A legend of the firearms industry once said “Marksmanship is simple, but it ain’t easy.” Although I can't recall who said it, I have repeated these words to a multitude of students over the years and I feel that it really is the most honest way to approach handgun skills. Lets unpack this saying and explore the ways your mind affects your marksmanship.
Marksmanship is Simple
Most modern handguns, if locked down in a vise to remove the human element, will send bullets through to same ragged hole in a target at defensive handgun distances. With marksmanship being defined as “skill in shooting” any lack of accuracy falls firmly on to the skill of the operator. Put simply all one needs to do to hit a given spot on a target is to align the gun with the target and press the trigger without disturbing the rest of the machine. Sounds “Simple” right?
It Ain’t Easy
Human beings like you and I have a natural aversion to sudden loud noises and explosive events. As a species we are easily startled, possibly as a result of genetic traits passed down from our ancestors. We developed these reflexes over time to avoid becoming a predators next meal.
Discharging a handgun produces a very startling event. The concussion of the muzzle blast, the flash of gunpowder, and the shock of recoil cause us to defend ourselves from the explosion we created by pulling the trigger. Without proper conditioning a shooter will quickly develop the reflex of anticipating the blast. The violence of the exploding cartridge will cause the shooter to tighten the muscles in their arms and press the muzzle toward the earth to combat muzzle rise. This will cause the gun to become misaligned with the target and disturb the machine while pulling the trigger.
Regardless of how methodically you align your sights prior to the shot, the bullet will impact the target wherever your sights are “actually” aligned at the instant the bullet leaves the barrel. Preparing for recoil in the fraction of a second before the trigger breaks will cause you to tense your grip (moving the muzzle to the left for right handed shooters) and push the muzzle down. The shot will be exactly where the sights were aligned in the time after you acquired the initial sight picture. Your sights moved from the intended target while bracing for the blast and the bullet leaves the muzzle while aimed at a spot low and to the left.
Does any of this sound familiar? If it does be sure to check back for our next blog where we will discuss ways to overcome this physiological reaction and keep your hits in the center of the target where they belong.