Friedman & Associates
Defensive Handgun Training & Education
FUNDAMENTALS OF SHOOTING
Aiming a gun to have bullets hit a target where you intend is not as simple as it sounds. There are numerous components that enter into that equation:
- The quality of the gun and length of the barrel.
- The quality of the ammunition and type.
- The weight of the bullet.
- The distance the bullet must travel to the target.
- The type of sights on the gun.
- The eyesight of the shooter, especially with prescription lenses and the type.
- The use of prescription “Progressive” lenses – no lines defining the prescriptions.
- The grip used by the shooter.
- The stance or sitting position of the shooter.
- The breath control of the shooter.
- Exterior distractions to the shooter.
Quality of the Gun and Length of the Barrel
The quality of the gun is critical in shooting accuracy. Obviously, a well-engineered and finely-crafted gun will be far more accurate than a cheaper clone. A Colt Single-six will be more accurate than a foreign clone. A SIG pistol will be far more accurate than a foreign knock-off. A Smith & Wesson revolver will be far more accurate than a foreign knock-off. It’s that simple – you usually get what you pay for. Don’t buy cheap guns! Wait till you can buy a great one! Many used guns are better value than cheap new ones too! (Review the inspection procedures for used guns on this website!)
The length of the barrel makes a big difference in the accuracy of a gun. The longer the barrel the more accurate the shot. The length of the barrel may be dictated by the gun’s use however. The ideal length is six inches. Next would be four inches. Last would be two inches, a “snubby”. However, a snubby will not have adjustable sights and its real operational distance is limited to about twenty feet accurately. Snubbies also are very difficult to handle as they are made specifically for law enforcement back-up in emergencies or concealment. Most law enforcement duty guns have four inch barrels or slightly longer, but not six inches.
Most four and six inch barrel guns have adjustable rear sights, which is what you want. Most semi-autos however, do not have adjustable sights, which is something to consider when purchasing a gun. DON’T buy cheap semi-auto magazines! Buy factory magazines offered by the gun manufacturer.
The Quality of the Ammunition and Type
There is a big difference between ammunition cartridges from differing manufacturers. Buy the best you can afford from quality manufacturers, and be careful of foreign manufactured ammo. DON’T buy Chinese ammo! (See article on this website!) DON’T buy reloads unless they have been remanufactured by reputable sources who also supply new ammo. If you buy reloads, make sure they are first-run reloads and have not been reloaded several times. There also is a huge price difference between target ammo and self-defense ammo such as jacketed hollowpoints (“JHP”). These are really expensive for target shooting! Practice with target loads and then load the JHPs when you get home.
There are different levels of accuracy in bullet calibers. For example, .357, 9MM, and .45ACP are more accurate than .40S&W. The .40S&W was developed for law enforcement to bridge the gap between the 9MM and the .45ACP. It has more stopping power than the 9MM, but less than the .45ACP. It is lighter than the .45ACP allowing law enforcement to carry more. If you want stopping power, buy a .45ACP like a 1911 or a SIG P220. If you are a good shot, buy a good 9MM like a SIG SP2022 or a SIG P229. The SP2022 has a polymer frame while the P229 is heavier with an alloy-metal frame, but not by much. The SP2022 costs about 40% less than the P229. They are both very fine and infinitely reliable guns. It really boils down to whether or not you are a good shot! My Deputy Sheriff partner many years ago was killed with two .22 Long Rifle hollowpoints to his chest from thirty feet away. Hit in the right spot, it doesn’t make a big difference with what you’re hit!
With respect to ammo cost, 9MM will be the cheapest because there is so much of it in production. .45ACP and .357 will be the most expensive, especially in JHP.
