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.

Memo #1 to Self

Sunday came with high hopes but that’s as far as it went.

The first target told the story: 22 Slow Fire, 84-0.

To make Expert, I needed an average of 90 across all forms and guns. And although things got better and I ended with 824-19 in that caliber, needing an 810 average, that gave me only a 14 point “hedge” against center fire and 45 caliber performance.

My 22 is often better, much better, and I was counting on it to pull up the scores in Center Fire and 45 to the needed 90% average for Expert.

This doesn’t look good for the Expert card today.

Changing to the wad gun I shoot in Center Fire, I knew I needed to do better than usual, and probably much better.

My mind was busy calculating scores as I began Center Fire.

And with the second Center Fire, it was over.

Oh my gosh, how could I butcher a target so incredibly bad!

Looking in the scope at the target 50 yards away, I could only see seven holes that were worth anything.

61-0 with two visible misses, and then one completely off the paper.


How could it get so bad?

I shook my head in disgust.

But I knew the answer: Ignore the basics and it goes to hell in a hand basket real fast.

In Bullseye, you just cannot let up. A moment of distraction and, “Bang,” into the berm outside of the target.

And that’s exactly what happened.

I was thinking about my scores and that Expert card, and didn’t think about the shot.

The shot. The one you’re doing right now. You’ve got to stay on that one shot and nothing else.

So there I was standing and looking at that dismal target and knew it was hopeless.

Should I pack up and go?

Go home and dig up the yard?

Or do I want to work through this, figure out what all is going wrong, and get back to where I can shoot most of the middle out of a target again?”

I’m not a quitter. As long as I’m safe to shoot, I’ll try to work through it.

So I sighed, had a quick snack of bitter crow in front of the other shooters, and then resigned myself to work my way through, to forge ahead and get back to the basics.

The first Slow Fire of the National Match Course in Center Fire was next.

I thought myself through the shot process.

I will focus on the dot. Then come into the aiming area. I’ll start the trigger straight back (feel my trigger finger arching to move it straight back, and then I’ll just hold it there, ignore the wobble, focusing on the dot, the dot, the dot and wait until it goes.

First shot. Do the process. “Bang!” That felt pretty good.

Let’s do it again.

And again.

After each shot I’d glance in the scope to see if it landed where I called it.

Most did.

But after seeing that one new hole, I went back to the shot process.

After the tenth shot was gone, I reloaded the magazines, clicked the dot down four clicks for the short line (next), set the screw driver on the table with the blade pointed toward me (meaning the sight was now set for the short line), and looked in the scope to tally the score.



I looked again, counted the holes, and then tallied the score a second time.

A 91-2 in Slow Fire?

I just shot a 91-2 in Slow Fire!

Damn! That’s good!! That’s real good for me!!!

Wait. What did I do? Why was that different?

I repeated the mantra to myself: Focus on the dot. Come into the aiming area. Start the trigger straight back … and then just hold it there, ignore the wobble, and wait for the shot to go.

And what did I not do?

I didn’t think about getting my Expert card.

I just thought about the next shot.

Timed and Rapid came and went as I worked to focus back on that basic process for each shot. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t, but even in the latter case, all the shots counted — there were no more misses, not in Center Fire and not later in 45.

With the three misses in Center Fire and the struggle to resurrect “how to shoot a good shot”, I ended with 772-12. That’s so short of the needed 810 that even that tiny corner of my mind that hoped against hope to still pull victory out of this disaster, even that gave up.

45 Rapid Fire: 94-1


45 caliber was next. Nine targets later, I saw my total: 802-14.

Still short of the needed 810 but, then again, if you look at the progress of a bad 22 performance followed by an utterly dismal Center Fire Slow Fire, and then the return to basics and the scores coming back up, well, that 802-14 actually looked pretty good.

If my 22 had “been there” and my Center Fire and 45 had been up to that same 802 level, I might have had enough for the Expert card.

