The trick to introducing a new shooter is to make the experience fun. Nobody wants to be a failure and beginning marksmen are no exception. So we, the instructors, can play up the fun aspect of the sport and make sure that all new shooters have bragging rights. One way to do it is to start with the easiest targets possible. After safety rules and the manual of arms has been explained, it’s a good idea to make sure that the shooter can use sights properly and control the trigger well. A visible laser aimed below the line of sight for the shooter can be very helpful because it doesn’t distract the trainee while providing a point of aim indicator to the instructor.
Once try fire exercises have been completed, it is time to make holes in paper. For most new pistol shooters, a target at 21ft would present a formidable challenge. So set up a target at one foot from the muzzle. Have your trainee fire half-dozen shots with a .22. For noise reduction, I recommend subsonics, provided they cycle in your pistol. If the new shooter flinches badly, you will know it right away and be able to correct. Once your shooter has a tight cluster of hits, replace the target with a fresh one and move it back to two feet. Then three feet.
Time for larger targets. Still at three feet, let them shoot at a reduced silhouette. Watch for trigger control and sighting problems. If all is well, move the target back a couple of feet. Then a couple more. Now it is time for breaking things and not just punching paper. If your range allows reactive targets, set up sporting clays on the ground or place them on a clay target holder. The visual feedback provided by disintegrating clays is a good motivator for the new shooters. Clays are about five and a third of an inch in diameter and a hit on the edge usually breaks them as well as a hit in the center. Set up around ten feet from the muzzle, they are slightly challenging but still very reasonable targets for beginners.
Once your trainee has a solid track record of being good at everything he tried, offer a much more distant target. Set up a full-size silhouette at fifteen feet and tape a sheet of typing paper over the X and the 10 ring. The contrasting tone would make aiming easier and support “aim small, miss small”. Have your shooter take his time with this. Remove the white paper before showing the results to the marksman — the hits should be pretty tightly clustered and look very respectable. Have your shooter sign the paper and counter-sign it with a date. The keepsake from this range trip is now ready for hanging on a wall at home.
Obviously, the exact ranges can be changed and different targets would likewise be just fine. The main idea is that all challenges should be surmountable and at no time should your trainee be frustrated. Instant gratification combined with steady progress and individually appropriate pace are the key to making the first range trip work well.
PS: Have any hints or favorite techniques of your own for teaching newbies? Share them here!