Three Basic Shooting Principles You Need To Master Before Facing A Gunfight

Renowned martial arts instructor Sensei Hiroshi Kato ardently emphasized to his students the significance of honing their foundational skills. Kato firmly believed, and often reiterated, that mastery of the basics was the key to triumph in all aspects, spanning from novices to seasoned practitioners. Similarly, achieving mastery in marksmanship hinges on a solid foundation.

Marksmanship is a discipline that demands rapid reflexes, fine motor skills, and endurance. However, when training with a firearm, the objective shifts to preparing oneself for the gravitas of life-or-death situations, far surpassing the stakes of a mere competitive match. Nevertheless, there exist fundamental principles that must be thoroughly grasped before progressing further, and it is precisely these principles that shall be our primary focus.

Discard any illusions of shortcuts. Attempting to miraculously enhance your marksmanship with a quick-fix solution seldom produces favorable results. These three core tenets of marksmanship remain applicable regardless of the make or style of firearm held in your hands, be it aiming through a cutting-edge Trijicon RMR sight or a traditional gutter sight on a compact revolver.

Sight alignment

The range never fails to astonish me with the multitude of eye alignment methods on display. I’ve observed shooters employing various techniques, from keeping one eye open to having both eyes open, using their non-dominant hand and eye, and a plethora of other variations on the fundamental concept. Thus, it’s crucial to start from the very beginning.

Before you even pick up a firearm, you must determine your eye dominance and hand dominance. Eye dominance is a result of the brain’s ability to balance stereoscopic vision with intense focus, and it signifies that one of your eyes assumes a dominant role in providing a clear and balanced image.

Several methods exist to determine eye dominance, but the simplest approach involves locating a clock or picture on a distant wall. Extend your index finger and point it towards the bottom of the clock or painting. Then, close each eye individually. When you have one eye left open, your finger will remain aligned with the object, indicating your dominant eye. On the other hand, if your non-dominant eye is open, your finger will move away from the object.

Similarly, you can overlap your hands, leaving a triangular opening between your thumbs and index fingers. Frame the object on the wall within that triangle and slowly bring your hands back towards your face while ensuring the object remains visible through the opening. Naturally, your hands will gravitate towards one of your eyes—the dominant one.

If you possess parallel dominance, where your right eye aligns with your right hand (or left eye with left hand), you’ll encounter little difficulty in developing a proper sight picture. However, if you have cross dominance, you have a few options for achieving a proper sight picture. One option is to close one eye, although it’s not ideal because A) you need to remember to do so in a high-pressure situation, and B) closing one eye restricts your field of view precisely when being aware of your surroundings is crucial. Another option is to learn to shoot with your non-dominant hand.

In any defensive scenario, your primary focus should be on the front sight. The aforementioned stereoscopic vision allows you to perceive the world in three dimensions, but its limitation lies in the fact that you can only focus on one plane at a time. When it comes to shooting, your focus should be firmly on the front sight.

Giving primary focus to one object doesn’t render other objects invisible. While aligning your sights with the target, utilize the front sight as your anchor and align it with the rear sight and target within your peripheral vision. With practice, you can master this vital skill.

svmd longbanner1

Trigger control

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard shooters complain that their iron sights were “off,” only to witness an instructor take the same gun and effortlessly drill half a dozen holes dead center on the target. The primary culprit behind this? Your trigger control is lacking.

Triggers come in a variety of shapes and styles. Some, like those found on a quality 1911, break with a crisp 3 or 4-pound pull and minimal creep. Others, such as those on hammer-fired double-action pistols, may require a hefty 12 pounds of pressure to break, accompanied by a long trigger travel. However, the fundamental principles remain the same, applicable to any type of trigger.

Proper trigger control begins with using the correct part of your finger—the pad of the index finger just ahead of the last joint. This is the portion of your finger that engages the trigger and initiates the firing process. If you wrap your entire finger around the trigger as if you were squeezing a spray bottle of bleach into a toilet you’re cleaning, your accuracy will suffer.

Equally crucial is maintaining a trigger movement that is straight backward toward the shooter, rather than veering downward and to the left (or downward and to the right for left-handed shooters), which many tend to do. In my opinion, the best way to develop trigger control is through dry firing with an unloaded weapon or employing a laser target system. By eliminating live ammunition, recoil, and muzzle rise, you can closely observe the firearm’s behavior when you pull the trigger. Does it remain on target? Excellent! That means you are exerting proper control by using the correct part of your finger and pulling the trigger straight back.

While you learn these fundamentals during dry firing exercises, it is imperative to master them on the range. This is where repetition becomes key. When your shots start drifting away from the center of the target, resist the temptation to immediately tinker with your sights. Instead, focus on your trigger pull and ensure that you are applying pressure straight back towards yourself. Slow down, concentrate on these principles, and realign your aim.

Here’s another critical point, closely related to mastering fast and accurate defensive shooting: You don’t need to completely release the trigger before firing a follow-up shot. Many modern defensive pistols on the market feature a very short reset—the distance the trigger travels forward from its rearward position to reset the gun for the next shot.

