Good Enough For Now

1911 Trigger and Harp with
Trigger Stop Screw Removed

The rules of the Bullseye sport allow considerable latitude in equipment and technique. And there are certain items and practices that improve one’s ability to hit the center of the target.

These include for most shooters but not all

  • Red dot,
  • Good stance,
  • Focus (of attention as well as eye) on the dot (or front sight),
  • and so forth.

But there are exceptions, and good ones, to each of these generalizations.

  • A great many shooters “way back” before there were red dots were, as a rule, shooting better than many of us today with (or without) a red dot.
  • I know a couple of High Masters that, when they assume their shooting stance, look so awkward and uncomfortable I can’t imagine how they do that for a full 2700, but they do – -and they do it quite well.
  • Brian Zins, the most winning Bullseye shooter in history, says he focuses not on the front sight, not on the dot, but contrary to a great many others, he says he focuses on the target.

With those exceptions in mind, here’s the real point: There are some items and practices that, while helpful, may prove to be temporary “stopping off” points along the path. They are useful for a while but, ultimately, they prove to have their own limits — they’ll only take you so far. Eventually, they become counterproductive and must be discarded lest you become stuck on a plateau.

I’ll use some of my experience as an example.

I still consider myself a beginner. In the few years I’ve been trying to hit the X, I’ve used and then discarded some things. For example, when my wobble was basically the entire scoring area (5 ring), the practice of consciously squeezing the trigger as the sights neared the center of the target did — and here’s the key word — temporarily result in an improved score.

For a frustrated Marksman, that’s a powerful incentive and, for a while, it works. But that same Markman will also learn, as did I, that as his wobble decreases with practice and time, when he then “jerks” the shot as the sights near the center of the target, the Marksman will discover the resultant jerking motion overpowers his ever-reducing wobble. So, as the Marksman’s skill increases, jerking the shot must eventually be abandoned.

It works for a little while but then becomes counterproductive.

Now, contrast that with the technique known by the experts as “steering with the trigger.”

Specifically, Masters and High Masters sometimes talk about their ability to fine tune their aim into the deep center of the black by the use of their trigger finger. That is, in the last few fractions of a second before the hammer breaks from the sear and fires the shot, the growing pressure on the trigger is also used to guide the sights into the very center of the target. The combination of steering and increasing pressure is, while admittedly different from what the Marksman does, nonetheless similar in effect: The shot breaks when the sights bear on the center of the target.

I should add that one of these is conscious while the other is automatic. And that is the critical difference.

Regardless, here we have an example of where two similar techniques — breaking the shot as the sight picture reaches perfection — where both the beginner and the expert benefit.

But note that in the middle ranks, perhaps through SharpShooter and well into Expert classes, we try to avoid any connection between where the sights bear and when the shot breaks. In the middle ranks, we learn to align the sights on the aiming area and to build pressure on the trigger until the shot breaks without disturbing the sights.

In these skill levels, the goal is the “surprise break”.

As we progress, therefore, we find that what helps our shooting and what is detrimental to it, change.

“Change” is the operative word.

What gives us a better score today may, in the coming weeks and months, prove to be a limiting factor in achieving even better scores.

So, while there may be some near-ideals we learn for stance, trigger control, eye focus and so forth, it is also true that not only are these skills time-consuming to learn, but also that, in some cases, we’re just not ready to apply them.

And it is also worth noting that only the top echelon in the sport have developed the abilities to do these things all at the same time and that, even for them, they may have found techniques that work just as well for them.

Each of us must, therefore, be constantly learning, integrating, re-examining, discarding and trying something different.

It therefore behooves us non-High Masters to listen, watch, read and experiment, but never to assume that every technique will apply to us now. Some may work for us but only after years of effort, years where we essentially ignore that good advice. We may not be able to execute on that good advice until our skill reaches a certain level.

It’s about finding the right combination that works where you are now.

So, yes, you should look for the ideals and try to work them into your shot plan but also be realistic and know that “putting it all together” takes time, a lot of time.

We may have to file away some techniques we are shown. For us, they may be “later.”

In the meantime, we need to push a lot of lead downrange, and do that thoughtfully, studiously and repeatedly.

It will come, but the square of Earth on which I place my left foot today is not the same square I will put it on a year from now.

Times change, and so do we.

Go with the flow, but don’t be afraid to push against the edges of the channel.

