Top 6 Pistol Shooter Errors

6-pistol-shooter-errorsIn my years as a pistol instructor, patterns have emerged.  These following six items are the most common pistol shooter errors I see – in new and experienced shooters.

In my classes, I stress these 6 items, so when my students get into the range, they have a greater probability of success – and with that comes a greater probability that they’ll stick with guns as part of their lives.

First, let me explain my overall philosophy:  I explain that what we’re trying to do is to transfer the muzzle energy through the weak hands, into the weak arms and get it into the strong shoulders.

To do this, we need to have a good (but not strangling) grip, locked elbows and we want to lean into the shots from the waist (shoulders in front of the hips).

All of this is accomplished using the Isosceles Stance.


With this stance and philosophy, people of any size with normal strength are able to shoot any pistol cartridge from a .22LR to a .45ACP with ease.

So, here’s my list of where I see most shooter errors:

1. Jerking The Trigger – This happens most often when people are over-gripping with their shooting hand.  The tension in the palm and three fingers on the grip gets transferred to the trigger finger, and a jerky pull is the result.  The fix is to only grip the gun with enough force to keep it in place.  If the shooter is concerned with the muzzle force, I recommend doing the stronger grip with the support hand.  In this way, the shooting hand remains “relaxed” and the trigger finger is able to be, “butter smooth” while it squeezes the trigger.

2. Support Hand Thumb Placement – We spend a lot of time discussing proper grip – high up on the backstrap up to the beaver tail, and both thumbs on the same side of the gun.  I STILL see this way too often:


Think you might have problems with the slide and a jammed gun?  Still folks are resistant to using the proper, thumb-forward grip –


With this grip, you have palm or fingers in contact with the entire surface of the grip.  This gives you both lateral and vertical muzzle control of the gun – allowing you to put follow-up shots on target more quickly.

3. Poor Aim – After 4 or 5 shots, I can generally tell if the student understands the sight alignment and sight picture part of the earlier classroom work.  It’s all about sight alignment, then transferring that to the target to attain the sight picture.


You’ve got to get the front sight centered between the rear sights, AND they must be flat across the top of both sights.


Sight Picture

You then take the aligned sights, and place the top of the front sight where you want the bullet to impact.

If they’re still having difficulty with the concept, I’ll have them point the muzzle up at a slight angle, then slowly bring it down until the front sight “rests” in between the two rear sights.  This fixes the problem most of the time.

4. Not Breathing – New shooters especially, will tense up and everything is all herky-jerky.  I reinforce a technique I learned at an Appleseed shootUsing your respiratory pause.

Think about how you breathe:  When you exhale and get to the end of the breath, your body is naturally quiet – you don’t suddenly gasp and suck air into your lungs.  You want to pull the trigger at the bottom of that breath.

What’s nice is that if you exhale as you are pushing the gun towards the target and aligning your sights, once you’re at full extension, you’re usually at the bottom of that breath, and will have a much more steady “shooting platform” from which to hit your target.

5. Not Locking Elbows – As I mentioned earlier, we want to transfer that muzzle energy from the muzzle back to the shoulders.  If the elbows are not locked, guess where that energy is directed?  Yep, to the elbows, which act as a fulcrum.  The lever – your forearms – pivot at the elbows, and the muzzle goes upwards.

6. Not Leaning Into Shots – Most new shooters want to squat, not lean into their shots.  This leaves their shoulders directly over their shoulders.  If you shoot any kind of cartridge bigger than a .22LR, your upper body is going to be pushed backwards.  Aside from being dangerous, it again makes it more difficult to get subsequent shots on target quickly.

In class, I have all my students do an imaginary grip and presentation – pointing their “gun” at my head.  I then come up to each of them and push back on their outstretched arms and hands.  I want them to have their weight biased forward – say 60% or so.  Their weight should be on the balls of their feet and their butt pushed backwards


Just before we head into the range, I show a shortened version of this Youtube clip.  It helps to focus their minds on the basics –

Standing straight up, elbows bent, non-existent support hand grip, death grip with shooting hand.  It’s amazing she wasn’t injured.  Oh, and her idiot of a boyfriend/husband needs to be flogged.

That’s what I see most often.  What problems have you seen?  What makes your list?

What?  You don’t have these problems anymore?  Then you’re ready for Practice Techniques For Advanced Pistol.


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