View Full Version : Learning To Shoot Straight

January 28, 2007, 06:05 PM

So I am about a month in to owning my Springfield XD9. I'm in the range twice a week, and I am getting pretty good at putting nice, tight groups in the target at 12 yards. My problems start at 20 yards or so. I'm all over the place, and with no rhyme or reason - I don't consistently hit high right or low left for example.

Does anyone have any advice or DVD's to suggest. My next step is to get an hour of one-on-one training with an instructor, but I'd like to brush up on my own as well. Thanks!

January 28, 2007, 06:28 PM
Shooting at 20yards is kinda like learning how to throw a half court shoot in basketball. Sure it might be cool to learn but the chances of you every needed to use it in a situation are low. With that being said I cant think of anything wrong with learning how to shoot at that range as it can only improve your shooting.

I would suggest trying to shoot supported at the start. Lean your left or right arm against something. Build up some confidence at that range. From that far away just the slightest arm movement can through you shoot off considerably.

Good luck and happy shooting!

fairview mick
January 28, 2007, 07:30 PM
Plus+++++ for Tom 983***. Also, you might try starting at less distance than you are shooting(the 12 yard mark). Shoot at say 20 to 30 feet until you "ALWAYS" put the bullet in the x. That way you're sure your'e not pulling or jerking slightly. Then move another 10 feet and do the same. That's how I help the people at the range I shoot.

Deaf Smith
January 28, 2007, 07:38 PM
Get Brian Eno's book, "Shooting from within". Read only one chapter at a time and go practice what you read for a month (and re-read it some before each practice session.)

There is no reason you can't just about stack bullets at 20 yards with a good pistol. They are all capable of sub 2 inch groups at that range.


January 28, 2007, 08:27 PM
You are probably not used to the sight picture at that distance. Shoot slow untill you become proficient, align your sights and keep them aligned as you pull the trigger straight back until the shot goes off. If you practice these steps 20, 25, 50 yds will be a breeze.
Point of aim should be to the center of the bullseye ot whatever.

January 28, 2007, 10:30 PM
Dry fire practice will help.

Shooting a handgun accurately is all about trigger control. Dry firing greatly aids one in improving their trigger control.

+1 on Brian Enos' book.

howard bleach
January 29, 2007, 12:14 AM
I thought J Michael Plaxco wrote that book

January 29, 2007, 01:20 AM
I would also suggest monitor your breathing since the greater distance magnifies even minor hand movements. Concentrating on consistent sight picture is also very important (as mentioned). One other thing to consider is the sights you are using. Glock's stock sight is great for rapid sight acquisition (for conbat type scenario) but it is far from ideal for target shooting. I switched to a 3 dot on my Glock 26 and my groupings got a lot better. Sig's Stovenhagen sight is great for horizontal alignment, but vertical alignment is harder since you have to line up the tops of the front and rear sights (black on black(

January 29, 2007, 01:27 AM
SHOOTING FROM WITHIN by J. Michael Plaxco (I have found this book to be pretty useful)

PRACTICAL SHOOTING: BEYOND FUNDAMENTALS by Brian Enos (has some good information but also goes off on some weird tangents -- best used as a resource for more experienced shooters)
THE FARNAM METHOD OF DEFENSIVE HANDGUNNING (new 2nd edition)by John. S. Farnam (very good text on operation of a handgun)

SHOOT A HANDGUN: A MANUAL ON HOW TO SHOOT A HANDGUN by Dave Arnold (a good basic manual on handgun shooting -- out of print but you can probably still find it online)

January 29, 2007, 02:01 AM
(1.) What kind of target are you using? (I do most of my practice on IDPA cardboard targets and I'm happy if I can shoot a reasonable group centered in the "A" zone. I don't worrry about stacking bullets on top of each other (unless I'm shooting indoor bullseye with my target .22)
(2.) Make sure that your visual focus is on the front sight when the shot breaks. In a defensive situation, your focus will be on the threat as you deploy the weapon, and then focus will come back in to the front sight as you come on target and fire. It's really common for people's visual focus to shift from the target to the front sight to the rear sight to the target, which causes unpredictable shot dispersion on the target. It can be a difficult problem to diagnose because it does not happen consistently.
(3.) Make sure that your hand position is consistent, and that you are neither pushing nor pulling the trigger to one side when pressing the trigger. Most people shoot best with the center of the pad of the first joint in contact with the face of the trigger. If you are right handed, and have too much finger on the trigger, you can pull shots to the right. If you have too little finger on the trigger (like if the tip is just contacting the corner of the trigger, and not pressing evenly across the face) you will push shots to the left.
(4.) Make sure that you don't have any finger drag on the frame. When viewed from above with the weapon in firing grip, your finger should not contact the side of the frame.
(5.) Make sure that your grip pressure is consistent when you're shooting -- if you convulsively grip the gun (called "milking") it will shift the point of impact with your shots, but usually you can tell because they're strung vertically. Also make sure that you don't apply too much pressure with the bottom two fingers on your firing hand at the moment the shot breaks -- a real common error and also hard to diagnose if you aren't doing it consistently . . .