The Weight of the Bullet
The weight of the bullet impacts accuracy since it is subject to gravity. The longer the distance the bullet travels between the gun and the target, the greater the trajectory and the more sighting compensation required. For example, 9MM is nominally a 115 grain bullet fully-jacketed, not a hollowpoint. However, you can either purchase or reload lighter or heavier bullets depending upon your intended use. If you buy a heavier bullet you will have greater stopping power, but it won’t travel as true as the 115 grain. A lighter bullet will travel truer over distance, but will have less stopping power. You can see how the weight of a bullet impacts where it might hit on a target. If your sights are set for the bullseye at ten yards, if you increase the distance to twentyfive yards, you will have to either aim higher or readjust your sights to compensate. The same example holds true for differing bullet weights at the same distance. Here are the different cartridges,
Jacketed Hollowpoints above.
Jacketed round nose above.
Cartridges in calibers from .22LR on the right end to the .357 on the left. The short widest one is .45ACP. (“ACP” = Automatic Colt Pistol) You can imagine the stopping power of the .45ACP versus the .22LR.
Before you start shooting at targets you need to discover which of your eyes is the dominant eye? There is a simple test.
- Extend both hands forward of your body and place the hands together making a small triangle (approximately 1/2 to 3/4 inch per side) between your thumbs and the first knuckle.
- With both eyes open, look through the triangle and center something such as a doorknob or the bullseye of a target in the triangle.
- Close your left eye. If the object remains in view, you are right eye dominant. If your hands appear to move off the object and move to the left, then you are left eye dominant.
- To validate the first test, look through the triangle and center the object again with both eyes open.
- Close your right eye. If the object remains in view, you are left eye dominant. If your hands appear to move off the object and move to the right, then you are right eye dominant.
One more alternative method is to assume the same position with your hands forming the triangle around the object and have both eyes open. Now, slowly bring your hands toward your face while continuing to look at the object with both eyes open. When your hands touch your face, the triangle opening should be in front of your dominant eye.
Repeat the above tests a number of times to satisfy yourself that you are sure which eye is your dominant eye.
If you discover you are cross-dominant between your dominant eye and dominant hand, you can shoot with your dominant hand and bend your head over the gun to sight with your dominant eye.
The best solution is to learn to shoot with BOTH eyes open! It takes practice and discipline, but you can do it and it will make you a better shot!
The Eyesight of the Shooter
Forty years ago shooters with prescription lenses were easy to train as there were only single-vision, bi-focal, and tri-focal lenses. Now there are “Progressive” lenses that have no defined differences in the prescription grind. Progressive lenses are near worthless for target shooting! If YOU wear Progressive lenses you are already aware of the tunnel vision resulting from them. You have blurred peripheral vision. When driving, you must turn your head to view the rearview mirror in focus, and probably raise and lower your head to find the optimum focus point. You can always tell shooters with Progressive lenses at the range because they are bobbing their heads up and down with each shot trying to find their focus on the front sight!
The necessary aim point when shooting is the FRONT SIGHT! The optimum sight picture is when the front sight is in perfect focus, with the rear sight and bullseye slightly blurred as shown in the following picture.
This is the perfect sight picture you should see! The target bullseye is slightly blurred, the rear sight is slightly blurred, but the front sight, where the bullet exits the gun, is in complete focus. In most circumstances the distance from your eye to the front sight is defined optically as the “mid-range” for prescription purposes. If you wear bi-focals or tri-focals that incorporate a mid-range prescription, you are in-like-Flynn! If not, you need to obtain single-vision, mid-range glasses for target shooting. If you wear contact lenses you also need single-vision, mid-range glasses for target shooting. Contact lenses are not much better than Progressive lenses. Optimally, measure the distance from your dominant eye to the front sight of a gun held in the Isosceles stance, which should be about two feet. You need glasses that will provide critical focus of the front sight at that distance – it’s that simple. Again, your final sight picture should replicate the sight picture shown above. The actual sights installed on the gun are critical as well.
Here are examples of sights alignment:
Sight alignment center 6 O'Clock and Center
Good sight alignment focuses on center dot,
front sight centered on target.
Displacements of the bullet when there is angular shift ERROR in the alignment of the front sight.
Focus on even alignment across the top with mane focus on Center Bar.
