MIT Sport Pistol Club

Introduction to

Pistol Marksmanship


  • Remember the three basic safety rules!
    • Keep the pistol unloaded until you are ready to fire
      • Action should be open when not actually shooting
    • Keep the pistol pointed in safe direction at all times
      • Muzzle up when moving around range (i.e. safe to firing line)
      • Muzzle pointed downrange when at your firing point
    • Keep your finger OFF the trigger until ready to shoot
      • Finger outside trigger guard when pistol is on the bench

Quick Detour: Human Vision

  • Even with perfect vision, many people have one eye the brain pays more attention to
    • Called the “Dominant Eye”
    • Ideally (& often), it matches dominant hand
  • Can be affected by corrective lenses
    • Brain will tend to use eye with best vision

Determining Eye Dominance

  • Face squarely towards distant object
    • Clock, doorknob, etc.
  • Hold arms out straight
  • Focus on object and
    form triangle around
    object with hands
  • Close one eye
    • If image jumps, the closed eye is dominant
    • If image is stable, the open eye is dominant

Vision & Target Shooting

  • Ideally, want to shoot using dominant eye
    • Also want to shoot with dominant hand
  • What to do if you are “cross dominant”?
    • If the eye matched to your dominant hand
      has good vision, go ahead and use it!
      • Block the vision of the dominant eye
        • Want equal light in both eyes; use translucent blocker
    • If eye matched to your dominant hand has poor vision, you will have to:
      • Switch hands if non-dominant hand is OK
      • Or, twist pistol in your dominant hand

Pistol Shooting Fundamentals

  • Position
  • Grip
  • Aiming
  • Breath Control
  • Trigger Control
  • Follow-through


  • Want to be comfortable & stable
    • Shoulders level, and lined up over feet
      • No twist
      • Maximizes stability and minimizes fatigue
    • Head vertical, not tilted
    • No high heels!
  • Don’t move feet between shots!
    • “This is not a dancing class”

Position: The Body

  • Everyone’s ideal stance will be different
    • Depends on bone & muscle structure
    • Can change during a shooting session
      • Muscles can stretch or tire
  • A good place to start:
    • Feet roughly parallel & shoulder width apart
    • Body roughly 45 degrees from target
    • Slightly more weight on front foot
    • Park non-shooting hand on belt, or in pocket

Position: The Arm

  • Arm should be straight
  • Locked wrist & elbow
    • Only enough muscle tension to stabilize joints
      • Have to learn by feel
      • Shouldn’t be uncomfortable
      • Don’t over extend elbow
    • Improves consistency
    • Provides “spring” to quickly return pistol to target for sustained fire
    • Aids reliable functioning of semi-auto pistols

Natural Point of Aim

  • Don’t want to use muscles to align pistol laterally
    • More stabile, more repeatable, less effort
  • Procedure:
    • Assume an approximate shooting position
    • Lock wrist and elbow
    • Make a fist with thumb sticking up vertically
    • With your eyes closed, raise arm & settle into a comfortable shooting position
    • Open eyes: thumb should be parked on top of target
    • Adjust mis-alignment by pivoting on front foot & moving rear foot
  • Double check & then refine by checking w/ pistol


  • The ideal grip is repeatable:
    • Use non-shooting hand under barrel to seat pistol firmly in your hand
    • Web of hand (between thumb & forefinger) seated up under rear of pistol frame
    • The barrel should line up roughly with arm, or slightly offset towards eye
  • Practice getting a consistent grip

Firm Grip

  • The ideal grip is firm
    • Neither limp nor crushing
      • Like a firm handshake
    • “The tighter the grip,
      the tighter the group”
    • Grip should be tight, but not
      enough to cause tremor or fatigue.
    • Pressure should be straight front-to-back
      • Between middle 2 fingers & heel of hand
  • Thumb, finger tips & little finger
    should be relaxed

Grip Mechanics: Target Pistols

  • Target pistol grips are designed to help
    • Non-slip surfaces on front & rear
    • Features to locate hand consistently
      • Palm shelf
      • Finger grooves
    • Come in multiple sizes
      • Not too large to reach trigger properly
  • Goal is consistency, shouldn’t be tight
  • Will do our best to help you get a good fit
    • Can add filler in loose spots

Breath Control

  • Breathing causes motion & motion is BAD!
    • You MUST hold breath as the shot is fired to
      minimize movement
  • BUT, you’ve got to have air!
    • Take several deep breaths beforehand
      • Deep breaths help slow your heart-rate and oxygenate blood
      • Forceful exhalation helps flush out CO2
    • Inhale as you raise your arm just above the line of sight
    • Exhale slightly as you lower the pistol into aiming area
    • Hold breath -- start trigger squeeze

Breath Control (Cont’d)

  • Don’t hold your breath too long!
    • Optimum vision can degrade after only
      10-12 seconds
  • If you start running out of air:
    • Slow Fire: lower pistol, rest 10-12 secs
      (while maintaining grip), then try again
    • Sustained Fire: If you must, a quick breath between shots is better than running out of air


  • AIMING: the process of achieving the proper relationship between the front & rear sight and the target
  • Aiming consists of 2 components:
    • Sight alignment
    • Sight picture

Sight Alignment

  • Relationship between the front & rear sight
  • Focus on the front sight with dominant eye
    • The front sight is the bit that’s moving!
  • Top of front & rear sight should be even
  • Front sight centered in the middle of the notch

Sight Picture

  • Combination of aligned sights & target
  • Concentration and focus should be on the
    front sight to maintain correct alignment
    • DO NOT focus on target (it’s not going anywhere)
    • If target is in focus, you aren’t watching sights!
  • Sights can be adjusted for several possible “holds”

“Sub-6 (Area) Hold” Sight Picture

  • Maximum precision for target shooting
  • Eye & brain are good at detecting patterns
    • Front sight roughly same width as target “black”
    • Equal spacing between black & sides of front sight
    • This helps produce the most repeatable sight picture

Sights: Alignment vs Picture?