It kind of sounds like your visual focus may be shifting without your realizing it.

January 29, 2007, 02:03 AM
By Tom Givens, Rangemaster, Inc., Memphis, Tennessee
(posted on lightfighter.net on 21 April 2004)

The following are the most common error among new shooters. Learning to recognize, explain, and coach the shooter in correcting these deficiencies is an important skill for instructors. If you shoot on your own, you can use these tips to self-diagnose your errors and work on correcting them.
To better visualize these comments, imagine a clock face superimposed on the target. Twelve o’clock is at the top, six o’clock is at the bottom, and so on.

(1.) Hits low, at six o’clock – This can be caused by several physical acts, but the underlying
cause of all of them is anticipation of the gun firing. Most shooters are not really bothered by recoil. It is the blast (noise and flash) that shocks their nervous systems, causing a flinch reaction. This must be overcome by concentration and practice. Ball and dummy drills using inert rounds are helpful in this. The physical manifestations to watch for are:
 Tightening the grip as the trigger is pressed.
 Canting the gun hand wrist downward as the trigger is pressed.
 Jerking the trigger.

(2.) Hits at three o’clock or nine o’clock – These are generally the result of sideways
pressure on the trigger. If too little finger contacts the trigger, the gun will be pushed sideways as it fires. If too little finger is on the trigger, the muzzle will be pulled to the side as the gun fires. The shooter needs to place the pad of the first joint of the finger on the trigger and press straight to the rear to make the gun fire.
These shots off to one side or the other are also the result of combining a small hand and a large double-column magazine gun. In such cases, the first joint of the shooter’s trigger finger, the joint that “attaches” the finger to the palm is touching the frame. As the trigger finger flexes to pull the trigger, that part of the finger pushes against the frame. The fix is to bend the trigger finger, creating a gap between that joint and the pistol’s frame. (this is sometimes called “finger drag’). The optimum solution is to find a gun that better fits the shooter’s hand, a gun that is thinner and has a shorter reach from the backstrap to the face of the trigger. This usually requires selecting a weapon with a smaller magazine capacity, but getting hits on target is much more important than how many rounds the magazine can hold!

(3.) Hits at five o’clock or seven o’clock – This is almost always the result of jerking the
trigger. The trigger is “snatched” too quickly, pulling the muzzle down and to the side. When pressing the trigger, be sure to take up the slack and then press the trigger straight to the rear as smoothly as you can. (If the shooter’s weapon is a good fit for the size of their hand, one potential problem to look for is lack of finger or grip strength. Dry fire practice can strengthen the grip and the trigger finger and reduce or eliminate this practice once a sufficient level of muscular strength is attained.)

(4.) Hits at twelve o’clock – This can be caused by two errors. By far the most common is
looking over the sights at the target. As the gun is raised, the shooter fails to pull in his visual focus to meet the front sight. This leaves the shooter focused on the target, looking over the top of the gun. Most shooters hit high when they do this. This can also be caused by convulsively squeezing the gun just as it fires. This causes the heel of the hand to push the lower part of the backstrap forward, elevating the muzzle and resulting in a high shot on target. This is called “heeling”.

(5.) Scattered hits all over the target – A lack of consistency in grip, sight focus, trigger
control, or some combination of these problems. The most common reason for scattered hits all over the target is looking at the target and not at the sights! Except at VERY close range, it is necessary to look THROUGH the rear sight AT the front sight, with visual focus on the front sight, to get hits on target. Many beginning shooters shift their visual focus from the target to the sights and back again WITHOUT EVEN REALIZING IT which sometimes makes this a VERY difficult problem to diagnose and correct.