But there was a much more important lesson here.

Indeed, if I were looking for a prime example of how thinking can mess up shooting, thia was it. I had started the day thinking, “I’m gonna earn my Expert card today,” and then became so preoccupied with that thought that I completely destroyed the possibility.

And as soon as I accepted the fact that I couldn’t get there and would, instead, go back to the basics and look no farther ahead than the next shot, it all started coming back.

My Expert card will come someday.

It will happen.

But I won’t get there by striving for it.

In some sports, you may be able to visualize that gold medal hanging around your neck and use that inspiration to help you get there.

But in Bullseye, your vision can’t be any further away than the end of the barrel or that red dot and this next shot.

Focus on this shot.

The Expert card is the mailman’s responsibility, not mine.

It’ll come with it comes.

Memo to self?

That’s easy. It’s to focus on the dot, come into the aiming area, start the trigger straight back and then just hold it there, ignore the wobble, and wait for the shot to go.

Anything else is noise.


I shoot Bullseye for several reasons. Those who know me can report that, yes, my #1 reason is for the camaraderie; I just plain like the people I meet who are shooting Bullseye.

But that’s not the only reason.

A sense of accomplishment is also important.

And with that also needs to be the knowledge that I’m getting better.

Well, the time has come to move up.

The NRA Pistol Rules rank competitors in several categories, among them are Indoor and Outdoor. My current Outdoor classification is Sharpshooter and it is there — outside — where I commonly shoot both 22 and 45 caliber guns, the latter having a heavier, and therefore more difficult, trigger.

My Indoor classification has been as an Expert and it is indoors where the 22 is more commonly fired. Indeed, some indoor ranges permit nothing larger. Consequently, shooters tend to do better.

But I’m now ready to move up. Indeed, I both want to get my Outdoor Expert card, and I think my shooting is just about ready as well.

The individual skill-levels are as follows.

Classification Percent 900 2700
High Master * 97 873 2619
Master 95 855 2565
Expert 90 810 2430
Sharpshooter 85 765 2295
Marksman less < 765 < 2295

My goal, the Expert class, needs a 90% mark. That is, I need to shoot an average of 810 points in Registered and Authorized 900s.

But scores are reported to the NRA for an entire competition. And, the NRA tallies “shots fired” as well as the score. In a 2700 I need to shoot at least 2430 as my total for the three 900s (3 * 810), and I need to “keep it up” at that level for at least 360 shots.

Within a competition, I can do better, or worse, on any given 900, as long as the average for the competition comes out at the 90% level.

For the 360 shots, at 10 points per shot, a 900 has 90 shots, and a 2700 has 270 — not enough. It takes four 900s, or a 2700 plus a 900 or, in my case, it will be two 2700s to accumulate the needed 360 shots.

For some time, my 22 scores have been around 840 to 850. If I shoot at that level outdoor, that will give me a 30-40 point “helper” on CenterFire and 45 scores. (And shooting 840 to 850, you can see that I could, on a good performance at several indoor matches, move up there as well — but I want to keep my Indoor and Outdoor classifications more or less in-line with each other. So I’ve been avoiding indoor Registered and Authorized matches for that reason.)

In the most recent outdoor matches, I’ve done better than expected. That’s especially true with my 45 caliber wad gun now that it has the roll trigger — thank you, Dan Norwood. It feels like I’m pressing on a soft pillow and, rather than needing to “build pressure” to break a shot, I now “keep it flowing”.

For the level of my ability at this time, the roll trigger is a real plus.

And tomorrow we shoot the President’s Day 2700 at the Phoenix Rod and Gun Club. It is an official event so the scores will be reported to the NRA.

And the following weekend has a second, and also to be reported, 2700.

If I can shoot both 2700s and score 2430 or better in each one, then the record of my most recent 360 (or more) shots will make the grade.

I want an Outdoor Expert classification.

That goal, and the determination to get there, will be driving my focus and attention for the next two Sundays.

