Improving your skill with handguns


TGT Supporter
Feb 21, 2008
Austin, TX
Hi all. I was bored and thought I would write about one of the few subjects I know anything about. ;-) I'm still not much of an experienced shooter, at least not compared to many here. However, over the past 2 years or so since I got into handguns, I've learned pretty fast and picked up a lot of little tricks along the way. I've noticed that many of these tricks seem to really jump start increasing one's proficiency with handguns. I still have a lot to learn and am still trying to improve every day though. I've gotten accuracy and consistency down pretty well, and the main thing I'm currently working on is improving the speed of my follow up shots.

Eye Dominance

First off, establish which eye is your dominant one! ;-) You might think you know, but check anyways or this could be a big factor in your shots being off. Here's a couple of ways to check. First off, cross both hands like this:

The object is to make a triangle. Now focus that triangle with an object in the center. Just pick anything around the room. Now close one eye. Did the target move or is it still centered? Do this with both eyes, and the one in which the target is still centered will be your dominant eye. Also, another method is to make the same small triangle, or make a small circle with your thumb and index finger. Then you take this triangle or circle, focus on a target as before and then bring your hand(s) toward your face. Your triangle or circle should come back towards your dominant eye.

No The Sights Are Not Off ;-)

99% of problems related to accuracy when it comes to handguns can be attributed to improper trigger pull and an improper sight focus. Most new factory guns come with the sights setup properly for factory ammo (custom reloads are an exception of course). So no, the sights are most likely not off. ;-) With used guns, you never know if the previous owner adjusted them, so it can be a very real possibility that the sights are off. Usually what you'll see is the rear sight cranked to one side due to the previous owner constantly yanking the trigger, inevitably always shooting left if right handed (shots to the right if left handed if that makes sense). Having already established eye dominance, there is a good method to eliminate any improper trigger pull, which should help you determine whether the sights are really off.

First we'll tackle trigger control. There are many aspects to it, and even when you think you've got it down, you may not quite have it. ;-) One of the major problems people have is yanking the trigger. There are many reasons why people do this. One that I had a big problem with is I was "forcing" the gun to go off and was feeling rushed. It is physically impossible to hold a handgun out in front of you perfectly 100% still. Well the problem I ran into, and a lot of new shooters do as well, is feeling rushed to pull the shot off as soon as the sights were coming back around to the POA (point of aim). Don't worry about it! ;-) Relax, take a deep breath, and force yourself not to feel rushed. Even though the sights will be moving around a few millimeters here and there, it's really not going to make a big difference on the POI (point of impact) if you are pulling the trigger properly and focusing on the sights properly.

The "Surprise" Break

First off there is the "surprise break" method. Basically, once you line up on target and have your sights aligned, start focusing on the front sight hard. While doing this, you want to very, very slowly start easing the trigger back. Don't even try to "make" the gun shoot, just pull it back slowly, slowly increasing pressure. The whole time, it can help to say to yourself or out loud FRONT SIGHT, FRONT SIGHT, FRONT SIGHT to get your mind focused on concentrating there. If done correctly, eventually the gun will go off when you don't expect it. The point is, this keeps you from yanking the trigger back. With the sights in proper alignment, a front sight focus, and not yanking the trigger, the shots should hit right at the point of aim every time. There are other issues that can creep up as well though like improper sight alignment with the eye (this can really show up if you are cross dominant, wear glasses, etc). Though, other issues aside, start there and see how you do.

Here's a good video to give you a visualization of this: YouTube - Jeff Cooper's Defensive Pistolcraft Tape Series

Another thing you can try is to cut a fairly large square out of the center of mass of the target, say maybe the size of at least double your fist or larger. The reason you are doing this is to get yourself used to not seeing the bullet impact, or at least not looking at the hole after the shot. This is an incredibly tough habit to break, but believe me it's worthwhile. Basically what you do is you fire at least a box (preferably more) of ammo at the target straight through this large square, and try to keep everything within this empty square in the center. Once you've done that for awhile and can consistently keep all your shots inside this empty square, then get another target and cut another square in the COM (center of mass), but this time make it a bit smaller. Keep doing this until you can work your way down to preferably a fist sized group in the COM, with as fast of follow up shots as you can manage. The reason I say fist sized is, at close range and for self defense, that's pretty much all the accuracy anyone will need, and it generally seems to be a good balance between speed and accuracy. The idea is to go as fast as you can with your follow up shots while maintaining not much larger than a fist sized group. Going for the one hole groups at 0-15yds means you are likely going to have extremely slow follow up shots

