Student Handgunner:
In Search of Small Groups:
Part I


It’s not the gun … This Springfield Armory Loaded Target 9mm 1911
on a multi-cal Ransom Rest is a mechanically accurate setup.

Frustrated. I never imagined shooting groups with a pistol, especially off a rest, could be so challenging. I set up the multi-caliber Ransom Rest and adjusted it so my 9mm Springfield Loaded Target 1911 balanced properly.

I started with my regular shooting glasses and a blinder over my non-dominant eye. In general, shooting with both eyes open is better and reduces eye strain. Closing one eye puts strain on the other eye and gives your brain something extra to focus on.

Target Blindness

The sights were crystal clear. I could see a speck of dust on the front sight if I looked closely enough. The target 25 yards away was a different story. I could barely articulate it. Before you say it — I am well aware it’s supposed to be blurry. A crisp front sight and a slightly blurry target are typically a recipe for success. In this case, it was quite the opposite. I struggled to get a consistent sight picture, thereby opening the door to larger than desired groups.

I quickly realized it wasn’t the gun or the ammo. I would have a nice knot of three shots nearly stacked on top of one another followed by two shots in a completely different location. Other times, my “group” looked more like a shotgun pattern.

Going down the laundry list of possible solutions, I switched lens glasses colors. I tried several prescription inserts in my glasses — my original and others purposely manipulated to make the front sight just a little blurrier and the target just a little less so. Though the modified prescription works well for long range in combination with a long-sight radius, it didn’t do much on the 5″ pistol barrel, but the astigmatism correction helped.

At this point, I made a significant mental mistake. I convinced myself shooting tight groups was impossible for me. I began trying too hard — gripping the pistol tighter and tighter. Sometimes I knew the sights weren’t lined up correctly but pulled the trigger anyway — every shred of confidence evaporated.

Serena has several prescription inserts for the SSP Methow glasses. A clip-on
blinder works well for shielding your non-dominant eye.

Vision? Or Grip?

Exasperated, I turned to George Harris, my remote pistol mentor. As usual, the conversation was enlightening. We first looked at my five-shot “groups” of three stacked shots and two fliers. This happened several times with several types of ammunition. George explained I was likely gripping the gun so hard the mobility of my trigger finger diminished. This happens subconsciously. The gun won’t fire, so your thumb begins pushing the gun toward your frozen trigger finger. This fraction of an inch movement has a much larger effect downrange. Why did I have three shots stacked? My over-the-phone diagnosis attributed it to working too hard on my last two shots, trying to make them perfect. I also noticed I’d begin to hold my breath as I struggled to find the perfect sight picture, further complicating the process.

The next question was deceptively simple: What can you see? I had to think hard — I knew it wasn’t what I wanted, but what could I see? I could articulate the shape and the colors of the targets. They weren’t well defined, and if I looked for too long, they would all wash into white. I experimented with several target shapes and colors: black circles, black squares, a battleship game target with various colored dots and green circles. The black sights vanished into the black targets. The battleship target was far too busy — I couldn’t see the details. Any shots I took on it were based on the white edges of the paper. I had the right idea — it just wasn’t fully developed.

George explained as long as I could see contrast and shape, I could hit the target accurately. Holding center mass on the green circle was the best for me, as it is familiar. Your eyes want to find the center naturally. I’m still struggling to trust them. This proved another of my issues. While I could see the front sight clearly, I was not always focusing on it. Overly concerned about seeing the target, I would alternate my focus from the target to sights. When I saw the brass eject out of the corner of my eye and the muzzle flash, I knew I was focused on the front sight. The times this didn’t happen, I was focused on the target.

The next step is to continue to experiment with various target shapes. I don’t have any stellar five-shot groups yet … search ongoing!

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