That’s where you’ll find the breakthroughs.

Christkind ’08

KN: Nill-Grips on My Wadder

I don’t know how Christkind got into my gun safe last night after making the long trek from Germany (via Battleboro Vermont) — maybe Santa was there to supervise — but regardless, these new grips sure dress up my otherwise “functional” wad gun.

“The Christkind is a sprite-like child, usually depicted with blond hair and angelic wings. Martin Luther intended it to be a reference to the incarnation of Jesus as an infant. It is presumed by some to be so, but seems to be rooted in the Alsatian-born myth of a child bringing gifts to the baby Jesus.”

Wikipedia, 12/25/2008

On the plane home from Dallas a week ago, I sat two rows in front of someone with a bad cough and apparently I’ve brought their cold home for the Holidays. Because of that and the fact that it’s rainy and chilly in Phoenix on Christmas Day, live-fire with the new grips will have to wait.

Wonder how many Xs were included?

Relative Importances

To my article, “Be A Straight Shooter“, an anonymous reader objected:

“Is it my understanding that a Sharpshooter is suggesting that everyone else is standing wrong?”

That comment admittedly raised my hackles, initially because the author chose to remain anonymous, but after I had slept on it I had to admit it bothered me because it raised two very good questions I’ve asked myself:

  1. Who am I, a Sharpshooter who admittedly has trouble shooting the 1911 up to this very same ranking, to tell others what they should or should not do; and
  2. If most good (Expert, Master and High Master ranked) Bullseye shooters claim to use the 45 degree stance, doesn’t that disprove the recommendation that a 90 degree stance (or “almost 90” as I’ve described) is superior?

Let me be completely honest in answering the first objection: The anonymous commenter is right. I really don’t know.

This blog is about my efforts to become a better shooter which is not the same as providing expert advice on how to be that better shooter. Where a posting seems to be doing the latter, I need to make it clear such is not the case. I have, therefore, annotated the article in question accordingly (see link above).

But for the second question, as to why the reported stance is not more commonly used or perceived as such, the answer is more involved and serves as the topic of this article.

Some things are more important than others.

At the lower skill levels, the mechanical skills of simply releasing a clean shot may dominate a shooter’s attention and efforts. Many expert shooters have written that there is no proper stance, grip, or right way of shooting. What works for one shooter may not work for another. Each individual has to experiment and find out what works for him or her.

Indeed, beginning shooters may find it hard to simply put ten holes in the target. They may be doing so many things wrong that it is difficult to know which to fix first. And they may also discover that many recommended corrections actually show little or no improvement at the target because the effect is so subtle as to be completely overshadowed by other problems.

This is not to say that learning correct technique isn’t important. On the contrary, developing good technique and instilling it into automatic behaviour is essential. But only after the basics are “down pat” can the shooter move on to the higher levels of the game where attitude dominates the shooter’s consciousness and thereby contributes those final winning points.

To the beginner, technique is all important. Learning the best way of holding the gun, of standing, of aligning the sights on the target and releasing the shot, these skills take most of his or her time and attention. Attitude, “with winning in mind” as Lanny Bassham terms it, unfortunately contributes little to the beginner’s scores. The beginner needs proper mechanical technique first.

Over time, the beginner will improve. Skills will become automatic. And the developing shooter will focus his or her attention on skills that have not yet become automatic that need to be fine-tuned before being “put to bed” in the unconscious skill set.

It is also during the development process that the shooter may discover they have learned some bad, or let’s call them “less than optimal” skills. The shooter may find that some techniques that were learned early and which seemed to help have now become detriments. What used to work is now an impediment.

When this happens, those “skills that don’t help now” must be unlearned and better ones found, practiced, and inserted in place of the old ones.

In several ways, this is where I am now. I’ve learned a few skills and have ingrained them into my unconsciousness and, when I shoot, I do them automatically.

Unfortunately, when it comes to the marriage of grip, stance and alignment, I now see I have not understood the experts. Worse, I now see the ill effects of some of those ingrained habits. I need to undo those and substitute better ones.

If I were to rank the various skills Bullseye shooters need, I would have to preface that by saying that my limited experience makes this a very risky activity. Nonetheless, I would also add that it would appear that the most important skills are those typically having the most subtle effects.

