Learning to use a firearm should be a necessary requirement for every modern individual. It is the equivalent of learning to use a bow or a spear in ancient times, which made the creation of civilization and the defense of life possible. A firearm allows us to defend our families, our property, and our nations; from threats that originate from within and from without. It also allows us to more easily acquire food should we be faced with emergency conditions.
Firearms teach and test our physical control, our psychological patience, and our ability to make important decisions under pressure. While many among us seek to demonize the weapon itself, they fail to see that a firearm is nothing more than a tool. The use of a tool depends entirely upon the character of the person who wields it. As long as these weapons exist it will be necessary for good men to carry them, as bad men will always look for ways to acquire an advantage over them.
When it comes to learning any skill, my motto is always SIMPLIFY SIMPLIFY SIMPLIFY. Break down the skill to its basic fundamentals and once you have mastered those, layer the more complex aspects on top of it. Here you will find everything you need to get you started with firearms training. Don’t over-complicate the learning process. Master these elements and you will already show more skill than the average hobbyist.
Basic Firearm Safety
Before a person handles a firearm for themselves they should first understand that it should not be taken lightly. Misuse or carelessness can end in injury or death, either for the handler or an innocent bystander. There are four main rules for firearm safety and they should be hammered into your mind and fiercely practiced.
1) Every weapon must always be treated as if it is loaded.
It doesn’t matter if you just unloaded it and stuck your finger in the chamber. As a means of encouraging safe habits, the weapon should ALWAYS be treated as if it were loaded. When it comes to personal safety or the safety of those around you, you will be held accountable for your actions.
2) Never point a weapon at anything that you are not prepared to destroy.
Rule number one extends to rule number two. The barrel itself should never sweep or be directly pointed at ANYTHING you wouldn’t mind injuring or destroying. You should be mindful of its placement at all times.
3) Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are aligned and you have made the absolute decision to shoot.
Until you are ready to shoot what is in front of you, your finger should remain straightened and away from the trigger itself. Once a bullet leaves the barrel, you cannot take it back and must take responsibility for whatever it strikes.
4) Know where your target is and what is behind it.
Bullets have the capability of penetrating their targets. Because of this, you must not only know what you are shooting at but also what could potentially be struck on the other side. Failure to hone this awareness could result in the unintentional death of another person.
As an added rule, all firearms should be secured so that no unauthorized user may access them.
These rules should be reviewed and practiced indefinitely. Never allow yourself to become complacent or lacking in discipline in the area of firearms.
After learning basic safety, every individual should understand the parts of their weapon and how they function together. There are many types of firearms, all of which can have varying mechanical aspects. For the purpose of this article, I will review some of the most commonly used styles in modern times. Once you understand these basics, it should be simple for you to figure out the varying mechanics of different firearms.
Ammo for the revolver is loaded into the cylinder and unloaded with the use of the extractor rod. Most modern revolvers don’t require the hammer to be cocked manually before firing but do allow it as an option. Cocking the hammer before firing makes the trigger pull take less effort. As you pull the trigger, the hammer is released and activates the firing pin to fire the loaded round. The cylinder spins and puts the next round in position for you.
The Semi-Automatic Pistol
The picture shown above is a 9mm Glock 17, a typical modern semi-automatic pistol. Many handguns also come with a thumb safety that is often positioned on the frame at the rear of the slide. But the Glock different in that it only has a trigger safety, which prevents the gun from firing unless the trigger is pulled.
The loaded magazine is placed into the base of the gun and the slide is manually pulled back in order to chamber the first round. The mechanism itself is operated by the force of the bullet being fired. The pressure forces the slide backward, ejecting the spent round from the chamber. The spring absorbs a lot of the energy from the slide’s movement then aids it in returning to its original position. When the slide moves forward it will catch the next round in your magazine and readies it to be fired. After your magazine has been emptied the slide will lock open, letting you know that it is time to reload.
