Learning To Shoot — Finally!

Unexpected lessons saved my hobby
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Glock 17

My Black Box Customs-modified Glock 17 with Trijicon RMR reflex sight and Surefire weapon mounted light. This target is after some intensive personal training. Now in the minute-of-belt buckle skill-level.

For 15 years my handguns and I have had an uneasy marriage. Dating back to my first firearms purchase — a Glock 17 — they and I have been embroiled in what can at best be described as a true love/hate relationship. And it wasn’t just my new “plastic fantastic” handgun with whom I had this vexing association. For having caught the bug, there soon followed many new friends in my expanding gun safe — a CZ 75 and 85, a Smith and Wesson 627 revolver, a Walther, a Taurus 1911, some Rugers, an FN and finally a Sig.

I loved everything about my handguns — their looks, their history, their utility, their engineering, not to mention the excitement of going to the range and making new friends with fellow gunnies. The joy of accessories soon followed (holsters, belts, range bags, etc.). Then came the inevitable reloading addiction, as thousands of rounds of handmade ammo spilled out of my press monthly. In short, I was hooked and totally in love.

All except one little, tiny, ever-so-small problem — I was absolutely horrid, like really, really horrid, at shooting the darn things. I watched online videos, poured over every book I could find on the subject, observed my newfound friends shoot their handguns hoping to learn via osmosis, endlessly fussed about my stance (Weaver or isosceles?), even took some professional instruction through a variety of weekend courses. But despite it all, my “groups” (if you could even dignify them with such a charitable term) could best be described as “Minute of Watermelon.” Eventually I began to hate my handguns, started selling them off at bargain basement prices, and was on the verge of deciding to go in a different direction. Perhaps lawn darts. Or bird watching. Maybe bowling.

Learning shooting

Alan at the range, ready to go, but with a new-found enthusiasm!

Alan target shooting

On target, trying his best to remain steady, Alan said he constantly thinks through each shot now.

A Chance Meeting

Then, after this 15 years of futility, and turning a lot of good money into a lot of really inaccurate noise, I decided a while ago to take a hard look in the mirror and address the fact all along I had been ignoring one fundamental underlying problem with my handgun shooting.

I inherited a lot of good qualities from my mother — honesty, integrity, a weakness for cheap crime novels — but I also got something from her I could have frankly done without. Doctors call it Benign Essential Tremor. In the scheme of things, it’s not a particularly terrible affliction. There are many, many worse things one can suffer from. When I received the diagnosis from my doctor I immediately picked up on the fact the first word in the name of this problem is “benign”, as in “nothing to really worry about”.

However, while it doesn’t in the least bit interfere with my enjoyment of my family, my work or my other pastimes, that tremor sure makes it difficult to hold a handgun rock-solid and hit that X ring (or any ring sometimes…). I plumbed the depths of the internet looking for solutions — decaf, no-caf, beta blockers, slings and rests and so on, all to no avail. I just wanted to be able to hold my handguns out there like we see skilled shooters do in the pages of American Handgunner and elsewhere and be, well, slightly competent.

It was with this background, and resigned to the fact I just wasn’t physically cut out to be a handgunner, I happened to have a chance meeting with an experienced, generous, and kind-hearted gentleman a bit more than a year ago while attending Shot Show in Las Vegas. As so often happens, we got to talking about shooting, and I mentioned in passing I was sick of my tremor-fed incompetence with my handguns and so was on the verge of quitting shooting altogether. This fellow listened quietly to my story, then took me aside into a quiet corner of the convention center and opened my eyes to new possibilities .

He spoke to me about stance, and grip, and especially trigger manipulation. He gave me pointers and tips and ideas designed to adapt and overcome my tremor and get more shots on-target. He told me to be patient. He extolled the virtues of dry firing. He gave me exercises. He suggested specific target drills. And then he asked me, a complete stranger, to stay in touch with him and report back on my progress.

Learning Shooting

Focusing on his breathing and trigger press helps to control things. Roy reminded him to just apply the basics, over and over until it becomes automatic. But even then, keep thinking about it!

Learning Shooting

It’s all about stance, sight picture, and trigger manipulation. But mostly trigger manipulation!

Learning Shooting

Keeping the sights at eye level and concentrating on a slow trigger press were two huge things Roy told Alan. No need to “scrunch down” to see the sights, just bring the gun up!

Target Shooting

Success: 10 shots, 7 meters — 1 ragged hole! This would have been measured in “paper plate” sized groups before!

The Results

And I have. Over the past months I’ve applied his lessons. I have practiced daily. I have adjusted my attitude (“No need to be perfect, just have fun!”). And shockingly, I have improved. I’m not going to be giving Mr. Miculek or Mr. Leatham cause for concern any time soon, but I have actually improved. I’m now down to “Minute of Grapefruit”, and I have my sights quite literally set on apples, and plums, and maybe even grapes. But most of all, I don’t hate my handguns any more. I love them more than I ever have before. Range visits are now exciting, not frustrating. I can’t wait to get out to work on my new skills. And to then send my shot up targets, some good, some still bad, to my long-distance mentor.

My takeaway from this experience? It is that through the kindness and generosity of spirit of complete strangers in our oft-maligned gun culture that differences can be made. That there are many people out there willing to lend a hand, make a suggestion, extend their generosity, and in the process change a person’s enjoyment of our hobby. And their attitude. And perhaps, more broadly, their life.

And so with much gratitude and from the bottom of my heart, I say — thank you Roy Huntington for taking the time to visit with me at that show!

Editor’s Note: I asked Alan if he would write a short note about his experiences, in hopes of helping others who might be frustrated with their shooting. I think his modestly told story mirrors others out there, while his willingness to “stay the course” and listen to ideas — speaks volumes. When we chatted at that SHOT Show, I could tell he wanted to shoot, but his tremor was certainly challenging. I wish I could take credit for possessing some miracle teaching method — but I don’t. I simply encouraged Alan to try some of the most basic tips and tricks I tell anyone; things I’ve found work for new or struggling shooters and even seasoned veterans who might have strayed.

The key here, though, is Alan listened, then applied those tenants, and continues to practice. An American Handgunner “Hat’s-Off!” to Alan and to other shooters who are willing to tackle the often tough learning curve to get the basics down. I look forward to seeing Alan’s future grape-sized groups! Roy Huntington, Editor, American Handgunner