But many skills permeate every level of skill. For example the one that comes immediately to mind is best captured in the dictum to align the sights on the aiming area and then release the shot without disturbing the sights.

Skills that are somewhere in the middle would include fine tuning how each different gun best fits into the shooter’s hand, where exactly the finger should be placed on the trigger, and of course, the shooter’s stance and alignment to the target.

These three are at the center of my current efforts. Grip, placement of trigger finger and the totality of alignment from front sight to rear foot, are a single item. They must be assembled as a unit, not one at a time but in complete concert with each other.

In “Pistol Marksmanship Guide” by the United States Army Marksmanship Unit (Fredonia Books, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, page 3) it says, “When assuming the firing stance, the head must be held as level as possible, so that the shooter can see the target directly in line with arm and sights.” (Emphasis mine.)

And the only way to line up eye, arm and sights is as I’ve documented. Because the head is in the center of the body whereas the arm begins out at the shoulder, the eyes simply won’t line up with the arm and then with the sights in any stance other than 90 degrees.

But if things do line up, then I contend that the shooter is angling the wrist to make it so or tilting the head or gun. If the wrist is angled, recoil is no longer “aimed” straight up the arm. When fired, recoil will move the gun in a direction other than straight back. And if that movement occurs in the few milliseconds while the bullet is still in the barrel, then the shot will be deflected. And tilting or the head or gun have their own problems as described in my previous article that won’t be repeated here.

Some world-class experts agree with this 90 degree — or close thereto — recommendation.

At, Steve Swartz writes, “You want to be facing 75-90 degrees away from the sight line to the target”.

Steve is an accomplished, olympic-caliber pistol shooter, and has been a member of the U. S. National Pistol Team. His accomplishments are, in part, described at

John Zurek, a High Master, placed third in this year’s ranking for the two shooters to represent the United States at the Beijing Olympics. John holds multiple range records at the Phoenix Rod and Gun Club. And needless to say, John often wins most of the 2700s he enters around the US.

And John shoots with a full 90 degree stance.

And an Olympic coach in the UK told me the 90 degree stance was preferred because everything is in alignment with the force of the shot. Using this stance, he said, there would be less tendency to “throw the shot off” by misaligned forces while the shot is still within but being accellerated out of the barrel, and that after the shot, recovery would be substantially quicker with the 90 degree stance.

This coach went on to say that I should hold my head straight, not leaning to either side, nor forward or back, because to do otherwise would affect my balance and stability. By keeping my head perfectly erect, my wobble would be less.

And again, in the “Pistol Marksmanship Guide”, see the photographs of shooters on pages 86, 92, 93, 99, 100, 103 and 104. These clearly show a stance much closer to 90 degrees (my “almost 90”) than to 45.

Finally, let me also note that people don’t always do what they think they are doing. Many shooters believe they are using a 45 degree stance but, in practice, they are actually using a much steeper angle, often close to the 75 degrees that Steve Swartz mentioned.

To test this claim, walk down the line at a Bullseye match and note the actual position of shooter’s feet. I believe you will notice that the majority of shooters are actually standing at a steeper angle than 45 degrees. It will be more like 60-75 degrees.

Let me recap this with three basic statements before ending this.

  1. What we say versus what we do are sometimes at odds.
  2. What is best is what works for you.
  3. And what works for you at one stage of development may not work at another.

Bullseye is a learning process. To grow you must change.

And to accomplish growth in a positive direction, you must identify areas causing problems or otherwise holding you back, and then figure out what changes are likely to, in the long run, improve your performance.

To that end, I have chosen to try and follow the advice of experts as exemplified in their actions as well as their words.

But in the area of grip, trigger and stance, I’ve previously been unable to bring all three together at the same time and in agreement with their recommendations.

And so I experimented and found, much to my surprise, that it is possible to achieve the recommended grip, and trigger, and stance all at the same time while simultaneously following all other recommended aspects. And to do so, one must use the 90 degree stance.

To be blunt, if your body is built like that of most humans, the only way to get your hand, wrist, arm, shoulder, body and eye all into a single line is to stand with your body at 90 degrees from the firing line.

And that alignment is what the experts recommend, and it’s what the experts practice.

And finally, I understand why.

Now all I have to do is put it into practice.

Give me a couple of years. I’ll be working on it.