Align the sights in the aiming area and then move the trigger straight back without disturbing the sights.

10s and Xs!


* Note:
Above High Master, there are the unofficial 2650 (98.1%) and 2670 (98.8%) clubs. Performance at these levels is truly stunning, especially when you take into account that this is not for one shot, but for a repeated performance over at least 270 individual shots.

Trigger Weight Surprises

Recently I mentioned that I had the trigger weight on my IZH-46M air pistol cranked up to the maximum. I did this to practice with a heavy trigger.

Today, I decided to measure it. And while I was at it, I weighed triggers on my other guns as well.

But before weighing triggers, I thought it might be a good idea to calibrate the trigger pull scale itself. It’s just a simple spring and indicator, after all. How accurate could that be?

For the calibration, I made up some home-made samples of known weight. They are plastic baggies with different quantities of 200 grain LSWC bullets. The bullets were, in turn, spot-sampled on an RCBS Digital Powder Scale that I use when reloading. According to that scale, the bullets were within 0.1% of their 200 grain weight.

I reasoned that if the two scales came within a few percentage points of each other, I could accept their answer.

So, I counted out 35 of them (35 x 200 grains = 7000 grains = 1 pound). I did that four times to check the trigger pull gauge at 1, 2 and 4 pounds to more or less span the trigger weights I expected to find. I then weighted each calibration weight six times to make sure my “pick up the bags” technique was consistent.

Here’s what I got.

Calibration Weights
Avg Error
35×200 gr LSWCs
(1.000 pound)
1.125 1.125 1.000 1.000 1.000 1.125 1.063 1/16th lb.
70×200 gr LSWCs
(2.000 pounds)
2.125 2.125 2.125 2.125 2.125 2.125 2.125 1/8th lb.
140×200 gr LSWCs
(4.000 pounds)
4.250 4.250 4.250 4.250 4.250 4.250 4.250 1/4th lb.

Basically the RCBS Trigger Pull Scale is off by 6.5% and is always higher than reality. (I wish RCBS made a bathroom scale like this — knowing it is 6.5% heavy, I could back 10+ pounds off what such a scale would say I weigh.)

That isn’t bad. Not bad at all. For just a “simple spring with an indicator”, you might even say that’s pretty darn good.

So with the trigger pull scale calibrated, I was ready to measure the triggers on my guns.

And, Voila! Here they are.

Trigger Weights
Air Pistol
Springy 4.750 4.875 4.625 5.375 4.375 5.000 4.833
Crosman 2300S
Air Pistol
Long roll 3.250 3.000 2.875 2.750 3.125 3.000 3.000
S&W 41
(Main 22)
Crisp 1.750 1.750 1.875 1.500 1.875 1.750 1.750
Ruger Mk III
(Backup 22)
Medium roll 2.250 2.250 2.125 2.625 2.250 2.750 2.375
1911 #1
(Wad gun)
Crisp 4.625 4.875 4.750 4.500 4.625 4.750 4.688
1911 #2
(Ball gun)
Crisp 5.000 5.250 5.000 5.125 4.875 4.625 4.979
S&W 36
SA: Short roll 3.000 3.000 3.250 3.000 3.000 3.125 3.063
S&W 36
DA > 8.000 > 8.000 > 8.000 > 8.000 > 8.000 > 8.000 > 8.000

The trigger weight on the IZH-46M was, as expected and as desired, high at nearly five (5) pounds.

I set it that way to help my ball gun shooting but, now that I look at the numbers, I’m surprised.

You see, and to be completely frank, I find the IZH-46M substantially easier to shoot even though its trigger and that of the ball gun are almost the same.

Part of the reason must be the feel of the two triggers. The air gun’s trigger is “springy” and as I add pressure, it moves. I like that. On the other hand, the ball gun’s trigger is “crisp”: As I add pressure, nothing happens until, suddenly, it breaks. And I don’t like that. Indeed, on days when it seems harder than usual to break a shot, I find myself wondering if the safety is still on, or maybe the hammer isn’t cocked, or any of a number of other worries creep in. And with that, my head is no longer in my shot plan.

