How to Shoot a Firearm: Practice Makes Perfect

Whether just learning to shoot, or teaching others to shoot, it’s important that we understand the particular learning process that is involved. Learning to shoot a firearm accurately is not much different from teaching someone to play baseball or drive a car. It is learning a series of hand/eye coordinated movements and applying them to the task at hand.

You might think back to those long-ago years when you were first learning to drive. If you’ll recall, every movement, no matter how small, was a real effort. You had to think about pressing the gas. You had to think about applying the brakes. But, if you did too much or too little, you had problems.  And then you were steering and watching the other traffic. Oh, and be sure to look out for other cars pulling out, or people crossing the street. And please do all of that all at once, keeping in mind that you are operating a dangerous piece of machinery.

We tell our students that good marksmanship comprises sight picture, breath control, proper grip, and trigger press. Often, in our lectures, we say that in a way that almost implies that it is easy. You know, just do all that stuff and success is yours. The simple fact is that it is not easy. And it takes time and experience for the brain to process what needs to be done and then to require the body to do it in the proper way.

This is the reason that practice is so important. Because it is only through repetition that we get our body, mind, hand, and eye in sync with each other. Slowly and surely, what started out as a difficult task becomes manageable — if we practice it time and time again. And then it becomes second nature to where we forget how challenging it was in the beginning.

This next week, I’ll be the guest instructor for a women’s defensive pistol class. And, I was thinking about ways to help them learn good shooting habits. I have decided that I am going to begin by reminding them what it was like for all of us when we were first learning to drive. It was hard, and it was a bit scary. And they need to know that I know that and understand that. Then, once we are all on the same page, we can begin making progress in learning.

We can understand a principle without being able to perform the functions that are involved. The only way to perform the necessary moves involved with shooting quickly and accurately is to practice sound techniques and then practice, practice, practice.

In the past, in these columns, I have almost apologized for how often I talk about training and practice. Well, no more! My friends, it’s the only way that you’ll ever get there.

A version of this article appeared in Shooting Illustrated.

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