There are millions of gun owners in the United States alone—and many millions of guns in circulation. From handguns to revolvers, to rifles to shotguns, firearms have become a permanent part of the American fabric. However, despite the proliferation of guns and gun owners in the United States, there is only a small fraction of people who could honestly call themselves an excellent shooter or marksman. This is because the majority of people have never taken the time to gain a level of mastery that every gun owner—and potential gun owner—should reasonably possess before owning, handling and/or firing one of these weapons.
Becoming a better shooter or marksman takes a lot of time and practice—a lot of practice. This is why people who use a weapon as part of their job or employment, such as police officers and military service men and women, are not only required to qualify on that weapon, but must also log a certain amount of time each week/month practicing with it at the shooting range. As a gun owner, you too will need to practice at an outdoor or indoor shooting range to become more proficient with your weapon. Like any skill one can potentially master, practice makes perfect.
In the following article we will discuss several steps or strategies that people should follow in order to become a better shooter or marksman, including understanding the different calibers of gun available today, their recoil, and the best caliber of gun for beginners. We will also offer some crucial shooting range tips that can lead to shooting mastery when regularly repeated and followed.
- What Caliber Gun Should I Get?
- Comparing Different Guns
- What You Need To Know To Become A Better Marksman
- How to Become a Better Shooter at the Indoor Shooting Range
- How to Become a Better Marksman at the Outdoor Shooting Range
What Caliber Gun Should I Get?
Before we discuss in detail some tips and strategies for becoming a better shooter or marksman, let us first take a closer look at a few of the different calibers of guns from which you can choose—and the best caliber for beginners.
When buying a gun, many beginner shooters make the mistake of buying too much gun, too soon. In other words, the only criteria they probably considered when purchasing their gun was stopping power, while ignoring other factors like the price of the ammunition for different guns, the ease of use, and the recoil or kick associated with different kinds of weapons. Stopping power is great, but if you aren’t able to comfortably operate your weapon—or afford the ammunition—it won’t make a lick of difference.
By now you know that guns come in different calibers—they shoot different kinds of ammunition. But what exactly is caliber and what does it mean? For that answer, please see the section below.
Sadly, many of the gun websites, books and magazines of today tend to lure new customers with promises of increased stopping power. However, what they fail to tell you is that some guns are just not designed for beginner shooters. When you hear people talk about guns with terms like 22, 32 and 45, they are actually talking about the caliber of the gun, but what does that actually refer to? Quite simply, the word “caliber” is used to describe the measurement of a handgun’s bullet in terms of its diameter. The bullet is the portion of the cartridge (or round – the terms are used interchangeably) that actually goes out of the barrel.
Understanding that definition, you now know that a .22 handgun shoots a smaller bullet than a .32 or a .45 handgun. You should also know that a .22 handgun requires less force to eject a bullet than one of the larger guns, which means it is much easier to handle, and thus better suited for beginner marksmen.
Recoil should definitely be a top consideration for anyone who is planning to buy and use a gun. So what is recoil? Without going into the mathematics of inertia, recoil is the kick of backwards momentum you feel after shooting a gun—as the bullet goes out, the gun kicks backwards. Naturally, recoil is much easier to handle with rifles. With their long barrels, they are actually built to manage recoil more efficiently. However, with handguns recoil should be a major factor when making a purchasing decision. Very high caliber guns, such as a .44 magnum, are going to have much more recoil or backwards force than a .22 caliber or 9mm pistol, and is thus harder to handle and control.
Comparing Different Guns
When purchasing a gun you have a virtually limitless number of options, and the type of gun you ultimately buy is of course your decision. However, there are certain factors to consider before making that purchase. To help you make the most informed decision with regard to caliber, below we have compared 3 different types of handguns that use 3 different types of ammunition: a .22 Caliber, a 9mm, and a .45 caliber.
.22 Caliber Handguns
The .22 caliber handguns use a small round of ammunition that produces very little kick or recoil. Used in both rifles and handguns, the .22 caliber ammunition is readily available and relatively inexpensive compared to other rounds.