When Zins Speaks, …

Brian Zins has won the US national bullseye (Conventional Pistol) competition at Camp Perry Ohio more times than most of us have shot Xs in a single target. Understandably, when Brian speaks, bullseye shooters listen.

Not long ago, Brian wrote to the bullseye-l mailing list about his grip. He said,

From: Zins GySgt Brian H [] 
Sent: Wednesday, January 30, 2008 12:19 PM 
Subject: [Bullseye-L] RE High and right 

        All shots that not on call are in some form or fashion anticipation. 
I would have to say that your problem is probably stemming from a grip 
issue. I will try to explain this the best that I can without actually 
having a visual for you to follow. 
Look at your hand 
The crease between the fatty portion below your thumb and pinky finger just 
above your wrist. 
The backstrap of the grip needs to go right between those fatty areas in 
that crease. 
Our hands are actually designed perfectly for shooting. As long as we use 
the shape of our hand to our advantage. If you put the mainspring housing of 
the gun on the either of the fatty parts, the gun will move in recoil. With 
a .45 anyhow, not so much with a .22. 
This will also help the gun align to your eye better without having to move 
your wrist to obtain sight alignment. 



Well, my 45 scores were dismal, repeatedly so. I had little to lose so I decided to try Brian’s grip.

After a little futzing around with the 1911 in my hand, I found something that seemed like what Brian was describing. Being a methodical (my wife uses a different, and four-letter, word) guy, I wrote down the details:

  1. Form the shooting hand as if you are about to shake hands with someone.
  2. Using the non-shooting hand, grasp the gun by the barrel (never put your hand in front of the muzzle!) and then press the gun into the shooting hand such that it contacts the web between thumb and forefinger first, and as high on the backstrap of the gun as possible.
  3. Still holding the gun with the non-shooting hand, wiggle the shooting hand to feel the “deepest” the bottom part of the backstrap can go in the grip — the “life-line” across the palm forms a V-shaped valley and the backstrap of the gun should “nest” into the center of that valley. The goal is to place the backstrap in an area where there is a minimum of “meat” between backstrap and bone. Rigidity and the absence (or minimum) of padding are the desired characteristics.
  4. Still pressing the gun in position, wrap the shooting hand around the gun and grasp it with the middle two fingers. In some hands, the middle two fingers grasp the gun very close to the second joint and, again, have a minimum of padding between bone and metal, and the fingers cross the front strap at about a 20 degree angle. The pads at the base of each finger (in the palm) are slightly in contact with the slab-side grip but exert little or no pressure.
  5. As you raise the gun to shoot and move onto the target, move the trigger finger into the trigger area as far as possible. For some, the trigger will be touching that finger just outside of the farthest joint but right next to the joint. As before, the goal is to have as little pad between trigger and bone as possible.

When I do this, it feels very odd especially at first. But the sights line up more naturally than before and, when they don’t, I know I didn’t screw the gun into my hand correctly and I stop and do it all over. Eventually, the alignment is correct, the feel is right (odd!), and my whole hand feels “clamped” — Brian’s word in other postings — around the gun.

It ain’t goin’ nowhere!

Dry-firing, the results are promising but in my inexperienced hand, not perfect.

On one hammer fall, the front sight will bob down. (That would’ve been a six o’clock 6).

On the next, the front sight jumps right and up. (Two o’clock something — did I anticipate?)

Then, down and left. (Jerk!)

My hand hurts from the pressure I’ve been exerting on the slab-sided grip but cannot maintain. That’s not what jerked the trigger — I did that by trying to make the hammer fall when I “willed it” to get the shot over (and release the painful pressure!) — but the lessened pressure made the front sight jump way down and left, not a 9, an 8 or a 7. No, that one probably was a weak 5 or, worse than that, a “Maggie’s Drawers”, a miss.

Take the gun out of your hand, I say to myself. Let the blood circulate for a few seconds.

Okay, screw it into your grip and try again.

Click! There — it didn’t move! (Or maybe I just wasn’t paying close enough attention?)

Again … Ah, a small jump that time, not a lot but it was there.

Come on, now, straight back. (I have to arch my trigger finger just a little to make that happen.)

Click. Yes, nothing moved.

By golly, this can work!

But again, my hand is aching.

After a few more dry-fire shots, that’s all I can do that day. It’s a strain gripping that hard.

“GTSOOI”, I wrote on a Post-It and stuck it inside my gun box. “Grip The S%!* Out Of It.”

