Basic Handgun Marksmanship Skills- Part 1, by Mark Bunch

These days, we “evil gun owners” are blamed for all sorts of despicable acts. Acts such as the horrible terrorist shooting/mass murder in California.  Muslim extremists used legally purchased weapons that they had been given by a friend of theirs. Typical of our leftist, non-American former President and his liberal communist-minded minions, their message was to blame gun owners, the NRA, and the ease of availability of firearms for that senseless incident of terror. To their way of thinking, it couldn’t possibly be because some Muslim terrorist hated our culture and simply wanted to kill as many of us as he could.

Basic Handgun Marksmanship

Most Americans could benefit from some basic “firearms 101” education, if only to better understand firearms. Guns do not kill people; people kill people. And every firearm that I possess, combined, has been used to kill fewer people then Ted Kennedy’s car. Firearms are simply tools that are used for all sorts of sporting purposes as well as self defense and target shooting.

Basic Handgun MarksmanshipLike all tools, firearms need to be properly cleaned and maintained in order to work reliably and to give you good results. Becoming proficient with a firearm is a little bit science, a little bit art, and a whole lot of practice. Firearms proficiency is a diminishing skill that takes practice to acquire and to maintain. All firearms require practice handling and shooting to gain and maintain that proficiency. But handguns are the most critical and the most difficult to do this with.


Handguns have a very short sight radius when compared to a rifle or shotgun. Because of this, a handgun’s performance is easily affected by our breathing, our hold on the gun, body position, stance, and trigger control. In my opinion, it takes approximately 50 rounds per month to maintain your proficiency with a handgun once you have already acquired said proficiency. That equates to a lot of ammo. In fact, it requires 600 rounds per year times how ever many years you wish to remain proficient. If you wish to maintain your skill set for 10 years, that is 6,000 rounds of ammo that will be required.

Twenty years translates into 12,000 rounds of ammunition that you will need. At this rate, you haven’t even had to defend yourself or protect your family. I talk to lots of people about firearms who think that if they have two or three boxes of ammo, that they have all they need. That line of reasoning is completely misguided and dangerous. What if you are not able to obtain ammo in the future? Consider how long you will remain proficient with the amount of ammo you have on hand.Basic Handgun Marksmanship

We Do What We Practice

We all do things like we practice. If you never practice, I can guarantee you that if you ever need to use that gun to defend your life or the lives of your loved ones, you will get a poor result. When you do practice, make sure you practice in a realistic fashion. Yes, that nice bench rest and set of sand bags are great for testing out new loads and getting your handgun zeroed, but you are probably not going to get jumped at the gun range. It is going to happen in some back alley somewhere or when you are minding your own business walking in the park. Practice engaging targets free hand, just like you might have to in the real world.

Right Eye or Left Eye Dominant

Do you know if you are right eye or left eye dominant? I am convinced that once upon a time a considerable amount of children who started out being left handed were corrected and made to do things right handed since this was considered to be normal. I even recall once as a first or second grader seeing one of my teachers correcting a little boy who was drawing left handed. The teacher made him color right handed. No doubt, he eventually learned how to color and write with his right hand. However, that probably also caused that young man some issues down the road, especially if he ever took up shooting.

I have taught many people to shoot who had the exact same problem. They were left eye dominant and right handed. That is generally a recipe for disaster, when it comes to handgun proficiency and accurate handgun shooting, unless the issue is correctly identified and proper training is received.Basic Handgun Marksmanship

Finding the Dominate Eye

A good way to test yourself is to pick out an object 15 or 20 feet away from you, such as a light switch or door knob. Then extend your right index finger in front of you. Keeping both your eyes open, superimpose your finger over the object you are looking at. It might take you a time or two to get the hang of this, but once you have it figured out where your finger is covering the object then close your left eye.

If nothing perceptible happens and your right index finger is still covering your target, then you are in fact right eye dominant. If your finger seems to suddenly jump off of your target then you are left eye dominant. You can still shoot proficiently right handed, if you are left eye dominant, you just need to make sure you close your left eye and teach yourself to use your right eye.