Sight Focus

For now, just focus on the front sight. ;-) Trust me. There are a lot of different methods out there, such as point shooting, index shooting, etc. Those can all work, but some of them require shooting a LOT to establish muscle memory and a good feel for where the bullet is going. The one thing no one can deny is that, if you align the rear sight and the front sight properly (so they are even with each other, front sight fills rear sight notch) and provided you pull the trigger properly then the bullets will impact on the POA every time. There is also different focus methods out there such as using a target focus. Again, this can work, but it can take a lot of work and practice to be consistent at it. For now, just focus on the front sight so you can work on your fundamentals and grip. Once you've got that stuff down pat, then if you want to try out other methods then go right ahead. The reason I say to do it in this order with front sight focus being first, is if you haven't yet mastered the fundamentals, no matter what methods you use to your focus or grip, your shots are probably never going to be accurate or consistent.


TGT Supporter
Feb 21, 2008
Austin, TX
Grip And The Fundamentals

Basically, the fundamentals are proper sight alignment, focus, and proper trigger pull. That's it, that's all there is to it! I see a lot of people getting too heavily focused on little aspects like having the perfect trigger finger placement, perfect grip, etc etc. Ultimately it does NOT matter from a pure accuracy standpoint. If you align the sights properly with your eye, properly focus on the front sight, and properly pull the trigger, than the bullet is going to hit where you aim every time. It's as simple as that, with handguns at least. Rifles are a different ball game due to the increased range people shoot at, but the fundamentals still apply.

Grip does NOT affect your accuracy. You can have an absolutely ridiculous and impractical grip, but if you follow the fundamentals it is going to hit where you aim every time. Grip simply allows you to deliver those fundamentals to the target more QUICKLY. So for things like competition shooting, more self defense oriented shooting (IDPA, etc), having a good grip does matter as it will allow you to control the gun better and get quicker follow up shots while still maintaining accuracy. If you are on a square range shooting slow, grip is not a big deal. Focus on the fundamentals and you'll still get the job done. All of that aside, lets talk about grip a bit. First off, some grip methods are better than others. The one I firmly believe in is known as the "thumbs forward" or sometimes the "modern combat grip". Here's some pics to illustrate it:

Here's an excellent article to better explain that grip:
The Combat Handgun Grip

Basically the jist of it is it allows you to get a full 360 degree hold on the gun. With the typical thumb over thumb approach, there will be a section of the support hand thumb area that really isn't making contact with the grip so you have less surface contact to control the gun with. On top of that, when done correctly, the angle of your support hand allows the wrist to resist muzzle flip much better. Try it out, see if you like it. If you don't, no biggie. Like I said earlier, focus on the fundamentals and you'll be good to go.

There are other aspects but, I've touched on most of the important ones. I think I'll stop here since this page is getting looooooong. ;-) Here are some vids I recommend watching that I've found helpful and that will give you some good visualizations about some of this stuff:

YouTube - Todd Jarrett on pistol shooting. The jist of this one is with the gun properly centered in your hand, it is directing the recoil down your arm properly. It took me awhile to realize that's what he was getting at. If you have the gun centered more on your thumb area (like I did), you aren't getting the full meat of your hand and forearm into the recoil control process, so you'll have less control overall.

YouTube - How to grip a pistol

Also, I highly recommend picking up this DVD:

Tactical Response Gear

That DVD goes a LONG way towards dispelling any myths, and it will give you a big jump start on learning to shoot properly. Believe me, it is the best $40 I've ever spent, and I learned a lot more watching that than I would have spending it on another $40 worth of ammo.


Bowling-Pin Commando
May 28, 2008
Mustang Ridge
Good post. So I should get the fracture boot off in about a month. My offer still stands on training.


TGT Supporter
Nov 8, 2008
HK, I am playing catch up here!
Great post on fundamentals, which is where I happen to be. Most importantly, I realized that my dominant eye is not the one I was trying to utilize!
Might 'splain why my shots were all heading left!


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