Precision Shooting

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Do you want to hit the same spot, every time? Bullseye shooting teaches the
basics of precise marksmanship.

These days a handgunner interested in competition shooting is likely to be attracted to the action/practical shooting sports. Such sports are dynamic, fast-moving and exciting — every stage and match presents a new challenge. By comparison Precision Pistol (bullseye) shooting with its fixed courses of fire, generous time limits and static shooting positions seems staid, indeed.

I get it. When the action/practical shooting sports took off in the mid-late 1970s — assisted in no small part by the then new American Handgunner magazine — like many others I dropped bullseye shooting. But the basic skills from bullseye shooting — sight alignment, trigger control and discipline — carried over to practical shooting.

Accurate shooting, whether with handgun or rifle, means doing everything the same way for every shot. Stance, grip, hold and trigger press — if they’re exactly the same for every shot you can shoot up to the accuracy potential of the pistol. Being human and fallible we can’t achieve such perfection, but we do keep trying!

Shooting a custom bullseye .45 from Clark Custom. Wrist is straight, tang of pistol
pressed hard against the web of the hand, firm grip with thumb and three fingers,
trigger finger placed squarely across the face of the trigger.

The Basics Rule

Let’s start with the grip. Pick up the pistol — empty as there’s no need to load just yet — with the weak hand, holding it around the frame/slide. Carefully position the grip frame in the shooting hand. The grip tang should press firmly on the web between thumb and forefinger, the barrel approximately aligned with the forearm.

Incidentally it seems European shooters prefer a more angled grip than do American shooters, with good examples being the Benelli, Hammerli, Pardini and Walther match .22’s. Such a grip angle means the shooter’s wrist is canted downward to align the sights with the eye. In theory it’s easier to maintain a consistent wrist position if the wrist is at the end of its range of movement, rather than somewhere in the middle. A counter argument is that holding the wrist straight is more natural and comfortable, therefore easier to duplicate.

In any event, to shoot all three categories of NRA Precision Pistol you must shoot the 1911 .45 with its straighter grip frame. Since they couldn’t change the .45, bullseye shooters demanded and got .22 target pistols with the “1911” grip angle such as the Smith & Wesson Model 41, High Standard Military, or precision .22 conversion units such as the Marvel on 1911 receivers.

While I don’t believe in a white-knuckled rock crusher grip, you do want a firm and solid hold. To be consistent the pistol cannot shift in the hand, and there’s no support hand in this discipline to help out. Grip the pistol firmly with the thumb and three lower fingers. The trigger finger doesn’t grip anything. It has one job — to press the trigger smoothly straight back. Your grip should leave the trigger finger able to move freely without moving the gun, and with the pad at the first finger joint squarely across the face of the trigger.

With a more slanted grip such as on this Hammerli single-shot free pistol, the
shooter’s wrist is canted forward, a style preferred by many shooters as being
more consistent than the straight or neutral wrist position. Shooter is Ricky
Zhao of New Zealand.

Reaching Out

With pistol in hand, stand with feet about shoulder width apart. Start with the feet about 90 degrees to the firing line so the strong side of the body is about aligned with the target. Now close your eyes and raise the pistol in what feels to you a natural, comfortable position. Open your eyes and see where the pistol is pointed relative to the target.

I can practically guarantee it’ll be pointed well off the target, in the direction of the weak side — to the left, for a right-handed shooter. Now move the weak side — left, in our example — forward a few inches, close your eyes, raise the pistol to the natural, comfortable arm position, then open your eyes.

Repeat the process until your natural point of aim is on the target. For most shooters the feet will be aligned at about 45 degrees relative to the target, but you’re not most shooters, you’re a unique individual. What works for another may not work for you.

Precision pistol allows most types of sights, except lasers. Red-dot sights have become the standard, unless, like me, you just enjoy shooting iron sights. With optics, the only skills you really need to learn are holding the pistol as steadily as possible, and releasing the trigger without imparting movement to the gun. And we all know how easy those skills are, don’t we?

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