Perhaps the most popular choice for handguns today, the 9mm is the preferred caliber for law enforcement, the military and private owners. Offering just the right amount of stopping power with manageable recoil and competitively priced ammunition, this gun is ideal for anyone who thinks their .22 caliber gun does not offer enough stopping power.
The granddaddy when it comes to caliber, the .45 handgun has incredible stopping power, but the recoil can only be described as “jarring.” The recoil alone on the .45 should be enough to dissuade any first time user from selecting this gun. But if that’s not enough, the price of the ammunition for this gun can put a serious dent in the wallet. However, if the ultimate in stopping power is what you crave—this just might be the gun for you.
What You Need To Know To Become A Better Marksman
Now that you’ve considered caliber, recoil and price—and purchased the gun that is just right for you—you are ready to head for the shooting range with the goal of marksmanship mastery. In the section below we will take you through your first full day at the shooting range, pointing out tips and strategies for becoming a better shooter. We will also underscore some of the essential gear you will need to look and feel the part. Finally, we will then provide some specific instructions and guidelines for shooting various types of guns, including handguns, revolvers, rifles and shotguns.
You and Your Gun: First Day at the Range
Now that you have purchased and cleaned your gun (it was probably shipped with a bunch of gunk on it)—and hopefully practiced dry-firing it (shooting without any ammunition)—you are now ready for your first day at the shooting range.
Before you arrive at the shooting range, it’s important that you are in the right frame of mind. Today is a day you will need to soak up a lot of information in just a short amount of time, so be sure you are well rested and in an amiable mood. When you arrive, do not be afraid to ask questions—everyone there also had to ask those same questions on their first day. Be open to instructions, and be sure to follow all of the general shooting range tips listed below.
Basic Shooting Range Tips
As you walk into the shooting range, you will probably be given a list of rules and regulations that are specific to that range—rules that will no doubt also be posted on the walls. These rules are for the safety of you, the other shooters and the employees so be certain to follow all of them to the letter. These general rules are also aimed at making you a better shooter or marksman, so it is definitely in your best interests to heed them carefully. Here are just a few general shooting range tips to follow:
- The Range Officer Is Always Right. Always listen to the range officer presiding over the shooting range. His or Her word is final, and any failure to heed their directions could result in your ouster from the club.
- Always Follow the 4 Basic Gun Safety Rules. As a gun owner, you should commit the 4 basic rules for gun safety to memory. They are: 1. Always assume your gun is loaded—always. 2. Never point your gun at anything or anyone you do not wish to destroy or kill. 3. Never put your finger on the trigger until you are ready to fire it. 4. Be aware of your target and everything that is beyond or around your target.
- Always Use Ear and Eye Protection. Ear and eye protection is crucial at the shooting range. Most clubs have ear and eye protection you can rent for a small fee—and in most cases, prescription eyewear is permitted in lieu of goggles.
- Know the Rules Regarding Ammunition. Most shooting ranges will allow you to bring your own ammunition—for your own gun only. If not, you will need to purchase the ammunition sold at the range, which can be severely marked up. Some shooting ranges have restrictions on certain types of ammunition, such as tracer, steel core and armor-piercing ammunition, as these types of bullets can occasionally be a fire hazard and some can even ruin the targets altogether.
- Don’t Crowd other Shooters. If you go to the range with a friend or family member, and you are not the one currently doing the shooting, be certain to stand 1-2 yards in back of the person who is actually shooting.
- Never Cross the “Safe Line” until Instructed. At most shooting ranges you will notice a bright orange, red or yellow line directly in front of the shooting area or table. This line should NEVER be crossed until the range officer calls for a complete cease fire and instructs you to move beyond it. Failure to heed this rule can be a deadly mistake.
- Heed All Firing Guidelines. Depending on the shooting range, there may be restrictions on how fast you can fire (fire rate), with rules such as “Double Tap Only” or “No Rapid Fire.”
