THE FUNDAMENTALS ARE YOUR FOUNDATION
I get asked often how to become a better shot in a variety of different situations on the range. The truth is it usually comes back to the fundamentals. The fundamentals are your foundation and gateway to creativity, adaptability, survival and ultimately mastery over your situation.
For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, I made a lexicon at the end of this article, just for you! This article is meant to introduce the basics of shooting for beginners.
But wait, I thought we were going to hear about how to shoot? I know what you’re thinking.
Every single range should start with – you guessed it – safety. Let’s review the key safety principles:
Treat a firearm as though it is loaded. If you’re not sure the state of your firearm, unload and clear it. When unloading and clearing, apply the safety if possible, remove the source of ammunition and all ammunition from inside of the firearm. Then physically and visually check the chamber, area where ammunition will be loaded or the feed path, and the bolt face or area which extracts the ammunition, and operate the trigger in a safe direction. Finally lock the action in an open or back position to show the cleared state of the weapon to your Range Safety Officer or instructor, or if you are placing it on a bench.
Orient your firearm towards the safest possible direction or what you intend to shoot at. Never point the weapon at yourself or sweep it across others. That means don’t check your pistol’s light or laser is on by putting your hand in front of it! This is also known as “lasing” or “flagging”. I recommend orienting your firearm towards the ground if you are not employing it or if it is not holstered, as it is usually the safest direction and the rules in Canada in particular won’t allow you to orient barrels upward above burms/backstops on the range.
Operate the safety feature of your firearm diligently, meaning if you are not shooting or about to take the shot, apply the mechanical safety (if your firearm has one).
Keep your trigger finger straight and high above the trigger guard of your firearm when you aren’t firing at a target. Some might tell you straight across the trigger guard is good, but I would disagree as under stress or movement you may still slip and touch the trigger if your finger is on the trigger guard. This also allows people around you to see daylight through your trigger guard and demonstrates knowledge of safety principles.
Understand your target, what’s in front of it and what’s behind it (hopefully a backstop). Clearing your firearm? Pointing it toward a wooden wall with people on the other side is no good when a round accidentally goes off and penetrates your “safe direction”. This also includes positive identification of the target and target isolation for armed professionals. Positive identification refers to being sure your target meets your requirement for lethal force and it is in fact your target. Target isolation refers to ensuring the area behind your target is a safe backstop in case of over penetration of your rounds.
There are many other good points which could be raised, such as knowing your range-specific safety considerations, but the last critical point you need to consider is to have a plan if you or someone around you is shot. Do some research, take a first aid course (or even better a tactical medicine course), build your Individual First Aid Kit (IFAK) and have a tourniquet and know how to apply it. Putting holes in paper is fun, but if you are putting lead downrange you always run a risk of seeing that lead go through someone or something you didn’t expect it to. Have a plan and be prepared to employ it. Know the range-specific rules and do everything you can to mitigate the risks.
The range should provide the address on an easy to find and read sign nearby where you are shooting, in the event you need to call EMS. They may or may not also provide a first aid kit. Don’t think this could happen to you or someone around you? Do a quick search to see many people shoot themselves in various body parts by accident.
Anything less than mastery of these safety considerations is irresponsible. You are handling a deadly weapon, which makes you responsible for the safety of you and everyone around you. If you see something unsafe, say “STOP” and take appropriate actions to rectify the situation. If you’re wrong, and it’s totally safe, nobody can fault you – that’s the whole point!
Principles of Marksmanship
Before we launch right into it, the overall goal is consistency. To achieve this, start slow and stay slow until you are putting 5 rounds inside a 5-inch circle consistently at 5 meters with your handgun or 10 meters with your rifle from a standing position. Similarly, from a sitting position or on a bench, achieving the same with a rifle at 20 meters is a good initial goal.
Trigger Squeeze: when you start out, imagine squeezing slowly and consistently, like gently applying the brake of a car. Another way to think about this is dividing the trigger’s operation into three phases: the squeeze (1), follow-through which means holding the trigger to the rear as you reset the sights (2) and release to the trigger reset (3). Taking up the slack slowly in the squeeze, holding the trigger to the rear after the shot release and letting the trigger out to the reset of the trigger sear (ready to fire again) ensures the point of aim is not influenced by the trigger manipulation. Anticipation of the shot or jerking the trigger will result in a bad shot.
