Skilled Marksmanship… It’s Just “Plane” Simple

Skilled Marksmanship... It’s Just “Plane” Simple
Skilled Marksmanship... It’s Just “Plane” Simple
Skilled Marksmanship... It’s Just “Plane” Simple
Skilled Marksmanship… It’s Just “Plane” Simple

As a former police sergeant, national competitive master shooter, police firearms instructor and now an NRA Certified Instructor who teaches civilians everything from NRA Basic Pistol to advanced defensive handgun skills, I have developed the concept of thinking in terms of a “plane” that I use when I am teaching students at all levels.  And I’m not talking about airplanes, I’m referring to thinking in terms of a “plane” – a straight line with several important items collected along that “plane”.

Think about it – by now we all should know that you must focus on your front sight to be an accurate marksman.  That front sight, in a proper position centered in the notch of your rear sight, along with a target form a “plane” that must add one more element aligned along that “plane” to provide a good starting point to shoot accurately.  That missing element is your DOMINANT eye, not, necessarily the eye located on the side of your body where your strong side or shooting hand is located.  If you don’t know how to determine your dominant eye, please go online and look it up – it’s quite simple.

That plane is, of course, on the very same plane as the bore of your barrel, down which the bullet will fly. It is also the same plane down which the slide will travel when the round is discharged (on a semi-automatic) or the same plane that your hammer will travel if you are shooting a firearm with a visible hammer.

And finally, it is the exact same plane that your trigger MUST travel if you are going to deliver an accurate shot.

And therein lies the challenge.  In order to deliver accurate shots, the “planes” I have just mentioned need to stay in alignment while you are applying the fundamentals so the gun will fire and the shot will be accurate.

What are the main causes in your shooting skills that result in the “planes”   losing alignment and resulting in bad shots?


Milking the grip, heeling the gun, tightening your thumbs while squeezing the trigger, improper placement of your trigger finger on the trigger and limp-wristing are common flaws among shooters.

Milking the grip means tightening down on your grip as you are pressing the trigger. Heeling the gun involves pushing forward from the heels of your hands while pressing the trigger (resulting in the muzzle moving upward, thus misaligning the “plane”).

Tightening your thumbs as you press the trigger also causes the muzzle to move and change the “plane”!  In my view, your thumbs aren’t even a part of your grip and should be totally uninvolved in the process of delivering accurate shots. Point them toward the target or toward the sky!  Remember the fundamental that applies to grip – once you establish your grip on the handgun you should maintain that grip without adjustment until you have completed shooting your firing string.

Placement of your trigger finger on the trigger is extremely important.  You should engage the trigger by having the middle of the first digit of your trigger finger (the pad of that finger) on the center of your trigger.  So you say, “Why is this so important”?  Once again, think about it.  Any pressure on your trigger that is not directly straight back to the rear (on the ”plane”) will cause the “plane” to break down and your shot to be inaccurate.  If you tighten down on your grip and fail to realize that your trigger finger is NOT a part of your grip, you will place your trigger finger too far through the trigger guard.  As you do this, you inevitably place sideways pressure on the trigger, disrupting the “plane”.

Limp-wristing involves a failure of the shooter to maintain the proper relationship between the grip, wrists and rest of your body.  Your wrist must be locked in place with no wobbling of the front sight in the rear sight notch.  Your wobble area should always appear that your sight alignment stays intact (perfect height, perfect light) thus maintaining your “plane”.


By far this is the most critical fundamental that you must master to become a good shot!  The faults we see most in our students involve “making the gun go off”; improper placement of the trigger finger on the trigger and applying sideways pressure on the trigger.

What I mean when I say “making the gun go off” refers to the tendency, while trying to establish proper aiming, the untrained shooter thinks they have everything aligned and “snatch” the trigger in an effort to “frame the shot”.  Instead of an accurate shot, their rapid snatch on the trigger results in that first “plane” we spoke of (target, front sight, rear sight and dominant eye) to become extremely misaligned and resulting in bad shots.  If you examine the target of a shooter who does this you will find holes all over the target, some total misses and no particular group or pattern.  The cure for this is to think in terms of dropping only one drop of ear drops out of the vial as opposed to squirting all of the drops out of the vial with one quick squeeze on the bulb!  Apply slow, even steady pressure on the trigger until the gun surprises you because it went bang.

I addressed the proper placement of the trigger finger in the section addressing grip along with applying sideways pressure on the trigger.  Think of it this way – in your entire body, the only thing that is moving intentionally is your trigger finger from the second knuckle to the tip of your finger.  If you have movement in the knuckle where your finger joins your hand, you are causing sideways pressure on the trigger, causing a breakdown in the “plane”, misalignment of the sight picture and a poor shot!


One of the more common faults that we see that also results in a misalignment of the “plane” is recoil anticipation.  Because the shooter knows the gun is going to kick and recoil when it goes bang, they unconsciously pull down on the muzzle of the gun in an effort to control the gun.  In fact, this loss of control of the gun causes the muzzle to drop down, again, breaking the “plane” by losing the target from the “plane”.  The shooter should think about controlling recoil by focusing on the front sight and as the gun goes off, control the muzzle by regaining sight alignment, then sight picture, as quickly as possible.

So to summarize, remember the “planes”;

  1. Front sight, rear sight, target and DOMINANT EYE
  2. The bore of your barrel
  3. The line your slide will travel down as the gun cycles
  4. The “plane” that your hammer travels down as you press the trigger
  5. The “plane” that your trigger must travel along in order to keep the above things in alignment.

Get your trigger finger correctly placed on the trigger, put slow, even steady pressure on the trigger keeping it on the “plane”, press the trigger until the gun surprises you when it goes off.  Do this and you will see your skills explode and your marksmanship reach new heights.

“MAINTAIN THE PLANE” and you will definitely keep ‘em in the “x” ring!