Proper Technique Will Save Your Life

proper technique saves livesIn one of my recent beginner pistol classes, I had a student ask about why technique is so important.  He was saying how he’d been shooting before and did just fine.  He knocked all the beer cans off the log, and had a great time.

I told him that if his reason for taking my class was to just shoot cans off of logs, he had wasted his money.  Yes, he and his .22 pistol would shoot more cans more often, but if things got tense – such as in a self-defense situation, he’d be glad he learned proper technique.

A great example:

Back in 2010, you may remember a distraught man who went into a Florida school board meeting, and shot the place up (video link).   He takes aim at the board members from inside of 10 feet.

And missed every shot.  Except the one to his own head.

Pretty damned good outcome.  And lucky as hell.

First, the “duh” factor:  Gun-free zones – like a school board meeting – aren’t.  At least not for criminals.  Only for law-abiding citizens.  When will this sink in?

Lessons  Learned –

  • If the bad guy gives you permission to leave, leave.  No reason to add to the body count of some nut.
  • Lady with the purse – Unless you have the ability to meet force with equal or greater force, make better use of your time.  Call the police or at least get a weapon that has a chance of disabling the attacker.  A bat, a knife, pepper spray.  Not a purse. She’s lucky to be alive.

Why the school board members aren’t dead –

This is due, at least in part, because the gunman had horrible technique.  I know that sounds odd, and No, I’m not suggesting you better your technique so you can shoot more accurately at school board members.  I want you to take what he did and don’t make the same mistakes if you find yourself in a situation where you need to fire your gun in self-defense.

First, as this image from the video shows, he was standing bolt upright.  When firing your gun, you want to have your upper body act as a shock absorber for the recoil of the shot.  Lean into your shots.  As I tell my students, “Shoulders in front of hips.”  You want to direct that recoil into your large upper body, and not into your weaker wrists or elbows.


He is also not aiming the gun.  He’s basically pointing it in the general direction of his target.

Law abiding citizens know that you only want to have “aimed fire” – none of this shoot ’em up stuff from the movies and TV.

The best stance and presentation is the Isosceles stance.  You are using two hands on the gun, with your arms held straight out in front of you towards your target.  Your jaw line is at your biceps, which brings the gun’s sights in line with your eyes.

In this second shot, you see that the gun is now pointing straight up after his first shot.  All of the recoil was transferred to his elbow.  It acted as a fulcrum and was bent upwards by the recoil.  Obviously, follow-up shots will be more difficult, as getting back on target will take more time.


Also notice in this picture where the fired round has impacted – the papers “puffed” up off the desk.  Low and to the left of the target (from the shooter’s perspective).

This is the most common shooting error I see with my students.  When they squeeze the trigger, they also squeeze the lower three fingers on their shooting hand.  This “all move together” approach pulls the muzzle down low and to the left, taking your shots off target.

As I teach my students, you must think of your trigger finger as an “independent contractor” – it moves and acts separately from the grip fingers.  To reinforce this on the range, I’ll have them wiggle their trigger finger before a shooting string.

Squeeze, don’t jerk the trigger.  Independent contractor.

This knowledge – that unskilled or nervous shooters will likely shoot low and to the left – can be used to your advantage.  If you’re on the wrong side of the barrel (facing a shooter) and have the opportunity to move, the shots will likely miss to your right.  You want to move to your left and back if possible.

If you have a left handed shooter, it’s obviously just the opposite.

So that you’re not thinking too hard in a stressful situation, I teach my Advanced students to move in the same direct as the gun is being presented.  Move to the side of the gun.  And move away from the shooter, never closer, as you will improve his or her “aim” by making the target larger.

Movement and distance can save your life.


I shoot a lot.  More each month than the vast majority of people reading this article.  Still, I know that if I were in a situation where I had to shoot at another human being in defense of my life, or the life of another, I would be nervous as all hell.

To increase my probability of success, I want to ingrain in my head all of the technique I know.  The more proper technique I follow, the higher the likelihood of success.

This is doubly important for us Baby Boomers.  As we get more seasoned, our hand strength lessens, our eye sight fades, and our reaction time may slow.  We must use our experience and proper technique to ensure we come out whole on the other side of a bad situation.

For instance, in a stressful situation, my aim might not be perfect, but if I have my stance, grip and trigger pull correct, I’ll likely hit my target.  I know that my stance alone will likely get my shots in “center mass” out to 10 yards – about 3 times the distance from which this guy was shooting.

BTW, if you’re shooting one handed, your stance should be the same – with the gun centered in your body, leaning forward with your jawline at your extended bicep.  The only adjustment is to slightly over-grip with the lower three fingers to add a bit of stability to your shots.

Of course, practice is the key.  Regular, consistent practice at the range so that if you’re ever placed in a horrible situation where you have to defend yourself with a handgun, you’ll be the one going back to your family.

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