If you’re releasing the trigger fully and then firing again, you’re wasting time and unnecessary finger movement—something you want to avoid in a defensive situation. Once you’ve mastered the trigger pull, focus on shooting slowly and, after each shot, gradually release the trigger until you feel it reset or hear the audible click. But be prepared— you won’t have to pull the trigger back very far to fire another shot. This is precisely why mastering this technique is crucial for delivering rapid, accurately aimed shots.

Proper grip

proper grip

A proper grip on a firearm commences with a high handhold. By gripping the gun high, you can effectively mitigate muzzle flip. Conversely, a weak hold on a semi-automatic pistol can impede the gun’s cycling, leading to potential jams. The most common grip for semi-auto pistols is the two-thumbs-forward hold, where both thumbs rest parallel along the top of the frame (but not on the slide) on the side of the gun opposite the trigger finger.

This grip provides excellent control, especially when combined with the isosceles stance. In the isosceles stance, with your feet roughly shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, and both arms extended, the arms form an isosceles triangle when viewed from above. This stance allows you to maintain muzzle control and deliver rapid, accurate shots. Personally, I prefer a slight forward lean as it enhances gun control, and the forward weight distribution on the balls of the feet feels comfortable and does not hinder movement.

The isosceles stance is widely accepted because it offers a broad field of view from left to right, and its excellent balance enables swift movement. Once you have mastered proper shooting techniques, incorporating movement drills into your training routine better prepares you for tactical situations.

There are a couple of key points to consider regarding grip and stance. First, bring the gun up to your eye level, rather than bringing your eye down to the gun. When assuming your stance with a slight forward lean, the gun should be drawn from the holster (establishing the high grip early with your shooting hand) and brought up to meet the support hand at the chest.

From this position, the hands secure the grip on the gun, and the firearm extends forward from the body. As you extend your arm, elevate the gun to align it with your eye. Another critical element is maintaining stability in the upper body. If you need to engage multiple targets, initiate transitions through the hips. Keep a consistent grip and upper body position, and rotate at the waist to engage each target.

Apply the principles

Defensive shooting is a game of fundamentals. Learn the proper techniques, apply them and you’ll be better prepared to survive a deadly encounter. But mastering these skills takes time and practice, and that means dry fi ring and live fi re at the range. For you to become a competent shooter—or to advance to the next level—you need to focus on the basics.

To practice and reinforce the principles of grip, trigger control, and sight alignment, there are several shooting drills you can incorporate into your training routine. Here are three drills that can help you improve these fundamental skills:

Dry Fire Practice:

april banner 1

Dry firing is a valuable drill for refining trigger control and sight alignment without live ammunition. Ensure your firearm is unloaded and follow all safety protocols. Focus on maintaining a proper grip, pressing the trigger smoothly and straight back, while keeping your sights aligned on a target. Practice this drill regularly to develop muscle memory and enhance your overall shooting technique.

Slow-Fire Precision Shooting:

This drill emphasizes grip, trigger control, and sight alignment with deliberate and precise shots. Set up a target at a reasonable distance and take your time to carefully align your sights, control your grip pressure, and execute a controlled trigger press. Concentrate on maintaining a consistent grip and smoothly breaking the trigger without disturbing your sight picture. Slow-fire precision shooting allows you to reinforce these principles and improve your accuracy.

Controlled Pair Drill:

The controlled pair drill helps to develop proper grip, trigger control, and sight realignment for rapid and accurate follow-up shots. Start by engaging a single target with a controlled, accurate shot. Immediately transition to a second target and deliver another precise shot. Focus on smoothly resetting the trigger between shots and quickly acquiring your sight alignment on the second target. Repeat this drill, gradually increasing your speed while maintaining control and accuracy.


Mastering the fundamentals of shooting, including grip, trigger control, and sight alignment, is essential for developing accuracy, control, and confidence with firearms. These foundational skills form the basis for effective shooting in various contexts, whether for sport, self-defense, or professional use.

By focusing on proper grip, which includes a high handhold and utilizing the two-thumbs-forward technique, shooters can mitigate muzzle flip and enhance their control over the firearm. This, in turn, contributes to consistent and accurate shot placement.

Trigger control is another critical aspect that demands attention. By using the correct part of the finger and pulling the trigger straight back, shooters can minimize disturbances to their sight picture, leading to improved accuracy and shot placement. It is through practice, both with dry firing and live fire exercises, that trigger control can be refined and become second nature.

Sight alignment, coupled with a proper grip and trigger control, allows shooters to precisely aim at their intended target. By focusing on the front sight and aligning it with the rear sight and target, shooters can achieve accurate and repeatable shots. The mastery of sight alignment is a continuous process that requires practice, concentration, and attention to detail.

Suggested prepping learning:

Turning the lady in your life into a reliable female shooter

Time tested lessons to protect your home against intruders

The Best Folding Guns You Can Get

Must-Have Knowledge to survive any medical emergency

Leave a Comment