As you may know, I travel a lot and occasionally shoot at different bullseye ranges when a local competition and my business assighments match up. But that’s the exception, not the rule. As a result, training and practice for me, much less formal competitions, are catch as catch can.

So it was barely a week after changing my grip that I had my first opportunity to try it on anything other than dry fire and, as ill-luck would have it, it was a formal competition.

And the results were dismal.

In a moment of less than stellar judgement, I shared my frustration with the list.

… I also found that when I didn’t do everything right, things got really, really bad in a hurry. the least little jerk seemed to take the round much farther away from “home” and, in more than one case, completely outside the scoring rings!

So now I’m “on the fence”.

Should I keep at the new grip which, when it works is very nice, or should I fall back to the old grip which is more forgiving?

I received a couple of mildly encouraging replies and then, to my surprise, a personal reply from Brian himself.

(Can I say we’re “buddies” now? Is one personal email sufficient?)

Brian wrote,

I would say stay with the new grip. The key is consistency and the grip may take a little getting used [to] but [in] the long run you will [be] much better off and more consistent. The reason things may seem to be more “out” when you make a mistake is probably because your hand is trying to do what it has done for so long and the combination of the two do not work. Give it time it will work for you.

All right, I thought. How long?

I decided to give myself three months, April, May and all of June.

Toward the end of April, I had shot a few times with the new grip technique, dry-fired a lot (50% of the days?), and more recently had noticed my hand feeling a bit less strained in the evenings.

I was quite sure that, accuracy aside, I was gaining a lot of grip strength. And one of the constants I had seen in other Bullseye shooters was that Master and High Master ratings often seem to go with upper-body strength.

Brian Zins is one tough-looking Marine. Woe be to he who doubts a Marine’s strength.

John Zurek swings hammer, pushes a saw and hauls lumber as a carpenter five days a week and sometimes on weekends building his own place.

Steve Reiter grew up on a farm. He’s no mouse-pusher.

They are all High Masters and they all have very good arm and shoulder strength.

Top bullseye shooters may be alike in other ways but, of this, I am convinced. If you want to shoot the 45 well, you need better than average, and possibly much better than average upper body strength.

In this day when mouse and keyboard dominate the skills used by many for 8+ hours a day, the 45 needs more, a lot more.

And I’ve also discovered that the Zins grip is utterly, maybe even “wildly”, intolerant of fat-fisted, limp-wristed, bendy-elbowed shooters.

Steel demands steel.

Power demands power.

If you want to shoot a powerful steel gun, you have to back it up with power and steel. If you don’t, the gun will run right over you and the shot will go the hell where it wants to go. You show the least little weakness and it’s gonna get ya.

But if you show strength and resilience, it’ll do exactly what you want.

Rule the gun!

When I GTSOOI, focus on the front sight, pressure the trigger straight back and get a (nearly) surprise break, it’s going in the X ring or damn close to it.

And when the shot goes anywhere else — and when it goes bad, it sometimes goes really bad — I blew one of the basics:

  • Crush the oil out of the grips and make my arm rigid, hand, wrist and elbow;
  • Pour all my attention into the front sight for alignment and forget the wobble no matter how interesting it might be;
  • Add straight-back pressure to drive the trigger directly into the top of my nose; and
  • … bang!

When it works, it is magnificent!

And when it fails, oh brother, is it bad!

Sometimes I know which one of the basics I messed up. But other times the shot is almost completely off the target and I won’t have a clue what I did wrong.

Imagine a target with 4 Xs, 3 tens, a 9, an 8 and a top right-hand corner of the target, way way way outside the 5 ring.

“Hey,” I want to shout, “who’s shooting on my target?”

But I know better. I am. It’s me.

I’m coming up to the end of the first month of my three month trial. The good news is it’s working. I can see the improvement, I can feel it working, and I have seen enough really good shots to know that I can shoot a “tenex” (10 Xs in one 10 round target) with this grip. It will happen. I will shoot it, and it will unquestionably be with this grip.

I shot the center-fire and 45 stages of a 2700 this weekend. I told the other shooters I skipped the 22 portion because my grandaughter was competing in the state finals in soccer which was true. (They won in triple overtime!) But it is also true that I am completely focused right now on the 45. I don’t want any scores going to the NRA from any other gun.