Using your dominant left eye while shooting your handgun right handed is going to seriously impact your ability to shoot accurately. No doubt there are people out there who have mastered this technique; however, the other 99 out of a hundred of you are going to need to know this and make the appropriate adjustments. Another option is to shoot left handed and take advantage of your being left eye dominant. I have successfully instructed people to switch over; however, as a general rule, it is way easier to simply close your left eye, since you already have lots of experience being right handed.

Bone Support and Stance

Two of the most overlooked aspects of basic handgun marksmanship are bone support and stance. Simply put, this is the way you support and hold your handgun and your shooting platform. There are several different positions that all seem to work reasonably well depending on your body mechanics and preferences. They all utilize the concept of bone support in stabilizing your shooting platform so you can aim and fire consistently.

I know numerous shooters who all use different positions effectively so you will need to try them all to see what you like the best. Isosceles stance is where you keep both your feet shoulder width apart with both your hands extended gripping your handgun. Your feet are both equidistant to your target. Your elbows, wrists and shoulders are in the locked out position to stabilize your grip and aim. Legs are slightly bent at the knees making your shooting position very solid.

The other common positions are referred to as the Weaver stance and the modified Weaver or fighting stance. These positions differ from the isosceles stance. It will more closely resemble a fighting stance with one foot further toward your point of aim/target. Your weak arm or support arm/hand will be slightly bent at the elbow. This provides you greater forward and back support with slightly less side to side flexibility. I prefer the modified Weaver stance. I find it much more stable on uneven terrain and much easier for beginning shooters to master.Basic Handgun Marksmanship

Safety, Safety, Safety

If every single person who ever handled a firearm should keep this statement in mind. There would never be any accidental shootings. I have always taught all of my students to consider every firearm they ever see or handle to be loaded. Then, there are some other general rules that go right along with this idea of the firearm being loaded:

  • Do not point any firearm at anyone. Be conscious of your muzzle and the direction that it is pointing at all times.
  • Never simply pull the trigger to find out if it the gun is loaded.
  • Keep your finger off the trigger until you have unloaded the firearm. Check to see if it is in fact unloaded.
  • Get yourself into the habit of always checking the chamber of any firearm after removing the magazine from the gun. Swing out the cylinder on a revolver, or break open a single shot. As Forest Gump probably said, “Safety is as Safety does.”

In Part Two of this article, we will take a look at choosing a handgun. We will also get comfortable and proficient with it. Finally we will train under pressure.

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  1. Regarding use and amount of ammo suggested for pistol use in this article. I would say everyone I know, lets say people I know who have a gun in any form runs somwhere around 600 people. Zero are training monthly. I read these suggestions of shoot “x” amount a month etc and always laugh. Many of us are not blessed with large private land ownership,local shooting places etc. Some are not even financially capable of justifying an extra $15 a month on ammo, much less a $1000 stockpile. Realizing most people will never be proficient but encouraging pro 2a is perhaps just as important. Knowing about your firearm and how to use is more important than round count. Yes practice makes pefect, but if i need my neighbor to back me up, i sure as heck don’t care of his average round count. What I need is to know him, trust him and then invite him tot the range!

    1. Hi Jeff, I am glad you found my suggestion to train on a monthly basis entertaining and if that thought process works for you and those other 600 people who have every excuse under the sun to not train on a monthly basis, then more power to you. In anything you choose to do, the more you do it the better you will be. When it comes to firearms proficiency you will be as good as you practice and if you never practice for whatever reason you have named or any other you might have thought of since then, your skills will match the amount of practice you have chosen to do. That is a simple fact…

  2. My wife is right handed…and blind in her right eye. We have spent much time and money (ammo and holsters) getting here proficient in shooting with her left hand. Like good shooters, she does cross-hand train, and she still feels that she should be shooting right handed. Since she has grown up with mono-vision, no “3-d vision” to speak of, can she just use her right hand as her primary?

    1. Why doesn’t she just lay her head over on right shoulder and sight using her left eye. In the 80’s this was taught using the title of “The Quale System” (almost certain of name), I have used that system and became good at it in case my right eye became injured. In law enforcement we always taught our recruits to find a way to stay in the fight.