When that happens, I need to put the gun down and get back into the plan.

So that small difference in feel makes a huge difference in how difficult or easy I think the two triggers are to operate. A smooth release of the air pistol’s trigger is easier to do than that crisp break on the ball gun.

Of course, anticipation of the size of the bang and recoil of one versus the other is also a significant factor. Although those aren’t supposed to affect how I release the shot, my gut tells me this is also happening. I know the ball gun has a big bang and throws a big recoil and, psychologically, that’s also making it harder to get off a clean shot from the ball gun.

Afterthought: The 1911 also demands a much harder grip pressure for several reasons including the functioning of the slide, to route the recoil up the arm and shoulder into the body, and to bring the gun back on target in preparation for the next shot. That tighter grip makes independent movement of the trigger finger more difficult. The harder I grip, the harder it is to move the trigger finger.

The air gun, on the other hand, could be fired with an extremely light grip. The recoil powers nothing, is almost nil, and with only a single-shot available, there’s no need to quickly get back on target (other than follow-through which isn’t as time sensitive.) While a light grip is counterproductive for accuracy and, consequently, I do “hang on” pretty good to the air pistol, nonetheless, I don’t have to grip it as hard. It is easier, therefore, to control the movement of my trigger finger with that gun.

Bottom line: A five pound trigger on an air pistol is not much like a five pound trigger on a 1911. But it still makes for good “trigger control” practice so I will continue with this arrangement.

Funny what weighing triggers leads into, isn’t it?

I then weighed the triggers on my 22s and you can see that the S&W 41’s trigger is underweight. It should be a minimum of two (2) two and a half (2.5) pounds. The check weights showed the RCBS trigger pull scale to be on the heavy side so the S&W 41’s trigger is even lighter than these numbers indicate.

The Ruger Mk III 22 has Volquardsen parts and shoots with a medium roll. As you can probably anticipate from what I wrote above, I absolutely love the trigger on this gun. (Indeed, the Crosman 2300S has an even longer roll — about a mile and a half by my estimation — thanks to some minor gunsmithing on my part and a sheet of 2000 grit sandpaper from the auto refinishing store.) Unfortunately, at 2.375 pounds, that trigger is under the 2.5 pound minimum.

My biggest surprise, however, was the wad gun’s trigger. It averaged out at slightly over 4.5 pounds. The rulebook says it can be as light as 3.0 3.5 pounds. And a couple of years ago, that’s where it was. Somehow between then and now, that trigger has increased almost 50% in weight. That’s a lot.

And the ball gun’s trigger at 5 pounds is also high.

To complete the suite, I decided to measure my “pocket buddy” too, my S&W 36 snubby that rides around in an Uncle Mike’s Sidekick and rarely sees the light of day. In single action, it is a very clean and highly repeatable 3 pound break. In fact, after going through and testing all my guns in a relatively short period of time, I’d have to say it probably has the best trigger of all my guns. Nice work, Smith & Wesson. (And not surprisingly, the double action trigger weight was higher than the 8 pound limit on the RCBS trigger pull scale so I couldn’t weigh the trigger in that mode.)

In summary then, three four of my guns need attention. The 41 and the Mk III are below weight while the wad and the ball gun are both much too high.

As I recall, the 41’s adjustment is fairly easy to change. There’s a lever somewhere that needs to be moved. I’ll pull out the book or check online to see if that’s something I can do.

But the two 1911s and the Ruger need an expert gunsmith. And given that I really like roll triggers, I need to find a gunsmith who can do that on the 1911s, and the longer the roll the better. From previous checking I know that’s not your run-of-the-mill trigger job.

And with the Bullseye championships taking place next week at Camp Perry in Ohio, most of them will be there having fun, not sitting at home wishing he were there.

