Recreational shooting can be fun for many people. It was Thomas Jefferson’s recreational sport of choice, for a variety of reasons. It gave him a chance to spend time outside, and an opportunity to develop the self-discipline necessary for proficiency at shooting.
Whether plinking on a shooting range, plinking with friends at informal targets, or participating in any of the many competitive shooting games, safety is and should be the predominant theme. That includes concern for the personal safety of the marksman, safety of others, and safety of nature and property. Start by wearing appropriate ear and eye protection, and make sure you can see your target and the surrounding area beyond.
The fundamentals of marksmanship do not vary for the plinker or the aspiring Olympic competitor. Some have compared marksmanship to such spiritual disciplines as Zen Buddhism. Shooting demands complete attention of the shooter. It demands complete concentration. It demands that the worries and concerns of daily life be left behind the shooting line and that an inner tranquility settle in.
Marksmanship may well be reduced to the ability to hit a desired target. But, the process requires control of one’s thoughts, emotions, muscles, skeletal structure, and breathing, as well as the self-discipline needed to concentrate one’s attention on the task at hand: firing an accurate shot.
The best shooters will describe the moment the trigger is pulled and the bullet sent on its way as a “surprise.” Their entire mental focus is on bringing their mind and body into a state of dynamic tranquility. Their vision, much like a Big League baseball pitcher who never sees the batter, only the catcher’s glove, is focused on the “sight picture.” The steady pressure of the finger on the trigger becomes second nature, with no thought to exactly when the sear is released and the hammer strikes the primer. That is the “surprise.”
Recreational shooters can enjoy a variety of sports activities. For example, there are traditional events such as trap and skeet for shotgun shooters. Sporting Clays, an exciting game imported from England over the past few decades, combines a “walk in the woods” with shooting scenarios that might include grouse, fleet-winged doves, scampering rabbits, or even sailing waterfowl.
In addition to the always challenging highpower and smallbore rifle competitions shot by marksmen and women for the past century, new games combining a variety of firearms are attracting passionate participants. There are even shooting events tied to history, such as competitions involving replicas of Civil War uniforms and weapons. “Cowboy” shooting competitions require costumes reminiscent of the “Old West” and mastery of 19th Century pistols, rifles, and shotguns. Each is entertaining. Each is demanding. And, within an environment of strict observance of safety and courtesy, each is fun.
Safety is important in every aspect of shooting. Remember to check and be certain of your equipment. Keep it clean and in good repair. Check to ensure it is properly functioning, and that no obstructions or mechanical problems are present.
Do you know which is your “Master Eye?” In shooting, that is the eye you will depend on for sighting your firearm.
Here’s a simple way to identify your Master Eye. Point your finger (it doesn’t matter which hand you use) at an object with both eyes open. Then alternately close one eye, then the other. Your finger will be “lined up” with your Master Eye only. This way you can tell if you are “right eye” dominant or “left eye” dominant
sing open or Iron sights requires you to literally “line up” the front and rear sights for an accurate shot. Optical sights, such as the traditional telescopic sight, eliminate this step for you. Furthermore, the telescopic sight magnifies the target, making it easier to see. However, scoped (telescopic) sights are limited in some ways.
First, while the target is magnified, the shooter’s field of vision through the telescopic sight is narrowed considerably. A great deal of peripheral vision is lost because of this “tunnel vision” effect. The shooter or hunter must take extra care to insure that no other hunter, shooter, hiker, or camper is approaching the danger zone.
The other chief concern relating to scopes is that they are both delicate and precise. This is never more evident than when you attempt to hold the scope’s cross hairs on a target only to see them rise and fall with the same rhythmic sequence as your heartbeat
Sight alignment is exactly that. The front and the rear sight must be aligned together and with the target. Typical open sights are found in the following styles: Front Post and Rear Open; Front Post and Rear Aperture; and Front and Rear Aperture.
The Front Post/Rear Open configuration is probably the most common and familiar to the beginning shooter.
Proper alignment places the front sight exactly in the center of the rear sight’s opening. The top of the front sight should be exactly level with the top of the rear sight. The same principle applies to other variations. With the Front Post/Rear Aperture, the Front Post must appear in the absolute center of the circular aperture of the rear sight. Equal amounts of “daylight” should be seen to either side of the front sight.
