Now we get down to the real thing. Though you can’t really get proper instruction on the subject in text alone, I will, in this article, try to explain the basic principles of shooting for those who are new to shooting.
Many of us firearm enthusiasts have been shooting since childhood, and to us, shooting is second nature, with many of the basics being things we assume don’t need to be explained, but new adult shooters are a rapidly growing demographic, and if you’re part of that demographic, keep reading, because this is for you.
We’ve been over safety before. If not, I suggest you back up and go see my “Guns for Beginners: Safety,” article before you pick up a gun.
There are a few key fundamentals to your shooting that you’ll need to master. Stance, grip, trigger control, and sight picture. All four are necessary for basic shooting, and the skills you develop will transfer between firearms.
Stance: Starting at the beginning, a good foundation is key. There are different shooting stances of course, and for the new shooter a flat squared stance may be tempting to take. A good stance to start with will have your left foot forward and right foot back with your weight mostly on your rear foot (obviously reversed for the left handed). This will help to line your eyes and hands up for proper grip and sight picture.
Grip: This one varies between long guns and hand guns. With a long gun you’re going to have three points of contact. The forearm, the grip, and the buttstock. You’ll want to firmly press the buttstock against your shoulder. Don’t leave empty space or room for play. The more firm it is here, the better you’ll be able to absorb recoil as a push into the trunk of your body, rather than a punch against your shoulder. This is often called a “Shoulder weld,” and rightfully so, as if you’ve done it properly, recoil will treat gun and body as one object firmly anchored to the ground rather than two objects colliding. The grip on the forearm will both keep the gun upright and control the gun’s direction, and should be firm. The grip behind the trigger, be it on a straight stock, thumbhole, or pistol grip will be not too tight, but enough to stabilize your hand for proper trigger control.
Consider the positions of your arms. Your left arm should be fairly straight and gripping the forearm as far out as the design of the gun allows (unless you’re using a forward vertical grip), and if using a straight stock your right elbow should be elevated level with the gun (not dipping down low), or can be low if you’re using a pistol grip. The straighter your right wrist is the better. If you have to cock your wrist for a proper grip, you likely need a longer stock.
In the case of shooting handguns, the grip is different. You’ll only have one point of contact, so you should wrap both hands around the grip. This means your dominant hand will wrap around grip, and the support hand should cup around the dominant hand. Thumbs should ride high and both should be touching and pointing forward. This is known as the thumbs forward grip. It can be slightly modified to fit the shape of the gun as needed. Your grip should be firm but not tight. If you’re squeezing so hard your hand is shaking, you may need to back off a bit. Just the same if the gun is jumping loose from your grip, you need to tighten it.
You may sometimes see an improper handgun grip where the off hand is placed below the grip instead. This offers no real benefits in stabilizing your aim, and is considered outdated. Obviously never tilt your gun, hold it sideways, or upside down. Doing so offers nothing in terms of controlling your aim, and can cause the gun to misfeed and jam.
Sight Picture: So you have three things to look at. A front sight, a rear sight, and a target. But you can really only focus on one at a time right? Though many people believe you close one eye while aiming, this should really only be done when shooting with scopes, or for very long range. At medium, and especially handgun range, it’s advised to keep both eyes open. If you have trouble focusing, you’ll find squinting a bit will help clear your vision. When getting a sight picture, your front sight is the most significant. First put the front sight on target, then line up the rear sight to the front sight. When firing your focus should primarily be on the front sight. If you’re shooting a shotgun with a bead sight, it’s even simpler. Just look at the target and put the bead on the target.
By keeping both eyes open you widen your perception, and can still see moving objects, as well as the context of the larger area you’re shooting in.
Trigger Control: The last factor before a bullet comes out of your gun is trigger control. This is something best built through lots and lots of practice, but I’ll dispense some simple advice here.
Resist the temptation to use your joint. Press the trigger down with the middle of your last digit. Strive to use only the muscles of the finger its self to pull the trigger without using your palm to squeeze. Think of the trigger as a button you’re pressing rather than something to squeeze. You’re not making juice here. I say to press, don’t pull or squeeze. The trigger should be pressed down with even pressure the entire way. It doesn’t need to be quick. Don’t jerk, and try not to flinch, or guess when the gun goes off. The actual firing should come as a surprise to you. This is why I always recommend starting with something with low recoil as you’ll be less likely to develop a flinch reflex. During recoil keep the trigger held down. This is known as follow through. Lastly release the trigger all the way to allow for a full reset.
That’s the basics of how to shoot. Of course text can’t do much for you without lots of practice, so hit the range, take a class, and have fun learning.