Do you sometimes leave the handgun range kind of disappointed in those low shot groups and poor shot placement? Have you tried fixing that problem by holding artificially high on target? If so, you’re part of a very big club! Generally, those low groups will trend left for right-handed shooters and right for left-handed shooters. For some, the groups are low at six o’clock. If any of that applies to you, this article is an attempt to help you get into the smaller, happier club of people whose shots consistently group in the center of the target.
No one trick works with everyone. So, I’m including the top three examples that have worked in my instruction — depending on the shooter’s learning style. They are listed in order of most to least often successful, but they’ve all worked — and often with a low investment of rounds and time.
Five yards on any of these is a good distance for beginners; seven yards for more confident shooters. The target area should be quite small, i.e., a 1.5-inch square at largest.
The Basics of Marksmanship
The aiming technique is consistent for each drill. Align the rear and front sights so that the front is level with the rear and there is equal daylight on each side of the front sight post. Then, superimpose those sights (or red dot) over the center of the small bullseye.
With the rear and front sight, or red dot, correctly oriented over the center of the target, focus your eyes on the front sight (or the dot of your optic, if you use one). The rear sight and target will be blurred. Focusing on the front sight and not the target is counterintuitive, but it works.
Max Michel Drill
That’s my name for this drill after seeing a demo by professional shooter Max Michel. It’s a variation on the old ball-and-dummy-round drill, but this one works better for most people.
- Load the pistol by inserting a magazine and racking or closing the slide.
- Remove and stow the magazine.
- Align the sights and acquire a sight picture.
- Press the trigger to fire the first shot.
- Assuming your focus was correct, you’ll be able to confidently state where the front sight was in relation to the target at the moment of firing.
- Maintain a solid grip and look for a perfect sight picture to come into view with a focus on the front sight.
- Press off the next shot. Call the shot in terms of where the front sight was aimed when the gun went click!
After five to seven reps of the Max Michel drill, a majority of shooters begin to understand what they were doing to cause the flinch — however slight it may be — that’s causing shots to go low. If it doesn’t work for you, try the next one.
Five Percent at a Time
It is Kyle Defoor of Defoor Proformance Shooting, to whom I’m indebted for this one.
In this drill, take aim on the bullseye with the loaded gun. With your finger on the trigger, take out any slack or excess travel your trigger may have. Striker-fired pistols usually have about ¾ inch of free travel before reaching a palpable wall. Most 1911/2011 pistols have a much shorter trip to that point. Stop at that wall to start this drill.
Some hammer-fired handguns, including most double-action-only models, lack the slack feeling in the trigger. Instead, the weight of the hammer is felt through the entire trigger stroke. For these, press through approximately ¾ inch of travel and then proceed.
Let’s call the wall or ¾ inch point, the 50% mark. Now, keeping a good focus on the front sight. Press the trigger to 55%, then 60%, 65%, and so on, until the shot breaks. If a person is able to make their finger move in 5% increments, the shot usually fires somewhere between 60–70%.
Remember, the best shots in any of these drills will be a surprise. Good shooting is simply keeping the sights on target until the shot is history. It’s simple, but not always easy.
I’ve adapted the language of this drill for some shooters. In this version, we use 50 cents as the wall. Depending on the type of trigger, add one nickel, penny, or dime’s weight of pressure on the trigger at a time. Pretty much everyone can picture how much weight a single coin, then another, and another, would feel like when resting on the pad of their trigger finger.
The Control-Your-Amygdala Drill
Credit for this one goes to sports psychologist Jane Pike for the phrase “Control Your Amygdala,” though she was referring to overcoming her fear of rock climbing.
Some people have a high need to understand why and how a problem is happening before they can fix it. Those low shot groups are actually evidence of our survival instinct! In the absence of formal training, the part of the brain that deals with sudden threats jumps into action for every shot. That primitive part of the brain is called the amygdala.
The amygdala’s job is to keep you alive without you having to think about it. At the moment the shot breaks, the amygdala perceives an emergency — there is, after all, a small explosion happening right in front of your face and between your hands. It only takes a couple shots for the memory aspect of the brain to get in on the act, too.
At this point, the act of pressing the trigger is infused with the anticipation of stress. Often, the shooter’s eyes automatically close or squint when the shot breaks, which would make sense in the event of an unwanted explosion. Often, the hands get caught up in the “emergency” also. Typically, the trigger finger delivers a large or small spastic motion that’s akin to the first time you jumped off a high dive.
At some point you thought, “Oh heck, let’s get this over with!” and jumped without much of a plan. When trigger finger jumps or flinches, shots go low. The stress-induced error may also involve the wrists or other fingers, but the trigger finger is usually the culprit. The lack of a plan isn’t limited to the high dive. It can also be seen in most flinchers’ failure to follow through with the shot by visually hunting for a post-recoil sight picture.
Once the need-to-know shooter understands the source of that flinch, a remedy can be found by making a firm decision that the finger is the slave of the intentional, thinking side of the brain, not the “knock the glass out of the red box” side, AKA the amygdala. Sometimes it’s helpful to remember not to consider the shot to be the climax of the shooting cycle. Replace that exciting prospect with ‘seeking the — thoroughly boring — second sight picture.
If you’ve suffered the disappointment of low shot groups, give at least one of these methods a try. When you’ve overcome this most common shooting error, give yourself a pat on the back!