TRAIN TO SURVIVE
MASTER THESE THREE BASIC SHOOTING PRINCIPLES BEFORE YOU FACE A DEADLY ENCOUNTER
Master these three basic shooting principles before you face a deadly encounter.
Legendary football coach Vince Lombardi preached obsessively to his players about the importance of relying on fundamentals. Lombardi believed— and often said—that mastering the fundamentals led to success on all levels, from the beginner to the professional.
Similarly, mastering the fundamentals is key when it comes to shooting. Shooting is a sport that requires quick reflexes, motor skills and conditioning, but when you are practicing with a firearm, you are preparing yourself to survive a life-and-death struggle, something far more weighty than simply winning a game. Nevertheless, proper shooting has basic elements that must be mastered before you can advance, and that will be our focus here.
Forget about shortcuts. Trying to magically improve your shooting with a quick fix remedy rarely works. These three primary tenets of shooting apply no matter what brand or style of gun is in your hand and whether you’re aiming through a Trijicon RMR or a gutter sight on a compact revolver.
01 SIGHT ALIGNMENT
I’m amazed at how many different methods of eye alignment I see at the range. I’ve witnessed shooters with one eye open, two eyes open, using the opposite shooting hand and eye, and all sorts of other variations on the basic theme. So, it’s worth starting this one at the very beginning.
Before you ever pick up a firearm, you need to determine eye dominance and hand dominance.
Eye dominance is a response of our brain’s learning to balance stereoscopic vision with intense focus, and it means that one of your eyes takes on a dominant role in providing a clear and balanced image.
There are several methods to determine eye dominance, but the simplest is to find a clock or picture on a distant wall, reach out with your index finger and point to the bottom of the clock/painting, and then close both eyes one at a time. When one eye is left open, your finger will remain in position under the object, and that is your dominant eye. The other eye, when left open, will move the finger’s position away from the object.
Likewise, you can overlap your hands and leave a triangle opening between your thumbs and index fingers. Place that triangle around the
object on the wall and slowly bring your hands back to your face, always maintaining the object within the opening between your hands. You’ll automatically bring your hands back to one of your eyes—the dominant one.
If you’re parallel dominant—meaning your right eye and right hand are strongest (or left eye/left hand), then you’ll have little trouble developing a proper sight picture. If you’re cross dominant, you have a few options for developing a proper sight
picture. You can close one eye—not the best option because A), you have to remember to do so in a violent encounter, and B) closing one eye limits your field of view at a time when being able to see everything around you is critical. Another option is to learn to use the other hand to shoot.
Your primary focus in any defensive situation should be the front sight. That stereoscopic vision that was discussed earlier allows you to comprehend the world around you in three dimensions, but the Achilles’ heel of this ability is that you can only focus on one plane at a time. In the case of shooting, that needs to be on the front sight.
Offering primary focus to one object does not make it impossible to see another. When aligning your sights with the target, use the front sight as your anchor and align it with the rear sight and target in your periphery. It takes practice, but you can master this all-important skill.
02 TRIGGER CONTROL
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard shooters say that the iron sights were “off” only to watch an instructor take the same gun and drill a half-dozen holes dead in the center of the target. The primary reason this happens? Your trigger control is lousy.
Triggers come in all different shapes and styles. Some, like those on a good 1911—break at 3 or 4 pounds and have little creep. Others, like
“THE PRIMARY TENETS OF SHOOTING APPLY NO MATTER WHAT BRAND OR STYLE OF GUN IS IN YOUR HAND.”
those found on hammer-fired double actions, may require 12 pounds of pressure to break and trigger travel is very long. But the basic tenets are the same, and they will work on any of these triggers.
Trigger control begins with using the right part of your finger—namely the pad of the index finger just ahead of the last joint. This is the part of the finger that contacts the trigger and does the firing. If you wrap the finger around the trigger like you’re firing a spray bottle of chlorine bleach into a toilet you’re cleaning, then your accuracy is going to suffer.
Also, it’s critical to keep the trigger movement directly backward toward the shooter, not down and left (or down and right, for you southpaw shooters) as many have a tendency to do. Trigger control is, in my opinion, best developed by dry firing an unloaded weapon or using a laser target system. When you aren’t firing live ammo, and aren’t dealing with recoil and muzzle rise, you can more closely observe what the gun is doing when you pull the trigger. Is it staying on target? Good; you are controlling your trigger by using the proper part of the finger to fire and you are pulling the trigger straight back.