- Be Aware of Your Surroundings. Most shooting ranges will permit children on the premises who are old enough and strong enough to fire a gun. Keep in mind, however, that they are still children and you should be wary of them at all times.
- Pregnant Women. Because there is no hearing protection for the unborn baby, pregnant women should refrain from going to the shooting range until their bundle of joy has safely arrived.
- Casings? At some shooting ranges, shooters are NOT allowed to collect and keep their spent brass casings. Typically, the shooting range will reuse these casings and sell them at a discount the next time around.
- Know the Price Structure. When you head to the shooting range, be sure to call first to get updated on their pricing structure. Some clubs merely charge a flat admission fee with no extra costs for shooting; while others price by the time of the session or the number of targets.
Get—and Use—a Gun Case
If you don’t have a case for your gun you will need to get one before heading to the range. The majority of gun range officials are very serious and particular about this rule. Thus, if you stroll into your local gun range openly carrying your pistol or rifle, chances are you will get scolded or be asked to leave. It is that serious.
Moreover, before putting your gun into your gun case, make sure the gun is not loaded. This should be checked, double-checked, and checked again; as many times as it takes for you to be absolutely sure. This is a rule with no wiggle room whatsoever—a rule that ALL shooting ranges take very seriously. If you walk into a gun range with a loaded handgun, revolver, rifle or shotgun, it will definitely be the last time you will ever be allowed to visit that establishment.
Understanding Range Commands
Now that you understand most of the basic shooting range rules, it’s time to get down to the business of shooting. And to do that, you must first understand the different commands you are likely to hear from the range official. Here are just a couple:
- Hot Range. When you hear the term “Hot Range,” it means you are free to shoot. It also means that everyone else is free to shoot, so be certain to stay behind the painted line in front of your range table.
- Cold Range or Ceasefire. At ranges where users must physically retrieve their target or shell casings, the commands Cold Range or Ceasefire might be used. During this time, nobody is allowed to shoot at all, and failure to heed that command will result in expulsion from the club. Usually, the range official will announce a ceasefire ahead of time by saying something like “The range will be hot for 2 more minutes.”
Another phrase you might hear from the range official is “unload and unlock.” Used mostly at outdoor ranges, this term is used during the ceasefire. It means EVERYONE at the range must unload their weapons and unlock the action open. Shooters will need to lock their pistol slides or bolt completely back. Usually the range official will walk from shooter to shooter to make sure this is done correctly. Only when everyone is unloaded and unlocked—with their hands nowhere near the gun—will the range officials permit shooters to retrieve their targets, Often, a flag is used to indicate that the shooter has unloaded and unlocked his or her weapon—a visual representation that adds an extra measure of safety and security.
Grip and Stance
There is definitely a right and wrong way to grip your gun, and certain stances are definitely recommended over others. The type of grip you employ on your gun will of course depend on the type of gun you have—you would not, of course, hold a handgun the same way you hold a rifle. Fortunately, all guns have a piece that is actually called the “grip,” making it fairly easy to understand the best way to hold it.
When gripping a handgun or a revolver, make sure your dominant hand is on the grip or handle, while using your other hand to support it. Do not completely lock your elbows. Instead, leave a little play, as this will help you absorb the recoil or the kick. When using a rifle or a shot gun, your dominant hand will rest on the grip near the trigger mechanism, while your off hand should be placed under the barrel for support. The butt of the rifle should be pressed up against your shoulder, with no play in between. This will allow you to absorb the kick without leaving you bruised from the recoil.
When shooting from a standing position, your best bet is to find a comfortable and balanced stance that will simultaneously help you absorb the recoil of the gun. With your feet about shoulder’s length apart, and your knees slightly bent, face the target directly. When using a rifle, the aforementioned stance would be impossible. Instead you will line up your shot with your strong or dominant foot in the back, and your other foot in front—still with knees slightly bent and your legs shoulder’s width apart.
