Combat Handgun Practice
“By practising for both speed and accuracy, you can develop important hand gunning skills while enjoying your shooting.”
By Michael KAY
When you go to the range to practice, do you see how fast you can fire using the target as a backdrop, or do you carefully place each shot, striving for a tight group? To acquire the skills needed in a defensive situation you have to do a little of both. The key in defensive shooting is not to see how accurately you can fire a handgun, but how quickly you can fire it accurately. To develop effective defensive skills, you should practice gun movement and quick firing while maintaining sight alignment. Sound difficult? It is at first, but by rehearsing a few basic drills, your skills will greatly improve.
GENERAL SHOOTING TIPS: The act of firing a rifle, pistol, shotgun or other firearm accurately is made up of a combination of the following skills. Mastering these skills, and repeating them as consistently as possible, each and every time you fire your gun, forms the foundation of accurate shooting.
ATTITUDE: The attitude you take to the shooting range will largely be reflected in your shooting. If you have convinced yourself, “I’ll never be able to shoot any better than I do right now”, chances are you’ll never get any better. However, if each day you go to the shooting range, you say to yourself, “Today I’m going to shoot more accurately and more consistently than I ever have before”, pretty soon you’ll notice you’re shooting more accurately and more consistently! Simply put, the more positive your attitude is about shooting, the better your shooting will become. Imagine yourself shooting nothing but bull’s-eyes, and before you know it, you will be doing just that.
EQUIPMENT: Your equipment should be in good repair, functional and above all else, clean. Even as you shoot, you should maintain a certain level of cleanliness. Don’t be afraid to clean the bore and chamber of your rifle or pistol after every couple of shoots to maintain consistent functioning and accuracy. Firearm items, such as screws, sights, scopes or rings should be tightly secured. Rifle and pistol barrels should be free from obstructions and kept away from contact with other objects. Simply resting the barrel of your rifle on a support (such as a universal bipod) can influence the direction of your shot. Ammunition should be clean and undamaged. Whenever possible, use high quality (match grade) ammunition. During any particular practice session, you should try to use ammunition that is from the same manufacturer and of the same type (i.e. bullet weight and design). Ammunition from the same box or closely produced boxes is ideal. Always remember that consistency is the key to accurate shooting.
BODY POSITION: Whether you are firing a rifle or pistol, you’ll want to maintain a body position that affords you two things. First, and most importantly is comfort. Few can consistently fire accurate shots while in a position that is uncomfortable. Second, is support. Your position should allow your bones and muscles (i.e. your body) to provide proper support for your weapon. If you are firing a pistol, this may be no more than holding your arms out in front of you. While firing a rifle may involve the use of a bench or other stationary supports. Don’t be afraid to try different positions until you hit on one (or more) that work well for you.
GRIP: How you hold your rifle, pistol or shotgun can directly effect how accurately you shoot. A grip that is too loose, will not afford the stability needed while firing a high powered weapon, while a grip that is too tight, may tend to influence your shoots or restrict an otherwise smooth trigger pull. An even, unhindered grip works best. When firing a pistol, your free hand should support, not grip your firing hand. For rifles, your free hand should steady or support the forearm or buttstock of the weapon. Once you find a grip that works well, be consistent about it.
BREATHING: Controlling your breathing goes along way towards increasing your accuracy. The act of breathing (inhaling and exhaling) actually moves your body enough to keep you from getting a really steady sight picture. By momentarily holding your breath, just before you take your final aim and squeeze the trigger, you’ll remove that extra shaking associated with breathing. However, don’t make the mistake of holding your breath too long, as oxygen deprivation can set in and introduce blurry vision or additional body shaking. The best breathing method involves taking one or two full breaths, then releasing the air and holding your breath momentarily as you squeeze off a shot. You may find other methods also work well, don’t be affair to use the method that works best for you. But again, be consistent about it.
SIGHT PICTURE: Sight picture is very important to accurate shooting, after all, if you can’t see it clearly, aiming will be very difficult, if not impossible. Additionally, if you aren’t seeing your target in the same way each time, you’ll have greater difficulty hitting the same spot with each successive shot. Therefore, the two most important aspects of sight picture are clarity and consistency. The picture you see, whether through a scope or with iron sights, should be clear and sharp. Concentrate on a specific point, don’t just aim “at the target” select a very small location on the target and aim at that spot. When using a scope, your sight picture should be round and without dark “half moon” areas. For iron sights, your target and sighting post should be aligned and in focus. Sometimes looking away briefly and then looking back before taking final aim will help to refocus things. Being consistent about your sight picture is equally important. Whether you decide to shoot with one eye closed, or both eyes open, be consistent about it, don’t change midstream. Did I mention consistency is the key?
