Former police chief Joe Saxon is one of the top shooters in Georgia with a handgun and a sought-after instructor. His list of credentials covers pages. We sat down with Joe to find what are the biggest mistakes hand gunners make and how to correct them.
Top Shooting Mistakes
The No. 1 mistake most people who have a handgun make is also the easiest to correct.
1. Not Shooting / Practicing Often Enough
The actual physical act of going to a range, loading the handgun and shooting it is the biggest problem. Most people who CCW simply do not shoot enough.
Once a year, or less, at the range and a box of shells is not enough. Spend time and shells at the range and some, perhaps all, of the problems these experts identify will go away. The reasons to shoot are far too numerous to mention here, but one reason does merit publishing.
Shooting regularly teaches you how your firearm reacts and trains you how to work with it instead of against it.
2. Anticipating recoil
“This more than any other thing (except practice, see #1), creates problems for the shooter. Instructors often do a bad job, with novice shooters by not fully explaining what is going on when you squeeze a trigger,” said Saxon, a firearms instructor with multiple certifications and more than 600 classes as an instructor in his holster. “They then begin trying to anticipate or control this occurrence which leads to the bullet not striking the intended target. Shooters have to learn to allow the gun to go off, and not to try and make the gun go off. The distinction is real and important.”
Saxon, a certified three-gun instructor since 2000, links this problem to recoil. Too many shooters either think they need to bear down the trigger to make it shoot or they anticipate recoil and start the jerk-and-flinch reaction before the hammer ever drops. The jerk motion causes the gun to dip down. Pulling the trigger and the resulting controlled “chemical explosion in your hand” should not come as a surprise, he said.
True, in some double-action revolvers pulling the hammer back by way of the trigger is a Herculean task. My CCW is a “hammerless” Charter Arms .38. I’ve put it into the hands of some small-framed people who simply could not pull the trigger. I suggested they consider a smaller caliber autoloader. Saxon recommends the Glock 19. “An easy portable package with 15 rounds of felon repellant in a standard magazine. Light, easy to carry, easy to practice with; practice 9mm ammo is cheap. Good combinations,’ he said.
4. Bad Shooting Stance
Saxon calls this “body weight distribution,” but in shooting terms stance does just as well. “Most people know guns are serious and can be dangerous. This leads to people leaning back, or shifting their weight away from the gun, instead of leaning forward and providing a firm platform for the operation of the firearm in question,” he said.
Your center of gravity should be slightly forward. This will help you handle the recoil.
5. Too much gun
This is a major problem for novice shooters. They head to the range with a hogleg. The recoil, muzzle blast and the report are literally stunning. “I have lost count of the times I have seen individuals give someone a magnum chambered gun to shoot with little or no instruction. The shooter is immediately turned off of guns in most cases. What should have been a chance to gain an ally in our sport did go well, because someone decided to be, forgive my language, an asshat,” said Saxon who trained as a civilian at the Ft. Benning Army Marksmanship Unit under Sgt. Merle Edington.
Correcting these Shooting Mistakes
The top problems identified, how do we correct them?
1. Shoot Regularly
The first step is to shoot and shoot more. The more you shoot, the better you will become. Burn some ammo. If the cost gets to you, start hand loading. Beginner reloading kits are inexpensive and will last for decades. If you are concerned about reloading, find someone nearby to help you run a few batches. Check gun shops and shooting ranges to find someone who reloads if you do not know anyone personally.
“Dry fire of a triplesafe-checked firearm is always a plus; except don’t do this in rimfire weapons. Place a dime on the slide of your pistol when you can pull the trigger without making it move or drop, you are on the way to understanding your trigger, which leads to much better shooting,” said Saxon, a competitive shooter since he was 11.
2. Work the weakness
“You should always practice what you are not good at or comfortable with. Good shooters work on their weaknesses first,” Saxon said.
Of course, work on the stuff you are good at too. But the whole idea of practice is to improve everything.
3. Video Yourself Shooting
Smartphones today can capture all the video you need. If you don’t have a smartphone, ask a shooting buddy who does to get some clips of you. He may ask you to do the same for him. Keep in mind that some ranges don’t allow cameras so be sure to ask first.
Study the video and watch for the problems mentioned above. Work on correcting the problems with a triple-checked handgun.
4. Don’t Over Do It
“Don’t shoot past your wall. Everyone I have ever known who is good with a gun, knows when they hit their personal wall. It is time to call it a day. Staying on the range shooting while having a bad day, or tired, or simply not on, reinforces bad habits and leads to frustration,” Saxon said.
That’s certainly an issue in the Deep South where I live. Shooting in the summer is best done in the early morning or late evening. In the middle of the day when temps hit triple digits and the heat index soars higher, being on the range turns from fun to misery in short order.