 Grip – how you hold the weapon
 Stance – your firing platform
 Sight Alignment – front sight blade properly lined up in the rear sight notch
 Sight Picture – the sight alignment superimposed on the target
 Trigger Control – moving the trigger smoothly without disturbing the alignment of the sights until the shot breaks
 Follow Through – maintaining proper grip/stance/sight alignment after the shot breaks


January 29, 2007, 02:59 AM
There is absolutely no reason why you can not shoot with pinpoint accuracy at 20 yards.

The poster above defined the fundamentals, cause and effect excellently. Now, I will tell you the secret to good shooting.

It doesn't matter if you are shooting a rifle or a handgun, this secret is the same.

There are three--and only three--major elements in breaking the perfect shot:

SIGHT ALIGNMENT: Front sight centered in the rear sight notch and even across the top, with equal amounts of light on both sides of the blade.

SIGHT PICTURE: Find the front sight. That's the vital part. Place your front sight so that the top of the blade is cutting your desired point of impact in half.

Now, LOCK your focus on that front sight. It should be razor sharp and clear.
Trust your eyesight and reflexes--the human body will naturally attempt to center any point of focus within its surrounding background; so it will be with the front sight.

With a dot sight, cover your point of impact with the dot, and concentrate on the dot. With crosshairs, quarter the target with the reticle, and concentrate hard on the juncture of the crosshairs.

TRIGGER PULL: Pull the trigger STRAIGHT to the rear, using the pad of the trigger finger, without ANY sideways pressure or influence. You don't have to be slow about it--just do it smoothly!

All of that is easy.

The hard part is doing it all at once! :eek:

If you want the best training in the world on how to HIT what you're aiming at, I suggest taking up NRA Conventional Pistol, aka Bullseye shooting. It's simply using the basics that counts!

January 29, 2007, 08:44 AM
Thank you everyone for your advice. I've printed these out and will study them today on lunch and coffee breaks, and head to the range after work :D

January 29, 2007, 01:32 PM

$190 dollars? I'd rather buy a gun.

January 30, 2007, 01:18 AM
SO armed with advice I read hear, I headed down to the range and put 150 rounds through my XD9. I did shoot better. A couple things I noticed - at 12 feet I was consistently high and right and I shot better with one eye closed.

At 21 feet I was dead on with both eyes open. I saw the target with the front site, it was very cool, just as I read here. :D

I actually shot better at 21 feet than 12! Having both eyes open at shorter distance did not help me out. :confused:

Next weekend I am going to spend an hour with an instructor at the range. Thanks again for evertone who gave me advice!

January 30, 2007, 03:05 AM
#1. HAVE FUN! Stop putting pressure on yourself to "shoot striaght" and spend more time enjoying shooting your gun.

#2. Don't fill your head up with unnessesary things. Get to know how you shoot naturally before paying attention to stuff like foot placement, grip, trigger finger position, consistant squeeze, 2 eyes open etc etc etc.

#3. Try looking at your target and not paying so much attention to lining up your XD's sight dots. Shoot. Adjust your point of aim not with the sights, but with your body's position. Relax. Just try this for a magazine or two. Just get used to how the gun feels while being shot.

#4. Try to remember that a gun like yours is made for CQB and not target shooting. I know they show guys shooting their pistols with pinpoint accuracy in the movies, but that's the movies.

#5. Try different types of ammunition for your gun. Some guns are just partial to certain bullets.


I'm glad you had fun at the range this time around. It'll only get better with the more trigger time you get!

January 30, 2007, 07:01 PM
Start at your best distance, and keep moving it back every time you group a sub 2 inch hit. If you don't hit that group, stay there and practice untill you do.

January 31, 2007, 01:17 AM
try this link to find a good selection of books specifically on IPSC shooting:


The Double Alpha Academy is an IPSC training company in Holland run by Saul Kirsch, who also has some books for sale on the same website.

They have "Shooting from Within" for 29 EU (however much that is)(right now I think a euro is about $1.30 US). I hadn't remembered that the book was published in 1991 and is apparently out of print . . . I'm surprised it isn't back in print or that Mike Plaxco hasn't done an updated version or something.

January 31, 2007, 08:09 PM
$190 dollars? I'd rather buy a gun.

Brownells has it for $20, or less if you've got an account. Stock number is 712-100-000

January 31, 2007, 08:59 PM
Shooting is a lot like playing golf; simple concept, difficult to execute. A dozen (or more) things can go slightly wrong. Get some instruction and practice, practice, practice.