Sight Picture and Aiming: using your sights or scope correctly is critical. Understand what needs to be adjusted to zero the rifle to your personal body requirements. A zeroed rifle for you will not likely be the same zero for your friend, because no two people have exactly the same proportions and eyes. Also try to maintain exactly the same point of aim throughout your shooting, using a particular corner or feature to maintain focus on your point of aim.
Sight Alignment and Natural Alignment: Ensure the sights are set up correctly, and that the weapon is not canted (tilted). Next determine where your focus should be. For example, with a pistol you must first line the rear sight up with the front sight in a method we call “equal height, equal light.” This means the front sight must be flush along the top to the front sight and evenly spaced in the middle of the rear sight. Your focus then rests on the position of the front sight on the target for the best results. Lastly, the position of your body should naturally point towards your target. Shooting from any position, take up your point of aim, relax and close your eyes. After taking a breath and opening up your eyes, check yourself for any change in point of aim. This will indicate your body is naturally pulling you away from your point of aim and you should adjust your body position.
Breathing: there are many schools of thought about breathing. The biggest advantage of breathing in shooting is relaxation. Slowing your breath down to lower your heart rate and relax is a good way to improve your focus on the point of aim. Most will find their best timing for long distance shots at the bottom of their second exhale, but some positions or situations call for holding your breath or shooting multiple rounds on one breath.
Position and Hold: In addition to having natural alignment, your position must be strong and steady. Each position calls for specific techniques, which will be covered in a later article. Hold or grip of your firearm is crucial to being effective with it, and again is very specific and dependent on your firearm, your hand size and your comfort. Some typical grips and positions are in the photos below. A consistent and repeatable presentation of your firearm is also important – specifically ensuring that you are being efficient and consistent in how your firearm goes from being in the holster/slung to into a sight picture. Practicing effective draws from the holster and presentation for pistol work is very important.
Psychological factors and mindset: you must develop a calm and confident mindset. Never let a bad shot or the difficulty of employing the firearm accurately deter you. More importantly, not letting the explosion of the round firing bother you is critical to your learning. Being relaxed and open in your mind is the first step to learning and mastering the fundamentals.
Before getting into more advanced techniques or competitive shooting, having an understanding of these fundamentals will greatly help you improve your proficiency and accuracy.
Choosing a firearm
Now that you understand the fundamental principles of marksmanship, you can start to practice with your firearm. Don’t have one? Find a friend to practice with before you buy a firearm. This will give you an opportunity to find out what works for you. Shooting on a simulator for example is a great way to find out what kind of firearm feels good in your hand and appeals to you. At Chimera Firearms Training we employ an authentic firearms simulator to practice fundamentals and explore new concepts before heading out to the range to confirm those principles or ideas.
Some key points to consider are cost of the firearm, cost of ammunition, how it fits your hands but most of all why you want to shoot. For those looking to improve accuracy, a .22 caliber rifle or pistol is a great and inexpensive way to start.
Know your safety principles, including having a first aid kit and medical plan.
Take your time working through the marksmanship principles as this is the foundation of shooting.
Pick your firearm after careful consideration and ideally trying out different options on a firearms simulator or at a range.
What’s your next step? To put this theory into practice, email me personally at firstname.lastname@example.org to start your journey to becoming a great shot!
Chimera Firearms also has a simulator which you can use to inexpensively practice these principles. See our offerings at chimerafirearms.com.
Thanks for reading! See you on the range,
Cheek weld – the position of your cheek on the buttstock of a firearm, whether it is a carbine or another kind of gun with a part connecting your body to the main part of the firearm.
Point of aim – the part of the target you are aiming at and intending to hit.
Point of impact – where your bullets strike the target.
Safe direction – a direction in which a round could strike with no significant repercussions to life or limb, and ideally not property or equipment either, typically the backstop of a range or a clearing bay.
Sight picture – your view through your sights, which means the instrument which helps you aim.
Trigger sear – the mechanical feature which is audible and feels like a ‘click’ upon releasing the trigger, which indicates the trigger is ready to be pulled again.
Unorthodox positions – positions which are taken up creatively, are not typically used or are sub-optimal but required given a circumstance – for example the “urban prone”, where the shooter needs to lie down on the side of the body and shoot sideways.
Zeroing your firearm – adjusting the sight to your preferences, so that the point of aim and point of impact are the same at the distance you intend to use the firearm for.