Table of Contents
Accuracy is not a fine or detailed characteristic of every person. In various facets we need accuracy. One I can think of is mathematics. When you are not accurate with your calculations and/ or figures, everything else is wrong, for a Quantity Surveyor it could have devastating consequences. But not just in that trade, what about the football player who shoots for goal in the dying seconds of the game to get his/her team to win the World Cup shooting over the opponent’s goal post with an inaccurate shot?
In a previous guideline I dealt with “Specific Rules for Firearm Handling.” That being said, it’s often one of the important ingredients to shoot more accurately. Most of us came across a novice who starts to shoot at a target for the very first time. I suppose that’s how most of us started. Then, there are those who had the privilege of handling a firearm on the farm at an early age. Nevertheless, they also started somewhere. Shooting pistols is actually pretty hard!
At the beginning of my shooting experience, I had a lot of sympathy with some of my colleagues who struggled with one of the simplest basics namely, breathing. Such an exercise can become a stressful situation! Now I’m not some professional competitive shooter or instructor, but take that as a positive…I still remember how it felt when I couldn’t hit anything, in the army of all places, and the differences each tip/exercise made in my development. I later became an Infantry Instructor and lectured amongst others, musketry.
A handgun is the most difficult of firearms to shoot well with which is regarded as a fact. There’s a shorter radius between the front and rear sight than with a rifle. It means a greater unnoticed human error factor in aiming. You don’t have that third locking point on the shoulder that you have with a rifle’s butt stock. And few handguns have the inherent mechanical accuracy of a good rifle. 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. Is it really that simple? There are basic principles which need to be followed and subsequently, those principles, well-coordinated, become second nature. We need a few building blocks to construct this perfect shot. The purpose of this guideline is to take you through a building phase step by step to meet the accuracy of firearm shooting. It’s going to take you a while, but let’s get started in making you a more accurate pistol and rifle shot beginning with fundamentals.
THE “POWER STANCE”
1.1. Some of you might scoff at the idea that how you stand has anything to do with how you shoot.
1.2. Think of it as the foundation of everything. If you have a wobbly base, chances are it doesn’t take much to mess up whatever is on top. And loud explosions and recoil have a way of messing stuff up.
1.3. The main thing is to have a stable/comfortable stance that tilts you a little forward to manage recoil.
1.4. Stance is the one thing I’m likely to have to correct first, even when teaching the experienced shooter.
1.5. 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.
1.6. If the feet are squared off parallel, the body does not have good front to back balance, and the shots will tend to miss high or low, most commonly the latter.
1.7. You want to be in a fighter’s stance, a boxer’s stance, what a karate practitioner would call a “front stance.”
1.8. 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-à-vis the target, with your left leg to the rear.
1.9. 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.
1.10. Now you’re balanced forward and balanced back, balanced left and balanced right. It’ll be easier to hold the gun on target.
1.11. In rapid fire, the shoulders want to be forward. This will get body weight in behind the gun and help control recoil.
1.12. 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.
1.13. This not only slows down your rate of sustained fire, but subconsciously, the more the muzzle jumps at the last shot, the more likely you are to jerk the trigger on the next one.
1.14. Personally, I use the power stance with the shoulders at least slightly forward even in slow fire.
2.1. The first piece of advice I received about handgun grip was from one of the instructors in the army. He asked me to grip his hand with the same strength I planned on gripping my 9mm pistol at the time. I gave him a nice firm handshake while he proceeded to crush my hand.
2.2. It is expected that you grip as hard as you can. However the grip should not be to the extent that you have tremors.
2.3. A crushing grip on the gun reduces the movement of your non-trigger-fingers, which is a good thing.
2.4. How you hold the gun also has a huge effect on your accuracy.
2.5. You want the web between your trigger finger and thumb to rest as high as possible on the grip. This helps contain the recoil of the slide moving back and forth.
2.6. A low grip would cause the gun to do a lot more flipping. So, you’ll want to almost jam your hand/web into the back strap to get a high grip.
2.7. Because there’s this piece of metal moving back and forth, you want your forearm in line with the gun to absorb more recoil.
2.8. There will be a temptation to first hold the handgun at a slight angle since it feels more natural…but resist!
2.9. Now that you’ve got your shooting hand grip correct, let’s take a look at the empty space for your non-dominant hand.
2.10. You want to fill it up completely with the other hand so you maximize grip. There must be a 45-degree angle between your left hand and the handgun slide.
2.11. Thumb placement of your dominant hand is personal preference. Your handgun grip thumb up, you’ll see both up in the air or pointed towards the target.
2.12. With the handgun grip thumb down experiment to see what you like or just go with what feels more natural. The non-dominant thumb will run along the frame.
2.13. Although it might feel a little weird at first, set your wrist at an angle when you punch out both your arms.
2.14. This keeps everything steady and helps prevent limp wristing meaning; floppy wrists that don’t allow proper ejection and loading of the next round.
HIGH HAND GRASP
2.2.1. With a double action revolver, you want the web of your hand all the way up to the rear edge of the back strap.
2.2.2. With a single action frontier-style revolver with the plow-handle shape grip, you still want a high hand grasp.
2.2.3. On a semiautomatic pistol, you want the web of the hand so high that a ripple of flesh is seen to bunch up behind the back strap of the grip at the top edge, where the grip safety would be on a pistol.
2.2.4. The higher the hand, the lower the bore axis. This means much better control of muzzle jump and less movement of the pistol upon recoil.
