It can be frustrating for any shooter, new or otherwise, when you’re not getting the groupings that you might like at the range (if you’re hitting anything at all). One sure-fire way to get some real-time feedback – take a hard look at your target.
As we’re well aware, the whole point of shooting weapons is to hit the things that we’re aiming at. For military or law enforcement applications, hunting, personal defense, competitive shooting or if you’re simply having a little fun at the range, accuracy is obviously important.
As a tool for shooting improvement, a record of your impacts can tell you a lot – you just have to know how to listen. It’s easy enough to blame environmental conditions, incorrect sighting or bad ammo, but how does that account for regularly missed targets or general inconsistency? Beyond whether you missed the target entirely, your results can tell you fairly accurately how you’re holding your firearm, pulling the trigger, plus a whole variety of other behaviors.
Having said that, a person is going to have to know what they’re looking at on a target. That’s why an instructor or a more seasoned shooter will most likely have to interpret what your results mean. Like most things, you don’t know what you don’t know. My first shooting experiences were very much like that. I thought for sure that I had that target perfectly lined-up and then I’d miss it entirely. It seemed physically impossible, but there it was. A buddy who was a cop watched what I was doing and told me to ‘try this’ or ‘try that’ and it definitely helped straighten things out (to a point). It wasn’t so much a technical read of the target, but at least I wasn’t screwing-up quite as badly. A helpful range instructor filled in the gaps some time later and it was a big help in improving my results.
You certainly can try and figure it out on your own through trial-&-error, but there are a lot of moving parts involved. There are definite cause-&-effect things that most shooters do, or have to compensate for, that will affect accuracy. The trick is getting a handle on it sooner than later so that the bad habits and muscle memory don’t take over.
Here’s a rundown of some of the more common reasons for consistently bad shots, keeping in-mind that there is a range for a shooter’s expectations based on their experience. From ‘My groupings aren’t quite as tight as I’d like’ to ‘Did I actually hit the target?’, it’s typical to want to see improvement over time through practice.
This is in no way a complete list and addresses handguns more than rifles. There is some commonality with a few of the elements though. Also consider that what happens to the shots of right-handers is typically just the opposite for lefties.
Shots String Vertically Below Center
This can occur if the wrist relaxes or the firearm is involuntarily pushed downward when pulling the trigger in anticipation of the recoil. Some call this ‘dipping’.
It can also indicate that the sight picture is incorrect due to the front sight being too low in relation to the rear sight.
Shots String Vertically Upward from Center
This often indicates an incorrect sight picture, but in this case the front sight is too high in relation to the rear sight.
Shots Directly Left or Right from Center
Can be a result of having too much or too little finger across the trigger. If pulling closer to the tip or at the first finger joint, the trigger often doesn’t come straight back. A push or pull effect is common in these cases. The middle of the first finger pad is best. This can also happen if the shooter has small hands, with a tendency to pull the gun when firing.
Applying too much pressure with your thumb against the side of the gun can push the muzzle in the opposite direction.
Your sight alignment may be off.
With two-handed shooting, the gun can be pulled or pushed to the left or right if there is unequal pressure between the shooting and support hands.
Shots High & Off-Center
This can be a result of pushing on the butt of the gun with the heel of the shooting hand, forcing the muzzle up-&-away.
In anticipation of the recoil, a shooter may inadvertently flip the muzzle up before the recoil starts.
Lifting the eyes or the head slightly as the trigger breaks will tend to produce high shots in general, since the body tends to go where the eyes lead. This is often the case when shooters look too soon to see where their shot went.
Shots Low & Off-Center
Gripping the gun tighter than is necessary can have a tendency to pull the muzzle down and away.
Jerking the trigger, as opposed to pulling with an even pressure, will also pull the muzzle down and at an angle. This can often be caused by flinching.
Once you (or someone more knowledgeable) get a handle what it is you’re doing exactly based on your target hits, the next step is to try and correct the behavior. Ideally you can catch the issues early on before the habits set in too deep.
When working through the adjustments on any type of physical movement or reaction like this, it’s important to visualize the correction and really concentrate on the new technique or behavior. Measure and track your results and avoid simply doing the same thing over and over again.
Working with a coach or an instructor is a great idea if you’re serious about learning how to ‘listen’ to what your targets are telling you. This is especially true if your shots tend to be all over the place with no discernible pattern. Then it might be a case of getting back to the fundamentals.
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