fire training video from our friends at Tactical Rifleman:
While some shooters seem to think that the point of practicing is to blindly blast rounds down range at paper targets, this is not the most cost-effective way to perfect your skills. Dry-firing, in addition to being an inexpensive method of practice, is a great way to develop your skills without the jarring bang and muzzle flip associated with firing live rounds. With dry-firing, you can practice a smooth, steady trigger squeeze, muscle memory on the draw from your holster and the perfect sight picture—all in the comfort of your own home. Once you've mastered these skills while dry-firing, they'll become second nature when there's live ammo involved, and all other elements will become easier to correct with each shot.
Regardless of whether you’re training for competition shooting or preparing for a self-defense scenario, having the proper techniques come as second nature is critical for performing effectively under pressure. It’s easy to be hard on yourself if you’re always comparing your performance to others. You can certainly pull away pointers from experienced shooters, but don’t give up if you’re not making the same shots as them. Everyone progresses at a different rate and practices with varying degrees of enthusiasm for the sport. So, the next time you’re at a range and you feel less than adequate, don’t let it get to your head. Just analyze each of the elements referenced on this page, and take them all into consideration next time you set up to practice—you will be far more prepared to shoot your gun under pressure.