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The Basics Behind Correct Aiming

Now that you have the basic aiming concepts, go to the range and have some fun!

The Basics Behind Correct Aiming

Aiming, defined as "to direct (a weapon or camera) at a target," is the most important aspect of shooting. It's one thing to fire off a bunch of rounds; it's another thing to shoot accurately. If proper aiming is your goal, begin by figuring out your dominant eye.

Determining eye dominance is a critical step in becoming a better shooter. Discovering yours is an easy task that takes only seconds.

Eye dominance plays an important role in shooting. If you are left-eye dominant and shooting right handed, it's not very likely that you will hit the target. Luckily, there is a simple test to figure this out. With your arms fully extended, cross your hands to make a triangle between your thumbs and index fingers, and center the triangle around an object of your choosing. Once the object is centered in your triangle, shut your left eye. Is the object still centered? If so, that means you are right-eye dominant. If the reverse takes place and closing your right eye keeps the object centered, then you are left-eye dominant. Just because you're right handed doesn't necessarily mean you're right-eye dominant. Once you have your dominant eye figured out, there are several other factors to consider that will lead to success as a shooter.

Sight alignment refers to how your front and rear sights are aligned. It's the beginning of aiming, and it varies depending on the type of firearm you are shooting. The second aspect is sight picture. Sight picture is how your sights are aligned with your target. In addition to understanding the difference between sight alignment and sight picture, it's important to understand trigger pull and how to grip your firearm.

Whether shooting a handgun or long gun, you want to make sure the overall fit and comfort of the gun is right for you. A mistake many new shooters make is that they don't grip their firearm tight enough. You want to have a firm grip so you are able to make a follow-up shot without getting "limp wrist." Limp wrist happens when you've just pulled the trigger and the recoil from the gun causes your wrist to bend upward because you don't have a firm enough grip. When pulling the trigger, don't jerk it. This will cause the gun to come off target. Using the front third of your finger, gently press the trigger. Now that we've discussed the basics, let's take a look at the different sight options: open sights, red dot and scopes.

Open Sights

Open sights refer to the standard fixed sights that come with most firearms. Depending on the type of gun you are shooting, there is some variation. Fixed sights might look something like an open pistol sight, which typically has a front dot sight with some form of a notched rear sight, or they may only have a front bead sight.

Open sights won’t fail. They are often used as a backup to red-dot sights and magnified optics.

A positive of this type of sight is that they typically come with the gun. If you decide to solely rely on open sights, your one limitation will be distance — you can only shoot as far as you can see.


Red dot sights mount directly to the firearm, and when you look through them, there is an illuminated dot in the center (color varies). There is nothing to line up like on open sights. Simply put the dot on your target and pull the trigger.

Red dots are growing in popularity on pistols for competition, self-defense and tactical use.

The brightness of the dot is controlled by an adjustment knob. A positive feature of red dot sights is that they are optimized for fast shooting and rapid target acquisition.


The final type of sight is a scope. A scope magnifies whatever is in its view and uses a reticle or crosshairs for aiming. Similar to the microscope you used in science class, a scope will have an ocular and objective lens. In addition to the two lenses, there are several knobs. The power ring adjusts the magnification, and the elevation and windage knobs control vertical and horizontal movement.

Magnified optics sacrifice speed while enabling greater precision.

Elevation adjusts the reticle up and down, and windage adjusts the reticle left to right. Let's review each of these sight types and their function with a handgun, rifle and shotgun.


Handguns almost always have open sights. When looking over your pistol, you will notice a single dot front sight and some variation of a notched rear sight. When aligning the sights, you want the front and rear sight to be level and the front sight to be equidistant between the rear opening on your firearm. In addition, your sights should cut your target in half. One of the most difficult concepts to grasp when learning to aim is that your focus should be at least 80 percent on your front sight. If you're holding your gun properly and pointing it at your target using your front sight, you should hit it.

Because pistols are largely short-range firearms, most come with iron sights. Correct aiming involves centering the front blade in the rear notch.

Target fixation can lead to inaccurate results; thus, you want your focus on the front sight. When using a red dot, act as though the red dot is your front sight. Focus on the dot, place it on your target and you're bound to have success. Our final optic is the scope. In order to acquire your target with confidence, you'll want to peer through your scope with your dominant eye while holding your firearm with a firm grip. Assuming the scope is sighted-in properly and you're not dealing with windage or other environmental factors, once your reticle or crosshairs are where you want them, take a deep breath — fire!



Rifles often have iron sights as well, whether it's a rear notch sight or a peep sight, which is a rear sight with a hole in which you center the front sight. In order to use the sights to the best of your ability, be sure that your firearm is positioned properly. Once the sights and target are aligned, pull the trigger. Just as you would use a red dot on your handgun, the same concept goes for a rifle. Pull up your rifle, focus on the red dot and fire.


A scope is often the preferred sight when shooting a rifle, whether it is a bolt-action hunting rifle, an AR-style platform or a long-range precision rifle. Assuming there is zero wind speed and your scope is properly sighted-in, you should easily hit your target wherever you line up your reticle or crosshairs. When it comes to scopes, it's important to ensure the quality of the optic matches the quality of the firearm. Just because you spent money on the latest and greatest rifle doesn't mean you can cheap out on the optic. The two go hand in hand. If you're saving money for your dream rifle, make sure to save for your dream scope, too.


Shotguns are in their own category when it comes to aiming. When holding a shotgun, you want the stock buried into the pocket of your shoulder, your cheek pressed into the stock, one hand grasping the grip near the trigger and the other supporting the barrel with the forearm. Most shotguns come with either a single front bead sight or a front and mid-bead sight. Where is the rear sight you may ask? I like to say the rear sight is your eye.

Most shotguns are designed for use on moving targets, which means they don't need precision sights.

If you are shooting sporting clays, the last thing you want to do is aim. When I was learning to shoot sporting clays, my dad told me to give the bird "crazy eyes." What he meant is to focus on the target. Assuming you have proper shotgun alignment and movement, you should be able to hit the target just by focusing on it. When you focus on aiming, you stop your shotgun movement and miss your target. The only time you technically aim a shotgun is if you're hunting a turkey or other stationary game. That is when you would aim and shoot a shotgun as you would a pistol or rifle. Equipping a shotgun with a red dot or scope is most common for hunting or home defense.

Whether you are a novice or an experienced shooter, aiming is something that you will always take with you. While the basic concept of aiming remains the same, your technique will evolve and become more natural. The only way to improve is to practice and, like my family and friends say, "Practice doesn't make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect!" Now that you have the basic aiming concepts, go to the range and have some fun!

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