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BASIC HANDGUN
and
ARIZONA CCW PERMIT COURSE

FUNDAMENTALS OF PISTOL MARKSMANSHIP

By Rick Barkett

1. Always treat a gun as if it were loaded.
Even when someone tells you a gun is not loaded, don't believe it until you see it for yourself. In the case of a revolver, open the action (cylinder) and make sure that there are no live or expended cartridges in the chambers. Semi-autos require removal of the magazine followed by racking the action (slide) back several times before securing it in a lock position. Then…and only then, should you even consider handing the weapon to another person.

2. Always keep your gun pointed in a safe direction.
This is the primary rule of gun safety. A "safe direction" means that the gun is pointed so that even if it were to go off it would not cause injury or damage. The key to this rule is to control where the muzzle or front end of the barrel is pointed at all times. Common sense dictates the safest direction, depending on different circumstances.

3. Always keep your finger off the trigger and out of the trigger guard until ready to shoot.
When holding a gun, people have a natural tendency to place their finger on the trigger. Don't do it! Rest your finger on the trigger guard or along the side of the gun. Until you are actually ready to fire, do not touch the trigger.

4. Know your target and what's beyond it.
Be absolutely sure you have identified your target beyond any doubt. Equally important, be aware of the area beyond your target. This means observing your prospective area of fire before you shoot. Never fire in a direction in which there are people or any other potential for mishap. Think first. Shoot second.

 
Selection of a Pistol

It is important that you choose a pistol that fits your hand naturally and comfortably. That is to say that your strong (firing) hand should comfortably wrap around the grip, with your index finger able to reach into the trigger guard with the first joint of the finger displaced evenly on the trigger. If the placement of the first joint of the finger either extends beyond or falls short of the trigger, then you should continue the search for the Pistol that fits the criteria in which I just described.

The selection of a pistol which fits correctly and comfortably in your hand will also provide you with a “Natural Point of Aim” when pointing your weapon at the target. Test this theory by gripping your pistol with your strong (shooting) hand only and taking aim at the target (aligning the front sight with the rear sight). Close your eyes for several seconds. When you open your eyes, your sights should still be on target and your point of aim did not move.

 
Shooting Fundamentals
 
  • Grip
  • Stance
  • Aim
  • Breath Control
  • Trigger Squeeze
  • Follow Through

Grip

A proper grip, along with the proper extension of your arms is essential for accurate shooting. The weapon must become a part of you.

With exception of competition and/or qualification shoots, I recommend using a two hand tactical hold. In the case of self defense, this allows the shooter better control of the weapon with maximum accuracy and less recoil.

Begin by using your strong hand (firing hand) to grip the Pistol with a firm handshake. The weak hand (non-firing hand) encapsulates the strong hand by wrapping your fingers around the strong hand with the fingers interlocking between the grooves of the strong hand.

The tips of the fingers of your weak hand should be touching the knuckles of your strong hand.


Thumb Placement: The thumbs of both hands should then automatically be positioned to the weak side of the Pistol. You can overlap your thumbs or extend both thumbs in an upward position and alongside each other. Thumbs should never be placed to the rear (backstrap) of the handgun.

 

Stances

Isosceles Stance

Extend both arms towards the target with elbows locked and the pistol gripped as described above. The shoulders are kept perpendicular to the target and both elbows are locked. The name of the stance comes from how the shooter’s arms and shoulders form an isosceles triangle. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Knees should be bent slightly and you should lean slightly into the shot (approximately 60 percent of your body weight distributed to the balls of your feet).

Weaver Stance

This popular shooting stance was developed by Deputy Sheriff Jack Weaver in the late 1950s. Support arm elbow should be bent while the dominant arm elbow remains straight. The dominant hand (the one holding the pistol) pushes forward while the support hand (wrapped around the pistol) pulls back. The goal of this push/pull technique is to create isometric tension that will control the recoil of the pistol and provide accuracy and control for quick follow up shots. The shooter aligns his/her body at a 45-degree angle to the target and places the dominant hand and foot back foot back.

Chapman or Modified Weaver Stance

This stance is identical to the Weaver Stance but had one important difference. In the Modified Weaver, the shooter locks strait his/her dominant hand and arm. This modification helps with the trembling that some experience while using the Weaver Stance. If properly done, the shooter can still take advantage of the push/pull aspect of the Weaver Stance to control muzzle flip. Also, with the dominant arm locked straight a shooter cannot overpower his weaker arm during times of stress. The tendency to push to hard in the Weaver Stance will cause a (right handed) shooter’s aim to skew to the left.

Aim

Align the top of the front sight with the top of the rear sight. Unless you are trained well already, it is best to aim by viewing only with your dominant eye. Close your other eye. The gap between the sides of the front sight and the left and right sides of the rear sight notch should be equal. While maintaining this sight alignment, bring your weapon to up to the target. You should see the sharply focused front sight centered on the unfocused target.

Breath Control

Take several deep relaxing breaths prior to extending the pistol to your target. Next, take a deep breath, exhale half the air and hold your breath when ready to fire and through the trigger squeeze.

Trigger Squeeze

Incorrect trigger squeeze causes more problems than any other shooting fundamentals. Anticipation of recoil causes the shooter to jerk or slap the trigger as the sights align on the target. Jerking or slapping the trigger force the muzzle of the pistol down and the result will be an inaccurate shot placement, usually at the six o’clock position on the target.

Proper trigger squeeze is the independent movement of the trigger finger relative to the rest of the pistol. The shooter should be surprised by the shot break (discharge). The trigger pull should be a slow steady increase of pressure, without disturbance of the sight picture, until the hammer drops (surprise break). This smooth trigger squeeze while keeping proper sight alignment should result in proper shot placement. I utilize a method of counting backward, from 5-1 while applying constant even pressure to the trigger and concentrating at my sight alignment and picture.

I know by the amount of pressure on the trigger about when the hammer will fall, but not the exact instant. While single action and striker fired action (ie: Glock, and Springfield XD) pistols exhibit short and light trigger pulls with limited trigger travel allowing easy aim and control through the shot. On the other hand, double action pistols are notorious for having a heavy trigger pull which can result in aiming problems and accuracy. This can only be overcome with practice.

Follow Through

This final technique is achieved by simply continuing to hold your form after the shot break, allowing the pistol to naturally fall back to its starting fire position. Follow Through is controlling the pistol and the trigger after the shot break (shot is fired). Maintain finger contact on the trigger and hold it to the rear as the shot is fired. Release it only after you have reacquired the front sight. Even then, only release the trigger far enough to “reset” it. At this point, refocus on the front sight as you did for the first shot. Simply begin the pressure build-up with the trigger finger again. Allowing the trigger to move any further forward increases the recovery time between shots. You must experience a second surprise break for the second shot.

You should expect to attain a high level of accuracy by practicing the above marksmanship fundamentals.

 
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