2.2.5. Since most handguns, particularly semi automatics, are designed to be shot this way, it means that you will find it easier to press the trigger straight back as you make each shot.
2.2.6. If your hand is too low on the “handle,” a straight rearward pressure on the trigger will tend to pull the muzzle down, placing the shot low.
2.2.7. With a proper high hand grip on an auto pistol such as a.45, you’ll see this ‘ripple of flesh’ behind the grip tang.
2.2.8. A semi-auto is designed to operate as the slide moves against the abutment of a firmly held frame. A low grasp allows the muzzle to whipsaw upward from recoil as the mechanism is automatically cycling, diverting momentum from the slide through the frame.
2.2.9. Now the slide can run out of momentum before it has completed its work. This is why holding a pistol too low can cause it to jam.
2.2.10. All these problems are cured with the high hand grasp.
2.3.1. With reference to a hard grip I’m specifically talking about powerful defensive handguns and hard-kicking Magnums and large calibers used for outdoor sports such as hunting. The harder we hold them, the less they kick and jump. The less they kick and jump, the more efficiently we can shoot them.
2.3.2. How hard do you hold the handgun? It was once advised to intensify your grip until tremors set in, and then back off until they stopped. In the real world, under stress, there’s going to be some tremor anyway. Get used to it now. Hold the gun as tightly as you can and let it tremor.
2.3.3. The key is this: keep the sights straight in line. If the sights are in line, and the hand is quivering, the sights will quiver in the center of the target. When the shot breaks, the bullet will strike the center of the target.
2.3.4. Once it has been center-punched, the target will neither know nor care that the launcher was quivering before the projectile took flight.
2.3.5. Any marksmanship expert will tell you that consistency of grasp is a key to consistent accuracy.
2.3.6. One is to hold it with virtually no pressure at all. This will give you poor control of recoil.
2.3.7. The other is to hold it as hard as you can, for each shot and every shot.
2.3.8. The hard hold has some other benefits. If you have accustomed yourself to always hold a pistol with maximum grip strength, you are much less likely to ever have it knocked or snatched from your hand.
2.3.9. Imagine yourself holding a pistol, and grasp it with relaxed fingers – and notice that when you “press the trigger,” the other fingers close reflexively. This is called “milking,” and is conducive to bad shots.
2.3.10. The cure is to grasp firmly with everything but the trigger finger. Now, when the trigger finger is flexed, the other fingers can’t sympathetically close, because they’re already closed as tight as they can get.
2.3.11. Do this simple exercise. Relax your hand, and pretend to be holding a handgun. Now, move the index finger as if rapidly firing a handgun with a heavy trigger pull. You will see the other fingers reflexively contracting along with it. You have just seen and experienced milking in action.
2.3.12. Now do the same, but this time with all but the index finger closed as tightly as you can hold them. As you run the index finger, you’ll feel the tendons trying to tighten the grasp of the other fingers, but you’ll see that they actually can’t. That’s because the tight grip has already hyper flexed the fingers, and they can’t tighten any more. The milking action has now been eliminated.
2.3.13. With the trigger finger contact, old time marksmen liked the very tip of the finger, on the theory that it offered more sensitivity. With a handgun that has a very light trigger pull, there may be some validity to that. Still others use the pad of the finger, which is basically the point at which you find the whorl of the fingerprint.
3.1. The front sight is centered in the notch of the rear sight. The top of the front sight is level with the top of the rear sight, and there is an equal amount of light on either side.
3.2. You can’t focus on the sights and the target at the same time. Actually, you can’t focus on both the front and the rear sight at the same time, either.
3.3. Once the target has been identified as something you need to shoot, you no longer need your primary visual focus on it.
3.4. Primary focus now goes to the aiming indicator, the front sight.
3.5. With a slide mounted safety as on S&W Model 457 compact .45, this grasp, with thumb at an upward angle is preferred to guarantee release of safety catch.
3.6. Failing to properly focus on the front sight is a widespread problem among shooters.
3.7. Watch the front sight hard. Apply your primary visual focus there. Look at it until you can see every little scratch in the machining on its surface. If it has a dot on it, focus on it until the dot looks like a soccer ball. Then you, too, will experience the epiphany of the front sight, and will see your shot groups tighten as if by magic.
4.1. It can be regarded as the most important part of everything, and what dry-firing practice is all about below.
4.2. The best advice is to squeeze super slowly that you’re almost surprised when the shot breaks. Never pull a trigger as this will cause movement of your gun, muzzle up or down.
4.3. It can also result in jerking the trigger and sending the shot off. The slower you pull the better your shot will be.
4.4. The trigger finger position is a personal preference and something to do with your finger length too. But I would suggest somewhere between the top quarter of your fingertip to before the first joint crease.
4.5. Keep in mind that the ideal pull/squeeze would be completely straight back with nothing else moving except the first two joints of your trigger finger. Take a look at your gun and fingers to see what looks/feels the best.
5.1. Breath goes hand in hand with the trigger pull. It is one thing a lot of shooters have a problem with and forget to do when they shoot.
5.2. Holding in your breath is a very difficult challenge but, after a while and so, just try to breathe naturally. The guideline specifically focuses on pistol shooting, not sniping 1,000-metres, so you don’t have to plan your breaths and heartbeats.
Conway Evertson is a former Director of Community Safety, a Senior Lecturer (Criminal Justice), Forensic Expert (SAPS), Head Investigations (IPID) and an Infantry Instructor (SADF).