The Basic Tenets of Firearm Training

Master the Basic Tenants

Firearms training is a serious business. If the only goal is recreational shooting, that’s a fine thing, but you must have a good understanding of safety. If training for personal defense, the training must be serious.

You are combining speed with firing and this means safety is even more important than if you are drawing from concealed carry and practicing to get a hit on a threat. You must have a thorough understanding of safety and firearms operations.

The following basic tenets of marksmanship have sufficed to train me and many thousands of successful shooters. Each of the fundamentals must be accompanied by constant practice and repetition.

A repetition of 500 fumble-free executions is a good beginning. I think that learning these skills will enable a shooter to make use of good tactics. If you do not have the basics mastered, then you will not be able to properly use tactics.

Special Challenges - Basic Tenants
Mixing up the game with special challenges is vital.

Fundamental Training

Here are the fundamental tenets of marksmanship. Which is most important? All are important and none are unimportant. If you are not a good shot, then practice until you are.

If you think you are a good shot, the continued application of training will increase your speed and accuracy. Don’t be the person that shoots good groups in practice and then misses the 17-yard popper during a match! Let’s get started…


Without stability, you cannot control the firearm. If you think a 9mm doesn’t recoil hard, then try firing from a weak stance. The platform for your arms and the handgun is important. The feet are planted and the weight of the body is forward.

The stance may be standing firing from behind a barricade or even prone—it must be solid.


The importance of the grip is obvious. Control the handgun with the hardest grip you are able to apply. This ensures the weapon will properly cycle and your shots will be accurate. Keep the thumbs forward and maintain a high grip on the grip tang.

Sight Alignment/Picture

The sights must be properly aligned with equal light on each side of the post. The sights must be properly superimposed against the target at the spot where the shot will do the most good.

Group Accuracy
This group represents a good mix of speed and accuracy.

Trigger Control

Trigger control is perhaps more difficult than any other of the fundamentals, but poor control comes from excess nervousness and poor application. Press the trigger straight to the rear without disturbing the sights.

It is that simple and thousands of good shots perform this skill perfectly every day. The slower the press down, the greater the distance.

Follow Through

Do not release the grip after firing! Maintain a firm hold or the weapon may malfunction. The pistol recoils while the bullet is still in the barrel and excess recoil may cause a miss.

Mag Drop - Basic Tenants
A mag has dropped and another is on the way to replenish the ammunition supply.

Draw and Presentation Drills

You must practice drawing from your daily carry holster in realistic drills. The draw should be smooth and sharp. The draw leads to the stance and this leads to a hit. Practically every draw should begin with a holstered handgun.

Presentation must be practiced. A poor choice is to draw and empty the magazine into the target. This teaches little. Time and ammunition are wasted. Draw, hit the target, and double-tap sometimes, but don’t hose the target down.

Abdominal and Cover Firing

While we generally aim for the arterial region or center mass, there are alternative aiming points that should be practiced. The abdominal shot is one. If the heavy support bones are hit, the adversary isn’t going to stand or walk, limiting his danger to you.

It is also important to learn to move to cover—getting off the X—and firing effectively from cover.

Cover Training
Learning to properly utilize cover is important.

Concealed Carry Practice

A shooter that is able to draw from concealed carry and get a center hit in 1. 5 seconds at 10 yards is meeting a reasonable standard for personal defense. A second shot delivered with accuracy is a good drill and one that is needed in a critical incident.

You should be able to execute this drill on time every time under pressure. The shots should hit the X-ring.

Find the Right Speed

Practice the above drill five times. The five shots should be in five inches, six inches if you fire five double taps for ten rounds total. If you are over this standard, then you are firing too quickly for your skill level and need to slow down and get a hit.

If you are grouping all your shots into three inches or less, you are firing too slow and you are capable of better speed.

speed loads
Speed loads may not be needed often, but they are an aid in learning gunhandling.

Multiple Targets

The statistical chances of an attack are small, but the possibilities are endless. That is why we practice and it’s a good argument for addressing multiple targets. A basic requirement is the ability to address multiple threats.

While this skill may seldom be required, it is good to have.  The ability to draw quickly and transverse from one target (threat) to the other and get solid hits under stress is important.

This drill builds skills that may be needed to address a single threat, a moving threat or multiple threats.

Advanced Techniques

Drills for advanced shooters include firing from retention positions, which may be vital, and speed loading, which isn’t needed often. Speed loading helps build familiarity with the pistol’s controls.

A basic problem with students is a lack of complete familiarity with the handgun.

Retention Firing
An advanced skill requiring attention to every detail is firing from retention.


The basics must be mastered before we move to advanced drills. Master the basics and you are on your way to proficiency at arms.

Do you have any training tips or tenets for beginner shooters? Let us know them in the comments below.

About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.

Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Rifle Magazine
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns

Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
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 (11)

  1. Jeff Bell, would you mind a suggestion? Don’t get in the habit of automatically holstering after the one shot. You’ll end up doing it in a fight even if a second shot is needed. I learned this in dry-fire practice – I reset the slide of my Glock every time so the trigger would work, and the next time I got to the range I found myself working the slide after each shot.

  2. A great article but as in all of these well meaning articles where in the world can one go practice them. In TN it was OK at the MCS Complex.. Here in AZ a wonderful free state, there are no places one can practice these drills, Very strange.

    Alan Carnell if anyone can enlighten me. Permission to post my email address.

  3. I agree with all of your points except with the speed loading with a “most” situations. I have never been in the military or any police actions but I did go thru a CC class. My personal belief is that I will never fire my gun to the point I will have to reload. My father taught me to make the first shot count and I have taught my children and grandchildren the same advice.
    As I age, my skills have dropped but I have tried to keep my draw as simple as I can without firing a lot of rounds, one shot and re-holster my weapon; it works for me. I shoot a 9mm because that is the gun I can control the best. I have tried .357mag, 40’s-45’s and I can no longer control the 2nd shot so I think I would do more damage than good.
    Just for fun, I always carry a knife: Gibb’s #1 rule.

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