Getting It Right: Avoiding Shooting Mistakes – Part 2

One-shot practice

In Part 1 of this blog series, we covered some of the most common reasons people make shooting mistakes (including “The Big Four”).

Now, let’s look at the most profitable means of learning the best technique for an individual shooter, in order to further help with avoiding shooting mistakes.

Practice Makes Perfect

We all start somewhere. Amateurs practice until they get it right. Professionals practice until they cannot do it wrong.

There are difficult techniques that require different levels of work and practice for different people, but the basics must be mastered first and with finality.

Unless you have the grip, stance and trigger press mastered, you will not progress. The basics mastered does not mean you cannot attempt new techniques.

Close-range shooting practice helps with avoiding shooting mistakes.
Beginning at close range is the best way to start avoiding shooting mistakes.

Just be certain the deviation is profitable. As long as you achieve good sight picture and sight alignment and a good trigger press, there is room for the individual to accommodate themselves.

I regard unaimed fire or point-shooting of any kind—except at very short range—as a bankrupt doctrine. Many erstwhile techniques fall apart when subjected to a range test.

I think that far more shooters are poorly armed due to a lack of meaningful practice than for any other reason—including poor firearms choice.

A formidable shot with a second-class handgun is considered “well-armed.” The poor shot with a first-class handgun is “poorly armed.”

Is There a Go-To Shooting Technique?

There are no 10 Commandants of shooting that do not include rigorous self-assessment and practice.

You will be working to build your own shooting technique and help others with avoiding shooting mistakes as well.

It is difficult, but very satisfying.

I believe in a free marketplace of thought and enjoy honest debate, but I can be very persuasive concerning my own beliefs in what I know works.

The NRA has worked out an excellent lesson plan for personal defense shooters. Find an NRA certified instructor and get with the plan!

The Importance of Pistol Grip

I don’t worry about mish-mashing styles as long as I see the definition of muscle in my shooters. The technique should extract the full potential from both the shooter and the handgun.

As you evaluate a shooting technique, do not fire a few rounds and give up. Take the time to give the technique an honest try. Make a few trips to the range and try the styles.

But basics always apply. As an illustration, open your hand palm up. Make a fist without closing the thumb. Next, close your thumb. Did you feel the muscles lock?

A closed, locked thumb is an aid in controlling the handgun. A straightforward thumb in both the firing hand and the support hand aids in both aiming and controlling the handgun.

The grip is an index to the target. You draw and the pistol lines up on the target. You should practice until the pistol lines up on the target even with your eyes closed.

shooting with an instructor
A good instructor offers the student feedback. This is crucial for avoiding shooting mistakes.

Practice, practice and practice more. If the grip is natural, you will come into a natural aim with the handgun.

A slight adjustment in the grip may make a big difference in whether the handgun points up down or to one side.

It is much easier to make the final aim and sight alignment if the handgun comes on target very nearly lined up. If you attempt to get on target and correct the index after you are on target, speed suffers.

The problem is made worse if you attempt to correct the problem after firing a shot. Each poor shot multiplies the problem. Begin with the proper grip and sight picture and you will be leagues ahead.

Avoiding Shooting Mistakes: Practice Drills

Dry fire practice is essential to learning good techniques and avoiding shooting mistakes. The proper way is to concentrate upon each shot as if it were the only shot you will have.

This may be the case if the ball goes up for real. Before beginning, be certain the handgun is not loaded. Triple check the handgun.

If you dry fire in the home only aim the handgun at a backstop that you are certain will stop the bullet if you have made a mistake.

Never dry fire in the direction of other people even if they are behind a brick wall in the home. To practice, keep the handgun in the proper grip in the firing hand.

Rack the slide to cock the hammer or striker. Carefully break the shot with a firm straight to the rear trigger compression. The front sight should not waver.


The goal is to learn the proper grip, trigger compression and arm position.

Shooting instructor consultation
Consulting with an experienced trainer is a must, not an option, for growth as a shooter.

If you are already a great shot, you need not concern yourself with learning… but are you a great shot? Continually evaluate this question.

I believe that whether you use the Weaver or Isosceles firing stance matters less than whether you have mastered the basics of trigger compression and sight alignment.

The economy of motion is what really matters when it comes to avoiding shooting mistakes. I have developed a drill that will address 90 percent of what happens during a critical incident.

This drill is good training for IDPA matches as well, but the primary focus is personal defense. Before you begin this drill, you should have mastered the proper grip.

With the thumbs-forward grip (for semi-autos at least), you are already pointing at the target before the eyes engage the sights.

This grip is proven in competition and should be used by all except for the very few shooters who cannot use it for some physical reason or the other.

The thumbs-forward grip is the grip of the century, we might say, and works well for almost every shooter.

(Note: When using 1911 pistols, the thumbs-forward grip may lift the palm off of the grip safety, which is why a beavertail grip safety is a good idea for a 1911. Be certain the style fits your handgun choice.)

Drill #1: Pistol Grip

The first drill we will attempt focuses on the proper grip, stance, sight picture and gun handling. A rapid magazine change is included. Here is the drill:

  • Make the handgun ready and holster.
  • Draw and move into the firing stance. (The hands should meet in front of the belt buckle or navel and move into a two-hand hold. The sights should be aligned when the front sight breaks the plane between the eyes and the target.)
  • Fire two rounds from standing.
  • Reload.
  • Fire two more rounds.
  • Fire two rounds from kneeling.
  • Reload.
  • Fire two more rounds.
  • Make the pistol safe, holster and stand.
  • Draw the handgun as you assume a position behind cover, such as a barricade at the range. (Improvise if necessary.)
  • Fire two rounds from cover.
  • Reload.
  • Fire two more rounds.

