When it comes to shooting, as with most things in life, I'm a fundamentalist. After years of instructing and training hundreds of folks from ages four to eighty-seven, I have found that the shooters who master the fundamentals, or call them the basics if you want, seem to improve the most and have the best results. Firearm safety fundamentals are the most critical to master.
The NRA has the "always" rules:
- ALWAYS keep the gun pointed in a safe direction.
- ALWAYS keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot.
- ALWAYS keep the gun unloaded until ready to use.
I would tend to argue that you could potentially violate any TWO of those rules and nothing of importance would meet an unfortunate demise because of your gun. Now I know there are additional gun safety rules including the next NRA rule of "Know your target and what is beyond" and some groups which precede all gun safety rules with "Treat every gun as if it is loaded at all times". In Ohio 4H Shooting Sports we use the acronym MATEE which stands for Muzzle, Action, Trigger, Eyes, Ears. No matter what gun safety rules you follow, I don't believe in accidental discharges from firearms. Firearm accidents from unintended discharges are almost always from negligence or recklessness that can be traced back to someone not following the fundamental rules of gun safety.
So far (knock on wood and thank the Lord), I have never had a firearm accident in any of my courses or during the 4H shooting events I've instructed and participated in because the fundamentals of gun safety are reviewed, practiced, and drilled into everyone present. We always remind our 4Hers that this is an adult activity so you will be treated as an adult and you will act like an adult, and that goes for the parents too... and because of fundamentals, we manage to send tens of thousands of rounds down-range every year and have never had an accident (just don't tell the liberal anti-gun nuts that we have kids shooting that much on a regular basis without any problems, it will ruin their day, along with their mis-guided theories).
When it comes to shooting, the fundamentals are the foundation of good results whether you are hunting, plinking, shooting in competition, or developing good self-defense techniques. In the future, I plan to discuss the shooting fundamentals in more detail, but for now a brief reminder of those basic, foundational skills that good shooting is built on.
GRIP: You need to develop good and consistent grips, yes grips - including one and two-handed grips for handguns. I have found that a good, consistent grip will allow you to shoot well in most standard (weaver, isosceles, etc.) positions and stances along with many unusual positions such as prone, on your side, upside down (courtesy of the Top Gun series), and while moving.
POSITION: Sometimes referred to as stance or hold control, my views on position and stance have changed over the years. Developing a good, consistent position or stance that is appropriate for your shooting situation is important, but when it comes to self-defense or hunting, you should also become adept at mastering and adapting to improvised and unusual shooting positions. Too often when we practice our stances and positions, it occurs at a range or somewhere that is clear and level. Sometimes when hunting I find myself on a hillside with brush and other objects to negotiate with. You need to be able to adapt your stance or position to various conditions and situations you encounter. Now with handguns, I began with and trained in the Weaver stance decades ago, but I'm becoming more of an isosceles fan in recent years. The isosceles stance is used as a foundation for many handgun shooting sports and I've noticed in the day and age of Youtube and dashcams, many law enforcement officers trained in the Weaver-type stances default to an arms-straight-out, isosceles stance when the crap hits the fan and bullets are flying.
AIMING: Developing aiming skills that include quick and consistent acquisition of your sights, sight alignment, and/or sight picture will make you a better shooter. It is also important to remember that one sight doesn't necessarily fit all. You don't have to be stuck with the sights that came on your gun. There are many sights and optics available for just about any firearm and you should try them and consider what types of sights work best for you, your gun, and your situation. You combine good, consistent aiming skills with your grip and various stances and positions, draw from concealment and press out, or other techniques for putting that muzzle on the target and you will likely hit your target every time.
BREATHING: Two aspects of breathing that affect shooting are controlling your breathing and conditioning your breathing. I have a friend who recently asked me to observe him at an IDPA shoot to see if I could offer any advice on how he could improve. Now I'm not an expert at IDPA, but I do know the fundamentals of shooting pretty well. One thing I noticed was his breathing, or lack there of, was very noticeable. He was not breathing while shooting, then gasping for a big breath as he ran to his next station, then holding his breath throughout the shooting in that position. He actually does pretty well in IDPA, but he's now working on fundamentals with his breathing and seeing improvement in his shooting. Controlling your breathing is important, but so is conditioning your breathing - which means conditioning yourself. Now I'm no expert on physical conditioning as my personal physical condition needs improved and I'm working on it, but the better condition your are in, the better breath control you will have. You can't shoot well if you are "heaving" for air with each breath.
TRIGGER CONTROL: A good shooter has to master the bang-switch. Three things that really seem to help with trigger control are the placement of your finger on the trigger which is affected by how the gun fits you and your hand, developing a good, consistent, straight-back trigger squeeze, and for those who want or need to rapid-fire... developing the skill of allowing trigger reset with no more movement than is necessary. If you can master the fundamentals of squeezing the trigger while keeping those sights lined up and on target, you will do well.
FOLLOW-THROUGH: While traditionally, follow-through in the NRA Basic Course consists of continuing to do everything you were doing before you pulled the trigger, in many shooting activities follow-through involves a lot more. Follow-through may involve acquiring the next target. A few years back, I spent a lot of time going to bowling pin shoots and was doing pretty well. I utilized a shooting cadence technique and as I practiced, I just increased the rate or speed of my cadence of shooting and the skill of acquiring the next target in my follow-through. If you checked my times on the ol' Pact timer you would see pretty consistent intervals between each of my shots. Sometimes in self-defense, follow-through involves acquiring a head shot after two shots to the center of mass, followed by a scan of the area for more zombies wanting to do you harm. Determine what follow-through is necessary in your situation and practice regularly.
So my advice to folks who want to improve their shooting, as it is so often in many areas of life, master the fundamentals.