But since I can’t be there, then I’ll wish all of you lots of Xs and tons of 10s!

Mouse-Finger versus Trigger-Finger


Rest your hand on the table, palm down, in a relaxed and slightly arched shape.

Tap it with your trigger finger.

That’s mouse-finger and, if you’re reading this on-line, it’s probably something you did to get here; you clicked a link or a button with your computer mouse.

And if you use the mouse a lot, you’ve probably become very good at positioning it quickly and then clicking or double-clicking. Your motor skills have probably become second nature. You see what you want on the screen and you click it.

Over the last two decades since computer mice have come into common use, I’ve used them for many hours just about every day. As a result, I’m good with the mouse. Real good, in fact. So good that my double-click speed adjustment in Windows is at the maximum.

Mouse Double-Click Speed
To adjust your double-click speed in Windows, click Start and then Control Panel, double-click Mouse, select the Buttons tab and move the Double-click speed slider left or right and try double-clicking the folder in that same area.
Mine is at the maximum setting.

That’s mouse-finger.

Now imagine you’re holding a gun in that hand and your finger is resting on the trigger and you want to shoot something … Now!

Those motor skills I’ve practiced daily for twenty years are going to take over and I’m almost certainly going to use mouse-finger on the gun — remember, that’s what I’ve practiced on a daily basis — and mouse-finger is going to push the muzzle, and the shot, left.


Well, no, that’s not really a “jerk” even though the end result is practically the same.

Jerking is when you anticipate the sound and the recoil of firing a gun and your grip and body flinch before the bang. (The body is starting toward a fetal position to protect itself.)

That’s a jerk.

Mouse-finger, on the other hand, pushes left and there can also be a downward component too as we’ll see in a minute, but the source of the movement, the reason for these movements is not a flinch. It’s the body trying to click the mouse (down) rather than push the trigger (back).

There is a 90 degree difference. One is “down” while the other is “back”.

And to see where the downward movement comes from in all this, we need to shift to the the trigger-finger motion.

So, put your hand back on the table.

This time, however, imagine your finger tip is gently touching something soft and gentle (!). With that thought in mind, use your forefinger to gentle caress it.

OK, bring your mind back from erotica-land, please.

Focus attention on the gentle stroke. There are several things to notice about this action as compared to mouse-finger.

First, the direction of movement now is back toward your wrist not down into the table.

Second, the speed of movement is dramatically slower than before.

And third, it is a gentle movement, not abrupt like mouse-finger.

This is how the trigger should be moved when releasing a shot.

But we’re not quite done yet.


Rest your hand on the table again, palm down as before with that same relaxed arch.

Moving only the trigger finger, move it over so it touches the middle finger.

Now try that caressing motion.

Can you move it straight back without moving the rest of the hand?

I can’t!

With my trigger finger “down” toward the middle finger, when I try to bring it straight-back, my whole hand arches.

Oh it’s true that if I “aim” the motion toward the base of my thumb, the finger can move and the hand remain still but I’m not moving straight back. My trigger finger is moving “up” to do that.

Conversely, if you scoot the trigger finger over toward the thumb and then try to move it straight back, the tip of the finger draws a gentle arc on the table-top.

Again, I can’t move it straight back.

So, trigger-finger is most naturally accomplished when the fingers are in their most natural and relaxed position. Ideally, this is how the gun should fit your hand.

If your fit isn’t perfect like this, then you’ll have to learn to move the trigger straight back in an unnatural (for you) movement. The more awkward the fit, the more challenging the motion.

Custom target-shooter grips attempt to put the hand in a natural position. This will be instantly obvious the first time you take hold of grips that fit your hand.

All others require some touchy-feel’y experimentation to find that position where “straight-back” happens most naturally.

So, here are the rules:

  1. Mouse-finger bad;
  2. Caress-finger good; and
  3. Natural hand position including all fingers is also good.

And feel (!) free to substitute your own word for “caress”.