The Bolt-Action Rifle
Bolt-action rifles are fantastic for hunting and long range shooting. Since rounds are manually ejected and reloaded with the use of the bolt, there are less moving pieces as the round leaves the barrel. This means that there are fewer factors which contribute to slight movements during operation, making them a superior option for accuracy at greater distances. However, shots can only be fired as fast as you can work the bolt.
The Semi-Automatic Rifle
The Ar-15 uses the charging handle to load the first found into the chamber. As the round is fired, the internal gas port vents the gas that is released from the shot, sending it through the gas block and gas tube into the receiver. Here, it powers the bolt carrier group and cycles the next round. Shots from this rifle can be fired as fast as you can pull the trigger. The quality of maintenance provided to the rifle, as well as different brands of ammo available, can all influence the overall performance of your firearm.
The magazine for the typical shotgun is built within the gun itself. As you pump the forestock, it loads the first round into the chamber where it is ready to be fired. After you fire the round it is necessary to pump the forestock again, which ejects the empty shell and loads the next round.
A semi-automatic shotgun works very similarly to a pump-action shotgun, but it removes the need to manually eject and load the round. The semi-automatic shotgun above has a built-in magazine just like the pump-action shotgun. Some shotguns can also be equipped with detachable magazines that increase the number of rounds it can carry.
Caliber is the unit in which the bullet’s diameter is measured. Generally speaking, the larger the caliber, the more takedown power it has. Smaller calibers can be just as deadly as larger calibers if the skill of the shooter is sufficient. But depending on the intended use of your firearm, it is a good idea to pick a caliber that is suitable for the job.
Calibers also come in different grains, which is how the projectile’s mass or weight is measured. The bullet weight influences the way it flies and how it performs when striking a target. Heavier bullets travel slower but hit with greater momentum, while lighter bullets have a flatter trajectory and greater velocity. People often debate over what grains are more suitable for different purposes. Some people prefer a heavy grain hollow point for defensive ammunition, while others may prefer a lighter, faster bullet.
Keep in mind that for most purposes putting a round on target is more important than how many grains it carries. Unless you are precision target shooting, hunting animals at great distances, or you are a career law enforcement or military sniper; it is easiest to go with the manufacturer’s recommended use for the round in question.
Below, you will find some examples of the most common ammunition types for handguns, rifles, and shotguns. Many other calibers and variations of calibers do exist, especially for historical guns, but this should be a sufficient review for our purposes.
Understanding Your Sight Picture
There are many different kinds of sight pictures that you will encounter when shooting various firearms, but they all serve the same basic purpose: to align your barrel in a straight line and adjust your point of aim.
Here are the steps you need to take in order to use your sights correctly.
Align your front and rear sights
On most handguns, and many rifles, your rear sight consists of two posts and the front sight is a single post on the tip of your barrel. For these types of sights, you want to center your front sight between the rear sights, creating an equal amount of space to the left and right of the front sight. You also want to position the height of the front sight so that it is flush with the top of your rear sights.
Many modern rifles have a rear sight that is circular and a front sight consisting of two large outer prongs and one smaller center prong. Here, the tip of the smaller prong should be flush with the center of the circle and there should be equal spacing between the outer prongs and the inner edges of your rear sight.
Focus Your Eyes On The Sights
When shooting, your main focus should be on your sights and not the target. More specifically, your front sight should attract the majority of your focus. Both the rear sights and your target should be somewhat blurry. You will still be able to see them and be aware of their position, but they will be much less crisp than the appearance of your front sight. The main purpose of the front sight is to show you the firearm’s relative position to your target.
Choose A Point Of Aim
There are three official points of aim that are acceptable for successful shooting. None of them are technically better than the others so it will be necessary for you to test them out yourself and see which works best for you.
6:00 Hold: The tip of your front sight sits just below the bullseye.
Center Mass Hold: The tip of your front sight runs flush with the center of your target.
Dead On Hold: The front sight covers the center of your target.
Iron sights should always be your main area of practice as a beginner. There are many other options for aiming a firearm, including scopes and red dots. But if you do not master the fundamentals, you could be caught helpless in a deadly situation should these mechanisms fail you.
