How to shoot a weapon

we need to cover safety rules first.

  1. Treat every weapon as if it was loaded.
  2. Keep your trigger finger along the receiver and off the trigger until you are ready to fire.
  3. Never aim the weapon at anything you are not prepared to shoot or destroy.
  4. Be sure of what is in front of your target and what is behind it.

Rule number one is simple to explain. More people have shot themselves or someone else with an unloaded weapon than we’d like to admit. That is, they thought it was unloaded until it went BANG!

Rule 2…

Todd Jarrett

This is champion shooter Todd Jarrett drawing his pistol. Notice his grip of the pistol still inside the holster. His trigger finger is alongside the receiver of the weapon, even though it’s still holstered. You should practice indexing your grip many times until it is second nature.

Your trigger finger should NEVER touch the trigger until you are ready to shoot. I understand there is a school of shooting where they advocate starting your trigger squeeze when your pistol is still at your chest, and by the time you are extended and on target, you’ve fired. Don’t do it. This mindset is asking for accidents. DO  NOT PUT YOUR FINGER ON THE TRIGGER UNTIL YOU HAVE MADE THE DECISION TO FIRE!

Please do not attempt any of Todd Jarrett’s shooting skills unless you have gotten as good as Todd Jarrett. If a weapons manufacturer is willing to pay you to wear clothing with their logo on it, then you can try his stunts. If not, then… don’t try.

Rule three is to only point the weapon at something you intend to kill or destroy. It’s not funny to point a gun at someone. In every state in the United States, it is a felony, and it’s called “brandishing”. If you’ve ever had anyone point a gun at you, you’ll understand – it’s not funny. It’s terrifying. And too many people break rule number two that rule number three usually results in people getting “accidentally” shot. If you point your gun at someone deliberately, my assumption is you plan on killing them. In the eyes of the law, that’s their conclusion as well.

Rule four… most of the weapons I recommend are high caliber. If you point a 9mm, .45 ACP, 30-06 M1, a 5.56mm AR15, or a 7.62mm AK-47 at anything short of a grizzly bear, the rounds are PROBABLY going right through it. Shooting at a tree means with most of these calibers, unless its a large tree, the round may go right through it.  many weapons classes add the rule “Be aware of your backstop” as well… Aiming at a tree for practice is dangerous unless there’s a large rock, chunk of metal, or mound of earth behind it.

Okay, now that we’ve got the safety rules explained, let’s work on shooting.

Correct Pistol Grip

you’ll notice this picture is captioned “how to hold a pistol correctly.” Yes, it is. The forward hand pulls backwards a little, and the rear hand points forwards.

The support hand thumb points at the target. Keep that in mind. I found several photos of people holding handguns where the support hand thumb was aimed at the sky (???) or at the ground.

I don’t know what they’re planning on shooting, but hey… the bullet is probably not going where they want.

this grip is called “el Presidente” by Todd Jarrett fans, but its correct name is the Hathcock grip, after USMC sniper Carlos Hathcock, said to be one of the three best snipers in history.

Hathcock designed a better way to hold a pistol for firing, because basically, shooting a pistol accurately is one of the hardest weapons to shoot accurately. The Marine Corps and Army before this preferred a grip known as the Teacup, which basically was a one handed grip of the pistol, and the support hand gripping beneath the butt of the weapon. It wasn’t as accurate, and you had to drastically change your grip to change magazines.

Considering at the time the weapon of the US military was the Colt 1911, and had a magazine capacity of 7 rounds, you would change magazines a lot.

The Hathcock grip enables you to keep your firing hand in place, while the support hand frees up to change magazines tactically.

There’s two kinds of reload, Tactical and speed. a Speed reload is when you’ve emptied your magazine and need a new one in there immediately. Thumb your magazine release and drop the magazine, while retrieving a fresh one.

Tactical reload is to grip the magazine between first and middle fingers. Remove the magazine inside the weapon, and then slide the other magazine in place. return the partially depleted magazine inside your left back pocket. Why there? Every pair of pants I’ve seen has one.

To shoot…

Raise your pistol until you are looking down the sights with your dominant eye. Do not bring your head down, but bring the weapon up. There should be equal height, equal light. In other words, the V notch in your rear sight should have the front sight level and directly in the middle.