A test of control and recovery is to fire a shot and then immediately focus on your sights. They should be lined up immediately after the shot if your training is paying off.

If not—more practice! Few handguns (other than the 1911 Colt and the Browning High Power) recoil straight to the rear or straight up and down. Some recoil right or left.

The important thing is that the shots are controlled and the pistol is brought back on target.

The problem is the same: whatever the handgun, it must return to the original firing position. The kneeling position reinforces the need to limit your target area and to take cover.

If you are familiar with the kneeling position you will be able to fire from around light cover—such as a vehicle.

Long-shot training
This is a long shot for personal defense. Our friend Pris has it covered!

Drill #2: Trigger Control and Speed Shooting

Many shooters fall apart when they begin speed shooting. They press the trigger once, tap it the second time and absolutely slap the snot out of it the third time.

Group size expands exponentially or a difficult shot is missed. In extreme cases, the target is completely missed.

The constant we must strive for is a smooth compression with just the amount of pressure needed and no more. The trigger finger alone must press the trigger and move.

Sympathetic reactions include all of the fingers of the hand moving when the trigger finger moves.

Peace officer ready to shoot.
Peace officers practice rapidly bringing the handgun to bear on the target and help with avoiding shooting mistakes. So should you.

This is an excellent 50-round drill originally developed as a test of the shooter and the handgun’s compatibility.

If you run this drill with a number of handguns, you will quickly realize that there is a difference in handling and accuracy at speed.

You may find that some calibers and action types are better suited to your skill level. Some of the high-velocity, high-pressure rounds may prove less controllable than the low-pressure big bores.

Some shooters do better with a smooth double-action revolver—and this drill will tell the tale. It is also a beneficial drill for those that use the .22 caliber rimfire handgun for practice sessions.

Here’s the drill:

  • Begin at five yards with a one-hand shoulder point.
  • Fire five rounds.
  • Repeat.
  • Move to seven yards with a one-hand shoulder point.
  • Fire five rounds.
  • Repeat.
  • Stay at seven yards and change to a two-hand grip.
  • Fire five rounds.
  • Repeat.
  • Move to 10 yards with a two-hand grip.
  • Fire five rounds.
  • Repeat.
  • Move to 15 yards with a two-hand grip.
  • Slow-fire five rounds.
  • Repeat.

There are your 50 rounds. You will understand which handgun is better suited to your shooting ability after firing this fifty round course with a number of handguns.

Fifty rounds fired in evaluation is less expensive than purchasing an inappropriate handgun. This drill is also a good drill to run to sustain skill.

The simplest solutions are often the best.

What are your go-to drills for improving your technique? Do you have any advice for avoiding shooting mistakes? Let us know in the comments below.

About the Author:

Wilburn Roberts

When Wilburn Roberts was a young peace officer, he adopted his present pen name at the suggestion of his chief, as some of the brass was leery of what he might write. This was also adopted out of respect for families of both victims and criminals. The pen name is the same and the man remains an outspoken proponent of using enough gun for the job.

He has been on the hit list of a well-known hate group, traveled in a dozen countries and written on many subjects, including investigating hate crimes and adopting the patrol carbine. He graduated second in his class with a degree in Police Science. It took him 20 years to work himself from Lieutenant to Sergeant and he calls it as he sees it.
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (5)

  1. On dry-fire, it’s easy to get in the habit of robotically racking the slide after each trigger pull. I’ve seen someone do this on the range with live ammo, because she programmed it into herself (kind of my fault, since I taught her to dryfire). So, break up the habit by doing something after the “shot”. You can reholster, clear a malfunction, go to a retention position and look around, whatever.

    Also, I dryfire at my TV (the wall behind will stop any pistol bullet I have, and there’s dense woods beyond). The TV gives me an endless parade of unpredictable, time-limited, moving targets to react to. I aim at faces, or eyeballs if it’s a close-up scene. Some people think this is a gruesome practice. I think if you’re disturbed by the idea of aiming at a picture, you’re probably too squeamish to shoot an actual human if necessary. Whichever way you decide, it’s probably worth thinking about the matter.

  2. I also recommend buying either an airsoft or BB copy of your carry gun. Then you can practice inside your own home when unable to go to the range. I have an airsoft 1911 which would be perfect EXCEPT there is no way to lock the follower down when loading the magazine, making loading a real pain. That is why I now generally use the BB version. The problem with the second is that the BBs make such a small hole, it is difficult to evaluate how I have done without approaching the target.

  3. @ richard, this is a good point. You can also throw a couple snap caps in a SA. Check for flinching, side push/pull. And, as a bonus practice clearing a FTF.
    This is a good series, I am definitely learning and being reminded to think and take care on things when I practice.

  4. Become familure with your handgun, make sure to not blink or reflex flinch when pulling the trigger doing so is a sure target miss. If you do flinch try shooting with a revolver have someone load the gun for you and have them leave certain chambers unloaded. Shoot that gun and when you reach an empty chamber you can tell if you are blinking or flinching. Continue with this exersize until you keep your eyes open on every shot and hit your mark.

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