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Shooting Like a Pro:
Proper Pistol Techniques

By Jalise Williams |

Jalise Williams Shooting

Like any serious sport, your technique is more important than your raw talent. The most important thing in competitive shooting is having a solid stance and being able to repeat the same movements, in the same way, every time. Some techniques are better than others, so it is crucial that you start with the proper stance and fix any bad habits you may have in your shot. Here we will go over everything you need to know about shooting techniques so you can crush your next pistol competition. Let's get started with the most important piece of advice I could give you…

Keep It Simple & Repeatable

In all sports, competitors tend to add in a lot of fancy movements to their motions that don't do them much good. When you are shooting, you need to try to remove any movements that do not add to your performance. This could be anything from head movement, shoulder movement, fancy footwork, or leaning too much into a shot. A lot of this movement can be cut out, and you will do better without it.

After you feel like you have your shooting technique more or less figured out, put a camera on yourself. Record a few shots and study them. Then ask yourself, "what can I cut out so that I can shoot faster?" This has a lot to do with your overall stance, which we will discuss shortly. For now, keep in mind the simpler you can make your movements, the more repeatable they will be and the better and faster you will shoot.

Using the Right Stance

Currently, the best stance to use while competitively shooting a pistol is the isosceles or modified isosceles stance. This stance starts with you facing square to your target, with your feet shoulder length apart. If you placed a dot on each foot and the target, then connected the dots, it should make an isosceles triangle on the ground.

In this stance, your head should be straight up, and you should not be hunched over in any way. Your neck should not be bent to one side or protruding too far forward.

You are then going to point your arms straight out towards your target. You always want to make sure that you are pulling your pistol up to a comfortable level in front of your dominant eye. You never want to move your eye to your sight, but always want to move your sight to your eye.

Your knees and elbows should not be fully extended. You want your knees to be slightly relaxed, so you are in an athletic position. Your elbows should be slightly bent to act more like shock absorbers rather than straight boards. This will help you better manage your recoil and keep your muzzle flip more consistent.

The modified isosceles stance is done in many ways, but a common way to see this stance modified is for the right foot (of a right-handed shooter) to step around six inches backward. This means the left foot will be leading, but your feet should still be around shoulder length apart. This gives you a bit more stability when you are shooting and is more natural to fall into if you have to move or run to a shot during a competition.

You also need to make sure you are not leaning too heavily on one leg in this stance. Even though your feet are staggered slightly in this stance, you should still have around 50% of your weight on each leg. However, you could also get away with 60% of your weight on your back leg and 40% on your leading leg. You just do not want to be leaning too much on one leg because it could throw off your shots.

Stay Away From The Weaver Stance

The weaver stance is a more classic stance that was used a lot back in the day. This stance is so popular that it is still the stance that most non-competitive shooters will naturally fall into because it was so widely taught.

The weaver stance is acceptable for an average joe on the range, but if you want to efficiently manage your recoil while shooting quickly and be able to repeat your performance time and time again, the weaver isn't for you.

Nonetheless, here is a quick overview of how the weaver works. Your stance is more perpendicular with the weaver, so your hips will be sideways. Your leading foot will be pointing toward the target, and your back foot will be stabilizing you.

You will then point your pistol out toward your target. You will notice that since you are perpendicular to the target, your dominant arm is a shoulder-length shorter than your non-dominant arm. Your dominant arm is going to be straight out, holding the pistol. Your non-dominant arm will have a 90-degree bend in the middle, with your hand supporting the pistol.

Your head will then have to bend to the right (for right-handed shooters). This stance makes it difficult to track targets or quickly shift between targets. It is especially hard to pan to the right (for right-handed shooters), and the stance will naturally pull your muzzle slightly down, so you will end up compensating for that by bumping your aim up every now and then. This makes your aim look more like a rainbow as you pan right.

Your recoil is a lot more challenging to control in this stance as well, and it is just hard to have repeated success with this stance as a whole. So if you go to a competition, it is highly unlikely that you will see very many (if any) shooters using this stance. If it is what you are currently using as an amateur shooter, start learning the isosceles stance as soon as possible. Your performance will significantly increase once you shoot a few boxes from the Isosceles stance.

