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Fundamentals of Shooting a Pistol


There are five (5) fundamental principles that must be observed by all shooters:

aiming, breath control, hold control, trigger control, and follow-through.

Hand and Eye Dominance

Shooting a pistol requires hand and eye coordination. While there are some people who are ambidextrous (the ability to use either hand with equal dexterity), most of us have what is termed as a "Strong Hand" and a "Strong Eye". The strong hand is typically the one we use to write a letter, perform tedious tasks, and use to eat.
To determine eye dominance, locate an object in the distance, placing your hands in a position to form a small triangle. Keeping both eyes open, slowly bring your hands close to your face while remaining focused on the distant object. When your hands are a few inches away from touching your face, you will notice the hole you made with your hands is predominately over one eye. The eye in which your hands naturally gravitated to is your dominant eye.

Holding a Pistol Properly

The Two Handed Grip

The two handed grip is one of the most popular and most commonly used methods for holding a pistol. The process is to hold the pistol with the weak hand while making a Y out of the thumb and fingers of the strong hand. Then place the back strap of the gun against the middle of the intersection of the thumb and forefinger, allowing your fingers to wrap around the grip. Next, bring the support hand around the front of the strong hand grip over lapping the fingers of the strong hand grip, aligning the knuckles of both hands on each side of the grip. When done correctly, the grip will provide plenty of holding power for aiming and shooting the gun while allowing it to remain relatively stable and in the same position after the recoil process has completed.

Note that the thumbs on a semi-automatic pistol are position with the weak thumb positioned slightly in from or the strong hand thumb and below the guns slide to protect them from the sliding action during discharge. For the revolver, the weak hand thumb rests over top of the strong hand thumb for added stability.

Grip consistency is important for accurate shooting results. Because grips are slightly different between makes and models, some will be smaller or larger than others which means there will be slight adjustments depending on the model gun you are using. It's always recommended to practice with the pistol you will use most often, such as a carry pistol to ensure consistent positioning.

Aiming Your Pistol

Aiming consists of aligning the firearm sights correctly with the target in such a manner when the bullet is discharged, the target is struck exactly where the sights were aligned.

Aiming involves two concepts: Sight Alignment and Sight Picture. Sight alignment

refers to the alignment of your eye with the top of both the front and rear sights, having both sights perfectly aligned or level. The second half of the equation involves aligning the front sight perfectly within the two notches of the rear sight, with an equal balance of space on each side of the front site. The diagram to the right depicts this perfect alignment showing the red + sign.

Sight Picture

refers to the relationship between the gun's perfectly aligned sights and the target. There are two primary methods for aiming for the sight picture: The 6 o'clock position used for target shooting and the center position used for defensive shooting. In the top diagram, the center position aiming method is being utilized; not how the center of the bulls eye is in the center of the red + symbol.

In the diagram to the left, the 6 o'clock sight alignment method is used for target shooting where the bottom of the bulls eye lies directly on top of the front and rear sights.
The diagram also shows the effect you will have on hitting your target when the sights are not perfectly aligned. By following the position of the front sight in relation to its alignment between the two notches in the rear sight, you can see how and where the bullet will strike.

Breath Control

Breath control is something you cannot learn from a book, instruction manual, or instructor--it's something only you can control and learn over time. Essentially, every time you take a breath your ribcage expands which causes your shoulders to rise which then affects your arms and ultimately your sight alignment. The recommended method to control your breathing is to inhale as normal as you acquire your target. Once your target is acquired, at about half way through the process of exhaling, you hold your breath for 3-5 seconds and then pull the trigger, completing the exhale process once the weapon is discharged.

Breath control is extremely difficult under strenuous circumstances, such as when faced with a life-threatening situation. However, by practicing on a regular basis, even under these extreme conditions, your body will have been "taught" what to do when firing your weapon. This type of physical and mental conditioning requires training, target practice, and consistently good breathing habits.

Hold Control

Hold control is the period of time in which the firearm is griped firmly and correctly, you have acquired your target and are ready to fire, therefore you have momentarily stopped breathing, and you are in a proper, stable, and balanced shooting stance. When all these conditions occur at the same time, you're in a completely still position and ready to fire.

Trigger Control

Trigger control is extremely important in order to fire your gun safely and consistently. The ideal positioning for your finger is to be able to apply pressure to the trigger in a straight, steady, rear ward direction with no movement of the gun from its acquired sight target. Trigger control can literally make the difference between hitting your target and missing it entirely.

For single-action shooting and semi-automatic pistols that are cocked and ready for use, the trigger finger should be placed on the trigger somewhere between the tip of the finger and the first joint. This position is ideal because the firearm is ready to shoot, therefore, the pressure required to fire the pistol is considerably less than if the pistol needed to be cycled from the beginning. For double-action pistols where you are planning to complete the entire shooting process (cocking, rotating fresh ammunition in-place, firing), the trigger finger should be placed on the trigger where the first joint of the finger is located. This position allows for greater pressure to be applied to the trigger as the entire firing process is taking place.

Dry-fire exercise is important in learning the correct finger placement for the weapon you use. If you find you are pulling slightly in one direction or another, try positioning the trigger on your finger in a slightly different position--a little more towards the tip or edge of the finger or a little bit closer to the joint. When you fire your weapon, release the trigger slowly back into position where, during the trigger release, you'll feel the trigger "reset" itself before it is returned completely to the original position. By making it a habit to dry-fire on a regular basis, you'll soon know when your trigger has been reset and when you can commence shooting another round.

Some students practice at home, arrive at the range, and notice their aim is off. Many times, their first shot was dead-on where following shots are completely off. This is oftentimes because new students are not used to the blast, muzzle flash, and recoil that occurs while shooting live rounds. Students shoot the first shot perfectly because they didn't know when the gun will actually fire. Afterwards, they will then tense up in anticipation of the shot, squint their eyes, or making movements to compensate for the blast. This is a perfectly normal reaction and only time spent at the range will correct these bad reactions.


Follow-through is simply the process of continuing through all the previous steps described in a consistent and regular fashion. Without follow through, you're certain to affect your shooting accuracy and consistency. As with any of these new skills, it takes time at the range to practice and utilize them to the best of your ability.
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