February 1, 2007, 08:08 AM
Very likely a large part of your problem is trigger control. A lot of quality dry firing will help resolve that. When I started I was surprised to see the amount of movement of the front sight when the trigger broke (Hammer dropped). I began concentrating on keeping the correct sight picture all the way through the trigger pull and hammer drop. I bought a Laser Bullitt and have been VERY pleased with the improvement in my accuracy. I keep a pistol with the Laser Bullitt near where I nest in my living room and pick it up frequently and practice. One excellent drill is to balance a coin on your barrel and keeping it there all the way through the hammer drop.

February 4, 2007, 02:11 PM
Hey, guy, if you want to fire long distance without problem you need to practice bullseye shooting, olympic shooting. I mean, you need to focus on sight picture and forget the target, while you squeeze the trigger smoothly.
Marksmanship is the right alignment of eye, rear sight, front sight, and target. If you remove the target you have one thing less to worry about so you can focus on sight alignment. I suggest firing to a white paper, I mean, no target, just a big white paper. So you remove the target you can focus on sight alignment.
Try it, it is a very good exercise.

February 4, 2007, 02:45 PM
The fundamentals are there and the human factor follows. I was shooting one time, and my front sight flew off. I paused for a minute, and said just focus and shoot. I got better groups after wards than before it flew off. Study the rules, and let the "force guide you". I's a combination of both.

February 5, 2007, 07:43 AM
rb4browns, . . . you have gotten some excellent information above, . . . and I would ony add one thing.

Try the advice for a couple of range sessions. If you work it out, . . . great, . . . but if you don't, . . . spend the money for a good NRA bullseye instructor. It may take a couple of sessions, . . . but he(she) can SEE what is going on, where we can only guess. They know what physical clues will give away your problem, whether it is breathing, flinching, trigger control, etc.

I was fortunate enough to have several to help me (freebie even) when I first started shooting, . . . it helped immensely.

May God bless,

February 5, 2007, 07:40 PM
I'm surprised no one has mentioned ammo, which in my experience plays a huge part. Most ranges require you to buy their ammo, which is mostly reloads, cheap ones. Even cheap factory ammo won't perform well at 20 yards. What type of ammo are you using?

February 12, 2007, 03:36 PM
rb4b, you don't provide enough information to give you a decent diagnosis.
I am assuming by your choice of firearm that you are intersted practical shooting more than bullseys shooting.
That being the assumption, let's start at the beginning. Grip, stance, sight picture, trigger press are the beginning. I could write volumes on each, but will give you enough to get you started in the right direction.
The overall concept of grip and stance is neutrality. No undue tension in any direction.
Your grip should be loose, firm and relaxed. You don't grip a gun like you squeeze a lemon. The "gripping" action is caused by your weak hand pinching the grip between it and your strong hand. One of the ways I demonstrate to students is to grip a magazine the same way I grip a pistol and have them pull the magazine out of my hands. They are always suprised at how easy it is to take the magazine. Squeezing the pistol tightly only causes the muzzle to tremble.
Place the pistol in the web of your strong hand as illustrated. Notice the line drawn straight from the pistol through the center of the web and down the arm. Don't let it get off center. Grip the pistol as high as possible, the idea is to get your hand in line w/the axis of the bore as much as possible. Notice how the gun looks like it is pressing into the hand. Keep your strong hand thumb as high as possible - on 1911's keep it on the safety on your XD you'll have to work with what you have (don't let it interfere with the slide). From the strong side it should look as it does in the 2nd photo.

The weak hand should fit perfectly in the area left open by the strong hand. You will need to rotate your weak wrist forward so that the weak hand thumb is as high and a bit in front of the strong hand thumb as shown in the 3rd photo. The reason you rotate your wrist has less to do with grip and more with stance. It keeps your stance (the upper half) neutral by making your weak arm bent the same as your strong arm since the gun will be centered in front of your strong side eye. Where most people run in to problems is by putting pressure on the gun with their thumbs. Your thumbs should just lay there and do nothing (like my ex-wife). Don't push up, down or sideways, just let them rest.

Trigger press:
The most common problem is putting too much finger on the trigger (particularly for those who learned on DA guns). For SA guns, put your finger in your mouth and bite it halfway across your finger nail. The line that is created by doing that is as far as your finger should go. DA guns will be a bit more because of the length of the trigger pull. You will notice that I use "press" to describe the action. That is because it is more of a press than a pull. Right now, we are going to stick with basic concepts, I am not going to teach you to prep the trigger, follow up, etc. For now, you just want to make certain of two things: 1. that you press the trigger smoothly straight back 2. the only thing that moves when you press the trigger is your trigger finger. Some people have a tendency to "milk" the gun when they pull the trigger. That is when their (usually) entire hand moves as they press the trigger.