I want my Outdoor Expert rating to be based on that gun, the hard gun, the real gun.

And its coming, its coming.

Patience and perfect practice. Dry-fire, dry-fire and dry-fire.

I’m writing this flying to Huntsville Alabama and my 1911 is in checked baggage, cleaned and lubed after the competition, it is ready for dry-fire every evening at the Comfort Inn.

GTSOOI, front sight, straight-back, … click.

GTSOOI, front sight, straight-back, … click.

GTSOOI, front sight, straight-back, … click.


Today, Bruce Martindale summed up grip pressure very nicely. He wrote:

… my personal concept on grip pressure is that group size, as a function of grip pressure, is a U shaped curve and maybe it has a third axis for trigger sear weight.

Too loose grip gives bigger groups (trigger motion and recoil induced). Too tight also gives bigger groups (lack of trigger control). You can not grip tight and retain fine motor control of your finger. So what to do? “Just Right” tension that gives you trigger AND recoil control).

How much is that? Well you have to figure that out by training with “too much” and “too little” then “just right”. Call it the “3 bears” exercise.

Thanks, Bruce, that’s perfect!

Oh yeah, my wife knows me, all right. (See reference to “wife” herein.)

Stiff Arm

Last Sunday night, after shooting the 50 foot targets for the NRA Postal where my unofficial score was 534-6 out of 600-40 (there is no X ring in the two 50 foot Slow Fire targets) with a 96-3 on one of the Rapid Fire targets — not too shabby for this Marksman — a couple of the shooters stuck around for an hour of air pistol.

John Zurek was shooting his “Cadillac” top of the line and then some air pistol which I could never afford so pardon me for not remembering make and model. Regardless, John asked if I would like to try it.

You bet!

“Grip it like your 22,” he said, handing it over.

He set it for dry fire to let me get the feel of the trigger and the pistol’s balance. The electronic trigger was light but required enough effort that I was sure I wouldn’t fire it by accident. And knowing he was watching, I carefully tried to do my very best form as I dry-fired a couple of shots.

I said, “Okay, I’m ready to shoot now.”

But John, who had been watching me, said, “Do a couple more dry.”

Not sure why but trusting his watchful expertise, I did. After two more shots he said that it might help to change how I raised the gun.

What I was doing was keeping my arm straight as it came up but not my wrist. I was holding my wrist close to the correct position but not dead on. Only when I settled on the target would I get my wrist into the correct, final position. It had always bothered me that, when I raised the gun, the rear sight would be on the correct spot on the target but not the front. I always had to do the final adjustment with my wrist to put the front sight (or dot) in the right place.

John said that looseness was probably costing me some points, and not only in Rapid Fire where quickly regaining alignment is critical. He said if I reinforced that “muscle memory” earlier, my hold would be steadier all the time I was on target and my groups would be tighter.

Aha! Smaller wobble.

He said I should get elbow and wrist both in the correct position and lock them there before coming up from the table such that when the sights come on the aiming area, everything would already be lined up.

Good trick, I thought. Before raising the gun, my eye is glued to the target and my head is in the correct position. So, how do I line up the sights with the gun down there without looking?

To get there, I worked it backwards. That is, I aimed the old way (once) and then locked elbow and wrist. Holding that lock, I then lowered the gun to the table and, before relaxing, looked and “felt” my arm and wrist to remember where they needed to be.

“That’s where I want everything to be,” I told myself. I practiced by relaxing and then regaining the position and lock and then verifying alignment after raising my arm. I did this several times, and worked it backwards when it didn’t come out correctly.

I’ll be practicing this for a while to get it working but, yeah, this is definately good.

(Some who can, also teach.)

Thanks, John!

Look Ma, No Hands!

Shooting, I’m beginning to suspect, is like riding a bicycle. Intellectually you know what you have to do but as long as you have to think about it, you’re gonna crash.

I shot only my 22 at first but, a few months ago, decided to start working on the 45. I wanted to do the whole nine yards and shoot a full 2700 with the right guns and all the rules. Shooting just the 22, I felt like I was only putting my toes in the water. So I bought a 45 and jumped into the deep end.

I then focused solely on the 45 and shot nothing else. And my shooting was, to put it mildly, horrific. I kept moving the target closer and closer until, finally at 15 feet, I could put all ten rounds into the paper. Then, over time and a lot of rounds, I slowly started to get things under control. The target stayed at 15 feet for several weeks. This was a slow process for me. That, in itself, was an important “fact of life” for this beginner to learn.