As you become more comfortable with shooting your gun you can practice different grips and stances. Just be sure to follow all the important safety rules before making any major changes.
To become an excellent marksman, you will definitely need to master the art of the trigger pull. In terms of finger placement, the best way is the way in which you feel most comfortable. Some use merely the tip of their finger, while others will grab it at the first crease of the forefinger (always the forefinger). The shooting range is a great place to experiment with your trigger finger placement.
When the time comes, do not jerk on the trigger when you are ready to fire. Instead you should slowly—and with the utmost control— squeeze the trigger, so slowly that the gun actually surprises you when it fires. By using this tactic, you won’t be adding in any natural flinches in your attempt to tame the recoil of the gun.
How to Become a Better Shooter at the Indoor Shooting Range
As we said in the opening, the only way to become a better shooter/marksman is to practice, practice and practice some more. And if you have a handgun or a revolver, the place you will normally be practicing is at the indoor shooting range. Here are just a few things you need to know about this type of range.
Indoor shooting ranges tend to be much shorter than their outdoor counterparts, which makes sense due to the limited space. But these facilities can be very conducive to handgun mastery. Indoor ranges typically measure around 25-50 yards in terms of target length, and while some of these places will allow limited shooting of long guns, most of the clientele you will encounter will be handgun shooters.
At an indoor range there are several little cubicles or stations, typically separated by wood or plastic panels. A good rule of thumb is to move as close as possible to your own table when shooting at an indoor range. The reason for this? The closer you are to your table, the better chance that your spent casings or shells will hit the paneling on either side of you rather than the other shooters or bystanders.
Once you pay for and claim your station or bay, it is yours for however long you paid for it. However, do not take advantage of this. You are here to shoot, not to talk or walk around. Once you claim your bay, go ahead and prep your target, load up and fire your ammo. It is here that you can practice different grips and stances, and practice shooting from different distances. You can also work on your breathing, and get a great idea with regard to the sensitivity of your trigger mechanism and your trigger finger placement.
If you go to the range with a friend or group, make sure you don’t bother other people when they are shooting. Not only will it mess with his or her concentration, that lack of concentration can have some definite safety drawbacks.
Be sure to ask questions, such as “how do I retrieve my targets?” Many shooting ranges utilize a pulley or electronic system for reeling in targets, meaning you probably won’t have to wait for a ceasefire or cold session. However, at older ranges, you may have to retrieve your targets by hand. Be sure to save your targets each time (if allowed) this will give you a good idea as to the progress you are making.
When you are finished shooting for the day, be conscientious of people who are still shooting or waiting their turn. Quietly pack up your gun and ammunition, and clean your area thoroughly—leaving it better than how you found it. This will ensure you are always welcome the next time around.
How to Become a Better Marksman at the Outdoor Shooting Range
Many of the same tips about preparedness, courtesy and preparation should also be heeded when practicing your marksmanship at an outdoor shooting range. Outdoor shooting ranges cater to a wide variety of shooters and gun types, from handguns to rifles to shot guns. These ranges tend to have a lot of space and shooting stations, with target lengths ranging from 100 to 1000 yards—allowing shooters to really test out their aim from various distances.
The shooting stations at outdoor ranges are usually not partitioned as they are at indoor ranges. They typically consist of a bench or table at which you can load and prepare your gun. Shooters can also practice shooting from different angles at an outdoor shooting range, from standing up to sitting to lying prone.
When at an outdoor shooting range you are in the perfect environment for practicing things like your grip, various stances, breathing, trigger pull and accuracy.
Do not, however, be lulled into a false sense of safety because of the wide open spaces. If anything, outdoor ranges tend to be a bit more dangerous than their indoor counterparts, as it can be more difficult for the range officials to check on everyone. Just make sure you follow all the general and range-specific rules of gun safety while mastering your craft—and live to shoot another day.
- What are some things I can do to become a better rifleman?, Quora
- How To Improve Your Handgun Accuracy In One Easy Step, Beretta
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