  • Sight alignment is more critical than sight picture!
    • Proper sight alignment & sight picture
    • Vertical error in sight picture gives a slightly high shot
    • Similar misalignment of just the front sight produces a
      much larger error

Trigger Control

  • The goal:
    • Fire the pistol without disturbing sight alignment
  • Finger placement must be consistent:
    • Pad of forefinger is most
      sensitive part
    • Need to be able to apply
      pressure straight to rear
    • Exact geometry will depend
      on shooter & grip/pistol

Trigger Control: The Process

  • Take up any “play” or “slack” in trigger
  • Apply steady, gradually increasing pressure, straight to the rear
  • No one can be perfectly still
    • Accept your “hold,” don’t interrupt squeeze
  • Don’t force the shot to go off
    • If you keep increasing pressure, it WILL fire
    • Best if pistol fires without any anticipation
  • Continue to concentrate on front sight & sight alignment during trigger squeeze

Trigger Control: Timing

  • When you settle into your “hold”, you will reach a point of minimum movement (typically 1-3 secs)
    • Ideally, that is when the shot should fire
    • This takes courage & practice
  • If you wait until you are settled before you begin squeezing, odds are good the shot will fire AFTER your hold has begun to deteriorate
  • You MUST resist the temptation to force shot off


  • Physical follow-through
    • After making the shot, re-align sights as if you were going to take a second shot
    • Hold it (1-2 seconds)
  • Why?
    • Minimizes unnecessary movement before bullet leaves barrel
    • Builds muscle memory and tone
    • Develops proper habits for sustained fire

Mental Follow-Through

  • “Call” the shot (described on next slide):
    • Estimate location of shot from mental picture of sight alignment at the instant shot fired
    • Confirm w/ spotting scope
  • Inability to call your shots usually indicates lack of concentration on the front sight
  • Learn to analyze each shot to identify problems
    • Use diagnostic chart (in handout, discussed in a bit)
  • Apply corrective action:
    • Always work on a positive correction, i.e. “squeeze the trigger” as opposed to “don’t jerk trigger”
  • Reinforce good shots:
    • When you fire a good shot, remember and concentrate on what it looked like and felt like

Calling Your Shots

  • Can learn to take mental “snapshot” of sight picture at instant shot fires
  • Can often predict shot placement within ~ +/- 1 ring and +/- 1 “hour”
  • Provides a valuable check that everything is OK

Keys to Marksmanship

  • Two most important shooting fundamentals:
    • AIMING (sight alignment & sight picture)
      • Sight alignment far more critical than sight picture
    • Trigger control
      • Very easy to misalign sights w/ poor trigger squeeze
  • Far more really bad shots are caused by poor trigger control than by sighting errors!
    • “Dry Firing” practice is a big help

Dry Firing

  • Dry Firing is the process of going through all the steps of firing, but w/o ammunition
  • No recoil to mask or hide errors
  • Motion beyond your natural “hold” when trigger clicks is due to poor trigger control
  • Check with Coach for proper dry fire procedure
    • Many pistols can be damaged by improper dry firing
  • Olympic level shooters may dry fire 100 times for every “live” shot fired
    • Takes discipline: dry firing can be a bit boring…

Your Shot Process

  • A tight group of shots requires consistency
    • Each shot must be the same as the previous ones
  • Maximizing your consistency takes practice AND thought
    • Everyone is a little different
  • THINK about the steps you take to fire a 10
  • Examples:
    • How many breathes do you take before lifting pistol?
    • How long do you hold?
    • How fast do you squeeze the trigger?
  • Consciously try to develop “process” to shoot 10’s
  • Valuable tool to combat match jitters
    • Have to learn what your process is, and then learn to trust it

Zen & The Art of Pistol Shooting

  • Consistency will develop with careful practice
  • Many steps of shot process become automatic
    • “Muscle memory” or “learned motor response”
  • You will learn what a 10 looks & feels like
    • It will become easier to deliver good shots
  • You also want to learn what bad shots feel like
    • You will sense “indicators” that something isn’t right
    • Detect bad shots BEFORE they happen, and “abort”
  • Shooting 10’s is good
    • Not shooting “not 10’s” is also important!

Shot Diagnostic Chart

  • Errors push shots in certain directions
  • Locations are for a right handed shooter
    • For Lefties, swap locations right to left
  • Most problems can be corrected by:
    • Developing a sold, repeatable grip
    • Focusing on the front sight
    • Getting a “surprise shot” with a steady trigger squeeze

Sight Adjustments

  • Move rear sight in the direction you want to move your shots
    • Shooting high?
      • Move sights down
    • Shooting left?
      • Move sights to right
  • Every pistol is different
    • Location of screws / knobs
    • Direction to rotate & amount of correction
  • Check with a Coach for info on your pistol