I found out a long time ago, and am still discovering, that shooting a handgun accurately is not as easy as it appears in the movies, on television, and by my skilled competitive-shooter friends. Like with anything you want to do effectively and efficiently, you must know the fundamentals, apply them correctly, have a proper attitude, can-do approach, and practice the basics regularly. This certainly is true with shooting, since the related skills are perishable and you can loose them so quickly. In my case, this older-than-dirt shooter must keep at it and diligently not give up, despite medical infirmities and aging. Without a doubt attaining proficiency in shooting requires a thorough understanding and practicing of the fundamentals of marksmanship coupled with a strong desire to improve and perseverance. It is generally said that if your sight alignment is off by just 1/16th of an inch at 20 feet, the result will be a 4.5-inch miss of your intended target. Of course, there are many factors and variables affecting this and many diverse problems and solutions for us to consider.
One of the best ways to improve your shooting skills is to analyze your target hits and groupings and learn from them. Another is to take a very good fundamentals of shooting and safety course under the watchful, eagle-eye of an experienced instructor. Observations of your shot placements and the ability to shoot a group are just two indicators, albeit good ones, of whether you have a firm grasp of shooting fundamentals. Analyzing your groups can help pinpoint problem areas with your trigger control, sight alignment, sight picture, grip, technique, etc. Shooting groups can also help determine if there are issues with your handgun and its sights. A handgun that has historically grouped consistently well might suddenly produce poor groups. This can point to problems with the handgun itself, like an internal barrel issue, lock-up, or issues with your sights. Screws on both iron sights and optic mounts can become loose resulting in erratic groups. A small group located outside the aiming area can indicate that the gun is not zeroed properly for that distance. Of course, you can shoot groups from any position: standing, kneeling or prone. For handgun shooting, you can shoot with both hands or use just your strong hand or only your support-weak hand. I believe that shooting from a bench or prone position with sandbags or a rest are the best methods for testing for accuracy, knowledge of fundamentals, and reducing the possibility of basic shooting problems and human errors. All of my students shoot initially from a bench rest and then move to two-handed shooting, etc. In International Defensive Pistol Association (IDPA) shooting, we shoot from various positions and include strong-hand only and support-hand only shooting. So, keep in mind that your groups are likely to open up at further distances, one-handed shooting, and at more challenging positions.
If your trigger manipulation isn’t precise, all the fundamentals and best sight alignment in the world can’t help you be accurate. Of course, accuracy problems could also be the result of an improper sight alignment, where the front sight rises above the rear sight, the handgun itself, or just about any of the fundamentals… or a combination of various factors and causes. So target analysis of shooting errors is somewhat unscientific and imperfect because there are so many variations of individual techniques and several, multifarious variables. However, we should not use this as a cop-out for not seeking to identify each problem and probable causes and possible solutions. So, trial and error are a frequent course of action for shooting error resolution. Be sure and work on solving your shooting problems one at a time, by isolating on just one problem at a time. Then blend all your resolutions of different problems together. This might involve readdressing a specific problem again by itself, then re-blending again. You want to improve your total system.
Another variable that affects shooting problems, accuracy, and grouping is cartridge type, load, weight, velocity, energy, etc. Try shooting a series of groups with your handgun with different weighted loads and cartridge types. I know I have found that certain handguns I own yield the best accuracy and overall performance when I shoot a specific bullet weight and type, e.g. almost all of my 9mm handguns shoot 124 grain hollow point and full-metal jacket rounds more effectively with better accuracy than with 115 grain full-metal jacket rounds. Recognize though that a heavier round tends to shoot higher than a lighter one at given distances and velocities.
Accept that target hits’ diagnosis, while extremely beneficial in narrowing down the field of potential shooting problems and errors, is not an exact science. There is much disagreement about definition of problems, terminology, and even optimal solutions for the same problem. Recognize that difficulty In detecting errors In trigger control, for example, is frequent because the pistol shifted during recoil and errors are not recognized. I regularly see with my students, and with myself, that the shooter has a more difficult time in recognizing, evaluating, and solving a shooting problem than does a coach or instructor with their objective observations. Often my students, and myself as a shooter, do not realize that they are jerking the trigger, blinking their eyes, closing one eye, holding their breath too long, pushing the gun forward at the last second, or gripping the handgun incorrectly. Well, with all these considerations, complexities, and the imperfect analytical process, I want to offer some of my lessons learned (and I am still learning them) to help you. Remember, I don’t have anyway close to all or the majority of answers for you, but hopefully these ideas help some. Here are ten common handgun shooting problems or errors, their probable causes and symptoms, and just some of the possible solutions.
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