The most essential fundamental of hitting your target, any target with any gun, is a two-part process that has to become a one-step experience. Wait, what?
Put the sights on the target and then pull the trigger without moving the sights. That’s it.
If you can do those two things, at once, you’ll hit center. (Assuming the sights are on zero… but that’s another article.)
“Put the sights on target” is also the same thing as “aiming,” and a very important element is finding the “natural point of aim.”
What Is Natural Point of Aim?
This has been described time and time again and here’s my take on it: natural point of aim, or NPA, is where the sights are “naturally” looking. It’s kind of the “magnetic center” of a shooting position.
Now, an awareness of finding and maintaining natural point of aim mostly relates to position shooting.
“Position” shooting is pretty much any shooting that’s not from a rested position (e.g. resting a rifle on sandbags, from a benchtop, using a bipod or any shooting where the body isn’t the base).
Position shooting is a human platform: standing, sitting, prone, or some variation.
The reason I mentioned all that is because in thinking of a benchrest-style hold, it’s easy to get a handle on natural point of aim!
In preparation to fire on target, the shooter takes time to get the gun centered on the target, and getting the front sight or optic crosshair or dot sitting dead center on said target.
That’s done by adjusting the height and the horizontal by shifting the gun on the bags and shifting the bags themselves.
The idea is for the sight to be sitting on target center with no inputs from the shooter—to set up a platform for the gun that’s pointing it perfectly.
To make your most accurate shots from another shooting position platform, you have to be just as careful to naturally center the sight.
Tip #1: Search and Employ
Get a target up and get in position. Find your natural point of aim by closing your eyes, settling into your most secure hold, opening your eyes and seeing where the sight is.
Make changes in the orientation of your body to relocate the sight on target center. But! Don’t just fudge your grip to move the gun ( that’s what we’re trying to avoid). You have to move its platform, which is you.
Shift your body orientation, keeping the gun held in the same way so other routine position mechanics stay intact. Repeat, adjust, repeat—until at the least you see you’re holding center left and right.
Important: Breathing is a factor! As you’re seeking out position center, do so holding the same amount of air as you do for making a shot.
Tip #2: Watch for Drift
Here’s why finding NPA matters: the gun will, not can, shift or drift to suit the platform you’re providing—kind of like water finding its own level or a rolling ball seeking its own resting point.
If the platform is not pointing and holding the gun on target center, then the gun will drift toward that direction, or want to drift, try to drift, to align with the off-center holding point created by your true platform alignment.
That creates shot impacts that favor wherever that location would be.
The impact changes can be from sight displacement and also from the pressures directed against the gun wanting to move to that location (or also attempting to relocate).
If the gun is trying to drift left to get to your natural center and you’re pressuring it to keep the sight right where the target is, it’s going to slip to the left at some point, and that is usually right at or right after firing. Watch for it!
And watching is the big key. “Calling a shot” means taking a snapshot in your mind of exactly where the sight was when the shot broke. Then compare that to where the impact is on target.
If these don’t agree, it’s one of two things: either you need a sight adjustment or an NPA adjustment.
Tip #3: Think Horizontally and Vertically
As with shooting from sandbags, your body-dependent shooting position has a vertical and a horizontal component. It’s easier to center left and right—just shift your platform left or right.
Standing? Move your feet. Prone? Realign your body.
Vertical changes may require more detail.
Depending on the shooting position, vertical hold adjustments in a rifle can come from hand positioning along the forend, and sometimes even from adjusting the amount of air held in the lungs.
With a handgun, adjusting to seeing vertical NPA is more intuitive, and flexible, but make certain it’s done.
This might seem like a lot of detail, but I promise it’s not. It is a huge key to becoming a good shot. It’s not always possible to shoulder a rifle or mount up a handgun and have it be on your natural point of aim.
But, after some experience focusing on natural point of aim, you’ll see that your first try gets closer and closer. It’s how eventually to hone the skill of “point shooting.” Handguns especially!
For a competitive shooter, perfecting natural point of aim is a crucial factor in score. For an accomplished target shooter, NPA becomes an exact and finite point, not an area.
It has to be found and then confirmed, and then maintained for each round (yes, it changes). That’s important!
Again, the tell-tale sign of a change is a shot off-center that looked on center when it broke. Get the centers together to fix that problem!
Do you have any tips for improving natural point of aim? Let us know in the comments below.