Learn how to correct these top six pistol shooting errors both new and, sometimes, experienced shooters commit in our insightful guide!
In this article:
A Guide to Fixing the Top Pistol Shooting Errors: Episode 1
Error 1: Anticipation
If you shoot with your right hand, are your shots consistently landing low and left of the bullseye? If you’re left-handed, are your shots going low and right, or are they just landing a bit low, even though you know your sights are on?
It has happened to all of us at one time or another — anticipation is, by far, the most common shooting error.
The cause: Anticipation, often called flinching, causes the low, and left or right hits phenomenon. The cause is the shooter anticipating the noise and motion of recoil just before it happens.
A similar problem, what I call “attacking” the trigger, or pressing it too hard and fast, can also be the cause of shots going low — though there is another we will cover in the next installation.
The fix: There are many methods of addressing anticipation and trigger mashing. For me, the secret to fixing the problem is getting a good feel of it.
If you’re teaching yourself or training with an equally or less-skilled pal, here are some ways to fix the issue:
- Dry fire with an empty case. Be sure to unload the firearm with the slide closed. Get in position to shoot, sights on target, safety off. Have a buddy balance a spent shell casing on top of your front sight. Press the trigger until it clicks, such that the casing stays put. If your sighting is slanted and won’t balance the case, put it as far forward on the slide as you can. It’s not quite as effective, but if you’re a major masher, this will still be a challenge.
A dime works, but not quite as well, for this drill if you’re practicing at home. Of course, you’ll need to reset your slide between every trigger press.
- Ball and dummy drill. Invest in a snap cap or two, available at most shooting supply stores. Snap caps are dummy rounds for dry firing. Plain plastic dummy rounds, with no metal “primer” in the base, are okay for occasional practice, but watch out for deterioration and always inspect the barrel after using them.
Load up, or better yet, have a buddy load up, a magazine that alternates real and dummy rounds at intervals you don’t know. Load up and start shooting.
The idea here is, especially for people who don’t understand what they’re doing when they anticipate, that closing of eyes, clenching of the jaw, and slight lurch forward suddenly isn’t rewarded with recoil.
For shooters willing and able to connect the dots between the dummy and real firing, they’ll self-adjust to maintaining stance during the shot. Consider making your own pistol shooting errors diagram to put a mark on mistakes you need to work on.
This drill does involve knowing how to clear malfunctions and as such is free practice for that, as well.
- Finger flows like water. Yeah, it sounds weird. But for some folks, simply thinking of the trigger press being like water flowing over a rock in a gentle brook, with the moment of firing being just the rock, is the secret to mastering trigger press as a steady, single-speed motion while firing is, as I often say, the gun’s job. Your job is to deliver a steady press of the trigger.
Error 2: Pistol Shooting Grip
Control of recoil begins when you pick up or draw the pistol. A grip is, above all else, the recoil management system.
Keep the web of your firing hand as high as reasonably possible on the backstrap, close your fingers around the grip. Of course, your trigger finger is straight and resting at home base, on the frame.
Close the fingers of your non-firing hand around your other hand, be sure you feel direct contact with the trigger guard above your index finger. Keeping your fingers next to one another, not spread out, nestle the bottom joint of your support-hand thumb into the cradle created by the bottom joint of your firing thumb.
When done correctly, the thumbs will both point in the direction of the target and be nested together like spoons. Don’t stack the heels of your hands on one another; the support hand’s heel will be in front of the firing hand.
You want as little of the gun’s grip exposed as possible.
Many people like to hook the index finger of the support hand around the front of the trigger guard. It’s not a fatal flaw, but it will induce uneven lateral pressure on the muzzle.
In other words, it makes you less accurate, especially as distance increases.
Regardless of the stance you use, it’s helpful to think of pushing forward with the firing hand and pulling straight back, towards your sternum, with the support hand. If you want to bend the support side elbow, fine, but let it fall naturally in front of your body, not out to the side.
Error 3: Pistol Shooting Stance
Leaning away from the gun is another pistol shooting mistake. Shooting and basketball are two of the few pursuits demanding that players carry weight on the balls of their feet, not the heels, for an effective stance.
Except for the largest humans, the stance is also part of recoil management and a forward-oriented one will serve you well when firing multiple shots.
If you’re squared off facing the target, bend forward at the hip so your shoulders are over your toes. If you’re quartered away using the so-called Weaver stance, put your weight into the front of the foot closest to the target.
In either stance, keep your feet at least shoulder width apart.
The larger the caliber and/or the lighter the shooter, the more important leaning into the gun is. Sooner or later, recoil catches up with everyone’s size, so this is good advice for all shooters.
I believe this is also a psychological advantage. “Leaning into the gun” encourages confidence and increases your control over recoil, not to mention, protects your spine, too.
If you’re practicing for shooting in self-defense, the rearward lean telegraphs insecurity, whereas a forward lean indicates assertion. Make your body language work in your favor in practice, even though a defensive situation isn’t likely to lend itself to a perfect stance.
Correcting pistol shooting errors such as leaning away from the gun is pretty much straightforward.
Learn how to get a better shot with a pistol using these pistol shooting tips from this NSSF video:
Nobody’s perfect, and we can all improve! Pistol shooting is quite simple, but improving it can be a challenge, especially if you’re working without a qualified instructor.
Get to the range, or at least dry fire at home using these techniques. If you must dry fire, having a training partner to push you backward with a thrust to the front of your grip is a decent simulation of recoil.
In our next article, we’ll address three more pistol shooting target errors for the DIY shooter’s improvement.
If you've tried the techniques and have questions, please post them below—with pictures if you like. I’ll try and remotely address what I can see, based on the information you provide.
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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on August 1, 2016, and has been updated for quality and relevancy.