Some days you feel as if you should have stayed in bed. You have taken your favorite pistol (or revolver) to the range, one that you know that you are proficient with, and nothing seems to work for you.
You step into the firing lane, raise the gun to eye level and begin putting your favorite bullets down range. Some are hitting low, some high, some left, and some right. That group that you are used to seeing, you are not. Some days you just do not “have it”.
This happened to me yesterday. I had finished up with some early volunteer work with GeorgiaCarry.org at a local gun show and decided to go to the range and relax a bit. I carried with me a scoped Ruger 22/45 Target Model for some target practice fun (25 yards) and a Bersa 45UC for some serious seven-yard shooting.
Usually, I use the Ruger 22/45 for warming up but I choose to start with the Bersa. Normally I do well with this pistol, as I have carried it as my EDC for over a year. I can produce some decent groups around the X-ring with it. The sights are spot on and I use the same ammunition that I carry for practice. This day, however, my shots were all over the place. Some days you just do not “have it”.
When this happens, I simply say two words to myself – Bench rest.
Putting the Bersa away I pulled out the scoped Ruger 22/45, grabbed the portable shooting rest and a small stool. Replacing the existing target, I ran the 100-Yard Precision Rifle Target to the 25-yard line, loaded up a full magazine, and commenced to sight in. Sure enough, my shots were hitting slightly low and left of center where normally I would be working the X-ring with this pistol. The pistol was not at fault, but I was.
Ensuring that the weapon was safe, I laid it down on the bench, stood up, and walked to the back of the range where I could look out the observation window. I slowly looked around, observing people and things – reminding myself of where I was. I had to place myself mentality at the range and remove everything that was on my mind not related with what I was doing. This was the first step. The next step was to return to some of the basics of marksmanship: Grip, Aiming, Breath Control, Trigger Squeeze, and Follow Through. I was, obviously, not following or applying one or more of the basics.
Loading up another magazine, I returned to the bench. The magazine was loaded and the slide released. It was time to get down to business. With the barrel of the pistol laid on top of the rest, I started applying everything that I knew. The first shot was inside the center just left of being perfect. Five magazines later, I had sufficiently removed most of the center of the target, which would serve as my aiming point for the Bersa.
Moving the target to 7 yards, I returned to the Bersa and decided to shoot a magazine full bench- rested. Sure enough, the results of those first seven rounds indicated that I was anticipating the recoil and noise of firing a 185-grain SJHP round. Centering most shots but placing them low. I started concentrating on the shot and not the recoil and noise and the next magazine full was much better. I will not say that I took out the X, as the Bersa is far from being a “target” pistol, but the result would have fallen in the “combat accuracy” category.
Returning to a standing two-handed, offhand stance gave some good results, as I was adjusting to the gun and applying the basic principles that I needed to apply. The groups, although larger than I did when bench resting the gun, restored my “gun handling” confidence. Sometimes, you just have to get back to the basics.
With that said, I would like to pass on some bad habits that we, as shooters, have to overcome and some common errors that we have to correct.
Habits to Overcome:
Not Using at the Sights:
Simply put, we look at the target rather than the sights. The point of using the sights has been hotly contested and debated (from what I have read, around 1835). Advocates of Point Shooting (for example; William E. Fairbairn and Rex Applegate) stressed training that would increase the shooter’s ability to hit targets at short range under the less than ideal conditions expected in close quarters life threatening situations, for example, self-defense, and combat situations. The military adopted this method of shooting:
When a soldier points, he instinctively points at the feature on the object on which his eyes are focused. An impulse from the brain causes the arm and hand to stop when the finger reaches the proper position. When the eyes are shifted to a new object or feature, the finger, hand, and arm also shift to this point. It is this inherent trait that can be used by the soldier to rapidly and accurately engage targets.
US Army Field Manual 23-25, Combat Training With Pistols & Revolvers
Jeff Copper later introduced sight-based methods and which have evolved into many of the techniques taught today.
My personal opinion is that you need to train for both using and not using the sights.
Holding Too Long:
It is said that holding a shot longer than ten-seconds is too long. After 10-second, the eyes loose focus and the arms waver.
Improper Grip or Position:
Assigning and maintaining a proper grip is essential.
Jerk or Heel:
The application of pressure, with the trigger finger either alone or in case of pushing with the heel of the shooting hand at the same time while pulling the trigger. Apply pressure to the trigger straight to the rear and wait for the shot to break. Some teach the push-pull method of gripping as a means to overcome “heeling” the gun.
Anticipating the recoil and/or noise can throw some serious out-of-place shots in your otherwise perfect group. Anticipation of the shot happens in every shooter, as it did with me during my range session. So how do I break it? I fire two fully loaded magazines (or two cylinders full, in the case of a revolver) as fast as I can at the target. After doing that, I can (for some reason) settle in to a timed and controlled rhythm of fire and not be concerned with the recoil or noise. Perhaps, it is one of those, “Let’s get this out of the way” moments.
Loss of Concentration:
Loss of concentrate, to me, occurs more while firing revolvers or long-pull double-action pistols. If I cannot apply constant pressure on the trigger while concentrating on the front sight, I reset and start over. I find that the loss of concentration occurs (for me) more during target shooting than shooting for combat.
Will the shot go where I want it? Usually, and with me, it is the first shot of the session. It is like trying to hit the correct mark with the correct angle and spin to hit the pocket when bowling after you have not bowled for over ten years.