Traditional sighting instruction recommends a sight picture that has front and rear sights aligned and the target sitting directly atop the front post much like a cat on a fence. This is also called a “Six O’Clock” Hold as the front sight is positioned at the 6 mark on a clock face.
Some, however, prefer to take a “Center Hold,” where the front post is held directly in the middle of the target.
Important Tip: When using open sights, concentrate your focus on the front sight, not on the target and not on the rear sight. With three separate items before your eyes, any illusion that you will be able to keep all three in sharp focus is exactly that, an illusion. The eye can hold sharp focus on only one thing. Make it the front sight.
A good sight picture will have the rear sight slightly fuzzy, the target slightly fuzzy and the front sight razor-edge sharp.
As with any sport, success comes when your “position” is most conducive to achieving your goal. Just as in baseball, soccer, football, or tennis, unless you have a balanced, relaxed, and stable stance, you cannot achieve your best results. Think of the baseball or softball batter. The hitter will not achieve maximum efficiency at bat if his or her stance is not balanced, stable, and comfortable. The same is true with shooting. If the standing position is required for pistol, rifle or shotgun shooting, then you must look first to creating a stable “shooting platform,” starting with your feet.
Once your feet are positioned approximately shoulder-length apart, check to make sure that your torso can be supported in a relaxed manner. Actually, the most stable position is prone. But, the “game” you choose will dictate the positions you will be required to assume once the signal is given.
Proper Trigger Control is another key ingredient in the accurate and safe shot.
For rifle and pistol shooting, the trigger must be squeezed slowly and steadily. As the sight picture takes shape, increase pressure on the trigger in a motion drawing the finger and trigger straight to the rear. The instant the trigger disengages the sear and the shot is fired should come as a surprise, because your concentration is focused on the sight picture.
Breathing plays an important part in maintaining your good health. Similarly, it plays an important role in how well you shoot. Holding your breath may put a temporary tamper on the in-and-out motion of breathing, but not for long. Deprived of oxygen for any length of time, the brain begins to channel your attention to its needs, not to your sight picture or trigger control.
Just as a relaxed attitude and stance are fundamental to good shooting, so too is relaxed breathing. Keep the oxygen coming until the very moment when the shot is fired. Gentle rhythmic breathing to that point is desirable. As you are exhaling, stop midway, gain your sight picture, squeeze off the shot, and resume breathing.
Even though you’ve pulled the trigger and sent the bullet on its way, it is important that you regain your sight picture after the rearward movement of the shot has caused you to move the muzzle of the gun. Bring your firearm back in line with the target by again acquiring your sight picture after the shot has been fired. This is called follow-through. Once learned, it will improve your ability to shoot accurately.
If you maintain consistency in your stance, breathing, trigger control, sight alignment, and sight picture, you will better be able to compensate for factors such as the wind or a drop in the bullet’s flight path due to gravity.
The basics of marksmanship apply to handguns as well as long guns. Each element (see Plinker to Olympian), such as proper stance, sight alignment, sight picture, breath, and trigger control must be maintained.
Handgun shooting depends upon arm, wrist, and hand strength. It lacks the extra stability of rifle or shotgun shooting, where the shoulder and cheek are snugged against the stock. Building up your arm strength prior to visiting the range is a good idea. A simple exercise is to get a two or three-pound weight (a water-filled plastic milk jug works well) and practice holding it steady at arm’s length. Try extending your index finger and pointing at a distinct mark on the far wall to see how long you can keep it there without trembling.
Whether you use a one-handed or two-handed stance, or whether you are right or left-handed, the basic technique for gripping the handgun remains constant. The handgun should be snugged tightly against the webbing of the palm between the thumb and index finger of the “shooting” or “trigger” hand. The only fingers actually holding the handgun are the third, fourth and fifth. (Note: some of the top handgun competitors from the military services suggest that the bulk of the work is done by the third and fourth fingers only.)