But keep your mind on shooting because that’s a dangerous object you hold in your hand.

(So’s that other object but that’s not for blogging!)

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.


I skipped coffee in the interest of stability. Maybe that’s what I did wrong.

I ate a high-protein breakfast 90 minutes before first shot so my brain would have the needed molecules for concentration. Maybe that’s what I did wrong.

I disassembled, wiped down and otherwise lightly cleaned the wadder the night before. Maybe that’s what I did wrong.

My finger didn’t feel right on my model 41’s trigger. Maybe that’s what I did wrong.

And I really wanted to shoot scores a level above my current NRA Outdoor Sharpshooter rating. Maybe that’s what I did wrong.

Patching a five [barely]

Or maybe it was just just gonna be an all-around “bad day”.

It sure seemed determined to go that way.

In a word, my shooting was terrible. Nothing seemed to go right. I thought of packing it in early but decided that “quitters never win” and I’d try to see it through. But things just went downhill because after a dismal 22, CF was worse, and then the 45 competition started no better.

Then, adding insult to injury, after the Slow Fire of the National Match Course for the 45, I noticed that the dot on the wadder seemed loose. I grasped it and gave it a wiggle. Yup, sure enough, it was not secure. A vision of the scope coming loose in recoil and bonking me in the forehead as had happened to Leslie flashed through my mind.

Even if it doesn’t come loose, I reasoned, I’ll be thinking about it coming loose instead of concentrating on my shot.

I’ve got to fix this or change guns.

A quick inspection revealed that the bolt holding the front ring to the slide rail had loosened. I started to re-tighten the bolt but, as it began to snug down, something didn’t feel right. When it should have become tight, it felt mushy.

Oh no, I thought. The threads are stripping out.

I stopped turning and hoped it would stay sufficiently snug for the remaining targets but, after the NMC Timed Fire, I could wiggle the front bolt by hand. It wasn’t gonna hold and the whole thing might come away on any shot.

“I’ve got a gun failure here. One of the scope rings is coming loose. Can someone official witness this so I can switch to my backup, to my ball gun?”

From down the line Don yelled, “Wait, what kind of a mount is it?”

He came down, looked and said, “I’ve got a new one of those in the truck. I’ll get it and we can put in a fresh bolt.”

Two minutes later, it was in place.

“That should hold you for the match,” Don said.

But after the first target of the Timed Fire match, it was loose again. Apparently the receiving threads inside the scope mount were also gone.

Turning to the shooter on my right who’d been tallying a good number of Xs and 10s all day, I asked, “Will you verify this?” I wiggled the now loose red dot again. “I’m gonna have to change guns mid-match because this one is disabled.” He agreed. I put the wadder away and took out the ball gun which, luckily, shoots my wad loads just as well as ball ammo.

So, I finished the 2700 on that gun and, incidentally, posted some slightly better scores than I had with the loose-dotted wad gun.

But regardless, with bad 22, center fire and several poor to mediocre 45 scores, my aggregate for the day, 2281-25, was awful, really awful. Indeed, that score was below the SharpShooter baseline (85% of 2700 is 2295) so I didn’t even shoot my qualification this day.


“Ball match, anyone?”

Well, I thought, what the heck. It can’t get much worse. And my arm actually feels reasonably Okay and, after all, I do like shooting that ammo and the iron sights.

“I’ll shoot,” I volunteered, “but I need a couple of minutes to clean the barrel after running the wad ammo through it.”

While I cleaned the ball gun’s barrel, most everyone else packed up. Oh well, I thought, that just means fewer folks to lose to.

Three of us shot ball, one comparative newbie a couple of positions down to my left, myself and the guy to my right who’d been scoring my bad targets all day but who shot his own very well. I thoroughly expected to get trounced by a bunch of points by him.

But maybe I can beat the newbie, I thought.

I went to Don and bought a box of factory ball Aguila. It’s cheap, kicks like a mule, flies better than I can shoot and, after resizing, the brass would be reloadable.

