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8 fundamentals that can make you a better shooter

The only difference between a good shooter and a great shooter are the details

Whether it’s for your job, competition, or plain fun, shooting well takes more than just knowledge of guns. It takes a solid understanding of the fundamentals of marksmanship. For years, I’ve found the following fundamentals to be proven, simple to understand, and successful for students. Each fundamental listed is important, but the importance is not based on where it falls in the list — it’s up to you to decide what is important and when. They are:

1. Stance or Platform
2. Grip
3. Draw / Presentation
4. Sight Alignment and Sight Picture
5. Trigger Management
6. Breathing
7. Follow Through
8. Recovery

Let’s examine each in turn. Add your own thoughts on firearms fundamentals in the comments area below.

1. Stance / Platform
Many instructors focus first on this because it’s simple. “Place your feet here and here so you can manage recoil and not get knocked around by the gun cycling.”

It may be surprising but this has nothing to do with your low left hits. I say “stance or platform” because you don’t always fire the gun in a shooting “stance.” This fundamental encompasses all platforms from standing to kneeling to prone, as well as all of those unconventional positions you may have to shoot from. Focusing on stance is not a mission for me. Weight forward, gun in front of eyes. Enough said.

2. Grip
Grip applies to long guns as much as it does to handguns. How you hold a gun has everything to do with your ability to manage the recoil. Likewise, your ability to quickly fire multiple well-aimed shots has everything to do with how well you manage recoil.

Suffice to say that if you’re not using muscular and skeletal alignment in your grip, you aren’t operating to your greatest potential. High thumbs forward means high to the axis of momentum, thumbs forward toward the target.

3. Draw / Presentation
The entire idea behind this fundamental is to get the weapon into the plane of vision — between your eyes and the target — as quickly and efficiently as possible. Draw and presentation include how you initially grip your weapon as well as how to deal with retention devices on holsters.

More than just pointing a gun at a target, the draw is not a 1-2-3-4-5 process. It may be taught that way initially but fluid economy of motion is the key here.

4. Sight Alignment / Sight Picture
For years I have combined the two because properly aligned sights mean nothing if you don’t know how to place them on a target. Simply defined, sight alignment is the front sight viewed through the rear sight with them (iron pistol sights) equally spaced and even across the top. Sight picture is those properly aligned sights placed properly on the intended target.

Know the sights, know what you need to see, and have some reference to it while firing. Never disregard the idea of subconscious sights.

5. Trigger Management
Sometimes called trigger press or trigger control, it is defined as applying steady pressure directly rearward in such a fashion so as to not disturb the sight alignment or sight picture before the round fires. It doesn’t matter if you do it fast or slow — manage the trigger based on target size and distance.

Stop focusing on feeling for the reset. Replace all that wasted effort by training shooters to fire every shot from the pressure wall. What is most important: trigger or sights? I’ve got to know target size, distance and how much time I have. Tough.

6. Breathing
Breathing has very little to do with action style shooting — most important in action shooting is that you “breathe to reduce your stress and focus on the task.”

Keeping this in mind will go a long way to help performance. Precision shooting requires a little more. The old military BRASS-F — Breathe, Relax, Aim, Stop, Squeeze, Follow-through — is a great way to remember this. Holding your breath at any time is bad for performance. Oxygen deprivation can affect your most delicate organs in as little as four seconds and that certainly includes your eyes. Ever get blurred up while aiming? Breathe, blow the stress out and do what you need to do.

7. Follow Through
One of the most important and least adhered to, follow through means maintaining all of the fundamentals through the break of the round. Staying with the sights and following them into recoil. Follow through is easiest when you have a solid platform, good grip, and an understanding of the importance of sight alignment and sight picture.

Most people skip follow through and quickly look at their target to see how they did. They usually shoot low, and then wonder why. If you know what your mission is, your body will comply.

8. Recovery
Recovery is what you do after the shooting is over. Breathing, scanning your environment and returning to sling or your holster are part of it. Working manual safeties may also be a part of recovery. This fundamental can save your life or someone else’s as it is about situational awareness. Know your environment and the potential threat it might present to you. This even includes those around you at the local shooting range.

The above was essentially a crash course in fundamentals — any one of these areas could fill pages with detail of application.

Part-time police officer Chris Cerino is most recognized as the competitor that came in 2nd place in both Top Shot season 1 and Top Shot All Stars. He is currently the field host of Gun Talk TV, Guns and Gear and a trainer on The First Person Defender series on Gun Talk’s YouTube page. He is an internationally known firearms instructor who has been training law enforcement officers, military operators and civilians for more than 18 years. He has worked as Peace Officer in a variety of positions from municipal and county to state and federal agencies spanning 23 years. Chris continues to instruct through his company Chris Cerino Training Group at the national and international level. A published writer on the topics of firearms training and instruction he continually pursues validation of his skills and the skills he teaches by competing in three gun, precision rifle matches and NRA action pistol matches across the country.

Contact Chris Cerino