January 31st, 2020

Six Strategies to Become a Better Pistol Shooter

Birchwood Casey Target Spots neon day-glow
OK this is no novice. But even champion pistol shooter Jessie Harrison, Captain of Team Taurus, had to start with the basics. Jessie says that safety should always be your number one priority.

At AccurateShooter.com, our primary focus is precision target shooting with rifles. But it’s definitely fun to shoot pistols too, and we bet most of our regular readers own handguns. Here are six tips for shooting safely and accurately with handguns. These pointers will help you advance your skills and have more fun with your pistols and revolvers.

1. Make Sure Safety Is Number One

Whether you own one gun or one hundred, gun safety must always be your main priority. In this video, Smith & Wesson Team Captain Julie Golob covers the basics of gun safety.

2. Start with a .22 LR Handgun

Pistol Shooting Tips Target Mentor safety training

We strongly recommend that new pistol shooters start off with a .22 LR rimfire handgun. The .22 LR cartridge is accurate but has very low recoil, less “bark” than a centerfire, and very little smoke and muzzle flash. New shooters won’t have to fight muzzle flip, and won’t develop a flinch from the sharp recoil and muzzle blast common to larger calibers. With the .22 LR, the trainee can focus on sight alignment, breathing, and trigger pull. When he or she has mastered those skills, move on to a .38 Special or 9mm Luger (9x19mm).

What gun to use? We recommend the 10-shot Smith & Wesson Model 617. Shooting single action, slow-fire, this is ideal for training. Shown above is the 4″-barrel Model 617version which balances well. There is also a 6″-barrel version. It has a longer sight radius, but is a little nose-heavy. Both are great choices. They are extremely accurate and they boast a very clean, precise trigger.

browning buck mark buckmark stainless udx rimfire .22 LR pistol

If you prefer a semi-auto .22 LR pistol, we recommend the Browning Buck Mark series. Buck Marks are very accurate and very reliable. This rimfire pistol is available in a variety of models starting at under $350.00. Like the S&W Model 617, a good Buck Mark will serve you for a lifetime.

5. Use Quality Targets with Multiple Aim Points

Birchwood Casey Target Spots neon day-glow

Birchwood Casey Target Spots neon day-glowIt’s common for new pistoleros to start shooting at cans or clay birds at a public range. That can be fun, but it’s better to start with proper targets, placed at eye level, at 7-10 yards. We like to use targets with large, brightly colored circles. Focus on putting 5 shots in a circle. We recommend targets that have multiple bullseyes or aiming points — that way you don’t have to constantly change your target. There are also special paper targets that can help you diagnose common shooting problems, such as anticipating recoil. EZ2C makes very good targets with bright, red-orange aim points. You can also use the bright orange Birchwood Casey stick-on Target Dots (right). These come in a variety of diameters. We like the 2″ dot at 10 yards.

3. Shoot Outdoors If You Can

Pistol Shooting Tips Target Mentor safety training

We recommend that new pistol shooters begin their training at an outdoor range. There are many reasons. First, the light is better outdoors. Indoor ranges can be dark with lots of shadows, making it harder to see your target. Second, sound dissipates better outdoors. The sound of gunfire echoes and bounces off walls indoors. Third, an outdoor range is a more comfortable environment, particularly if you can get out on a weekday morning. Indoor ranges, at least in urban areas, tend to be crowded. Many also have poor ventilation. If you can make it to an outdoor range, you’ll be happy. Many outdoor ranges also have some steel pistol targets, which offer a fun alternative to paper. When shooting steel however, we recommend polymer encased or lead bullets to avoid ricochets.

5. Find a Good Mentor and Watch Some Videos First

Pistol Shooting Tips Target Mentor safety training
Photo courtesy AV Firearms Training.

Too many new pistol shooters try to move right to rapid fire drills. It’s better to start slow, practicing the basics, under the guidance of a good mentor. If you belong to a club, ask if there are certified instructors who will help out. This Editor learn pistol shooting from a seasoned bullseye shooter, who got me started with a .22 LR revolver and very close targets. Over the course of a few range sessions we progressed to farther targets and faster pace. But the fundamentals were never forgotten. When starting your pistol training, it’s wise to view some instructional videos. Top Shot Champion Chris Cheng hosts an excellent Handgun 101 Series produced by the NSSF. We’ve linked one of these Handgun 101 videos for Tip #6.

6. SLOW DOWN — This Is Not a Race

When you learned to ride a bicycle, you started slow — maybe even with training wheels. The same principle applies to pistol shooting. When you get started with handguns, we recommend you shoot slowly and deliberately. Start with the handgun unloaded — just work on your sight alignment and breathing. With snap caps in place, try some dry-firing drills. Then progress to live fire. But be deliberate and slow. With the target at 20 feet, see if you can get three successive shot-holes to touch. Believe it or not, many common pistols are capable of this kind of accuracy (but you won’t see many shooters at indoor ranges who pursue that kind of precision). Once you master your form and accuracy, then you can work on your speed.

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