Correct Pistol Grip

SQUEEZE the trigger backward. There’s some technical terms to know, and that is slack (the amount of room a trigger moves until it encounters resistance) and break, the actual firing of the weapon.

There should be NO PAUSE between taking up slack, and the break. Why? It conditions you to flinch.

If you flinch, you miss.

Make sure your pistol is completely unloaded (learn how to unload, clear and rack back your chosen pistol). Let the slide forward, and then place a penny on the barrel of the weapon. SQUEEZE the trigger back until it clicks. The penny should not move. If the penny moves or drops, you’re slapping the trigger, and the shot will go down.

Repeat this until it becomes second nature.

When sighting your pistol, ALWAYS practice bringing the pistol sight up to your eye. The rear sight should be blurry, the front sight clearly defined, and the target slightly blurred. In other words, your eyes should be focused on the front sight alone.

There are five elements of shooting…

  1.  stance
  2. grip
  3. sight alignment/sight picture
  4. breathing
  5. trigger squeeze

Stance is easy. Bend your knees, most of your weight on the balls of your feet. Got that? That was quick.

Grip. I described it above. It takes a little practice, but not too much. With the back/forth grip and pull I described above, I went from seeing my round appear close to where I was aiming, to RIGHT ON where I was aiming.

Sight picture

Sight alignment/sight picture. I described that above. Most people use the “pumpkin on a post” sight picture. Place the front sight in the middle of what you intend to shoot, and just barely under it. The recoil will lift the shot into the target.

Notice the rear sight is blurry. Yup. That’s right. Thats how it should be.

“But wait! the target is blurry!”

Uh-huh. That’s how it should be.

Your focus sohuld be ON THE FRONT SIGHT ONLY! If you get it right, the pistol will hit the target every time. If your trigger squeeze is right, and your sight alignment is right, you should see the gas as the pistol fires, a nice orange flame. Then you blink.

Practice getting your sight right. Practice a slow trigger squeeze until the action break happens.

If you don’t have the sight alignment right, the trigger squeeze will make it worse. If you have the sight alignment correct, but an improper trigger squeeze, you’ll hit off the target. Pretty easy to fix, but it takes PRACTICE.

Here’s another picture of it for better reference…

The picture below is a good picture of grip, and a fairly good picture of sight alignment. Actually the round that’s going to be fired will be slightly to the left. notice how the front sight has a hair bit more light on the right hand side of the target? It’s either a sighting error, or it;s a lack of compensation on the support hand.

Actually, what it probable is is the person demonstrating the shot probably has a perfect grip and sight alignment, except the person taking the picture has the wrong alignment. You run into those kinds of trades when you’re trying to get a camera in between a person’s eye and the sights of a gun, AND getting proper focus.


Breathing. Breathing is easy. Just breathe. While raising the gun to the target, I begin to exhale. AS my exhale completes, I am acquiring my sights. There’s usually a fraction of a second of “float” where the target swims under your heartbeat. This minimizes as you exhale all the air out of your lungs. Squeeze the trigger back, and inhale as you blink.

The blink must come AFTER the shot. If your eyes close as you squeeze the trigger, you’re flinching. If you flinch, you miss.

You should ALWAYS see the flame from the shot. ALWAYS. Unless you have a flash suppressor built into your pistol, like my Argentinia 1927 Army model. By the way, I really hate my flash suppressor, and when I get $30 to spare, I’m going to replace the barrel bushing on my .45 with a stock one. The flash suppressor seems like a tactical idea but in reality, it’s a bad idea, because now my .45 is almost two inches longer, and that much more  difficult to draw from a holster.

Shooting takes practice. I must have shot 10,000 rounds the first week I learned to shoot, and i went from “couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn” to “acceptable.” I then spent several months shooting, and got to the point where I could spend some time putting smiley faces on my target.

If your survival plan equals buying a pistol and  10,000 rounds of ammo and rushing for Idaho, Alaska, etc….  without learning to shoot it, I’m going to advise you to get a second weapon like a .22 and another 10,000 rounds, plus a box full of targets. Anyone who buys a weapon and doesn’t learn how to shoot it and rushes off to the wild will probably die very quickly.

What should you spend your time practicing? Trigger squeeze. Trigger squeeze is everything. Practice practice practice. You can dry fire thousands of times, and develop good habits.

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