Tri County Process Service
– The Basics of Marksmanship –
Getting hits on a target is easy to do once you know how to do it. Like any other control and dexterity dependent skill, there is a proven and correct way to shoot a pistol.
Getting hits on a target is easy to do once you know how to do it. Like any other control and dexterity dependent skill, there is a proven and correct way to shoot a pistol. I am not talking about bull’s-eye shooting, although some of the skill involved in that discipline also corresponds to tactical shooting. We are primarily interested in self-defense shooting. This means that we want the ability to place solid hits on an adversary from a condition of un-readiness and under urgent time limits.
Before you can expect to hit anything, there are some “hardware” issues that must be seen to. The ammunition must be capable of an acceptable level of accuracy. This is not as much of a concern when using quality defensive ammunition, but it may be if using more economical “training ammunition.” Primarily, you must make certain that the pistol is zeroed correctly. This simply means that the sights must be arranged in a way that they will coincide (visually) with the physical impact of the bullet strike on target. There are hundreds of different types of sights, and to explain how to zero every particular weapon would take a volume. For zeroing procedures, please refer to your weapons training manual or owner’s manual. Don’t dismiss this part of the equation. Doing so will only lead to frustration.
There are several fundamentals to marksmanship. They include: sight alignment, sight picture, trigger control, pistol grip, shooting stance, breath control and follow-through. Of these seven, four are most important. It is these four which must be focused on by the tactical shooter. They are: sight alignment, sight picture, trigger control, and follow through.
Sight alignment is the relation between the front sight, the rear sight, and the shooter’s eye. It is established by placing your visual focus on the front sight and aligning it with the rear sight (irrespective of any target). The top of the front sight must be seen as level with the top of the rear sight. Additionally, you must see equal amounts of light visible on both sides of the front sight as viewed through the rear sight notch. This describes perfect vertical and horizontal alignment of the sights.
This is the sight alignment that we would always like to have. Sometimes we will settle for less if the target is close enough. Generally, the closer the target is, the bigger it appears and the less perfect your sight alignment must be. Conversely, the more distant target is or the smaller the target is at close range, the greater the requirement for precision will be in the alignment of the sights. In practice, however, we must always strive for perfect alignment.
Sight picture is the existing sight alignment as it is seen superimposed on the target’s center of mass. Center of Mass describes the central portion of the visible target. Now let me ask you something. How many things can the human eye focus on at any one time? The human eye is similar to a camera; it can only focus on one thing at a time. With regard to the sight picture, there are three things that we want to keep in alignment: the target, the front sight, and the rear sight. Now imagine looking at these three points through a camera. If you focus the lens on the front sight, you can still see the target well enough, although it appears somewhat out of focus in comparison to the front sight. Additionally, you can still see the rear sight well enough, although it also appears slightly out of focus in comparison to the front sight. By focusing in on the front sight, you can see both the target and the rear sight well enough in the peripheral vision (although not as clear and focused as the front sight), so you are able to keep all three points in alignment. That is the “secret” of sight picture. The more difficult the shot is (i.e., a distant target or small target), then the more precise that sight picture must be. The visual and mental focus must always remain on the front sight.
Another very important aspect of the sight picture is whether you should close the non-dominant eye or keep both eyes open. The simple fact of the matter is that most students that I’ve seen cannot focus on the front sight as well if both eyes are kept open. If it’s not an issue for you, then don’t worry about it. If you find it difficult to focus on the front sight with both eyes, then you must close one eye. But which one? We all have one eye that is more “dominant” than the other. That eye is the one that you want to use for sighting. For most shooters, their dominant eye is on the same side as their dominant hand. In other words, a right-handed shooter will most likely have his dominant eye on his right side, and so on. Some shooters are cross eye dominant, i.e., right-handed and left eye dominant, or vice versa.
Here is how you find out which eye is dominant: Make a small “OK” signal with your primary hand, and look at a target through the opening with both eyes open. Now close the eye that is opposite of your primary hand. If the target disappeared from view, your support side eye is dominant. If it did not disappear from view, your primary side eye is dominant.
If your primary side eye is dominant, you simply close the support side eye when focusing on the front sight. If your dominant eye is on the support side, you have two options:
Either close the eye that is opposite of your primary side and learn to sight with the non-dominant eye, or close that non-dominant eye and modify the shooting position slightly by angling the head slightly to allow the support side eye access to the sights.
Some of you who may have been schooled to keep both eyes open, take notice. The non-dominant eye is only shut off for fractions of seconds while the shots are fired. Therefore, you are not missing anything in your immediate surroundings. Secondly, the reason given for not closing one eye is that you may need it to see things around you. This is hardly a combat reality. If a hostile man is standing in front of you and intent on killing you, then to survive and win, you must do him before he does you. In such instances, do you really think you will be looking around with your non-dominant eye for other adversaries? Of course not! You will be too busy with the problem at hand to worry about other potential problems out there somewhere.
Here is the sequence of events: Your eyes are initially focused on the target, specifically on the center of mass. The pistol is raised up into the line of sight between the eye and the target. The non-dominant eye is closed to allow the dominant eye to focus better on the front sight. The sight alignment is verified by bringing the visual focus to the front sight, as seen through the rear sight notch, and as the two points of reference are aligned on the target’s center of mass. As the eye focuses clearly on the front sight, the rear sight and the target will be visible in the foreground and background, but they will be slightly out of focus. You must see the front sight with crystal clarity and sharp enough focus to be able to count the serrations on it. Moreover, you must concentrate your mental focus on that front sight to the exclusion of all else around you. (More on this later, grasshopper!) This keeps the pistol on target.