TRIGGER PULL: Pulling the trigger should be the only motion involved in firing your weapon, and as such, it must be smooth and precise. Pulling the trigger should not effect (i.e. move in any way) any part of the gun other than the trigger. Sloppy or inconsistent trigger pull will cause more inaccuracy than any other aspect of shooting. When pulling the trigger, you should use the tip of your finger (not the body of it) because this is the most sensitive part available to you and pull the trigger straight back. Pulling at an angle, even slightly, can change your point of aim prior to firing. Dry firing (i.e. pulling the trigger without a live round in the chamber) is beyond a doubt the best exercise for increasing your accuracy. Practice this over and over, until you can squeeze the trigger without moving your gun at all. Balancing a dim (or other small object) on the barrel as you dry fire will enhance your ability to keep the weapon still while pulling the trigger. Note: the firing pins on many weapons can be damaged by dry firing, contact your local gunsmith or gun store for plastic dummy rounds that will protect the firing pin while dry firing your gun.
FOLLOW THROUGH: The instant the trigger is completely pulled, the hammer is released. The time between the hammer being released and striking the firing pin (firing the chambered round) is called lock time. Any movement, such as letting up on the trigger, relaxing your grip or anticipating recoil, during this lock time, can greatly effect accuracy. Some guns have quicker lock times than others, but regardless, you should concentrate on following though with each and every shot you fire. No movement should occur until well after the bullet penetrates its target. Only then should you let up on the trigger, adjust your grip or change your sight picture.
CONSISTENCY: The more consistent you are in your shooting, the more accurate you’ll become. Without a doubt, consistency is the key to accuracy. The closer you can come to providing the exact same conditions for each shot, right down to the cleanliness and temperature of your barrel, the more accurate your shooting will be. Become consistent and you’ll become accurate.
DEFENSIVE HANDGUN PRACTICE: After you have become confident with your ability to fire a handgun safely, concentrate on sight alignment. When you raise your gun to fire, the front sight should be centred in the notch of the rear sight, and they should be even across the top. If your sights use a three-dot system, the dots should be lined up evenly. You should see the top half of the target through the sights. When firing at the target, the sights should remain in focus and the target should be a blur. Aim for the “centre of mass” and fire two shots, focusing on the front sight the entire time you are shooting. The most common error a shooter makes is to lower the gun after each shot to check the hits. This bad habit results in erratic or low shots. Keep your eyes focused on the front sight as you recover from recoil. Do not be concerned where your shots are landing at first, as long as you are hitting the target. After you have finished the shot string, look at the target to evaluate your hits. It your shots are falling within an eight-inch group at 15 yards, you are doing fine.
To develop effective defensive skills, incorporate gun movement and quick firing while maintaining sight alignment during target practice. If your shots are grouping off centre by about an inch, do not be concerned. The sights on pistols are not always precise to every shooter’s eye sight and aim. If they are adjustable, you can move them so that your hits are centred. If they are fixed sights, you can work with a gunsmith to correct them or simply leave them be if the problem isn’t too severe. As you practice this shooting drill, you will find your hits falling in smaller, closer groups. At this point you should speed up the time between shots, being careful to keep the front sight in focus. Begin the drill with arms relaxed and the gun in your hands. Bring the gun up to eye level, quickly align the sights on the target and fire two shots
Lower the gun after you have finished firing and assess the target. Make sure you are following through with each shot. This means making sure your sights remain on target and your arms locked in place until you are through firing.
In a defensive situation you do not want to lower your gun until the target has retreated or dropped out of the sight picture. You may find at first that your hits are not even close together, and maybe off the target altogether. There are two causes for this. When you shoot quickly, you often do not settle into a good sight picture or stop gun movement before firing the next shot. Continued practice will remedy this. The more serious problem is the flinch. It is usually caused by snatching the trigger or pulling the gun down in anticipation of recoil. If you think you are flinching, practice pulling the trigger with your gun unloaded (known as dry firing). Alternate practising with a dry gun and with live ammunition. Take breaks in between drills and allow yourself to relax.
To vary your drills, add a second target. Fire one shot at the left target, then quickly move to the right target and fire one shot. Repeat this several times and then reverse the order. Change the number of shots fired on each. For instance, fire one shot on the first and two on the second, then two on each. Gradually work these drills into your practice sessions and, when you have become skilled at them, begin your practice with them. Start cold, with your gun on the table, muzzle facing down range.
Grasping the gun firmly, raise it to eye level, focus on the sights and fire like your life depended on it. After a few trial runs, use the remaining time at the range to work on the areas where you are weakest. Keep in mind what you are practising for, but make it enjoyable too. Be confident you are developing skills that will be invaluable in a true defensive situation.
� Copyright Michael KAY 1997.