Like many, I may throw (not actually throw the shot intentionally, but concern myself less with its impact in relation to other shots) the first shot to get it out of the way. Whenever I am shooting a DA/SA pistol, that anxious moment while I’m pulling back on that DA trigger is the most anxious whether I am consciously thinking about it or not.
Vacillation and Over-Expectation:
Vacillation can occur when you are undecided whether to take the shot and should not be likened to compliancy, which means that you could care less if you are shooting well or not. It is our responsibility to ensure that we place each shot on target before the trigger releases and the round fires. Whether we decide to go for a head shot or a shot to center mass, the shot must be taken with purpose, focus, and intensity.
Over-expectation is when we just know that we are going to shoot a sub-moa every time we go to the range – and it may actually happen. My hat is off to you if you can pull that off. For myself, I have a visual and mental picture that it will happen to me. Sometimes it does and sometimes it does not. That does not mean; however, that I lower my expectations; I simply expand my expectations to a larger MOA that is more in-line with my and the gun’s limitations. If my shooting falls within the realm of “Combat shooting” when I am shooting for combat accuracy, I am well within my expectations. If; however, I am expecting “pin-point target shooting” accuracy with a combat pistol, I may be over-reaching my expectations a tad even though I have pistols that could excel at both.
Lack of Follow Through:
Many shooters (and instructors) will tell you that follow through; is the act of bringing the pistol back down on target to get a second sight picture after you fire the shot. This definition is incorrect. This is the definition of recovery – not follow through.
As was explained to me, All follow through is maintaining proper alignment of the sights until the bullet has left the barrel. If you see the front sight lift, you have done all of the follow through you can. Contrary to Hollywood special effects, once the bullet leaves the barrel nothing you do will affect the shot you just fired.
Lack of Rhythm:
There is a four count, as heard by the tapping of the drumsticks held in the drummer’s hand, which sets the rhythm of the song about to be played. On the fifth count, the band strikes up. Imagine if you will the disharmonic sound that would be heard if one or more band members short-changed or missed that starting count and started on the next quarter beat.
In shooting, the lack of rhythm defines points that are hesitant to the string of fire. In some timed shooting matches, you are required to shoot X number of rounds in X seconds and you time your shots to fall within that window of time while allowing ample time for each shot and not rushing or delaying any shot. There may also be a call to shoot two rounds center mass and one to the head. This may require ; wherein, the pause is the time it takes to set up the third shot. There is still a rhythm attached to the drill and a hesitancy to get that last shot off within the four-count breaks the rhythm no matter how fast you play the rhythm.
We all are under pressure at times. Overcoming the pressure is most important. We have self-imposed pressure as well as pressure that is brought on by others. Successful competitors have learned how to deal with pressure. Whether you are competing with your self or competing against twenty others learning how to work with pressure is necessary. We may have a good string of shots and then all of a sudden a flier shows up. Does it rattle you or do you move past it and continue shooting some good strings?
Common Errors for Shooters:
Through experience, I have come to recognize my own shooting errors and, more importantly, have learned how to correct them. Novice shooters may not understand why they are shooting all over the place or right or left, up, or down.
Instructors are well versed in explaining to first-time shooters the results of their shooting. For the rest of us, it is review time using the “Circle of Truth”. Of course, the following assumes that the sights are correctly set, the gun is in perfect working order, and we have mostly overcome the habits explained earlier.
Hits low, at six o’clock:
The dreaded anticipation normally causes Hits low, at six o’clock. The blast (noise and flash) that shocks the nervous systems causes a flinching reaction. Only by concentration and practice will overcome this malady. Ball and dummy drills are helpful. (Ball and dummy drills consist of loading dummy rounds in among live rounds in the magazine or cylinder. When the dummy comes up, the flinch will be obvious.)
To help eliminate Hits low, at six o’clock do not:
- Tighten the grip while pressing the trigger.
- Cant the gun hand wrist downward as the trigger is pressed
- Jerk the trigger.
Hits at three o’clock or nine o’clock:
Sideways pressure on the trigger usually causes Hits at three o’clock or nine o’clock. Too little finger contacting the trigger pushes the gun sideways as it fires. Too much finger on the trigger (or trigger guard if used as a rest) pulls the gun to the side. Place the pad of the finger on the trigger and press straight to the rear.
Combining a small hand and a large double-column grip frame often causes Hits at three o’clock or nine o’clock. As the trigger finger flexes to pull the trigger, the finger pushes against the frame. The fix is to bend the trigger finger, creating a gap between that joint and the pistol’s frame.
The trigger finger must only touch the pistol on the face of the trigger, not on the frame.
Hits at five o’clock or seven o’clock:
Jerking the trigger most often causes Hits at five o’clock or seven o’clock. Snatching the trigger too quickly pulls the muzzle down and to the side. To remedy this, take up the slack and then press the trigger straight to the rear smoothly.
Hits at twelve o’clock:
Two errors normally cause Hits at twelve o’clock with the most common being looking over the sight at the target. The shooter fails to pull in his vision focus to meet the front sight and, subsequently, raises the front sight.
“Heeling” the gun, squeezing the gun just as it fires is the second cause of Hits at twelve o’clock. The heel of the hand pushes the lower part of the back strap forward, which elevates the muzzle.
Scattered hits all over the target:
Lack of consistency in grip, sight focus, trigger control, or some combination thereof normally causes shots to be scattered.
There you have it. The main reasons that I see in myself as to why I do not shoot as well as I should (aside from old age and too many cups of coffee before a shooting session). I hope that they will help you in your own assessment of your shooting skills.