Five Common Pistol Shooting Errors
December 13, 2018
Photos by Lukas Lamb
There are a few common problems that plague the pistol shooter from time to time. They are pretty easy to detect, but how can we fix them? In this article, I will delineate the problem, analyze its cause and hopefully provide a solution. These solutions will require some work during dry-fire and live-fire training.
Let’s pick off these pesky problems in the order in which they usually poke their heads.
Improper loading is so easy to fix that it doesn’t seem like it should even be called a problem, but since this issue is not limited to new or inexperienced shooters, it is worth discussing. One type of improper loading is failure to place a round in the chamber. Don’t confuse this with Israeli carry; if you carry Israeli, that is your problem to fix. I am talking about thinking you have a round in the chamber until you squeeze the trigger (or jerk it, which will be discussed next).
So, how did this empty chamber come about? You may have placed a magazine in the pistol, but it was not properly seated. You cycled the slide to chamber a round, but the low-hanging magazine failed to feed. The solution is twofold. Press the magazine into the magazine well until it clicks. If there isn’t an audible or tactile click, give the magazine a tap with the palm of your hand. To ensure that you have a properly seated magazine, you will next pull down on the magazine to make 100 percent, absolutely, no-doubt-in-your-mind sure that the magazine is locked into the pistol’s frame.
The other issue can come with a bang then a click. This could be an improperly seated magazine, or you may have let the magazine slip out of the pistol ever so slightly. Shooting with gloves, overgripping, pushing the pistol’s magazine release against the bed stand as you pick up the gun — any of these can cause the issue.
If you are a Glock or SIG Sauer P226/229 shooter, there is a good chance your thumb rides on the slide lock. If you notice this issue, there is a possibility you will shoot the pistol dry and get a click because the slide didn’t lock to the rear. Shooters often make the wrong decision on how to fix this issue as it is happening. The proper procedure is not to reload the pistol; the proper procedure is to conduct a tap-then-rack (tap the bottom of the magazine to ensure that it’s seated, then rack the slide of the pistol). This will lock the slide to the rear, and now you can reload the pistol. As the pistol clicks, you don’t know if this indicates a malfunction or a dry pistol. The quickest and most fail-safe method is the tap-then-rack.
Jerking the Trigger
Tense up your entire body and, when ready, jerk the ever-living snot out of the trigger. That’s how it goes for me sometimes, and it’s the wrong answer for sure. You may not know right away that you jerked the trigger, but a peek at your target tells a slightly spasmodic tale. If you are right handed and your group spreads low and to the left, this is a clear indicator that you are jerking the trigger.
Only the good Lord knows why this happens, but it happens to all of us. We don’t have patience and bang, we jerk the trigger. We anticipate recoil, which can result in a jerk of the trigger. We are in a race against the clock or might be trying to keep up with a fellow shooter on the line. All of these improper thoughts can cause the jerk to happen. But how do we fix this ever-present issue?
First, try to relax your shooting hand a little (we will get into proper grip later). Next, try your best to allow the pistol to surprise you as it goes off. If you are jumping because of the bang, maybe put on double hearing protection (plugs and muffs). Dry-fire is a great way to get control of your shooting emotions. We don’t want anyone breaking down and crying, just squeeze the trigger straight to the rear and magic will happen downrange.
Trapping the Trigger
Jerking the trigger is old-school — we pistoleros have been doing this for years. The new phenomenon on the range is the trigger trap. This technique is actually being taught, although by shooters who can’t shoot and therefore haven’t the skillset to teach.
Trapping the trigger is essentially part of the follow through. Here is how it should be perceived when done correctly: Squeeze the trigger straight to the rear while maintaining sufficient sight alignment; the pistol fires and you watch the sights lift from the target, tracking the sights all the way back onto the target. You slowly release the trigger until you hear or feel the disconnector/trigger reset, indicating that the pistol is now ready to fire again. When shooting fast, this may not be noticeable.
Trapping the trigger is similar right up until you slowly release the trigger. When you feel the trigger reset, you pull the trigger again. The issue wouldn’t be a problem except for that some are telling students to squeeze aggressively when the trigger resets, which causes an even worse disturbance to the force field than a standard trigger jerk. The way to fix this problem is with a slow, steady pull of the trigger straight to the rear on every shot. It doesn’t matter if the shooter feels the disconnector or trigger reset, we want a smooth trigger pull every time.
We touched on grip earlier with the discussion about relaxing the firing-hand grip, but there are a few more things to consider. When we say to relax the firing hand, we want about 30 to 40 percent of the grip in the firing hand and 60 to 70 percent with the support hand. This might sound kooky to some people, but you will quickly see the difference when you relax the shooting hand. You can move your trigger finger more smoothly when the hand is in a relaxed state.
To control recoil, we must rely on the support hand. The support hand should also have as much of the meaty portion of your palm on the pistol’s grip as possible, which will keep your hands in contact with the pistol as it recoils.
The key to getting back on target fast is all on the support hand part of the equation. Cant or angle your support hand toward the target, placing a little pressure on the wrist joint. I try to point my thumb toward the target as a reference. This camming action simply means that the wrist will naturally come back to the starting point without much thought. Less thinking is good when shooting since there are a lot of other things that might be on our mind in a tactical situation. Gripping hard with the support hand does not mean your elbow is locked or any other pressure has to be put on the pistol. Press the pistol out as far as comfortable without locking your arms and shoot away.
My Ma always told me to stand up straight, no slouching. I guess she was right, but when it comes to pistol shooting, most of us stand too straight and are square to the target. To shoot better, we need a good fighting stance.
When fighting, we keep our weight on our toes; we don’t stand flat-footed and never want weight on the heels, so why would we want this for shooting? Some say you should have your feet and shoulders square to the target, but that’s not the place to be if you want to shoot fast and accurately. A slight blade of the fighting stance with knees bent will help put your weight on your toes where it needs to be. This will also help with recoil control and to get us moving quickly when the time comes to move.
Double tapping is a problem, but the perception is that it is super fast and accurate enough. The problem occurs when we get one sight picture then simply jerk the trigger twice as fast as we can; this causes us to lose accountability of not just the second round but the first round as well.
Double taps start at our toes and crescendo at our trigger finger. That may work at 3 to 5 yards, but as we step back from the target, we lose accountability of our shots quickly. Drive the pistol to the target as fast as you can, then squeeze the trigger over and over as necessary to eliminate the threat. Could be two, could be 10 — but double tapping won’t be faster in the long run.