Grip was the first “Eureka” I discovered. Before making what for me felt like a big breakthrough (which I’ll describe in a moment), all my shots were landing 3″ (or more) left of center at 15 feet. But when I “got it”, the shots moved into the center — the difference was profound and, by changing my grip in what I thought was a very small way, I could move the shots back and forth at will. That day at the range, I shot several targets and alternated my grip between them and, sure enough, I could move those holes left and right just by changing my grip. Wow!

It took me a couple of days to figure out that, up until that point, no matter how hard I tried to grip the gun, I just wasn’t strong enough to maintain that grip through the shot. My grip was that of the proverbial 98 pound weakling and I simply couldn’t muster enough force, even just short of the quivering and shaking point that is recommended, to hold the gun well enough, and to hold it that way through the shot.

But when my grip had strengthened to some magic level, then I could.

But even so, there still seems to be a “balance” to be found between grip intensity and enough “play” so my trigger finger can move without moving the rest of the hand muscles. When shooting, what I do now is to consciously grip as tight as I can and then relax it a couple of notches. My grip is still very tight but I can also move my trigger finger (more or less) independently.


In time, perhaps as my grip strength continues to increase, that balance range won’t be as narrow. Right now, it’s hard to get the right amount of grip versus relaxation so that everything “goes” as it should.

I feel like my abilities and strength finally reached the platform of a step on the learning curve where, suddenly, several things started working correctly.

With that “Eureka” successfully learned, I then turned my attention to trigger control and I have spent a couple of months (and a lot of brass) attempting to get rid of the jerk in all its front-sight twitching variants. In the past few days, literally, I think I’ve made a small breakthrough via a realization.

“Trigger Control” is a misnomer. You don’t control the trigger. Instead, it’s like riding a bicycle or driving a car with a stick shift and a clutch. Intellectually, you know exactly what you have to do, but there’s no way the mind can do it. The brain can help the body learn, but it just doesn’t work until the body “gets it” and can do it on its own. When my brain attempts to ride a bike, I crash, but when I let my body do it, I sail along just fine. In shooting, when that happens I — excuse me, gentlemen — giggle, “Wow, it’s working.” (And then “crash” my next shot cause I’ve start thinking about shooting again.)

When I shoot, the intellectual litany I repeat to myself now goes like this:

  1. Prove the stance (make sure I’m lined up, etc.),
  2. Two deep breaths, raise gun, exhale partially and hold,
  3. Pre-check sight alignment and picture (put it close to correct),
  4. Visualize rolling a cylinder with my trigger finger,
  5. Focus on the front sight, front sight, front sight …

And eventually the gun goes off — and it’s definately a surprise (when this works).

What I’m doing in step #4 will (hopefully) start the trigger finger on auto-pilot and then, in #5, I WILL NEVER THINK ABOUT THE TRIGGER AGAIN. That is, step #5 truly is a waiting game — when I do it the way I intend, [OH!] the gun goes off and I’m truly surprised. I know when I’ve done it right — I can feel it in my gut (and hear a giggle in my brain) and I *know* where the shot went on the target. I can call the shot — well, I can call the “o’clock” portion more often than which ring, but that’s real progress!

During step #5, if my mind wanders to the trigger or if I hear myself wondering when the gun is going to go off, I (try to) abort the shot and start over. Hearing that thought and then aborting the shot are, of course, a challenge. I need to work at enhancing my multiple personalities so someone can do the monitoring while someone else watches the sights and the body *does* the trigger.

So, I shot nothing but the 45 for several months.

One day, in great frustration with the 45, I decided I needed some “feel good” shooting and I took out the 22 pistol. It took me a couple of targets to settle back into it but what I discovered was that although my shots weren’t particularly better, I found I could call very close to 100% of them. I *knew* where every shot was going. “Trigger Control” was happening. I was riding the bike!

And, for some reason, Timed Fire was suddenly much, MUCH better. Indeed, on the wall behind my desk at this very moment I have taped up a 98-2 TF target I shot June 28th in 22 cal. It was target #8 of the day. The two 9-ring holes are at 10 and 4 o’clocks and probably show some trigger finger position anomolies and just plain not lining up the sights. But the target is on my wall because I now know I will clean a target at some point. I can see that I can do it. On June 28th, I came within two points of doing exactly that. It will happen.