Remember what should be in focus is the (Center Dot or Bar), not the Rear Sights or the Target.
(Back to Top)
There are numerous types of sights that can be fitted to handguns. You should try to use each one if you can to see which suits you best. There are also sights designed to be used in low light or in complete darkness.
Here are examples of sights:
Example above of night sight on front sight.
Example above of standard revolver front blade and rear sight notch.
Example above of standard rear sight notch on semi-auto pistols.
Example above of 3-dot front and rear sights on semi-auto pistol.
Example above of semi-auto V-notch rear sight.
Example above of semi-auto rear sight notch.
Example above of installed front and rear 3-dot night sights on semi-auto pistol.
Example above of 3-dot front and rear sights properly aligned.
In the end it is up to the shooter to decide which type of sights work best for them. On revolvers always try to purchase guns with adjustable rear sights. (See Purchasing Handguns on this website!) On semi-auto pistols, most do not have adjustable rear sights except the most expensive ones. However, the front and rear sights are replaceable and the rear sights are usually adjustable side-to-side for windage. Some pistols, like the SIG .22 Mosquito come with three owner-replaceable front sights in different heights! The gun owner can alternate between them depending upon the .22 ammo in use.
Most pistols can have their sights replaced with “night sights” that glow in complete darkness. However, if you can see the sights in the dark, so can the bad guys!
In any case, have sights installed that you can see and use! Many shooters also use enamel paint on their sights to increase the visibility such as painting the ramp on the front sight to better align it in the rear sight notch. Others also outline the rear sight notch with a different color making a “U” like the factory rear sight on Glocks. Do whatever works for you!
Analyzing Target Shots (See Breath Control!)
Every day of the shooter's life brings a new lesson. Identifying errors are crucial in order that these lessons be learned. The following chart can help pinpoint such basic flaws in a shooter's technique by analyzing group locations. As printed, it is for a right-handed shooter. (A left-hander's chart would be mirrored horizontally.)
There are 10 bad habits that affect accuracy:
- Not Looking at the Sights. This frequently is called "looking at the target." A shooter may be focusing his eye on neither the sights nor the target, but since he does not see the target in clear focus he assumes he is looking at the sights. You must concentrate on sight alignment.
- Holding Too Long. Any adverse conditions that interrupt a shooter's ability to "hold" will cause him to delay his squeeze, waiting for conditions to get better. You will do it unconsciously; therefore, you must continuously ask yourself, am I waiting too long to shoot?
- Improper Grip or Position. You cannot fire accurately with any gun at any range if you continually change your grip or position.
- Jerk or Heel. The application of pressure either with the trigger finger alone or pushing with the heel of the hand at the same time. Apply pressure to the trigger straight to the rear and wait for the shot to break.
- Anticipation. Anticipation can cause muscular reflexes that coincide with recoil that extreme difficulty is experienced in making an accurate shot. Anticipation is also causes flinching.
- Loss of Concentration. If the shooter fails to apply positive pressure on the trigger while concentrating on the front sight he should rest and start over.
- Anxiety. You work on a shot, building up in your mind doubt about the shot being good. Finally you shoot just to get rid of that particular round so you may work on the others.
- Vacillation (Plain Laziness). This is a mental fault more than a physical one, which results in your accepting minor imperfections in your performance which you could correct if you worked a little harder. The end result is hoping you get a good shot.
- Lack of Follow Through. Follow through is the subconscious attempt to keep everything just as it was at the time the shot broke. In other words you are continuing to fire the shot even after it is gone. Follow through is not to be confused with recovery. Merely recovering and holding on the target after the shot is no indication that you are following through.
- Lack of Rhythm. Hesitancy on the first shot or any subsequent shot in timed or rapid fire. Develop a good rhythm and then have the fortitude to employ it every case. Frequently many shooters will have fine rhythm until the last shot of a string and then hesitate, doctoring up that last shot.
Accurate shooting is based upon the fundamentals, and the discipline to employ them!