And I shot a very good Slow Fire target, very good for me at least, an 85-1.

All right! I *do* like shooting these iron sights.

Timed Fire wasn’t quite as good but, at 80-0, still “in there” for my ball scores.

But even with that score, I noticed that my trigger control was better than it had been with the wad gun and its red dot. Not seeing the target clearly is a good thing.

And maybe some luck was with me because, glancing over at my “good shooter” neighbor’s score card, I saw he wasn’t doing very well with the ball gun. Indeed, my Slow Fire was better than his and our Timed Fire had been about the same. I was actually a couple of points ahead. The beginner farther down the line, well, he was doing like beginners do. I know, I’ve been there many times.

But I was doing pretty good and the pretty good shooter to my right wasn’t.

A very dangerous thought crossed my mind:

I could win this admittedly small and not very tough competition. Yes, by golly, I could win this match.

Instantly the other half of my mind jumped in:

No! Stop! Shut up! Don’t think that! Be quiet!
Just focus on the next shot. Remember: front sight, alignment, aiming area, front sight, trigger straight back, front sight, front sight, front sight.
Now be quiet and just shoot.

We shot the first string of Rapid Fire. Some good, some bad.

I resisted the urge to scope the target.

Second string and again, some good, some not so good.

I put the gun away.

Naked eye from the firing line, I could see some holes in the black near the center but I knew I’d jerked a couple also. I folded up the scope without looking through it.

What’s done is done.

I scored the beginner’s target: Yup, he’s out of the running. A good try but really losing it on the Rapid Fire.

Now for my target.

Hmmm. It had a couple of Xs and a couple of 10s. Those looked very nice. But my target also a 5 — lower left, of course. My score was 78-2.

I had gone downhill over the three targets in the ball match. There were some good shots, yes, but there were also some bad ones.

My final score for the ball match was 243-3.

So, I wondered, what had Bob shot on his last target?

It looked like he’d done better than me, but how much?


“Hi Bob, how’d you do? What’s your total?” I asked.


Trying not to let my voice waver, I asked, “Uhm, how many Xs?”

“It was a bad match, for me. No Xs.”

He shot 243-0, I shot 243-3 … I won? I won. I won the ball match!


I don’t care there was hardly anyone shooting.

I don’t care if none of us were very good.

I won! I won the ball match! Yahoo!!

What a great day!

Finesse the Trigger

See that stack of rocks?

That’s Steve Reiter, national champion Bullseye shooter many times over.

I call him a “stack of rocks” because if you finish your Slow Fire early and sit down to watch, he looks like an utterly immobile stack of rocks that’s been like that for a couple of millenia. Nothing moves. The wind blows but nothing moves. A cloud hides the sun, nothing moves. A bird flies across the range but nothing, not even a muscle in his beefy, farm-boy arm moves.


Now there’s no way I’m going to be able to stand that still. While I do have my better days when the wobble nearly stops for a second or two, when that happens, I so dearly want the gun to go “Bang” but, invariably, if I will it, I jerk it.

Years ago, Coach Pat had me hold the gun and do everything except pull the trigger. He did that. As a team, we shot a ten, two nines, an eight and a seven with five shots. Coach’s lesson was that my “hold” was the seven ring even though my shooting (by myself) had a lot of fives and sixes.

He said, “Your problem is trigger control. Move the trigger straight back.”

“Level and smooth,” he would croon as I would try to follow his teaching.

So, I’ve learned to do a lot of dry-fire and to watch and see what the front sight does when the hammer falls. And recently, I’ve been seeing the front sight take a little bob downward. Sometimes I put the gun down, rest a moment and try again and it goes away. But other times, it’s still there and ultimately I decide to stop because I’m obviously teaching myself to do the wrong thing. But what am I doing that causes it?

Not long ago, our car had a slight pull to the left. To compensate, we drove with a slight pressure to the right, not much, just enough to offset the left pull. The car goes perfectly straight as long as you keep up the pressure.