But my slow fire is only a little improved from before, and a lot of other shooters report a similar phenomenon, that their TF is much better than SF (or RF).

Something is going on, and my guess (theory) is that I’m not really holding the alignment when the shot goes. My conscious mind is attempting to hold it, to focus on the front sight, keep it centered in the rear sight with the tops of the sights in a straight line, and in the aiming area of the target, and …

But I can see that, as with the trigger, I’m trying to do the sight alignment with my conscious mind. As it was with the trigger, so too (I’m beginning to think) must the sight alignment become automatic, and unconscious. The conscious brain has to keep the eye on the front sight so the unconsciou gets the right data, but you just can’t ride a bicycle by thinking about it. It’s got to be automatic.

In TF, there’s just enough time for my wobbly “riding” to stay on the sidewalk, if you will, and my shots go to the right place. But in SF I think about how to align the sights rather than simply telling the unconscious to “align the sights”, and by consciously trying to ride the bike, I crash.

Nope, I need to train the unconscious to do what I want, and then let it do it. And in RF, my conscious mind tries to control things to get all five shots away in time and, again, I crash the bicycle by trying to ride it with my brain not my body.

Remember how you learned to ride a bike? It took help, patience and a lot of practice. I’m told that Marine shooters are instructed to go out to the line and “Shoot until you’re knee deep in brass.”

They’re learning how to ride a bicycle.

They are doing it over and over and over and over … until the body knows what to do and the mind go just quietly watch the show.

And I’m convinced that through each gun we learn more and more about shooting any gun, but that each gun forces us to focus on different areas. From the 45 I think I’m figuring out the badly named “Trigger Control” bugaboo. And from the 22 I can “see” my problem with “Sight Alignment” — and that it’s really the same kind of “control” issue.

Since I’m really in “learn” mode much more than “compete effectively” mode, I focus on solely shooting one gun during practice/training sessions and, at the moment (and for a couple of months to come, I’m sure), that will be the 45. It’s a bear to shoot — what an incredible challenge — but I’m learning and slowly getting better, sometimes incrementally from practice to practice, but other times only after staying stuck, growing frustrated, and then suddenly experiencing a jump. “What did I just do,” is the question to answer when that happens in practice/training.

And there is the inevitable back-sliding, too. That can be so very frustrating when you’ve seen something working but then lose it somehow.


In competitions (such as the Tuesday night league here in Phoenix), I try to turn my brain off as much as possible and enjoy the shoot because, when the brain turns on (because I shot a pretty good target) the brain always tries to do it better, and when that happens, I crash my bike.

Don Plante said to me once, “Don’t think. Just shoot.”

Coach Pat, the ex-Marine pistol coach that calls our league competitions, sometimes walks behind the line before a string and reminds the shooters, “You know what DFT is, don’t you? ‘Don’t … Think!'”

And Brian Zins, seven times the US National Champion says, “I am not smart enough to shoot bad.”

Shooting is body work, not brain work.

It’s like riding a bicycle.

Well, almost like that but, fortunately for the other shooters on the line, there’s never any temptation to suddenly shout, “Look Ma, no hands!”

Arm Strength

Email posted to Bullseye-L

I have been surprised to find out, and I’m maybe even a little embarassed to admit, how important arm, and especially shoulder, strength is in all this. Seems obvious to me now but …

I keep a small handweight (3 lb. but am now thinking 5 lb. would be better) at my work desk and try to do several “reps” of simply holding it at arm’s length (as if I were holding my S&W 41) for several minutes, always trying for a few seconds longer, and then longer, and then longer. (Yes, I hold as long as I can each time, not just for a predetermined interval.) A few simple, up and down (with straight elbow) swings at the beginning and again at the end of each session feel good, too. When away from my desk, I’ve used dictionaries, soft drinks in fast-food restaurants and even my wallet but that’s usually an easy one, particularly after a trip to the gun store.

After several days of that exercise, I found my hold time at the range was MUCH better. With the extra strength and, more importantly, with the extra stamina that comes with it, I could afford to wait for the wobble to decrease and still have time to THEN take a deep breath, let out about half, hold it, and make a final check of sight alignment before starting that slow, straight-back squeeze.