How to Improve Your Shooting

Target shooting is the basis for accuracy when shooting. The suggestions here are applicable to any kind of shooting, but all I do is target shooting. Hunting techniques undoubtedly vary the process somewhat, but the basic ideas are transferable.

Just as in real estate where the tenets are: Location, Location, Location! the tenet for shooting is: Practice, Practice, Practice!

The other tenet of shooting is safety!

  • Never assume any gun is unloaded.
  • Never load a gun until the muzzle is pointed in a safe direction (down range for target shooting).
  • Never put your finger in the trigger guard until ready to take a shot.
  • Never touch a gun when someone is downrange -- guns should be unloaded and put into a rack or laid on a bench with an empty chamber indicator before anyone goes downrange.


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    Learn about the various positions used in shooting. There are many excellent books on shooting that can provide hundreds of pages of suggestions. One such book has about 25 pages on building each position (prone, sitting, standing, etc.), but one pretty quickly finds that there are many similarities between positions and many of the other techniques are identical for all positions.
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    Learn about the types of guns.
    • You can shoot them almost anywhere you have at least 5 yards of range. Ideally, you will want at least 11 yards (10 meters), but 5 is enough and almost everyone can find that distance.
    • Airguns are safe to shoot in enclosed spaces. No (appreciable) lead danger, little or no noise, easy to trap the pellet.
    • Airguns are cheap to shoot! You can buy pellets for about $0.02/pellet and shoot 100 shots for $2. 100 .22LR will run you at least $5 even if you have a place to shoot.
    • Airguns have little or no "kick." This means that you can concentrate on the shot process the entire time and never have to consider recoil (or noise).
    • David Tubbs is (arguably) the best shot in high power target shooting and shoots an FWB target rifle far more than he shoots powder guns. David is so good that it has been said, "If David shot with a brick on his head, everyone would copy this."
    • Good airguns don't have to be expensive. Crosman/Benjamin makes some very reasonable pistols and rifles that are incredibly accurate. You can spend $2000 or more on a top airgun, but you can get a very good one for a lot less that will be more than adequate.
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    The basics of the shot process:
    • The first thing you must learn is that no shot will ever be accurate unless your body is as relaxed as possible. The more muscles you use to hold a position (even if you are standing!), the less accurate you will be. As noted above, books can spend 25 or more pages describing how to achieve a good shooting position but the guts are that you must be comfortable! It is suggested that you start with one of the easier positions when shooting -- for rifle, that will probably be prone; for pistol, standing. For prone shooting, you will need a mat or cushion to protect you from the ground or whatever you are lying on (Yoga mats work just fine!).
    • For all positions, the basic idea is that you have "bone" from the ground to the gun. Obviously, you can't literally do this. For prone, this is pretty simple since the gun is supported primarily by the left forearm (assume a right-handed shooter) with the elbow as much under the gun as is comfortable. If the elbow is splayed out to the side, the gun will be able to move around more (or you will have to use a lot more muscle to hold it in position) and the accuracy will suffer. For other positions, getting "bone" to the ground is more complex but the same ideas prevail: For standing, you will have your left hip slightly forward over your foreleg, your left elbow hard against your hip or ribs and the arm in a line to your left leg. The gun is then supported by the left arm which will be fairly close to the trigger so that there is a straight line of "bone" from the gun to the ground. These same ideas carry through to sitting and kneeling positions.
    • In pistol shooting (as in standing rifle shooting), you want to make sure your knees AND ELBOW(S) are not locked. It seems counter-intuitive, but when you lock a joint it takes more muscle effort to maintain position than if you joints are slightly relaxed. You obviously don't want to have your knees in a sitting position bend (or your elbow at 90-degrees), but you should find that accuracy improves very measurably when you have them "soft." Interestingly, in Yoga "soft knees" are the norm for the standing pose; copying that approach works for shooting, too.