Firing Positions And Grips
Holding your firearm properly will dramatically improve your ability to keep your sights on target, compensate for recoil, and place your shots where you want them. An improper grip can cause shots to be thrown off target or even result in injury or slide bite. Since this is a resource for beginners, I won’t attempt to cover all existing styles, but rather give you an effective starting point for practice.
Two-Handed Pistol Grip
If you’re new to firing a pistol, it is a good idea to maintain two-handed practice until you become more acquainted and capable with the weapon. Once you have gained some basic skill, then it would be advised to alter practice between two-handed and one-handed styles. The above picture shows the most common two-handed pistol grip.
The firing hand centers the grip of the pistol between the thumb and pointer finger, making sure that the pistol is held in a straight line. The trigger finger remains extended until you are ready to fire, while the remaining fingers apply pressure to the grip. It is important not to overextend your fingers around the grip, causing it to move the gun out of proper alignment. Instead, fold your fingers over the front of the grip and apply a front-to-back pressure that will allow you to keep the weapon stabilized even while in use. Make sure that your hand does not sit up too high on the firearm and do not place any fingers in the way of moving parts. That is a lesson you will learn quickly if your hand gets caught in the slide.
Your secondary hand is your support hand. It wraps around your firing hand in order to give you added leverage over the weapon while in use. Notice the position of the thumbs in the example above.
Both hands should grip the firearm with an equal amount of pressure or as hard as it takes to track up and down with the least amount of muzzle rise. A grip that is too relaxed will have you struggling with recoil and erratic tracking. It may also fail to feed or eject the spent round.
An excessive grip, in contrast, may negatively impact your sight alignment, inhibit your trigger control, and create fatigue in your hands and forearms. Both the pistol type and the caliber you’re firing will determine how much grip pressure is needed.
Pistol Shooting Stances
The two most common shooting stances for the pistol are the isosceles stance and the weaver stance. Each of these can also be modified in ways that may be preferable to some shooters. But it is wise to begin with their foundations until you are adequately familiar with both.
The Isosceles Stance:
Stand facing your target with your feet shoulder-width apart. Bend your knees slightly and extend your firearm toward your target, keeping your arms straight and locked. With your shoulders squared, your arms will form the perfect isosceles triangle, from which this stance gets its name. Most beginners learn this stance first as it is simple, strong, and easy to perform under pressure.
The Classic Weaver Stance:
Stand with your feet shoulder with apart while bringing your strong-side leg back into a boxer’s stance. Angle your support arm’s shoulder toward your target and bend your knees while keeping your body weight slightly forward. Grip your gun with opposite pressure in both hands, using the support hand to apply backward pressure and your firing arm to apply forward pressure. Keep both of your elbows bent with your support elbow pointing downward.
This stance was developed by Jack Weaver, a competitive shooter. He was the first to use a two-handed grip with opposite tension from both hands. He found that it provided accuracy, stability, and speed.
Rifle Positions For Beginners
A rifle is a much different beast than a handgun and if you haven’t had much experience with them; I wouldn’t suggest starting to learn from a standing position. The two most common positions for beginners is bench shooting and prone shooting. These positions will help you become more familiar with the weapon, before adding other physical elements that will influence your control and accuracy.
The prone style is the most stable field position possible, but it is not immune to being influenced by poor form. Here are a few ways that you can best utilize this form so that you will get the most out of it.
- Utilize the natural alignment of your rifle to position it directly onto your intended target. Once the rifle is aligned, then you can easily position yourself behind it. You can either place yourself directly behind the rifle or you can choose to offset your legs. Choose whichever position works best for you and stick with it long term.
- Make sure that the butt of the rifle is anchored firmly into the pocket of your shoulder. This will help reduce the chances of high or low impacts.
- If you’re using a bipod, put some forward pressure on it so that it does not move from recoil.
- Make sure both elbows are planted on the ground.
- Keep your toes pointed out with your entire foot and legs maintaining contact with the ground.
