Shooting low with a pistol is undoubtedly the most common problem encountered by both novice and experienced shooters. Many a smile has turned to a frown in frustration as the inexplicable keeps happening shot after shot.
Shooting low with a pistol is caused by a faulty weapon, ammunition, or the shooter’s own actions. The most common human influence is flinching in anticipation of the shot. Shooters often overcompensate for the anticipated recoil by pushing the pistol forward subconsciously as the shot is fired, causing a low shot.
The good news is that shooting low can be easily resolved in most, if not all, instances. This can be done while having fun on the shooting range and will put a smile back onto the despondent shooter’s face.
This is a step-by-step guide on how to identify the cause and how to resolve it.
You will require the following:
A safe shooting range where you can fire off live rounds.
Good Ear and Eye protection.
The pistol and ammunition.
The student who is experiencing the problem.
Pistol cleaning kit.
- 1 Step 1: Find a Safe Space To Shoot the Pistol
- 2 Step 2: Physically Inspect The Pistol
- 3 Step 3: Inspect The Ammunition
- 4 Step 4: Let’s Focus On The Pistols Sights.
- 5 Step 5: Firing The Weapon To Confirm Point Of Impact
- 6 Step 6: Observe the Shooters Technique
- 7 Step 7: Diagnosing A Flinch
- 8 Step 8: What Causes Flinching?
- 9 Step 9: How To Deal With The Root Causes of Flinching?
- 10 Step 10: Follow Through After The Shot
- 11 Conclusion
Step 1: Find a Safe Space To Shoot the Pistol
Assuming you’re at an established shooting range. Find a space for yourself and the shooter out of the way of the general shooting lane where it is safe to shoot privately. This is to remove the unnecessary pressure of curious onlookers and advice-givers for the exercise. Let’s assume the shooter is a novice to pistol shooting and has recently bought the pistol.
Step 2: Physically Inspect The Pistol
Once the pistol is safe to handle, physically inspect the gun, looking for any obvious signs of damage. Inspect the front and rear sights carefully to ensure they are not damaged, loose, and clean. Once satisfied that all is in order, remove the slide and barrel of the pistol. Check for any obvious debris in the working parts and the inside of the barrel. If all is in order, reassemble the pistol and cycle the action (unloaded, no magazine either) to ensure the gun was reassembled correctly.
Step 3: Inspect The Ammunition
Ensure that the ammunition loaded into the pistol is correct for the caliber and looks to be in good condition. Ammunition showing any signs of corrosion, especially around the primer pocket or case neck area, should not be fired.
If you have any spent cases fired out of this weapon, inspect them. Look specifically for cracks in the spent shell, case head separation in the worst-case scenario, or signs of excessive pressure or a ruptured primer.
Ammunition plays a significant part in the accuracy of a pistol. Each pistol has a preference for a specific type or brand of ammunition. Precision shooting is seldom required for self-defense situations as the encounters often happen at very close quarters.
For competitive shooting events, accuracy is paramount; therefore, choosing the ammunition that delivers the best results in terms of accuracy is a must. In reality, the only way to determine which ammunition works best in terms of accuracy and works reliably in the pistol is through trial and error, experimenting with different brands and bullet weight.
Unfortunately, Pistol manufacturers do not have the luxury of predicting what ammunition will be used in the weapons offered for sale worldwide. They, therefore, often build weapons to function reliably and produce acceptable accuracy with the most commonly used ammunition.
In worst-case scenarios, some brands of ammunition could shoot well below the point of aim. Let’s look at this example. Recoil in a pistol starts when the bullet begins its forward motion down the barrel. During recoil, the pistol is forced backward and upwards as the shooter’s hand resists the backward momentum.
When firing a fast but light bullet, the bullet head will exit the muzzle while the pistol is still low in its recoil curve. Firing a slower, heavy bullet out of the same pistol without sight adjustment will result in the following – the slower, heavier bullet will take longer to exit the muzzle than the previous lighter, faster bullet. This time delay will have allowed the muzzle to have lifted slightly higher than with the light, fast bullet when the bullet leaves the muzzle, meaning the bullet will print higher on the target than the fast exiting bullet.
If all ammunition checks out, we can continue to the next step.
Step 4: Let’s Focus On The Pistols Sights.
Some pistol shooters are not aware of how pistol sights are designed to work.
Cover this subject in discussion with the shooter and physically demonstrate the sight picture to them as this may well be the cause of the “Low shooting.”
Most standard self-defense-type pistols are manufactured with non-adjustable sights. Sights consist of a “U” shaped notch at the rear and a pillar or post sight in front. The idea is to centralize the front sight into the rear sight’s notch and align the front sight’s top with the top of the rear sight. When you look through the sights, you will see three vertical posts, all evenly spaced apart and leveled off on the top. The top of the middle (front) post is the aiming point where you need the bullet to strike when you fire the shot.
Step 5: Firing The Weapon To Confirm Point Of Impact
In this step, we need to verify the pistol’s point of impact on a target. Now, we had already determined that the original shooter was shooting low on the target.
To determine whether the problem lies with the pistol, request one or more people to shoot the pistol at a target under your and the owner’s supervision.