Your Grip

Your grip is incredibly important, and there are plenty of ways to mess up your grip. A poor grip technique will lead to more muzzle flip and high-speed oscillations when you shoot quickly. Because of that, your grip will be the main factor affecting how routinely you are able to shoot. A bad technique will make the muzzle bounce around, and every time you fire in succession, the muzzle will be in a different place. That is obviously not ideal if you want to be accurate.

Hand Placement

The first step to getting a good grip is getting your dominant hand as high on the pistol as possible. Most pistols have some sort of dovetail, and you should shove your hand as high into it as possible. This will keep the barrel of the pistol as low in your hand as possible and therefore keep more of the recoil horizontal rather than vertical, which reduces muzzle flip.

After you grip the gun in your dominant hand, you will create an open space on the other side of the grip. That is where you want to put your other hand. The bottom of your palm should go along the back of the pistol grip, and your fingers should cover your dominant hand fingers. Then you want to make sure both of your thumbs are pointed toward the target.

Locking Over Center & Segmented Recoil

One method for keeping your non-dominant hand in place is to lock your hand over center. What does that mean? Basically, it means to roll your hand over with your thumb being in a straight line with the rest of your arm and then not letting it move from there. You want to apply enough pressure so that the recoil is not breaking your wrist backward; you want it "locked" in place.

You also need to avoid segmented recoil, or letting the pistol and your dominant hand flip up out of your non-dominant hand. Make both of your hands a single object, and do not let them slip apart. Keeping your wrist locked over center and fixed with your dominant hand reduces the amount of muzzle flip you will get and the muzzle oscillations that happen when firing quickly.

Something that can help you keep your wrist locked over-center is putting your non-dominant pointer finger around the end of the trigger guard and pulling down. If you use this tactic, it typically helps to have some grip tape in that area. Using the trigger guard can really help you get more leverage and keep your muzzle down.

Whether or not you can do this depends heavily on the size of your hands and the size of the pistol. This is also something that is left up to personal preference and sometimes competition rules. Championships have been won with and without the non-dominant index finger around the trigger guard.

Grip Strength

There is also something to be said for how hard you grip the pistol. A death grip will do more harm than good, and a loose grip will let the pistol flip around too much. Instead, hold the pistol with the same strength you would use to hold a hammer. This grip keeps your recoil more predictable and makes your follow-up shots much more accurate.

A Few More Tips

Stance and grip are the two most important aspects of shooting technique. Now that you’ve got those down, let’s move onto the rest of your considerations when you’re aiming your firearm.

Shooting With Both Eyes Open

One thing you may see around the web is the debate on whether or not you should shoot with both eyes open or only one. More often than not, this is a question of whether or not you can shoot with both eyes open or not. Shooting with one eye is pretty natural for most shooters, but shooting with both eyes open definitely has more benefits.

In a competition when you may have to move around or change targets quickly, you are biologically built to do that with both of your eyes open. You will pick up targets quicker and move better with both of your eyes open. Are you not convinced? Try running or walking around in your house with one eye closed and see if you don't find yourself naturally being off-balance or moving your head over to see the area your other eye normally sees.

If you have never done it before, shooting accurately with both eyes open is easier said than done. It can be pretty confusing when you pull the pistol up and see double. The key is bringing your pistol perfectly up to eye level. Once you get good at this, your pistol will automatically aim at what your vision is focused on. So just keep practicing pulling your pistol up to your line of sight, and do your best to pull your pistol up to that point every time. Practice is key here, but you will be a much faster shooter once you learn it.

Learn Your Trigger Pull

The majority of techniques we have talked about here focused on controlling recoil and reducing your muzzle flip. Well, squeezing your trigger too hard can add to that flip and is unnecessary. So the best thing to do is learn your trigger and only pull as hard as you need to.

Most stock pistols would benefit from a trigger job, but after you are happy with your trigger, learn exactly where it fires. Then get good at pulling to that point and no further. There is no need to pull your trigger all the way to the back of the trigger guard. Plus, if you are spending less time pulling the trigger, the trigger will reset quicker, and you can shoot faster.

Putting It All Together

The last step is just putting it all together! The two most significant parts of your technique are your stance and grip. Of course, there are little things all over the place that you could focus on and spend hours practicing, but as a beginner, those two things are the most important.

Learning the isosceles stance alone will make many shooters perform much better. Then if you get your grip down and remember to lock your hand over center, you will be in good shape. If you take a thing or two from this article and apply them to your technique, you should see some immediate results. However, the best way to improve your shooting is to get out to the range and practice!