Sight picture:
Sight picture is easy. With iron sights, focus on the front sight. With dots, focus on the target. Your eyes can only focus on one object, so the target will be blurry. But, it really has more to do with your mind than your eyes.
Learn to track your sight and call your shots. Tracking your sight means that you have it in focus during the recoil cycle (or when transitioning from target to target) it is what allows you to shoot incredibly fast - another advanced technique but one that you can practice now. Calling your shots means knowing where the sights are when the shot breaks. I don't have to look at the target to see where my shot hit, I can tell where I hit by watching the sights. This is an absolute fact: THE BULLET HITS WHERE THE SIGHTS ARE! It can't happen any other way. If you can't say where your bullet hit, then you are not watching the sight.

Your stance should be natural and relaxed. Stand in a fashion that would allow you to stand comfortably all day. Face the target, your feet will typically be about shoulder width apart. Also, typically your weak side foot will be slightly forward of your strong side foot. I can't post any more photos on this post, so I will do my best to describe it. You should be relaxed and standing up straight. Don't lean forward or back. There should be as straight a line as possible running down from your shoulderblades to your butt cheeks to your heels. Most people have a tendency to lean one way or the other. Keeping your shoulder down and your head up, raise the pistol to your eye level (as opposed to lowering your eye level to the pistol). Your shoulders should be relaxed. Your wrists should be locked. Your elbows should be relaxed, bent and unlocked (they will work like shock absorbers and convert most of the upward travel to rearward travel, again an advanced technique)- this is what allows you to control recoil and shoot multiple shots quickly. The main thing is to relax. One final tip:
Natural Point of Aim:
To find your natural point of aim, stand in a proper stance, point the pistol at the target, close your eyes, twist left and right at the waist (not your feet), stop when you feel comfortable. Open your eyes and see where the gun is relative to the target (laterally, not vertically). If the gun isn't pointing at the target, adjust your FEET so that it is and repeat. For example: if the gun stops to the left of the target, slide your right foot back or your left foot forward.
That should be enough to get you started.

February 15, 2007, 07:26 PM
I know that when I shoot I cant have both eyes open i cant focus in on the front dot. thats my biggest problem i might need to go check my eyes or something, but that is my only problem, other than that, I can get good groups with one eye opened, Im right handed, thus I use my right eye. and when i shoot left, i use my left eye, anyone have a fix to this, or should i get my eyesite checked out.

February 15, 2007, 08:00 PM
Place a piece of transparent tape horizontally across the top half of the left lens of your shooting glasses. When you look through your left eye with your arms extended you should be able to see your arm all the way down to the wrist, but no farther. This will stop you from seeing double and train your eye.

Lazy D
February 15, 2007, 08:46 PM
I didn't notice if anyone had answered the question of "How do you find your dominate eye"? There are a couple of ways to do this.

Method #1 I'll have the shooter keep both eyes open and focus on an object across the room. Now hold the hand out in front of you palms foward, fingers up. Now while still focusing on the object bring the hands together slowly till the index fingers and thumbs touch. Now cross them together till you have a small hole you are looking through bring the hole back toward your eye with out loosing the oject. You will come back to your dominate eye.

Method #2 With both eyes open look at an object across the room. Hold your inex finger out infront of you covering up the object. Close one eye then switch eyes. The finger will be directly in between the dominate eye and the object.

Most of the time a right handed shooter will be right eye dominate and Left with Left, but it is very common to have a right handed shooter be left eye and vise versa. Hope this helps someone out there.

Stay safe.

February 15, 2007, 10:01 PM
This has been an extremely helpful thread, thank you to everyone who lent their advice.

February 15, 2007, 10:21 PM
Wow, there's some really great advice in this thread, thank you! I too have been really trying to work on my target shooting at the range, I'm really trying to be as accurate as I can be at 25 and 50 yards. I used to shoot just to shoot and wasn't really worried about being accurate. But, now I'm trying to learn how to do this the right way. I wish they had one of the NRA bullseye shooting classes out here, I'd take that for sure. With a rimfire .22 or a .22 revolver I can shoot out the 2" orange target's at 25 yards and at 50 yards I'm on target within an inch or two. With a .38 revolver at 25 and 50 yards, I can hit the orange target, but I'm all over the place within a few inches. Same thing with my 1911 .45, I'm just all over the place within a few inches. I can't land the shot's close enough to shoot out the target.