The reason for enlisting other shooters help is to determine where the shots are landing on the target compared to the point of aim. Getting one or two additional people to shoot the pistol reduces the chance of poor shooting technique or flinching influencing the result. If the gun continues to shoot low, the sights will require adjustment. Should the pistol be shooting on target, the issue would point to the original shooter’s technique being the problem.
Step 6: Observe the Shooters Technique
Stand at a 90-degree angle to the shooter. Ask him or her to fire a few focused rounds at the target.
Look closely at the following.
- The shooter’s grip on the pistol. Is it relaxed or rigid?
- Does the shooter anticipate the shot by moving their body or the pistol when the trigger is pulled?
- Does the shooter follow through effectively?
- Does the shooter pull or jerk the trigger?
- Does the shooter close their eyes before, during, or after the shot?
The shooter’s grip on the pistol has a significant influence on them being able to shoot comfortably and consistently. For the average pistol shooter, a two-handed hold is the easiest and the most steady when aiming. Grasping the pistol too tightly will result in inconsistent shot placement as your hand will tend to move slightly when pulling the trigger instead of just your finger doing this function.
Trigger control is an integral part of being able to shoot well. Jerking the trigger instead of pulling the trigger is a very common occurrence and can be remedied by merely reminding the shooter to pull the trigger a few times before they fire a shot.
Step 7: Diagnosing A Flinch
The following exercise has been used with great success as an aid to identify a flinch.
This exercise makes it difficult for the shooter to predict if a live round will fire or if the trigger pull will result in a dry fire. The recoil effect and the noise generated by an actual shot are taken out of the equation for the unloaded, dry-fired shot.
How: Ask the person for their pistol. Without them being able to see what you’re doing, “load” the pistol mixing live and dummy rounds (if available) or randomly leave the chamber unloaded if dummy rounds are not available. Be sure to simulate the loading process realistically without the shooter knowing if the pistol is loaded with a live round in the chamber or not. Ask the shooter to take a shot. As the instructor, you’ll be looking for signs of a flinch. Repeat the process after each shot. Repeat the exercise a few times, always following strict safety protocols. The shooter’s expectation of the pistol firing will show up the flinching action when pulling the trigger on a dummy round or an empty chamber.
Recording the exercise for the shooter to view themselves may be a good idea as this will assist in pointing out the problem areas.
Step 8: What Causes Flinching?
Explain your observations to the shooter, remembering that many shooters, particularly experienced folks, may find it hard to believe that they may be flinching and may even be embarrassed. Always be thoughtful of the shooter’s feelings when approaching the subject.
Half the battle is won when the shooter accepts that a flinch is negatively affecting their shooting ability. They should demonstrate a willingness to overcome the hindrance to improve their shooting ability and enjoyment of the sport.
When your student understands what is causing the flinch, a cure can easily be resolved.
Step 9: How To Deal With The Root Causes of Flinching?
Flinching is caused by the pistol shooter’s reaction or feeling of perceived discomfort by pre-empting the anticipated recoil or noise (muzzle blast) or both when the shot is fired. Even experienced shooters can inadvertently develop a flinch over time.
Noise generated by the gunshot is a major factor in causing a flinch. This is efficiently dealt with by using quality ear protection. Quality ear muffs or even a combination of foam earplugs and then wearing conventional ear protection over these is a must when shooting. This should take care of the noise-induced factor of the flinch, but you may need to remind the shooter that this negative factor has been removed from the equation to increase the shooter’s confidence levels.
Recoil in handguns is the second most common contributor to flinching. As a rule, the lighter the gun and the more powerful the caliber, the greater the recoil. All shooters feel recoil, but some are more prone to being bothered by recoil than others.
The best advice I have read on the subject comes from the writings of the late Ron Avery. He coined the phrase “Let Recoil Happen”. The suggestion here is that recoil is part of the shooting experience. Letting recoil happen while relaxing your entire body and only tensioning the muscles and tendons required to hold the weapon securely without overdoing it.
A poorly fitting pistol that is too heavy for the shooter or has a grip that is too large, or too small for that matter, will not be conducive to accurate shooting. The correct choice of a pistol is thus crucial for the person’s intended purpose and physical build.
Leaning slightly forward into the shot to counter your body’s natural response to right itself after the recoil will do away with unwanted balance issues when the shot is taken.
Mentally visualizing the shot before actually taking it can also significantly reduce the element of surprise when taking the first shot.
Step 10: Follow Through After The Shot
Following through after the shot may sound odd as you may think that the shot has been fired, and there’s nothing more to do. The purpose of the follow-through is to ensure that you don’t hurry the shot for the sake of getting it over and done with. Many shooters feel pressured to get the shot off as soon the sight is on target before it moves off again.
The correct technique is to focus your efforts on keeping the sights aligned with your point of aim. Let the shot flow when your sight picture has steadied. Following through takes only a few seconds and means to bring your sights back onto the target after the shot and releasing the trigger in a controlled movement before lowering the pistol from the firing position.
A pistol shooting low could be caused by a problem with the pistol, sights requiring adjustment, unsuitable ammunition for the specific pistol, or the shooter’s technique.
In the vast majority of cases flinching is the cause of low shot placement on the target. This can be overcome by identifying the cause of the flinch and taking some simple steps to correct the flinch. Also, don’t forget – practice makes perfect!
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