    • Trigger control. The basics of trigger control are to release the shot with the least effect on the gun. Most guns can be dry fired safely. You must insure the gun is unloaded and the chamber is empty before doing this! Cock the gun and aim at your target. As you squeeze the trigger, you should not see any movement of the gun related to your trigger finger movement through the entire process which ends with the sear breaking (as if a shot were to occur if the gun were loaded). Once you can dry fire with no movement, you are ready to actually shoot the gun while following the same procedures you learned during dry firing. Go back to dry firing often to verify your ability to release a shot without affecting the alignment of the sights with the target.
    • Advanced trigger control. Most triggers have a stop so that when you pull back on the blade, it will eventually stop moving no matter how hard (within reason) you pull. You want to pull through to that stop when taking a shot and not release the blade until you are ready to take the next shot. This is called follow through. Most shooters want to see what happened and make some movement before the shot is complete. One aspect of airgun shooting of at least PCP airguns is that there is no movement of the gun even during the actual shot! Thus, one can watch the shot through the entire process -- for a powder gun with recoil the gun will move, but the idea is to pretend that you are watching that shot all the way to the target for every shot whether affected by recoil or not.
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    Sight Alignment. An optical sight is generally far more intuitive for most shooters than iron sights. Many think that optical sights will make them more accurate -- in actuality, optical sights make it easier to see the target but if the target is easily visible (a bullseye, for instance), it is entirely possible to shoot as accurately with iron sights as with optical sights. The essence of sight alignment for either iron or optical sights is to align the front sight on the target while keeping the rear sight (if iron) centered.
    • The non-intuitive part of optical sights is that the cross-hair (dot, etc.) is the front sight. You want to concentrate on that front sight no matter what the target. This concentration will result in less over-correction when aiming and becomes vastly more important with higher magnification scope sights where the tendency is to align the target to the scope rather than concentrate on putting the scope on the target. As noted, this is not intuitive but does work.
    • In target shooting there are two approaches to sight alignment: Center of Mass (aim at the center of the bullseye) or 6 o'clock hold (aim just underneath of the bullseye). For optical sights, virtually everyone shoots center of mass. For iron sights, either approach can be used. In practice, younger eyes may prefer the 6 o'clock hold while older eyes will probably find the center of mass easier and more accurate.
    • For iron sights, the most important thing is for the front sight to be clear. This means that older shooters will have problems using distance vision eyeglasses since then the target will be clear and the front sight fuzzy. Having the target be fuzzy (and using a center of mass hold!) will usually work better. To achieve this ideal, you will need some optical help in the form of reading glasses or special shooting glasses. For most shooters, a prescription of +.5D to +1.0D is going to be needed. You can buy clip-on or drug-store reading glasses with +1.0D strength but lower-strength glasses are usually not available and you will have to ask your optician for a special prescription. One option is the Internet sources for glasses -- you can purchase complete frames and lenses from them for as little as about $10; you just enter your prescription adding .5 to 1.0D to the spherical value to get "shooting" glasses.


  • The US Army Marksmanship Unit (USAMU) Rifle and Pistol guides are excellent resources. The rifle and pistol guides are also available from the Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP). The costs are $6.95 each. You have to go to the store and create a login to order.
  • Yoga. Yoga mats were mentioned above as inexpensive prone mats. Yoga is a fantastic way to build core body strength and flexibility essential for good shooting. Many older shooters have quit shooting in prone because it is uncomfortable. Yoga can restore the flexibility needed to be able to shoot comfortably in any position. There are other things that Yoga provides such as how to stand properly that translate directly to better pistol and standing shooting. These include standing with the feet parallel (for some, this feels a bit pigeon-toed) -- this tends to lock the knees without requiring as much muscle effort to stand erect. In Yoga, knees are always "soft" -- this means not locking your knees backwards and, again, this helps with the shot process. Finally, the head is held high; that helps with the shot because you are not using as many muscles to hold your head in position. Finally, Yoga provides excellent cardio-vascular training for the body and the lower your heart rate and healthier the body, the better you shoot.

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Categories: Individual Sports