Think of the thumb and trigger finger as if you are using chopsticks. That is, they should be free from actually gripping the handgun and you should be able to move each freely without touching the firearm. Keep the thumb free of the handgun and lightly (applying no pressure) resting at the top of the handgun’s grip to one side. This avoids the typical marksmanship problem of a “too tight” thumb pushing the aimed handgun away from the target.
The index or trigger finger’s only function is to ensure a straight and steady rearward motion of the pad of the fingertip on the trigger. Applying too much pressure with the length of the index finger against the handgun’s frame runs the danger of pushing the handgun away from the target in a similar if opposite action to the over-tight thumb.
Watch Your Thumbs
Do not cross your thumbs behind the handgun. If you shoot a semi-automatic handgun with crisscrossed thumbs, you will notice too late that the slide of the semi-automatic traveling rearward to cycle out the spent cartridge case and chamber a fresh cartridge will have taken with it a chunk from the base of your thumb.
The “position,” “stance,” or “hold” used when shooting handguns can be either a one-handed hold or a two-handed hold. Over the years, many variations have been developed and taught, and their use varies according to the individual’s body size, strength, and personal preference.
An Isosceles Triangle has two equal sides. In the case of the handgun-shooting stance bearing that name, the two equal sides are the left and right arms of the person holding the handgun. This is perhaps the most basic and easy technique for a novice.
The body with feet spread roughly a shoulder-length apart faces the target. Grip the handgun in the “shooting” or “trigger” hand. The support hand should be held “finger over finger” of the trigger hand.
The classic target or “bull’s eye” shooter’s hold uses one hand. The shooter’s body is positioned almost sideways to the target with feet spread about shoulder length apart. This hold can be varied according to the individual’s preference. Some shooters prefer to bring the rearward foot more forward; some stand with their body almost completely facing the target.
The handgun is gripped in the “trigger” hand. The non-gun hand is tucked comfortably in a pocket, on the hip, or with a thumb in a belt loop out of the way. The gun hand is raised to eye level and the principles of marksmanship employed.
The latter decades of the 20th Century saw a resurgence of innovative recreational handgun sports. A number are based on law enforcement or military scenarios. Handgun enthusiasts have developed two-handed stances employing a form of “dynamic tension,” with a push-pull use of the right and left arms.
The most famous is the Weaver Stance. With all deference to its originator and the many variations that followed, it basically has the individual push the gun arm forward, while the non-gun arm (employing the finger over finger, thumb over thumb grip) is bent at the elbow pulling rearward in an attempt to provide a greater bracing effect.
Yet another two-handed technique named after its designer, Paris Theodore, uses the gun arm much like a rifle stock. The non-gun hand (with elbow bent) pulls the rigid gun arm toward the cheek, however, sighting for right handed, normally right-eyed shooters is done with the left eye. For the left-handed shooter, the right eye is the sighting eye. For individuals who feel comfortable using it, the sights and sighting eye appear to line up naturally.
In the final analysis, the proper handgun stance is the stance that allows the individual to deliver one aimed, controlled shot after another safely, efficiently, and comfortably.
Shotgun shooting has its unique characteristics. For one thing, instead of the steady squeeze so necessary for rifle and handgun shooting, shotgun trigger technique requires a slap of the trigger! For another, the emphasis is not so much on aiming as it is on pointing. But, first things first.
Accurate shotgun shooting requires quick reflexive coordination among eyes, body and gun. This dynamic action requires a smooth, fluid motion launched from a stable, comfortable, and relaxed stance.
One sports analogy to the proper shotgun stance likens it to that of the boxer. Feet spread apart, good balance, slight forward lean and bend at the knees, arms and body free to swing either left or right. Natural quickness is the hallmark here.
Experts recommend the following sequence for properly mounting the shotgun to your shoulder. Keep both eyes on the target. Bring the stock to the cheek (not the cheek to the stock). The trigger hand elbow is raised shoulder level. Snug the stock back against the shoulder. Lean slightly toward the target, but not so much that you impair your ability to swing left or right. When you see the gun’s muzzle “touch” the target, give a crisp, quick pull (the “slap”) on the trigger.
Once the shot is fired, don’t stop. Keep the shotgun motion following the target in an easy manner, not unlike using a garden hose to send a spray of water back and forth across a lawn.