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!

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Joe Schallmoser is the Co-Owner of Sure Sight Firearms Training which is based out of Northern Colorado. He was a Police Office and Sergeant in the Lakewood, Colorado Police for 10 years. Joe is an NRA Firearms instructor for several disciples, an NRA Range Safety Officer and an NRA Certified Instructor in Refuse To Be A Victim.
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It seems to me, that your term “plane”, in a geometric sense, is incorrect. You should use the term “line”.
The rear and front sights, along with the target itself, are three “points on a line”, since they are collinear.
A plane consists of an infinite number of points, most of which are not collinear.


Mark is right on the misuse of plane. However, I think the point should be made that the three lines described – sight picture, path of bullet, force of trigger pull, all should align on a vertical plane. Anything which disturbs all three line being coplanar will affect the shot.


As would anything that “disturbs all three being” collinear. The three lines don’t have to necessarily be in a vertical plane; as long as they are in “the same plane!”


I agree, Mark. As I read the article I felt a bit confused by the term, “plane”, and also thought the author was referring to a “line” of some sort. So, I did a dictionary search on “plane”, and found it to deal more with a surface than a line, such as “horizontal plane”.

Overall, while I am grateful for the authors time, experience, and efforts, I felt like a missed the class that the article was summarizing, such as this sentence, “Your wobble area should always appear that your sight alignment stays intact (perfect height, perfect light) thus maintaining your “plane”.”

I did take away a good reminder of the importance of proper finger placement and a gentle squeeze strait back of just the finger, itself. Although, when I was at the range recently, I was wondering about finger placement on the trigger, and how that will actually happen in a panic situation. I don’t know if I’ll have the time, dexterity, or mental capacity to place my finger in that optimal position, even if I practiced it repeatedly. In a panic I think I’ll more naturally gravitate towards the joint between the first and second digit (at best), rather than the middle of the first digit on the middle of the trigger. Actually, in that panic situation I suppose of lot of things will be different, for instance, I’ll probably be looking at the attacker rather than the front sight.

So which situation should I practice for; marksmanship or panic situation; one eye closed or both eyes open, focus on the front sight or focus on the target?


I practice both ways. I’m no “Miculek”, (that man is amazing!!), and have glaucoma in my dominate eye. When I target shoot, I take time and concentrate on breathing, finger placement during trigger pull, sight alignment, etc….
But I also practice with might be called “natural point of aim” without using my sights; gun closer to my waistline. A laser would make this practice easier, but I only have one pistol with a laser installed.

Pastor Rick

…” In a panic I think I’ll more naturally gravitate towards the joint between the first and second digit (at best), rather than the middle of the first digit on the middle of the trigger”…

In a panic you will respond how you train, how you condition your muscles and brain to react and respond. Otherwise why train and practice if it all goes out the window when you “panic”?

…”a gentle squeeze”…
You never “squeeze” the trigger, gentle or not. You apply rearward “pressure” on the trigger.


I am right handed and left eye dominant. I would rather squint
my dominant eye and shoot with my right eye open; rather than spend years
trying to learn to shoot with my left hand. I understand that I will lose my peripheral
vision, but I don’t feel like the time needed to train my left hand to shoot is
justifiable. I could use that time to perfect my existing setup described
earlier. Am I wrong? Opinions appreciated.


The title of the article wouldn’t make much sense if he had used “line” instead of “plane”. 🙂

And for Jus you don’t have to shoot with your left hand if your left eye dominant. Just look at the picture of the article. The shooter is aligning his left eye with his right handed grip. I use to align with my right eye till I figured out I was left eye dominant but all you do is turn your head slightly right instead of left. 🙂

Definitely a better shooter now although I will say I have to remind myself to align with my left eye. Just need more practice for it to sync in though, I’ve only just now started it.


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