- Utilize your stock to keep your head in a natural alignment with your sights or scope.
- Take deep breaths and relax your entire body. Allow your bone structure to keep the rifle on target.
- Always shoot between breaths, while your lungs are empty.
- Follow through on your shots. Don’t be quick to jump up from the rifle, work the bolt, or reset your trigger. As a basic rule, keep the trigger pulled back until you’re ready to set-up for your next shot.
Shooting from a bench is basically mechanically the same as shooting from the ground. This means that a majority of the fundamentals are the same, with the main difference being you. Instead of being stable on the ground, you are forced to support your own weight on a stool and are in a position that allows the upper torso to move around. This instability combined with improper alignment on the bench can cause your accuracy to diminish.
A huge tip for bench shooting is to get as much of your upper torso onto the bench as possible. While the majority of your body weight is supported by the stool, the bench will aid in stabilizing your upper body from excessive movement. This includes keeping your elbows planted on the table.
While keeping your shoulders square with your direction of fire, move your shoulders forward in front of your hips. Leaning forward into the gun helps maintain your foundation and keeps you firm against the recoil of the rifle.
Small mistakes in your trigger pull can significantly influence the accuracy of your shot placement. Even using the wrong portion of your finger can cause the barrel to move enough to throw your shots off your intended point of aim. Here are some tips to keep in mind in order to develop a proper trigger pull.
Isolate Your Trigger Finger:
The index finger on your firing hand is used solely for the purpose of squeezing the trigger. When you are ready to fire, concentrate on moving this finger only. Isolate its movements from the rest of your hand in order to not throw off your sight picture.
Use The Pad Of Your Fingertip:
Using the wrong part of your finger to pull the trigger can cause your shots to lean left or right. The image below shows you a proper placement and how an improper trigger pull can diminish your accuracy.
As you can see, the proper placement for your trigger pull is directly on the pad of your fingertip. Not on the tip itself or in the crease of your trigger finger.
Keep Your Focus:
Shooting accurately is equally a mental skill as it is a physical skill. Don’t limit your focus only on what you’re shooting at, but also concentrate on what your body is doing while you are shooting. Concentrate on your trigger pull, where the trigger breaks, your grip pressure, and the trigger reset. Once you have developed a basic understanding of the shooting fundamentals, you will improve over time with practice and discipline.
Jerking your trigger finger will completely destroy your accuracy. Practice pulling the trigger evenly so that you do not disturb your sight alignment. Your trigger pull should be smooth, steady, and in complete control.
Firing a gun is loud and your body anticipates the recoil of the firearm. Over time, you will become less sensitive to this, but you must practice keeping control of the firearm at all times. Not only up until the moment the round is fired.
Practice Dry Firing Exercises:
Dry firing away from the range is an excellent way to practice your trigger pull. Without the added recoil, you will notice any unnecessary movement that needs to be worked on. It will help you focus on your overall grip and your disciplined control of your trigger pull. Most modern guns can be dry fired without damaging the firearm itself. But for some guns, it is wise to use snap caps as a safety precaution.
A common dry fire exercise that I use for my handgun practice requires you to balance an empty casing on your front sight. You should be able to pull the trigger without the casing falling to the ground. Give it a try.
A quick search online will reveal some free targets that you can use to diagnose mechanical issues in your shooting technique. Here are a couple of those targets for left and right handed pistol shooters.
Learning to use a firearm is just like learning to weight lift or to play a musical instrument; it is a skill of muscle memory. In order to improve your shooting, it will be necessary to develop proper positioning and movement. This requires a good understanding of the firearm’s function as well as proper techniques. Everything I have provided you with should be the foundation of your training until you are ready to advance to more complex areas of shooting. Such as alternate stances, weapon draw, speed reloading, precision shooting, and stress training.
Your success will entirely depend on your consistency of practice and your ability to correct your form. Remember, these skills could one day save your life or the life of someone you love. If that means anything to you, then it will likely be reflected in the quality of your practice. This responsibility is entirely your own. I have done my part to help you, now do with it what you will.