You learn these basics when dry firing, but you must master them on the range. This is where repetition becomes key. When I see my shots drift from the center of my target, I don’t immediately start fiddling with my sights but focus on my trigger pull and make sure that I’m applying pressure straight back towards me. Slow down, focus on these principles, and get back on target.
Here’s another critical point, and it’s closely related to mastering fast, accurate defensive shooting: You don’t need to release the trigger completely before firing a follow-up shot. Many of the modern defensive pistols on the market have a very short reset—the distance from the trigger’s rearward position until it
travels forward enough to reset the gun for the next shot.
If you’re firing, fully releasing the trigger and then firing again, then you’re wasting time and finger movement— not what you want in a defensive situation. After you’ve mastered trigger pull, concentrate on shooting slowly and, after a shot, slowly release the trigger until you feel it reset or hear the audible click. But be prepared—you won’t have to pull the trigger back very far to fire another shot—which is why this is critical to delivering rapid shots that hit where you’re aiming.
03 PROPER GRIP
A proper grip begins with a high handhold on the gun. By gripping the gun high, you can mitigate the effects of muzzle flip. A weak hold on a semi-auto can actually impede the gun’s basic cycling, leading to jams. The most common hold for semi-auto pistols is a two-thumbs-forward hold wherein both thumbs are positioned parallel along the top of the frame (but not on the slide) on the side of the gun opposite the trigger finger.
This offers excellent control, and from the isosceles stance (feet roughly shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, both arms extended so that when viewed from above the arms give the impression of an isosceles triangle) you can control the muzzle and deliver fast, accurate shots. I prefer a bit of forward lean because it further helps control the gun, and leaning a bit forward with the weight on the balls of the feet is comfortable and doesn’t impede movement.
The isosceles stance is also widely accepted because it offers a wide leftto-right field of view and it is so well balanced that you can move quickly. Once you’ve mastered proper shooting technique, adding movement drills to your training regimen better prepares you to survive a tactical situation.
A couple of key points for proper grip and stance are worth mentioning. First, bring the gun up to your eye, not the eye to the gun. When you get in your stance with a slight forward lean, the gun should come out of the holster (securing the high grip early with your shooting hand), and up to the chest to meet the support hand.
From there, the hands fix on the gun and the firearm extends forward from the body. As it does, you should elevate the gun to align it with your eye. Another critical element is fixing the upper body. If you’re going to shoot at multiple targets, you want the transition to come through the hips. Maintain your proper grip and upper body position, and rotate at the waist to engage multiple targets.
APPLY THE TECHNIQUES
Defensive shooting is a game of fundamentals. Learn the proper techniques, apply them and you’ll be better prepared to survive a deadly encounter. But mastering these skills takes time and practice, and that means dry firing and live fire at the range. For you to become a competent shooter—or to advance to the next level—you need to focus on the basics. It worked for Vince Lombardi’s football teams, and it will work for you.
The two-thumbsforward grip is common and works well, promoting a high handhold on the gun. Notice the iridescent green paint on the front sight of this FN
509, which helps focus the shooter’s attention where it needs to be. Far Left: If you want to hit the center of the target, then you need to focus on trigger control. Sloppy trigger operation tends to move groups away from center. Left: Laser Trainers from LaserLyte are available to fit various firearms and offer a cost-efficient way to train without making a trip to the range.
Some shooters have a tendency to move their head to align with the sights. This is improper. Lean forward and bring the gun up to align the sights with the eye.
You can focus on the front sight and still see the target and the rear sight in your periphery. Developing that skill is essential for defensive shooting.
Left: The isosceles stance is so named because, when viewed from above, the arms and upper body form an isosceles triangle. This helps promote a proper grip and helps mitigate recoil.
Above: There are many ways to determine eye dominance. One is to create a triangle with your hands around a distant object and slowly move them back to your face, keeping the object centered at all times. The hands will naturally move back to the...
This shooter has a high grip, the sights have come up and he has front sight-focus, and the trigger finger is properly positioned—all keys to delivering fast, accurate shots.
There are good triggers and bad triggers (this is a Nighthawk Custom Hi-Power, so it’s a very good one), but regardless of their design or quality, the fundamentals of trigger control remain the same.
Trigger control is critical. The pad of the index finger just past the last finger joint should rest on the trigger, and pressure should be directed rearward toward the shooter for maximum accuracy.