Trigger control is the third fundamental, and probably the most important. Proper trigger control allows the shooter to fire a shot without disturbing the sight picture. The trigger must be pressed smoothly to the rear, without any disturbance of the sight picture until the pressure suffices and the pistol discharges. Two key elements to this are the finger placement and the surprise break.
Correct finger placement on the trigger is dependent upon the type of trigger you are operating. The placement should allow you to press straight to the rear without any lateral divergence in pressure. Placing too much of the finger, or conversely, not placing enough of the finger on the trigger will cause your shots to string laterally on the target. Such extremes in placement will cause you to exert pressure to the side as well as the rear, with poor results on target.
Naturally, some triggers are easier to operate than others, but all can be managed with enough training. With Colt/Browning single-action triggers, the area of the first pad of the finger seems to work best. When using a Glock pistol, the area between the pad and the first joint will allow you the best control. Finally, if you are using a double-action pistol, you must place much more finger on the trigger in order to provide the leverage necessary to operate the heavier trigger. For these shooters, the area just above the first joint will work the best.
Before we discuss the actual operation of the trigger, I want to discuss our physiology. We are still hard-wired like our caveman ancestors.
They were fairly good at caving heads in with stones and such, and our brains don’t work any different today.
The result is that it is unnatural for us to experience a small explosion out there at the end of our hand. That is precisely what happens when we shoot, right? Invariably, our subconscious minds want us to flinch, close our eyes, and do all manner of silly things in anticipation of the forthcoming BIG BANG. This creates all manner of problems with marksmanship. Not to worry, however; we can easily get around this by allowing the shot to surprise us.
When operating the trigger, the shooter applies smooth and constant pressure to the trigger until eventually and almost unintentionally the pressure is sufficient to break the trigger. This is called a surprise break. Pressing the trigger in this manner may be likened to using an eye-dropper. Think of the process involved. You align the dropper above your eye, you get the proper sight picture by focusing on the end of the eye-dropper; and finally, you gradually begin increasing pressure until one drop forms and falls into the eye by surprise. If you force the drop out by mashing the eye-dropper, you will flinch, close the eye, and get the eye-drops everywhere except in your eye. The same process applies to operating the trigger on a pistol. First, align the sights with the target and establish an appropriate sight picture. Next, focus visually on the front sight while building constant, smooth pressure on the trigger until the pistol eventually fires by surprise.
Of paramount importance is that the break of the trigger is not specifically expected by the shooter. He knows that it is going to go, and he is continuing the constant pressure on the trigger, but he does not know the exact instant when it will break. The trigger must break almost unintentionally. If the shooter anticipates the break or forces it to occur, he will invariably bear down reflexively on the weapon and flinch at the final moment. This will cause the shot to go errant.
Remember when I said that the human eye could only focus on one specific thing at a time? Well, when under stress, the human mind is much the same way. If you focus your mental and visual attention on the top edge of the front sight while you operate the trigger, that is where will your thoughts will be when that trigger pressure is enough to cause the gun to fire. Your attention will be on the front sight, and not on the small explosion that happens. That is how you experience a surprise break, but most people do not understand this.
In a combative situation, you will not have an open-ended time interval in which to press the trigger so very carefully. However, this does not invalidate or change the process. Go back to the eye-dropper analogy. Those of you who put drops in your eyes on a daily basis know that it becomes quite easy as you get used to the procedure. As you become accomplished at using the eye-dropper, you do not require the lengthy time interval to align, focus and press. On the contrary, in happens very quickly due to practice. Operating the trigger on a pistol is the same. Through perfect practice and programming, you will operate the trigger in the same fashion as with the surprise break, but you will do it in less time. This called the compressed surprise break.
Follow-through is the fourth fundamental, which is often ignored. Follow Through is controlling the pistol and the trigger after the trigger breaks (and fires the shot) in order to avoid disturbing the alignment of the pistol. When the trigger breaks, maintain your focus on the front sight, and keep finger contact on the trigger as you hold it to the rear. When actually firing a shot, you will visually lose the front sight momentarily on recoil. Regain front sight focus immediately, as soon as the recoils dissipates. Additionally, do not release the trigger until the recoil cycle is complete. Maintain finger contact on the trigger and hold it to the rear as the shot is fired. Release it only after you have refocused on the front sight. Even then, only release the trigger far enough to reset it. After the trigger release begins, you will eventually notice a slight click. This is the dis-connector resetting the trigger. This is as far as you need to go in order to fire a second shot. Allowing the trigger to move any further forward increases the recovery time between shots.
The ability to fire an additional controlled shot is extremely important in a tactical situation. Except for special circumstances, such as single, precise head shots, you will usually fire twice. The reasons for this are to enhance the damage on the target, as well as to insure at least one hit in stressful situations that may cause missed shots.
The way to fire that second shot quickly is to release the trigger only far enough to reset it via the dis-connector device in each pistol. The trigger will be reset when you hear the audible (and feel the tactile) click as you begin to release. At this point, refocus on the front sight as you did for the first shot. Simply begin the pressure build-up with the trigger finger again. You must experience a second surprise break for the second shot. This is called a controlled pair. Each of the two shots is a controlled, individual shot. Each of the two shots requires a separate sight picture and a separate surprise break, even if executed very quickly.
These are the Secrets of Marksmanship. Study them well as they are the keys to hitting. In the end, they are the keys to your survival.
Better to just “Fudgetaboutit”…
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