How to Assess Pistol Aim With Shot Patterns on Targets

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The object of shooting a pistol is to hit the target. No matter what type of shooting you do, the end result should always be to place the rounds exactly where you aim. This results in better success on the range, in a survival shooting, and in competition. It's also safer for everyone around you.


The key to hitting what you aim at, under stress, is proper prior training. During marksmanship training, one critical element is to examine the shot group pattern and determine where error is occurring. You can figure that out from the impact pattern on your target.

Things You'll Need

  • Safe firing range
  • Pistol or revolver with ammunition
  • Paper targets
  • Use your normal shooting stance to fire a series of rounds on target. While there are formally recognized stances in the shooting sports -- which include old-fashioned "bull's-eye" shooting at paper targets and self-defense scenarios -- the details are unimportant. Every world-champion shooter has learned to modify stances to fit his or her particular physique. Use a balanced position that is comfortable to you.

  • Fire a group of three to five rounds at a target 10 feet away. The more rounds you fire, up to five, the more accurately you will be able to ascertain where the error occurred in your exercise of the fundamentals of marksmanship. Firing more than five rounds, however, can lead to confusion from too much information.

  • Approach the target and study the pattern created by your shots. They should be a recognizable group, approximately the size of your open hand. If the pattern is larger than that, you can assess the first fault. If you cannot place five rounds into an area the size of your open hand at 10 feet, then you have fired too fast. While speed in a combative shooting encounter is obviously critical, you can never miss fast enough to win.

  • Look for shots that landed to the right of the group. Any shot that landed far outside of the pattern to the right, but on the same general horizontal level as the others, was caused by jerking the trigger. Just like rifle marksmanship, a smooth trigger squeeze is critical to hitting what you aim at.

  • Determine if you have any shots that hit diagonally to the right above the rest of the group. A miss in this direction is caused by "heeling" the weapon. According to the U.S. Army's newest manual on pistol training, "FM3-23.35 Pistol Marksmanship," this is caused by tightening the muscles in the heel of the firing hand, in anticipation of recoil.

  • Locate other errant shots as well. Shots that hit to the left of the main group may be a result of pulling backward too hard with the support hand. Rounds that hit high or low, but in-line vertically, are typically a result of improper breathing.

Tips & Warnings

  • Before walking down-range to check targets, ensure that the range and your personal weapons are safe, and holster your weapon. Every range accident is preventable, as long as everyone present follows all of the rules of firearm safety. Do not be the person who causes an accident through unsafe practices.
  • Once you've determined the errors present in your shooting, fire again while concentrating on correcting them. This will provide an opportunity to overcome the obstacles.
  • Firearms use can be inherently dangerous. Please seek competent, professional instruction prior to use.
  • Consult your local National Rifle Association representative for help locating an NRA-certified Firearms Safety Instructor.

References

  • "MCRP 3-01B Pistol Marksmanship;" U.S. Marine Corps School of Infantry; 2007
  • "FM 3-23.35 Pistol Marksmanship Training;" U.S. Army Infantry Center and School; 2003
  • "Surgical Speed Shooting;" Andy Stanford; 2001
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