Pressing the trigger back on the 1911 and holding the gun really tight can end up in a similar situation. If your trigger pressure isn’t perfectly straight, a strong grip can exert a counter-pressure and end up holding the gun perfectly straight.

But unlike the car, at some point the trigger hooks release the hammer. At that instant, the trigger floats free for a fraction of a second before bottoming out on the over-travel adjustment. During that fraction of a second, whatever unaligned force your trigger finger was adding is suddenly removed and the compensating force from your grip that was previously offsetting the crooked trigger pressure is released, and the nose of the gun twitches out of alignment.


I once asked the members of the Bullseye-L emailing list how long it took, with everything in place and all lined up, from the time they committed to firing a shot to when the gun went off. Answers varied but the norm seemed to be somewhere between a half and a couple of seconds, no more than 2-3.

But when I watch Steve Reiter, I think it’s longer, much longer.

Same with John Zurek. I know because I asked him what he was doing for the 30+ seconds I watched him routinely hold.

John said, “Movin’ the trigger straight back.”

Here’s an interesting observation: The harder you grip the gun, the more it will mask a mis-aligned trigger pull, and you’ll only know it when the hammer drops.

Oops, too late!

With a very strong grip, mis-aligned trigger pressure can’t be seen before the hammer falls.

A gentler grip, on the other hand, will immediately show poorly directed trigger pressure; it will push the front sight away from alignment. Long before the shot breaks, you’ll see the sights being pushed out of alignment.

Brian Zins says he “steers” the front sight with his trigger finger. He calls the sights his “trigger purity indicator.”

A word comes to mind: finesse. says finesse refers to “slowing down and using smaller lures, line, and rods.”

And in Bullseye, perhaps it can mean using a less-than-crushing grip and finer “control” of the trigger.

Finesse the trigger.

Practice: Moving the Trigger Straight Back

Don’t have an unloaded handgun to practice with? No problem. Here’s how to practice moving the trigger finger straight back. You can do this standing or sitting, any time day or night. All it needs is your attention and a credit card.

  1. Hold your arm, wrist and fingers the same as when you are holding the handgun.
  2. Hold a credit card vertically in your hand between the point on your trigger finger where you place the trigger and the web between thumb and finger where the back of the gun normally sits. Only the trigger finger and the web should touch the credit card.
  3. Check the alignment: You should be seeing the credit card “edge on”. Eye, “front sight” and “rear sight”, the vertical edges of the credit card, should all be lined up.
  4. Focus on the near edge of the credit card and then slowly pressure the trigger finger straight back.
  5. The credit card should stay perfectly aligned with the eye.

Do you also have a GripMaster exerciser?

  1. Hold it upside down and low in the hand with the middle two gripping fingers on what are now the “top” two finger spring pads. Note that, as when holding a handgun, the middle joint of the gripping fingers, not the finger tips, will hold the GripMaster.
  2. Then, add the credit card between trigger-finger-position and web similar to before.
  3. Compress the springs of the gripmaster with the middle two fingers and, thereby, grip the “gun” (GripMaster).
  4. Focus on the credit card as before and pressure the trigger finger straight back. You should continue to see the credit card “edge on” at all times.


  1. Hold the GripMaster normally.
  2. Fully compress the middle two springs with the middle two fingers.
  3. Practice pressing the trigger finger spring slowly but fully.
  4. Note that the middle two springs must be fully compressed throughout this exercise. If they aren’t, when the trigger finger spring is pressed, it will change the tension on the middle two springs and everything will move as you pull the trigger. Instead, you want everything to remain locked and still as you move the trigger. This is called “trigger finger independence”.

FYI: If you are shooting 45 ACP 1911 or other large caliber handgun, you will probably want the “heavy” (9 lb. spring) model GripMaster ( (Their webpage lists this model as appropriate for those needing to do “weapon retention”.)