    2. All you need to do when shooting a handgun with your off hand is move your dominant eye over the sights. It becomes problematic when shooting a long gun and the stock will need to be altered to get her left eye over the sights or she will need to shoot left handed.

    3. Hi Pat, obviously any physical limitation that a shooter has, your wife as an example will need to be addressed in your practice sessions at the range. The short answer to your very good question is Yes, she can just use her right hand if that is more comfortable and more natural for her.

      You didn’t mention what distances you practice at, but I am pretty sure you must be doing something like 3, 7 and maybe 15 yards. I am not sure what type of handgun your wife is using either, which could make a difference in my recommendation to you so I shall try to explain as clearly as I can for you and for her.

      First of all, if she is shooting right handed and using her left eye you will need to know what that does to her bullet impact at each distance, vs what her bullet impacts using her left hand and left eye in combination together are. It may not move her impact strike much if at all under controlled, ie relaxed conditions. However, under stressful, OMG I am being chased by El Chupa Cabra situations, she may find that there is a larger impact change from shooting left handed while using her left eye.

      Under stress, the brain and all your senses are heightened to dramatic levels and the only way to actually know whether shooting right handed while using her left eye is going to need to be adjusted for is to induce some pressure and let her shoot.

      Get a timer that blows a whistle or makes an audible noise to start and have her train while she shoots. Its always good to shoot 1 round at a time until she can call her shot. Calling your shot means that you are able to tell when it was you who made a bad shot or missed where you were aiming because of yanking the trigger, holding your breath or poor positioning on the part of the shooter.

      The easiest position for your wife to be able to do this in is the modified weaver stance as it will allow your wife the ability to be flexible in her stance while searching for the proper footwork to allow her to use diametrically opposed control points successfully. Mastering this under pressure will give her and you the confidence to know how this combination is going to work out for your wife.

      Best wishes to you and your wife

  3. I shot cowboy action for a few years and taught myself to shoot with a BP revolver (a pair of ’51 navies, or a pair of ’60 armys or a pair of ’73’s in .45 colt, no squib loads either) in each hand at the same time. Nice skill to have, and wasn’t that hard for me to learn.

  4. Hopefully those of you who do not take training seriously and shoot 50 rounds a month never meet the guy who trains seriously and shoots 500 rounds a month. Get an airsoft or BB gun and train for 15 minutes daily if you cannot afford ammo because if the SHTF it’s too late to learn.

  5. Hi Mark, yes the more you train the better you will be that is a simple fact. My point was that in my opinion/experience a bare minimum of 50 rounds per month is required to maintain your handgun proficiency skills, I certainly wasn’t advocating that shooters only shoot 50 rounds per month. As I am sure you read up above, at least some 601 shooters out there don’t shoot or train on a monthly basis at all.

    While shooting an airsoft or BB gun will give you trigger time, my question would be why practice with something you will never use to defend yourself or hunt with?? Doing that will never get you ready for the guy who shoots 500 rounds per month and might even be detrimental to your shooting skills.

    For example, I remember once a zillion years ago when I was in Jr. High School, a lot of my friends preferred throwing and playing with the 3/4 sized footballs and basketballs cause they were easier to handle. I always insisted that we actually use full size balls when we played as I didn’t want my skill set screwed up during the summer and other school breaks by using something that I was never going to use when the chips were down and it actually counted.

    I do agree with you that when the SHTF hoping to be able to practice and learn then will be way too late.

    1. I train people and shoot daily and the only skill you cannot learn with an airsoft is recoil control. I agree that the best practice is live fire with your weapon of choice but when you are limited by finances you must have options. Some of the best shooters I compete with came from Japan to the US and were airsoft guys and it didn’t take long for them to transition.

  6. Growing up left-handed I was also left-eye dominant. My dad was wise ad noticed when he was in the army a friend was also left eye dominant but shot rifles as a righty and a side arm as a lefty. This allowed him to transition fast from shooting his M16 with a right hand trigger pull to his side arm with a left hand trigger pull. He taught me and my brother to do the same, didn’t seem like a big deal to use then but in a pinch a few milliseconds can be life or death.

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